Today, there is a re-vote in the Fifth Assembly District in Connecticut, where the primary ended up a tie back in October. Leo Canty, a Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut is running against Brandon McGee. I've known Leo for a long time, and he has contributed ten dollars to my campaign.
Recently, the Great New England Public Schools Alliance has spent nearly $32,000 as an independent expenditure on Mr. Canty's opponent. That's more than Mr. Canty can spend as a participant in the Citizens Election Program. To me, this appears to be another example of an outside interest group trying to buy an election.
Education reform has always been a key interest of mine, and I'm always interested in what people, and organizations actions say about their real interests. I'm not sure that the behavior of this organization sets a good example of how people should be involved in the political process.
A while ago, I received their endorsement survey. Given my concerns about the organization, even before their latest actions, I set it aside and didn't complete it. Last night, I returned to the survey and completed it. It may be that the survey has changed over time, or that it is an adaptive survey that didn't ask more probing questions depending on the answers, however, I have to say it was one of the worst constructed surveys I've encountered so far.
It asked three yes or no questions:
Do you support paying teachers substantially more for effectiveness?…
Do you support empowering parents by giving the majority of parents in a failing school the option to effect a turnaround or transformation of that school?…
Do you support the promotion of appropriate reforms to governance structures, such as the newly created Commissioner's Network, which prioritizes the interests of students?
I answered Yes to all three, and added a comment:
I have signed the Common Cause Fair Campaign Pledge:
'I pledge to ask all outside spenders to refrain from outside spending in my race, including all
independent expenditures and issue advocacy advertisements that attack my opponents or
party or support my candidacy or party;'
I've often talked about how we should not judge the success of our students, their teachers, or their schools by how well students fill out multiple choice tests. It is very disappointing that this education reform organization resorts to multiple choice questions for their endorsement.
As an illustration, I think my answer to their second question reveals some of the problems. I believe that GNEPSA and I have very different views of how to empower parents. My view is that the process needs to be very fair with key checks and balances. For example, the best way to empower parents to change schools is to have fair local elections, with no outside money pouring in, for not only State Representatives, but also for local school boards. We need level playing fields in the discussions about how to reform schools, and not just money pouring in from large organizations that have agendas beyond the education of the students in the district. Another way to empower students is to get parents more involved in the schools, through parent teacher organizations. Parents and teachers need to be encouraged to work together to improve the schools, and teachers should not be vilified for conditions beyond their control as many education reform organizations tend to do these days.
Yes, we need education reform. It is tied to electoral reform and promoting fairness and transparency. I don't think the multiple choice questions or the third party expenditures of GNEPSA does anything to achieve this.
It's been a busy few days, and I'm behind on my blogging, but I did get a chance to write the following post this evening, which I've also shared at the Bethwood Patch.
As I scanned Facebook this evening, I found a picture that one of my elementary school classmates posted of her first grade class. I was in a different class, but I recognized many names of long time dear friends. It was a grainy black and white picture of the kids standing on the school steps.
One person commented, "Everyone looks so cute! Remember when girls couldn't wear pants to school? I think we were in 5th or 6th grade when this rule changed." It was a different time and a different town. A small town of less than ten thousand, where a lot of college professors lived. It was a town that helped shape who I am today.
Then, I stumbled across some pictures of a friend that I got to know right after college. We went to the same church in New York City, a church where many of the young parishioners went on to become priests. For some, it was a fairly quick journey, for others it took many years. My friend was one who took a longer, more circuitous route to the priesthood. She was up in Hartford celebrating the Ordination to the Sacred Order of Deacons where another friend from church in New York was being ordained.
The pictures of the bishops and the ordinands in their fresh scrubbed faces, most likely just out of divinity school added to my rosy thoughts about education.
All of this set an interesting contrast to my experiences Monday night when I went to the Amity Board of Education meeting. I went to speak about my opposition to using police dogs to search students for drugs. Yes, there were drugs at my high school thirty five years ago, and I'm sure there are drugs at Amity, but somehow, the experiences were radically different.
