Friday Letter

September 21, 2018

Dear Parents,

I was very pleasantly surprised to see an article in the Topeka Capital-Journal about our student athletes.  As I told students, this sort of success doesn't happen overnight or by accident.  Congratulations to our student athletes for all of their hard work this season--and also to our coaches and Mr. Nelson.

Congratulations to senior Chloe Akers on being named as a Commended Student by the National Merit Scholarship Program.  Chloe's achievement on the PSAT ranked among the top 50,000 students (out of 1.6 million scorers) in the country.

Seniors Tommy and Isabel Warden are leading a senior service project to help fund a nurse's room in our planned construction.  In collaboration with the Savers program, they are collecting gently used clothing, linens, jewelry, shoes, accessories, and small household goods (no food or furniture), and Savers will in turn donate funds to our school.  If you have items that you would like to move on to a new home, donation barrels will be located in the school starting on Tuesday.  Thank you!

After watching several videos in morning meeting this week about macabre and fascinating world occurrences (ask your child about Snake Island for starters), our students enjoyed hearing this morning from guest speaker Dylan Thuras, the author of The Atlas Obscura.  You can get a taste of this quixotic lexicon of natural curiosities at this web site:  Mr. Thuras' visit was delightful, and the students from 6th to 12th grade--and a few older ones including this guy--were enthralled.  Many thanks to Ms. Barbour and to the Raven Bookstore for helping to make this possible.

I delivered a message to students yesterday that I feel cannot be repeated too frequently.  Many of you have heard me drone on over the years about the danger of focusing on grades as the primary measure of one's education.  There is practical value to grades as an indicator of success and growth in course work, and a letter grade is understandably a handy talking point between parents and students; however, grades do not themselves embody learning.

Education is like any phenomenon that is industrialized for mass efficiency: the structure and systematization of the process can calcify around--and choke out--the living spirit of the thing that was once quite natural and vital.  One of the most challenging aspects of being a teacher is to keep "alive" the joys of learning in the day-to-day grind of classes, homework, and exams.  I sympathize with students who quickly shove a returned test or graded paper into their notebooks because they are embarrassed or fearful at seeing corrections (or, in their mind, "failure").  I encourage students to remember that education is a process that requires risk, mistakes, evaluation, and recalibration.  Students often need to be taught how to utilize mistakes productively--which often means revising their understanding of what a "mistake" is and how the right response to those moments can precipitate growth.  

Clearly this message applies to students who may struggle in a subject, but it is just as important for our perfectionists.  I often feel that students who struggle socially or academically (painful though that process may be) have an edge over students to whom good grades and friendships come easy--namely that a successful high school pedigree doesn't fully prepare one for the demands of the adult world where we have to rely on muscles that have been employed only in times of struggle and uncertainty.  Students who define themselves as "straight-A" scholars can experience tremendous anxiety that can become an obstacle to their own education.  Sometimes getting a "B" can be the best thing to happen to a stellar student.

Obviously, our students--like us--will go through the rat race of the college admissions process, and we can't ignore the relevance of grades and standardized testing.  I think we do our students a service (not only academically but also psychologically) when we remind them that education is an ongoing process of inquiry and growth and not a struggle to game the system so one can arrive at an illusory destination.  Put simply: good grades and good scores are the outcome of success, not the objective.  

Have a great weekend,

Dr. Schawang