Letter to the editor submitted

I have been wanting to solidify my “position” (as it were) with regards to the ongoing saga of the High School siting and a property tax referendum. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the physical location of the high school, and even the amenities that come attached to it, are of a minor importance compared to a need for the school district to have a solid bank account of Trust with the community. To me, it is paramount that the community and the school district work together to reach a commonly agreed upon, mutually beneficial goal.

 

Having said that, here is the letter I have submitted (online) to the NG editor:

“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” From the Maroon Tiger (January-February 1947), “The Purpose of Education”.

Regardless of where Unit 4 ultimately decides to build a new high school, regardless of when the referendum is put on the ballot, as a community we must first remember the purpose of education and take our civic responsibilities seriously. Personally, I need three things in order to vote for a future high school referendum.

First, I need to see the work of uniting the administration, teachers, students, parents and community; like a prized cultivar, we must be selective about propagating characteristics that enhance our society. How do we collaboratively imbue creative and moral thinking?

Second, I need the school district to involve and educate the public in regards to a 10-year strategic plan and a 40-year vision, via a minimum of three charrettes.

Third, I need a well-understood financial plan. Will yet another tax referendum be put on the ballot in five years, especially if external sources continue to decline?

 

The quote is from a letter that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr wrote to the Morehouse College campus newspaper in 1947 – the entire letter is very instructional.

 

Having time to chew on the recent events of the past couple days and hearing from parents and a board member, I have several observations that have steered my thinking

  1. While a number of people are voicing support for a possible high school at the Spalding Park area (including myself), it seems extremely unlikely that the board will ultimately go with that location due to a number of problematic obstacles:
    1. railroad tracks
    2. money involved to purchase land, eminent domain, tear down Judah, make safe walk ways, etc – all for land that the Board has said several times is too small
    3. will the park-district do a land-swap with the Atkins-Ponder lands we just purchased? Probably not.
  2. It is possible these talks will open up the possibility of negotiating land at Dodds Park. But I am not holding my breath
  3. No matter what, it is going to be very challenging for the district and the board to come out of this looking good; if they go with Spading Park, the tax referendum will likley be more expensive, while the Atkins-Ponder site garners more negative attention from those who are most vocal.
  4. The district has already conducted phone surveys, opinion polls, a so-called “Town Hall” and various forms of “Community dialogues”. I don’t think more of the same is going to be very effective.
  5. Board member Jamar Brown has said that when he talks to folks on the north end, they are less concerned about the location of the high school and more concerned about discipline issues. Yet discipline issues are not the focus of any phone survey, opinion polls or “Community Dialogue”. Why not? What is really most important?

 

Also, here is a more recent NG article:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-04-26/many-are-endorsing-central-park-idea.html

 

I have no doubt that due to poor planning over the long-run and growing enrollemnt, we have a clear and present need for more capacity. Yes, we can do portables as Board President Laurie Bonnett suggested for a “Plan B”. Obvioulsy, this is not ideal. But neither is making an unwise choice that will effect us for the next 50 years or so.

 

What do I suggest? We need to do the hard work of building relationships, building trust, getting out there and learning what our parents, students and residents need. We need to work together to get those ends met. We need to make sure we educate with the goal of thinking critically, intensely and with morals. This is a burden we all share, not just the teachers.

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.

Digging at the root of the matter (part 1)

There are times when I find I have to take a step back. Especially this past week or two, with so much hubbub about the CFT negotiations, the Futures Conference, elections, the Immigration Forum and Bristol Place. And there is so much else just roiling beneath the surface – I am sure you can relate.

So as I step back, I see two very general categories, or catalysts, or … I don’t even know what to call them. But they get our goat. This is no great epiphany, but I had to start somewhere.

  1. Differences of opinion
  2. Money

It is not hard to find someone who believes in something different than you do. It is not hard to stumble across blogs, facebook pages, sound bites, tv ads or written commentary that expresses a strong opinion, and chances are that a large number of people feel differently. It is probably more accurate to say “think differently”, but the “feel” part of it is that knee-jerk reaction, that gut-level almost instantaneous “you’re wrong” thought that bubbles up unbidden. When we actually discipline ourselves to really think and not rely so much on “feel”, some great conversations and deliberation can happen. I was reminded of this just yesterday witnessing an exchange between a parent (Karen) and a Unit 4 administrator (Cheryl Camacho); what is awesome is that questions, thoughts, and genuine interest are traded back and forth – I find this to be an excellent learning experience. I invite you to join in (I will be right after this post *grin*).

