ACA Blog

Hope Yancey
Jun 15, 2011

For Whom the School Bell Tolls

If my calendar were a box of sharp crayons, I would toss out the wild watermelon, sea green and peach of the hot weather months and color my days with the granny smith apple, burnt sienna, copper and chestnut hues of fall. I start early keeping watch for signs of fall, an impatient countdown ritual that begins in June each year. Once the summer solstice has passed, I reassure myself the days will slowly be getting shorter.

Maybe I’m delirious from the heat, but I think fall has it all.

Fall represents the return of real clothes – denim and sweaters, preferably wool – and real shoes, something more substantial than the flip-flop.

Working in the yard seems less of a chore as the air turns cool. There are piles of leaves to rake, yes, but no two leaves – just like no two snowflakes – are the same, and there is a process of discovery to accompany the drudgery. My porch pots overflow with pansies and violas then.

Trips to the apple orchard yield bags of crisp fruit perfect for cooking apple butter or eating plain. Their hearty crunch provides a pleasing mouth-feel. There’s an excuse to dust everything that goes on the table with a light cloud of pumpkin pie spice.

I spare no effort planning parties in my household during this time, which is why in the past I have found myself intricately carving diminutive jack-o-lantern features in hollowed out oranges, their citrus faces frozen in stiff smiles in the freezer before being filled with ice cream. It gets worse. I’ve rolled a made-from-scratch cheese ball into an apple shape coated with paprika to lend a red, fruit-like complexion, complete with cinnamon stick stem and bay leaves strategically placed to resemble leaves of an apple.

All these trappings of the season are nice, but I think I’ve figured out what most appeals to me about fall, and it’s more than the weather, the clothing, the food or the entertaining possibilities, albeit formidable.

After being in school for roughly 21 years in total, including preschool, I’ve been in school more years of my life than I haven’t been. It’s no wonder I still think in terms of the school calendar. My pulse beats in time to the sound of the school bell, my own “call of the wild.”

The decision whether to go to college wasn’t a question in the home where I grow up; the details weren’t predetermined (where, what to study or even how to pay for it), but it was expected by our parents from the moment of our births that my sister and I would both go.

I sometimes hear people pondering in casual conversation whether college matters now, so findings on the topic “Is College Worth It?” published by the Pew Research Center last month caught my attention. The information is based on a pair of spring surveys of adults 18 and over and college presidents.

According to facts in a summary of the report on the center’s website, nearly half of the public thinks the purpose of going to college is learning skills and knowledge for the workplace. A smaller number say college is for personal and intellectual growth. Others say both.

Among college presidents, survey responses were divided about evenly on this topic. Understandably, leaders of four-year colleges and universities pointed more to the intellectual growth, while heads of two-year schools as well as schools that are for-profit emphasized workplace knowledge and training more.

My experience in graduate school – spending three semesters as a practicum student and counseling intern in the career services office of a community college – provided ample examples of college students for whom higher education was a mostly practical decision. Something undertaken to lead directly, in a clear-cut and linear fashion, to a certain job after completion. Yet, I also met others bound for more schooling, students for whom community college was a fiscally responsible steppingstone on the way to a bachelor’s degree. Each path has validity.

I’ve always thought the true worth of an education cannot be explained in purely economic calculations. There is an intrinsic value to education, especially, I think, one with a broad grounding in the liberal arts and humanities. Education for the sake of education. Education for its own sake, to make a better, more well-rounded person with critical thinking and moral reasoning abilities developed and fine-tuned.

So I would probably line up with those who emphasize the personal and intellectual growth aspect of a college education. But I wouldn’t want to overlook the other benefits, the other purposes of college, either.

Education means a fresh start, regardless of the specific reasons for pursuing it. If I had my way, I’d celebrate the New Year not in January, but in August or September.

Though I may not be heading back to the classroom again myself just yet (never say “never” though), I think the main signs of fall I’ll be waiting on this year are for the stores to start stockpiling school supplies, the local news to begin focusing on a back-to-school theme and big yellow buses to once again be filling the roadways.

And it’s only mid-June.

Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina

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