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A Few Reflections on the Elections

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Dear Deborah,

I have the advantage of writing you after the election. Unlike you, I was not active in the campaign (full disclosure: I contributed to Hillary Clinton in the primaries). Election night, nonetheless, was thrilling. For the first time, I felt the force of Barack Obama's charisma that night, and it was powerful. His eloquence moved me. And I felt incredibly proud that our nation elected this man. The symbolism is unbelievable. I don't know of any other nation in the world that has elected a person descended from a group that is a relatively small minority with a long history of having been oppressed. That speaks volumes about the American people and American democracy.

As I watched that evening, I kept having memories of growing up in Houston in the 1940s and 1950s. I went to racially segregated schools. Everything was segregated: water fountains, public buses, restaurants, movie theaters, hotels, sports teams, the stadiums, etc. As a young person, I made several trips to visit relatives in the Deep South—Alabama and Georgia—and it was even worse there in terms of the outrageous racism of the era and the blatant denial of basic human dignity and human rights to black people. It was awful, not just because of the denial of the right to vote or the existence of segregated schools. The daily customs were akin to apartheid. Black people were expected to show deference to white people, even stepping off the sidewalk to make room for them or entering a white home only through the back door.

I look back on the laws and customs of that era, and it is hard to believe now that those things existed. It is even harder to believe that this nation—only 50 years later—has just elected an African-American President.

I am very proud of my country and my fellow citizens.

What do you think this means for American education? Any clues?

Diane

14 Comments

Diane,

Many, many thoughts as I read this. First, thank you for all your commentary on the election. I find elections confusing; there is so much talk that I often can't sort truth from all the rest. Often the talk gets nasty; I appreciate how you have stood up for decency again and again during this race.

It is up to us as a country to treat our future President Obama with decency. I am delighted that he has won, and appreciate it even more as I read your description of race relations 50 years ago. I am also concerned that he will quickly become such a symbol, and the expectations of him will be so varied and so high, that he will have no choice but to disappoint. It is right to regard his victory as wonderful; it is right to see him as a remarkable person. That does not mean he can be everything for everybody.

Likewise, in education, we must stop expecting schools (and particularly teachers) to be everything for everybody. Yes, teachers have hard work to do and should be prepared and willing to do it well. No, they cannot please all parties. Teachers who put effort into planning excellent lessons may never excel at all the paperwork demanded of them--and vice versa. Teachers who know how to help a distressed child may not be so good at arranging the classroom just so, with all the required items on the walls.

And likewise for students. We must expect the very best of them, but we must first and foremost show them what excellence is, through rich curriculum and instruction. Raising achievement and closing the achievement gap mean little if we do not know what we are trying to achieve, and why. Give students the best instruction possible--encourage them continually--and let them perform well or not so well. We have gone too far in our insistence that every child succeed. No, we must not lower our expectations. No, we must not let students fall through the cracks. But we must let them make choices and find their own passions, strengths and weaknesses. We must let them, like everyone else, be fallible.

Decency, then, is inseparable from values. We treat people more humanely if we understand and remember what is important, and recognize that excellence needs room and time. We need time to think, walk around, be with others, take a nap now and then. We cannot be chugging endlessly. In our schools, we have a bit of sorting out to do.

Diana Senechal

Having little belief in civil society the Obama regime will use government to try to fix things, which will lead to more problems, which in turn will lead to more government, and so on. But regardless of the negative outcomes for citizens the government will win by virtue of its amassing of power.

FDR's alphabet soup of programs prolonged the Great Depression and created massive suffering for most Americans, especially for black people. But most Americans then, as in now, believed that FDR was doing the right thing. Today, FDR is a political god. Public schools are partly responsible for this deification. The winners get to write the history. The winners under FDR were the welfare/warfare statists and unions.

Are kids taught that unions barred blacks and that Roosevelt's restriction of agricultural output created massive unemployment for black sharecroppers, hundreds of thousands of them?

Pray to the Obama/FDR god all you want- government cannot repeal economic law.

ps. Obama has white roots too.
pps. A nation did not elect Obama. He is not my president!

