Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beating a Dead Horse Part 2--My Two Cents

This post follows up yesterdays post, and again, just a short disclaimer: This is my personal blog. I have no interest in reporting identifying information nor information that is not absolutely true. All quotes used in this post are taken from e-mails that arrived in my in-box or on my cell phone. I have no interest in being slanderous and I hope that I am not being unprofessional. I am, however, sharing my opinions about the events that I have personally witnessed. It’s my blog, I can do that, right?

Update: I started second guessing myself around midnight, and just to make sure I had a clear understanding of what it means to be a ci
tizen, I looked it up. From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Citizen 1. an inhabitant of a city or town; especially : one entitled to the rights and privileges of a freeman 2. a native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a government and is entitled to protection from it

I'm glad now that I did not write this yesterday when I was still upset. I've had time to calm down and figure out exactly what my feelings least right now, at this moment. And seriously, this could get long. But if I don't get this out, my head may explode.

I am dumbfounded and befuddled.

I just don't understand how this has become such a big deal. I really don't. It truly seems stupid to me that this is an issue. Chalk it up to me being naive. Or a first time parent. Or only 36. Or having only been interested in politics for about 10 years and only excited for the last few. Or to all my students over the years that I know who NEED to hear HIM speak, and often. Chalk it up to whatever. But the President has prepared a very short speech for "nation's children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning." He has invited all public and private schools in the entire nation to watch the speech live. In a historical and technologically brilliant moment, rather than sit in one classroom and enjoy a photo op, and reach a small, select group of students, he has found a way to be accessible to many.

I am angry.

I am angry that public schools are not taking advantage of this opportunity. Every mission statement that I've read or helped write in committee has included the word "citizens." Here are my district and school mission statements as an example:

The mission of School District ___ , in partnership with the community, it to provide challenging curricula with high expectations for learning that develop productive citizens who can solve problems and contribute to a global society.

The mission of ___ Elementary School, a learning community of ___ , is to produce citizens who ___ , ___ , Experience and Succeed.

As teachers and parents, and citizens ourselves, we accept that public schools carry on the tradition of sharing our nation's history and teaching our children how to be citizens. That's why we teach Social Studies. That's why schools hold mock elections. That's why students have to write research papers on presidents and why we celebrate and honor past presidents by closing school in February. It's also why every school I know of was watching the inauguration last January. Because not only do we shape citizens by studying our nations history and teaching them about the processes, but we let them live the history in the making, living in the moment and appreciating the gravity and importance that is the transfer of power for our country. It is our job to teach them to become citizens. Citizens who may not respect the the office holder, but certainly respect the office of the president and the government. I certainly don't mean not to question it, nor work for change or always strive to make it better, but surely there is a level of respect that is...oh, I can't find the word right now. Surely you know what I mean. So, why would public schools even consider not showing the president's speech?

And I suppose I'm speaking more as a teacher and citizen right now.

In my district, I'm sure it is because parents were loud. I've heard comments around the country imply that the problem was not with the speech but with the lesson plans that were sent along with the invitation. First of all, among so many other bits if misunderstandings, they're not lesson plans. Secondly, I'm quite sure that they have no idea that the schools were sent any supplemental materials to help engage students in discussion before and after the speech. It wasn't posted on the district website and no link or information was given regarding the Department of Education website. The e-mail comment and the woman shouting on the news, both were concerned about President Obama attempting to "indoctrinate our children in his socialist liberal agendas." It's funny how they used the same words. Oh, I'd bet next week's grocery money that the majority of the parents in my part of the country are just hiding behind that sweet political excuse. I'm naive but not stupid. Not a day goes by that I don't witness racism. It is so accepted here as part of the culture ("Oh, that's just the way he is.") that I pray every night that Sam is not indoctrinated in the narrow-minded, racist ways of those around him that don't even realize sometimes what they say.

So, each school in my district ended up making it's own decision. In my opinion, my administrator did not handle the situation well. The initial response to a parent was that "it is most likely that the speech would not be developmentally appropriate for our students."
So let's just assume that other schools may be using this excuse. The Dept. of Educ. has decided that the President (also a father) has written a speech that is developmentally appropriate for all K-12 grade students. I could just leave it at that. Or I could add that we talk about setting goals and working hard with all of our students (K-5th) and they seem to handle that fine. Or I could add that if we're going to play the "developmentally appropriate" card, perhaps we should have put more thought into watching the inauguration. I don't think those 5 year olds really understood what was going on. (BTW, Sam and I watched it together. He's 3. That's how I feel about it.)

If anyone had asked me (no one did, but I sent in my concerns anyway), I would have said all this and more. I would have suggested that we show the speech and, of course, respect any parent's wishes to have their child not participate. Now, if any of our parents want their children to see the speech, they have to take off work in the middle of the day, come to school, pull their child out of class, and sit with them in the library. The majority of our children won't see it. Even if their parents want them to. They won't have access. They won't be able to go home and sit down at a computer and watch it together as a family. How's that for fulfilling our mission statement?

Oh, I could go on and on. Let me try to put my parent and citizen hat on.

