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My local education taught me how to understand what I was learning E-mail
Saturday, 12 October 2013 10:05

By L&T Publiosher Earl Watt

As someone who grew up in less that ideal conditions, I have discovered two critical needs when trying to escape poverty or abuse — faith and education.

I am fortunate to have been surrounded with childhood friends and family that took me to church on a regular basis and helped me correct a moral compass that was not aimed in a positive direction as a child.

And I was also fortunate to have teachers that pushed me to be something better than I ever thought for myself.

I was not the easiest kid in the classroom. Whether it was making a joke or picking a fight, my teachers began to instill in me a sense of self-worth that I was not getting at home.

How many other kids going through our school system may have had a similar background before a positive influence stepped in and made a difference?

I have to be careful in balancing my fondness for the education I received in the Liberal school system and at Seward County Community College and Kansas Newman College with changes that are being presented today.

I believe my teachers not only challenged me to earn my grades and learn the material but to develop an understanding of the concepts at the same time. We can all learn the answers, but do we understand what they mean?

When we were young, the first question we started to ask was a search for understanding, not knowledge. It was the simple question, “Why?”

I am not convinced any grading system accomplishes this ultimate goal of education, but good teachers do it every day, regardless of how they mark the grades in the book.

Because I cherish my educational background, those who compare the methods used then as archaic and ineffective automatically make me defensive.

It wasn’t their intent, and they may not even know that is how their words were being interpreted, but for those of us who believed we worked hard to earn grades, and now they tell us the grades were a meaningless way to measure our academic achievements, we will resist that simply on the fact that we believe in the merits of our own education.

When competency-based grading was proposed, I attended the meeting that explained it, and in the first minute of the conversation, the traditional method was thrown under the bus as ineffective and archaic.

My mistake was believing that they really thought this was a comparison between grading styles. What I should have realized is that those presenting the issue were not well trained in the art of public speaking and had already alienated the people that were probably their strongest allies — parents who care deeply about education.

They believe they have discovered a better evaluation method, and they may be right. They may be wrong.

Until something is tested, we really won’t know.

In other places where it has been implemented, there has been a mixture of successes and failures. The key seems to be how it is implemented and if the staff is on board.

The good news is, as board member Nick Hatcher shared, we are talking about the educational process and how to make it the best it can be.

Considering something new should not be ridiculed simply because it is untested.

And supporting tried and true educational processes shouldn’t be ridiculed, either.

I would encourage the competency-based supporters to quit bashing traditional grading methods as if this was a competition between the two, and supporters of traditional grading to quit bashing competency-based grading.

For one, I bet every competency supporter was a product of traditional grading.

It seems in today’s polarized world, there has to be a hero and a villain.

In this case, traditional grading was villainized, making its supporters the opposition, while the new system was the heroic, superior system.

This could just as easily be defined as rogue educators trying to re-invent the wheel. They could be considered the anti-graders.

Like it or not, those are the lines we have drawn simply by making this a wedge issue of one system vs. another.

What if we would look at these two methods as complimentary to one another? What if there was merit to working through lessons, for credit, but also having to reach competencies before moving on?

Instead of being in competition, let’s be the community that finds a way to take the best of both systems with dedicated educational professionals and create something that works for our kids.

I believe strongly in education, and I believe strongly in our educators. There have been so many accomplishments in education in Liberal in the past few years. I know they can find a way to make this work in a creative way that gives everyone a stake in its success.

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About The High Plains Daily Leader

The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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