Courtney T. Ball

The Most Important Thing I Remember About Education Each Labor Day

After what seemed to her like an eternity of nervous, excited anticipation, my daughter Anyssa had finally arrived for her first day of school. She was a kindergartner at Harrison Elementary, just a few blocks down the street from our home in Cedar Rapids.

Anyssa enjoyed everything about her first week there. She loved her teacher (who also happened to be our neighbor). She was quickly making new friends. Just being in school created a thirst in her for knowledge, for skills she hadn’t yet acquired.

For example, following the advice of nearly every “expert” we encountered, Emmy and I had introduced Anyssa to books when she was an infant. She loved books, but she never had much interest in actually learning how to read. We tried to teach her some basics without being pushy. She had no interest. Then she started school and immediately began learning how to read. She was quickly one of the best readers in her class. It was as if her mind was just waiting for her teacher and the environment of school to unlock it.

On Friday of her first week, Anyssa was having such a good time that she was disappointed about the impending weekend. When she learned that Monday was Labor Day and she wouldn’t return to school until the following Tuesday, she actually broke down and cried.

“I just started!” she sobbed. “Why do I have to wait three days before I get to go back?”

As a parent, I knew there was no way Anyssa (or any child) would sustain for very long that intense of a desire to remain in school. Even the best things get old eventually.

But I did hope that, at the very least, school would continue to be a place where thirsty minds like Anyssa’s would be encouraged to follow their curiosity and keep exploring new knowledge and skills.

If nothing else, I thought, just please don’t stifle my child and make her hate coming here. Don’t box her in so much that she starts to believe learning is all about competition and conformity and meeting others’ standards.

Thankfully, Anyssa and Aidyn have both had excellent teachers for most of their schooling so far. Though they don’t cry anymore when they get a day off, they do still like school. They continue to be excited about learning.

I wish it was the same story for every kid. I know there are all kinds of reasons why it isn’t, and I won’t use this post to launch into a rant on my ideas for education reform. There are better, more informed people than me doing good work on that already.

Instead, this is just a reminder to myself, and whoever else out there might happen to read it, of what school is really all about. It’s about us providing a place to unlock those thirsty minds. It’s about removing whatever barriers might exist so that every child possible gets to experience the deep, empowering joy of learning. It’s about all children growing into their God-given potential, so that they can share their gifts as a blessing to the world.

I know we’ll fall short of fully realizing that goal. But to me, it’s the only vision worth pursuing. To believe education is anything less is a disservice to our kids and to the world in which they live.

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Courtney Ball

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