High school is a very difficult time for many people. My high school classmates have shared reflections back on those days, "the tears and fears and feeling proud, to say I love you right out loud" at a school dance. "The moons and Junes and circus clouds." Yes, I sang "Both Sides Now" with my school chorus.
In many ways, the public comments at the Amity Board of Education focused on keeping our children safe from drugs, their right to go to a drug free school, where school policies were not considered a joke, and where there wasn't peer pressure to try drugs. The other side of the public comment focused on the students civil rights to not be subject to unwarranted searches, and the efficacy on using police dogs to curb drug use at the high school.
If I honestly believed that using police dogs would prevent drugs from being at the school, would cause students not to view school policies as a joke, and would eliminate the peer pressure to use drugs, that I'm sure exists at Amity today, like it did at my high school thirty five years ago, I might be more inclined to support the opinion of those that would like to see broader use of police dogs at the school. However, I don't believe that would be the result, if anything, I fear the opposite result. Students will still find ways to use drugs. They will still heap scorn on school polices, and they will still pressure classmates to engage in dangerous and illegal activities.
Yet returning to Both Sides Now, it's school's illusions I recall. I remember best, things like singing in the choir, playing in the band, being in musicals. I never was particularly talented, but I had the chance to participate in something beautiful, something bigger than myself.
My high school always had students going to All State for one reason or another. I had some incredibly talented friends and classmates, and that is what I'm most happy to remember. The Amity Board of Education meeting started off recognizing great teachers, and incredibly talented students at the high school. It ended with the board voting to approve setting aside money for building a black box theatre at the school. It struck me that those who pushed hardest to expand the use of police dogs at the school were also the ones who showed the most resistance to supporting the black box theatre. Perhaps, this too, reflects both sides of school.
I savor my positive memories of high school, the school's illusions of talent young students with a great life ahead of them, as opposed to a view of students as suspected drug users on the road to ruin. I hope our school board remembers this part of high school and seeks positive ways to help the students reach their dreams, whether they need help with substance abuse issues, or hitting the high note on Broadway.
Friday evening, the current Multi Aged Group, or MAG, students gathered around the fourth year teacher who was holding the microphone from the podium set up on the North Playground at Beecher Road School. They belted out the words to Puff the Magic Dragon. "Dragons live forever, but not so little boys…"
They had gathered, along with parents, teachers and 'ancestors', those who were in the MAG program over the years, to celebrate twenty years of the MAG program. I looked around me at these ancestors. Standing not far from me were some 'hedgehogs', members of MAG from from 1994 through 1998. One of the first tasks of MAG students in their first year, was to work together through compromise and consensus to come up with a name for their base group of students who started that year. Those who started in 1994 were hedgehogs.
Now, these hedgehogs, had graduated from college, but they still sang along gleefully, not only to Puff the Magic Dragon, but to other songs, silly songs about bed bugs and Frosty the Pickle. Yes, dragons live forever, but in successful educational programs, so do little boys.
Many years ago, in what seemed like a different lifetime, I was an information technology executive for a hedge fund in Stamford. My daughters went to a private school which always talked about fostering a life long love of learning. It was a great school, and I never thought that I would be able to find a program that competed with it, especially not in a public school. Yet here I was, as my youngest daughter prepared to complete her final year of MAG, watching the fruits of a program that far exceeds the best of many private schools.
What has made the program so successful? Perhaps some of it comes from learning to respect the people around you, from recognizing that the adult teachers, the fourth year teachers and the first year teachers, all have something valuable to offer. Perhaps some of it comes from fostering community, both within the classroom, and beyond; drawing in family members and community members to liven up the classroom. Perhaps some of it comes from recognizing that what matters is not the color of the students skin, their scores on the CMTs or the size of their parents bank accounts, but the content of their character.
