Antarctic explorer offers wisdom applicable to school district's woes

Posted: Tuesday, April 08, 2003

The March issue of the Skyview High School newsletter contained some positive guidelines for the present school district difficulties. I would like to quote some of Mr. Pothast's remarks. He quoted some mottoes of Sir Ernest Shackleton, who was stranded with 27 men for almost two years in the Antarctic.

These come from the book "Shackleton's Way." Shackleton's family motto was "By endurance we conquer." Mr. Pothast suggested " rather than wearing down and giving up when we encounter difficult trials, it is required that we work even harder, and we tap into energies and talents we never knew existed within us."

A second quote from the book is, "Optimism is true moral courage." Mr. Pothast suggests, "Remaining optimistic during tribulations in life is not easy, but it is what we need to do. ... If we want positive things to come about in life, it is incumbent upon us to be optimistic and make them happen."

The third quote is "In a rapidly changing world, be willing to venture in new directions, to seize new opportunities and learn new skills. Find a way to turn setbacks and failures to your advantage." Mr. Pothast concluded, "we must constantly be looking to the future, keeping our eyes on our goals, and figure out how to move from our current situation to where we want to be."

I think this is very important advice for all of us, not only at this time and with these trials, but also every day. Suppose we were members of an Indian village that had lived for centuries on the banks of a river. Our education would revolve around the river: fishing, swimming, building and using boats, etc. Also, suppose that the river, for some reason was diverted. Educating our children also would have to change.

We're in this situation. Academic-only schools or prescriptive education will not prepare our students for acceptance into college. Our students need sports, arts, music, vocational classes, foreign languages -- a wide variety of opportunities to prepare them for modern-day adult life. Most students will not graduate from college, but will pursue vocations in many other areas -- construction, para professions, clerks, secretarial, etc.

Our educational system should provide experience in these areas, also. Rather than cutting vocational courses, we should increase the opportunities for the students to experience these disciplines.

The Kenai Peninsula is not isolated from the rest of the world. People from many areas of the world come here. Our students benefit from knowledge of other languages and cultures they gain school. Rather than cutting our program, we should offer more opportunities for our students to learn the art, music and culture of as many areas as possible. Our education should be comparable to the rest of our country and to the rest of the world or better.

I think our school district administration has made a huge mistake in the way they have tried to balance the budget. Rather than grasping at the "quick and easy" solution where many people lose, they need to look for more creative solutions -- win-win solutions where students, teachers and administrators will progress to better quality education.

Perhaps we need to redefine "school," "student" and "teacher." Schools could open their doors to all students who want to learn particular subjects and could even have classes taught after regular school hours for those who want to learn a particular discipline. People with excellence in specialized areas could teach their knowledge, even without a teaching certificate.

Declining enrollment is the reason given for the problems. Why is the school population declining when the population of the country and world is increasing? Perhaps our borough should actively seek new businesses and industry that will bring stable residents. We should not have to accept the "boom or bust" economy of Alaska.

Home schooling is going to continue. In the past, our school district has not been helpful to home schoolers. I think it is very important for our district to change its attitude about them and appreciate their presence, to see the value they bring to our district, maybe even to learn from them. Administrators could meet with home school groups and learn from them their needs and desires for better education for their children.

By thoughtful communication, we may be able to "build a better mousetrap" and make it available to all who want to use it. Perhaps then our district, though small, can become large, effective, efficient and free of debt. Hopefully, our borough and school district can seek win-win solutions so our population and economy can improve.

Martha Merry


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