Yes you can

I had a really good talk with a very involved Unit 4 parent today and we spent a bit of time dancing around the topic of advocacy. One of the things we discovered during our conversation is that the only reason why we have this need for advocacy in the first place is because the system and society that we live in right now has power structures that are oppressive (and history tells us that this has been going on for a long long time); by “oppressive” I mean that the voice of dissent is consistently and systematically squashed. What confuses me is why the masses continue to abide by this twisted reality, why we accommodate it and thus permit it. I know, you are thinking that the nature of oppression in the first place is to basically make sure the status quo is maintained, enslaving the will of those oppressed and thereby to force accommodation. To rape one’s sense of being and worth.

 

But we don’t have to accommodate at all. We can speak out against it. And in fact, I think we have a moral obligation to do so.

 

You think I am being melodramatic – I can tell by the way you are itching to move on to the next thing. Bear with me a moment more. I heard a story of a child who was uncomfortable with the “inappropriate” play of another child. The first child told the attending teacher and nothing happened. The child then went to the next level (someone higher) and things started happening (good for the first child, not so good for the second). The child has learned an important lesson of advocating for self; a pretty rare trait in one so young, but a very crucial one to learn none-the-less. I heard another story of a young girl who witnessed a friend being bullied. Filled with indignation, she told the bullies to stop and walked her friend away from the situation. This was a powerful story of advocating for someone else; she saw something was wrong and could not abide by it, but was compelled to make the situation right.

 

Frequently I hear of parents who struggle to successfully and satisfactorily engage the system of our public schools. Please note, I do hear many success stories as well – the change in Unit 4 since the beginning of 2012 has been significant, even if subtle. Yet there are still those cases where parents, or even other stakeholders, attempt to assail the walls of bureaucracy only to be rebuffed and thrown back. In such cases I want to implore you not to give up. I want to shout “Yes you can!”. You say you are but one person. Yes, I know, so am I.

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

— attributed to Mother Teresa

 

If something is not right, if something is objectionable or just plain wrong, say something about it. And don’t stop until it is fixed. The latter is probably the hard part – it feels like there is no incentive, especially when we perceive that nobody is listening, or that nothing is happening. I’ll let you in on a little secret; no matter what, you have the power and authority to point out problems. Yes you can. The moment you swallow the lie that you cannot, you give up a little bit of yourself and make it come true.

 

So let’s get a little practical here. What’s going on in Champaign and what can you do? I’ll warn you, the former can rouse the rabble, the latter might just as quickly throw a wet blanket all over you.

 

Pattsi has made it quite clear on a few occasions (some private, some at Houlihans, and finally in a comment) the need to consider the “gestalt” of our taxes and even the mental health of our community:

In addition, the community needs to be made aware of other potential referenda during 2014, such as the Champaign County Nursing Home, County Jail, and an airport authority. Let alone the mental health needs that are not being serviced. In other words, the citizens ought to engage because this is a county-wide conversation, not just a narrow on[e] focused on Unit 4.

 

We as a community have a lot of tax issues coming up, possibly on the order of several hundred million dollars – what are you going to do about it? The Citizens for Peace and Justice has been extremely active and vocal about the County Jail issue. They are a couple drops in the ocean; I am sure a few more would be appreciated. I think they are on the path of “showing people the difference they can make.”

 

Just today I heard (National PTA post) and saw an email about Sen. Franken’s effort to push for broader mental health services in schools. I realize “mental health” is a rather oblique topic for most people; I urge you to look around and seriously consider the tragedies we hear about day in and day out. Will you abide and accommodate what you hear on the news?

 

I realize there are a million and one things for us to worry about. I get it. So choose your battles carefully, and continue striving to make a difference. Yes you can. How? You have to raise the issue to those in charge; tell your teacher, tell your principal, tell your board member, tell your senator, tell your representative. The biggest challenge is not to give up. You are not alone but you will feel like it; seek out those who also want to speak out against that which should not be accommodated.

