Column: From the Desk

By Jerry Ness

Last week, I was asked to make a presentation on education: Then and Now. I spent most of the presentation on the now, but began with comments on the multiple areas that have been added to education’s role over the years.

When I grew up in Argyle in the 60s and 70s, I was the fourth of five children. My father worked as an elevator manager and my mother was a homemaker. We were the norm back then, two-parent family, with a mom at home. We had no choice on where to attend school. Today’s world is much different — many things are better, more efficient and yet some things make me long for a more simpler, less hectic time.

From Jamie Vollmer’s website, “The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools,” the following areas have been added to education’s plate — without adding minutes to the day or days to the education calendar:

In the early 1900s, lessons on basic hygiene, and nutrition were added — plus immunizations, and health screenings. Vocational education, family and consumer science, physical education and school transportation were all added by 1940.

In the 1950s, science and math (Sputnik), foreign languages, safety drills, driver’s education and sex education were introduced. The 1960s, added head start, bilingual education, advanced placement courses, adult education, consumer and career education, and peace, leisure, and recreation education.

The 1970s, brought special education, drug and alcohol education, parenting education, African-American and women’s studies, gifted and talented, alternative education, character education, environmental education and Title IX expansion for athletic programs for girls. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of free speech for students, and school breakfast became an option.

The 80s brought us keyboarding and computers, sexual abuse prevention, stranger/danger, anti smoking, teen pregnancy awareness, abstinence education, global education, English as a second language, multicultural, full-day kindergarten, preschool programs, afterschool programs, expanded health and psychological service. Child-abuse monitoring became a legal requirement for all teachers.

From the 1990s, to now — the internet; tech prep; school to work; distance learning; homeless education; HIV/AIDS education; bike, gun and water safety; conflict resolution; service learning; annual CPR training; dropout prevention; inclusion and mainstreaming requirements; Individual with Disabilities Education Act expanding the scope of special education; No Child Left Behind (now Every Student Succeeds Act); internet safety; bullying prevention; lessons in texting and social media etiquette; monitoring eating disorders; suicide awareness; media literacy; expanded early childhood; financial literacy; intruder lockdown; health and wellness; entrepreneurial and innovation; credit retrieval; online learning; Race to the Top; Common Cores; and STEM programs.

Many programs have come and gone. In Minnesota, we could have added the World’s Best Workforce and many other state programs. The fact remains that we have a great school system that functions well and still concentrates on the R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic — while using technology and caring for our students. We need to continue to change to meet the needs of our students and workforce.

The most recent changes that I feel have altered the way we are doing business are: education choices — such as open enrollment and PSEO; technology in learning and socializing; the family structure; mental health issues; the focus on early childhood; special education; and school safety concerns. What I see in the future is the upcoming teacher shortage; 21st Century Skills: 4Cs = Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, Critical-Thinking; and blended learning — part time in school, and part-time online.

Personally, I don’t ever see the brick and mortar schools going away. There may be a blend, but we are social beings. Online and home school options are good for some students and families, but the majority of our students and staff enjoy and learn best with face-to-face interactions during the learning process. The key is that everyone has a choice on what works best for his or her education needs.

Jerry Ness is the superintendent of Fergus Falls Public Schools. His column appears every Wednesday.

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