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Staff Editorials

“Learning” - It’s not just for the schoolhouse

    When we think of education, images of desks, Smartboards, tests, curriculum and teachers come to mind. While teachers and schools are certainly an invaluable part of our education, this school year we want to remind parents (and children) that learning is not relegated to active teaching environments such as the classroom.
    “Learning,” a term that has been all but hijacked by educational institutions, isn’t only about memorizing math problems or being able to recite every element on the periodic table. Learning is a process that happens all the time. It happens at home, on the ball field, it happens while you’re cleaning up a spilt cup of orange juice; Learning is a process by which we observe, absorb, ask critical questions, analyze, process, draw conclusions and apply our findings to other areas of our lives.
     But sadly we tend to compartmentalize --- A child’s education happens over there and the rest of their life happens over here. This attitude is a disservice to our kids and to our collective future. Students spend more time each day out of the classroom than in, and as soon as they leave campus they are berated with information and ideas, from television to music to family members and anything else that is part of their day.
    As parents we need to take advantage of these hours, which represent countless opportunities to educate our children outside of school. We need to actively expose our children to new experiences, new ideas and new people in the world, and we need to do it in a way that nourishes their sense of curiosity and critical thinking.
    Here are some things you can do to encourage your child to think outside of the textbook:
    Talk with them about things that you are interested in.
    Tell your children about things you think about during the day. Tell them about your interactions with people and how they make you feel. Tell them about your thoughts on current events. The simple act of sharing your thoughts will be stimulating for them and will create a bond between parent and child.
    Let them have their own opinion.
    Ask your kids how they feel about things going on in the world and do it so they don’t have fear of judgment or ridicule. This will make them feel like their opinions are valued and will foster more critical thinking and creative thought.
    Pursue your own hobbies
    It’s important to give your children attention, but when they see that you have interests of your own they will be more inclined to pursue their interests.
    Downplay the importance of winning
    Rather than offering continual rewards and making winning top priority, teach your children that there is more value in the thought and effort behind something. Too much emphasis on winning creates a mind that will be fearful of making mistakes and effort will only come when there is promise of a reward at the end.
    Teach your children about basic life skills
    This is a main element of the Montessori Method. Children are taught how to do household duties such as cleaning dishes, baking or cutting vegetables. Beyond children feeling empowered by being trusted to an “adult” task, children can learn valuable lessons from tasks that seem mundane. Cooking, for example, can teach a child measurements and health.
    Enrich with culture
    Take you children to places of cultural importance such as art galleries or museums; take them to see plays or to a busy downtown street or café and talk to them about the difference in lifestyles of people who live in rural areas versus those in the city.
     There are many other ways to make everyday an education in your child’s world. So as students enter public schools, private schools and homes schools for the first time this school year, remember that they are learning all the time; sometime deliberately, sometimes not. It’s our job as parents to make them realize this for themselves and inspire them to want to become active participants in their own education.

Comments from Main Street

        A story two weeks ago on vacant buildings in downtown Jasper prompted a barrage of comments both online and at our Main Street office. There are several points we’d like to address:
Incorrect: Main Street has a lot of vacancies:
    It is not true that Main Street has a lot of vacancies as many commenters assumed. Several people said things about it being mostly empty on some blocks but this is far from accurate.
    Main Street spaces are actually mostly full, what was (and is) empty are three key corner buildings that give an impression of widespread vacancy, plus a few smaller places and the fairly large former Nan’s Hallmark.
    One problem, however, that goes un-noticed is that if you look on the backstreets on either side of Main Street, there is a lot of space sitting idle. The sprawling former Sidebar/Sharp Mountain Grille has been empty for years. The adjacent gas station is also empty, as is the former Flying Sheep. Of additional concern is when the county ends their lease of the Old Federal Building, which served as an annex courthouse, that very large office building will be hard to fill.
    Unlike Ellijay and Blue Ridge, we do not see a thriving business atmosphere on the side streets and back streets. Years ago when the Donut Shop on Stegall Drive dominated morning eats and when a bottling plant sat in the Sidebar site, you could see open doors from the Old Depot on the east running all the way down to Jasper Elementary on the west side of town.
Incorrect: All the businesses are moving to the four-lane
    Take a drive over to Highway 515, there is no building boom going on over there (unfortunately). In fact the only construction is at the old KFC building. There hasn’t been a major groundbreaking on the four-lane since Walmart located there and you will notice that none of the out-parcels around it have attracted a business.
    Other than the NAPA business and one insurance office, it’s hard to recall any businesses that moved out of downtown to be nearer the four-lane, since the big car dealers Jasper Jeep, Vernie Jones Ford and then Lawson Chevrolet relocated.
    The idea that businesses in downtown are packing up specifically to go the four-lane is just not accurate.

