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News Return to essence of education

George HasaraAs this is being written, 31 Macon County teachers have their jobs on the virtual chopping block. They are awaiting word on whether their words will continue to be heard by their students. Budgetary downsizing is prompting the evaluation and possible elimination of these nontenured positions. While the present educational fiscal crunch is relatively new, the events leading up to it are not. Too much emphasis has been placed on “school” as a physical building at the expense of actual schooling.

Education, especially public/government education is consistently behind the curve in innovation which is an ironic position to say the least. Businesses are discovering that the big box, brick and mortar approach to retail may be going the way of the parachute pants. Our educational system has not received the memo that high overhead with bloated administrative and operational costs isn't the best way to run things, especially in a cash-strapped environment.

Leaving aside the question of whether the government should be in the education business in the first place, it is, in the foreseeable future, what we have to work with. Hopefully we can adapt to a more efficient and beneficial system for our students. A system that focuses on the end result of learning and less on enhancing and expanding the educational establishment status quo can only be an improvement.

Macon County in recent years has conducted an aggressive school-building program in order (at least as officially stated) to accommodate an increasing student population. Demands for additional schools reflect decommissioning existing facilities as well as increases in the overall student body. For a long while, along with the rest of the real estate bubble, there seemed to be no end in sight of an expanding economy with ever-increasing building projects. If necessity is the mother of invention, then abundance is the father of complacency.

I lived on St. Croix in the the U.S. Virgin Islands when Hurricane Hugo racked the island in 1989. The school year had just started, and in the aftermath of the category 4 storm, half the schools were severely damaged, rendering them inoperable for the year. A logical plan was followed, and a double schedule of classes were instituted with lunch time and extra-curricular activities eliminated. There were simply no other options or resources available. Political posturing had to give way to a practical solution.

Rather than churning out nice, new buildings with all the associated school bells and whistles, the priority should be to utilize what already exists. Year-round schools may not perfectly accommodate sports programs or vacation schedules, but they do utilize a facility to its fuller potential by bumping up capacity by 25 percent with a quarter of the students off for vacation at any given time. Money saved on construction and land costs is obviously available for other things, such as, let me think ... teaching.

Ultimately, at the core of education are not the buildings, administration, extra-curricular activities or catch phrase-driven testing procedures. Right now I can give 31 examples of what represents the essence of education. I hope they will be able to continue to do their job.

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