The election of Barack is a milestone in more ways than just the tone of his skin. Barack attended Punahoe an elite school in Hawaii not the typical experience of a poor African American raised by a single mom. Like many of our political leadership who haven’t directly experienced the realities of education for America’s non elite, Obama never attended an average school. As you know our schools are as segregated now as they have ever been. A number of studies demonstrate public funding even within districts flows to the already better off. In many ways things remain the same after eight years of Bush.
Barack is the first Blackberry president which is as important in terms of the future of education in the 21st century as anything he does. Given the President of Google is an advisor will we finally leverage the power of the internet to directly impact students educations both inside and outside the classroom? It is a short walk from MIT’s Open University to a self paced Google ED that looks and feels like a combination of Google desktop meets Google earth. A walk already taken in mathematics by Heymath.com.
History will judge but at this point, NCLB looks like it will be Bush jr.s only positive domestic program (frightening thought in and of itself). NCLB with it’s mandatory NAEP laid bare the realities of where our students level of academic achievement is now and allowed the states to commit educational ethical suicide by proclaiming proficiencies where there were none. Can any parent trust their school to provide them an accurate assessment of their child’s level of proficiency in relation to the rest of the world? I think not.
Allowing Mississippi to decide what mathematics a poor black child should learn in order to be deemed proficient was tried during and after Jim Crow. It failed then and under NCLB as now written will continue to fail miserably and in plain sight. Not paying the best teachers more to teach poor children is analogous to not having enough voting machines in poor and black voting districts. You disenfranchise poor children’s education in the same way you disenfranchise voters. Clever, deliberate, legal, an abomination and ongoing.
I hope Obama proves to be a bolder leader than he has understandably been as a campaigner. We all know he is more than intelligent enough, but his education program to date is a fog bank waiting for the sun to shine.

The election of Barack Obama as our 44th president is indeed a profound milestone in our brief four hundred year history.

However, I believe Tom Brokaw captured the momement best when on Meet The Press, the Sunday before the election (11/2) he stated, "Whoever wins the election Tuesday night might wake up Wednesday morning and demand a recount."

The problems this individual is about to have dumped in his lap are almost beyond one's imagination. As citizens we must wish him well and offer all the prayers we can in his behalf. He's going to need everyone's help.

Obama will either get rid of or water down NCLB to where it is no longer. He must - school will not reach 100% deadline in, what, 2012? 2014?

Hopefully he'll take the good and make something else that requires data to be taken and tracked.

In Oregon we tried to get the Feds to allow us to track each kid from school to school. Now that I can stand behind. Of course, improving in WHAT test is a good question. Oregon's standardized test simply sucks. Who made that thing, tiger petters?

One thing we know about Obama from the campaign: He is immune to bullies. Think of every nasty name he was called, every lie told about him: Marxist, terrorist, baby killer, and on and on. Some said he was too black; others said he was not black enough. They said his wife was ashamed to be an American. And they said worse.

But throughout it all, Obama played it cool. I admit that during the campaign I often wished he had fought back harder, but the closest he ever came was saying that Hillary Clinton was (gasp) "nice enough" or joking that sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made him a socialist.

Why didn't he fight fire with fire? I'm not certain, but I suspect that he learned how to handle bullies when he was young. Imagine being half-black, raised by a single mother, and having to explain to the kids in school that you really are American, but you just came back from some place called Indonesia. I suspect you are either destroyed by bullies or learn to fight them.

He had the experience necessary to win against the bullies. He knew he could defeat the bullies, but only if he did not become one of them. He let them defeat themselves. He didn't rise to their taunts. The louder and meaner the bullies' curses became, the more other kids on the playground realized how much they hated the bullies. The louder the bullies roared, the weaker the bullies sounded. And, on November 4, the kids got together and ran the bullies off the playground.

One thing we know from the past 7 years: Education policy has become dominated by bullies, bullies on the right and bullies on the left. If you don't agree with their policies, you are perpetrating "the soft bigotry low expectations." If you don't agree completely, you “only care about the adults, not the children." If you ever agree with a teacher's union about anything, you are "beholden to special interests" or a "slave to the status quo." If you dare to question whether every minute of every day should be dedicated to trying to improve a 50-item multiple-choice test score, you are "against standards and accountability."

How bad has the bullying become? Look at Klein in NY, spying on critics and working as hard as possible to defame anyone who questions the success of his programs. Look at Rhee in Washington, trying to bully young teachers into a contract in which they will be evaluated using a top secret analysis Rhee refuses to describe. Think of the thousands and thousands of teachers who for years now have been told they MUST do this or they MUST do that because we need to improve our test scores. And then the teachers must bear the shame and the blame when the promised improvement doesn't materialize, despite reciting every syllable of whatever magic spell the district had been sold. Bullied. And cheated, too.

Educational tests, which once served a useful research function, now are just a big rock in the hand of an angry bully. Only a fool would try to talk the bully into putting the rock down. The wisest among us have learned to duck.

I don't know what Obama will do as President, but I don't think he is going to fall prey to schoolyard bullying from so-called reformers and dot-org policy wonks. Go ahead and call him an elitist. Call him a union shill. Throw in some insult about people from Chicago. Tell him he doesn't care about children of color. Tell him. Go ahead. Call him what you called us. Call Obama a bigot. I triple-dog-dare you.

I would like to add to some points that the "Post-Bully President" made. He or she is right on target when describing the lack of tolerance for subtlety of opinion--the assumption that if you partially disagree with a policy, you are against the children, against accountability, against truth and justice. People with such intolerance for thoughtful dissent are indeed bullies.

