I pulled the title for this blog from an archive site I learned about from my new friend and colleague, Tim Hartnett, who is the Associate Librarian at the SUNY Plattsburgh Feinberg Library. With a nearly full slate of classes to teach this fall (I can’t wait), I hooked up with Tim for resource ideas and guidance on maneuvering through the library search engines. His enthusiasm and competence were such I spent more time than I probably should have surfing Internet sites, particularly the Internet Archive, but the end products made the effort all worthwhile. Two videos in particular inspired me, The Children Must Learn, and School House in Red.
Videos entertain and engage audiences, and I use them often. Since one of my fall classes is on School Culture, Settings, and Systems in the 21st Century, I wanted to find some films which captured the enduring essence and purpose of schools and learning in this country. When I met Tim, I shared my interest in videos, and he directed me to the 1940 clip “The Children Must Learn” (http://archive.org/details/Children1940), a 13-minute video from the Prelinger Archives collection. Wow!!! Set in Appalachia, the video struck a powerful cord on why we do compulsory education in this county as it followed the life of a poor, impoverished family over the course of one school day. Life was so different in the 40s, particularly in the Kentucky hills! Good food was scarce, people subsided off the land, and the one-room school-house was where children of all ages convened for the three R’s. It was a place that offered hope and possibilities for a better life.
Okay. So I hit pay dirt with The Children Must Learn, but I dug deeper and found another gem: School House in the Red. Produced by the Kellogg Foundation, this 1945 video on school restructuring and merging could have been written and produced today! The video follows the concerns and thoughtful discussions within a small community as they grapple with the idea of merging their small school-house with a neighboring school. Comments from senior citizens, business officials, parents, and board members are priceless and ring true in the halls and forums of present-day board rooms. I’m paraphrasing here with some of the more memorable comments: “This school was good enough for me when I was a child, why isn’t it good enough now?”, “How are we ever going to afford it?'”, “I don’t want my child sitting on a bus all day.”, and “What is best for the children?”.
When you cut out the dramatic, and I mean DRAMATIC, differences in lifestyles between the 1940s and present times, one is left with a keen sense of the enduring themes of why we do public education in this country and why there will always be change pressures on communities. Public schools provide the knowledge and skills necessary for children to grow up and contribute to a democratic way of life, and they offer hope for the younger generation to live a better life than the parent generation. Schooling stirs the curiosity and emotions of the young mind, inspiring some to travel far and wide to stations in life their parents could only dream of. For others, schooling provides the foundational understandings that ensure continuity and vibrancy within the local community.
Our finest schools will always seek to do what is “Best for the Children,” even when that means making difficult decisions that seemingly fly in the face of history, comfortability, and conformity. We are in an era of significant school reform, but when you get right down to it, have we not always faced change pressures in education? iPads may have replaced filmstrips, and interactive whiteboards now cover slate chalk boards, but haven’t schools always tried to do their best for the children? The question is, do all schools have the necessary resources, community support, and will to do better?