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For students, teachers, parents with lumps in their throats sending children off to Kindergarten or college, and anyone who must negotiate a yellow bus swarm on the way to work, a fresh, new year began in recent days — or soon will. Schedule adjustments, welcome and unwelcome, have always proved challenging, as has the work required of educators and those who would learn. Somehow, it all seemed simpler once, back in those “school days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days,” when “reading and ‘riting and ‘rithmetic were taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.”

The whistle and whack of the hickory stick vanished long ago. Lawsuits filed by families of the bloodied may have banished them, but we have also learned that beatings don’t improve spelling or heighten the ability to grasp algebraic concepts. Even when folks still sang that ditty, the curriculum had outgrown the three R’s, and today it expands exponentially. Since every attempt at learning inevitably prompts discovery of how we and others wish to be treated, the Golden Rule, taught in some form by every educator since at least Socrates and Plato, remains a topic of interest and debate.

Nowadays we quarrel over all these and many other things related to education. In a time when actually knowing something makes one an “elite” and perhaps even an enemy of the people, some sound ready for the end of higher education. We may still need physicians occasionally, and electrical engineers to keep re-inventing our smartphones, so we’ll teach certain skills and continue technology training, but we can do without philosophy and the arts. These only make folks meddlesome, as do the sciences that sometimes challenge our cherished beliefs and practices. We don’t need thinkers. If we must have colleges, let them produce the best possible human cogs for our industrial machines.

Mostly, we argue about whether, how, and how much to pay for education. At every level, therefore, schools strain to do more with less. In one of the more dramatic cost-cutting measures nationwide, nearly 100 Colorado school districts will save millions in salaries, bus fuel, and utilities by moving to a four-day week. We can only wonder how quickly other schools will trim down to three days, then two, or one, and ultimately we may see the real-live version of Father Guido Sarducci’s Five-Minute University, a decades-old idea one can easily find on YouTube.

As any high school graduate recognizes, a grain of truth about the transience of memorized details makes Sarducci’s proposal funny. An educated person also knows, however, that an abundance of facts, theories, and practiced skills represent only a small part of an education. The truly learned understand that the more they discover and know, the more they have yet to grasp and comprehend. That makes humility, openness to other viewpoints, and a lifetime of insatiable curiosity some of the most telling signs of an educated heart and mind.

To all of you who walk, bike, drive, or ride past on yellow buses on these early mornings of your new school term, may you daily learn at least as many questions as answers, discover the treasure in every classmate’s knowledge and experience, and regularly find yourself in places you could scarcely have imagined.