What Education Could Be

Imagine that you are a student. Fifth grade. You arrive at school and eat your breakfast with your classmates and your teacher. You know all of them, because it is a small school and you know everyone. Your teacher asks about your pets, your family, your hobbies because it’s a small class and your teacher knows you too.

You and your classmates get into the bus- except, it isn’t actually a bus. It’s technically a class-3 school bus, which means it’s a van. It’s cozy, has seat belts, and it’s easy to talk to the people around you.

Your teacher asks you if you know why pine trees shape their leaves like needles. And you listen, and you ask questions. Learning is a conversation, things pointed out as you drive by or when you stop to look at something more closely. Your teacher welcomes your questions and encourages your curiosity. Sometimes the answer to your question is known and sometimes it goes on the list of things to research later. The geological history of the area is written in the stones and in the shape of the mountains and now that you know what to look for, you can see it.

You see ecosystems, in a pond, in a forest, in a meadow, and even on the moss covered rocks. You take samples of water and look at them under microscopes (the kind that use mirrors for light and require no electricity). You can see the stages of ecological succession; You can see the pioneer species that move in on bare stone, a pond that will one day become meadow, and a meadow that will one day become a forest. The future of the landscape is there and you can see it now.

You see human history, too. Old fire lookouts, and the places that the roads once were, when they were traveled by wagons. You see dynamite scarring that came when roads were built, and you pass stump cultures from Christmas tree farming.

You eat lunch back at school and your afternoon teacher joins you. Your afternoon is a vocational class. This trimester it’s Building Trades, and you are learning the basics of carpentry, plumbing, wiring and masonry. Last trimester was Culinary Arts and next will be Engineering.

This could be Trego School. This is a glimpse of the future we want for the children of our community. We want them to have opportunity to learn how to do things, to ask questions, and to reach their potential as confident, capable adults.

Help us build the future. Do you have a skill or a profession that would benefit the children of our community? Consider putting in an application at Trego School and applying for a Class-4 (vocational) teaching license.


On Graduation Day

This article is the board chairman’s speech for Trego’s graduation.  It comes after a year of strife and the board’s decision to move to a new model of education that recognizes the level of expertise and education that is present within our community.  The era of the single-classroom generalist teacher has passed.  We’ve recognized that our school will be better integrated into the community by accepting the 21st Century and hiring adjunct faculty to teach the specialized classes our students need as they move from 5th through 8th grades.  Call Shari at 882-4713 if you’re interested in being part of the team – you may have a great idea that hasn’t crossed our minds.

Fifty-nine years ago, I graduated from Trego’s eighth grade.  The graduation speaker was a forester, who seemed to be directing his remarks to Marvin Osler, explaining that Osler Brothers Mill wouldn’t be there for his career.  He was right – as I drive by the old mill site, I see a Koocanusa Brewery building and sign where the Osler brothers once supplied dimension lumber to the nation.

I graduated from a different building, with 3 classrooms down where the outside basketball hoops grow from the asphalt.  This school building came along three years later, as Trego became a boom town for the tunnel and railroad relocation projects. 

I think of the sawmills that are gone – Ksanka, Osler Brothers, Tobacco River, Stevens, Owens & Hurst – and how the timber industry powered the economy in the valley.   Now, the Economic Research Service classifies us as recreational, government dependent and retirement destinations for the economic drivers. Trego school remains.

A century ago, my mother was finishing the first grade at Trego.  I don’t know how much she learned, but I recall two stories.  The first was seeing a bear as she walked to school, and how her teacher didn’t believe her.  “There aren’t any bears in Trego.”  The second was a tale of technology – you see, toilet paper was a new technology in 1922, and that same teacher was teaching students to use that new technology.  One square per trip to the outhouse.  I don’t recall the teacher’s name – but I do recall the lesson that my mother didn’t accept.  I guess we could say that the teacher was preparing her students for the great covid toilet paper shortage of 2020.

A century ago, Trego’s main industry was transportation – specifically transporting logs to Eureka from the old dam on the Dickinson place.  Picture if you can – the gates of the dam blasted open with a dynamite charge, and a crew riding that small flood filled with logs for the 20 mile trip to Eureka.  The dam was last used around 1954 – that industry is gone.  The one-room log school of the twenties burned.  Trego school remains.

