November 2010

The greatest gift

By Galen Larson

Much has been said about what we will leave our children. We can leave them money and material things; we can leave them homes, farms and jobs.

But the greatest gift of all is an education. Everything else can be lost or taken away, but a good education cannot. And a good public education should be free because it helps us all — every person in this country.

Why free? Because education is the basis for all progressive societies. Lack of education has destroyed more empires than war. When only an elite few are educated, all suffer. When all are educated, we flourish.

An excellent example is Korea. South Korea is educating its people and they have flourished. North Korea, with no education beyond propaganda, has produced a society of impoverished slaves.

To allow our educational system to wane as we are willing to do speaks of selfishness and ignorance. I often hear people say, “I have no kids in school – why should I pay for someone else’s child to be taught?” These folks forget that someone in the past paid for their education.

I personally am very pleased that the doctor that treated my illnesses had a good education. Also, it was nice of Edison to give me light, Ford to make the automobile more affordable, the Wright brothers to bring us flight. Without education, we could have remained like our ancestors, living in trees and peeling bananas.

Driving through Cortez, I see the small children when they start school, marching proudly through those doors with their new clothes and notebooks, thinking they are learning to be educated citizens. Sadly, they may be wrong. We are now lagging behind many other countries. Out of 30 comparable nations, we are 25th in math, 21st in science, according to a recent survey. We didn’t put a man on the moon with those numbers.

Why? Lots of reasons. A shorter school year than the top countries (Finland is No. 1 in science and math). A low graduation rate. (We are No. 20 on that list.)

But mostly I think it’s priorities and attitude.

We pay many coaches more than administrators or teachers, and bus our student-athletes many miles to play games, but shortchange our children when it comes to the things that really matter. Why should there have to be bake sales to raise funds for the band, or teachers dipping into their own pockets to provide school supplies? We are obsessed with sports, but very few highschool athletes will ever attain the multi-million- dollar status of those cocaine-sniffing, drug-injecting, wife-abusing flash-in-thepan heroes we tell our kids to look up to.

We need teachers and instructors, a top grade of educators that can and should demand higher pay. We put the future of our society in their hands but expect them to do it for a pittance.

We need to make sure our schools, both K-12 and higher education, have the funds they need to do the job. And I don’t mean funds from corporations. John Hickenlooper, the Democratic candidate for governor, recently said he wants oil and gas companies to chip in to a scholarship fund for college students. Well, I don’t think we need to encourage corporate influence into our students’ thinking.

We need to be willing to pass bond issues and any other funding needed for our schools. Money invested in education gives the greatest payback of any enterprise invented by homo sapiens. Education fosters thinkers, dreamers, challengers and do-ers.

But money is not all there is to education. A lot depends on attitudes, and we live in a culture that doesn’t value learning unless it’s about ways to program the newest electronic gizmo.

In many other countries, students regularly learn two, three, even four languages. Here they don’t feel they even need to learn how to speak or spell our own language cor rectly. We have an attitude that disrespects teachers, schooling, and being smart. Just look at our politicians and how we make fun of those that are “intellectual”!

I believe that if I don’t learn something new every new day, I have wasted it. Sometimes the things I learn give me incentive to think and explore the other side, as all questions have at least two sides. By not examining both, one is half-educated. No wooden board is sound unless examined on both sides. Am I well-educated? Not by some standards. But I was taught to think, and that has served me well.

Critical thinking is one of the most important aspects of education. One can graduate from the finest school with a Ph.D. but in reality, one should never complete the education process. Education is a lifelong journey with new lessons every day.

An education is the most valuable possession a person can have. It can and should be passed on to coming generations for free.

Galen Larson writes from rural Montezuma County, Colo.