When American Kids Learn About Our Constitution

This morning as I was doing my regular rounds of assorted blogs, I found a blog post about an effort in Seymour by students to have school policies changed to allow the wearing of flip-flops at school. The author seemed outraged that the students would have the audacity to disapprove of school authorities’ rules. I have a very different perspective. Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not students where flip-flops to school. However, I do think it is very important for high school students to learn the appropriate way to petition for a governmental redress of grievances; a right guaranteed us in the First Amendment.

I wrote a comment to the blog post, but the author appears to have not accepted my comment, so I am sharing it here. What do you think? What are the best ways for students to learn the proper method of challenging rules that they disagree with? Is petitioning the Board of Education appropriate? Is getting media coverage of the issue appropriate? Is civil disobedience appropriate? Should people mindlessly follow rules that others create? Are there other ideas?

Here’s my comment:

It sounds to me as if it was a very beneficial educational experience and I hope the teachers and educators are making the most of it. At least based on the article presented, I don’t see any example of students ‘bucking the law’ or administrators ‘hunching down, possibly bailing from fear of ejection’.

Instead, I see students following the law, and learning about fundamental American freedoms. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to petition for a governmental redress of grievances. This is what they are doing. The article describes how the petition is aimed at the appropriate governing board, the town Board of Education. The Board of Education appears to be making an appropriate consideration of the petition, balancing the desires of students with issues of safety.

While it might be more desirable if students were seeking to redress a grievance of national importance, it is good that they don’t feel that there is an issue of that importance to address. Tuition is not an issue in a public school, and while the issue of what students can wear on their feet seems minor, it may well seem to them to be about unfair treatment by the school administration. As noted in the article, students in neighboring schools have the right to wear flip-flops to school.

Yet what is important is that this is an opportunity for students to learn and experience the proper method of redressing a grievance, instead of bucking the law. How will the Board of Education respond? What other lessons can the students, as well as other citizens of our country learn? We will have to wait and see on this, but personally, independent of my view about footwear choices, I applaud the students, as well as any educators or parents that are assisting them, in exploring this fundamental American right of petition for a governmental redress of grievances.

One Day More

One day more,
Another day, another destiny,

One day more until opening night of Amity Performing Acts run of Les Miserables. One day more.

Last night, I watched various clips on Youtube of performances from Les Mis. A video from the 10th Anniversery of One Day More. Les Misbarack and the encore.

Another great song from Les Mis is Castle on a Cloud. There is a wonderful remix of this with Disney’s Cinderella.

As I watched these clips, I thought of the high school musicals I performed in. I always had bit parts, but still I remember the excitement, the dreams.

What a life I might have known

Are Amity High School students humming One Day More as they walk the halls today, their heads full of dreams? Is the excitement there as palpable as it was for me and my friends the day before opening night?

Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!

P.S. Tickets are still available.

Woodbridge Board of Education Shows Leadership in Technology and World Languages

Shortly after Apple released its new iPad, Woodbridge Board of Education member Steven Fleischman attended the National School Boards Association annual conference in Chicago. The new iPad that he carried with him attracted attention from many other school board members in attendance.

At the April meeting of the Woodbridge Board of Education he hooked up his iPad to a projector to give a report about the annual conference, perhaps making the Woodbridge Board of Education the first board of education to use an iPad for a presentation to the board.

Dr. Fleischman’s presentation covered many important topics, including how technology can be better integrated into the curriculum, and the importance of school boards, administrations and teachers working together on a shared vision. He spoke about how all of this needed to focus on twenty-first century skills.

Yet many of these ideas are not new to members of the Woodbridge Board of Education. Before Dr. Fleischman spoke, two Woodbridge students used some of the schools technology, including a smartboard and iPhoto to present to the board information about what they were learning from the school’s world languages program. The board also approved Woodbridge’s participation in the Cooperative Educational Services’ Title II grant ‘to create a 21st century learning environment for World Language students’.

This grant will use technology including ‘interactive whiteboards, Flip video cameras, iPods, multi-user virtual learning environments, Google Earth, Skype, and others’ to provide a rich opportunity for students to learn Spanish and Chinese. The program will include Beecher Road School, the Six to Six Interdistrict Magnet School and Southern Connecticut State University. Besides the technology, an important focus will be placed on professional development.

The Woodbridge Board of Education, together with the teachers and administration of Beecher Road School continue to work together to find ways to use technology to make learning world languages and other twenty first century skills more exciting.

(Cross posted at the Woodbridge Citizen.)

MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species

Students from the Multi Age Group program at Beecher Road in Woodbridge, CT received a special look at how legislation is made at the State Capital on Monday in Hartford. Second Year and Fourth Year MAG students visited the capital to hold an informatory hearing on invasive species in Connecticut and what the State Government is doing about it.

Unlike many trips to the capital which focus on historical aspects of our state government and rudimentary descriptions of the legislative process by state legislators, the students, led by Beecher Road parents, Aldon and Kim Hynes, experienced what it is like to work on a committee gathering information about proposed legislation. The program was carefully crafted in collaboration with the MAG teachers to integrate with the students’ current studies in invasive species.

