Although I remain so hopeful and motivated, two things this week have brought my cynicism to a whole new level:
First, the resounding bi-partisan applause that US House Representative Gabby Giffords received at the State of the Union address coupled with the subsequent unanimous passing of her last Bill prior to resigning her seat to continue her healing after being shot in the head during an assassination attempt last year.
The second was the thunderous bi-partisan applause and ovation that State Representative Tamara Grigsby received as Gov.Scott Walker (who is the in the midst of a contentious state wide recall) acknowledged that Wisconsin as a whole continues to pray for her recovery from a grave and as-yet undisclosed health problem.
Both of these women are very well deserving of these ovations, as well as our well wishes and prayers of support. But these two moments took me back to the eve of Sept. 11 2001, when ALL members of the US Congress took to the steps of the US Capitol building to sing patriotic songs together while embers of evil still burned in Pennsylvania, New York and Washington DC.
I am cynical about these instances because it seems to me that nearly 3,000 Americans must die, or one must be shot in the head or gravely ill to get our elected officials to work together.
We must actually move forward, together as a people and community. “We the People” do not exist in isolation of one another. Our actions matter to those around us as much as our inaction and there is no way to improve any system we have by further fracturing or politicizing it. There is a reason we see magnets and inspirational posters that say “Together Everyone Achieves More” and there is a reason we value T.E.A.M. work and collaboration in our work places and schools.
Note: this is aimed at both the (D)s and the (R)s – no one gets a pat on the back from me in education reform, yet.
I consider my self to be a pretty progressive person. I do not type that with the political divisiveness that that word often dispatches in our world today. I type it thinking of myself as a person who has opinions, is willing to have thoughtful conversations (especially with people with whom I disagree) and I am able to reconsider a situation with collected insights and reaffirm a stance or change my mind. I am progressive as in I am in favor of improvement.
I do not consider it a fault to learn and grow and change. If I weren’t a person willing to learn and grow and change my mind on things, I would still be looking around on Easter morning for painted eggs believing that a basket toting giant rabbit left them for me. Change is not necessarily a weakness.
I grow incensed when people accept a label or (even worse) place a label on someone else and from that point on their mind is made up as to whether or not they have common ground to stand on – together. It seems we are more bent on making teams than we are on actually committing to team work.
Together? Novel concept. The spirit of working together is why I support the National Opportunity to Learn (OTL) campaign as well as serve as an active Wisconsin Opportunity to Learn (WI-OTL) delegate. The Opportunity to Learn campaign is an extension of the Schott Foundation for Public Education based in Boston, Massachusetts. They have created a set of goals that they hope to achieve on behalf of children across America by influencing policy at the National level. They work with many organizations and people who are willing to set down their self interest to move toward real education reforms that will benefit many. The goals of the campaign are to ensure that every child has the Opportunity to Learn and that this opportunity includes four core principles:
1. Access to high-quality early childhood education
2. Prepared and supported teachers/staff
3. Rigorous curriculum that prepares students for college, and includes the arts and physical education
4. Equitable instructional materials
I work for and with the OTL campaign because the core principles are hard to argue. Kids deserve these things. Most of you had these things in your schools and may not even be aware of how children are being robbed of their opportunity to learn through de-funding, over testing, and the expense of educating our children being used as political rhetoric. Kids deserve adults in their lives strong enough to stand up together and do what is right for kids, not for the deepest checkbook. (Perhaps the problem is kids don’t have checkbooks? Drat!)
I do not believe (well, I do, but am in total denial about its existence) that there is a force of political will set on starving and dismantling public education in the United States. What I know is that the public education system educates the vast majority of our US citizens.
I do know that making constant structural changes to the education system hurts kids and their opportunity to learn. I do know that having a punitive funding system hurts kids and their opportunity to learn. I do know that as the “adults” in charge bicker, fight, place blame, lie, and defraud one another our kids are robbed of their opportunity to learn.
To our elected officials – children without the opportunity to learn are growing up into adults without the opportunity to succeed. They are involved in violence (perhaps even shot in the head). Under educated children grow up into adults who do not have the skills to go onto higher education/college or to fulfill trade occupation openings. Children shortchanged of their opportunity to learn are more likely to go on to be teen parents, who often have low birthweight babies with serious health concerns. They are more likely to have poor health outcomes and lower life expectancy.
Children who are not invested in academically, socially and emotionally go on to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. Some end up incarcerated. The cost of NOT investing in education is guaranteeing future investments in social programs and social control (Prisons) that cost far more than teachers, band equipment, school social workers/nurses, or textbooks and materials.
We put our selves up as a nation of high standards. We go into other countries to right their wrongs. We build schools in other countries ‘because educating children is right and just.’ It is time, Milwaukee. It is time, Wisconsin. It is time USA. It is time to actually put our children first. It is time to value them, invest in them. It is time for progress – it is time to favor improvement (in our schools and with that how we govern). It is time to work TOGETHER locally and as a nation collectively to give all children the Opportunity to Learn. If we are waiting for a tragedy to pull us all together… it has already arrived… it is time to get on the same T.E.A.M. and actually put our children first.
Please take time to read and sign The Declaration of Opportunity.
Sign up for updates and information regarding the campaign to reform education in the United States in a way that is good for kids.
Follow the Opportunity to Learn-WI campaign on Facebook.