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Is our grad ready?

Heather Lemon

Vail Daily, Vail Colorado COMay is graduation month. We have just returned from Chicago where our son graduated from college. Across this valley parents and family are celebrating the ad-vancement of pre-schoolers, kindergartners, middle school teens, high school adults and college graduates. It is significant that the graduation ceremony for high school and college is called the commencement exercise. It is the start, the beginning, the launch of the next chapter of life.The question uppermost in my mind was simple: How prepared is he for this life? In the midst of the swell of emotions and pride in his completing the course, can I truly let go and watch as he casts off for shores unknown? It would be easy to then critique the education system and issue a verdict based on my perception of the future success or failure of my son. In my son’s case, he has attended British private and public schools while we were in Hong Kong, and here in the U.S. a charter school, public high school and a private university. We were fortunate to have choices, albeit limited, and at each step we tried to make our decisions based on the needs of our son at the time. He has experienced almost every form of education system possible in the English language. But our son reminded us that life should not be measured by society’s standards of success or failure. His life will be a reflection of the kind of man he will become, and how he treats his fellow man.In the papers in Chicago much ado was made of an angry essay by an AP honors student, resulting in his immediate suspension by the school board and his ultimate reinstatement later. Letters flooded The Chicago Tribune supporting or ridiculing the action of the school. What was interesting is that some writers chose to criticize his essay based on spelling and grammar, and indicted this school for producing an “A” student who couldn’t spell. In the wake of Virginia Tech, and frankly, Columbine, scrutiny of the content of a student’s work is appropriate. However, creating a public spectacle and the three ring circus surrounding the decision illustrates how vulnerable we are.What then is the role of the education system in our children’s development? We constantly hear the criticism, at least in Republican circles, that the teachers are too liberal, political correctness stifles expression, educating immigrants limits the progress of OUR kids, and because our math and science scores are not as high as some other countries, our education system is failing. We complain about college professors preaching anarchy, and universities fostering a liberal bias. This, of course, is compounded by a liberal media that constantly distorts the “truth.” Somehow lost in this conversation is the reality that WE, as parents and family, are primarily responsible for our children’s education. If we are not actively engaged in the lives of our kids, we have abdicated our personal responsibilities. The role of the education system is to teach our children how to think, not necessarily what to think. I want my children challenged, taught how to analyze, how to search for answers across a broad base of information and then form their own opinions. If I have not demonstrated core values and allowed my kids to freely express their thinking, to push me to explain how and why I believe what I do, then I am failing in instilling personal responsibility in my children.The teachers who touched my son’s life have lived up to my expectations. They demonstrated their dedication and commitment to teaching him how to think. I did not necessarily agree with all of their philosophies, their political viewpoints, or their particular biases at every point – and we have had lively discussions at times. It is not the role of the teacher to agree with me. But there is no doubt in my mind that he was taught how to think.Is my son prepared for life? We have done the best that we can. The rest is up to him.Heather Lemon of Eagle-Vail writes a biweekly column. She can be reached at lemonvail@aol.com.


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