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Friday, September 16, 2011

Apart And Together

I normally do not generate Blog post entries during the school day. There's very little uninterrupted time available to sit down and contemplate a subject or issue during a typical school day full of people and activities. However, I made the time this morning when two separate incidents occurred within a couple of hours of each other that produced an epiphany of sorts - and the decision to make the time to sequester myself in the office to create this Blog entry.

Early this morning, while I was watching television and using exercise equipment at home, there was a commercial touting the benefits of wireless service in your home. This feature enables family members to access cable TV and the Internet from any area of the house. There was an image of dad watching football on cable in the living room, mom shopping on-line via the Internet in another room, and kids in their respective bedrooms playing video games or listening to music. There are clearly advantages to having connections like that throughout the home so everyone has access to information and entertainment, but the images reminded me of how inviting it can be for each individual in a family to retreat to separate rooms and, even though they may enjoy their experiences, live separate lives.

We now have a menu of over 100 television channels; the means of electronically connecting with virtually anyone anywhere via email, Skype or cell phone; selecting merchandise from thousands of options at huge food markets and mega malls; and many, many other opportunities to exercise choices. The focus on individual choices (it echoes the Burger King commercial - "Have it your way!") may at some point promote independence and empowerment, but it also can also serve as a barrier as well.

Former television newscaster Tom Brokaw once reflected poignantly on the impact of technology. I will paraphrase his message. "We now have the means of instantly connecting to people half way around the world, but many of us know little about the people around our neighborhood."  

Those words remained with me as I drove to school. It was an amazing coincidence to find that today's schedule at school included a "Morning Program" for the elementary grades. This is a new opportunity at school this year. The elementary staff developed an activity to offer at the start of the day on Mondays and Fridays to focus attention on togetherness and community. Parents and community members are invited in as all of the elementary learners assemble in the gymnasium to recite the pledge of allegiance, hear announcements, acknowledge birthdays, share good news, learn about the day's weather, and experience time together.

I inserted myself into the program during announcements and spoke of the effect the wireless commercial had on me. Then, as I looked around the gymnasium at all of the elementary learners and a number of parents who invested their time in attending the event, I reiterated the importance of the Morning Program and the need to share information and work together. It was a great opportunity to contrast the wireless commercial and the real need we all have to foster a sense of community. I ended by suggesting that many of the problems that plague our world can only be successfully addressed by people banding together and cooperatively creating solutions.

In fact, the National Department of Labor once asserted that the number one reason that people lose their jobs (outside of a terrible and depressing economy) is the "inability to get along with others." There is no better reason to justify our Morning Program at a time when too many schools hold out hope that the most effective method of improving achievement levels is to spend every available minute of the school day with learners devoted to preparing for tests. The Heatly School is preparing children for tests - but more than academic tests - we are preparing them for a world beset by issues that require social skills, cooperation and creativity to find fair and equitable solutions.

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