Marvin went on to become a teacher – he completed his master’s quite a while before I got mine.  Mom went on to nursing school in Spokane – along with the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Navy put a hospital in grass huts at Milne Bay in New Guinea.  Trego’s home industries were gone – but education pushed their way into future careers. 

The eighth grade is the first big step.  When public education began, it was the step into the working world.  Now, it’s the step into high school.  Congratulations.  You are Trego’s final graduate of the old model.  It was a good system, serving the purpose of preparing young people for the working world.  Still, we probably should have made the change from the 19th century model at least 20 years ago.

The students you’re leaving behind are going to enter a different world of education – and the first change will be learning from specialized teachers instead of generalist elementary teachers for fifth grade up.

Our first goal is that our eighth grade graduates will have the opportunity to bring a credit in algebra and a foreign language credit with them as they enter high school.  Not everyone will pass high school algebra in the eighth grade – but if you do, that credit travels with you.  We’re looking at filling that fifth block with a foreign language that can travel with you to high school.

The friends you leave can expect classes based on blocks and a trimester system.  Imagine for a moment, having a professional wildlife biologist teaching life science for thirteen weeks, then getting 13 weeks of Newtonian physics, followed by 13 weeks of earth science from a geologist.  The friends you leave behind will be moving into an exciting world that takes them further into the sciences.

Social studies – this is my area . . . I became a sociologist and demographer – but next year, the friends you leave behind will move into social studies as well as history.  Think for a moment of 13 weeks specializing in Montana history . . . of 13 weeks learning enough economics that you could CLEP the first college course . . . CLEP?  College Level Examination Program – your friends might not learn enough at Trego to take the test and get credit – but I’m betting at least half of them would.  Between the blocks and the trimesters, your friends will have experts preparing them for high school.  In college, the teachers would be called adjunct faculty – coming in to teach what they are really, really good at teaching – subjects that they love.

Math?  I spent 3 years with dear Mrs. Price – and may have moved ahead 3 months.  Picture a math program that includes the real world applications of surveying, of forestry, of statistics.  Math is power, math is fun – and next year, Trego’s students will be studying math in ways that use real world applications that make math fun and relevant.

English?  Three teachers over a year let us have a teacher who loves grammar, a teacher who loves teaching speech and drama, and another who teaches writers.

I haven’t even started on the afternoon half-blocks.  Picture a two-hour block taught by a professional artist on Monday, moving to Tuesday’s music class.  When I went to High School from Trego, band wasn’t an option for me – I hadn’t taken the required classes in Junior High.  We will be correcting that long-term omission.  Picture 13 weeks of learning electrical wiring, followed by another 13 weeks emphasizing solar energy.  I could go on – 3 trimesters and 5 blocks each week will let us offer fifteen artistic,  vocational and PE classes each year.  Who knows?  We may even rebuild the greenhouse and get some horticulture going.

The 21st Century perspective offers opportunities.  We can’t out-Eureka Eureka.  Eureka has a century of experience at developing outstanding athletic teams.  We can’t out-Fortine Fortine – they still have their first school building in operation.  Our first burned down, and our second was dismantled by Tommy and LeeRoy.  We’re moving on to be the best Trego we can be.

This summer will see some additions to the playground – centered around the idea of individual, life-long sports.  A combination frisbee golf and pitch and putt course will be set up – forms of golf that don’t require a lot of travel or expense (or break windows).  We’re looking at a cross-country ski course for our students – I’ll cheerfully admit that the ability to use cross-country skis kept me employed for six or seven years.  We’re talking about adding air-rifle training – all activities that qualify as PE and can be added to the afternoon half-blocks.

Fifty-nine years between us – and we’re both examples of the old model.  That’s OK – previous graduates have shown that you can go anywhere from here.  The world will provide you a living – you just have to work every day to collect it.  Grab it with both hands – you’re the last of the old model.  From your peer, over 50 years in the past, my heartfelt “Congratulations.”  I envy the things that you will see.


Part-Time Science Position Available at Trego School

Trego School is accepting applicants to teach a four hour science class, once a week, to the upper grades. While most teaching contracts run the entirety of the school year, that isn’t necessarily the case for this one. Trego School is operating on a trimester system, which means that an applicant could choose to teach for a single trimester. At four hours a week, and thirteen weeks in a trimester, that means a commitment of 52 hours.

