On June 6, 1966, Robert F. Kennedy delivered his famous Ripple of Hope speech in Cape Town, South Africa. The famous line from that speech is:
Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
A decade earlier, Rosa Parks sat down for an ideal; her ripple of hope joining with others to bring about the civil rights movement. Yet neither Robert nor Rosa have ended oppression. It still exists in many forms today.
One form of oppression in our country today is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is a disease rampant in our country. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a report, The Impact of Social Media Use on Children, Adolescents and Families which describes Cyberbulling as “the most common online risk for all teens” and “is quite common, can occur to any young person online, and can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and, tragically, suicide.”
Here in Connecticut, it is also a concern of the State Legislature as they consider SB 1138, An Act Concerning The Strengthening of School Bullying Laws. Recent news reports have asked whether bullying has played a role in a shooting in West Hartford and a runaway in Orange. It is a concern in schools across our state, and a new group of heroines are addressing the issue in new ways.
Logan West, named Connecticut's Outstanding Teen of 2010 has been going around the state speaking at different schools as part of her program, “Bully Proof: Empowering Children Today to Prevent Bullying Tomorrow.”
Alye Pollack posted a powerful video about bullying on YouTube. It has already been viewed over 40,000 times and liked by nearly 2,000 people.
Monique McClain received a message on her MySpace page which included,
“I fucking hate yhu with all my heart. Yhur a bitch & I just wanna like ughh. Yhur a fucking snitch &+I just wanna like beat you the fuck up."
She has testified in front of the Board of Education in her town about the bullying and is fighting to get a safe education. These young women are the Rosa Parks, spreading ripples of hope in the battle against cyberbulling.
Yet the schools that are supposed to be providing safe educational environments seem to be a major contributor to the problem. The Middletown school district appears intent on spending large amounts of taxpayer money to lawyers to defend their inaction, instead of doing their job in seeking to provide a safe educational environment.
About Westport, where Alye is from, a blogger from the Hartford Courant comments,
I have to make just one editorial aside about School Superintendent Elliott Landon's comment that he was "surprised" about learning of Pollack's plight. And then adding the tried-and-true pat statement... "I don't know why it was not brought to school officials' attention sooner."
My bet is some adult at the school had some degree of knowledge that Pollack was being harassed. And my question to Landon and any other "school official" (including those quoted from West Hartford's Conard High following the off-school grounds shooting) who are "so surprised" when something like this surfaces, when was the last time you got out of your chair and walked the hallways of your schools?
In Southington, where Logan is from, she was told to become “friends” with the people bullying her. The Hartford Courant reports
Without school support, the bullying continued, until it finally escalated to the point where West's bullies threw chewed-up food at her during lunch. West threw rice back. The main bully then punched her in the face, and they were both suspended for two days.
The Southington schools failed in their attempt to deal with bullying just as the Middletown schools are currently failing. However, Logan has survived and grown. As she speaks to different students, she has them do an exercise.
For one exercise, West puts a paper doll named Lizzy at the front of the classroom and gets volunteers to come up and say something mean to her. After they insult Lizzy, they tear off a piece of her body. Then West tells them that Lizzy is "torn to pieces" and asks them to apologize for what they said. As they apologize, they also help tape Lizzy back together.
"In the end, she's not nearly the same. I try to explain to them that when you say something mean to someone, their arm may not fall off, but inside, a piece of them is being torn," says West. "Even when you apologize, you'll never be 100 percent put back. They need to understand that their words really do have an effect on people."
It is a striking example, but there is something that isn’t mentioned. The tape, while never fully repairing the damage, actually makes the paper doll stronger. Logan is stronger. I don’t think she, Alye or Monique ever wanted to become the heroine’s of a movement to stop bullying, but that is the opportunity for each of them. The Courant article ends off with this quote from Logan:
"I know I'm only one person. At the time, I was 14. I couldn't do much. But it only took me to tell somebody else who told somebody else," West says. "As a nation, as a community, we need to understand the effects of bullying, make sure that our youth don't have to go through that. If you can prevent it, do it."
One person reaching out to another; more ripples of hope. On April 26th, the Connecticut Commission on Human rights and Opportunities is sponsoring “Kids’ Speak” as an opportunity for students across the state to come together and discuss topics related to civil and human rights. One of the issues to be addressed is bullying. I hope Logan, Alye and Monique will carry the spirit of Rosa Parks with them to this event and that those who support the mighty walls of oppression through their inaction and stonewalling will realize the foolish futility of the efforts.
