By Diane Lindsey Reeves, Bright Futures Press
A couple years ago my daughter and I visited the Old Salem village in Winston-Salem. Old Salem is a historical museum portraying the day-to-day life of early Moravian settlers in North Carolina. One of the first things we learned about the inhabitants of this village is that they had an average life span that was several years longer than the national average at that time.
Hmmm…I couldn’t help but wonder why. Surely, the quality of their lifestyle had something to do with it. But what were they doing that was so different from other communities?
My conclusions are far from scientific–perhaps based more on the musings of a mother and educator who would like more for her children and grandchildren. But I suspect these people made it easier for their offspring to succeed by doing three things:
- Surrounding them with a caring community that was completely committed to helping them find their way toward responsible adulthood
- Equipping them with a solid education that emphasized both academic and practical life skills
- Providing real world training opportunities that empowered them to survive and thrive on their own with marketable skills
In other words, they provided the ultimate “leave no child behind” experience—without the end-of-grade tests!
One of the most powerful examples of this premise was evident in the Single Brother’s House. By the age of 14, the village’s young boys were brought here to begin a seven year apprenticeship. Essentially, this is where they learned to be men, where they learned how to be productive, contributing members of their society, and where they learned to how to make a good living. Master craftsmen shared their expertise to help prepare a new (and highly skilled) generation of tailors, joiners, clockmakers, shoemakers, tinsmiths, and other viable trades.
And, get this…
There were equal educational opportunities for girls! Quite a radical concept for the late 1700s. Girls received the same offering of well-rounded academics, arts, and music! Their training differed in that, instead of official apprenticeships, they were trained in crafts more associated with home-making such as weaving, fine needlework, and laundry. But prior to marriage, they too were offered opportunities to put these skills to work as teachers and workers in the Single Sister’s weaving shop, laundry, and other enterprises.
The common denominator for both girls and boys was this–nobody was pushed out of the nest before they were ready to fly!
Fast forward to the 21st century where one in four public school children drop out before they finish high school. According to the recently released Building a Grad Nation report, that’s 1.3 million students a year — one every 26 seconds, 7,000 every school day, folks! To add insult to injury, those students who do graduate and complete college often face staggering student loan debt and stagnant employment opportunities.
Surely, we can do better than this. The future—ours and theirs—depends on it.