Who’s qualified? Anyone licensed to teach the subject to the relevant grades. As it happens, this means anyone with an elementary license for grades k-8, as well as anyone with a secondary (high school license) for grades 5-12. In the case of the high school license, the area of endorsement must correspond to the classes taught.

Out of state license? Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Montana’s Office of Public Instruction should be making it easier to obtain a Montana Teaching License for those licensed to teach in other states.

Retired Montana Teacher? Anyone receiving a retirement from Montana’s Teacher Retirement System can be paid up to $21,400 a year by a public school without interfering with their retirement.

What could you teach? The state of Montana provides teaching standards for Life Science, Earth and Space Science and Physical Science. It would be quite reasonable to expect a trimester devoted to each. Large districts typically divide those into a year of earth science, a year of life science and a year of physical science. Why? Those classes are taught by the same teacher each year, someone who specializes in the topic. Trego school is using the same approach- each class taught by someone who specializes. And, unlike the model of the large districts, this approach is effective in a multi-grade classroom.

Experience tells me that the same standards can be met in more than one type of class. Earth Science standards might be met in an astronomy class, which begins with the big bang and ends with the formation of planets and the processes that shape them. A class detailing earth’s geological history might meet the same standards. Life Science standards can be met with an introductory biology course, but a class on evolution will naturally include cell biology and ecology as well. The interconnected nature of life science means a variety of classes can teach those standards. Short answer? Teach the class you love to teach.

Why have a part-time teacher? We ask a lot out of elementary teachers. We license them to teach students from kindergarten up to the eighth grade- and those two age groups have considerable differences. Then, if that’s not enough, we license them to teach every subject; Art, PE, Science, Math, English, Social Studies- for every grade! Allowing teachers to focus and dive deep into a single area keeps teachers from being spread too thin and lets them teach the subjects they love.

Interested in Applying? Contact Shari Puryer ( for more details and to pick up a copy of the District Application.


College and Student Debt

I saw the graph below in an article on, obviously, college degrees and debt load, at ZeroHedge.

The article is worth a look – the author points out that “a significant percentage of the 48,000 students who enroll in history programs for their undergrad studies literally believe that they eventually will become a history professor. Less than half of those who enroll in history actually graduate with that degree after 6 years. None become history professors, while about 15% become elementary school teachers. The ambitious are undeterred, and ~1900 enroll in a masters program, specializing in an arcane field of history. Roughly 80% graduate with a masters in history after 3 years. Almost none will become history professors.

Rather than torture you by continuing with this exercise, we’ll cut to the chase. Nationwide, about 300 jobs open up each year for history professors at the university level. All will require a PhD and those who dedicated 10 to 12 years of their lives (and have $200,000 in student debt to prove it) will be the candidates for those jobs. The same dynamics apply to the other soft majors.”

I’m pretty sure I was one of those “other soft majors.” Frankly, a crushed vertebra gave me the push I needed to get into a graduate program, and I got back into college employment before I got back into grad school . . . yet I see fewer opportunities in the academy than existed in the 90’s.  I recall one fellow explaining how easy a Ph.D. was – his research, in history, had been handed to him by an old neighbor who had, as a personal obsession, spent his spare time hunting down poems written by Abraham Lincoln.  Some folks luck into easy research, good topics and publications.

In general, we tried to treat our grad students well – working to get them the assistantships that kept them going – qualifying them beautifully for a world that no longer exists.  Employment in the academy is now a game for administrators – and in a world full of adjunct faculty, the number of ranked and tenured faculty is dropping.  I’m pretty sure we were not doing all of our students  favors by getting them assistantships. offers some data on bachelor’s and graduate degrees. 

“Between 1980 and 2017, the share of adults with at least a four-year college degree doubled, from 17 percent to 34 percent. The Great Recession intensified the trend, since people often choose to return to school to burnish their résumé when finding jobs is tough. From 2010 to 2019, the percentage of people 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher increased by 6 percentage points, to 36 percent, where it sits today.