This morning, I received an email which included a copy of a letter saying:
Dear Attorney Chinni:
Despite repeated requests, the Middletown Board of Education, Woodrow Wilson Middle School, and now their counsel, which is your office, has refused to provide Monique McClain’s Homework Packet.
Therefore, my office has instructed a State Marshal to go to the Board of Education this Tuesday, March 29, 2011, to pick up Monique McClain’s Homework Packet.
While it is disappointing to see that things have progressed this far, the use of State Marshall’s to enforce a child’s right to a good education is not surprising. What surprised me was the attorney that was being addressed.
Attorney Christine Chinni represented the Lewis Mill High School in Burlington, CT in the famous Doninger V. Schwartz & Niehoff lawsuit. It is a lawsuit that continues to wind its way through the courts nearly four years since I started covering it.
Early on, people wondered why the school board insisted in continuing to pay high lawyer fees to Chinni instead finding a reasonable settlement and a better way of meeting the educational needs of their students. In her handling of that case, she was admonished by the FOIC
Commission Chairman Andrew O'Keefe, a highly-regarded Hartford lawyer, admonished attorney Christine Chinni Wednesday for her clumsy tap dance last year to sidetrack production of write-in ballots in a stolen election at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington.
The article, FOI To Chinni: Don't Pull That Maneuver Again goes on to say:
Meanwhile, Chinni attempted to delay production of the uncensored billing records for her firm by another week. After discussion with the commission, she agreed to mail them by Monday, June 16, 2008. Those records are public documents and available for inspection by anyone. They should have been produced on Aug. 1, 2007.
Perhaps the Doninger case may be coming to a close and Chinni is searching for a new Board of Education sponsored cash cow to milk. The Middletown Board of Education might want to take a close look at how well Chinni represented Lewis Mill High School, and the total costs and determine if they want to go down a similar path of spending money on legal bills instead of on providing a safe quality education to the children of Middletown.
Note: The opinions expressed above are my personal opinions.
Yesterday, the news came out that Isabella Oleschuk, the thirteen year old girl that disappeared in Orange, CT on Sunday morning had been found. She was safely hiding in an old farm stand about three miles from her house, living off a stash of granola bars and pop-tarts.
The initial reaction was one of great joy and relief, but now people are starting to wonder what led her to run away from home. The newspaper reports are that she was stressed about the Connecticut Mastery Tests that had been administered the previous week in school. Other reports say that she had been bullied. One newspaper article went after Isabella for running away. They are partly correct. She hasn’t yet learned how to deal as effectively as possible with some of the stress and abuse of this messed up world, but she’s also only thirteen, a time when these lessons are being learned and the stress can seem overwhelming.
So, instead of going after Isabella, perhaps we need to look a little more closely at ourselves. How are we failing our children when it comes to teaching these important lessons? Are we failing to deal properly with bullying in our schools? Are we placing too much emphasis on tests like the CMTs?
Isabella isn’t the only thirteen year old Connecticut girl in the news right now. Yesterday, in the Middletown Press, there was a letter from Alexa M McClain about her granddaughter, Monique McClain.
The letter talks about when Monique testified before the Middletown Board of Education. She opened her statement with, “My name is Monique McClain. I am the one being bullied.”
The responses to the letter were abhorrent. “Here's an idea...Teach your kid how to have a backbone!!” and “How about teaching these kids to defend themselves. I was bullied as a kid. I finally punched him in the nose and the problem stopped.”
I have added my comment there:
I applaud Monique for having the courage, backbone and strength to stand up and publicly testify in front of the BOE. She has more courage and has fought a better fight than the people here who are afraid to use their real names when they suggest she fights back or grows a backbone.
Some of us in the Constitution State recognize that our government was formed on the basis of establishing Justice, insuring domestic Tranquility, providing for the common defence, promoting the general Welfare, and securing the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.
Personally, I have to wonder if members of the Board of Education and the Superintendent's office are meeting their obligations to the people of Middletown.
At a recent meeting about bullying, a friend jokingly asked me if I was there as on behalf of the bully, or the person bullied. I said I was there as on behalf of bystanders that need help in dealing with bullying when it is happening around them.
