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  • Last modified 26 days ago (Dec. 22, 2021)

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Giving the gift of education

Maybe kids are more comfortable with keyboards than they are with pens and pencils. Perhaps they’re overly excited writing to The Big Man himself. Or they could be sick and tired of worrying about being sick and tired — and relieved that their writing, for once, won’t come back with red marks all over it.

Whatever the reason, we’ve noticed something even more unusual than usual about this year’s supply of preciously precocious notes that we annually copy on their way to North Pole ZIP code 2IC4U for inclusion in our keepsake “Dear Santa” section.

We don’t want to earn a spot on the naughty list — particularly with parents or educators — but it seems to us that skills with spelling and grammar (not to mention penmanship, as our staff can attest) appears like the winter solstice sun to have disappeared below the horizon.

Don’t call us a retired Professor Scrooge for noting it, but the Ghosts of Christmases Past seem to have found better spelling and grammar (though not necessarily greater compassion, humor, or ingenuity) in Santa letters from days gone by.

We’re huge fans of Santa letters. Back in the Jurassic Age, when we worked as an editor at a major newspaper that created its own TV listing, we used to bribe listings clerks to tell us when re-runs of the original “Miracle on 34th Street” would air so we could watch in a pre-VCR, pre-DVD, pre-DVR, pre-streaming era our all-time favorite scene of courthouse-delivered Santa letters acquitting Kris Kringle in a lunacy trial.

And we love nothing more than taking a glimpse into the beautiful world of childhood by vicariously living their lives through the gifts they’re most likely to request of everyone’s favorite top elf.

But we do wonder nowadays whether all those days of in-person instruction missed during well-meaning and rational pandemic precautions have unmasked possibly irreversible gaps in student learning and inadvertently proven to all of us that remote learning rarely accomplishes as much as in-person learning overseen by caring and engaged educators and supported by caring and engaged parents.

Although the schools see nothing wrong with it — and perhaps there isn’t — we also were shocked to see some of the “frills” teachers included on the own Santa lists — the gift suggestions Marion Elementary School makes for parents wanting to say thank-you to their children’s teachers.

When it comes to items that help students learn, nothing should ever be considered a “frill,” especially routine items like dry-erase markers and erasers. In an age in which no cost is spared to provide the best of equipment, facilities, and transportation for sports, can we afford to do anything less while teaching lessons that will last a lifetime, not just during a brief athletic career?

Some seem to oppose education because it’s viewed as the ticket out — a key to the bright lights and big cities that make it hard to keep kids down on the farm or within a rural community in which agriculture remains the primary industry even if farmers have become a small minority.

What we often fail to recognize is that education also is the ticket back. It provides the business acumen often missing from local enterprises that fail because they have insufficient reserves, don’t understand marketing, or can’t organize and scale their activities. Even if that involves leaving town, it creates careers successful enough to allow an eventual return to town and the warm hearts and familiar embrace that bright lights and big cities find hard to provide.

Imagine taking all the money spent on sports team travel and investing it instead on learning the fundamental skills of communication, math, and physical and social science that almost every career, from equipment operator to chief executive, depend on.

That, instead of a $1,000 cell phone for a 5-year-old, is a Christmas gift worth giving.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified Dec. 22, 2021

 

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