MAKING THE GRADE: What are the essentials of a good education?

By Darrin Clark • Last Updated 10:47 am on Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Making the Grade | Janet Ralph

The approach of the holiday season is as good a time as any to ask what the essentials of a good education are. The only way we will reach our goal is to start by defining what it is that we want to achieve.

Readers of this column will know that I believe the root of all our problems today is we have not done that. We spend far too much time talking about perceived problems and far too little setting visions. That is true at the local, state and federal levels.

So what are the essentials of a good education? The best response I have found to this question is to ask what the most demanding parents want for their children. That is what we should want for all children. Our task is to find ways to make this happen in every school in every district. I didn’t say it would be easy. But unless we have an agreed upon end goal, we will just spin our wheels as I believe we have been doing for far too long.

Part of the issue is that the problems will be different from district to district or perhaps even school to school. There is no easy one size fits all solution. For starters I want to share this definition from Diane Ravich’s book Reign of Error: “Every school should have a full, balanced, and rich curriculum, including the arts, science, history, literature, civics, geography,  foreign languages, mathematics and physical education.”

Is this not what parents who can afford private schools are seeking for their children? How this plays out as we seek to assure all children the education necessary is the foundation of our challenge. Children are not a commodity. They are living human beings with different personalities, different backgrounds and different needs. It is time for us to demand that policy makers take this into account as they send top down ultimatums to the people on the front lines.

I would like to suggest that whether you have children in school or not you make time to attend one or more of the many concerts that will be performed in a school near you this holiday season or perhaps an athletic event. In Greenville, you can find a calendar of events on the district website” These activities are too often referred to as extra curricular when, in fact, they are co-curricular. They cannot be treated as optional because it is in them that students are exposed to and have an opportunity to practice important tools they will need to be successful in the “real world.”

I close with this quote from John Adams, 1785: “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”

Of course, much has changed since 1785. But the basic premise of John Adams’ vision needs to remain as the cornerstone of our vision. It is essential for the future of our nation and our democracy. How we respond will determine what we leave to our children today and in generations to come.

Janet Ralph is president of the Greenville Public Schools Board of Education.

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