This isn’t about the bullies and the bullied, it is about all of us learning to act with dignity and show respect to the people around us. My prayers go out to Isabella and Monique. They go out to the bullies. The bullies and the bullied aren’t really that much different. They both need help in learning how to properly deal with the stress in their lives. And the rest of us? We need to learn how to provide that help.
When my older daughters were young, I told them they could play any game on the computer that they could write. While I did not make this a strict hard and fast rule, we did take it somewhat seriously at it helped establish a more creative approach to the use of computer games.
Back then, I had them programming in Logo. Now, my youngest daughter has asked for a Nintendo DS and a cellphone for Christmas. I’ve told her the same thing about writing her own programs, so today, we spent a bit of time working in Scratch on her Ubuntu based laptop.
For some background: Scratch:
is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.
As young people create and share Scratch projects, they learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also learning to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively.
It runs nicely on just about every platform, and I’ve been running it on Ubuntu as well as on my Nokia N900 cellphone for some time.
I started my daughter off with simple logo type program commands. Soon, she was drawing triangles, squares, hexagons, circles, and designs that I used to create with a spirograph when I was a kid.
We moved on to exploring a few other bits of programming and hit a few walls. The sound wasn’t working and some of the simple commands did not seem to do anything, so I figured maybe it is time to make sure that everything is up to date.
Scratch runs in a Squeak virtual machine. “Squeak is a highly portable, open-source Smalltalk with powerful multimedia facilities.” I had been running Squeak 3.9 on my various machines, and Squeak 4.1 is now out. So, I’ve started my upgrade to Squeak 4.1.
There is a good blog post on upgrading Squeak on Ubuntu machines that I used as my guide. In my case I downloaded the deb file and installed it that way on my Ubuntu machines. However, the debian package page suggested adding the repository to apt/sources.list.
I figured maybe I would try this for my N900, however, after adding the repository containing squeak, the update manager asked if I wanted to update just about every package on my system, including Ruby, Python, gstreamer and who knows what else. So, I backed out of that upgrade.
Trying to install just the package, it told me that I needed at least libc6 2.7 and libuuid1 2.16 as well as a few other packages. So, I didn’t install it and stayed with the older version of Squeak on my N900. I did rebuild that version, as well as make some attempts at building a newer version of Squeak, but ran into difficulties, so I’m saving that for a later blog post.
On the Ubuntu laptops, the upgrade went smoothly and I then followed Getting Squeak 4.1 on Ubuntu to upgrade to the latest version. This also went very smoothly on both machines.
Yet this did not solve the problems, so I downloaded the latest Scratch image. This runs nicely on all my machines and has solved all the outstanding issues on Ubuntu. The N900 install will probably take a bit more work.
Last Thursday, started writing a blog post to clear the cache of many different emails that needed responding to. I posted the first half and planned on posting the second a little later. Then my computer crashed and I lost my draft. So, I’m redoing it with a little additional information.
First, I should note that Tony Mena, whom I mentioned in that post and did a Music Monday review of last week has won an award for the poem I highlighted. Please, go check it out. We had to reschedule his appearance on Fiona’s Radio Show. We are talking about rescheduling the show for mid-December.
The big education news out of last week was the New Haven Promise, a plan to make college tuition available to all high performing New Haven Residents. This raises an interesting question. How do we make sure that students succeed? When I wrote about this, I mentioned the Citywide Youth Coalition. They will be getting together with people from Our New Haven at The Grove on Wednesday at 6 PM to talk about how people can work together in New Haven to help the schools and students be more successful.
Meanwhile, there is plenty to talk about in terms of education in Woodbridge. Last week, the Beecher Road School PTO and the Woodbridge Board of Education both had meetings in which James Crawford spoke about improvements to the school’s website. At the PTO meeting Penny Zamkov also spoke about the PTO website.
I have been a long time critic of how technology is used at Beecher Road. Back in 2008, I served on a committee to draft a three-year technology plan for the school. The committee did good work, with a key area of concern being around the use of the school website to improve communications. Mr. Crawford has been doing a good job with this, and I look forward to some of the additional improvements expected later in the school year.
However, the Board of Education meeting provided a good insight into some of the difficulties that the technology team faces. These difficulties are school policies and the views of some of the members of the board.
The most striking was when a board member spoke about not wanting the school to be an early adopter of education technology. This was during the discussion where plans to start introducing Web 2.0 tools to students was being explained.