Sunday, April 24, 2011

Line in the Sand

One of the most profound experiences that high school kids can have is to participate in something we used to call Challenge Day. Sure it can be a bit too "touchy/feely" for some people, but the overall impact can have life long consequences. Consequences that can easily affect bad choices, intolerance, and the alienation that many young people deal with daily. Challenge Day is organized around a set of activities that encourage personal growth by having those involved develop empathy for members of their own community, whether it be a school or a culture or a sub-culture. One of the most memorable activities is called "Step over the Line." There are various versions of this movement strategy but it's usually done by stating a condition like, who here knows someone who has died of Aids, or cancer, or heart disease? If so, step over the line. People move around, putting their bodies over the line, or not. As you might surmise, this can get fairly emotional or traumatic given the conditions for crossing over the line. Lots of support comes from all over the room. When we see that we are not so different, that yes, even the white or black kids have had similar experiences, yes even our teachers or administrators have also had those experiences, it's difficult not to change your thinking or at least your assumptions about people.
But this is not about Challenge Day. It is, however, about stepping over a line.
Sometimes I wish we could lay aside all the blathering about educational reform and simply draw a line in the sand. What I'm interested in is telling the truth and sticking to the issue at hand. The conditions have to be specific. If not, the "line game" will have no meaning. For example, I watched one of those Sunday morning talk shows where politicians discuss current events. When asked about a new national poll that says 75% of the American people disapprove of what the current Congress has done, a Congressman, whose name eludes me (but that's no matter) was eager to reply. In 10 seconds, he went from answering the question to gas prices on the rise. He was never asked to go back and answer the question. Who isn't upset about paying $5 for a gallon of gas? The point is simple: deal with the subject at hand and nothing else.
So here's my version of Step over the line.
Step over the line if you agree and wish to do something about public education:
Step over the line if you believe...
*schools are underfunded
*school facilities need to be upgraded and infrastructures repaired or replaced
* Testing is not teaching- standardized testing is wasteful, costly, highly problematic, and often inaccurate
*The privatization of public schools is ill conceived at best, evil, racist, irrelevant, and undemocratic at worst.
*Scripted curriculum and pre-packaged materials from huge publishing houses (aka "teacher proof materials") are attempts to de-skill teachers
*Budgets are moral documents and reflect what we really care about but do not wish to admit.

OK, now I want to give legislators, philanthropists, pundits, and Presidential candidates a chance too. Remember there is only one rule here, you must tell the truth. Step over the line if you love to talk about education reform,
* if your really believe that education is not a high priority in this country, and anyway your kids are in private schools where everybody looks alike.
* if you truly think that not everyone needs to be educated, after all, who will work the service professions
* if you believe teacher unions are the real problem here.
* if budgeting more for education and less for defense is entirely out of the question.
* if you secretly enjoy talking about education because you know it's important to talk, but also enjoy knowing that you can win more favor by talking about tax cuts, the war on terrorism, bad teachers, and how this is just not the right time to ask for more money for schools.


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