If you watched this post, you saw how excited we were, as a family, to participate in voting last November. We didn't speak about who we voted for, and we didn't talk to Sam about names. We simple talked to him and got him excited about voting. He went into the booth with me and pushed the buttons for me. I want him to be excited about the process. I want him to vote for whomever he wants to as long as he votes. I want that for everyone. And I'd like to think that if Sam were in school right now, and if McCain were President, that I would be just as excited about this opportunity as I am right now. That I would be teaching him that this is our President and he has a special message just for him and all the other boys and girls in the whole country.

I'm having a hard time understanding why people are concerned about what the President is going to say. Is there really a concern that it wouldn't be appropriate? Do people really think he would start talking about health care reform or any other political agenda item? In my wildest imagination, I cannot think of what he could say that would be offensive to anyone during this particular speech while addressing our children and youth. He's not stupid.

Before I make this next statement, those who only know me through my writing need to know something about me. As a teacher, I serve in this order: my students--their parents--their teachers--my colleagues--my administration. I don't know anyone else who has more respect for parents and who values those relationships more than I do. I am a fierce advocate for my students and their parents. I say that because I never want anyone to be offended by anything I say. And I do worry that a few of my friends could take this next part the wrong way. Please don't. Help me understand.

I know that some parents are concerned enough and feel the need to preview the speech. I so wish I understood why. Am I missing something? Am I a bad parent because I don't feel that need? Am I too trusting? (I mean, I sure wish I had previewed Shrek 3!) Do I just not have enough experience with this type of thing? I just think he'd have to be really stupid to talk about anything other than what they have described.

I have taught so many students who need to hear this message from this president. And I think it's a wonderful idea if from now on, Presidents make it a habit of addressing our students regularly this way.

All right. My head is clearer now. Believe it or not, there was so much more I could say, but I actually tried to stay focused and limit my talking points. You are most welcome to share your thoughts, especially if you disagree. (Check out my comment to Jennifer below.) Just please don't beat me up and make me cry. I'm not used to being controversial. I really just needed to get these words out of my head. Sorry it was horrendously long. Thanks for hanging with me this long!

Update: The Department of Education should be the only source one turns to for facts about the speech. I have seen some incredible examples of people intentionally and unintentionally spreading information today that is just so far from the truth that if it weren't so dangerous it would almost be laughable. The website has a wonderful FAQ section about the speech that should answer any questions you may have. However, I still have one that no one has answered yet. Exactly what kinds of horrible, terrible things are people imagining he's going to say to our children Tuesday?


Jennifer Juniper said...

I think with experience comes learning, and experience has shown that when presidents previously spoke to children politics has been mentioned. I think people learned from their mistakes and the schools would rather make it optional rather than back peddle in the off chance stem cell research or some other such topic gets mentioned.

I just ask for my right to preview what my kids see before they see it. I wouldn't have let Clinton or Bush broadcast to my children live while sitting in school.

Every person has an opportunity to see this on the computer and probably in rebroadcasts. So, my question is, why is it so important to do it in school live? Does seeing it outside of the school setting make his message less powerful? Less right?
Isn't education a family affair?

I don't mean to confront and I can still love you despite our differing opinions, but I just want to show my side as a mom, not a teacher.

Brightfish said...

That's what I want, thank you! As long as you're willing to talk to me about it! and still willing to talk to me!

question for you, and anyone else. if the president chose your boys' school to visit and speak at, what would you do? We had this conversation at lunch yesterday. It was interesting.

And I wish that every person had that chance to see it. The majority of our students have parents with no computers and who don't care enough to seek out other means. Those are the kids we're at risk of losing. They're the ones who need to hear the message from everyone, not just the president. But boy, what a great opportunity!

I'm not saying this just to you, but I didn't say it in the post and could have.

Jennifer Juniper said...

I see your point, I guess I'm not looking at it the perspective of children other than my own. In my district, everyone has access to a computer, even if it's at the public library.

All correspondance from school comes via email and several assignments per week have to be completed on the computer. But, imagining a school where this isn't the case and parents aren't involved, I can see how this broadcast would be beneficial. To have someone speak directly to these kids.

If I was a parent in this sort of setting, I can see how my opinion might be different. But, as I speak for my kids in my district, I agreed with the decision made by my school.

To be honest, where I'm from, kids don't have an inkling that college is something they's just a matter of where they will go. It's good to open up to the knowledge that everyone is not like me (aha moment?).

But I am evolved enough to know that in different circumstances, my choices may be much different. I guess that is why it was left up to each priciple when it was put out there by the administration. If your principle is aware of the at risk population in your school, shame on him.

If the president chose to speak at my kids' school I would want to be present. I just think that a parent present during this sort of thing reinforces the message.

Brightfish said...

Shoot, J! I was trying to beat you back here! I was going to say that I only asked because you would offer a different opinion than the teachers I eat with, not to challenge you. But yeah, you know me well enough! Thanks, friend!

Brightfish said...

That was supposed to be Yay!!! not "yeah" :)

Jennifer Juniper said...

hee hee! beat ya :)