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The Prairie Perspective

When the total number of honor students in China in any given year outnumbers the total number of students in public education in America, that should give us pause.

Public education faces more direct challenges today than ever before. Public schools are the main social service agency that is open almost every day and public educators are being asked to do more and more to assist in combating the multiple problems facing our society. In the 21st Century, our educational system is being pushed and pulled in almost a dizzying pace to insure that our students have the requisite skills and abilities in the four core content areas, are testing up to their world level peers in reading and math, and are maintaining the competitive edge necessary for economic self-sufficiency. China, India, Japan, Korea and many other countries in Europe are now out front of students in America and it seems that to be second best in the new race to the top is not acceptable to anyone if federal or state government.
I'm sure by now most of you have read the book by Thomas Friedman titled The World is Flat. In it Friedman exclaims, "My parents told me, "Finish your dinner. People in China and India are starving." I tell my daughters "Finish your homework. People in India and China are starving for your job."

Empty Classroom Desks

Think of how different that sounds today compared to when we were growing up as children. When China and India graduate more engineering students every year than we have already trained engineers currently serving in American companies and factories, that should give us pause and also raise a red flag. It should also provide an opportunity to reflect on our role in preparing the next generation of scholars. When the total number of honor students in China in any given year outnumbers the total number of students in public education in America, that should give us pause. When it is understood that if every job in America was moved to China tomorrow, that country could swallow all of them and still have unemployed people living in their country, that should give us pause.

How can American ingenuity, drive, and cooperative spirit ever outpace countries that are catching up to and in some areas passing us by? My only suggestion is that the American public education system must step forward and recognize the cold hard facts. If it is to be it is up to those engaged in the profession to redirect teaching and learning so that our students not only master the skills necessary to be successful life-long learners but they do so in a learning environment that matches their interest and abilities, learning styles and future goals.

I keep another book on my desk and reread passages from it frequently. The book, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff... and It's All Small Stuff, speaks eloquently of many of the problems that school administrators face on a daily basis. One of the chapters that I go back and reread on a regular basis is titled, "Practice Ignoring Your Negative Thoughts". It is easy for school administrators to contemplate the negative when we are bombarded by so many discordant messages and dissonant attitudes.

In the book, the author, Richard Carlson, estimates we have around 50,000 thoughts per day. Obviously, not all of them will be positive, productive thoughts that move the day forward. Essentially, a percentage of them will be negative and what is important when those thoughts creep into our mind is to avoid the all-or-nothing thinking that gets us in trouble. If we only look at things as win or lose, black or white with no shades of gray, then trouble will essentially follow us all day long. Magnifying negatively what someone says or does to us is setting us up for immediate failure as the molehill then becomes a mountain too high to climb.

Our own mental filter often needs a tune-up because we pick out one negative thought or event and dwell on it to the exclusion of all others. Imagine a beaker of water and a drop of dark food coloring. If we let that one tiny drop of food coloring put a negative cast to our day, then we have misused a tremendous amount of mental energy and physical talent that could have been used more productively. Throughout the day, this can lead to misunderstandings with peers, co-workers, parents, students, board members and a cast of thousands when a single negative statement can be published across all media markets in a second.

If you ignore or dismiss a negative thought from your mind you will find yourself at peace. In a more peaceful and contemplative state you will find that your inner strength, wisdom and common sense will prevail and a more thoughtful means of resolution will become apparent.
One of my favorite quotes is from a man named Charles Swindol. Swindol spoke of the power of attitude. He believes that our attitude is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we deal with the situation. In the end we cannot control what people think or say about us, but we can control how we handle the comments made in the heat of the moment. I can't think of a better way to deal with a negative situation than through a positive attitude.

John Maxwell has written many books about leadership, team building and the core values that make good leaders and good organizations tick. In his book, The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Player: Becoming the Kind of Person Every Team Wants, he stresses many aspects of team building for success. One of his primary qualities is communication. Maxwell believes that for a team to be successful it must follow three simple rules when dealing with communication of ideas across boundaries.

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  • Be candid: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak truthfully but kindly to your teammates.
  • Be quick: If you tend to procrastinate and avoid crucial conversations follow the 24-hour rule. If you haven't touched base with the person in 24 hours then be the bigger person and make the connection. Invite others to do the same with you if they have an issue they feel strongly about.
  • Be inclusive: The more people are in on things the more likely they will be positive toward the idea. Open communication increases trust, trust increases ownership and ownership increases participation.

Enjoy the day. Every day we have an opportunity to wake up and say one of two things. We can either say "Good Morning, Lord, or Good Lord, its morning!" Make it a positive and affirmative greeting and you will make yourself feel good all day long.

Each day on the Earth is a gift and that is why it is called the present. Don't worry about what happened yesterday as you cannot change it. Don't worry about tomorrow as that day will take care of itself. Devote all of your time and energy to today. Be in the moment with people and for people and in that way you can maximize your energy and minimize the distractions that deter us from our goals.

The Irish Poet William Butler Yeats said "Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people."


Let us not be weary in doing good; for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good. Galatians 6:9-10

Joel Price

Joel Price grew up in Brookings, South Dakota, as eldest child of a music teacher and a research agronomist. During his professional career he has served as a teacher and coach of football, track and wrestling for thirteen years, with the last eleven as a 7-12 principal/activities director/coach and now as a superintendent/elementary principal/coach in South Dakota. His entire professional life has been devoted to public education with the majority of the time spent in school districts of under 500 students. He lives in a county of less than 2500 in a city of less than 700 with a student population of 330 in grades K-12.