Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Obama's Address to Schools

NEW INFO: See blue text below...

This is the letter I wrote to my daughters' school district. What are your thoughts?

Dear District 200 Board Members,

I am extremely disappointed with your decision to ban President Obama's address to the children of our district. I am a parent in the community and a 20-year veteran teacher. As an educator, I know it is necessary to make our curriculum relevant to our children's lives, particularly if we want them to be engaged as active learners. This rare opportunity to use a live presidential speech—a speech being addressed directly to our children—as the source of meaningful dialogue in the classroom should be the focus of your day on Tuesday in every building. The electricity running through your classrooms, watching the students come to life conversing about something that sincerely matters—the importance of school and a strong education—will be a fabulous reminder to all of us what our primary purpose should be as professional educators. Namely, that we are nurturing our children to be critical thinkers, sensitive to the world around them and capable of making informed, constructive decisions.

We moved into this district in part due to the excellent reputation of District 200's strong, challenging schools. I find this decision to be in direct contrast to the characteristics that make a school excellent. The greatest tragedy of this decision is that you've removed the academic freedom from the teachers you supposedly support. (In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a union grievance.) You are sending the message that your teachers are incapable of facilitating an impromptu, dynamic and potentially passionate discussion among a couple dozen students, students you put in their charge on a daily basis. How do you explain this discrepancy? They are either hired to be educators, or they are hired as pawns to deliver approved, scripted content. Please do not allow their progressive ideas and these rare opportunities to become suffocated in the penetrating trend of standardization and indoctrination.

This is very much an embarrassment to me and my children. The districts in the area where I work have instead left this decision to the teachers to determine whether the speech is an appropriate focus for their day's lesson. They have also set up areas in the buildings where students and classes can go to watch this historical event, including the lunch room for those students eating lunch at that time.

As a science teacher, I plan to have the president's speech playing in my classroom and then discuss whether or not his thoughts will help solve any of the 20 greatest scientific, global problems as outlined in the book High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Fix Them. The idea of disagreeing with the president's thoughts is as welcome as agreeing with them and as welcome as not understanding them...as long as a student has a well-formulated opinion. This is the foundation of developing a constructive educational community. Without this freedom, I would not have the opportunity to make this lesson really come to life. And I believe my students will find the day eye-opening, challenging and—dare I say it—even inspiring. This is the type of environment in which our greatest historical thinkers thrived. Don't deprive our children of these experiences.

There are a host of other reasons why I find this decision wrong, but I wanted to highlight only my main frustrations. Please know that I recognize that there are logistical challenges to schedule changes and am intimately familiar with the potential difficulties of dealing with technology. However, our children are worth the effort. And there are creative ways to solving any problem. That's what I learned in school.

Don't deprive our children of this historical event. Don't let them be the "kids from the schools that banned the president." Don't close the door on our children or our teachers.

This is a teacher's decision. Trust them. I implore you. Trust them.

Joan Gallagher-Bolos

Seems the campaign spearheaded by our neighbors worked, at least in part. The community received notice yesterday that the school will record the president's speech and that students will be shown his address in school on Wednesday. A form will be sent home today for parents to have their child opt out of watching the speech if they so wish.

Not what I was fighting for, but I guess baby steps in this region is all we can hope for...They're still missing the point. Really missing the big picture...

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