Friday, January 24, 2014

The apple pie analogy

Did you listen to Morning Edition on NPR this morning? If you did, you might have heard the story about Tea Party voters in Idaho. Go ahead an listen if you missed it.

In the piece, one Idahoan compares political compromise to baking an apple pie. Listening to the way he sees compromise (each party wants to use a different type of apple in the pie, so the pie gets baked with no apples) it's no wonder he likes the Tea Party.

But he gets compromise wrong. Now, maybe the way politics has worked the past few years fits the no-apple-apple-pie analogy, but when that has happened it is precisely because the parties have not compromised.

See, if Bob and Mary want to bake an apple pie together, only Bob wants Red Delicious apples and Mary wants Fujis, to compromise, they might decide to use some of both. Or they might choose a 3rd variety altogether. They wouldn't end up ready to bake the pie and have no apples in it. If that happens, it is because they didn't compromise.

Now how should politics in Washington work? Well, the GOP and Democrats each have a list of what they want in a bill. If one party refuses to compromise and will only pass a bill if it is entirely their way, if one party expects the other party to 'compromise' but won't give a little, that's when you end up with a stalemate and no apples in the pie.

Look back to our very founding document, the Constitution. Why do we have three branches of government? Why are there two houses in Congress? Because the delegates who debated and wrote the Constitution had differing ideas of how the government should be and they compromised. They found solutions that all sides could agree on. That link, by the way, is to a nice history of the Philadelphia convention from the National Archives.

What really bugged me about the bad apple pie analogy, besides being a bad analogy, was that the Tea Party seems to be a big part of the non-compromise problem in Washington. Both sides of the aisle are culpable, and both sides of the aisle try to push things through without compromise, but some Tea Partiers have actually said they won't compromise. They actually would rather shut down the government than not get their way. So for someone who supports the Tea Party to complain that folks in Washington can't compromise while supporting a platform designed against compromise... Well, I'll just leave it there.

I just wish the old-fashioned fiscal conservative, small government GOP luck in these contested primaries. Because I sure would like to see some actual balance in Washington.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Saturday morning conversation

"Mommy, E--- says My Little Pony is for girls."

Wil casually mentions this, about a little boy in his class, one of his friends, as he and Sam are playing with their My Little Ponies this morning. 

"I told him I like My Little Pony and he said it's for girls."

"Well, then he's missing a good show, isn't he?"

Chris joins in, "You can tell him your daddy likes My Little Pony too."

"But what if he says Daddy is a girl?"

My heart is prepared to break for Wil, but I wait.

"Daddy isn't worried about someone telling him he's a girl. He knows he's a boy and it's okay to like My Little Pony, even for boys."

"I know I'm a boy."

And he was okay. 

My Little Bronies with their Ponies.
I'm so glad he understood that he can like what he likes. He can be confident in himself and not worry about what someone else thinks, even when it's a friend. I'm sure we'll have this discussion, or similar ones, many times, but for today he understood. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guest post: Don't Fail This Quiz

This is a guest post from Deborah Myerson, who has two sons at Fairview and is co-president of the Fairview PTO.

Don’t Fail This Quiz

This is about education, so first, a quiz:

If you were a supporter of public education, which would you do?
a)      Devise a secret plan in the middle of the school year to eliminate current classrooms and turn the school upside down.
b)      Inform teachers about this new plan the night before its rollout and order them to implement it.
c)       Send students home crying and confused.
d)      Let children tell their parents what happened when they get home from school, with a vague letter home to provide minimal additional information.
e)      Consult teachers, engage students, involve parents, and work collaboratively to develop a plan that leverages the many strengths of the school to address important educational needs.

Quiz will be returned at the end of class.

Artisticat at Fairview Elementary School

Fairview families are concerned and upset about a radical restructuring that the new interim principal is implementing at our school.  The graded classrooms and teachers that students have enjoyed since August have been eliminated, and--based on a single test score--children have been re-sorted , classified, and segregated into new classrooms.

Teachers first learned about this radical change in classrooms on Thursday, Jan. 8. Children found out about it at 3:15 on Friday, when they vacated their old classrooms and moved to new classrooms with new teachers. Parents were the last to find out. Many children came home distraught, not really knowing what was going on. A vague, impersonal letter home did not really explain much and gave no indications about who the child’s new teacher would be.

There are two serious problems right now:
  • First, a regular pattern of secretive actions follow by top-down communication where parental involvement is merely an afterthought.
  • Second, this radical restructuring of classrooms effectively segregates students by a test score, without regard to existing friendships or relationships with classroom teachers from the first half of the school year.

