A word to the wise: Listen to the owl

A word to the wise: Listen to the owl

My grandmother had a stuffed owl in her house. When we were kids, we were convinced that owl’s eyes moved and watched you walk around the room. I made it a point to stay out of the living room unless someone else was in there, just in case that big old owl came to life and decided to make pellets out of me.

The owl had a little sign that hung below it with a nursery rhyme:

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
the more he heard the less he spoke,
the less he spoke, the more he heard,
why can’t we all be like that old bird?

I think about that owl as I get older, realize just how much I don’t know, and how much I can learn by just paying attention. This past month I had a great opportunity to put that concept into practice. The Kansas State University College of Education was kind enough to name me an Alumni Fellow. The definition of a fellow is a member of a learned society. At KSU, to be a fellow means you get to hang out with some very accomplished people who were no doubt wondering if I was there to make the coffee.

I listened carefully and learned about fellow (See what I did there?) KSU alumni whose accomplishments ranged from working with Bill Gates to improve drinking water and eradicate disease on the African continent, to piloting jets while attending law school and writing best-selling flight manuals by age 30. Dean Mercer and Professor David Thompson were gracious hosts and my old professor G. Kent Stewart joined us for both days. One can learn a lot from listening to them, from educational research to Frenchy Fuqua’s shoes. (Extra credit if you know about the goldfish.)

But the most interesting lesson I learned was from the KSU undergraduate students. They actually let me interact with some students, and as Art Linkletter used to say, “Kids say the darndest things.”
My assignment was to talk to the students about school boards, so I started by asking them about their interactions with their local boards. What they told me surprised me.

  • “When I was in school, I went to our school board to …
  • Ask them to keep our advanced placement classes.”
  • Talk to them about not cutting baseball and softball teams.”
  • Ask them to keep funding trips to national competitions.”
  • Talk to them about keeping our ag program.”

And so on, and so on.

These students were juniors and seniors in education. They are the ones who lived through the recession of 2008 and the education cuts of 2009 and beyond. Their school careers are defined by losing programs and activities. Their perception of school boards is they are the people who take things away. Had I gone in with a flashy PowerPoint with lots of bullet points, I would have missed this lesson. That creepy old owl was right.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending to this story. After listening and learning, I got to provide these future educators with some hope. Because of Governor Laura Kelly and an alliance of conservative, moderate, and progressive legislators, Kansas schools will have more resources in the future. These future teachers will get to provide their students resources they had to do without. For this old fellow, that means the future looks bright for Kansas education.