Woog's World / Spring cleaning: A good time to toss out old ideas
As the weather turns -- fitfully, reluctantly -- to spring, Westporters turn (the same way) to spring cleaning.
Storm windows come down; screens go up, and in the process we try to de-clutter the garage. We walk around our grounds planting, pruning, and tossing limbs that lay on the lawn all winter long. We comb through drawers and closets heaving half of what we should, always managing somehow to get rid of one thing we need the day after it's gone.
One of the few items we don't clean is our head. There are reasons, of course -- it's a lot less accessible than the basement or attic, and we have to work a lot harder to get rid of the garbage -- but spring cleaning our minds is at least as important as our belongings.
One idea I should probably throw into the dumpster is that kids growing up in Westport today experience it the same way I did a couple of generations ago. John Darnton spoke recently at the Westport Library, and though the famed New York Times correspondent predates me by a decade, his memories of youth -- roaming through woods, inventing games with friends, traveling everywhere using his bike and thumb -- were echoed by many audience members.
The freedom my friends and I had from age 10 or so on -- to walk and ride places by ourselves; to hang out at the beach without adults; to play unsupervised in the street, even after dark -- is not an illusion. It bonded us together, helped us grow, and made us the adults we are.
I often wish today's kids could have that freedom. I want them to organize their own games, not play sports only when "it's time to practice." I'd love them to get around using only their feet and their wits. I want them -- is this too much to ask? -- to walk to school with a gang, walk home together, too, and never have to answer to an adult or a clock.
Of course, it's not gonna happen. That idealized world -- which, in reality, also included bullying, vandalism, and at least one hitchhiking incident with a very sketchy driver -- is gone for good. Raising a child in the 2010s is a lot different from the 1960s; being a kid now is a ton more difficult. Pressures -- social, academic, technological, athletic, peer -- press in on all sides.
I'm glad I grew up when I did. And though I won't toss my memories out in my cerebral spring cleaning, I promise to shove my longing for those days to return into a far, less accessible corner.
I hope some Westporters will do the same with their outmoded views on education. Schools have changed dramatically from the time Westport parents attended. Technology has affected teaching and learning in broad, exciting ways. Instructors and students have access to tools unimaginable only a few years ago. "Remembering" is out; "learning" is in. In classrooms where once the sole voice belonged to the all-knowing teacher, everyone now buzzes with collaboration. Connections are made across subjects, in part because that's how the real world operates, in part because so many staff members bring such rich, diverse lives and experiences to their buildings every day.
Yet an undertone in Westport says our schools don't work. When a conversation turns to education -- and around here it often does -- we're as apt to hear a negative comment as a positive one. That's human nature -- it's far easier to damn than to praise -- but too many folks would rather seize on their one bad experience than describe a dozen great ones.
Not every teacher connects with every kid. Not every administrative decision is perfect. Just as in the business workplace, not every team member pulls his weight, and not every executive bats 1.000.
But to hear a certain segment tell it, Westport schools are in such dire straits, they're one step away from state takeover. A child can have a scholastic career filled with wondrous days -- elementary teachers who instill a lifetime love of reading; middle school staff members who provide comfort and care during a turbulent time; a Staples physics, culinary, Chinese, forensics, photography, creative writing, economics or directing teacher who inspires that teenager to pursue what becomes a successful, fulfilling profession -- yet one offhand comment, one tough test, one bad grade or one poorly handled assignment becomes the standard by which an entire school system is judged. That mindset, too, should be swept away during this season of spring cleaning.
Westport has too much to offer to wallow in unrealistic idealism for the past, or unwarranted negativity about the present. In these dazzling days of dogwoods and forsythia, all of us should clear away as many mental cobwebs as we can.