Sunday, March 2, 2014

#154 March 2, 2014- Living Up to Our Potential

Land of the ?
Home of the ? . . .
America, like all human endeavors, is a mix of good intentions, successes, unfulfilled potential and failures.  Yet, to admit this is considered to be a mortal sin of unpatriotic and un-American proportions.  We are a nation founded in the midst of a period of social and political upheaval.  Our founding documents reflect a new way of thinking about human societies, and we look at these with a great amount of pride.  The concept of American Exceptionalism is one that demonstrates our pride in our nation, but also is filled with a level of conceit and arrogance that calls into question the very concepts that it supports.  It isn't difficult to find examples of this in the speeches and writing by Americans about America and our self-proclaimed status in the world. 

"I, in my own mind, have always thought of America as a place in the divine scheme of things that was set aside as a promised land. It was set here and the price of admission was very simple: the means of selection was very simple as to how this land should be populated. Any place in the world and any person from those places; any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here."
-Ronald Reagan, Commencement Address at Williams Woods College, June 1952

"...I have been guided by the standard John Winthrop set before his shipmates on the flagship Arbella three hundred and thirty-one years ago, as they, too, faced the task of building a new government on a perilous frontier. 'We must always consider', he said, 'that we shall be as a city upon a hill—the eyes of all people are upon us' . . . "
-John F. Kennedy, Address to the General Court of Massachusetts, Jan. 9, 1961

"America indeed is an exceptional nation, but not because of what it has achieved or accomplished. American is exceptional because it is fundamentally dedicated to the principles of human liberty, grounded on the truths that all men are created equal and endowed with equal rights—permanent truths 'applicable to all men and all times,' as Abraham Lincoln once said. It was because of these principles that rather than ending in tyranny the American Revolution culminated in a constitutional government that has long endured.
America’s principles are responsible for a prosperous and just nation unlike any in the world. "
-Matthew Spalding, What Makes America Exceptional?  The Heritage Foundation
July 4, 2010

Our founding documents, the words of our founders, and the language that has been used to describe and glorify America throughout our history set a high standard for what the United States could and should be.  The question remains, have we lived up to the potential and the ideals that we claim as our own? 

The answers to that question aren't as clear as we are told or would like to believe.  In fact, the results of the "American Experiment", as some Conservatives call it, are mixed and clearly unequal across demographic lines.  The blind patriotism and rhetoric of freedom that is too often expressed in our societal discourse is contradicted by the reality of the circumstances that so many citizens live in.  Whether we look at social, economic or political policies it is clear that we are seeing a combination of ignorance, denial and conscious decisions that serve to undermine the ideals that our nation is supposed to subscribe to. 

We are given false and misleading versions of history that reinforce the misconceptions that allow for modern policies of disenfranchisement and inequality to be implemented. 

We see an emphasis placed on specific parts of the Bill of Rights at the expense of other freedoms.  

We use terms like freedom and choice in ways that limit the freedoms and choices available to those who don't fit an extremely narrow vision of what supposedly represents our societal values.  

We put the needs and wants of business and money ahead of people.  

In few places are the divisions between the ideals of our founding documents and the reality of our current self-proclaimed "patriots" more apparent than in our policies around public education.  Where our founders wrote about "liberty and justice for all" and talked about securing "the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity," we now see efforts made to restrict access to vital resources like education.  While blaming public educators, public educator unions, and public schools in general for problems like Achievement Gaps, education "reformers" seek to undermine and exploit the very groups they claim to represent.  

As a nation we've put our trust in politicians and business people to make decisions about our public schools.  The Common Core State Standards are another example of important decisions being made while ignoring the experience and professionalism of educators across America.  Standards aren't necessarily the problem, we need to have some uniform guiding standards in effect.  The problems around the standards are the testing, the standardization/corporatization of curriculum, and the use of the standards as weapons against educators and schools.      

Educators aren't the only important voices that are ignored in our current public educational decision making processes.  Many of our families and students are excluded from important conversations and instead are represented by those who claim to speak for them.   

Yet, many of these "reformers" clearly have another agenda and different priorities, other than those of the students and families they claim to represent.  

In these troubling times it is easy to lose hope and feel like we are engaged in a losing battle to defend our Progressive values against extreme Conservatism, and against the self-defined Liberals who are often just as damaging in their words and actions.  We can spend a significant amount of time bemoaning our current climate and conditions, but this is counterproductive and ineffective.  In the end it is the people and our actions in the present day, not the words of our predecessors that make our nation what it is, and shape its future.  We can look to the past for inspiration.

"I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives.  I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him." 

-Attributed to Abraham Lincoln

History will not judge our endeavors—and a government cannot be selected—merely on the basis of color or creed or even party affiliation. Neither will competence and loyalty and stature, while essential to the utmost, suffice in times such as these. For of those to whom much is given, much is required . . . "
 -John F. Kennedy, Address to the General Court of Massachusetts, Jan. 9, 1961

We can see evidence of the struggle and positive efforts all around us.  Americans are becoming more aware of the need to support labor and worker's rights.  

In education there is a renewed sense of purpose and a number of efforts being made across the country to implement real reform and to push back against the privatization of our public schools.  

Information about the harmful effects of excessive standardized testing and the standardization of curriculum is spreading.  

Every once in a while we see a glimmer of hope that those  at the highest levels of government may recognize the need for different voices to be heard.  

More importantly, the supporters of public education across our nation are realizing that it is up to us to defend our public schools.  We are standing up for ourselves, our students and our communities and working to make a difference at the local level and in individual classrooms and schools.  Together we can forge powerful connections that will help spread accurate information about education, while working to support those who seek to truly improve the opportunities for all students in our public schools.    

The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .
The Good . . . Unity, strength and community go a long way in our struggle.

The Bad . . . Scary.

The Ugly . . . Terrifying.

1 comment:

  1. Great newsletter. It should be read in every classroom.