First to testify before the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species was State Representative Bryan Hurlburt. Representative Hurlburt, besides being one of the younger members of the General Assembly and a member of the Higher Education and Employment Advancement Committee is a Vice Chair of the Environment Committee. The Environment Committee recently approved Raised House Bill No. 5320, An Act Concerning the Enforcement of Prohibited Actions Concerning Certain Invasive Plants. This bill would authorize conservation officers to enforce certain prohibitions concerning invasive plants. Rep. Hurlburt started off by explaining how people testify before a legislative committee and provided a good example. This was followed by questions from the students related to invasive species and what the legislature is considering. Much of Rep. Hurlburt’s testimony focused on the problems of aquatic invasive species, such as the Zebra Mussel, as well as actions that can be taken to try and prevent the spread of invasive species.

The second witness to testify before the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species was State Representative Matt Lesser. Representative Lesser is a friend of one of the MAG students, serves on the Education Committee and is currently the youngest member of the General Assembly. Recently, Rep. Lesser voted against Raised House Bill No. 5491, An Act Concerning Certain School District Reforms to Reduce the Achievement Gap in Connecticut. He has expressed concern about how best to encourage parental involvement in Connecticut’s educational system. While he may have concerns about how Raised Bill No. 5491 addresses parental involvement, he provided a good example of how educators, parents and legislators can all work together to provide a richer learning environment than our current status quo.

Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, Amey Marrella, was also invited to come speak to the MAG Special Committee on Invasive Species. Unfortunately, a last minute conflict prevented Commissioner Marrella from addressing the committee and instead she sent two DEP staff members to provide information to the students. As with the initial two speakers, the staffers from the Department of Environmental Protection were peppered with questions related to invasive and native species in Connecticut and some of the programs of the DEP.

With the committee work completed, the students broke for lunch and a brief opportunity to speak individually with members of the Woodbridge delegation to the General Assembly. This was followed by a brief tour of the State House and a trip back to Woodbridge. Some members of the special student committee on invasive species expressed interest in proposing legislation. Such ideas are bound to be explored with the students and teachers in the Multi Age Group program at Beecher Road School, in Woodbridge, CT as they work together in further explorations of their unique learning experience.

(Cross posted to the Woodbridge Citizen.)

Free Speech, Good Conduct, the School to Prison Pipeline and the Educational Imperative

Recently, there has been a fascinating discussion concerning free speech and learning going on online that I wanted to explore and comment on. Last week, David Drury wrote an article in the Hartford Courant about teens facing fines for swearing at Windsor High School.

Andy Thibault posted a letter from Jon Schoenhorn to the Hartford Courant entitled Swearing In School Is Not A Crime. Jon writes:

Once again, school officials are foolishly trying to use the police to enforce good manners …
Apparently this principal doesn't understand that constitutional free speech protects bad manners and language in criminal prosecutions, unless the intent of the speaker is to annoy and harass, or unless the language constitutes "fighting words" — that is, words likely to provoke a violent reaction.

I got to know both Andy and Jon through my coverage of the Avery Doninger case. Andy has provided great coverage on the case and Jon is the lawyer representing the Doningers. My initial reaction was to side with them on this issue.

However, going back to the Hartford Courant, it says that students "who use profanity directed toward a teacher, toward another student in class or during a verbal altercation in the hallway or cafeteria," will be ticketed. It may well be that the intent and the actual practice will be to only ticket students whose language constitutes fighting words and falls very nicely within the bounds of free speech laws.

Yet there are also deeper issues. First, how big a concern is “fighting words” at Windsor High School. According to the Courant article, there were some parents “that expressed some surprise over Sills' letter, since there had been no communication about what led up to it.” Perhaps it is not only the students who have not been communicating as effectively as they could be.

Another concern that has come up with this is that by using police, Windsor High School may be perpetuating or expanding the school to prison pipeline. Schools that use police to address behavior problems may be keeping the immediate behavior problems a little bit better under control, but may ultimately be adding to problems by causing student to think of themselves as in conflict with the legal system and not simply in conflict with their teachers. On the other hand, it may be that the best way to get students to learn more effective ways of dealing with their anger and frustration than using fighting words in school is to hit them where it hurts most, in their pocketbooks.

Yet perhaps, there are even better ways to address this. Schools are supposed to be learning environments. Fighting words can disrupt a learning environment, but they may also be opportunities for deeper learning. Should Windsor High School have a special session on Free Speech? A couple years ago, I went with Avery Doninger to Windsor High School to talk about her case. She had learned a lot from her experience. She learned that some popular colloquial words for, such as using “Douchebag” when you mean “jerk”, may hamper ones efforts to get a message across. She also learned the importance of being allowed to get ones message across and standing up for that right. She shared this learning with students at Windsor High School and I think it was a great educational event.

Likewise, should the school have classes in anger management and learning better ways of dealing with conflict than resorting to fighting words, or for that matter, resorting to $103 tickets? Perhaps such classes could be offered where students, teachers and administrators are all the learners in the class.

Ultimately, I hope that all my friends on all sides of this discussion return to the educational imperative. What are the goals of public education? What are the best means of achieving these goals? In my mind, learning about the importance of free speech, what it means, and how to stand up for it, as well as learning about better ways of dealing with anger and frustration than using fighting words are important parts of this educational imperative. They aren’t part of the Connecticut Mastery Tests (CMTs), but perhaps they should be. The race to the top, and breaking the school to prison pipeline are both important goals that such learning could facilitate.

What do you think?

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