Dear Cameron Charles Yarbrough: Pardon me, but your great-grandfather is having a surreal moment. Knowing you are now firmly ensconced in the first grade is taking some getting used to.
I remember entering Ms. Dent’s first-grade class at Colonial Hills grammar school in East Point a few millennia ago. My memory is a bit hazy on the details, but I am reasonably sure I could not have told my great-grandfather after my first week of school that there are 21 consonants and five vowels in the alphabet and then follow that up with some deft arithmetic. As best I can recall, I spent my first year learning to tie my shoes and say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Now, I am living in mortal fear that you will soon be calling to inform me that I have put commas in all the wrong places. Just what I need: another editor.
Your enthusiasm comes at an appropriate time. I am serving as a member of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Education Reform Commission. We have been tasked with the responsibility of looking at all facets of public education and seeing where we think things can be improved. One of the governor’s charges was that we make a special effort to ensure that all children are reading at the third-grade level as they enter the fourth grade. I predict this is not going to be a problem for you. You are eager to learn.
A lot of children don’t have the support system you have. I wasn’t there when you first announced your discovery of the alphabet from A to Z and the two-plus-whatever-equals-whatever pronouncement to your dad and to your grandparents, but I suspect there were high-fives all around, which can only motivate you to learn more and earn more high-fives. That has to be pleasing to Ms. Graves, who has the awesome responsibility of sharing these and even more exciting new discoveries with you the months to come.
Your experience is a reminder that education is about two things, and two things only: the student and those given the responsibility to teach them. Everything else should be in a support role to make that interaction as effective as possible. Nothing more.
We want to ignore the fact that public schools are a reflection of society. If a child is hungry, abused, exposed to drugs or to no discipline at home, that will carry over into the classroom. If, on the other hand, the child has a family that loves them and supports them and understands the importance of a quality education as yours does, that will also carry over into the classroom. This seems simple enough, but in all of our discussions in the Education Reform Commission since we began our work, I haven’t heard much said about how we are going to deal with the problem of the lack of parental involvement in a child’s education.
What I am trying to accomplish as a member of the commission is to ensure that our public-school teachers have an environment in which they can teach you and others without the plethora of unnecessary rules and regulations foisted on them by politicians and bureaucrats at all levels of government. We are spending a lot of time in our meetings talking about teacher compensation. That is important, but teachers like your grandfather, your great-uncle and your buddy, Cousin Nick — and I suspect, Ms. Graves — didn’t get into the business to make a lot of money. They got into it believing they could influence young lives for the better. We need to get out of their way and let them do it.
All that the politicians and bureaucrats and deep-pocketed, out-of-state special-interest groups and their media cronies seem to have accomplished thus far is to suck the joy and passion out of the teaching profession with their meddling and second-guessing.
Whether I will have any influence in the final report of the commission to Gov. Deal remains to be seen. There are a lot of wink-wink politics involved and a lot of special-interest people hovering around the periphery. I’m only one small voice.
But this much I do know: Hearing the excitement in your voice about school has made me more determined than ever to do all I can to see that you never want to stop learning and that teachers never stop wanting to teach you. That is the least I can do.