Saturday, May 25, 2013

#116- More Failed "Reforms", The Blame Game, Food Wars

Happy Memorial Day!!!
As we enjoy the long weekend, remember to honor those who have served our nation.  Remember the sacrifices they've made, but also remember that they served to protect our rights and our existence as a UNITED States of America.  Their service has allowed us to continue our journey to try and live up to the principles that our nation was founded on.  In order to truly honor their legacy we need to be ready to work together to overcome the current challenges that face our nation.

Why Education "Reforms" Fail…
Last week I wrote about some of the reasons that "reforms" of our educational system "fail".  I should add an additional reason that we are not successful in our efforts to close Achievement Gaps and fall short in many of the measurable goals set by "reformers".

Many of the so called "reforms" are divisive in nature and target only specific segments of the student population at any given time.  Instead of building on the successes of any given school or district, the "reforms" attempt to build outrage regarding some aspect of the system.  It may be directed at the administration, the educators, the curriculum, real or perceived injustices, or some combination of these, but the motivation for change is usually the same.  Thus we see "Parent Trigger Laws", lobbying for vouchers and other "reforms" that rely on anger and frustration to motivate participation in the process. 

We also see reforms that are geared specifically for a single group.  Educators and schools are told that they need to change their way of teaching to accommodate the needs of a particular group.  Supporters of the group meet and lobby administrators and school board members in an effort to make sure that the students from their demographic are being treated fairly and educated well.  Unfortunately, this means that families and community members from other groups feel excluded and turn to similar tactics to advance their interests.  The result is a piecemeal series of reforms that often contradict each other and that are often only partially implemented before they are discarded to meet a new group's objectives.  It also means that we see special interest groups operating where the real goal of public education is to provide educational opportunities for all of our students. 

What both of these approaches do is widen the divisions that already exist between groups.  They fail to build sustainable successes and instead create animosity and frustration for everyone involved in the educational process.  The political conflicts that are raging in our state and nation provide further opportunities for those who would advance these "reform" policies.  They are also a fertile environment for groups who want to advance a political agenda using education as a vehicle. 

We end up creating enemies and rivalries where we should have cooperation and unity.  A society that vilifies its public educators and that can't find consensus about educating its young people faces serious questions about its future.

In order to counter this divisive and destructive process we need to break down the barriers between groups.  Instead of meeting as separate groups and looking at the problems we face from a single perspective we should be forming coalitions between groups committed to public education.  Educators, families, students, administrators and school board members may have some differences of opinion, but in the end they all should have the same goals.  If we are able to keep the focus on providing safe (physically, culturally and emotionally) schools that offer equal educational opportunities for all then we should find enough common ground to implement real educational reform.  We also will build stronger communities and create sustainable success for our students, our schools and our future as a society. 

The Blame Game…
Education is only one aspect of our society where we see these divisions occurring.   At the heart of the problem lies the fact that most of our public figures and political leaders appear to be less interested in finding solutions to problems than they are in finding someone else to blame.  Blaming someone else allows them to deflect criticism, build power and promote a specific agenda.  These arguments rely on talking points, rhetoric and manipulated data for support.  They also may ignore facts that are inconveniently in conflict with their entrenched positions.  Anything can be "spun" to make the other side look bad.  Sometimes "facts" are even manufactured to support a specific viewpoint.    

There are several serious "side-effects" to the "Blame Game" that is played out in the media and other public venues.

The public becomes more informed and yet has less information to base opinions on.  We are flooded with information, but too many of us receive it through sources that are significantly biased.  We only hear one side of an issue and assume that it must be "true".  The world of education provides a many pertinent examples of this.  Stories about education typically focus on a few major points; School budgets, educator unions and how educators are asking for something, concerned families who are victims of the system, and courageous "reformers" who are taking on a bloated and biased system "for the kids".   

Take the school closings in Chicago for example.  The APPOINTED school board in Chicago voted this past week to close around 50 schools.  The media coverage doesn't provide the whole story.  They provide examples of why schools need to be closed for budgetary reasons.  They talk about the failure of the public schools in Chicago to educate students.  They pay lip-service to educator efforts, but give credence to the idea that educators and their unions are self-serving.  They give leaders credit for making tough decisions to promote the interests of students.  In the end the public perception of the reality becomes biased in favor of a specific interest, and the public doesn't necessarily realize what has happened.  

Here in Wisconsin, the proposed expansion of voucher programs into new communities follows the same pattern.  Voucher schools can supposedly do a better job, for less money, for more students.  Yet, the rhetoric doesn't match up with the reality.

Playing the "Blame Game" also focuses attention on individuals and not on programs, policies or the good of the majority.  President Obama is a lightning rod for conservative attacks.  No matter what he does, it should be opposed.  Here in Wisconsin Scott Walker and "The Bad Teacher" play the same role.  Our news becomes more of a soap opera and less a provider of information.  We need to move beyond vilifying or glorifying the individual and deal with the underlying issues.

We set ourselves up for an endless cycle of retaliatory policies and legislation.  One side blames the other and when they achieve positions of power use their authority to promote actions that are harmful to their opposition.  This leads to resentment and a perpetuation of the conflict.  We are involved in a political "Gang War" over turf that is slowly being destroyed by the conflicts.  

Too often we ignore the attempts to compromise or unify around a potential solution.  This doesn't make for good news, and doesn't provide public figures with an opportunity to "prove" their "commitment and strength" to their followers.  This message from the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff runs counter to the expected message and received virtually no notice in the media.    

It becomes a matter of civic responsibility.  Conservatives and Progressives agree that we can't rely solely on our government and bureaucracy to unify and protect us.  We need to take responsibility to hold them accountable and to work to counter the divisive message being spread through public venues.  Find ways to build consensus and strength through unity, not by attacking those who disagree with us.  Look for common goals and common values.  Too often, the bitterest opponents share many common objectives and their conflicts allow unscrupulous individuals to manipulate people's opinions and to seize power for the minority.  We must organize, educate and act to protect and preserve the things we value.   

Food as a Battleground…
Human beings must meet several basic needs in order to survive.  Consuming healthy food and water is one of the most essential of these.  Yet, here in America we don't pay enough attention to how our food is produced, what goes into our food, and the people who work in the food supply chain.  The farmer was, at one time in our history, considered the backbone of American culture.  Yet, as we moved from a rural to an urban society we lost our connection to our sources of food.  We commercialized our food production and marginalized the workers who produce and serve our food.  The results have not been positive, and we need to act to make changes to protect our own health and the health of others.   

A large part of the problem is that much of the labor in the food supply chain is provided by workers who are marginalized.  They often work for minimum wage and are often from a "minority" demographic.  They lack power in the struggle to promote their interests, which coincide with the needs of everyone in our society.  Until we truly honor all labor we will continue to see our most basic needs jeopardized by moneyed, corporate interests. 

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