The more surprising part of the story is that the college degree is declining in status: postgraduate degrees are now where the real action is. The coveted B.A. from all but the most elite schools has become a yawn, a Honda Civic in a Tesla world. It’s not just metaphorical to say that a master’s degree is the new bachelor’s degree: about 13 percent of people aged 25 and older have a master’s, about the same proportion that had a bachelor’s in 1960. Master’s mania began to spread through the higher-education world in the later 1990s, but it picked up steam during the Great Recession, even more than the bachelor’s did. From 2000 to 2012, the number of M.A.s granted annually jumped 63 percent; bachelor’s degrees rose only 45 percent. In 2000, higher-ed institutions granted an already-impressive 457,000 master’s degrees; by last year, the number had grown to 839,000. And while the Ph.D. remains a much rarer prize, its numbers have also been setting records. Some 45,000 new doctoral degrees were awarded in 2000, a number that, by last year, had more than doubled, to 98,000.”

I calculated that it takes a population of 30,000 to create one job for a Ph.D. sociologist.  Years ago, I read how Imperial Japan, strapped for kamikaze pilots, sent draft notices to (among others) sociology and law students.  In a weird way, it makes sense – they had proven they were trainable, and they weren’t on solid career tracks. 

The world needs plumbers, mechanics, machinists, electricians.  Imperial Japan was correct – it takes a rich society to have jobs for Ph.D. sociologists. 


Why call a doctor, “Doctor”

If you look up Merriam-Webster online, you find “The word doctor comes from the Latin word for “teacher,” itself from docēre, meaning “to teach.” Using that definition, it isn’t much of a logic stretch to figure that Jill Biden’s Ed.D. earned the title “Doctor” – her dissertation is on student retention, she has been a teacher. Admitted, the Ed.D. isn’t granted the same respect as the PhD.

The Ph.D. is the highest academic degree in our US system. At Oxford, a Doctor of Divinity outranks a Ph.D. Academic degree ranks are displayed subtly – at a University graduation, the newly- minted Ph.D’s are usually hooded as individuals, while law (Juris Doctorate) and medicine (MD and DO) are hooded in a college ceremony. Still, I don’t go to a MD/PhD holder because of the Ph.D. The Juris Doctorate replaced the bachelor of laws in my lifetime, so is the new kid on the block. The Russians have a degree beyond the Ph.D. A lot of foreign graduates with a Master’s transfer into the US as equivalent to a Bachelors. Rating degrees is a tricky business. I have a couple of MD friends who avoid the conflict by continuing to introduce me as “professor” to avoid the confusion. It might be a solution for Dr. Biden. Just think of the problems for someone with a doctorate in nursing.

Some folks have hammered the quality of Dr. Biden’s dissertation. I’ve scanned it. I have no problem saying I’ve seen better documents, dissertations that better expanded the scope of human knowledge. I have only served on graduate committees for agriculture, engineering and various sciences. On the other hand, I once worked with a history Ph.D. holder whose dissertation had come exclusively from an Illinois high school graduate’s hobby (obsession?) of collecting poetry written by Abraham Lincoln. In mine, I wound up rejecting my own hypothesis. I kind of figure the quality of the dissertation is the committee’s responsibility.

If you want your own disrespected doctorate, probably the most irrelevant degrees come from General Delivery University You can click on the website, spend a couple minutes looking at the curriculum, and print your diploma, signed by General Delivery himself. At least I think it’s himself – I don’t know the preferred pronoun for General Delivery.

Even “Mister” can be an earned title – the Navy’s Warrant Officers are referred to as Mister, recognizing their status. (Ensign, Lieutenant JG and Lieutenant are also addressed as Mister. Dad earned that common title. To the rest of us, it’s an unearned courtesy.

In England, physicians graduate with the MB degree – Bachelor of Medicine. The BCH is an additional bachelor’s degree in surgery. The Brit MD requires a thesis. Given our proximity to the 49th parallel, it’s worth mentioning these differences. From the pair of Brit physicians I’ve met, the BM holder is called doctor, while the MD is called mister. Keeping the players straight is a bit of a challenge.

I’ve spent quite a few years in the academy, at several colleges and universities, while holding at first a BS, later a Master’s, and eventually a Ph.D. I’m the same person, regardless of the educational title. If you sign your name with your educational title behind it, call me doctor. If you sign your name without educational references, call me Mike.