As a parent, I know that I was upset that my six-year-old was my first source to learn of this midyear, comprehensive change in school structure.  And my 11-year-old with communication delays couldn't really explain what had happened at school, except that he had a new teacher. When I opened their backpacks and found the letter home, it was too vague to be informative. It did not even contain the names of their new teachers.

Our children are not the sum of their test scores, nor are they guinea pigs. Yes, there are important educational needs for kids at our school, and we need to find a way to address them. We can engage our children as the learners that they are, with educationally sound and developmentally appropriate practices. But to make effective change, administrators need to work collaboratively with parents and teachers. That’s just not happening right now. 

Instead, there has been a complete disregard for Fairview families. Frankly, this abrupt midyear change in direction for students and teachers, coupled with the poor administrative communication, is highly disrespectful of the Fairview community.

There are many strengths at Fairview, as well as the challenges. Teachers across the school are excellent, motivated, and caring. The new building, opened in 2011, is state of the art. The fabulous Strings Academy, in partnership with IU, introduces first and second graders to the violin, while the CODA program allows students to continue the violin or take lessons in other instruments.

The Artful Learning program—that enhances learning by presenting curriculum in highly engaging ways, integrating visual, audio, and kinesthetic learning styles--now in its third year, and has been a wonderful addition to the school. Because of Artful Learning, families from across MCCSC have enrolled their children through Fairview’s open enrollment. And since it has been implemented, there has been notable growth in student performance. Yet, though the letter home claimed that Fairview would still be “an Artful Learning school,” it’s really not clear how that will really happen under these overhauled classrooms.

Ever since Tommy Richardson’s departure over a month ago, parents have been asking interim Principal Miller and Superintendent Judith Demuth for a community meeting to discuss Fairview’s future, requests that have met minimal or no response.
We have a regular PTO meeting scheduled for Monday night at 6:30 pm, with child care. We expect it can provide an opportunity for a forum for discussion. We certainly hope that as many parents and teachers as possible will be able to attend.

If MCCSC wants parents to support public schools – and the next referendum to fund public school programs – this administration needs to genuinely collaborate with families, value their input, and act on it. Otherwise, you will have even more parents fleeing to the next available charter school. And who knows what happens at the next referendum?

Quiz answer: E. Consult teachers, engage students, involve parents, and work collaboratively to develop a plan that leverages the many strengths of the school to address important educational needs.

Otherwise, you failed.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fear and excitement

Next week I start my life as a graduate student. I'll take the first class toward a Master of Information Science degree.

I'm excited and terrified at the same time.

Going back to school, and for this degree, is something I really want to do. My plan for the past several years has been to work toward a graduate degree while the boys are young but in school so my schedule can be similar to theirs. It's a good opportunity to do it now, when I'm ready to make changes and get back into doing something for me.

But it's been 17 years since I graduated college. 17. Years.

I'm out of practice at this school thing. Taking tests, writing papers.

Learning new things I'm okay with. I'm usually pretty quick at learning, and I like to learn. The MIS is also a degree I think suits my talents and interests. I like working with data. This is going to be fun!

I'm lucky. I'm starting with one course while we figure out how all this is going to work. It's a big change for all of us. I'll probably take one or two each semester instead of a full load of three because I have the luxury to do so. Believe me, I know it's a luxury.

I'm not in a rush to finish in the 2 1/2 years that the degree is designed to be completed in, so taking 4 or 5 is fine. By then, the boys will be much more self-sufficient. I won't have to worry about snow days and breaks as much.

And then there's the boys seeing me going to school. They sort of remember going to Chris's graduation, but they didn't really realize he was in graduate school. They are old enough now, and it's different enough for me to be gone, that they know I'm going to school. They ask about it. And they talk about going to college when they grow up.

(I don't see that as a bad thing. While they certainly don't need to go to college if it isn't right for them, we do want them to get some training or education beyond high school, whether it be college, trade school, or an apprenticeship.)

Class starts next week. I'll have a student ID. And homework. And projects. And papers and tests. And in a couple of years I'll have a diploma. And then it'll be time to look for a job, but that's another story.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Tool box build

The boys received real tools for Christmas: a hammer, slotted and Phillips screwdrivers, tape measure and gloves. Naturally, that means they need tool boxes. So this morning's project was to use scrap lumber to do just that.

Chris cut the wood and predrilled nail holes last night. The boys helped with assembly.

Using a mallet to put the handle in.

Wil hammering nails to attach one end.

Sam's turn to hammer nails.
 Sam is a little stronger, but Wil was more accurate hitting the nail and had better technique. They both needed some help finishing but did a good job and didn't hit any fingers.
Working on technique.
 And the final products:
It's heavy!

I'm strong!
When it warms up this spring, we'll pick up some paint so they can personalize their tool boxes.