 

PS – one more little secret; there are a lot of officials who really do want to hear from you. You might have to sift through a lot of silt to find them, but they are there.

 

11 Responses to “Yes you can”

  1. charlesdschultz Says:

    Appropriately, Dr. Wiegand has a newsletter for this week on “Becoming an Agent of Change“. She closes with a quote:

    “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

  2. pattsi Says:

    Or another MLK quote–“Silence is betrayal.”

  3. Chuck Jackson Says:

    Just speaking up, though, isn’t enough. You have to “do it right” according to some unknown standard. Lots of people spoke up about the working cash bonds issue. No effect.

    I have been quite critical over the years and what I usually hear is, “Be positive.” Beware of under selling the commitment necessary for effecting change. It is a long, slow process. Speak out yes, but know that there is very little encouragement along the way and ( as you point out above) the forces arrayed against change are mighty.

    And that would be my complaint with your reflections. You put it all on the individuals. Speak out, know it’s hard but do it anyway, don’t lose heart… Can’t we find a way to join up? Can’t we find some method of encouraging one another?

    As Pattsi mentions, there is no lobbying group for the low income population. Why not start one? If not a lobbying group, a coop or club. Some method of joining like minded people together will enable each of us to be more effective, happier and more sustainable over the long term.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    Good points. Pattsi has told me in the past we need a critical mass (with emphasis on mass). I was hoping the Teresa quote would capture both the individual and the wider group, how both play a critical role. Joining a wider collection of folks does not diminish ones own value and worth. But yes, totally, we need to multiply our voices with numbers to get through the think skulls and deaf ears of those we wish to hear.

    I delivered a message of “be positive” because all too often we look at the long hard road ahead and it is easy to give up. Yes, the way is strewn with brambles, uphill everywhere you turn, and flat out opposition lurks in the shadows. Even in all that, to give up is to concede defeat. We don’t have to choose the path of defeat.

  5. Karen Says:

    Where are all these officials who really want to hear from you within Unit 4? There’s a huge difference between in-one-ear-out-the-other so that it can at least be said ‘we listened,’ and truly listening. Many kids DO speak up and when that fails they then watch their PARENTS speak up and essentially ‘fail.’ Watch the documentary ‘Bully.’ Watch the response of school administrators. It’s a powerfully negative thing for children to see their parents powerless to effect change so that they can feel safe (emotionally, physically) at school (never mind the fact that their in-loco-parentis figures don’t ensure this because they don’t follow policy). This is when kids lose all hope that things will get better and tragic things happen. It’s not about critical mass, either. BTDT with other parents. It will take a tragedy and/or ‘required by law’ policies for ‘change’ to happen (and don’t be surprised if it’s only in words, despite what the law/policy says). There are tenacious people out there who are not afraid to do the hard work to do right by children. What you’re up against is not ‘straightforward’ in a truthiness kind of way I guess you could say. There is a lot more I want to say, but, can’t.

  6. Karen Says:

    Let it be a secret no more, Charles. If these ‘officials’ want to hear from people, they can come out of the shadows and say so. Or, you can just share the information with the rest of the class. Who are they?

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    “Can’t”? Umm… the title of this post is “yes you can”. *grin*

    You asked where these officials are that really want to hear from us. Pattsi is one. You might not be in her district, but she will definitely listen to you and point you towards someone that can help. On the school board, I have seen Jamar and Ileana take action for folks they have adopted as virtual constituents. I have had favorable exchanges with Will Kyles. In some ways, you have to talk with representatives and find a match that clicks for you – it might be a personality thing. Maybe a good conversation for me is not a good conversation for you.

    Karen, I know you have had some pretty miserable experiences, so I have some idea of how empty these words sound to you. I know you have dotted all your i’s and crossed all your t’s and you still feel like it was just a game of smoke and mirrors. I get that. Honest, and unfortunately, I don’t know what to say about that. All I can offer is to help in whatever small way I can. There is no reason why you should struggle alone. And it sounds like you have tried to get other parents in the same boat. How can I help? Or better yet, can you outline what you see as an ideal resolution (even if only in general) or remedy?

