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home : opinion : opinion October 27, 2020

8/11/2020 6:33:00 AM
Thoughts On Back-To-School

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer


For years, I have believed that education is behind the times. The idea of grades K-12 seemed to me ridiculously outdated. Back in the early 19th Century, it was a new idea.

American public education began in the late 18th century. In 1790, Pennsylvania became the first state to require some form of free education for even those who could not afford it. New York did likewise beginning in 1805. In 1820 Massachusetts became the first state to create tuition-free high school. The grade system appears to have begun in the state of Ohio as a way to measure students' progress--where they were and where they should be in the learning process.

This reporter is an old man. When I was a child, there were no state-supported kindergartens. School for most, especially poor kids, started with the first grade. When my mother completed the eighth grade at a school in southern Lincoln County near where Salem Baptist Church is today, she had to either end her education or walk to High Shoals to catch a bus to Dallas. In those days, high school only went to the 11th grade.

In the early days of public education, many Americans didn't receive a daily--or even weekly--newspaper. I remember when I was a kid and stayed with an elderly couple while my parents worked, I read many of their old Blum's Almanacs--which included 'news' about world and national events--like who won the Presidential election. There was no radio or television and certainly no internet in the 19th Century. Much of the news of the day was spread by word of mouth.

I have told many people, the internet is a great source of information--and misinformation. The same could also be said of newspapers, radio & television. Philo Farnsworth, the man who essentially created television, never owned one--at least not the kind that became a new sensation in the mid-20th Century. He envisioned his invention as a great tool for spreading knowledge; instead, its success was as a medium for entertainment.

Computers have provided us with an ability to access with ease multiple sources of information and tools for learning. I have been a fan of Khan Academy for over a decade now.

Our senior citizen readers will remember the tv shows "Ozzie and Harriet," "Leave It To Beaver," "Father Knows Best," and many others which had in common that they continued the legacy of a lifestyle that was already vanishing.

During World War II, many American women went to work to help the country's war effort by replacing men in jobs they previously held because many of the men were off fighting the war. Women who had always aspired to becoming 'housewives' and raising children discovered the joy of having a career of their own. In the case of less affluent families, the two-income household became a necessity.

Some lament the fact that schools have become more than educational institutions; they have also been saddled with childcare, and quite often with feeding the children.

The COVID-19 pandemic may become a catalyst that will reshape education. I hope some of what changes is an improvement. There is also the danger that it may produce results that are not as good as what was replaced.

More people are now choosing homeschooling. Some parents are joining with online charter schools to provide education for their children. Some of those online schools are not very good; others are much better. 

The other big change is that virtual learning, forced upon us, has become very popular. Huge increases have occurred in the number of students of traditional school systems who are opting for virtual learning instead of risking returning to classrooms while the pandemic is still raging.

Right now, schools are having to deal with something they've never encountered before--and so far, they've done an amazing job. When this pandemic is over (and it will be, eventually, with or without a vaccine), school boards need to begin thinking seriously about making major changes in the structure of education.

I am almost certain that there will be big declines in enrollment; schools will have to 'compete' with other educational concepts. It won't be easy.

I believe that public education is the great equalizer that provides opportunities for those who begin in the lower socio-economic levels of society to rise far above their beginnings. Failure to bring our educational system into the 21st Century will diminish those opportunities.

Even with shrinking enrollments, public schools are going to need more money, not less.  I've heard it said, you can tell what's important to someone by where he spends his money.  The same is true of countries, of states and of counties.  The school board election this Fall is important--because those elected will serve for the next four years--years in which the future of education will in large part be decided.  It can't be 'business as usual.'  Innovation will be necessary.  

We'll be introducing the candidates in multiple articles over the next three months.  We urge readers to learn more about them and to make your decision based on careful scrutiny.  

Four of the seven positions, a majority, of the seats on the Lincoln County Board of Education are up for election this year. Three members: Todd Wulfhorst, Joan Avery & Tony Jenkins were re-elected two years ago and have two more years on their current term.

Board chair Cathy Davis is a candidate for Lincoln County Commissioner, so her District 1 seat is up for election. Jon Propst & Myra Heavner have filed as candidates for that seat.

Vice-chair Heather Rhyne has filed to continue serving as one of two at-large representatives. She is being opposed for the seat by Ann Cesena, Debra Williams and Stephanie Mullen. There is no primary election for School Board, so whichever of those four gets the most votes on November 3rd will be elected.

Kirk Herbertson is seeking re-election from District 3. He is being opposed by Christina Sutton and Jason Beckley. Likewise, the one who gets the most votes in November will be elected.

Mark Mullen is seeking re-election from District 4. There are two other candidates for that position: Robin Bryant and Matthew Beam. Again, the one who gets the most votes November 3rd will be elected.

Our first article about these candidates, an opportunity for each of them to introduce themselves to voters, will be published next week. We urge you to read it, then contact the candidates if you want more information.

While the November election will include the President, one of our state's US Senate seats, a Congressional race, NC House & Senate elections, several other statewide offices, and an election for three seats on the Lincoln County Commission, we believe the Board of Education race is VERY important, and we hope you'll take time to educate yourself about the choices and make an informed decision.



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