Adding Three Ls to the Three Rs

It’s back to school day for my grandsons, Vincent and Max, as they start the 4th and 2nd grades. They grow up so fast!

Knowing that they’re back in classes today causes me to reflect on education overall, and I’d like to share a few thoughts with all of you. I’d like to frame these as the Three Ls of Education that I believe are necessary for today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders.

LIBERAL ARTS

We often hear an emphasis being placed on STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering and math – and those are without doubt critically important areas of study for economic development and competitiveness. I believe that the liberal arts are equally important, and that the concept of humanities vs. science is a fictional dichotomy. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

The liberal arts are the lens through which we observe science and create innovation for the common good. Engineering without communication yields amazing machines which cannot be built, operated, or understood. Geo-science and chemistry without social analysis lead to pollution and ecosystem destruction of the kind documented in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Life science and medicine without ethics give rise to, or at a very minimum permit, the Block 10 experiments of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

We must ensure that our students absorb not only fact and theory, but also develop personal integrity and spiritual profundity. To stress certain academic pathways over others for arbitrary economic and competitive reasons cheapens them both, and shortchanges us as a society.

LEARNING

Far too often, our students are expected to sit in a classroom taking notes, memorizing factoids, and taking standardized fill-in-the-blank tests. This is not learning; this is being trained and marking time.

Learning, like teaching, is an active participation activity. I hope that my grandsons, and all of our local students, are being taught by creative and energetic teachers, using a curriculum that is both broad and flexible. I hope that they are engaged in listening, discussing, interpreting, role-playing, and applying their studies to real-world issues. I want them to know that the sky is blue. I want them to know why it’s blue. And I want them to be able to engage in a conversation about how to keep it blue and how our actions and use of resources could perhaps make it not so blue.

I also hope that they gain the greatest of all skills – learning how to learn. They will learn every day, and if they are like most of their peers, they won’t have a job doing what they’re trained to do via their college specialty courses. A completely non-scientific poll of my Facebook friends revealed that fewer than 20% are currently employed in a job or field even remotely related to their college major, but all are using the invaluable skill of learning how to learn every day. Certainly I was never trained in school to be a Franklin County Commissioner, and if you looked at my resume, it is quite diverse and eclectic. Yet, every skill I have learned throughout my career has enhanced and informed me in the position I now hold. That’s the real value of learning. 

LEADERSHIP

In order for today’s students to succeed, we must have strong leaders in our education system. From teachers to principals to superintendents to school board members to other elected officials to the business community, and most especially engaged parents. Education is everyone’s business, and everyone’s responsibility. Our children and our students deserve nothing less than our unwavering commitment to an open, inclusive, free, comprehensive public education for every resident.

I am so proud that my family has a history of public service in this arena. My father in law, Carl, served 8 years on the board of the Mayfield City School District in the northeast suburbs of Cleveland, and my husband, Eric, served 15 years on that same board.

Our older daughter, Beryl, is continuing the tradition by running for Gahanna-Jefferson school board this year. Beryl says, “I am thankful for all that I have achieved in my own life as a recipient of a good public education in Ohio. I feel strongly that local residents and businesses should be engaged in the common goal of supporting high-quality public education that benefits the entire community. We have a fantastic school district and I am committed to making sure it continues to thrive.” I am so proud of her, and encourage you to learn more about her at www.VoteForBeryl.com

Yes, that’s a shameless plug. I’m her mom; I’m allowed to do that.

Published August 19, 2013