Sunday, July 6, 2014

#174 July 6, 2014- Education and the American Dream

The American Dream. . .
As we celebrate our nation's "birthday" on the 4th of July it is important that we do more than just enjoy fireworks, don a patriotic t-shirt and pontificate about the greatness of our nation.  Birthdays are times to reflect on another year's worth of achievements as well as to look back at the overall history of an individual, group or in this case, nation.  As a country there is a lot to like about America, and of course there is a lot of work that we need to do if we are to achieve the potential that we as a society have. 

As we look at our nation's history, and its present day status, it is clear that there is something special about America.  Over time, the United States has been a place that has drawn immigrants from all over the world.  People come here for economic advancement and to seek refuge from the daily violence and troubles that plague a significant portion of the world we live in.  America's streets might not be "paved with gold" and there are certainly many problems here, but on the whole Americans enjoy a standard of living, social services and safety that is above that of the majority of other nations around the globe. 

What is it that makes America such a desirable place?  We hear many differing answers to this question depending on who is asked.  Is it our economic philosophy and capitalism?  Is it the democratic institutions that are long established?  Is it the moral character of our people?  Is it the political philosophies that seek to put citizens at the center of power?  All of these ideas are put forward being the core of "American Exceptionalism" yet I believe that they all miss the mark and fail to answer the original question. 

In fact, it isn't too difficult to make counter arguments that paint a very different picture of America as a nation.  We haven't always lived up to the potential that our espoused philosophy, resources and status merit.  Too often, we have used our economic and military power to dominate others and seek advantages for profit and not social justice.  We have subjugated many different populations and engaged in acts of racism, sexism and classism.  We are not always as tolerant of a nation as one would hope, given the strong language of equality in our founding documents and rhetoric.  Our freedoms and democracy are too often threatened and limited by a minority of elite citizens.  As citizens we too often fail to be engaged and to utilize the power that is available to us because of our laws, Constitution and democratic traditions. 

Given the discrimination, the inequities and even outright hostility that exists in our culture towards the working poor, new immigrants and those who live as a perpetual underclass, why have we seen, and continue to see, people flocking to our shores seeking what has become known as "The American Dream?"  What is it that draws people, and keeps people here, even when times are difficult and significant challenges exist?  What exactly is this "Dream" that motivates, engages and drives the people of America? 

Cynics might say that the American Dream is simple greed and consumerism.  That we are defined by our constant striving for the newest, most expensive and best possible goods we can purchase.  To a certain degree they are right, success in America is defined by wealth and "stuff."  We may not respect those who have great wealth, but we emulate them and hold them up at status symbols.  However, if we simply define the Dream in economic and class terms we miss another aspect of our society that is of great importance. 

Economic success is one measurement of the American Dream, but it can't quantify the true spirit of our national identity.  When we look beyond simple economic terms we can see that the real nature of the American Dream is found in the daily struggles of its people.  Opportunity and hope are what drive our citizens to strive and achieve and they are what will provide the sparks that will move us towards a more progressive and socially just society.  We see glimmers of the real Dream of America across the nation in the Occupy movement, the Wisconsin Uprising, and in countless other movements and acts that seek to promote equality and justice for all citizens.      

The American Dream promotes the idea that anyone can achieve success and that we are able to define success for ourselves.  We aren't limited by the constraints that others, or that those in power, would put on us.  It is found embedded in our democratic traditions and our ability to have a voice in our government and other important institutions.  As FDR said,  "Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."  I would add to this that the ultimate rulers of our nation are not the heads of corporations, or those who seek to control our nation through wealth and influence.

The rights and privileges of a free society are supposedly guaranteed to us, but we know that this guarantee doesn't come without a price.  Freedom isn't free and must be protected, cultivated and defended.  This defense doesn't have to be done in big, obvious ways.  We may focus on examples of wars, huge movements and other historical examples of people defending freedom, but the major defense of the American Dream occurs in our daily, mundane lives.  Each of us, through our daily actions and words shapes what America is, and what America will become.  FDR spoke of politics and elections when he said,  "Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education."  However, these words hold true in all aspects of our society.  A truly educated population will make wise political, economic and social choices based on the bigger picture and not individual self-interest. 

Education then is the cornerstone of our democracy and our way of life.  Without a quality education we are vulnerable to the control of others and we limit the potential achievement of ourselves and our society.  Unfortunately, America has a history of avoiding education and the work and responsibility that it entails.  

"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always...

We live in dangerous times for American education, and subsequently the American Dream itself.  Too many people are abdicating their responsibilities to be informed citizens and are allowing a small number of people to control our democratic systems like education.  We are allowing, and even supporting efforts that allow our schools to be segregated and privatized.  Our discourse around education focuses on economics, not knowledge.  We forget that when we talk about cutting programs, privatizing schools and making education more efficient, we are eliminating hope and opportunity for students and entire communities.    

Charter schools have made inroads, despite lack of better educational...|By Lee Enterprises

A new report says many schools are struggling with funding.

We are seeing efforts to silence and vilify educators who seek to promote opportunity and quality education for all students.  The anti-union movement in our nation is a clear effort to silence the voices of those who dissent from the agenda promoted by the elite who seek to dominate our society.   

Ignored by our current education policies are the facts that one in four...

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POLITICO|By Stephanie Simon

In February, Agustin Morales spoke out against "data walls" on which...
Daily Kos

At the Vergara trial, a student identified one of her teachers as...

Instead of listening to experience, knowledgeable educators who are embedded in communities and classrooms across the nation, we listen to "talking heads" and "reformers" who seek to profit from our schools and students.  Rhetoric and misleading data instead of the words and actions of educators guides our educational policy.    

