Sunday, May 29, 2011

Prisons, Priorities & Power

On some of my more cynical days (there are plenty of them), I have remarked that some factory workers have more freedom and control over their time than a lot of teachers. Similarly, many schools feel more like ultra-controlled environments than places of learning. For example, what's with the heavy handed prohibition of snacks or water bottles at school. I'm willing to bet just about all of the adults in the building have a Diet Mountain Dew and bag of M and M's in their desk drawer. I know, I know, someone will put some Smirnoff in the Aquafina bottle...But in my experience, they're probably going to make a run at that anyway. I digress.

My buddy confirmed that I am not alone in this view, after he attended his son's freshman orientation in suburban St. Louis last fall. After languishing through an extensive and all-encompassing presentation of the school's rules, policies, procedures and penalties for infractions, he asked me if most opening meetings for new freshmen and their parents had such a Checkpoint Charlie feel to them. He used the word prison. Then he asked me if I ever teach principals how to give a decent speech. Both are damn good questions. My answers were "maybe" and "kind of."

A future school leader forwarded this letter to the editor to me last week. It was written by a superintendent in Michigan and has subsequently made the rounds in cyberspace. I like it...attention getting, against the grain, and forces an uncomfortable conversation about priorities. The old adage "Instead of telling me your priorities, let me see your budget and I'll figure them out for myself" comes to mind. What these numbers reveal is not encouraging.

On a semi-related point, a colleague at UNI writes a weekly opinion column in the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. I'm usually on the other side of the issues he raises, but he nails a good portion of it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Compromise, Paul Simon, Great Students and Good Movies

The frequency of my blogging has really suffered in the last few months. That doesn't mean I'm without thoughts. Among them:

What is a reasonable next step with the legislators I had asked about their views on recalling Iowa Supreme Court Justices? I've blogged about it a couple of times (see Nadasuals and An Email I Sent...). Disappointing, but I guess there never was much of a chance of hearing from them.

Next, a Facebook friend asked today if I am a habitual political poster. I suspect he would like to have a political free Facebook zone. I had shared a link to GOP presidential hopeful and former pizza executive Herman Cain's assertion that compromise is ruining the country. I posted, "The latest act in the GOP Presidential Comedy Hour, Herman Cain, says compromise is killing the country. Actually, it is rigidity and lack of compromise, That, and Godfather's Pizza."

Come on, the  Godfather's thing is funny. Besides, it's my page. Block me.

Beyond that, I'm no political scientist, but I remember the phrase "reach across the aisle." Guys as diverse as Ted Kennedy, Jack Danforth, Alan Simpson...reasonable, pragmatic people who would work to find something both sides could live with to move the country forward. I know I'm going all idealistic here. Apparently it was about governing rather than the constant election cycle. Compromise, collaboration, and reason are now vice. At least they are in the pizza industry.

One of my daughter's 9th grade classes is apparently far behind where the teacher had hoped to be with a couple of weeks left in the school year. The solution seems to be a chapter and test every couple of days. Not sure that's likely to do a lot for her interest in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics education I keep hearing so much about. It will, however, yield some numbers in the grade book and a familiar conversation about coverage.

Why do we do so many things that run contrary to our own stated efforts toward engagement, accessing prior knowledge and opening doors to learning and future application? Pretty sure what she'll remember from the next two weeks is not found in the standards and benchmarks. It is, however, found in Paul  Simon's classic Kodachrome.

Who can't identify with that?

When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school
It's a wonder I can think at all
And though my life of education hasn't hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall.

And that was 1973. How far haven't we come?

On a profoundly more positive and uplifting note, I enjoyed a fun couple hours in my class of future principals last night. Students shared school leadership lessons they had learned form feature films. They dug into We Were Soldiers, Elizabeth, Glengarry Glen Ross and Hotel Rwanda. And the lessons flowed like free refills at Godfather's Pizza...visibility, credibility, passion, mission, relationship building, sabotage, setbacks, standards. They did a fabulous job of making connections to school leadership. Next week, we turn our attention to some other films they've analyzed: Nixon, Milk, Citizen Kane and Twelve Angry Men.

It reminds me of how fortunate I am to work with such passionate, creative students intent on making a difference. I think I'll ask them about the role of compromise and for their take on the test frenzy above.