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op gilchristAbsenteeism in American public schools has reached epidemic proportions. Six million students, one in eight, miss 30 days of school each year and are considered chronically absent. Children of poor families are four times as likely to be chronically absent than their peers and, by ninth grade, seven times more likely to drop out.

op frWe called it “in-between weather,” too warm for a coat, too chilly for short sleeves. Back then, just about every boy in town — and many of the girls, too — wore flannel shirts from late September until spring came around again, when mothers would neatly fold a whole slew of them and pack them up in boxes labeled “Winter Clothes” with a black magic marker. It seemed that all I ever wore were flannel shirts or tee shirts, unless I had to go to church or a funeral, or unless I had to dress up for a rare family picture. Mom made us dress up for Easter and Christmas, but we didn’t go to church that often otherwise, so my dress shirt and dark navy pants hung in the back of my closet, segregated from the others, a “uniform for special occasions” that I would outgrow before anyone would be able to tell it had ever been worn at all.

op gilchristEvery attentive person knows there is a revolution occurring in language, and much of what was once communicated by words is now communicated by images. Texting is quicker than calling, snap chatting quicker than texting, and emoticons quicker than either. My students, for whom emoticons are second nature, are smart, and they have a thorough understanding of icons and symbols. Formal research and informal observations for the last decade tell us these students learn differently than previous generations. Their learning responds directly to their environment’s demands. They learn interactively. They learn through images. They learn through sound. Very few students learn primarily through the written word. And yet the state test they must pass for English IV is a variety of excerpts from literary works and historical documents, followed by multiple-choice questions. 

op frCullowhee rising. Sounds like a fitting name for some aspiring college band, but it best describes what’s happening at Western Carolina University and the community surrounding it. It’s one of the fastest growing places in the region whose potential is matched by the energy of those who live and work there. And this is why it is important that those advocating for zoning measures in Cullowhee prevail in the face of the passionate but misguided voices trying to squelch the forward motion.

Western Carolina University has 7,500 traditional college students who live and study in and around Cullowhee. Total enrollment is around 10,300, but some of those are nontraditional students — professionals seeking a second degree who live elsewhere or students at its satellite locations. By 2023 — that sounds like the distant future, but is now less than 10 years away — that 7,500 figure is expected to grow to 11,000. That’s a whopping 46 percent increase in students, and that doesn’t account for the faculty and staff required to accommodate this growth.

op gilchristMy weekdays begin at 5 a.m. I have time to drink coffee with my husband, thank him for making my lunch, make myself presentable and read, pray, and meditate. I also clean out the cat’s litter box, which is perhaps as important as anything in preparing me for the harsh truths of my students’ lives. I am three months into my 16th year of teaching public high school.

op frIt is a fine day for a cookout, this Father’s Day. It is hot enough that most of the younger folk are wearing shorts and T-shirts, revealing traces of recent sunburn and the random bruises and scratches of youth. This one has a strawberry from trying to steal third base, that one a burn from a dirt-bike muffler. Most of the boys have brought their girlfriends — some faces are familiar, others fresh and wide-eyed and eager to make a good impression. They pay special attention to the toddlers, trying to make them giggle, making over their tiny sundresses and overalls with grand gestures and exaggerated praise, as if the toddlers had put a lot of thought and care into what they were going to wear today.

op frGetting an education is about reducing ignorance. Whether it’s in a rural second-grade classroom or at one of this nation’s elite graduate schools, learning is all about gaining a better understanding of the world around us. That might mean studying the religion of another culture or unraveling the DNA of a sea turtle, but the idea is to seek to understand.

That said, I want those who would be our educational leaders to embrace this concept, that of helping students broaden their understanding of the world in which we live. Unfortunately, at least one candidate running for school board in Haywood County displays such a depth of misunderstanding that by my estimation he is not qualified to serve on the school board.

op frThough I will wear one sometimes as a “fashion statement,” on most days I do not wear a watch. I don’t really need to wear one. Everywhere I look, I see the time of day. In fact, no matter where I go or how hard I try, I cannot seem to escape the passage of time. It’s on my cell phone. It’s on the oven AND the microwave in our kitchen. It’s on the dashboard of my car. It’s on my computer screen, lurking down in the right hand corner.

As a teacher, I most assuredly do not need a timepiece. Everyday, the world around us changes so fast it seems we ought to be strapped into something to avoid being flung into orbit. Simple tasks become complicated burdens. I have been known to stare at gas pumps in astonishment, looking at the assortment of options spelled out for me on the pump and the equally astonishing assortment of cards in my wallet, trying to figure it all out as if it were a column in the second round of Jeopardy. Do I want to pay inside? Pay out here with credit? Where is the button for debit? How do I qualify for the three-cent-per gallon discount?

op frWhen National Newspaper Week (Oct. 5-11) was started 74 years ago, there wasn’t much competition for newspapers. If you didn’t read the paper, you just didn’t know what was going on around the world or in your hometown.

Now that’s not the case. Internet search engines have put thousands of news sites at our fingertips. Social media helps us keep up with friends and family and whole communities of like-minded people.

op educationBy Jim Hunt • Guest Columnist

Earlier this year, I called for a state commitment to raise teacher pay to the national average in the next four years. It was a bold proposal, but that’s what leaders do. Since that time, teachers got a raise, but what they didn’t get was a commitment. State lawmakers need to go back to the drawing board if they are going to show teachers that they are valued.

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