PEOPLE BEFORE POLITICS

“The best things in life make you sweaty.”
Edgar Allan Poe

“Politics, as he occasionally said, required three unchanging talents and
no virtues. More politicians, he claimed, had been destroyed by virtue than by any other cause; and the talents he enumerated in this fashion. The first talent was the ability to choose the winning side. Failing that, the second talent was the ability to extricate oneself from the losing side. And the third talent was never to make an enemy.”
Howard Fast

About a month ago MNPS’s central office sent a cryptic email out to principals purporting to be part of a regular series of updates on board policies. The email reiterated that principals were never to turn over the personal information of students to anybody and it outlined steps that principals should take in the event a hypothetical individual were to show up demanding said information. To some principals, it was a head-scratcher – the central office has no history of sending out random policy updates – but if you were a principal in a certain part of town or at a school with a certain population, the intent was crystal clear.

After digging around, I discovered that the letter was in response to recent actions of ICE agents and particularily their recent arrival at Una Elementary demanding information. Apparently, ICE has recently increased its activity and was now targeting schools for information on undocumented families. MNPS has long maintained a policy that their first and foremost priority is students. They have a commitment to educating them no matter what their family’s legal status. Therefore no information was turned over.

Upon hearing about ICE’s action my immediate inclination was to write about it and drag their indiscretions out into the sunlight. I was cautioned about doing that. There is a great deal of sensitivity around the issue of immigration and MNPS, along with some of its partners were attempting to devise a strategy best suited to addressing this increased threat. One whose goal was to offer the most protection to students, and ensuring their right to an education.

This was one of those moral dilemmas that I have often found myself since I’ve started writing this blog. On one hand, I felt that the despicable actions of ICE needed to be revealed. There has long been an unspoken rule that agents wouldn’t target places like schools, churches, and hospitals for action. I felt a sense of responsibility to let the public know the rules had changed and therefore some of our most vulnerable students needed increased protections.

On the other hand, these are real families and exposing their story runs the risk of putting them in the cross sights of ICE. If even one student was harmed because of the public outing of this story, was that acceptable? For me it wasn’t so I didn’t write the story, praying that those charged with student safety were upholding their obligation.

The plight of our undocumented population is a very personal one for me. I’m the son of a refugee. My children have gone to school for 6 years with the children of undocumented individuals. We have eaten meals in their homes and my kids have spent the night with their kids. I’ve heard first hand the accounts of the horrific conditions they’ve left behind in an attempt to forge a better life. I’ve seen up close the difficulty of their lives and how hard most work to carve out a better life than the one they left at home. There is little they’ve done that I can’t say I wouldn’t do if placed in the same set of circumstances.

Yesterday the Nashville Scene broke the story of ICE agents coming to Una Elementary. Author Stephen Hale diplomatically told the tale in a manner mostly devoid of politics. For that, he deserves kudos and appreciation.

Over the years I’ve become particularly sensitive to the ease in which we use immigrants as a political tool. A recent example would be the recent public concern for Nashville’s Kurdish population in light of actions by President Trump. Nashville has long been home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States and they have contributed in infinite ways to make Nashville a more vibrant city, something that is frequently forgotten except when the acknowledgment comes with political points.

We decry – rightfully so – the horrid actions of ICE yet many of the same children we would protect against the government agency attend schools that are under-resourced and in dire need of capital improvements. Nashville makes me proud when it defends those who can’t defend themselves, but we need to make sure that we don’t raise that defense only when it meets our political needs. We need to do it in ways that go beyond just words. We need to place our actions behind those words.

The recent campaign to appoint a replacement for the recently vacated school board seat in District 7 is a prime example. District 7 is home to the largest population of EL students in the city, with a large percentage of them being of Hispanic descent. Of the two leading candidates for the school board seat – on Monday I’ll share biographies for the other two – one is an experienced educator of EL students, Kevin Stacy, with long-standing ties to the immigrant community and one is a union activist/government employee, Freda Player.

In endorsing Player, supporters point to her love of children – might as well add a love of kittens – and her long history of navigating government corridors. They offer that she wants raises for teachers and hates charter schools. Neither particularly exclusive qualifications.

Stacy on the other hand, lead the EL department for several years at a time when MNPS experienced it’s greatest success stories with EL education. He’s familiar with school budgets and best educational practices, not to mention that he has relationships with many of the families in the immigrant community. All of these are rather exclusive qualifications.

It frustrates me to all end that on one hand, we express outrage over immigrant families being targeted but when we have the opportunity to place representation on the school board that could truly look out for their best interests, we default to protecting our interests by potentially appointing a political insider. How does that play into our repeated desire to increase equity in our school system?

Over the summer my daughter came home from a sleepover and related that the uncle of her friend had been apprehended by ICE agents the previous week. He’d had no previous legal interactions other than a parking ticket from a couple years ago. He worked hard to provide for his family and was loved by his children, but now he was gone and those children had no idea when they would see their father again.

We can argue the politics of immigration all day, and I certainly understand the different points of view. But we can not divorce the conversation from the human element. Look at your children tonight and imagine that you were suddenly separated from them, not knowing when or if you’d ever see them again. You had tried to follow all the rules – work hard, be honest, treat others well – but because of a birth lottery, and an unwillingness to settle for less for your family, you now found yourself torn from them. Faced with similar circumstances, I don’t know how I would cope.

Was printing the story of increased ICE activity the right choice? I don’t know. I do know that there are those in our community facing life situations and challenges that I can only begin to comprehend. I know that we can still be a country of laws, at the same time being a country of compassion. I know that when it comes to immigration policy, we have to do better. When it comes to taking care of our fellow community members, we can and must do better.