Incorrect: The “Blue Building” has a large negative impact
    While people routinely cite the “Blue Building” (former NAPA store) as a prime deterrent to commerce on Main Street, there is no proof that it actually affects any sales. When Main Street Clothing went out of business, the owner listed a variety of challenges; no where on the list did the color scheme of nearby buildings come into play, nor are we aware of any downtown merchant who cites the blue building as holding back robust growth.
    Jasper’s downtown is attractive with the trees and lights, monument, wooden bridge and water park. There will always be calls for improvements in town ascetics, but this is not a critical issue.

Incorrect: The government needs to do something for downtown
    When people say government needs to step in or lead the way with revitalizing downtown, it’s often hard for them to nail down exactly what action they want (even when the speaker is a government official).
    Do we really want tax-dollars flowing into private buildings and do the owners want assistance? Two of the empty downtown buildings are owned by the brother of Jasper’s mayor. Imagine the uproar if you see development authorities going out on a limb to help fill those buildings or spruce them up as has been suggested. The “Blue Building” is owned by a bank, do we want government dictating to private property owners on appearance or using tax dollars to paint it (both of which have been suggested)?
    At this point, we’d caution people making calls for use of government authorities or funds in downtown to keep in mind exactly what you are calling for. Grants to help a new business open is one thing, pouring money or forcing changes directly into the buildings is a more worrisome proposition.

    Ultimately, we’d argue the fate of Main Street will hinge on private commerce and entrepreneurial spirit that is assisted by the traffic flow from our new courthouse and the clean, attractive streets.