Recently I have read some articles about schoolyard bullies--about "research" indicating that victims of bullying are actually bullies themselves. While this may be true in select instances, it is far from true across the board--there are many children who receive brutal treatment from their peers but do nothing to harm or intimidate others.

We must stop assuming that the bully is justified. Research can find what it wants, but we know that bullying is wrong, no matter who does it and why. We know the child who gets beaten up just for being different in some way. We must stand up for that child, not join in the beating. So, too, with adults.

Diana Senechal

Re Bullying.

Rather, it is one set of bullies, the Democrats, fighting another set of bullies, the Republicans. Together they both bully down any challenge to their duopoly. Obama is just one of the gang leaders who, whether or not he was once one of the bullied, just became the biggest bully of all.

In the final analysis Obama is not very different than McCain or other statists-Obama wants to invade Pakistan and pretty much continue the Military Industrial Complex. That means murdering thousands of innocent foreigners- women and children often- in fits of imperial aggression.

If I am correct, didn't Obama vote Yes on all these bailouts of the financial elites?

Obama supporters seem to be suffering from Jim Jones Syndrome or something akin to the way Germans looked upon Hitler with such hope and adoration.
Or maybe it is mass Stockholm Syndrome.

The tools Obama has at his disposal are government- which means force, privilege, moral hazard, regulatory and institutional capture, misallocation of resources through displacing the market, more destructive welfare/warfare statism, relative poverty for political have-nots, insider pork, central planning and general erosion of society.

But hey, that is the status quo and Obama is business as usual.

Reason,

I must respectfully disagree that Obama will be business as usual.

Give the man a chance to rectify the mess created over the past eight years by the Bush/Cheney/Rove crowd. He's not even been sworn into office and you're already casting him as another Washington insider/a failure?

This is an aside....

I work in Fairfax County, one of the wealthier public school systems in the country.

Teachers with PHDs make about $2,000 more a year than those with Bachelor's degrees. There is actually a disincentive to pursue higher degrees when you factor in the cost of tuition vs. the pay increase.

Maybe advanced degrees aren't so important after all?

Mr. Hoss,

Presidents are a danger to humanity. It is nothing personal towards Obama, at least- not yet anyway. No majority vote, mystical mandate or passionate appeal from the political pulpit can hide the destructive reality behind the executive state.

The state, even if run by Jesus, would still represent the highest form of legal plunder, vitiation of human rights and conscience, and currently, the downright murder of civilians via Leviathan's conquest.

It is time for everyday people to stop investing in dictators, democratic or otherwise. Equality of right and justice means actions that would be considered murder, theft, rape and pillage, if commited by an individual, cannot be deemed "justified" or "an accident" when carried out by the state. Murder is murder, so to speak.

And yes, public schooling is part of the ideological factory that has led to this perversion. Schools are de facto and de jure arms of the state. The school machine puts lipstick, sometimes even with the best intentions, on the fascist pig: teachers romanticize "democracy", "legitimacy", "civil rights", "voting", "diversity", and etc.

But the state, like the emperor Obama, is wearing no clothes.


Reason,

Guess that's why we have our three branches of government. You've heard of our checks and blances. Granted, our form of government is not perfect but it has been much more tolerable than governments in most other countries throughout history.

As I'm sure you're aware one major flaw in our system can occur when the majority of our elected officials are all from the same party as happened during W's first six years as president. Agreed, then we can have some serious issues.

Guess I'm naive in believing that our forefathers did a pretty good job of concocting our republic some two hundred thirty (plus) years ago because it's still with us and by many accounts it's the envy of the world. Why else would people from all over the globe be so determined to come to America to live?

You sound as though you might be young, idealistic, very intelligent, and perhaps a bit annoyed with the way things are going in this country today, not unlike myself and/or my contemporaries of the 1960’s.

The 60’s were an extremely provocative time in our history. We had Viet Nam, Selma, Birmingham, King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Kent State, students taking over college buildings, the Democratic convention in Chicago, Woodstock, the Beatles, the assignation of three great Americans, etc., etc., etc.

Our world is a very different place today, with an entirely different set of issues. Be patient. Pick your battles and you’ll do fine.


Yes I am also proud of my nation for voting this man into the office. But lets just clear this up he isn't "black" hes half. He has some very good ideas, especially for me because I am a future teacher. I just know he's going to bring nothing but good to out nation. And I am 100% positive he will do better than Bush

While I did not vote for President Elect-Obama, I have positive expectations for how he will handle the many crisis we find in American public education. While it is obvious that NCLB will be reviewed, I can only hope that Obama's approach will be dedicated to reform, and that NCLB will be amended to a realistic means of keeping educational administration "accountable" without punishing students and teachers alike.

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