Often, meaningless things distract us. Whether they’re politicians reciting the same tired talking points and ignoring the public’s questions; pop stars mindlessly instructing us to “just dance” when we could be doing something constructive and worthwhile like feeding the poor; or cell phone alerts that indicate waiting text messages while we’re driving, so much noise in our lives diverts us from things that actually matter.


Aug. 27 was the birthday of my mother and a dear friend.



However, both women’s celebrations took a backseat to Hurricane Isaac, the storm that seemed to spare Northwest Florida but wreaked havoc in New Orleans and Alabama coastal areas—to name a couple—and even destroyed some houses.



That Monday, what should have been a day in Alabama set aside for both Southern Belles in my life instead became a big, fat rain check. After all, the good restaurants closed, and although Mom got her gift, and we enjoyed some time together, all eyes were on Isaac.



I fell asleep early—perhaps 6 p.m.—and had one of my incredibly real dreams. (Oh, I dream in color, wide-screen and high definition.)



In the dream, I became lost, and happened upon various campsites filled with interesting people from all lifestyles. However, when meeting strangers, how do you know whom to trust? Moreover, being without a car in the dream, and having no choice but to fish for food and eat it in these people’s presence, was strange.



I would travel from campsite to campsite, hoping to find a way home. The characters were quite interesting, and the whole thing played out like a movie, with various suspenseful twists, but I won’t bore you with the details. (Heck, I barely remember them, as that was last week!)



When I came to the last campsite, and thought I would finally get some answers, and possibly find a way home, my dream was interrupted. By a Lady Gaga commercial, with the singer herself confessing that the movie had no ending and was just performance art to promote her new fragrance.



You know Lady Gaga: the singer who’s been known to wear meat and plush frogs as dresses, an artist who performs with blood dripping from her face and will do absolutely anything for attention.



In other words, a distraction.



Often, meaningless things distract us. Whether they’re politicians reciting the same tired talking points and ignoring the public’s questions; pop stars mindlessly instructing us to “just dance” when we could be doing something constructive and worthwhile like feeding the poor; or cell phone alerts that indicate waiting text messages while we’re driving, so much noise in our lives diverts us from things that actually matter.



Kids don’t have it so easy, either.



When I was in grade school, in the 1990s, 30 students had one teacher who taught the core curriculum and regularly traded with another teacher for an hour or so when special subjects arose. There were switch-outs for computer and P.E. classes, too, of course. However, imagine the distractions that arose from 29 classmates who passed notes, threw spitballs and mocked the teacher when her back turned.



That’s why the News Bulletin is particularly interested in Shoal River’s learning communities, which represent a first for Okaloosa County schools. (See “Learning the Mustang Way,” on A1 of today’s edition.)



Dividing students into groups of four, or “pods,” and having them take such an active role in the curriculum, means students have fewer opportunities to distract classmates — all eyes are on them.



By helping classmates when problems arise, students learn responsibility and take ownership of their classroom, perhaps, in a way that we didn’t all those years ago.



Though the learning communities’ ultimate effect at Shoal River remains to be seen, students who applied for the program, and were accepted in it, by all accounts have found a way to reduce distractions, focus on their education and, along the way, learn some leadership values.  



And, oh yes — we will be watching, very closely, to see how this all turns out.



This year, all eyes will be on Shoal River Middle School.



Thomas Boni is the Editor of the Crestview News Bulletin. For comments, email him at tboni@crestviewbulletin.com, tweet him @cnbeditor, or call 682-6524.
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