Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Squelching Freedom of Speech results in Sentiments going Subversive or worse yet, Apathy will abound!

Anyone who knows me knows that I am Miss Americana USA to the core - I'd bleed red, white and blue if that were actually possible. People fought and died for the freedoms we enjoy - freedoms confirmed for generations thanks to the United States Constitution. I'm going to spare you the lesson in American government, but had to set the stage for this very opinionated commentary. This is actually the first of several that I have in mind to share. My sole purpose is awareness that promotes activism. People need to exercise their constitutional rights more often when situations are high-stakes.

I think most people would agree that educating today's youth for tomorrow's challenges is high-stakes. School reform tends to run in cycles, with research studies theorizing that this trend or the other is the next best thing to "fix" public PK-12 classrooms in the name of student achievement and producing 21st Century learners who are capable leaders. There was the block scheduling movement, then research on best practices suggested standards-based assessment would produce better results, and now research highlights teacher efficacy (merit based pay, performance evaluations, etc.). Change is not a bad word. Structural change is not enough to change for the better though. When educational leaders implement change without giving all stakeholders a voice in the process, the necessity and validity of the change deserve to be questioned.

Yet, people are squelched if they voice concern, or worse yet, bullied and intimidated into believing (FALSELY MIND YOU) that there will be negative repercussions for exercising freedom of speech to share a dissenting opinion. Students fear suspension. Teachers fear termination. What type of leaders ignore the very people that stand to benefit or suffer from the decisions that are being made? Elected officials are representatives of the people. Therefore, school board members should be held accountable for decisions made that do not reflect the best interests of the people, much less the "best practices." I can give you all sorts of research to convince you of my opinions, but that doesn't mean I am any more or less valid in my opinions than say, a superintendent who has proposed calendar changes that are adopted by said elected officials on the local governing school board.

I may not work in the local school system these days but I am still fairly attuned to what is going on in the classrooms and school-community relations in general. When significant decisions are being made, I personally think it is more appropriate to propose several alternatives and invite public input before a final conclusion is rendered. Furthermore, it is my humble opinion that "more of the same" does not accomplish anything productive. If parents, students, and teachers do not voice their opinions (even if not matching mine), then they must understand that silence is agreement. If you complain to those in your immediate circle of influence, but do not speak up to those in positions of authority where real change can be enacted, you have no one to blame but yourself when it is "more of the same" and things continue to spiral downward. Such criticism leads to a subversive climate, with muttering and murmuring but nothing productive or positive. Worse yet, if you choose to ignore the situations entirely and distance yourself from the present reality, apathy will abound.

Local school officials have determined that the schools will benefit from extended school day hours, even more than normal, when the current schedule already provides more clock hours than Virginia's Department of Education requires (990). There is also a proposed school calendar to permanently increase the school day by 15 minutes. These changes are being made without direct input from the stakeholders as I understand the process. I am even told that when a group of interested, involved, and intelligent students exercised their freedom of speech to create a You Tube video pleading for a different alternative schedule/plan, that they were threatened with disciplinary action unless the video (parody of Dora the Explorer since Dora is the superintendent's first name) was immediately removed from public posts and apology letters were dictated as necessary because of their actions. They did not violate any laws, policies, etc. with defamation (no slander of the superintendent). Yet, the school principal intervened with censorship and strongly suggested scare tactics of disciplinary consequences. This is deplorable in my opinion and cause for people to exercise their freedom of speech to weigh in on the matter. Many of my friends are more vested in these decisions than I am--you're students (WITH RIGHTS and don't you let ANYONE tell you otherwise), teachers, parents, and fellow taxpaying citizens with a voice that needs to be heard. Never underestimate that a small group of committed individuals can accomplish even the greatest of tasks--in this case, REAL REFORM!!!

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