By L&T Columnist Rachel Coleman
At the end of my first nine weeks as a full-fledged, public school parent, I realize I have more in common with the immigrant sector of Liberal’s population than long-term residents.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that I’ve suddenly acquired magical second-language abilities. How I wish that were true, but — nada.
What it does mean is that I’m filled with gratitude.
“I can’t believe this,” I thought as I wandered the halls of Liberal High School with my junior and my freshman. “All I have to do is find the right room, and listen. It’s amazing!”
I can hardly believe that 16 adults now team up to teach my two high schoolers every day. They plan the lessons. They explain the difficult bits about scary subjects like college algebra, chemistry and jazz. They ponder how to motivate, how to inspire. They grade the homework (whatever we call it, formative, practice or just the daily assignments designed for learning). They do it all, and I don’t have to anymore. After 14 years of teaching my children at home and loving the process, I no longer put in the 8- to 10-hour days thinking all the time about education.
Someone else does that now.
Accepting that fact has been a complicated process. I loved home schooling and found it offered an abundance of benefits to my family. I also came to see, as my children grew and changed, that nobody has found one perfect way to raise children or educate them. No system, be it public, private or home-based, will answer every need or perfect every problem. For us, public school was the next right step in the process of giving two amazing young people tools to find their way in life.
So we stepped out into a scary, alien, sometimes bewildering new world. Along the way, people stood ready to help. I found that so moving — once I got over the shock.
In this respect, I imagine my feelings might be similar to those of immigrants and refugees. Unlike us locals, we who gripe about weather and gas prices and the lack of inspiration in our local restaurant line-up or shopping options, the newest Liberal residents wander around this cocklebur-prickled, dust-coated town with fresh perspective and endless wonder. I see them in the store, at the library, on the sidewalk, and it’s written on their faces: “I can’t believe this!”
Here they are in Liberal where we drive on paved streets and drink clean water. In Liberal where we pay taxes in the amount listed on the paper with no extras added on for the person collecting the money. In Liberal where school is free and everybody is welcome.
That is not the case in some parts of Mexico, where an education must be paid for, widening the divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” It’s not the case in Somalia, where there’s been no government in place for more than 20 years. In Burma, many children never attend school at all. When people from those countries – and from Guatemala, Peru, Sudan, Vietnam, Laos — arrive in America, in Kansas, in Liberal, they have access to something unbelievably good. When you’ve never had proper food, a humble peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich looks amazing; when you’ve been denied access to education, public school seems miraculous.
Does that sound crazy? Isn’t public education kind of ordinary? Maybe even a bit frayed around the edges?
As the Leader & Times education reporter, I cover the USD 480 board of education, the administration, the schools, the teachers and the students. I also report on what the community has to say about all those entities — which makes sense, because USD 480 is a public school, supported by public funds. It belongs to the public. I hear the good, the bad, the ugly, and the occasional reproach when I make a mistake and must issue a correction. As a professional observer, it’s my job to pay attention to what people say, how they say it, and to try to understand what they think and feel. We might joke that journalism is just the facts, but it’s more than that, especially in a small, local daily like the Leader & Times. Newspaper stories are supposed to help us understand the events that define the place we call home.
They also help us understand ourselves. That begins even as I write. Sometimes, I learn just as much about myself as I do about the subject matter of my stories.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to complain and find fault with public school teachers, administrators and board members, who simply want to perform their jobs well. Like backseat driving and sideline coaching, most of us think we understand what needs to be done mainly because we aren’t the actors. More than that, however, most of us tend to get so invested in figuring out what we think needs to be done, we forget to be grateful.
I don’t know whether I support or dislike competency-based grading; that’s probably a good thing, since it is my job to report from a neutral position. I don’t know what I think is the best course of action for the district’s future needs; good again, since a reporter isn’t supposed to convey bias.
I love Jesus, prayer and the notion of real freedom for all Americans, so I can’t entirely sort out my personal opinion about the school board’s effort to allow students to express their world view in pre-game messages. That’s another plus, I suppose, for newspaper ethics.
But it’s never wrong to cultivate a thankful heart. As I made the rounds at Liberal High School Friday morning, that’s what I observed in myself, and that’s what I’m reporting.