By Ruth Gadebusch
For all the complaints and criticisms one hears about public education these days, there is still something exciting about the beginning of a new school year. It is a fresh start with high hopes of what is to come. Merchants gear up with extra advertising enticing us to purchase all that is required for this new start. Volunteers seek to fill the void for those with limited finances. Last-minute vacations are squeezed in. Soon, all will return to a more defined schedule. Child-care issues will be solved with, perhaps, a few others created. Still, it is a time of exuberance.
More and more the start of each school year intrudes on the long expected summer break. This is to accommodate the many holidays during the year and to mitigate the out-of-sight, out-of-mind loss of information experienced in long absences. The year-round schedules seem to have fallen by the wayside just as the traditional September opening has moved deep into August. Air conditioning made it possible! Fortunately, these changes have not affected the expectations of a new beginning.
Of course, teachers and school administrators mostly have not experienced that long vacation that the general public has in mind. Many spend the time increasing their skills to better prepare themselves for the challenges of today’s classroom. Yes, there is more to teaching than having a teacher’s manual to accompany the student’s textbook and staying one page ahead of the students. All too often teachers are dealing with far more than subject matter—ill, frightened, hungry children or with other unimagined needs. There is no longer a clear delineation between family and school responsibility.
Schools are not the place so fondly remembered. So much more is required in a complex society. Our educators are not confronting a monolithic society. They are faced with children who have had every experience that affluence can provide to those whose parents struggle to provide basic shelter and food. It should not need to be said that these latter mentioned parents care just as much about their child as the former whose circumstances allow for a different expression. It is the job of the public schools to meet the needs of the entire spectrum.
So much is expected from our public schools while we limit the resources and denigrate the ones providing the service. It must be emphasized that any failures are not for lack of caring but due to the magnitude of the job. Then too in the frustration of our failures we forget to enjoy our successes. Our goal is not to serve just an elite segment of the society but to fulfill the needs of a diverse society in a way that no other nation on Earth attempts to do. We do not label children at an early age to go in this or that direction. Our effort is to keep all doors open and to prepare the student to take the one most suited to his/her talent and interest. We do not give up when we fail. We can do no less than to try and try, again and again.
Let me note here that we support public schools for the good of a society that needs an educated populace. The individual benefits but a community, a democracy, functions only with skilled, educated citizens. Our public schools are the one agency in our nation to develop commonality in our diversity. Therefore, it is the responsibility of all, not just parents, to provide for the education of those with whom we share this nation, this world.
As a new school year begins, let us look at the hope offered to each child for a new beginning. Let us build on the successes. Let us renew our commitment to our public schools. Let us do all that we can to support our dedicated staff be they administrators, teachers or the many unsung behind the screen. Let us maintain the enthusiasm of our children in their hope for a new year, a new opportunity.
Ruth Gadebusch is a veteran and a community activist, a former member of the Fresno Unified School Board and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education