If the pass rates on Common Core tests and the new Common Core-aligned...

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Under new criteria, no. of states meeting federal law drops from 41 to 18;...
Washington Post

How social emotional learning is being co-opted by 'reformers.'
Washington Post

Just like democracy itself, education is messy, confusing and rarely demonstrates linear growth and progression.  Instead of clear, easily defined answers we see a myriad of choices, and a need to personalize the process for individual students, families and communities.  The answers are found in discussion, freedom to innovate and a climate that is supportive of the efforts of educators. 
Should schools use the student-centered balanced literacy program to teach reading, or require...

It is also important to remember that we are talking about our children, not some impersonal resource to be exploited.  Children need to be nurtured, cared for and exposed to a variety of opportunities as they grow up.  These opportunities are what will help guide them towards successful, productive adult lives.  

An American teacher in Helsinki questions the national practice of giving 15 minute breaks each hour—until he sees the difference it makes in his classroom.|By Tim Walker

Reading to infants in the first 1,000 days of their lives is crucial for...|By Lee Enterprises

In the stuffy, little gymnasium at Richard Kluge Elementary in...
Wisconsin Public Radio

My son’s teacher said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “His writing needs work.” My head swirled with panic and planning and finger pointing (at myself) for having failed at something as important as making sure my...

What is frustrating is that it is relatively obvious what needs to happen if we are to improve education in America, and we are currently moving in the exact opposite direction from where we need to go.  No matter what political affiliation, economic ideology or spiritual philosophy one subscribes to, the end goal of education is for students to emerge from a system ready to engage in advancing our society and prepared to be successful on a personal level.  How we define success and what route we want our society to take may differ, but an educated person is able to engage in thoughtful, productive and democratic dialog about important issues.  An educated person is able to find ways to satisfy their own needs and still be a part of society as a whole.

#1: Privatized education steals from the poor and gives to the rich.

If we are ever really going to improve our schools we need to listen to those who work and learn in our schools.  We may agree with what is said, we may disagree, but the important fact is that real conversations are happening.  Conversations where prejudices and biases are set aside and we truly look for solutions that are in the best interests of each student.    

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CHICAGO — Few issues in education are more important than the...|By Lee Enterprises

There has to be a push-back and a response to the privatization efforts of corporate education.  This is happening around the nation and will continue as educators seek to reclaim their profession and do what's right for their students.  As we celebrate this 4th of July, take some time to reflect on what we are really honoring and what we can all do to promote true American values.

In a surprising vote at the Representative Assembly on July 4, delegates passed a new business item calling for U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to resign.
The Good, The Bad and
The Ugly. . .

The Good . . . Things do change for the better.  This type of change gives us hope for the future. 

Support for a same-sex marriage ban was so broad in Wisconsin eight years...|By Craig Gilbert

With all the negative press about worker/management relations currently circulating, it is good to hear some positive news for a change. 

A Culver's in Platteville destroyed by fire rebuilds and reopens.
Find out how the owner took care of employees even when the restaurant was closed, TONIGHT on 27 NEWS at 10.

The Bad . . . People should know that they are being studied and manipulated.  It certainly gives us reason to wonder just how far the control of our society could go if unmonitored and unchecked. 

Let the Upworthy revolution begin!

While our state's fiscal situation is based on many complex, interconnected parts, the fact remains that Walker will have a lot of explaining to do.  A governor, an administration and a legislature isn't solely responsible for the health of an economy, but the policies that have been enacted over the past 3.5 years certainly don't appear to have helped our situation much and probably have harmed our economic growth.  

Revenue Collections Continue to Fall, While Medicaid Deficit Takes Large Jump The state’s fiscal situation has gradually deteriorated in 2014, and new tax collection figures released...

These policies negatively impact our schools as well as the general economy.

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The Ugly . . . America is quickly becoming a nation that has forgotten the vision on which it was founded.  Our Constitution wasn't created to promote extremism and monolithic thought.  Our nation's social and political history has been one based on compromise and gradual change.  We may not always be on the right side of history, but (as the Marriage Equality movement is showing) with time and freedom to think we tend to find a better path.  Our current climate of political extremism blocks our ability to compromise and reason our way through the challenges we face. 

Eliminating unions, public or private sector, will only serve to subjugate a majority of citizens.  This is true whether on a national, state or local level. 

The administration said repeatedly it was not looking at changing the civil service system. Now, it admits taking early steps.|By Jason Stein

A 2011 state law that ended most collective bargaining for most state employees went a step further at UW Hospital, where the law known as Act 10 is eliminating union|By Lee Enterprises

Religious extremism will only divide our nation further and eliminate rational dialogue from our social, political and economic discourse.  The 1st Amendment wasn't written to allow for a overzealous religious minority to dominate and control the lives of other citizens.  In fact, this type of religious intolerance threatened the stability of our nation from the very beginning and was a significant concern for the original leaders of America. 

So while a business corporation can't go to church, fast on Yom Kippur, or...

Meet the companies battling Obamacare's contraceptive mandate.

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To sell art with the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" in modern America is simply intolerable.  No one should ever try to profit from the suffering of millions of people in Nazi Death Camps.   

Are you inspired by Nazi's? Does the thought of an image from a Nazi...

Wisconsin, where we eliminate unions, weaken civil service laws and replace them with good old fashioned cronyism.

Cindy Archer didn’t apply for, nor was she a finalist, for the job.

That is, if we even attempt to employ people in the public sector.

Aside from the oddity that the numbers are being released on a Thursday,...

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