Learning from Dad

We are happy to begin a series of posts from our board members and volunteers. First up is our current board chair, Rick Herder.

My father came of age during the Great Depression and was forced to drop out of school after the eighth grade in order to help support his family. He went on to serve in the U.S. Marines and own a series of successful businesses. Despite his later success, he always regretted dropping out of school. When I was in high school Dad enrolled in an evening class where he studied for his GED. For reasons he never shared with us, he eventually stopped attending the class and never earned his diploma. I always suspected he was too busy with work. Then again, it might have been embarrassment. He was at least 50 years old at the time and he might have felt uncomfortable as the only “old guy” in a class filled with much younger students. I can never know for sure why he never earned his GED, but I am confident it was not because he lacked the ability. Dad was a talented businessperson and an astute observer of political affairs. In his later years he served as the mayor of our small town.

One of the things I learned from my dad was an abiding respect for hard work and for working class people. Through his words and his actions, Dad let us know that people who lack degrees are not unintelligent. To the contrary, they are more likely to be smart, resourceful people in search of opportunities for themselves and their families. A couple decades ago while living in Florida I began to teach evening adult education classes on a part time basis. It was a highly diverse student body that included high school dropouts, Haitian refugees, Latin American immigrants, and inmates at the county jail. Some of my students wanted to learn how to read. Some of them were studying for the GED. Others wanted to improve their English. I thought of my dad often during those years and about his respect for hard work, public service… and learning. He helped me to understand that every student has potential and every student has a story worth hearing. One of the reasons I agreed to serve on the board of Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota is because I want to advance that message. Our organization serves many types of learners including children and parents in Family Literacy/ECFE classes, English Language Learners in our Tuesday evening drop in tutoring classes, and many more. No matter who they are or what they are studying, at LV*SW*MN we believe our students have amazing potential and stories worth hearing. If my dad could sit in on our classes he would smile. My mother was a teacher and she would do the same. But that is a story for another day…

Dr. Rick Herder, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, Southwest Minnesota State University, Chair of the board of Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota

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