My fifth issue is to make sure that associations and advisers are focused on academics, not politics.
I was asked today, by a reporter, about my opinion of the mission statement Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy. As you know from reading this blog, I think there are much better mission statements. But, let me go into a little more detail about my concerns, and my suggestion.
First, this mission statement has nothing to do with academics. Have you ever tried to take a picture and then moved the 'auto-focus square' to something other than what you wanted? The result means that the forearm might be in focus, but the face is blurry. Schools exist to teach kids how to read, write, and do math (and history, science and art, as well). When we shift our focus from the basics, we lose our clarity of purpose. Of necessity, we will also lose some of the achievements in those areas, as well. Anytime our focus isn't on basic academics, the academics will not have the emphasis and the subsequent results that they should.
Second, assuming we want a somewhat political statement, shouldn't it at least be factual? Our Founding Fathers were pretty clear about the Constitution establishing a republic and not a democracy. Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman at the close of the Constitutional Convention, "What kind of government have you given us?" He replied, "A Republic...if you can keep it." You are welcome to explore the Founders' views on democracy and republic, but, suffice it to say, the Constitution establishes a Republic to preserve those natural "unalienable rights" Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence. To me, having a mission statement that refers to our system of government as a democracy, rather than a republic, is a bit like teaching a kid 2+2 = 5. It's close, but still wrong. We should be in the business of accurately representing all facts to our students. Their conclusions are their own, but the answer to 2+2 should always be 4.
Next, I am concerned with the way the parent complaints about the mission statement were handled. Anytime you have a customer complaint, you have failed either in setting appropriate expectations or delivering on your promises. In either case, there is work for you to do. It is always best to acknowledge the customer's concerns as valid, and work toward resolving those concerns. None of that was done in this case. There seemed to be an emotional tie to the mission statement from the board that didn't make sense. I've worked for several organizations, and I can say I never had an emotional tie to a mission statement. Why was this the case with the school board?
Perhaps it was because, as I read, it took over 40 meetings to come up with the mission statement. At first blush, you have to wonder how inefficient it must be to spend that amount of time and come up with something so non-academic. However, just a few weeks ago, it was clarified (in a meeting I attended) that the Areas of Focus took 40 meetings. The mission statement (and motto: Enculturating the Young into a Social and Political Democracy) came almost verbatim from the writings of Dr. John I. Goodlad.
This leads me to my final point. If we are taking cues from one individual (or an organization), should we not discover what that individual/organization has to say about those issues? I would like to share with you two quotes taken from Developing Democratic Character in the Young (Goodlad, et. al.) "Parents do not own their children. They have no 'natural right' to control their education fully." And, "Public education has served as a check on the power of the parents, and this is another powerful reason for maintaining it." Having enjoyed reading this tome over the past few weeks, I can say the most distressing part of Dr. Goodlad's emphasis is the devaluation of the parents and their values. This is integral in developing good "democratic" character because parents may be steeped in religion and values that do not agree with what Dr. Goodlad emphasizes as the purpose of his idea of 'democracy'. In short, if we are teaching morals in school, whose morals are they? Dr. Goodlad's or yours?
The bottom line is that parents want to send their kids to a school that teaches core academics. Our schools should reflect that desire. Ultimately, the students and their families are primarily responsible for their learning. The teachers, schools, and district are there to assist families by providing additional educational opportunities. I am very grateful to my kids' teachers who have assisted us with this rewarding task. I would like the district to maintain the focus on those issues that are most important to public education--reading, writing, and arithmetic.