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Michael Perry: Earning extra credit this year

Michael Perry: Earning extra credit this year


As I was typing the first draft of this column, an email pinged in from one of our local school districts. Attached was the pandemic attendance plan. It was carefully composed and thoughtfully presented. It will be met with joy, trepidation and resistance. And may be moot at any minute.

Where would we be without people who give their best? Right now everyone involved in education — from parents to professors — is dealing with their own frantic calculus. Some have options; some have none. Even with school-age children of my own (one in middle school, one in college) and facing my own difficult decisions, I know that all around me parents, teachers and support staff are facing challenges far more complex. There are so many variables and combinations. Single parents. Lack of day care. Lack of food. Of funds. Nonexistent internet. Number of children in the house. No house. Politics. Disinformation. Or solid information that is nonetheless tough to navigate.

Through a mix of privilege, chance, challenges, geography and other variables I am not sharp enough to identify or recall, my children have participated in a potluck’s worth of educational settings. Over time they have attended standard public school, Montessori classes, public charter schools, virtual school, home school and quality time with their elders. In each and every setting, the format was less important than the teacher. I say that first and foremost with public school teachers in mind, as — based on my firsthand observation — they deliver more than expected for less than they deserve. But I am also recognizing those parents out there suddenly thrust into the role of homeschooler and doubting themselves.

I read a quote today that said, “Science self-corrects.” This is both an implication of error as inherent to the process and progress through the process. Whether we convene classes on the family couch or in the public classroom, we are going to take wrong turns, we are going to have to reverse course, we are going to have to regroup and reassess. The idea that we can just declare ourselves geniuses without checking the math has passed its expiration date, and we are paying the price.

A while back after making offhand public mention of our homeschooling experience I received correspondence from a professional educator upset that I would reject public schools; conversely, another individual warmly congratulated me for rescuing my children from the grip of “lefty thugs.” I know I’m not the only one weary of public dialogue as a version of poisonous ping-pong, with both parties going for the smash. I am not cut out for it and in fact would prefer sitting in a quiet room smacking myself in the head with the paddle (I trust some of you will second the motion and maybe even provide the paddle).

We are not all in this together; by now that has become obvious. But a lot of us are in this together. And for those of you doing the best you can in the circumstances you’re stuck with, whether you are teaching in a socially distanced classroom or over the internet or at the kitchen table, know that today’s children will remember their teacher not so much for the lesson but for the commitment. They sense who has their best interest at heart. They’ll grade us later. And many of you, despite all challenges and despite all doubt, are earning extra credit. Thank you.

An original “Roughneck Grace” column exclusive to the Wisconsin State Journal. Audio versions may air on “Tent Show Radio” ( Read more from Michael Perry at

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