"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Media...Again

Several days ago, I was contacted by a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune. I was asked to outline why I was running and my top three issues. A few days later, as an after-thought, I was contacted again to get my take on the district's mission statement. The article, instead, is about the mission statement and yet again, turns this issue into a semantics game. I had hoped that the article would be about the candidates and their positions, and would not misrepresent the 'democracy' issue. It seems that the media can't get enough of this idea, and everything else must pale in comparison. That's too bad.

For those of you reading this blog, you already are familiar with my priorities and issues, so I won't go into them here other than to point out that 'associations' is number five of six. The mission statement debate falls into my fifth issue because the statement has connections to ASD's association with John Goodlad and his organizations. I believe all our education associations should be made with organizations that are academics-centered and void of political agendas. Despite email responses, a website, and a blog, the only information presented about me in the Tribune article is that I am endorsed by a particular group. No information about me or my views was communicated. That is why I have this blog, to clarify who I am and allow you to decide if I accurately represent you.

Let me start by asking, why do you educate your children? I have a list of reasons why I think education is important for my kids and for myself. But, how about you? You want your children educated because.....? Before you continue on, take a minute and come up with a reason or two. Okay, got your list? If not, stop and give it some real thought.

My guess is that my reasons are not the same as yours. Sure, we will find some commonalities. But what really drives me is not the same thing as what motivates your family. I think we do our families a disservice when government (in this case the district) tries to imply WHY kids are being sent to school. Each family is going to have different goals and reasons for their children's education. We want to help children reach their highest potential in all areas of their lives. School is there to provide educational opportunities that meet a baseline. What they do with that education is their own business. Certainly society has a vested interest in a well-educated, productive, freedom-loving populace. But we step into dangerous territory when we allow the government to say that what motivates me...should motivate you. Like all motivation, it is an individual thing. Setting a one-size-fits-all policy doesn't motivate people very well. There is no single 'end goal' to education.

In the early days of our country, one of the main reasons for education was to enable children to read the Bible. Today, that goal is deemed unconstitutional. "Educating all students to ensure Bible Literacy." OOPS! That wouldn't be a good mission statement. For some, a formal education is sought to attain a particular skill, trade or income level. "Educating all students to ensure a lucrative income or a professional career." Some people would like that statement, but many would think that was the wrong approach. Sometimes, education is to fulfill a personal goal. "Educating all students to ensure their future college attendance." Sounds nice, but not everyone may want or need to go to college. None of these reasons is The Reason for education. It is entirely individual. What most agree on is the "what"...that everyone should be given the opportunity for a certain level of education. The "why" will be difficult to find consensus on. The "why" should be left to families and individuals and not the government.

The district states the goal of education is democracy, and since they claim the majority are okay with the mission statement, we should probably keep it or tweak it slightly. I think it is presumptive for the district to put "to ensure _______" into the mission statement, no matter what fills in that blank. To know what individual families' goals are for educating their kids requires a crystal ball. To tell them what that motivation should be is government at its worst. We, as the people, need to make sure that our government is steadfast in precisely executing the tasks we set for it. In this case, it is public education. Would you expect everyone else to have the same reasons for educating their kids as you have for yours? I don't think you're that heavy-handed. Neither should the district be. In a public education system, I think the mission statement should be something all parents can agree on. Would you have a problem with a mission statement that said, "Assisting students to achieve an excellent education"? The point is the district needs to leave the WHY off, and let families fill in the blank.

UDOT doesn't need a "Building roads to ensure the future of our democracy" statement. Just build the roads with our tax dollars and we will decide how to use them. Likewise, focus on getting children educated and let the families and individuals work out what to do with that education.

The role of the School Board is to represent the families in this community to the School District. It is not to be the outreach arm of the district. If there is a group of people in the district who are concerned by the mission statement, and there is another mission statement that is acceptable to all, why wouldn't we change it? We need more input from the community to the district. We need to focus on the things that are most important. On one hand, we are told continuing in this debate takes away from the more important educational issues. I agree. So, let's change the mission statement and leave the 'why' off.

While I think it's wrong to determine the 'end goal' for the mission statement, let me address the 'semantics' issue from the article. The parents concerned by the word 'democracy' are okay with 'republic'. Do you have a complaint against 'republic'? What the reporters fail to realize about this debate is that words mean things. Democracy means majority rule. On that we all agree. In addition, it has become watered-down over the years, but it is used, sometimes incorrectly, in many different contexts. Both Lenin and Reagan used 'democracy' and I doubt their end goals were the same. Democracy has been described as two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. In our republic, laws are designed to protect the inalienable rights of the minority from the majority. In our republic, the sheep would be constitutionally protected by law. This is an important distinction. Again, words mean things. Educators should be involved in teaching facts and maintaining word meanings. Variations on meanings should be a concern for all involved in this process. The district's premise that we need to educate children to ensure the future of our democracy is incorrect. It is factually incorrect; we are a constitutional republic and not a democracy. Further, the people expect the government to simply perform the tasks we tell them to do and leave the motivation up to us. We need to educate children. The Why is up to the individuals and their families.