LANDING IN NORTH CAROLINA

Look who has a new gig. Former Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder has landed the position as Superintendent of Orange County Schools in North Carolina. Orange County is the home to 13 schools and roughly 7800 students. Demographically, its student body is made up of 55.56% White, 23.50% Hispanic, and 14.44% Black. It is a high performing district, with a fair amount of wealth.

Previous Superintendent Todd Wirt had been at the helm for 4 years but wished to pursue other opportunities and as a result, resigned in June. Despite its relative lack of student diversity, per the News & Observer, over the last couple of years, the Orange County Schools have focused on race relations and racial equity. After a months-long campaign by community members in 2017, the school board agreed to create an equity task force and banned the Confederate flag and other divisive symbols as part of the student dress code.

In January of this year, the board unanimously passed an equity policy drafted by the task force, “to eliminate racial intolerance, and other forms of intolerance, inequities of opportunity, and academic disparities in our district.” In addition to racial disparities, the policy addresses inequality based on national origin, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, and socioeconomic status.

Felder who once told an assembly of MNPS Principals that suspension rates of Black students at MNPS made her “want to take off her earrings, oil up, and fight somebody”, should find herself right at home with the community’s desire to increase equity.

I teach my baseball team that it is not the missteps that are important, but rather what you do after the missteps, that defines you. Felder’s tenure at MNPS was filled with missteps, some of which cost the district some of its most talented educators, hopefully, Orange County will benefit from the lessons learned from those missteps and Dr. Felder will prove to be the leader the district needs..

ALL STUDENTS MEANS ALL STUDENTS

So much of education policy today focuses on those kids that are underperforming. So much so that gifted kids are often underserved. The perception is that these kids mainly come from wealthier families that have the means to secure outside resources for their kids and therefore don’t need district resources as much. As education policy wonk Andy Smarick points out in a recent piece, The Contradiction at the Heart of Public Education.

Smarick offers that gifted education puts in tension two equally treasured American ideals: egalitarianism and individualism. I would argue that it also touches a third sacred rail, hard work. We Americans are rooted in the belief that hard work can overcome any obstacles. While we are willing to readily accept that people have different inert athletic or artistic abilities, the idea that we all have different intellectual capabilities is something we can’t collectively wrap our heads around.

It’s is due to this inability to accept different cognitive abilities that we often confuse gifted students with really smart students, often confusing the two, to the detriment of both classes of students. Furthermore, we believe that a child’s gifted ability provides them with a greater opportunity to succeed. That is equally untrue. Giftedness is classified as an education disability because those diagnosed as such require specialized services every bit as specific as those diagnosed with other learning disabilities. Without those specialized services, they are just as unlikely to succeed as any other student with an unaddressed disability.

Smerick points out that, “Unlike in other important education areas, the federal government, as reported by the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), “does not provide guidance or have requirements for gifted services.” Uncle Sam’s sole dedicated gifted program, the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program, was appropriated just $12 million in 2019. The federal government’s Title I, Part A program, which provides funding to districts for low-income students, was appropriated nearly $16 billion in 2019″

Smarick goes on to list ways that the discussion of gifted education tends to make us uncomfortable because it becomes entwined with discussions about race, sex, and class. A discomfort that comes with a high cost, I agree with Smarick when he says, “Americans’ leveling impulse has unappealing consequences: In a perverted version of fairness, we knowingly neglect the special gifts of some kids in the name of equality. Each child must be seen as more than a component part of a political strategy to equalize social outcomes. Each child has a legitimate claim to the attention necessary to make the most of his or her interests and capacities.”

He makes an argument for increased efforts of identification for gifted children. Rightfully pointing out that this is an equity issue, “As we’ve seen from the infuriating Varsity Blues scandal and the galling findings of Harvard’s legacy and donor preferences, the rich and connected will use the power available to them to advance their kids’ futures. Low-income families, those in sparsely populated areas, and those unable to make a sotto voce call to a friend of the family can do none of these things. They lose out.”

I encourage you to read his whole piece. It’s well written, thoughtfull, and if you are not careful you may learn something.

QUICK HITS

If you are looking for some positive news, I encourage you to read the recent piece in the Tennessee Tribune about the fantastic work going on at John Early Magnet School. It’s impressive and Principal Darwin Mason deserves a heap of props.

Tip of the hat to MNEA President Amanda Kail, who last week presented on behalf of teachers to Metro Council. She discussed the need to fund step raises and make educator salaries competitive, the need to fund the resources needed for teachers to effectively teach, the impact of teacher attrition on students, and the need to fund all the public institutions students need in order to thrive.

The next time someone tries and tout all the good that SCORE does for Tennesse’s students, you can use their latest polling as a reminder that they are always trying to sell their misguided policies. According to SCORE fully 85% of registered Tennessee voters who were surveyed believe it’s important to test students each year to know they’re meeting the state’s standards. And eight out of 10 said those results should be used to hold teachers and public schools accountable. More than half of voters favored using academic growth in teacher evaluations, and more than three-fourths approved of that approach for grading schools. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Remember it is all in how you ask the questions.

Important schedule change!!! Next Friday’s football game between Overton and Antioch has been changed to Thursday, October 17th @6pm. Tailgate will be on Thursday. Senior night and Breast Cancer awareness night!

That’s a wrap for today. Don’t forget to weigh in on this week’s poll questions. Be sure you get lots of rest for the pending return to class.

Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is also welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who lent your financial support this past month. I am eternally grateful for your generosity.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

 

 

 

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