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What August means to me

It’s August again. Yes, already.

As a former student, teacher, and parent, August has for decades meant the start of school to me. I was kind of startled when a news item about LeBron James’s new I Promise School in Akron, OH mentioned James had come to speak there for the first day of school, in late July. Did it really start that early?

A new experiment in education begins: I Promise School in Akron, OH, with special funding from LeBron James. (Photo courtesy of Akron Public Schools)

Well, yes and no. Akron schools (including I Promise, which is a public elementary school) don’t start regular classes for real till August 4. Still, that’s earlier than they traditionally have begun where I live.

For most of my life, there’s been a good, practical reason why school didn’t open in mid-summer. Where I grew up in Missouri, and where I spent my teaching career(s), it was usually hot as blazes in August, and for most of that time the public schools were NOT air-conditioned (believe it or not, SOME STILL AREN’T!). As far back as I can remember, the administrative offices had AC, but normally not the classrooms.

Priorities. After all, where was the most important work being done? Sometimes that old Paradigm of Control becomes a matter of prioritizing who has to sweat, and who doesn’t. Here’s where we see a barometer for the true level of concern over optimizing student learning conditions!

This illustration by Ellen van Engelen perfectly sums up my dominant impression of starting school in August.

Right up there with not being hungrynot being in physical pain, being able to see and hear, and not living in terror, it really helps learning outcomes if you’re not so hot you can’t breathe or think. Trust me. I know this.

My experiences with starting school in August inevitably have led me to associate the month with being uncomfortably hot. Ask me what August means to me? Straight from the gut, the answer comes back: for me, August means heat exhaustion. As the effects of climate change grow more profound, this will only get more important.

Are your local public schools air-conditioned? If so, the children and teachers of your area should thank you and all the other taxpayers who made it possible, as well as the wise school leaders who made it a priority. If not, there’s something desperately wrong with the local funding priorities!

IMAGES: Many thanks to Akron Public Schools website, Akron, OH, for the photo from the I Promise School, newly opened for the 2018-2019 school year. I also deeply appreciate the artistry of Ellen van Engelen, and her extremely apt illustration for Sara Mosle’s New York Times op-ed piece, “Schools are not Cool.” You captured it, Ellen!

Why we should respect student protests

There are always a few. Not content to let history teach a giant, life-altering civics lesson, there will be a few school administrators who won’t respect students’ First Amendment rights to join the groundswell movement of student protests against gun violence, because it’s “too disruptive.”

We owe it to these kids to respect their fear and their feelings NOW. No one wants to live with a target on her back. Seeking the chance to “LIVE in order to LEARN” is NOT an unreasonable request!

When I was a high school journalism teacher, I saw this impulse first-hand. The traditional impulse of many schools is to keep the kids quiet, out of the way, and docile. The Paradigm of Control runs crosswise to the First Amendment (also to critical thinking).

Even more than corporations, kids are people, my friend. They have rights, weirdly enough including the rights of free speech, to freely assemble, and to petition the government. In my research for yesterday’s post, I found a quote that seemed à propos of the #ENOUGH movement and students’ rights in general.

People tend to place children in some kind of sub-human category, maybe a little higher than pets (or maybe not). That’s always bothered me. Even when they’re too young to be completely autonomous, they always, ALWAYS deserve respect.

It may be more time-consuming to reason with the child (and–reality check–parents sometimes have to just decide), but in my experience it’s always worth listening, explaining, and respecting. In the household, in the classroom, and in life, it just always works out better to listen and to respect. (Remember, they’re the ones who’ll pick your nursing home).

I also stumbled across a fun website built on that very principle: Kid President (unfortunately suspended in 2016, it seems). But in the spirit of the student protests and the message of this post, here’s a word of wisdom from Kid President:

You’ve now been schooled. Go forth and respect!

IMAGES: Many thanks to to the Mankato Free PressAP images, and Jim Mone, for the photo of the student protest in Mankato, MN, from which I cropped a detail for emphasis; to Gryphon House via Pinterest for the quote and image from Stacia Tauscher, and to OdysseyRobby and Brad, for the Kid President quote/image.

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