Golfing while Egypt revolts may be best policy for Mid-East

    While decried by some as inattentive, there was actually something very comforting knowing that our nation’s president was playing golf and the Secretary of State was boating while coup was underway in Egypt.
    Our leaders may or may not  have been getting regular briefs of the downfall of  Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (of Islamic Brotherhood background) but any way you look at it, America wasn’t working for a regime change overtly nor does it appear we are even  playing the role of an active booster there.
    It was nice to see America to sit back and essentially say, “we don’t have a dog in this fight.”
    At this point most Americans have had our fill of  being drawn into or pushing into middle eastern conflicts. With Iraq, Afghanistan where we have been directly involved for years and in situations involving Iran and Israel where we are always front row in any situation involving our nemesis and long time ally, respectively, it’s a relief to be sitting this one out.
    By all accounts Egypt’s first democratically elected president needed the boot. He had, according to news reports, done a horrible job running the land of King Tut, with western critics opining that his first duty was always advancing the Islamic Brotherhood grip on the country and only secondly, actually trying to operate one of the oldest nations on the planet.
    This is a great opportunity for America to advance our western beliefs in a large country in the region simply by maintaining the position of “Good luck over there. If you need anything give us a call, but only after you get everything sorted out.”
    We are not so fortunate with Syria. Unfortunately there President Barack Obama has shown all the steadfast leadership of a five-year-old on a new playground, “Let’s go here, let’s go there. No, let’s go back over there.”
    After the constant reports of middle eastern uprisings of the past decade, even regular news junkies get glazed looks when another regime change or revolt makes headlines.
    But Syria lies like a looming iceberg – and it’s more troubling due to the mixed signals from Washington regarding the revolution to topple an Islamic tyrant.
    With a body count nearing 100,000 the ongoing conflict to depose Bashar al-Assad shows no sign of resolving itself either way.
    For the U.S. policy, first we steered clear, then we agreed to provide some non-combat support and sort-of promise that we would definitely do something if the Syrian strongman resorted to chemical weapons, which he did. Then Washington said it’s not fully clear that they really used chemical weapons on their on people, then it was proven very clearly that the Syrians had used chemical attacks against the rebels. The military forces also bombed and shot numerous civilians who happened to be close to rebel areas.
    So then we stepped it up with some military supplies, but definitely not a no-fly zone or troops on the ground. And in fact, the military supplies were limited over concerns that the weapons might one day be used against U.S. interests by the less than reliable rebel groups – as happened in Afghanistan. The short-term plan is to force the Syrian leader to the negotiating table with the rebels bolstered by the additional firepower.
    Of course, to further complicate matters, terrorist group Hezebollah and Iran are both backing the Assad forces trying to hang on to control and Russia and China both indicated they had no beef with the rulers and didn’t support any change.
    Looking at these two scenarios, let’s hope Syria winds up more like that in Egypt – where the issues can be resolved without the need for the U.S. to enter into a protracted, complicated and increasingly deadly Mid East war.

A night at the symphony must be benefical

By Dan Pool, editor
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    The comedian Victor Borge once joked that he knew only two pieces of classical music – “one is Clair de Lune and the other one isn't."
    That pretty well sums up my knowledge of symphony as well. My own musical tastes tend to run the gamut – of rock that is. With playlists ranging from Yonder Mountain to the Talking Heads with some Waylon Jennings thrown in for variety, I rarely venture into performances where the musicians wear tuxedos.
    Seeking dry, indoor entertainment over the Independence Day holiday, however, my family went to the Falany Performing Arts Center at Reinhardt College to see The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Luckily we had bought tickets ahead of time as it was a sell out.
    I am sure that it’s healthy for everyone, particularly kids, to be exposed to the fine arts, so the night at the symphony was as much parenting as pure entertainment.
    If challenged I can’t elaborate on why I’m convinced it’s beneficial in the greater scheme of things to listen to a stage full of violins, oboes, cellos and other instruments whose names I’m pretty vague on.
    Perhaps the reason I have limited appreciation for classical music is growing up in Pickens County in the 1970s, there were scant opportunities to attend symphony performances without a long drive.
    The opportunity for live performances of music other than rock and country is now afforded this community with the Falany Center hosting a regular calendar of not only classical, but jazz, and unusual music from around the world. Sharptop Arts Center in downtown Jasper and the Casual Classics series also give some chances to hear highbrow music.
    I must confess that my night at the symphony was surprisingly very enjoyable. There was a certain novelty of watching the orchestra in a small venue. And the music itself was engaging, even to someone with a limited background in woodwinds and strings.
    One person leaving the concert remarked that the Atlanta Symphony selection was perfect for all. Two of the works (Brahms’ Variations of a Theme by Haydn and On the Beautiful Blue Danube) should have been familiar to everyone while the final part of the concert (Symphony Number 2 by Jean Sibelius) is a rare selection that fans of symphony should appreciate hearing live.
    I actually didn’t know the Brahms, but would bet that most everyone would immediately recognize Strauss’ Blue Danube. It was nice to know one of the works being played, though the snippets of this song used in commercials and movies don’t do the whole work justice.
    There are a bandwidth clogging number of websites which extol the benefits of classical music. From a firsthand point of view, I’d encourage you to go and take your kids to some of the programs at the Falany, Sharptop or other local venues.        
    Even if you don’t see an immediate benefit, somewhere down the road in their life, maybe in college, maybe on a job site, your kids might get to say “classical music? Yeah, I’ve been to the symphony before.”
    Exposing kids to fine arts or anything they wouldn’t normally get to see/hear/do opens all kinds of doors. And for a small north Georgia town, we are lucky to have access to a world-class performance center, the Falany, in Waleska.
    It should be noted that tickets to the Falany Center shows are very reasonable, especially when you factor in saving a sizeable amount on gas and with free parking you wouldn’t get in Atlanta.
    Look for regular news of upcoming performances at the Falany Center or in other venues nearby on our community calendar or in our pages each week. It may surprise you how much you like something new.   