    As to requiring a tragedy – Columbine, Connecticut, many others? These aren’t enough? I agree that it seems like our collective skulls are so thick that it will take such a disaster at times, but I firmly believe we do not have to wait for that to happen. In fact, I would want to do everything in my power to make sure such horrible things never happen! I have been told that prevention is the best medicine.

  8. charlesdschultz Says:

    Another thought, in terms of outing those “secret” officials that want to hear from you. How about we go hunting? =) Which entity do you want to engage? The school board? There are 7 school board members. Let’s go talk to each one individually and see which one best suits your needs.

    And if you think I am just throwing up nice words because this is a public blog, I’ll go one further and set up something at the library, coffee shop and/or Houlihans. What is your schedule like next week?

  9. pattsi Says:

    At this juncture, I am encouraging community folks to observe and learn from the effectiveness of the group, Citizens for Peace and Justice. Yes, this has nothing directly to do with Unit 4, but indirectly it does. This group has moved the CB to consider other options related to criminal justice. And when the Community Justice TF was reconstituted by the new CB and additional charge of including JD issues was added to the original charges for the TF. Indeed, the final vote about a new or jail addition has not been taken, but the conversation is much more robust, in the public domain, and the CB web site contains all documents connected with this issue.
    As an aside, I attended the Walk as One gathering at the Hawthorn earlier this week. My main thought focused on the fact that this effort is Champaign focused as if no one crosses the boundaries of this city. There was no county representation, nor has anyone or organizations listed in the program come to the CJYF or CB meetings to share what the goals are of this group. It struck me as more siloing that goes on in our communities. We are not living in isolation, but we live as a region. It is taxpayer monies that are used both for schools and criminal justice.

  10. Karen Says:

    Really, I can’t say more that would shed light. What I say is basically surveiled due to my (for now) employee status (minimal at that). I guess what I would like to make clear though is that I did not take any action until I heard about the experiences of many other parents. I then knew that it wasn’t just isolated ‘bad luck’ or a personality clash. This wasn’t about my kids. Maybe it sounds twisted, but, if it were solely about my kids, I wouldn’t have taken the process as far down the line as was possible. My time would have been better spent on my kids and my health. It’s just that there was more to it than just my kids and being a bystander over time only perpetuates the problem. I simply would not, and will not contribute to the problem. Other parents were involved, but, wanted to remain anonymous (and I understand why). I have been ridiculed, etc., but, hey, go for it. If it’s crazy to defend the safety and welfare of children at school, call me all kinds of crazy. There’s a quiet resolve that comes with doing the right thing that is unshakable, no matter the ridicule and characterizations. BTDT.

  11. Jamar Brown Says:

    Karen,
    First off I would like to say I really appreciate your willingness to contribute on a regular basis on this blog. I may not comment but I do read many of the posts and the comments, it helps me become a better board member if I know what the issues our families are facing.
    I also would like to ensure you that there many officials out there that are truly fighting on a daily basis to make sure the the the citizens in this community are being treated fairly at all levels of government.
    As a board member in this district I have roughly 90,000 people that I represent as students, parents, employees, or tax payers. I can freely admit I do not know all of them and even less of their issues with the district. To combat this I try to put my information out in the public as much as I can I hand my cards to as many people as I can.

    We have talked briefly in the past and I have given you my information in case you had any issues that needed to be resolved. Reading your comments in this post I can clearly see that you have some issues with Unit 4 and I have not heard form you. I would like to help, not knowing the issues I can’t guarantee a fix but I will be there to truly listen and do all I can to come to a resolution.
    Please contact me when you get a chance.
    Jamar Brown
    Brownja@champaignschools.org
    217-202-9470


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