Nostesia - Is it fatal?

Jamie Vollmer, in his insightful book, "Schools Cannot Do It Alone," coined the tongue-in-cheek, intriguing word "nostesia" as the name of a disease he has observed for several years. Vollmer calls those who suffer from this disease "nostesiacs." He has diagnosed their illness as a combination of two diseases - nostalgia and amnesia. According to Vollmer, "Nostesiacs hold a firm belief that the grand temples of learning that existed in their golden past were far superior to the schools we have today."

As far-fetched as it may sound, Vollmer even created a formula to quantify the severity of this terrible disease: NQ = A x O. NQ is called the nostesia quotient. It is obtained by multiplying a person's age (A) by the number of years that person has been out of school (O). The higher the nostesia quotient, the more severe is the illness. Having diagnosed this disease in countless individuals across our nation, Vollmer believes that a person with an NQ of more than 1,000 will question and distrust any departure from the educational model that existed in the long ago era when he or she went to school. Those with an NQ more than 2000 have even more pronounced symptoms. They have been known to strongly refute and belittle any and all evidence that indicates our schools are actually doing a pretty good job compared to those of yesteryear. At this time, you might want to put the paper down, grab a calculator, and determine your nostesia quotient.

OK, now that you know your NQ, the good news is that nostesia is rarely fatal. Untreated, however, its effects can be harmful to both the afflicted person and to the schools about which that person has such unfavorable opinions. By holding outdated mental models, the nostesiac fails to recognize and appreciate the many good things happening in our schools. The schools are harmed when they become the targets of undeserved negative thoughts, attitudes and actions arising from uncertain memories of days gone by.

How can nostesia be treated? One way is for the patient to suspend his or her existing mental models of school. Then, with an open mind, seek new information and entertain new possibilities as to the "who, what, when, why and how" of educating children in today's complex and competitive world. Talk to someone (e.g. teacher, parent) who knows firsthand what is happening in our schools and can be trusted to give balanced, informed input. Give some thought to visiting one or more of our schools. Even consider taking part in one of the many volunteer opportunities offered at the elementary and secondary school levels. Nostesiacs willing to engage with our schools and become learners themselves are almost always pleased and impressed by what they find. And, in the process, they usually discover that their disease has been magically cured.

Ray Fleming represents the North Augusta area on Aiken County Board of Education.