Yes, dragons live forever. They are not all friendly dragons like Puff. They are the dragons of bigotry and oppression, of apathy and ignorance. They are the beliefs that size of bank accounts or scores on standardized tests count for more than the ability to respect the people around us and live in community, communities that help everyone. We need to continue to fight these dragons.
Little boys don't have to give up the ability to enjoy life, to love school, and to work together for a better world. Indeed, it are these sort of characteristics that help students be successful and have helped build the wonderful country we now live in. It is these characteristics that allow recently college graduates to sing along gleefully with six year olds in their first year of MAG silly songs about pickles and bed bugs.
The news remains filled with stories about schools cutting back funding, or using police dogs to treat even the best students like suspected criminals. No, those program aren't working, and perhaps some of the problem is that they don't start off by getting everyone to sit down nicely in a circle, respectfully listen to one another, and work together through consensus and compromise to build a better world.
What can I do to help? Perhaps through running for State Representative, I can share some of this respect for others and love of learning around Woodbridge, Orange and Bethany, and even up in Hartford. Please, come sit in my circle.
(Cross posted to the Bethwood Patch, with pictures on Flickr)
Recently, I stumbled across the article, What if Interactivity is the New Passivity? by Jonathan Sterne at McGill University. It is the sort of media theory stuff that I suspect many of my friends looking at how to monetize their social media activity tend not to read. It builds on the criticism of people passively consuming broadcast media, and asks if the interactions that we have now, liking pages, following friends, maybe even retweeting, or playing a game in Facebook, is really all that different than people watching television a generation ago.
It is an interesting question, and my thoughts quickly drifted to 1984, “If there was hope, it must lie in the proles”, or at least with those who are engaged in social media. Yes, I feel the ghost of Marshall McLuhan standing over my shoulder, whispering in my ear, “the medium is the message”.
Yet, perhaps, McLuhan isn’t all that far off. Perhaps what Sterne is saying is that interactivity, at least in terms of Slacktivists signing online petitions, isn’t really that much warmer of a medium than people a generation ago cursing at the news on the television.
Perhaps, the new, passive interactivity, reflects an even older idea; Henry David Thoreau’s “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. That paragraph, goes on to say, “A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.”
So, how do we transcend this desperate slacktivists passive interactivity? Sterne’s article starts off by talking about Malcolm Bull’s essay, “Where Is the Anti-Nietzsche?” Perhaps there is more of a relationship between these questions than the analogy that Sterne suggests. However, that should probably stand as a blog post on its own.
I finally got a chance to watch the next lecture in the Yale Theory of Literature online course. During the lecture, Professor Fry makes a reference to an autodidact in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard. The word jumped out at me since my viewing of these lectures is autodidactic. In fact, part of what has always drawn me to the Internet has been the great potential for autodidacticism. I always enjoyed searching out content that I could glean some new knowledge from. Perhaps it is part of an older form of autodidacticism, my love of wandering in libraries, randomly selecting articles in encyclopedias to read and similar pursuits.
Later, I started reading an essay by Hans-Georg Gadamer about hermeneutics. Yet between some undiagnosed ADD and simply being tired from a long day of work, I couldn't sink my teeth into the essay. So, I resumed my wandering autodidacticism. After all, how does hermeneutics relate to my work as a social media manager, blogger, father, husband activist or aspiring writer?
I briefly looked at some of the RSAnimate videos on YouTube, yet that was still a little too close to the thoughts about hermeneutics. Where could I learn new signifiers and gather new thoughts and ideas to weave together into something of my own.
I spent a little time thinking about mind-bending films, and perhaps I'll spend some more time watching some of them sometime soon. However, with the day almost over, I wanted something quicker to engross myself in. So, I found some Haim June Paik videos on YouTube. This led me to some Phillip Glass, and from there I was off into other experimental videos.
I'm not sure how where this leads to next or how it will all come together, but it did give me pause to think about my interactions on various social media sites. How are they feeding my autodidacticism? What do I really get out of the interactions? And what to the people that read me get out of it?