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Set the Bar Low and Tell Kids to Aim for the Middle

We just set the bar on the ground, tell them all to run as fast as they can and aim for the middle. Is this the best we can do DeKalb County?

Do you remember a pro basketball player in the NBA about 10 years ago named Spud Webb? What's the first thing that comes to your mind when you recall that name? He was SHORT, right? A very SHORT, yet very good professional basketball player. You would never have believed this guy could play NBA ball until you saw it with your own eyes.

But, even more interesting than his game was his attitude. I have to wonder if he ever saw himself the way most spectators did - as an anomoly. Where did this guy get the guts to play basketball as a kid? My point is that he likely had some fans from within his family or a close network of friends who encouraged him to keep trying, even when he was the smallest guy on the team. He must have had a great cheering section, both on and off the court, in order to continue playing against the other guys on the block who were likely much, much bigger than him.

I doubt that, as a child, he would have told people he wanted to be a pro basketball player when he grew up. I doubt a guidance counselor (or graduation coach) would have led him in that direction. But, somewhere along the line, this guy got the confidence to follow his dream and let it take him as far a possible.

I'm sure there were plenty of times he thought he might quit, but someone must have been there for him to tell him that he had to keep trying. There is so much power in simply having the right attitude, or the belief in yourself, that you can literally be small in size, but dream big and have those dreams come true.

Yeah, great story, but DeKalb isn't buying into it

What disturbs me is that I thought everyone knew this story already. I thought it was a sort of folklore passed down to each generation of kids so they would keep trying things until they got them right. I thought we were all taught from a young age that we are supposed to believe in ourselves and push the limits of how much we can accomplish in our lifetime.

But, at the DeKalb School Board forum for candidates I attended recently, there did not sound like any Spud Webb stories were being told to any children these days. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Time and time again I heard both incumbents and challengers stating things like, "we know that not all kids are cut out for college." Or, "some kids will just naturally want to be some kind of technician and never go to college.

There was a pretty long discussion about how soon to send these kids over to the machine shop all day so they would not have to sit through their normal classes. One exception was Ms. Denise McGill, a challenger in District 6.  Ms. McGill, to the applause of many in the audience, said that a quality education is something that can and should be delivered to all our children.  And they can all feel just as good about themselves as those few gifted children who get all the perks of the system today.  I really enjoyed listening to Denise McGill as she shares my attitude about what is possible. 

Mr. Paul Womack, incumbent for District 4, said that some kids are just going to want to do something else, like be a cook or a cop or a bag boy at Publix, I suppose. I thought the audience was going to come unglued, but much to my dismay, they mostly just sat there and nodded thier heads in agreement.

What planet are these people from?  Oh, that's right... Georgia

I don't know about you, but when I was in school, it was assumed that college was the natural next stop for every student. We were told that pretty soon a college degree would be the minimum you would need to even work at McDonald's. We were going to be part of a new global marketplace and we would have a lot more competition for every job out there.

If your family could not afford a big tuition, you planned to go to community college. If your family could not afford a community college, then you started looking for ways to get a scholarship early by playing a sport, an instrument or excelling in academics. Some kids even had Summer jobs that they used to save for college and others ended up taking out student loans in order to get through. But, we believed what our parents and the teachers and everyone else was telling us back then.

We were college material. All of us. Every last one of us could and should work hard now and plan on a future that included college and then a career. Did everyone end up going that route? Probably not.   But, I know we all tried.   I don't think anyone really knew what they might be one day when they grew up, but we all had dreams as I'm sure that all the kids growing up in DeKalb County right now do, too.

Kids will do what you expect them to do

If we expect a certain percentage of our chilren to fail, they will fail. If we accept that not all of our children will ever be college material, then they will find a way to make sure we are right. Children love to please the role models in their lives. They have a way of living up to your expectations even when you do not realize they are even trying.

And if we can openly talk in a meeting where candidates should be telling the audience what they will do better than the incumbents if we elect them, it's sad to hear so many of them talk about what they think we should do with the kids who will want to drop out and take a shortcut out of education and a fast track into blue collar life.

Have we forgotten that education, a good education, gives you so much more than just an entry ticket to the career of your liking? Education, especially higher education, gives a person a greater respect for all people, an understanding of the way the world works, an appreciation for one's own talents and a confidence level that will take them far in life no matter what line of work they ultimately settle on.

C'mon!  Let's do education RIGHT for a change!

Education, if done right, is a life-long process. We learn to appreciate ourselves and others, our strengths and our challenges, our history and our current lot in life. And, most of all, we learn how to dream, to believe and to strive to achieve something bigger and better than we ever thought possible when we were just coming up in the system.

To reroute children toward a pathway that does not include all the benefits, tangible and intangible, of a real education is a sorry goal for a school system that has a billion dollars a year at its disposal.

I wonder how many of our school board members are truly happy in their jobs right now, knowing that they are partially to blame for the jobs that were recently cut? I wonder how many teachers could have gotten through to those kids that we plan to pass on down the line without the skills to even write a cover letter or read a want ad?

Please get out and vote July 31.  Remember what this is all about!

I know there are a lot of people feeling sorry for themselves right now. But I'm just feeling sorry for all those children who don't really want to be auto mechanics or assembly line workers, but they were never given a bar to even try to jump over.

We just set the bar on the ground, tell them all to run as fast as they can and aim for the middle.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Audrey Simmons July 25, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I am so much in agreement with your comments. I have been so frustrated to hear educators and parents shy away from setting high standards for our children and inspiring them to 'come up higher'.
Cheryl Miller July 26, 2012 at 05:44 AM
Thank you Audrey. The same article posted on the Tucker Patch and I think there were some who misunderstood my point. I'm not giving an opinion about the choices that grown women and men make about their own lives. But, the goal of an education system is not to turn out a labor force for the local big businesses, it is to provide all children with the education they deserve and we are paying for.

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