Education is a bridge. Let’s make sure all Durham kids have an on-ramp

Christopher Sanford says think about education as a bridge.
Christopher Sanford says think about education as a bridge.

Remember when you were a kid and your pals used to say, “I can’t wait till I’m grown up and finish school and know everything”? When school ended, so would education.

Now, of course, we recognize that education is a life-long process, but we also pretty much recognize that while getting you to adulthood is society’s responsibility, afterward it’s pretty much your own.

But let’s talk about the education that gets you ready for the work-force – society’s job.

As our society has changed in the past century, so has the place of education. As public education replaced private schooling and tutoring, the message remained, “You – parents – teach your child the basics – words, good manners – at home, then send him to school and we’ll teach him book-learning.” So education came to mean schooling.

But let’s think of schooling as a suspension bridge high above a wide river. At the far side is adulthood. We need that bridge – a good solid one – to get our young people from here to there.

Often forgotten is this: We also need a long access ramp to get from dry land here, over the marshy shore, and up onto the bridge deck, and a similar ramp at the far side – or else the bridge is useless. When we think about building a useful bridge, our planning has to include the access ramps on both sides.

Let’s think about education the same way. Our responsibility as a society is to ensure that every child crosses over from infancy to adulthood, not just surviving but prepared for success. Education, then, is everything that a child is exposed to – through parents, teachers, community – from birth until independence. And it is our job – yours and mine – to see to it that our society provides all the necessary tools for success.

Looked at this way, our view of education needs to be extended at both ends. Yes, let’s be sure that suspension bridge – the school system – is as good as we can make it. But we dare not forget those entrance ramps. Since teachers have told me that many of our children – maybe half – are in fact not ready when they enter school, we need to be sure – through programs starting at birth – that every child is ready to succeed when he reaches the schoolhouse doors. (Doors on a suspension bridge? Maybe I’m getting carried away.)

And there’s that other part, at the far end of the bridge: Have we prepared a good rampway to guide them into the next life-phase? But that’s a topic for another day.

As I have expressed a number of times, I hope that within a few years we can provide programs so that every child in Durham, starting at birth, will be ready when he/she enters school. The East Durham Children’s Initiative (EDCI) is working toward that goal in its defined area. And Book Harvest (look it up!) is working similarly with a small number of parents and children across our community. Both these wonderful programs are expanding as resources permit, but at a frustratingly slow pace.

I have written to the superintendent, the school board, and the county commissioners, urging them to consider defining the attendance area around Glenn Road school as sort of another EDCI, to begin a small, but focused, program working with needy parents of newborns, starting at birth to be sure these children are ready when they enter school. Several of these officials have already responded favorably to the idea, at least being willing to consider it. If implemented, this could be the next important step toward providing the best education for every Durham child.

Education advocate (and gadfly) Christopher B. Sanford (sanfordchristopher1636@gmail.com) welcomes your comments and conversation.