Stand and be counted for learning

Posted by Tom Camfield

I’ve lived in Port Townsend for 90 years and haven’t missed an election since I first cast a ballot after I turned 21 early in 1950. I voted absentee while in uniform during the Korean War and while finishing college in California.

I’ve never voted against a special levy or bond issue for Port Townsend schools, and I never will. This school system did its best, the best it could afford, for me from 1935 through ’47, and while we had our differences on occasion, I was from time to time moulded mentally by some great teachers.

I’m even more fervent than usual these days over the need for supporting public education, driven by the reality of the egomaniacal and obviously inferior mind of the individual sitting in the Oval Office boasting about being some sort of genius. Brags about being a leader of the free world but can’t even spell properly in some of his obnoxious self-serving tweets. Who spurns reading and doesn’t do his homework.

I’m a particularly strong supporter of early education. Once puberty strikes, it’s “Katy, bar the door” and a real battle is joined. From thereon it can become almost a rebellion again learning and a real challenge for dedicated educators. Which is why it’s important to gain the attention of and fill receptive little minds in the lower grades with amazing facts and the virtues of a social conscience.

I probably would’ve survived OK back during the Great Depression from the example of my clean-living and hard-working parents—and the strong encouragement of a mother who had been one of eight children in a dysfunctional and poverty- stricken home and was a high school drop-out in the mid-1920s. But I needed that something more for which to strive. Enter my early grade school teachers. We had no kindergarten back in those struggling times. And not having a birthday before Christmas, I was not allowed to start first grade until on the downhill side toward 7 years old.

Annie Jarvis taught me to read in first grade at Lincoln School in the fall of ’35. And reading soon filled a yawning void and became the first addiction of my lifetime. In my second year of school, I was blessed with teacher Vivian Finnell, who instilled in me—still small and overly shy—a desire to excel and strive for perfection. And my mind built on the foundation of first-grade experience. I went the entire year without missing a word on weekly spelling tests. When I was bed-ridden at home in a darkened room with the hard measles, Miss Finnell came to the house to give me the words of the next week’s test to study—knowing how important it was to me. What a huge influence on my life! She taught here only two years before marrying and moving away. About 12 or 14 years ago she’d read one of my books of history, actually had remembered me after 70 years or so—and wrote me a letter!

This, this time in her 90s, she again inspired me greatly—this time for life’s home stretch. Her spirit is my muse as I write this.

She alone made a major difference in my life, but others also seemed to pop up when needed. Fifth-grade teacher Loretta Lafferty, 4th-grade music teacher Jean McLane (Marriott), a 10-grade English teacher who helped me win an essay-writing medal over a county-wide field of older teens, PTHS typing teacher Emma Baker Pringle in 1944, a college English teacher who boosted me onward, two journalism profs at UC Berkeley.

There were inadequacies of various sorts along the way, of course, but public schools cannot operate on deficit financing as our federal government does. And our state government continues to drag its feet on its legal obligation to fully fund public education. Leaving periodic special levies necessary just to keep things from falling apart both figuratively and literally.

Even in a seemingly friendly climate locally, with ever-changing demographics there’s always the danger that on election day too many citizens will expect the schools to fly first class on a tourist-class ticket.

Once again I’m voting for public schools, via the current proposed levies. It’s my best shot at the moment while hoping for a future including a better-enlightened America.

With a self-anointed “stable genius” in the White House dumbing down America (“Make America Greedy Again”) and with Education Secretary Betsy DeVos pushing to accommodate conservative teachings via private schools for the wealthy and to hell with the “great unwashed,” we main-liners of American society have to stand up and be counted when presented with the opportunity.

The inherent value of education is ever in jeopardy.


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