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Chester County Press

Editorial: Look ahead, Enrique, and look behind

08/31/2021 11:14AM ● By Richard Gaw

Fifteen-year-old Enrique ascended the steps that took him into Avon Grove High School this week for the start of his junior year, and in the process, he did something he has never done before.

From the time he was old enough, Enrique has been making his first steps into the hallways of the same school district at this time every year. Like every one of his classmates that he sees again after a hot summer of vaccinations and masks, Enrique is a bold experiment of education, the once tabula rasa of knowledge and curiosity now blessedly smudged with ink and words and equations and progress, and to follow Enrique into school is to see the work of his teachers and administrators all manifested in the form of inspiration, push and encouragement. They have turned his missteps into lessons, his errors into erasures and his flight of fancies into measured steps forward.

What Enrique does not realize is that by virtue of their aspirations, his administrators and his teachers have also equipped him with an invisible layer of protection – a clear coat of armor against the forces of the outside world. This gesture of decency is far from novel, nor is it new; for centuries, the walls of education have been fortresses of safety, where the stark realities of the outer world have been introduced gradually, if at all.

As the start of each school year passes, however, those who teach students like Enrique are faced with the growing realization that the hallways of academia have proven that they can no longer sustain themselves. The pounding against the walls never stops. The moat is crowded with influences in the water, intent on busting down the doors and dominating the conversation of modern education.

There they are, encircling Enrique in the hallway: the unstoppable force of climate change and those who deny it; the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and those who refute it; the lengthening bridge of our nation's political discord and those too ignorant to cross it; the logic of science and those who do not believe in it; and those whose lives may have been saved by vaccination and those who refuse it.

For every action, a reaction. For every dreamer, a denier; for every fact, another fiction.

Less than one mile from the Chester County Press, the new Avon Grove High School is being built, a 298,000 square-foot, three-floor building scheduled to welcome its first students in September 2022, including Enrique, who will spend his senior year there. The school will feature 56 regular classrooms and 35 other classrooms, and its auditorium will hold 1,000 seats and its gymnasium's capacity will top 2,000. Placing educational emphasis on flexible opportunities for a STEM-based curriculum, the school will embrace 21st Century technology and best practices in education and collaboration.

Whether literally or figuratively, nowhere in the intricate design plans for the new Avon Grove High School is there any consideration for the construction of a moat, and for good reason.

It is much too late for administrators, teachers to continue to operate in the safety of their own missions and curriculum. It is time to let the challenges of the world occupy the lessons being taught in our classrooms. For every emphasis on STEM learning, there should be double emphasis placed on weaving subject matter into discussion, application and problem-solving. For every student who wishes not to engage, there must be three who will.

Music education must weave in the rhythms and harmonies of cultures not normally heard outside the U.S. borders.

Social studies education should connect students with the global society not just in terms of introduction but understanding the economic, cultural and environmental challenges that need to be addressed.

History education should have the courage to uncover our country's past – warts and all – and reflect it against the backdrop of contemporary events.

Science education should explore the periodic table of the elements not just as letters but in how these equations have caused environmental catastrophes, and how they can also be used for positive solutions.

Writing education should not just prepare students to write social media content but be able to construct legible written arguments that lead to social change and justice.

It is no longer feasible – and ashamedly myopic – to look at students like Enrique as merely Avon Grove students, or in the context of this newspaper's outreach, as mere individual experiments tucked into the hallways of the Unionville-Chadds Ford, Oxford and Kennett school districts.

Each student's education must be molded from the complicated prism of seeing them as a vessel to the wider world, as future stakeholders whose collective voices must not wither in the face of controversy, conflict or disaster.

There is no other choice. The gravity of the world's axis is in wild spin, and it is toppling one government, one virus and one delicate ecosystem at a time.

Enrique bounded the steps that took him into Avon Grove High School this week and gazed his eyes forward in anticipation of the year ahead. For the first time in his educational life, however, he also looked behind him to the outside world, and saw it in all of its confusion and voracity, aching to gain entrance.