By Roger Barbee
On Aug. 26, nothing beyond the ordinary happened in the world, as far as I know. There were no earth-shattering events other than the ones we seem to hear of so often: continuous war in various countries with its indiscriminate killing of fathers, mothers, and children; massive fires raging in our West; a shooting or two somewhere else that does not directly affect us; and a few reports of politics even though the politicians are on a much-needed five-week break. A rather ordinary day in late August you might say. However...
Our daughter Rebecca sent a series of four or five photographs showing their twin daughters, Lucy and Ann, standing in various locations of their front yard. One shows them standing on the front porch with Jessica, their mom. Each twin carried her backpack and each was all grins and laughs and full of the giddiness that is used to express nervous excitement. Not marked important in the pages of the world, this day was a big one for Lucy and Ann for they were headed off to 1st grade.
Perhaps I carry on too much. After all, how many little people went off yesterday to their first day of formal public education? Or if not yesterday, either soon before or soon after? Yet, amidst all of the events, some monumental and others not so, it is an important day because of what it signifies for Lucy and Ann and all the other little ones. An ordinary day made important for what it stands. It is the beginning of their education, and I hope that Lucy and Ann (and all the others), in 2024, stand in graduation gowns as they do now -- full of grins, giggles,and giddiness that expresses their nervous excitement.
In the photographs both girls are happy. Their young faces, framed by masses of loose blond hair show joy, excitement, and wonder. I hope all of these stay with them as they explore the world of education and the work it will require. I hope they retain their joy at going to school each day and all their teachers will share the fun of learning new things. I hope that no teacher or coach or moderator will darken their joy by a too-harsh word, or busy work, or an unjust act. I hope their spirit, so evident in the photographs of this day, will not be crushed by some teacher who thinks being mean-spirited is the same as being demanding.
In his book The Age on Wonder, Richard Holmes writes of the Romantic Age and the marvelous discoveries of science made during that time through the work of such men as Joseph Banks, Humphrey Davy and William Herschel. As Holmes writes of these men, and many others, he shows them and their time filled with the courage to experiment. Holmes shows us their successes and failures, but as they explore new frontiers of science they retain a sense of excitement and as he titles the book, wonder.
So often it seems the wonder and excitement of learning something new is replaced in school by the rhythm of the ordinary and slowly the days become mundane and boring. Teachers seem to conduct the same classes that they did last year, ignoring the fact that they have new students. The school day at times seems to be more about how will the school manage lunch than what is being learned. Mandated tests become the marker for success or failure. All of these, I suggest, kill the joy of learning.
I am not so naive to believe that all, for the next 12 years of public schooling, will be pleasant for Lucy and Ann. I know that some days will be filled with tears and sadness. Disappointment will rear its ugly head. However, it is my hope that Lucy and Ann will be like the morning glory in my garden-- a bit burned out by the day's heat, but overnight revitalized by the cool dew and ready for the day. I hope their little faces will, like those morning glories, radiate brightness.
Lucy and Ann are fortunate to have moms who will do their part, and knowing what I know, it will take them all to succeed. Yet, may Lucy and Ann, and all the little ones, always be eager to learn something new, eager to explore and take chances, and know the joy of learning.
Roger Barbee is a retired educator who lives in Edinburg with his wife Mary Ann, four dogs and five cats. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.