Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Priorities: First, Promote. But Also Preserve and Protect Public Education.

For those of us who lose the thread of conversations on Facebook, and because I believe these discussions apply to issues being faced by other communities outside the Intermountain Area, I am posting my response more permanently to the blog here. I will try, when time allows, to condense it further, but for now…

Many in our local area will recognize the relationships involved here. Our respect and admiration for Shannon Carnegie are tangibly demonstrated in the long and mutually beneficial relationship between The Glenburn Community Church and Small Wonders Preschool, including Shannon’s very well-regarded (and fun, even for the old pastor who gets invited to most of the more exciting events and experiments) curriculum.

Recently, as I will let Shannon’s words explain, a number of families have suggested that they would support an expansion of her business to include all elementary grades as well. Already, two previous private schools in the area stand vacant, one having closed shortly before we arrived fourteen years ago, and the other closing more recently. I mention this because it figures in what I have written below. At the end of this post, I will append Shannon’s Facebook post addressing this discussion so that you can read her take on the challenges faced by our public schools in general. First, here is my latest contribution to the discussion.

Profile Pic of Small Wonders Preschool of Fall River
An awesome and important resource to our community.
For the sake of focusing on a key question, let’s presume for the moment that I would stipulate two things. First, that the research demonstrates that the symptoms you list are directly attributable to the public education system and are applicable to children in the range of ages five to twelve. Second, that parents who have not invested in making improvements to their community’s local public schools would adjust their priorities, schedules, and budgets sufficiently to experiment with “an alternative to the status quo.” (In order to proceed, I’ll assume you accept these stipulations.)

What I consider to be the key question is still being left unaddressed, though. Do we choose to work together toward providing the best possible education for all of our community’s children, or do the relatively few who have the means to pursue alternatives choose to further diminish the available resources for the remaining majority of those children?

The Glenburn Community Church
Small Wonders Preschool of Fall River
meets in The Schoolhouse on our campus
I will accept, again for the moment, that no one intends these efforts to be a direct attack. But the results are clearly inflicting more than collateral damage. We agree that there is a need for improvement. But how does conscience allow any of us to push “others’ kids” further from such improvements so that “our kids” can be subjects of yet another experimental alternative?

And the damage is not limited to diminishing our schools’ attendance-based funding. Encouraging greater dissatisfaction with the efforts of our educators actively discourages the kind of investment many of us are making—and promoting as a worthy pursuit for others, especially those who are critical of what they perceive to be a static status quo. Even if this latest experiment also fails, the focus is again being shifted away from actively improving our schools to imagining that there could be a school that will
meet every expectation of every dissatisfied parent. If your conversations are like mine, you know that we face not just conflicting expectations, but many that are mutually exclusive.

Once, my favorite radio station.
But I had to stop listening to it.
("What's In It...For Me.")
The damage to the majority of our community’s children may not result from a direct attack. But please consider whether the collateral damage is conscionable. We profess, together, our respect and admiration for our educators. I also believe we can, together, refocus on how that respect and admiration should motivate more than verbal encouragement and occasional support. What if we sought to persuade more within our community to make an active investment in overcoming the challenges you’ve noted?

No one can overlook the limitations of any real school in any real community providing real education to real children from real families. But even if we accept the most impossible dreams of an imagined school, why should that idea require a resource-diminishing alternative? Imagine instead that the schools we have are being enhanced, augmented, complemented, and improved in order to benefit the whole of our community. Imagine joining those already at work to accomplish these goals, and add your ideas, energy, and supporters into those efforts.

The alternative is to harm the majority for the sake of benefitting a few. I oppose that. Instead, I propose that we envision (and work to embody, together, as some of us already do) our local schools as places where some of the improvements you suggest would help to provide the best possible education for all the children in our community.

Here is Shannon’s post, to which the above is my response.

To be honest and fair...over 6 of the past 7 years of teaching preschool, parents have come to me, asking me to extend what I do at Small Wonders Preschool, to the elementary school age. Essentially, what they are asking is for a choice, an alternative to what is currently offered. So finally, (last year) in response to that request, I wrote down what I thought the ideal school environment would be, one that if I'd had a choice, it's what I would have wanted my own children to attend. Last year, the idea was tossed around and discussed, parents loved it, but felt it was an overwhelming project to undertake. It is and the idea faded. This year, several new parents heard about the idea and wanted to pursue it. So once again, we are looking at it. I do not believe it's an "attack" on public schools. It's an offering of an alternative for parents. Parents are comparing the options of having almost total autonomy over the education of their children by forming a private school, or having a little bit of autonomy and still remain a public school by forming a charter school. I have tremendous respect and admiration for the teachers in both the Fall River and Burney elementary schools. It is the "system" that is driving this need for an alternative. Parents come to me saying they want more outside time, more hands-on activities, more art, more music, more science and less testing, less assessments, less homework, and less tired, cranky, frustrated children. When teachers are required to divide their days into so many minutes of math and so many minutes of language arts, there's a problem. When schools have to spend their money on new curriculum every year, because the publishing contract they bought into requires them too, there's a problem. When the curriculum focus changes every time we elect a new president and our children become guinea pigs to an untested requirement, there's a problem. When research shows a direct link to bullying and bad behaviour to excessive screen time and a lack of time in nature, at the same time that schools are pushing little kids to use computers and there's a smart board in every classroom and mis-behaving kids lose their recess time, there's a problem. When doctors are finding an increase in childhood myopia (nearsightedness) and are linking it to too much indoor time because inside a classroom a child is only looking at things between 6 inches and 30 feet under harsh lighting, and not enough outside time where a child would need to see beyond 30 feet and use all their senses at the same time, there's a problem. When research shows that children who learn to write in cursive retain more information than children who type on computers, while cursive is not taught or not continued and computer use in encouraged, there's a problem. When class sizes exceed a teachable level and add stress and pressure onto the teachers, there's a problem. I can go on forever, but I'll spare you. Rumor has it that there are over 50 children in the Intermountain Area who are not attending the local schools. Many are instead being homeschooled through homeshooling programs out of the area. Thus, between this increase in homeschooled children and the continued interest and request from parents for an alternative, it appears, that a choice is needed. So, yes, I am taking my ideas for an alternative to the status quo, and guiding parents to see if a choice is possible. Sorry to ruffle anyone's feathers, but there is always another side to every story. And I felt I needed to tell at least part of that side.

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