From there I am going to Read the rest of this entry »

The future of Education

I struggled with a good title for this post; “Heuristics”, “The purpose of Education, part 4”, “Is this what Education is going to become?”

 

As stated in several previous posts (ie, 1, 2, 3), I have observed an emphasis on “data-based student metrics”. And now we are seeing more of this being applied to teachers as well (hence the CPS strikes). I just recently read a couple articles about how Xerox uses very similar techniques for their call-center:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443890304578006252019616768.html

http://blog.thomasecon.com/discrimination/personality-tests-and-pre-employment-screening/

 

And frankly, these articles scare me. But I have to take a step back and acknowledge that some folks really dig the ability to track, measure and data-mine people as they matriculate through a system. The tin foil hat says “machine”.

 

And I realize that one’s view on how to measure learning really is dependent on the purpose of education in the first place. I am a big believer in that education prepares folks to participate in a democratic society, and thus I have a hard time fitting all this data-centric mentality into my framework. But for those that see education playing the role of preparing our children to be future gerbils wage-earners in the great American Machine industrious workforce, this system of tracking and measuring and analyzing is probably quite attractive.

 

What about the middle ground? I am having a hard time seeing that, so if you have a different perspective, I would love to hear it. (And I know several of you do!)

Another perspective on American Education

re: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-57455011/why-my-child-will-be-your-childs-boss/

 

First thing I have to acknowledge is that there is no silver bullet – we will never find one system that does everything perfectly. Having said that, I personally really like the story (both the anecdotal and the non-fiction) – it strikes a chord within me. When I looked, there were 53 comments all over the map, some of which even point out that this personal experience cannot be generalized for everyone. So my point in posting it is merely to say that I like it. You might not. Others certainly do not.

 

On a general level, it seems to me that one can determine what is really important by what characteristics, virtues and disciplines are taught, conveyed, imbued and instilled. Not merely what is pitched from the front of the classroom and written in our books, but what the final outcome is. A part of that picture is the travesty of how we raise a significant portion of our children to spend time in jail. And I say “we” very much intentionally – this is a responsibility we all share and we all need to think more seriously about.

 

Or in other words, “the proof is in the pudding.” The rubber is hitting the road.

The Purpose of Education, part 3

Here is what some smart people came up with in 1918:

CARDINAL PRINCIPLES OF SECONDARY EDUCATION


I. THE NEED FOR REORGANIZATION

Secondary education should be determined by the needs of the society to be served, the character of the individuals to be educated, and the knowledge of educational theory and practice available. These factors are by no means static. Society is always in process of development; the character of the secondary-school population undergoes modification; and the sciences on which educational theory and practice depend constantly furnish new information. Secondary education, however, like any other established agency of society, is conservative and tends to resist modification. Failure to make adjustments when the need arises leads to the necessity for extensive reorganization at irregular intervals. The evidence is strong that such a comprehensive reorganization of secondary education is imperative at the present time.

Source: http://tmh.floonet.net/articles/cardprin.html  http://www3.nd.edu/~rbarger/www7/cardprin.html

Reformatted, shorter, prettier: http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/legacy/research/edu20/moments/1918cardinal.html?cms_page=edu20/moments/1918cardinal.html

Super short outline: Read the rest of this entry »

The Purpose of Education, part 2

A fair number of folks responded to me personally and provided a diverse wealth of perspectives on this question. I proactively ask your forgiveness for not mentioning all the nuances here. 🙂

Aside from posing the question here, I also asked Dr. Wiegand, the Board, the Regional Superintendent Jane Quinlan, State Superintendent Chris Koch (pronounced “Cook”) and had a lovely chat with Dr. Lynda Vaughn of the Public School Recognition Division of the ISBE General Counsel. I dug around in the Illinois Compiled Statues section 105 (ILCS 105 – School Code) and Article X of the Illinois State Constitution. The latter led me to do some googling about the nation’s Constitution and found some rather intriguing websites pontificating on the sorry state of how we citizens have given away too much power to the government (1, 2, 3).

I initially had this desire to get a reading on the general feel for why we send our kids to school. My exploration has led me on a journey across many landscapes; and I do not think I have reached the end, yet. But let us get back to the basic question. Why do you send your child to school? We all assume this is a no-brainer. “Well, duh! So they can learn stuff” I could even project this out to any kind of school including those who homeschool. We all think that a child should go to school. But when I start to examine the root reasons behind that motivation, I start to find a wide variety of opinions, theories, conjecture, beliefs and goals.

And right now, Read the rest of this entry »