Sunday, December 8, 2013

#142 December 8, 2013- A Call to Action, "Good" vs. "Bad"

Thanks Marj. . .
The educational community in Madison experienced a significant loss this week when Marj Passman, long time public educator and advocate for our schools, announced that she wouldn't be seeking another term on the MMSD School Board.  While certainly not unexpected given her recent health concerns and the decades of devoted advocacy, there is no doubt but that her leaving the board will leave a void that will need to be filled.  She was a tireless advocate for public schools, students and educators.  She brought her experience from the classroom and her passion for teaching into the political and policy making fray, often giving voice to these groups that are too often ignored in our decision making processes.

It would be easy for me to continue on and give more examples of how important Marj has been to Madison's educational community and to my own family's experiences in public education.  When my wife was hired by MMSD she was privileged to work with a true "Dream Team" that included Marj, as well as several other educators who have gone on to fight for students, educators and public education at multiple levels.  As the years have gone by, Marj has always listened to what we've had to say, and then acted to incorporate our views while still maintaining her integrity.  She has endured criticism for her advocacy, but has never failed to keep the true purpose of public education at the forefront of her ideas and decisions. 

Yet, while she will be missed and should be thanked for her efforts, the reality is that the fight must continue.  I'm reminded of a quote about Dr. King that fits this situation as well.  Charles Willie, a classmate of King's at Morehouse, wrote, "By idolizing those whom we honor, we fail to realize that we could go and do likewise."  It isn't enough to thank Marj, the best thanks that we can give her is to step up and continue to advocate for our students, educators and our public schools.  That's exactly the role that educators fill, we supply the knowledge and the motivation to our students with the expectation that they will use what they've been given to make positive change happen in the world we live in.  Marj has provided us with a powerful role model and an example of how we can fight for what we value.  She has earned her opportunity to enjoy time with her family and a chance to relax, now it is up to us to follow her example. 

What's Best for Kids. . .
We spend a lot of time working to define what is "good" and "bad" in education.  The problem is that terms like "good" and "bad" really don't allow for much discussion to occur.  These words imply some sort of overarching truth that can be applied to our schools.  They ignore that fact that our schools are working to educate students who are diverse in many ways and who have different needs that must be addressed.  By dividing policies, practices and outcomes into mutually exclusive, quantifiable, and definable categories we create an atmosphere that stifles creativity, reduces learning and makes education a divisive battlefield instead of a source of unity and power.    

This isn't to say that there aren't things that are better for students, or that produce better outcomes for those attending our schools.  It also doesn't mean that we don't have goals that we want our students to achieve.  The problem is that when we categorize our efforts and seek to quantify the achievements of our students and schools, we limit the vision of what we can accomplish and force everyone involved in the effort into a narrow set of parameters that can only have a positive or negative impact.  We eliminate the grey areas in an endeavor that exists in a very grey reality.   

This emphasis on defining and measuring success has created a sense of crisis around education.  We search for ways to identify things that work for students, but we use faulty measures.  By doing so, we make the measuring tools the focus of our efforts, and fail to promote real learning.  We also implement programs and policies that, not surprisingly, end up being harmful to our students, educators and schools.    

Our nation's education crisis is really just a cover for the real issues which are the inequities in a system that favors those with wealth, and those of specific demographic categories.  The ways that we've engaged in debate around educational policy in America attempt to ignore these realities.  They place the blame for any failures of students to succeed on the educational system and educators, while ignoring the conditions that have a significant impact on student achievement.      

These factors have a major effect not only on students, but also on educators.  

What can be done in the face of such powerful forces that seek to control, manipulate and exploit our students and schools?  It takes the "whole village" to resist these privatization efforts and to put control of our schools in the hands of those who would use them to promote learning over profit.  

The goals of this day of action spell out a framework that can provide guidance in achieving our goals for public education. 
1) Revise how we fund public education.
2) Class size matters!  
3) Full professional staffing for all schools.  
4) A fully inclusive range of creative subjects.
5) The full funding for and inclusion of athletics, after-school programs, lunch, and recess.  
6) Course content and teaching methods emphasizing a diverse range of perspectives, needs, and voices that embody the diverse fabric of our society.  
7) Demand that curriculum be selected based on the needs of the community.  
8) Elimination of all high stakes standardized testing.  
9) Include meaningful systems for assessment and evaluation such as portfolios and project-based learning.  
10) Elimination of corporate interests in “funding” their right to promote their agenda for public education.  
11) Demand that your schools board be comprised of elected officials.  
12) Be informed about the “choice” policies coming to your district!  

