Gary E. Briers, Professor
Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Texas A&M University
It’s Not the Destination; It’s the Journey
—What I’ve Learned on My Journey, First Installment/Beginnings
As I mark my 50th year as an educator, I find it so appropriate to reflect on the journey. Involvement in formal education has been a most significant part of 65 of my 70 years! What have I learned—both inside the classroom and outside? LOTS. But, in this note, I want to focus just on the early years—mine and those of our most precious human resource: our children.
I started my formal education as a first-grader at Addicks Elementary School in 1957. No pre-school, no kindergarten for this child growing up in the 1950s. But unlike so many children today, I had loving, caring, supportive parents and grandparents to nurture me through my early years. Much too often, children of poverty do not have that luxury of support. In most of our public schools today, the educational journey for children extends “downward” to age 3 or 4 or, at latest, 5—pre-school, pre-K, kindergarten. And those early years, again, are most important and valuable for those who don’t get proper nurturing and care and “read to” in early years. (Yes, reading to young children has been found to be a most valuable practice!)
The CEN Model of P-20 recognizes the “P” as pre-kindergarten. For students of poverty and other marginalized students, even that might not be early enough. I contend that the “P” might be better served or deemed as “pre-natal.” Education for expectant mothers (and fathers!) should be a strong consideration for our extended educational network—that is, within CEN schools but extending to our other partners. And, in fact, there ARE educational agencies serving this population: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, especially its Family and Community Health Unit and its agents and specialists provide pre-natal and early-childhood care and nutrition and parenting information and educational programs. Just as CEN and its network schools partner with AgriLife Extension through 4-H to facilitate problem-based research of third- through twelfth-graders, so, too, might we encourage expectant and new mothers and fathers to seek out and use services of AgriLife Extension—or other agencies that serve this important population in your community? (How all are you collaborating with your county extension agents?)
If you’re not convinced of the importance our attention on “pre-pre-school” children, I invite you to read Roger Thurow’s book The First 1,000 Days for an eye-opening look at what’s THE MOST IMPORTANT time of human development—physical, mental/intellectual, social, emotional. (I found the book available online to purchase for as little as $3.98 with free shipping!)
My lesson learned: Start ‘em when they’re young! “P” means pre-natal! In future installments, I hope to share other lessons I’ve learned on my journey. And, I’ll share one more tidbit about that journey of mine: I was born in a 1951 Pontiac sedan on our way to the hospital. My parents and paternal grandparents owned and operated a dairy just west of Houston. So, Dad and Granddad were somewhat proficient in delivering newborns—well, newborn calves, that is. It wasn’t PLANNED that I be born in the car. But I couldn’t wait. While it’s rare to be born in a car, the next is more nearly unique. Granddad stopped the car in the parking lot of the Addicks United Methodist Church, Dad tied off my umbilical cord with a drawstring from the toilet seat lid (Are you old enough or rural enough to remember a toilet lid cover drawstring?) courtesy of the Methodist minister, and they turned the car around and returned home. Knock on wood as I’ve never been a patient overnight in a hospital—70+ years and counting. Yes, start ‘em when they’re young, and hit the ground running!