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The school years fly by, but the Bush era is slow as molasses

May 18, 2008 2:34 am

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President Bush listens to questions during a 2007 press conference. His second term ends in January of next year.

RIDDLE: WHAT occurs right before your eyes, but you never really see it happen?

Answer: Your kids grow up.

We say goodbye to Courtland Elementary School this spring, as our second child completes fifth grade and moves on to middle school in the fall. It will be a sentimental parting, considering the memories that both the kids and we parents will take with us.

We're lucky to have been part of the Courtland Cub family. I'm sure many other families in Spotsylvania and everywhere else can reflect positively on their kids' elementary school experiences. But it's Courtland that we'll recall and smile about.

Welcoming smiles from talented teachers and administrators have always greeted me, as have hallways and classrooms full of engaged kids--exuberant and free-to-be-happy kids.

Children today face increasing pressure to grow up quickly, bombarded by mature messages and images that are virtually impossible for even the most careful parent to police. That makes elementary school more important than ever in establishing the foundation on which young students build their futures, academically and socially.

This summary from the Harvard Family Research Project sums it up well:

"During their elementary school years, children undergo important developmental changes. Their reasoning becomes more logical, their attention gets more adaptable, their perspective-taking grows more sophisticated, and their reading and math skills blossom.

"Throughout elementary school, children begin to integrate knowledge from interactions with teachers, peers, and families in order to construct identities based on their understanding of what they are good at and capable of doing."

This is at least what one would hope would happen. But it doesn't always, and that is almost always because of a breakdown in one or more elements in the teamwork of home, school, and community that produces well-adjusted, unique individuals.

Our experience is that Courtland holds up its end of the bargain. But we also understood going in that the value you derive from the educational process depends upon what you're willing to put into it.

Much study is devoted to secondary schools and their success, or lack of it, in producing graduates who are prepared for life, whether that means work or college. But these students are faced with many other pressures and influences as they learn who they are and negotiate the awkward mix of social interaction and personal independence.

If it's the middle and high schools that prepare students for the real world, it's elementary school that prepares them for middle and high school. So by the time they reach the fifth grade, it's best that children understand that school is no longer just child's play. Courtland Elementary works hard to fulfill that responsibility.

AND NOW THIS

I haven't addressed the presidential election campaign lately, probably because I thought the two parties' presumptive candidates would be established by now.

The two Democratic candidates, however, are doing their best to brighten Republican prospects by wounding each other with daily headline-making attacks. The Democratic spin is that the intraparty debate is healthy, that it underscores the party's penchant for exchanging ideas, and that unity will prevail in the end. Fine.

Democrats needn't really worry because they would have to forfeit the race to lose it. John McCain, despite having the temperament of Zeus (one can see him being so angry that he could shoot lightning bolts from his fingers), is a viable candidate. His military and public service, and his ability to survive the Hanoi Hilton, merit our thanks and respect.

But in the wake of George W. Bush, none of that matters. Whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the Democrat will win, no matter what dirty tricks Rush Limbaugh tries to pull.

A TRAIN WRECK

The Bush administration is leaving behind a train wreck of a nation. Thank goodness America is strong enough, and constructed by Founding Fathers wise enough, that it will certainly rise above his embarrassing bungling to lead the world another day.

But this November, the voters will do what is necessary to make the Republican Party pay, and pay it must, because President Bush:

Started a war he had no idea how to wage, against a conflicted culture he did not understand, that has now cost more than 4,000 American lives and will remain a ball and chain on the U.S. economy for years to come.

Headed a leadership vacuum as Hurricane Katrina barreled into New Orleans and the Gulf coast, then pursued leadership by photo-op in its aftermath.

Initiated a one-size-fits-all education program called No Child Left Behind that lacks the funding and organization to help the localities that need it, and bogs down those that don't with redundant mandates and crippling bureaucracy.

Rejected the science that points to the reality of global warming, ignored the nation's role in contributing to it, and failed to establish a cogent, environmentally sound energy plan that could serve as a blueprint for the world. His idea of energy conservation to sit back and see how high the price of gasoline can get before Americans noticeably reduce their fuel consumption.

Dismantled the worthy Republican ideal of fiscal conservatism by taking discretionary spending to record highs, and tossing tax cuts at corporate fat-cats like rice at giddy newlyweds.

Took divisive postures on social hot-button issues while ignoring an economy marked by excessive food and energy prices, rising unemployment, a housing crisis that hits the poor the hardest, and a quickly expanding wealth gap between rich and poor.

When I think about eight years in terms of my kids growing up, it has gone by in the blink of an eye. But when I think about the eight years of the Bush administration, molasses in January suggests a speed far too great.

Richard Amrhine is a writer and editor with The Free Lance-Star.





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