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Memories and Musings: And the basics are . . . ?

By Gene Gallelli

The ubiquitous word “basics” often gets thrown around in phrases during casual conversations, serious discussions and heated arguments. For example: That’s the basics! Let’s get down to basics. Let’s teach the basics. And on and on, ad nauseum. However, does anyone really know what the basics are and what they mean?

Is addition basic math? Or does subtraction need to be added to make it basic. What about nouns and verbs; are they basic English. Or, is it necessary to add pronouns, prepositions, adjectives and adverbs to make basic English basic?

As an educator, I finally settled on a definition of the basics for kindergarten through sixth grade that I could accept and support: the basics are whatever is necessary to predict success in the next highest level of learning.

Confused? I mean, for example, the basics in first grade are whatever is necessary to predict success in second grade. In math, for example, since multiplication and division are rapid addition and subtraction, being able to add and subtract must, therefore, be basic to multiplying and dividing. One can even assume that learning to dribble, pass and shoot a basketball are basic to playing successfully in a basketball game.

Before I drive myself and everyone else goofy trying to understand what’s basic, I had a memory of watching my Mom making Friday dinner, a ritual she began shortly after a lunch of fried pepper and egg sandwiches. Mom would break a few eggs in a pile of sifted flour, mix it together with a fork, roll it out with a large wooden dowel, cut it into strips, and drape the strips over a wooden rack to dry.

Later, about 5:30 PM, she would set the table, sauté a few cloves of chopped garlic in olive oil with salt and hot pepper flakes, cook the fresh pasta in salted water and toss it with the olive oil mixture.

With fresh bread and a tossed salad it became my benchmark for what “delicious” means or is. Ever since then, any pasta dish with five, ten or twenty pronounceable or foreign ingredients, to be considered delicious to me the dish would have to compete with my Mom’s olive oil and garlic (aglio e olio). Therefore, my way of understanding what is basic to all things is to think of “basic” as synonymous with  “simple” and go from there.

So, where is this philosophical ranting headed? Basically, if you are like me and wondering what it will take to find the basics for getting along with others, developing curative drugs, achieving political harmony, and finding success in life, I’m going to put my money on simple things; you know, the things your Mom taught you while she was preparing Friday’s dinner. I seem to remember that love was a part of it. How about you?

Gene Gallelli was Associate Superintendent of the Dare County Schools for eight years. He received his Doctor of Education degree from East Carolina University, where he taught and supervised students studying to become school administrators.

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