Wednesday, March 18, 2009

One Room School House

I’m beginning to wonder whether we will eventually return to the one room school house approach to education. Back in the day that was a matter of practicality as we realized how important education was to a young nation. Unfortunately declining enrollments, revenue caps, and the economy are putting schools out of business.

During the past two weeks the Oakfield School Board voted to close the Belle Reynolds Elementary School and The Waupun School Board decided to close three elementary schools. Both districts will consolidate their classes into their remaining schools to cut costs. It makes sense and shows how much further the rural school or neighbor school is disappearing from the landscape.

Obviously for students and parents it’s much more convenient to learn in a school closer to your own home. It also gives you a sense of identity. Although school district officials will tell you there’s no discrimination, students riding a bus from an outlying area have other stories to tell. I’ve seen discrimination between public and private school students in some of the cities I’ve worked in.

When I grew up it was normal to be sitting in a classroom that consisted of two grades. I attended first grade in an outlying school in my hometown and later was in a Catholic education system that often saw several grades coupled together in a single classroom. Of course more recently there’s been an emphasis on student-teacher ratio and trying to reduce that ratio, but when you have to close a school that ratio is bound to go up.

If you’ve lived for any amount of time at all, you probably know of a building in your community that at one time was a school, but no longer is. I can think of several in Fond du Lac that serve other purposes now even though I haven’t lived in the city that long. Some simply outlived their usefulness or were abandoned for bigger and better schools.

The school I went to as a 1st grader is now a community center. The Catholic school I went to from 6th through 8th grades has scaled back and was reduced from taking 1st through 8th graders to 1st through 5th graders. My High School senior class was the last to graduate from it. That summer the school was torn down and a new one went up in its stead. An old gymnasium we once trained in during high school is the only section of the old school that remains.

I have to wonder with computers and the Internet how much further our classroom structures will erode. As Waupun District Administrator Randy Refsland said the building isn’t as important as the education you receive in it. Try and tell that to the people who put the bricks and mortar together and the generations of families that attended those schools on their way up the rungs of that educational ladder. As you get older the school you went to may be easier to remember than some of the lessons you learned in it.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Penny For Your Thoughts

Recently the U.S. Mint released information about new designs for the penny that is being used to celebrate what would have been Abe Lincoln’s 200th birthday. That got me to thinking about the penny and how much we still use it. A lot of people wouldn’t even stoop to pick one up if they saw one.

I’m not much of a coin collector really. I have a handful of coins that have some significance attached to them. One is a 1922 silver liberty dollar, which may or may not actually have some value to it. I have two JFK half dollars from the early 1970s I‘ve been holding on to because JFK meant so much to my dad. There’s also a Susan B. Anthony dollar from 1979. That’s about it. I used to have a $2 bill, but don’t know what happened to it.

Pennies I used to go through just to see if I could find one that goes way back. I tried that recently with the other change I throw into a container until it gets worth cashing in. The newest was a 2007 and the oldest was from 1964. If I see one of the new Lincolns I’ll put it aside with my other precious few coins worth saving.

Among all our coins the Lincoln penny has to be one of the best traveled. Imagine the hopes and dreams of the people whose hands those pennies passed through over the years. I’d like to think that the 1964 penny I came across slipped through the fingers of a Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg or even Barack Obama somewhere over the course of its travels.

Or imagine the history that could be connected to that one particular penny. It was minted a year after JFK was assassinated. Maybe it hitched a ride with one of the scientists working on Apollo 11. It sat inside the penny loafer of someone working at the Watergate Hotel in the early 70’s. Jangled in the loose change of the pant’s pocket of a Chrysler executive working on the bail out in the 1980s. Was part of the change given back for some food purchased at a Packer’s game in the 1990s. It helped pay for a magazine at a news stand in New York City on September 11th, 2001. Finally it came to rest in a child’s piggy bank until that child, now a high school grad, cashed it in to help pay for college.

A penny saved, is not a penny spurned.