Q&A with Alumnus Michael Priddy
Printed in the CEAS 2014 Annual Report
I understand that you founded the Priddy Learning Academy in 1996. How would you describe this organization? Priddy Learning Academy was founded on the premise that all children want to learn, all parents want their children to learn, and all teachers want their students to learn. Our mission is to the unlock and develop the child’s full learning potential, and to develop close working relationships with parents. As an after-school, out-of-school learning environment, we offer the community an alternative to traditional schooling by offering individualized, mastery-based learning programs in the two pillars of learning: mathematics and reading comprehension. We do not classify students according to age or grade level; we take what the child already knows and then build on it. This system allows students to advance at their own pace, master skills along the way, and build confidence based on their own achievement.
How would you describe your role there? I wear all the hats, from curriculum developer to teacher to counselor to cheer leader to director. But my main responsibility, which I value the most, is to provide an enthusiastic, positive, high-energy environment for our students, parents and staff so that students can feel great about learning.
What years were you at KU as an EALC graduate student? I officially became an EALC graduate student in the Fall of 1988. And if you count my time in Japan as a student at Sophia University, 1989 to 1991, I would have been an EALC student until the Spring of 1992.
Did you study Japanese at KU? I did study Japanese at KU. My first teacher was Prof. Fumiko Yamamoto. She was a very good teacher and she was very patient with me. She had to be . . . because at that time, I was not the quickest learner of languages . . . I was still trying to figure out how I learn Japanese best. Although I was not a top student in the class, I never doubted my ability to learn Japanese. I knew that I would eventually get there, but it wouldn’t necessarily be on the timetable for the class.
Any particular memories about KU and in particular East Asian Studies classes that you’d like to share? My fondest memory was the class that changed my life, “Recent Japanese History, 1945 to the Present, from Devastation to Superstate,” taught by the late Prof. Grant Goodman. His lectures captivated me in a way that few others had done up to that point in my life. With his being a language officer under General Douglas MacArthur during the U.S. Occupation of Japan, Prof. Goodman spoke with such authority and experience that he inspired me to want to learn more about Japan and to begin learning Japanese. It was actually in his class that I first learned of the Japanese “juku”, a kind of cram school of Japanese students preparing for the college entrance examination. Although I did not realize it at the time, it was in his class that the seed was planted for my eventual work in the field of education.
While in Japan, Prof. Goodman invited me to a symposium in Tokyo. in which Roger Buckley was participating. I was very excited about attending, as Prof. Buckley’s book, “Japan Today”, was the first book that I had read for Grant’s class. I brought a copy and Roger signed it for me. Grant was very generous. He introduced me to everyone there as his student. He always made it a point to include me.
The special quality about Prof. Goodman was that learning from him did not stop once the class ended. While I was studying in Japan, he always made it a point to meet with me whenever he came to Tokyo to share his experiences and lessons about all things Japan. We met on numerous occasions and corresponded regularly. And when I returned from Japan, we always met either in New York City or Lawrence at least once or twice a year, every year. He was always immensely interested in what I was doing and how I was doing. He really cared. Prof. Goodman remained my teacher and mentor up until the time of his passing this past April. There is not enough space here to share all the memories.
What was the time period when you were working in Japan?
I worked there from 1993 to 1995.
How would you describe that experience?
It was a very interesting time for me. I began working at a small English teaching company that farmed me out to teach English conversation skills to employees at companies such as Nippon Steel, Toshiba, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Hoechst, to name a few. I evolved from teaching to creating teaching materials for other teachers.
I was then hired by the Kumon Institute of Education to join their International Materials Development and Instructional Training Department in Tokyo. There, I was part of an international team that worked on creating learning materials for children. It was in this role of creating learning materials, conducting training seminars, and teaching children, that I discovered my true passion in life. Working for a Japanese institute in Japan, along with my own classroom learning experiences at home and abroad, opened my world to ideas and philosophies that helped lay the groundwork for my eventual founding of Priddy Learning Academy.
Do you think the experience of working in another country changed your outlook on life?
Without a doubt. Learning a language, immersing oneself in it, and engaging people in that language, enabled me to have a better understanding of people in general, but also made me realize the differences between us are far smaller than the commonalities we share.
How else has learning another language affected your life?
I met my wife, who is Chinese, in Japanese. Our relationship, and life in general, is profoundly different that it would have been otherwise. On a professional level, I wouldn’t have founded a learning academy without learning another language. I think the experience that comes from learning another language, and in my case, studying and working abroad, enhanced my confidence in a way that few, if any other activities, would have done. The friendships you make along the way is of the most value. I have been blessed in so many ways from the richness of these friendships. It’s truly been a wonderful experience. I wish all my students, friends, and colleagues, to have the same experience that I have had. I consider myself lucky to have had my experience from taking a class at KU, and then have its impact cascade in a positive manner throughout my life . . . even to this day!
Do you think it’s important for college students to learn another language, and if so, why?
I do. Given the way the world has become so interconnected, being able to communicate in other languages is essential. I think in today’s world, to be considered “educated,” one needs to know another language, if for no other reason, than to give you perspective. The cognitive benefits have been well documented. People of who know other languages have higher reading comprehension skills in their own language. I also think, as I alluded to earlier, that it enhances self-confidence. In my case, it enabled me to communicate with an additional 130 million people. It created opportunities for me that I would have not known about otherwise.
I do wish there was a greater emphasis in the elementary-, middle-, and high school levels on language learning. As humans, we all have an innate ability to learn languages, regardless of our educational level. We must take advantage of this gift.