Review of the Oct 8th Board Retreat: the conundrum of public education

Tonight’s post is partially inspired by an Old Spice commercial featuring Bruce Campbell and an intriguing statement by Henry Ford. You can google the commercial if you like – I am not going to link youTube because that can lead to all sorts of unknown troubles, but it starts of “If you have it you don’t need it. If you need it, you don’t have it.” The quote from Henry Ford I am going to steal is “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.”

First off, a couple of announcements came out of the retreat:

  • The state of Illinois is going to mandate a state-wide climate survey. This year! (I presume this school year, not this calendar year) Upon asking Dr. Wiegand for more details, she indicated that she is going to pass the buck to the Executive Director of LUDA and hopefully get back to me.
  • The Board and the Administration will hold another retreat in the Spring (TBA)
  • Unit 4 is forming two ad hoc teams/committees, one for Parent Advocacy and another for Transitions (ie, entry into Kindergarten, 5th to 6th, 8th to 9th). I ask for and received assurances that each committee would have its own dedicated webpage on the school website and that the chairs would be asked to keep the web spaces well maintained.

Dr. Laura Taylor got us started off with her “Social Justice Wheel“. This is the same wheel that was used for the Social Justice Committee (Sept 27th); in fact, Dr. Taylor even divided the room between those who already started that conversation so they could jump to the next application – what keeps parents and children out (in the context of the night’s focus on “Services for Parents and Students”)? We discussed this at each table – I ended up at a table with administrators since there were like…. zero other “parents” there (and by “parents” I mean someone who was not either a Unit 4 employee, Board Member or Media). In fact, I highlighted this point, sweeping the room and saying “look who is not here  – why are they not here?” For truly Read the rest of this entry »

Things be a-happening

Tonight is the School Board and District retreat (leaving in 30 minutes). I don’t know what to expect. I am hoping for good things. 🙂


Also, the Social Justice Committee has a dedicated page on the U4 website: Check out the “Social Justice Wheel” and tell me what you think. I am still trying to figure out if “social justice” or “academic justice” is more appropriate. In that, I hope to find out if the difference matters. 🙂


Had good meetings at Houlihans past couple weeks that I need to blog about.


More later – got a few things to wrap up.

The Purpose of Education: Part 1

I have found myself lately asking what the purpose of education is. I have asked myself this question many times and never really found a satisfactory answer; part of my dilemma is that I cannot answer this question without being influenced by my environment, my upbringing and ultimately, what “smart people” before me have said. Through my many talks with folks around town (and out of town for that matter), I have come to realize there are two very different views on the purpose of education. At least two – there might be more. So this is Part 1, because I am sure I will have more to say as I dig into this question more seriously. But I am putting this out in a public place also to elicit comments and thoughts from others.

On that note, I wonder; “Is there an absolute answer, or are there many correct answers?” No doubt, there are many perspectives. Are they all valid? I tend to believe in Absolutes, FYI. But I am not yet convinced if the purpose of education is absolute or not. Clearly, how education is practiced and the justification for it as nearly as diverse as the stars.

So in my googling, I have two important queries from which I am drawing my internet influence: Read the rest of this entry »

Social Justice in education

I sent the below note to Unit 4 Dr. Wiegand, the Unit 4 BOE and Unit 116 Superintendent Dr. Preston. What I did not mention in the note was that I had a follow-up conversation with one of the two PhD students (Gabe Rodriguez); I am really impressed by the grad students’ work and am anxious to see how this plays out further down the road. I cannot help but be convinced that healthy, human relationships form the fundamental core of a thriving community (ie, not Facebook, not bottom-line efficiency, not the almighty dollar, not laws, not Government).

