How many times do you sit around with a group of friends when the topic of education comes up, and all of you are off and running with stories of how schools aren't what they used to be, that teachers don't care and don't try and students don't care and don't try either?
I'll admit it. I'm as guilty of saying the same old ideas as anybody. I graduated from high school 43 years ago and except for dropping off and picking up my children at school and attending a few obligatory programs, I haven't really been in a school building long enough to know what was really going on.
That changed recently when a group of Hernando County Fine Arts Council members and I accepted an invitation to visit the three arts magnet schools, Chocachatti Elementary, Powell Middle and Nature Coast High schools. School district arts coordinator Robert Schoelles was our tour guide.
And the old myths fell, one by one.
Teachers do care. At all three schools we met teachers with stories of how they want to make our children more aware of what's going on in the world, the good and bad, the pretty and the ugly. They want to make the students good citizens of the world.
Teachers do try. A graphic arts teacher at Nature Coast explained how he does a project in which a group of students are given one small square of an overall picture and each one reproduces the square with a regular pencil. One student refused to participate, saying he wasn't really an artist. The teacher gave him one square that was essentially just black. If you can run a pencil across the paper a lot, you can be an artist.
When all the pieces were put together, it was the Mona Lisa. The student who didn't think he was an artist realized his small black square contributed to a work of art, and he has been trying ever since.
Students care. A group of choral students at Powell Middle School enthusiastically shared plans to attend a music festival in the Smoky Mountains. The girls stood straight and tall and their eyes were trained on the teacher as he directed them in an a cappella selection. Our student guides were poised, well spoken and polite.
Students try. At Chocachatti, students are learning guitar, pottery, steel drums, percussion with trash cans and poles, and many more new skills. For each of these classes, community members come in to share their talents, and the kids are soaking it up like little sponges.
The arts are not, as some people sitting around drinking their coffee might expound, just an excuse to get away from so-called real subjects. Anyone singing or playing an instrument knows that math skills are an integral part of getting it right. Music helps develop the part of the brain that processes math problems.
While our group just went to the arts-related magnet schools, I cannot help but believe every school in Hernando County is filled with teachers and students who care and who try to do the best they can in the educational process.
If you don't believe me, then put down your cup of coffee and call the Hernando County School District office and ask if you and a group of your friends could spend a few hours touring the school of your choice. I'm sure the district can find someone who will be your guide.
Find out how our teachers are inspiring students to do their best in the basics, reading, writing and arithmetic. Be reassured that our educators believe we can't afford to give up on anyone. And if you're a former athlete, I bet the gym teachers would love to show you what they're up to. You'll find out weight lifting isn't just for boys anymore.
After your tour of a Hernando County school, maybe you'll decide that there is a lot more going on than we old folks were aware of. Even we can still learn a thing or two.
Jerry Cowling, a member of the Hernando County Fine Arts Council, is a free-lance writer living in Brooksville.