Monday, May 11, 2015

An informed electorate is our best defence

I write this blog to share what I learn about issues and events that are influenced or decided by our elected officials. Ultimately, I write to encourage informed voting.

Lately I've focused my writing on the Collier County School Board, because the more I learn about what’s happening there, the more concerned I become.

I try to write objectively and then, at the end of each post, share my views and ask readers to take a specific action.

Today I’m taking a different tack. Rather than write about something I read recently, I'm asking you to read it yourself. It's a message Florida Citizens Alliance recently emailed to its followers. Click here. What’s your reaction? How would you describe it to a friend?

I’d also like you to look at Parents ROCK’s Facebook page, which has over 580 followers. Click here.

In my opinion, these two right-wing, Tea Party-related groups sensationalize local educational issues. They raise important questions, but it would be dangerous to blindly accept or trust what they selectively present as fact. There’s always more to the story than what they claim.

They are consistently critical of our District's Superintendent and senior School Board members. They oppose state standards for what children should learn. They want a bigger role for parents in deciding curriculum and reviewing textbooks and other assigned reading materials. They disagree with state law about testing, so they want to ignore it.

Here's an excerpt from an item posted on May 7 on the Facebook page of the husband of one of the new School Board members:

Stay tuned for more information on the two fresh candidates who will challenge the status quo and stem the tide of liberalism that has flooded our public schools.  Until then, let Mrs. Lichter and Mrs. Donalds know you support them by showing up at school board meetings, speaking out, writing letters to the editor, and telling your friends and colleagues that "enough is enough." We will not stand idly by as our public schools are devastated by power hungry educrats who care more about public perception than educating our children. 

There is no doubt that they want to take control of our School Board in next year’s elections.

Most people you and I know are unaware of these groups and their agendas. If they have children in school, or are working one or two jobs to make ends meet, they may be too busy with day-to-day life to focus on School Board matters. Or for other reasons, they may not realize that the School Board is relevant to their lives. It’s just not something they pay attention to.

But they should. The School Board sets policy and hires and oversees the Superintendent who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of our schools.

Our schools do more than teach reading, writing and arithmetic. They teach our children to read and think critically, ask questions, and separate truth from propaganda. They expose them to different cultures, experiences and beliefs. They encourage them to be tolerant, compassionate and understanding. And - hopefully - they teach them to respect the rule of law and protect the rights of all citizens. Simply put, our schools educate our children so when they grow up, they can participate fully as informed citizens in our democratic society.

There are vastly different views in our community, our state and our nation about what makes for good public education. Here in Collier County, seemingly well-funded Florida Citizens Alliance and Parents ROCK espouse views and advocate for actions I do not agree with.

Please help me raise awareness of these groups and their priorities by sharing this post. These groups will be supporting candidates for election to the School Board in the next election. An informed electorate is our best defence.



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3 comments:

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Parker. These efforts to undermine the education of children with half baked ideas and lies are despicable. We have want our children to be able to compete in a global market which they will be unable to do if they are hampered by a curriculum based on ideology and faith. We already are the laughingstock of the nation, too many already call this state Floriduh. We owe it to our children to stop these people.

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  2. I’ll take advantage of this opportunity to make an anonymous post, because the reformers’ threats of lawsuits and other tactics make it difficult to speak freely. Thank you for offering a safe space to speak.

    Part 1: A strategy revealed: first undermine confidence, then replace with something new (but not necessarily better)

    Collier County education reformers are an odd mix of libertarians (who support home-rule and gun rights, but oppose censorship), conservative parents (who want to take control of instructional materials to protect children from immoral works), ultra-conservatives (“real” conservatives who have “freed themselves” from the Republican Party), and parent fans of the new board members.

    This appears to be their strategy:

    1) Replace the superintendent with someone who will let the board control operations.

    2) Replace two of the three senior board members with reformers in 2016. Presumably, that’s why the parent-attorneys and their elected officials are targeting Mrs. Curatolo for lawsuits. Which reformer will try to replace her - one of the parent-attorneys who orchestrated the lawsuits, or a homeschooling mother who wants to enforce high standards of purity in the classroom?

    3) Opt out of testing and dump federal standards, so no one will know how well Florida students are doing.

    4) Censor all instructional materials. However, do not use the “C” word, please. Reformers prefer "textbook review.” Remove all references to what reformers call “victims rights,” such as Japanese internment camps or Chinese coolie laborers. Finally, delete references to communism, socialism, climate change, overpopulation, because if no one uses these words, these things disappear.

    These reformers have not articulated a detailed plan for the public education. Based on campaign promises, we can expect more public funds to be diverted to charter schools, which will adopt the Hillsdale College Charter School model, like Mason Classical Academy (where Lichter and Donalds' husband are on the board). This model emphasizes fact memorization over critical thinking, ancient classics over modern classics. If that doesn't sound bad, consider that Collier County's advanced studies courses (Advanced Placement, Cambridge AICE, dual enrollment) all require students to think critically.

    Low standards and double standards do not make for an attractive reform package. Reformers use public funding to advance their ideological agenda through charter schools, then whine that the administration is "stealing" from them. They hail themselves as civil rights heroes for breaking laws they happen not to like, but sue the district – or threaten to sue it - when they perceive the staff or other board members haven’t followed state laws to the letter. Reformers insist on detailed budget analyses for every purchase the district proposes, but neglect to apply the same due diligence to their proposals.

    They accuse the district of using funds inefficiently, yet waste district resources probing for information to use against anyone who opposes them. They want to strengthen the whistleblower policy, hire an internal auditor and another attorney, presumably to gather more ammunition. They request district test scores that would require many staff-days to provide. These resources should be used to improve our schools.
    The reformers’ constituents model the behavior of their elected officials. The parent-attorney who sued the district to change the civility policy so the board chair could be attacked complained because other public commenters took advantage of the new policy to criticize him, instead of focusing on the issue.

    These antics are difficult to watch, but important to recognize, because they put the district at risk of another state accreditation agency warning.

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  3. Part 2: A call to action

    This reform would be comical if there weren’t so much at stake. To paraphrase Monty Python: “No one expects the Public School Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise, fear and surprise; two chief weapons, fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency! Er, among our chief weapons are: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, and near fanatical devotion to the Pope! Um, I'll come in again...””

    The superintendent and senior school board members are doing their best to protect school personnel and resources, but they need our help. Tune into the school board meetings and write an email, or a letter to the editor, or give a public comment to support our public school staff. We are one school board seat away from taking experienced educators out of decision-making roles, and replacing them with members of this coalition.

    Fellow citizens, if you want a system that prepares young people to memorize facts and follow orders, and if you want a school system that’s run by taxpayers, elect more reformers. If you want a school system that teaches young people to think for themselves, prepares them for the best colleges and universities, and allows schools to be run by professional educators, re-elect the senior board members, or find new ones just like them.

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