Freedom and pickup trucks

By Angela Reinhardt
staff writer

    Last week I saw a young boy, maybe 13, riding in the bed of an old pickup truck. The sun was on his face, the wind was tousling his hair, and an ear-to-ear grin revealed the sheer gloriousness of his adventure.
    Seeing this boy made me think of my own childhood. Dad would throw an air mattress in the bed of his camper-topped Ford F-150 and let my sister and I ride in the back from Atlanta down to Florida where we vacationed in the summer.
    I imagine our smiles looked like the boy’s.
    Even though at the time I didn’t think about why I enjoyed it, I understand now what made those trips so ecstatic --- my sister and I felt liberated. Whether it was true or not, for eight hours we were masters of our own universe in the bed of that candy-apple-red Ford. We were autonomous rulers of our 8’x6’ kingdom, beholden to no ones’ laws but our own, our feelings amplified by the rush of traveling on the freeway without a seatbelt. The world outside became new and exciting as it zipped by the window.    
    Peoples’ desire for this feeling of freedom lies at the heart of America’s Independence Day. We all innately want, I’d even argue need, those self-evident truths our country’s founders spoke of --- the God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    As cynical as I can be about our country and its leadership I was brought to tears watching an episode of CNN’s Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain, which is for all practical purposes a travel, food and culture program. In this episode Bourdain and his crew went to post-war Libya where rebel forces had recently overthrown and assassinated the tyrant Moammar Gadhafi. I walked away from the program with a renewed appreciation for home.   
    In between seeing Bourdain sample some culinary staples of the country, I listened to Libyans and ex-Freedom Fighters describe crippling oppression under Gadhafi’s regime and I saw images of the war-ravaged town of Misrata.  I had a difficult time imagining what life would be like under those conditions. I then watched as Libyans celebrated in the streets after Gadhafi’s fall and, while the country itself is still very much in a state of uncertainly about the future, the hope in their voices and the light in their eyes were palpable. 
    In an essay about his experiences Bourdain describes some post-Gadhafi scenes --- Children shooting off fireworks; parents buying cotton candy for kids at an amusement park; sandwiches and coffee arriving on time in a hotel lobby; city fountains that work.
    “This is Tripoli, after 42 years of nightmare,” Bourdain writes. “The city and its people are just now waking up, trying to figure out what to do -- and how to do it. After 42 years… absolute control and centralized power vaporized almost overnight.”
    Because our independence from England happened so long ago, and because wars have not been fought on our soil for generations, it is difficult for many Americans to appreciate the freedoms we have that so many others don’t. I know I am guilty of taking them for granted.
    The point is that freedom is woven into the fabric of who we, the people of the world, are. When we don’t have it we will go to outrageous lengths to get it, and when we do have it life blossoms with potential. It blossoms just like it did for American settlers; it blossoms just like it did for the Libyans; it blossoms like it did for the boy in the truck and my sister and me.
    Now I watch my own children unbuckle and climb between the two front seats to stick their heads out the sunroof when we hit our dirt road. They find freedom in being unrestrained, and in the sensations of wind and sun against faces with closed eyes and bodies with outstretched arms.
    Here’s wishing that you spend some time this week reflecting on the freedoms in your own life, and hoping that you are able to open your heart up enough to appreciate them.
    Happy Fourth.