Race in America. . .
We still have huge problems in America around issues involving race.  One of the most significant of these problems is the belief that is widely expressed that we don't have problems with race in America.  For many Americans racism ended when the visible barriers of segregation and Jim Crow were broken down by the Civil Rights Movement.  Now, it isn't uncommon to hear the problems of different racial groups blamed on the members of the groups or on other issues that are non-race related.
Yet, it is difficult to ignore the fact that while there are many issues that do impact an individual's experience in American society, race is one of the primary factors in determining how any individual experiences life in America.  It is a statistical reality that we must continue to work to address because it involves real people living life in a nation that is supposed to turn a blind eye to anything except an individual's abilities and merits.  The "content of our character" is supposed to mean more than the "color of our skin", but too often, for too many, that isn't the reality they live and work in.    

We must realize that, while it is possible to legislate some aspects of race relations, the majority of the work must be done on an individual, person to person, basis.  Here's a very powerful example of an effort that goes a long way towards combating racism where it is most effective. The following quotes sum up the best way to resolve any problem, and that also demonstrates the problems we face in America today.  Problems that stem from an unwillingness to discuss, and unwillingness to listen, and an unwillingness to admit that there's even a problem.    
"A lot of people have anti-racist groups. They get together and meet and have a diverse group and all they do and sit around and talk about how bad discrimination is. Then someone says ‘there’s a Klan group across town. Why don’t we invite them to come and talk to us?’ and the other person says ‘Oh no! We don’t want that guy here!’ Well, you’re doing the exact same thing they are. What’s the purpose of meeting with each other when we already agree? Find someone who disagrees and invite them to your table."
"Invite your enemy to talk. Give them a platform to talk because then they will reciprocate. Invite your enemies to sit down and join you. You never know; some small thing you say might give them food for thought, and you will learn from them. Establish dialogue. It’s when the talking stops that the ground becomes fertile for fighting."

Wisconsin Politics: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. . .
The Good- It looks like we may have a primary to see who will represent the Democrats against Scott Walker.  The people of Wisconsin deserve to have a say in this important decision.   

“Every day I seem to be getting closer and closer to making the decision to run for governor because of the positive support I’ve found,” Vinehout told the Leader-Telegram.

Whatever the results of a primary election might be, the race would hopefully force the candidates involved to clearly articulate their positions on issues.  Without a challenge from another Democrat, Mary Burke can continue to simply be "Not Walker" in the race.  Her answers to questions and positions on the issues are too undefined and vague to generate significant support from those who could be persuaded to vote against Walker in 2014.

Statements like this one about the voucher program in Wisconsin leave me confused as to what exactly her position is, and what she would do to protect our public schools.   
"Well, I would look first and foremost in Milwaukee and Racine, where it already is, and you have 25,000 students in there. I think we have to look to quality of education above all else and I would work first toward that and the accountability. I don’t foresee any time in the near future that the Legislature will be able to work at anything else, and so that’s what I would certainly focus on, is making sure that the accountability is there now, and that would be a top priority."

Something we should be proud of, and something we need to continue to defend.

The Bad- Even though this loyalty oath never made it into official policy, the fact that it was suggested shows just how far ALEC would like to go towards completely controlling some of our elected officials.  

Our elected leaders continue to ignore what needs to be done and focus on gaining and maintaining power instead of promoting policies that will improve Wisconsin's economic outlook.  

Education is supposed to be a pathway to success, but for many it is also a pathway to debt and financial struggles.  

The Ugly- While Walker has tried to distance himself from this supposed "mistake", the inaccuracies and false claims continue to pour out as he prepares for future campaigns. 

Worker's Rights, Spend Your Money Wisely. . .
As we continue through the holiday shopping season it is too easy to forget the struggles for labor rights that are ongoing in our nation.  The gaps between the wealthy and the rest of America are continuing to expand, and the shopping/spending patterns that so many of us follow simply compound the problems.  

Support the efforts of employees who are fighting for better pay and better working conditions. 

Shop around and look for products made in America by union workers.  Also be sure to frequent shops that are based locally, that sell worker friendly products, and that support labor through their own policies.  

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