this might pinch a little

Whenever my ex-dentist used to say that, I cringed and prepared for an excruciating pain. And oh did it hurt! I learned later, after that dentist had left for “other opportunities”, that he had been doing the procedure wrong the entire time, and the new dentist demonstrated the same procedure with me hardly noticing anything. Still I was scarred, and those false words of promise buried themselves deep inside me.

You can hear the same empty mantra from elected officials. Taxes go up and “its for the kids”. Surely every single tax dollar that is sucked out of our wallets is used for mutually beneficial and good things. Right? Why are you looking at me like that?

While I will focus mostly on the schools, I am going to blame two distinct groups of people; 1) officials, leaders, legislators, policy-makers and every other cherry chum that sees taxes as free money, and 2) you and me and everyone else who lets them get away with this inexcusable atrocity.

Let us take a little spin down TIF lane. TIF, Tax-Increment Financing, sounds innocuous enough – or perhaps, more realistically, vapid and vacuous, as it doesn’t really say much of what it is doing. Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Roses in Concrete: thoughts about the Nov 29th Social Justice meeting

The title is borrowed from Jeff Duncan-Andrade (13 minute TED talk – a VERY worthwhile listen), who was inspired by Tupac Shakur’s “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” (wiki entry for book). This topic served as the basis for much of our discussion. And I would say that the conversations, both around the tables and at large, were excellent opportunities to learn from each other, explore the environment we live in and how that affects others.

 

So right up front let me say that I am torn about the Social Justice Committee. As I reflect upon this, I realized I could use the working analogy of concrete and roses with damaged petals to shape my thoughts.

 

The concrete

For lack of a more creative way to say this, Unit 4 does things a certain way. It’s the “way it has always been done” kind of thing. Unit 4 committees are typically heavily populated by Unit 4 staff and typically held at the Mellon Center. For the most part, these committees and board meetings struggle to gain any sort of publicity outside themselves; they are not visible on the website, you don’t see anyone blogging about them, nothing on twitter or even around the coffee pot. They are a part of the invisible machinations of the “machine” of Unit 4 district administration. I also get the sense that their goals (purpose, mission statement, etc) are too often looking inward; how to form policy, how to shape administration.

To make a more specific example of last night’s social justice meeting, I found it extremely hard to engage in the conversation at first because the first task made no sense to me. We were given two vignettes of fictional students whose performance started off greatly but had taken a nosedive. Based on an incomplete picture of the situation, we were told to discuss ways in which pieces of the existing system “engaged” certain areas. Like what does “Instruction” do, currently, to address these two downward sliding students? What about “Facilities”? “Curriculum”? It was too abstract for me. I have no clue how the buildings affect the fictional students. Granted, others at the table came up with ideas, but they all felt very “Unit 4ish” to me. Like, very vague and barely relevant ideas, nothing to me that could be made specifically applicable to these students in mind.

 

The Roses

Given the hard adversity of these tradition-bound forms, good things still happen. There are really fascinating facts buried in the EEE and PMPK meeting reports. More recently, the Social Justice and Parent Advocacy committees are having these little examples of excellent conversations, awesome intent and lots of potential. There are some really hard-working, liberal-thinking and risk-taking individuals in the meetings. I love that!

I would also say an emerging ‘rose’ is that of the new administration’s attempt to grow trust, to be transparent and to engage the community.

Going back to last night again as a specific example, one lady at a table reported out on her table’s brainstorming on ways to improve the current system, and WOW, they had some awesome ideas! I very much hope to see that list put up on the website. And since I saw two of you readers sitting at that table, I hope you can say more as well. 🙂

 

The damaged petals

As a result of the concrete, it is my observation that most community folks are disengaged. My perspective is that it seems most people view the whole of Unit 4 as an antiquated system, most likely due to practices from the past decades that have eroded trust. There is a general sense that these committees are not doing much. And here is where I am torn. For all these great conversations that we are having, what actually gets done? How are students helped? How is the community helped? This is very hard to measure. I think there is a lot of personal satisfaction by those who attend (and also dissatisfaction in many cases), but how does that translate outwards?

 

For me, I was reminded that there is beauty all around us. I am extremely grateful that Ellen Dahlke and Jaime Roundtree led us through the examples of Tupac’s vivid and gripping universe.