Words & Banter

RED & BLACK ... Going Back To School

Design by Sawyer Pennington, Underlying photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash


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I can't believe it's already September. Labor Day's when I usually lament summer being over, yet rejoice that school has started!


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Labor Day is when I stop wearing white shoes. However, due to Texas heat, I will not give up my white jeans for at least another month or so. But, thanks to COVID-19, I barely go out.


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Oh yes, the coronavirus has definitely changed everything, whether going out or going back-to-school. I know the last few months of school were online but I'd hoped the new school year would be back to normal.


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That was wishful thinking. I know this is not how Sawyer planned to start her senior year. The good news is she already completed most of her critical classes, although the spring semester was a mad dash to convert to online learning, and may have been less rigorous than usual.


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At least, like many teenagers, she's comfortable being online. But I can't even begin to imagine how schools that have always centered on in-person learning can make the shift to online teaching. How do you spin on that dime? And what about elementary school, where so much of it isn't book learning, but actually doing things in the classroom?


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Educators – with students of all ages, including adult education – will have to be creative and innovative.


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Now there's an understatement! Especially as sitting in front of a computer all day can get tedious. Well, for anyone except you.


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Sawyer is very lucky. She has a laptop computer with all the software she needs and, minor interruptions aside, reliable Wi-Fi at home. What about all the students who are not as fortunate? What about the school districts without the manpower and expertise to develop and offer online teaching and online resources?


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Gee, I hate to admit it, but there are so many things we, no make that I, take for granted, until something happens. So, how are those students coping?! It seems so unfair.


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There definitely is an education inequality, and there is no quick fix. Meanwhile, schools are scrambling to get computers they can lend out, Wi-Fi is being made available by non-educational entities, and learning to teach using "less- than-smart" phones is being done by very creative and dedicated educators. They are our new front-line heroes.


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Absolutely! Can you imagine what going back to school would have been like if the coronavirus had struck decades ago when we were in K-12? Or, even 20 or 10 years ago?


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I hope that is a theoretical question, as you know that I prefer to look forward, not backward. Anyway, before the internet and social media, things would have been very different. On many fronts.


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All I know now is that the coronavirus is not only impacting learning, but also grades and testing, which is a HUGE part of what school's all about.


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Actually, in that regard, COVID-19 might be a good thing.


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Excuse me? I know you can spin anything, but really?! How can the coronavirus be good on any front?


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I will not get on my soapbox, but the focus on grades, standardized testing, and teaching to the test has not made education better. The lack of preparing students for life, but instead preparing them for grades and test scores, has led to a ripple effect that impacts not only students in terms of becoming productive individuals, but businesses seeking employees that possess more than just book knowledge.


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Yes, I know. Well, after years of listening to you talk about this, I know. I certainly didn't when I went off to college. You, of all people know my story – great grades, great college, but totally clueless about life. But whether you like it or not, students need grades and testing scores to move to the "next level".


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Really? Not this year. Standardizing testing, including the SAT and ACT tests, are not happening. Even class grades are being impacted. Since Sawyer is a senior, how she "presents" herself to colleges will have to be more than her GPA (Grade Point Average) and test scores.


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No kidding! The original plan was to take the SAT this past spring and again in the summer/fall. Now, I can't help but roll my eyes. For years, all we heard about is how critical the SAT (or ACT) is and now, in what seems like the blink of an eye, it's gone by the wayside.


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Which should help students who do not do well on standardized tests. Not to mention, the ones who are so much more than their grades and test scores.


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That's what we're hoping. Sawyer, although a very good student, knew some of her course selections might be considered "less-academic" than traditional college prep classes. So, last year she put together what I call a "marketing document" for college volleyball coaches to share with admission offices that explained how and why she selected her high school classes, as well as identified her skills and strengths. Things like leadership, communication, teamwork, etc.


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Guess she has been eavesdropping on much of what we have been saying for years.


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Technically, you started it. But once you explained it to me from a business perspective, it made perfect sense. Personally, I think that if students had the flexibility to focus on being well-rounded individuals with strong skills sets and not just grades and test scores, it would be a huge improvement,


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Which further supports my comment that COVID-19 could be a blessing in disguise. It is forcing the education world to come up with alternative ways of doing things. Some may be an improvement over how things had previously been done. While others will show how desperately things needed to be changed.


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I couldn't agree more. But do you think change in the education world is possible? After all, it's human nature to just revert back to the way things have always been done.


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There is no going back to the pre-pandemic world. COVID-19, and the associated economic upheaval and use of technology, has changed everything. Not just education.


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I guess, in one way or another, we're all going back to school in that we have to learn how to do things differently. Although I'm not sure I want to as I really don't like change.


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Well, like it or not, change happens.


Want to read other columns? Here's a list.

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It’s January, and everyone’s probably tired of reading about New Year’s resolutions.

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Not me. Since I never make them, I never feel the need to read about them.

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Of course, you don’t. So, what should we write about?

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How about that we celebrate some of our favorite things in January?

So many “National Days” in January are fun (we’ve written about them over the years) and remind us of some of our favorite things. (Can you pick which are Red’s favorite holidays and which are Black’s?) And whether or not you make resolutions, it’s always important to have a sense of humor and enjoy the simpler things in life …

Answer: Red’s favorites are Bagels, Popcorn, and Hugging. Black’s are Clean Desk, Bagels, and Backward.

Wishing you Happy 2024 – with new beginnings and much more!

Photo by AlexRaths for iStock

The years may fly by (they say the older you get, the quicker time flies), and how we spend New Year’s Eve (see below) may – or may not – change, but our wish for a Happy New Year remains the same!

And although we may be counting down to the end of 2023, it’s important to appreciate each and every day of the new year.



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I remember when I was growing up and old enough to stay home alone (long before the movie “ Home Alone”) on New Year’s Eve. Our parents may have gone out to celebrate, but I had the perfect evening. Before they left, they’d get me my favorite takeout Chinese food (again, long before the days of food delivery services), and I’d savor the egg drop soup with wontons and a large container of pork fried rice, knowing that I didn’t have to share with anyone. Then, I’d settle in for a night of old movies on TV, only taking a short break to watch the ball come down in Times Square , before going back to watching movies for hours. (Long after my parents had come home and gone to sleep.)

Fast forward more decades than I care to admit, and my favorite way to celebrate New Year’s Eve is pretty much the same. Except now, what would be even more perfect would be to have my daughters home with me.


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I started to say that Red has always needed to get a life, but the reality is that I understand why she likes a quiet New Year’s Eve and has created her own “special” tradition. Over the years, I would celebrate New Year’s Eve by going out to a “special” dinner with my spouse or significant other (if applicable) and dear friends. The funny thing is the older we get, the earlier we return home. We tell ourselves it is because we do not want to be on the roads with the drunks, but that does not explain why we all admit we usually are asleep well before midnight.

Whether celebrating by yourself or with others … whether you find yourself feeling extra warm and fuzzy and reminiscing at midnight, like Red, or being pragmatically optimistic, like Black, who will raise a glass and toast her friends as well as the promise and hope that the new year offers us all … we want to wish you,

Happy New Year! And may 2023 be filled with health and happiness, love and laughter.