An afterthought: politics and civic responsibilities

As I was working on my previous post, in the back of my mind is the question “Why am I spending so much of my time and energy on the school district?” After completing the post, I sat for a while and contemplated that question. And this is what I have come up with.

Our society is shaped and formed by the values, ethics, morals and internal “rules” passed on, or “taught”, by others. The most commonly-held perception (I think) is that this process occurs today in a classroom, all during the course of “learning” grammar, mathematics, science, history, etc. Or perhaps, while some may strenuously disagree, I think they stridently hope that things like “values” and “ethics” are being taught at school. *grin* We cannot discount other significant “teachers”, like peers, parents and even our situational environment (where we live, how we live, what happens near and around us). It seems to me that, more and more, the official focus of public education is to train up and prepare people to go to college and then get a job. So while the softer, deeper things of values, ethics and morals are still being conveyed in one fashion or another, they are not the focus at all.

As I stated in The Purpose of Education, part 2:

Here is what I want “education” to be: an environment where Good is taught, Wisdom is imparted, Happiness is pursued and Peace reigns.

Here is the purpose I want for education: To find the Absolute best things

For me, Unit 4 is just a microcosm of bigger arenas; it is not unlike an onion, with public schools on an inside layer, the City next, then County, State and finally Nation. I cannot wrap my head around the “big” domains, so I stick with something that is relatively bite-sized. Something I can satisfactorily engage in, see results. So when I preach civic responsibilities and then mention keeping school board members accountable, I fully realize there are bigger fish to fry in the context of “civic responsibilities”. I get that. I know. But my brain is just not big enough yet to graduate on to the myriad of issues at higher levels. For me, “true politics” is being able to exercise some form of democracy in all domains.

Having said that, I have to clarify that I do not believe “true politics” or “democracy” is the end-all-be-all of human existence. I think it is a mechanism and framework from which we must work in America. But I firmly believe it falls far short on a global scale, and other forms of human relationship (including governance) must be exercised. For instance, the ubiquitous “golden rule”, love others as yourself. Four simple words that anyone would find to be a challenge when put to the test. (incidentally, I just noticed that Wikipedia has a very interesting and comprehensive entry on this term)

So why do I spend so much time blogging about Unit 4, talking to people about Unit 4 and visiting Unit 4 schools? Because this is how I am practicing my skills for the larger domains, and right now, I have a passion for public primary education burning within me. The “love others as yourself” is particularly vexing, but I am working on it.

The changing face of the school board (but what changes on the inside?)

There was quite a splash, for those that follow news about the school district and/or politics, when the school board appointed John Bambenek to be the next school board member, serving until the April 2015 elections. Just from reading several pages of commentary on BigDebbiesHouse, and even the online reel via the News-Gazette, it is obvious to me that some folks are entirely upset, flabbergasted and just a tad pissed off. But what does it all mean? At the end of the day, who really cares? Or rather, what are the real ramifications and consequences? So many times I have heard “time will tell”, but that is not good enough for me.

First, I am obligated to disclose my own perspective, to help you understand the framework from which I write this post. I have corresponded with Mr. John Bambenek (infrequently) since 2006; at the time, I was just coming up to speed on Unit 4 and the Consent Decree, and I had asked John what he thought some of the issues were surrounding the district and the board. In a January 2007 email, he pointed out the issue of a lack of trust:

“The biggest problem, and I think everything feeds into this, is that the current Board and Superintendent have lost the trust of the community. That’s ultimately why there is a consent decree and the problems that are there now.  I don’t want to come right out and say Culver has to go, but he certainly would have to come up with a real plan to win back that trust.” (quoted with Bambenek’s permission)

His second comment was about how much the district spends per child; not so much in the dollar amount, but the “bang” of each dollar – what are we getting out of the investment? At the time, he was worried that Unit 4 was spending way over the state average (per child), yet our results were not anything to write home about.

“The next budget is projected to spend about $10,700 per student.  I have heard both the statewide average being $7,000 and $8,500.  I need to review more, but if that holds, I’d be going over the finacials with a fine tooth comb.  Spending that money is fine, but we ought to be getting more results for our dollar.”

That was seven years ago. On a more recent occasion, Read the rest of this entry »