In 1877 Morgantown, WV, an immigrant coal mine worker and his wife had their first child, a son. This family, like many in West Virginia, had a difficult time keeping food on the table. Soon after the child’s fifth birthday, he began working in the coal mines for $0.50/day as a “trap boy”. His life consisted of sitting in a black, unlit cavern by himself fourteen hours a day, opening and closing a trap door as needed. Luckily, his mine never collapsed while he was inside. His life had neither hope nor opportunity to improve. By the age of 18, he began working with the coal crusher. Tragically, like many coal miners of the day, he was deformed by accidents over the years, and breathing coal dust took a toll on his health. At the age of 35, he lost his life to black lung.
In 1977 Morgantown, WV, an immigrant coal mine worker and his wife had their first child, a son. This family, like many in West Virginia, had to work very hard to keep food on the table. But since Compulsory Education laws were passed 69 years earlier, this boy’s story is quite different. Soon after the child’s fifth birthday, he was in a kindergarten class, learning nursery rhymes and arithmetic. By the age of 18, he had graduated from Terry Parker High School, becoming a National Merit Scholar and earning a full scholarship to Jacksonville University. He earned his degree, went to graduate school, and spent ten years in the Information Technology field, even running his own successful business for a while. He finally found his calling in Education. At the age of 35, he was named Teacher of the Year at Sandalwood High School.
I hope you will forgive me for speaking of myself in the third person. But while trying to put my philosophy of Education into words, I was overwhelmed with the thought that except for the year I was born, my story could be the first paragraph instead of the second. Thankfully for me – and all of us – we decided as a nation to do something differently. We decided to treat every childhood – not just those of rich, privileged, or educated heritage – as a priceless commodity rather than a consumable resource. People say we as a country don’t care about education, but I strongly disagree. We agreed as a nation to reserve nearly two decades of each human being’s life exclusively as an opportunity to learn. As a teacher, it is my job to ensure that my small corner of this enormous investment into children’s lives is being used wisely.
Nothing more, nothing less.