Published: 6/6/2022 12:16:22 PM
Modified: 6/6/2022 12:14:13 PM
From time immemorial, there is an architecture of learning where trusted elders in a community nurture the minds of our youth to prepare them for the world they are about to enter as adults. Whether it was in circles around a fire, square shaped rooms with square shaped desks, or hallways in Easthampton’s new Mountain View School in the shape of brooks and streams, the shape and form of learning has evolved as our understanding of learning has evolved.
We have digital interactive screens instead of chalkboards or sticks to draw in the sand. Instead of nature’s discarded scraps and macaroni glued to paper, our children are starting to create with the internet of things. No matter the setting or societal advancements, humans have always placed value in the education of our youth with the promise of a better tomorrow. The one constant in this eternally evolving world of learning is the teacher.
I’m reminded of my own Mrs. Ewell, who taught music to my underfunded public school in rural dairy farming America in the 1980s. Without access to the outside world, she introduced us to Andrew Lloyd Webber, our spring concerts were a medley of Sting and The Police songs, or theme songs from TV pop culture. At the end of each school year, she organized field day Olympics where students competed in fun sports and activities under a national flag with carefully curated music, cuisine and history.
Mrs. Ewell taught me about a world outside of myself, to love and appreciate diversity, and to dream bigger than my community ever told me was possible. I still remember the lyrics to African folk songs, how to do Thai fingernail dancing, or my first taste of curry powder.
With certainty, schools in your community have teachers like Mrs. Ewell who encourage girls and young women to study STEM disciplines. Teachers who have a secret stash of snacks for students from families that struggle to provide good nourishing food. There are teachers who make space for students of all diverse backgrounds which is the difference between being seen and being invisible. In the community I represent, our coaches teach our children about teamwork, leadership, and perseverance as they rise to state and national championships.
We even have civic scholars who year after year perform at the state and national level. This is no surprise to me. We live in the heart of the Knowledge Corridor with 29 colleges and universities that stretch from Greenfield to New Haven, Connecticut. Western Massachusetts’ greatest export has been and always will be knowledge.
As another school year comes to an end, leaders in state and local governments begin the process of crafting and debating a new fiscal year budget. It is a time when we ask ourselves “What institutions do we value?” “Of the money available, which institutions need it the most?”
There’s no doubt we need firefighters and EMT’s to be fully funded. They are our neighbors who protect us when we are most vulnerable in times of crisis. We must fund our public works departments too. Access to clean drinking water is vital to our health, well-being, and survival. Our human services departments have carried communities through a global pandemic. Above all else though, we must fund our schools.
There’s a reason we borrow the German word kindergarten to describe the first year of public education. It quite literally means a garden for children. Any garden of course only produces fruit if it is carefully tended to. We must celebrate the teachers who produced our firefighters and EMTs. The ones who nurtured the budding engineers that manage our water systems. The epidemiologists who have guided us through a pandemic had that one teacher that changed the trajectory of their lives.
And yes, even governors, senators, representatives, mayors and city councilors alike all came from the same garden bed with teachers like Mrs. Ewell who gave us exactly what we needed to become the people we are today. The best ways we can honor and celebrate the educators who gave us growth and prosperity are to fully fund them today for the sake of our children who are the public leaders of tomorrow.
Brad Riley, an at-large city councilor in Easthampton, is a social policy advocate and community leader. He has master’s degrees in education policy and public policy and administration.