Good afternoon, Dr. Wiegand and members of the Unit 4 Board of Education,

This morning I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a class presentation on Social Justice at Urbana High School. Ms. Dahlke has 22 intelligent, concerned and forward-thinking students, each of whom shared a little of what their semester-long class has accomplished. Although the focus and direction of the class morphed since the beginning of the semester, their final project was an impressive field study of discipline referrals and suspensions. My personal take-away was seeing how impactful and significant personal relationships are at any level of a community, how students want to be heard and sometimes how the perceptions of students do not match the perceptions of adults and the conflicts that ensue. I saw how important life-skills like conflict resolution are – these are not skills set aside for marriage counseling, but very relevant and applicable to anyone that desires a functional and healthy society.
The class made several recommendations. One of which was to form a student union and to enact student advocacy at some level. They recommended better communication, the goal of which would be to provide an opportunity for students and teachers to know each other as humans. I was quite impressed.
I have had a couple one-off chats with Board Member Jamar Brown and I appreciate how Mr. Brown attempts to better understand the full story when he is faced with discipline issues. This is not to say that he is the only one, but I do believe that gaining a better cultural understanding makes a huge difference, especially when the statistics show that referrals for African-American men are disproportionately skewed.
I understand that a pilot curriculum on social justice is being considered and analyzed for insertion into Unit 4. I applaud this effort, and I hope that the Board and the Superintendent are able to effectively communicate with the wider audience of the community how important and crucial this topic is. I realize “social justice” sounds kind of kooky and may seem like a hard sell. But I believe very strongly that there is something going on here, something worth talking about.
May each of you have a chance to enjoy the beautiful warm weather outside.

Social Justice in the schools

This afternoon I received an email from an Urbana High School teacher who gave me permission to post an invitation to the class’s presentation on Social Justice:

For those of you who don’t know me, please allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Ellen Dahlke, and I am an English teacher at Urbana High School.  I also co-chair the Social Justice Committee, and this semester, I have had the privilege of teaching Social Justice, an elective course available to all students, grades nine through twelve.

My students and I would like to share with you what we’ve learned about discipline, punishment, and justice at UHS through a qualitative research project we’ve conducted this semester as well as the recommendations we have for positively contributing to our schools’ culture in terms of social justice.

We’d like to present Tuesday morning, May 15th, during our 1st hour class, 8:00 to 8:50 in the UHS Lecture Hall.  Please let me know if you’ll be able to make it.

Thanks for your time.

As stated by Ms. Dahlke, please let her know if you intend to participate. Her email is

Social Justice in the curriculum

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit a Urbana High School class to see a curriculum that focuses on social justice. I am very intrigued by the premise, and I personally think some really good things can come out of this effort.


First off, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. Overall, the students were having a really hard time engaging – not sure why. Maybe it was a slow day. I have to keep in mind that I am dropping in right before Spring Break.


However, some students did have a few awesome observations and you could see the wheels turning in their heads. The topic for the week is to ask why behavior referrals (and grounds for suspension) were given to a disproportionate numbers of African Americans. What I like is the context – the teacher is asking the kids for their perspective and ideas on what to do about it. It is not some know-it-all proselytizing the world about his or her views. Their task is to go out and interview folks (mostly students, I think, but I could be wrong) and to learn more about the situations. An excellent point come up – is that nosy? If you get all up in somebody’s face about their business, why should they tell you anything? The class period ended before much discussion could happen on that thread. What came to my mind is “People don’t care what you know until the know you care.”


They also watched a couple videos, trying to discern who the target audience is and how the message is communicated.  While this is a very interesting exercise, it became a bit passive. 🙂 I have to mention the one video – it was a group of students reading demands they have of their school, their administration and their community. It was a very powerful statement. But as discussed, the audience is quite narrow – due to the vocabulary used, it was aimed at mostly “educated” folks. Even the kids reading the demands stumbled over the words from time to time, which makes you wonder “Who really wrote them?” Was it not the students themselves?


I continue to think that social justice is crucial in schools. I am not exactly sure how it should be implemented – I have not yet gone that far. But I leave you with two thoughts.


1. “The education and support of children is some of the world’s most important work.”
PBF Belief Statement #10 — Dr. Edna Olive, Executive Director of ROCKET, Inc.


2. The motto on the School Board letterhead reads “Better Schools Build Better Communities”; I am convinced that better communities build better schools as well – I view it as a symbiosis.


CUWiki: January 3rd at 6PM in the Urbana Free Library

I recently found out about the CUWiki project, and the meeting the group is holding at the Urbana Free Library tonight. I am advertising it because what little reading I have done so far really excites me, and it might just excite you. They have some really awesome people involved in the project, and some radical ideas that go beyond the banal-sounding “wiki”. Particularly, they address issues of the digital divide, tapping into UC2B to create an unofficial PrairieNet2 and including the wealth of diversity within Champaign-Urbana (and the “not-connected”).


What does this have to do with education, or even Unit 4 in particular? On the surface, not much at all. But looking at myself from the outside, I see a realization that the school district does not operate in isolation; I have been focusing on the community aspect of schools for quite some time on this blog. Efforts like CUWiki (and many many more) are part of that community-building mindset that seeks to improve society and thus improve the collaboration with schools, which ultimately impacts our children and closes the circle. At least, that is my belief at this point in time. Feel free to disagree.