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Learning Matters: Lessons for life, lessons for all

Learning Matters: Lessons for life, lessons for all

Whether or not we all agree on the importance of curriculum standards (I’m on record as supporting the Common Core goals), I expect most of us could list a few things we’d like more children to learn in school or elsewhere before they become adults.

Beyond the “critical thinking skills” discussed in education circles, in addition to the knowledge deemed necessary in math, English, science, history and arts, I have some particulars I’d like every student to take and carry with them.


I’ll start with three on my list of lesson-presents I’d like to wrap and give away this holiday season. They’re not new presents. They’ve all been wrapped and given before by PTAs, schools, scouts, community groups like Glendale Healthy Kids, and certainly by many parents.

But they’re gifts we need to keep wrapping and giving again, to more children, with the hope they’ll be received and taken to heart.


Health awareness. How we treat our bodies changes lives, sometimes forever. I’m reminded of “lessons not fully taught” whenever I donate platelets or blood at the Red Cross, and must review and answer the questionnaire about tattoos, body piercings, and other bodily fluid exposures that could render my blood unsafe for use.

I wish as a society we could be more insistent on sharing critical biology lessons with our children, before they find themselves in a frightening pause as they answer one of those Red Cross questions. I wish we were more like Sleeping Beauty’s father, who, on hearing the prophecy that his daughter would “prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die,” promptly burned all the spinning wheels he could find.

As it happened, his daughter pricked her finger anyway, but it wasn’t for his lack of trying. Would encouraging everyone to read the Red Cross questionnaire be a place for us to start?

In 2000, Glendale Council PTA representatives previewed a video on the human liver, designed as a health lesson for sixth-graders. It struck me then as great information for children and adults, particularly since I’d just lost a very dear cousin to Hepatitis C, before he could receive a liver transplant.


I’d still argue what I said to Jim Brown, who was superintendent of Glendale Unified at the time, and his cabinet: “No one should graduate without seeing the liver video!”

Luckily for our teachers, who have more than enough to accomplish in any given week, updated liver and other health videos are readily available on the Internet. (Caution: check the sources for reliability.) Getting our children to watch them remains a challenge.

Another lesson I’d hoped would be more deeply ingrained by now: alternatives to litter. In the mid-1990s, as I cleaned up a very trashy quad after an elementary promotion ceremony, I resolved to help ensure future students not graduate before learning to clean up after themselves.

I am sorry to say I failed in that resolve. Still, I laud the continuing efforts of Neighborhood Services and the Committee for a Clean and Beautiful Glendale, and I remain hopeful. Wherever a strong principal or other leader creates a culture of shared responsibility and pride of place, trash can disappear.


I’ve seen it happen at Clark Magnet High School and elsewhere, so I know it’s possible... as long as we don’t encourage the belief that picking up trash is someone else’s job.

My third wish for this year is a lesson-present I think has to be given by mothers. I hope for a day when every mother insists that her children never engage in a fight because of a slur against herself or any other mother.

Of all the reasons for all the fights I’ve heard reported over the years, avenging slurs against mothers has been among the most frequently claimed. How many mothers have mourned the loss or detention of a child stemming from an inciting word uttered against a mom?

Many thanks to all who continue to deliver important lessons about health, the environment and safety. There are plenty more gifts to distribute.


JOYLENE WANGER is a former member of the Glendale Unified School District and a long-time member of the PTA. Email your lesson-present wish list to