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.)
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?
Since my blog yesterday about what I’ve been reading, I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions about Joel Foner’s blog post How Tweeting About “My Stupid Breakfast” Creates A Lifestyle Of Continuous Learning.
People have talked about the importance of face to face communications, especially when providing therapy, and have spoken about examples of people being too closely wed to their cellphones, with and example of a New Year’s Eve party “where almost everyone was on the phone at midnight rather than holding hands and singing with each other”.
This evening, I live streamed the
Speical Meeting of the Woodbridge Board of Education from my Nokia N900 cellphone. The audio quality isn't the best, there are jiggles from not having a tripod, and occasional background noise from other processes on the cellphone, but here it is.
The bottom line is that the budget passed, with modifications. I'll provide more details in a subsequent blog post.
Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. Happy New Year. Happy New Decade (depending on how you count). That special kiss at midnight. Yes, 2009 was a rough year, and 2010 is starting off great. It seems like that is often the case for any new beginning.
I remember the beginning of 2009, the jubilation about the election of Barack Obama as President; the inauguration, the discussions with friends. Yet as the year progressed, life, and death, got in the way. One friend lost his battle with Leukemia. Another who had welcomed 2009 with so much joy and enthusiasm started her battle with Leukemia and didn’t live to see the end of the year. One friend tragically lost her brother. Many people struggled financially, and it seemed like our political process ground to a halt as some people obstructed any efforts to make our country better, or even wished for the failure of our country and its leader.
I remember back at a freshman orientation in college, the head of the college counseling center telling the assembled class that many people come to college intent on turning over a new leaf, and then, soon, fall back into the same old habits. It seems that the same is the case for New Year’s resolutions. We come into the New Year with high hopes, only to have life get in the way.
In an email that I received from a political organizer today, she suggested setting goals. People break resolutions, yet they achieve goals. An email from a psychologist observed that every moment is the opportunity for a new beginning, and while it is great to join with others on making new beginnings on New Year’s Day, we can make a new beginning any day.
This leads me back to another story I remember from college. A student had gone on some school sponsored trip, making a pilgrimage to the cathedrals from Paris to Santiago. He came back a changed man and spoke at alumni gatherings about his experience. At the end of one such gathering, an elderly alumnus stood up and shook his finger at the young man saying, “You know what’s wrong with you? You don’t have any goals.”
The young man replied, “No, I have one goal, to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous”. This isn’t the sort of concrete goal that my political organizer friend had in mind, but it is a great goal, and it captures some of the idea of my psychologist friend about every moment being an opportunity for a new beginning.
Another story I remember from the professor that told me about the student and the pilgrimage was in an aesthetics course when he made a comment about “museum runners”; those people who quickly move through the museum, pausing a predetermined amount of time in front of famous pictures, but perhaps not really seeing anything at all. It seems like this fits in with the young pilgrims story. To live more fully, we need to slow down. We need to appreciate the beautiful snow outside, even though we know that our commute might be more difficult tomorrow. Who knows, if we manage to stop for a moment and appreciate the beauty in our lives around us, if we perhaps even manage to contribute a little bit to that beauty, then we have a good chance of also living a little bit more lovingly.
So, I will spend time worrying about where the next paycheck comes from. I will struggle with my writing, my politics, my technology, my marketing, my education, my socializing and all the other things that go into this blog. Yet most importantly, I will try to slow down, to just say no to museum running and trying to live each moment more fully and more lovingly than the previous.
How about you? What will 2010 bring? I hope it brings a Happy New Year.