I am disappointed that the information I gave to the reporter wasn't reflected in the article. The ASD mission statement has become a bigger issue than it deserves to be. The media and other groups have pushed the mission statement issue to the forefront. The school district's handling of the issue has contributed in a major way. What we need more of is an infusion of you and your neighbor into the district, not more of the district explaining what they meant or the media telling people they are being silly. More of you...that is number one on my list of six issues. More of your voice to the district would resolve the vast majority of these issues. The first step in doing this takes place on November 2. But what's more important is that you and your neighbors get involved and remain involved on November 3 and everyday thereafter.


  1. The "why" in the mission statement always bother me but I couldn't identify why. You made it pretty clear with the UDOT analogy. While campaigning for Tim Osborn I've come to realize that you are right about parent involvement. If the parents were seriously involved in the education of their children, virtually all the problems we have with the district and the board would disappear. Thank you for clarity of thought. Ed Barfuss

  2. If you truly want more parent involvement (which I personally would love to see) So how do you propose to take contradicting parental wants and desires for ASD?

    Since you come from the most affluent area, how will you respond to the less-affluent parent needs? Since poor parents are less involved in their children's education, less likely to attend Board meetings, less likely to vote, etc, how are you going to make sure that all our children in ASD are taken care of and not just the rich parents needs are dealt with?

    Will you just follow the majority?

    Orignally Posted by D.
    Reposted by moderator with editing

  3. D:

    First of all, I want to thank you for being involved in the debate and the process.

    You asked about voting with the majority. I will vote with the majority when they are in the right and against them when they are in the wrong. I see the role of the school board as representing and protecting the interests of the families to the district, not as representing the interests of the district to the families. What the "majority" of the board thinks does not concern me.

    You asked about increasing parental involvement. Increasing parental involvement requires action on two fronts.

    The first front is the school district. They need to replace their current approach of using PR methods to placate involved parents with a method that truly welcomes involvement and is accountable.

    As an example, there is a system of community councils in place that provide parents a conduit to decisions made at their local school. A good system. The only problem is the district and schools do a poor job of promoting the importance of these councils.

    I would propose that ASD posts on its website main page a highlighted link to information that explains what these councils do and how to get involved. Schools should email council minutes and reminders of upcoming meetings to those who want them.

    Part two is the family responsibility. Why aren't we all more involved? Lack of time, interest, or information are the main reasons. We can push the information via email, websites, handouts, meetings, etc to address the information reason. Lack of interest could be addressed by putting together various media material explaining the impacts the councils have made in the last year. Lack of time is a perception. If we can properly explain how little time is required to get a better understanding, more would be willing to participate.

    Whether I win or lose, I am pushing forward to have all my campaign volunteers become more involved in community councils. It would be nice to have the district more enthusiastically promote this system, but I am not going to wait around hoping that changes. We, as the families that make up this district, must get involved, educate our neighbors, engage our schools and make the difference regardless of what the district does.

    You asked specifically about less-affluent parents' needs. The challenge is the same. Time, interest, and information play a role in why people of all income levels avoid involvement in important issues. Becoming involved in a group (like a community council) is one of the best ways a less-affluent parent can get more involved and offset other limitations.

    I would be interested in solutions you have thought of to these same issues. Please share your thoughts with me. More discussion of ideas and involvement from all sides is needed. We all agree we want the best educational opportunities possible for our children. Pushing the best ideas forward is in everyone's best interest.

    Thanks for being involved.

  4. Thanks for your response. You misunderstood my comment on the majority though. I meant the majority of parents, not school board members. I have seen how some board members push their personal agendas above what the community actually wants. Will you do that also?
    I bring up the less-affluent parents and children because they have very little voice in ASD. There is plenty of research out there of how to include them.
    I am afraid that without the inclusion of every group of patrons, one small group will control what happens in ASD. I have seen this happen in local Charter schools and I don't want to see that in ASD's schools as well. Parents often have personal agendas: religion, political beliefs, economic values, etc. One group should not have the only say in our district. The children and parents of ASD are very diverse in these views and thus no one group's views should dominate the discourse.
    Poverty parents do not have the time, money, or know how to make websites, attend board meetings, create fliers, or get published in the press with their views- like the wealthy do. Are we going to neglect these people just because they don't have money to push their views into the spotlight? I would truly hope not.

  5. D: Unfortunately, I'm not sure how one can 'tap' into what the 'majority' wants, other than during an election. The concept of more local control at the individual schools will allow more diversity of thought, curriculum and of goals. This will require more involvement on a local level from the individual families, and participating in PTA's and SCC's.

    Part of the reason that I tried to put as much information out there about my perspective is to allow people to choose the person who best represents them. Other than local control, I will not be able to actively advocate for the district's balanced math approach because I don't see the benefits of it. That's why I have stated plainly that I will advocate for traditional math. I am not opposed to schools who want balanced math from having them. But, if the district is to make a mandate on down, I'm going to push for traditional math, as an example. (I would prefer to avoid these decisions at the district level anyway.)

    As for those of varied economic status, I would appreciate knowing what suggestions you have for including as many people as possible. It is my view that the district (and the schools) need to push as much information out to the parents as possible. I'm not saying that the parents need to do websites, so much as the district needs to utilize every avenue open to it, including websites, to get information out to every parent, regardless of economic circumstances.