In Case You Doubted, It Truly Takes a Village

“That’s all I’ve ever dreamed of, Mr. Bones. To make the world a better place. To bring some beauty to the drab humdrum corners of the soul. You can do it with a toaster, you can do it with a poem, you can do it by reaching out your hand to a stranger. It doesn’t matter what form it takes. To leave the world a little better than you found it. That’s the best a man can ever do.”
Paul Auster, Timbuktu

 

If you are anything like me, you’ve looked up to suddenly find Christmas bearing down on you, and you are nowhere near prepared. I guess you can take some solace in knowing that by this time next week, it will be all over but the crying. Trees will be taken down, ornaments put away, and wrapping filed trash cans will stand ready for the weekly trash pick up. In their place, fresh calendars with be created, exercise and diet resolutions made, along with promises to do better. Reflection and celebration are replaced by anticipation and commitment.

That’s kind of the nature of the holiday season. It comes in like a sugar rush and then leaves you with a crash that lasts through the long cold months of winter.

But let’s not rush things ahead. Instead, let’s enjoy the last fleeting days of the holiday season before we rush back to our important business of rushing around doing important things. Let us take some time for reflection before letting the anticipation take hold.

In an effort to recharge some depleted batteries, I’ve spent the last few days enjoying my recliner – catching up on missed television and books that have been set aside in hopes I would find the time to read. Unfortunately, this precious time has been interrupted on several instances by the forced viewing of a promo for the new reality show, “The Parent Test”.

According to a blurb on the ABC website:

ABC will debut its brand-new unscripted series “The Parent Test,” a provocative look at parenting, with a special premiere following the highly anticipated debut of “Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration” on THURSDAY, DEC. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. EST), and the next day on Hulu. Based on a hit Australian television format, “The Parent Test” will explore the many distinctively different parenting styles. From helicopter to child-led parents, 12 families are put under the microscope in the ultimate parenting stress test and will share learnings about emotional hot-button topics that compare the multiple styles of parenting. The families are put through various situations to foster conversations about how each unit operates. Host Ali Wentworth and parenting expert Dr. Adolph Brown moderate these impassioned conversations amongst parents who may have conflicting opinions on how to raise their families, but they all share the common goal of raising happy, healthy children.

So many triggers, and so little time. How long until we create a similar show for teachers? It seems ready-made for a spin-off featuring professional educators. I get a feeling watching this show will be similar to watching an education committee meeting at Legislative Plaza this coming session.

“Raising happy, healthy children” may be a shared goal of the featured families, but I doubt that there is a shared definition. I can’t help but wonder how one earns the title of “parenting expert”. Thirteen years into my practice and I feel more like a novice today than I did the day we brought the eldest home. Every day is a new challenge. Somedays we hit home runs, on others we strike out, but for the most part, we hit a lot of singles. I’m ok with that because the key is to never miss a turn at bat.

I wonder if for the “The Parent Test” participants will be permitted to bring their supporting cast. If this journey has taught me anything, it’s that the strength of a parent is reflected in the strength of their supporting cast. We as a family have been blessed by the support of coaches, band directors, teachers, and fellow parents, along with relatives. While I often feel like my shortcomings translate to the kids being raised by wolves, I’m confident in the pack they are surrounded with, and for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Anybody who thinks that a parent can be the sole voice and dominant influence on a child’s upbringing is either a fool or doesn’t have children. It’s no different for teaching. Show me a teacher of the year recipient, and I’ll show you a school with a quality administrator, a supportive front office, and an engaged staff that supports each other.

Yet we continue to think we can create policy by drafting legislation that can bypass all of that, and unscrew kids’ heads so knowledge can just be dumped in. After a decade of delving into policy and watching people fight over charter schools, curriculum, Wit and Wisdom, Teach for America, testing, and countless other subjects that do little but suck up all of the air in the room, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all just noise. A noise that serves to distract us from the one proven commodity.

Ultimately, what happens inside a school building comes down to one thing – the relationship between a student and a teacher. There are factors outside a classroom that impact a child’s chances of success – yes, Virginia poverty matters – but the only thing that can mitigate those factors is the student/teacher relationship. If the policy you are supporting doesn’t work to facilitate that relationship, you are just adding to the noise.

A strong teacher/student relationship translates to more engaged students, fewer attendance problems, and a reduction in discipline issues. If a student has a strong relationship with a teacher, they want to go to school and pay attention. Think about your own self, you are less likely to make a bad decision if you realize it’ll have a negative impact on someone who cares about you. But everybody wants to be the hero and portend that they have the magic bullet. Everybody wants to be Ben Affleck, but few want to be his brother Casey. The world needs more supporting actors and fewer stars.

Some of you are probably shaking your head right now and thinking, “Damn fool, you put way too much thought into a silly television show.”

Maybe, but maybe we should pay more attention to how the media props up dangerous propositions. In our hubris, we like to believe that it all comes down to parents and their input. Parents are a factor, as are peers, economic conditions, and other adults. Obviously, parents should have a primary seat at the table, but we set upon a dangerous pathway when we disregard all other factors.

Parenting is a lot like being in a band. You can be the greatest guitar player in the world, but without a drummer who can keep consistent time, a solid base player, and a singer who stays on the pitch, you can’t really bring a song fully to life. The magic of music lies in the song and not just the notes. The same holds true for raising children.

Let’s not lose the beauty of the song in the pursuit of the solo.

A Growing Chasm

Yahoo news reveals a new study that shows Americans are deeply divided about public education and the future direction of the country. While this isn’t surprising news, the depth of division should be cause for concern. Per the poll:

“… a mere 31% of them (Republicans) rate current K-12 education positively — a full 50 percentage points lower than the number who say the same about their own education. And just 35% give a good or excellent rating to “the opportunities that will be available to U.S. students today” — about half the number who describe the opportunities that were available to them in those terms.

In contrast, majorities of Democrats give positive ratings to today’s education (54%) and opportunities (54%). Less than four in 10 — 39% and 34%, respectively — rate them negatively.”

It seems like much of the division is a result of the perception of what is being taught in schools, along with the role of parents,

“For instance, two-thirds of Republicans (66%) identify “parents not having enough say over what is taught” as a “major problem”; just 26% of Democrats concur. Roughly the same number of Republicans are convinced that “the political viewpoint of what U.S. students are being taught in school today” is liberal (64%) rather than conservative (9%); Democrats, on the other hand, have no clear-cut view on the subject, with 19% saying it’s liberal, 22% saying it’s conservative, 29% saying it’s neither and 30% saying they’re unsure.”

No matter which side you are on, these results don’t bode well for either side. If we don’t figure out a way to breach the divide, our country’s education system will continue to fracture. It’s only a public school system if it serves the public – all of the public, not just the folks that align with our views.

QUICK HITS 

My children were blessed to attend Tusculum Elementary School. Under the leadership of Alison McMahan, the school has long fostered a tight-knit community while embracing its diversity. My kids have been gone for a few years, but as an article in the Tennessean demonstrates, that commitment to community remains intact. Teacher Laura Timbario-Quering organized a secret Santa giveaway for 150 first-graders, complete with an appearance from St. Nick himself and a special surprise for the 19 children in her class. It was a whirlwind of organizing for Timbario-Quering, who lost her father in September and decided around Thanksgiving that she was going to host the giveaway this year.

She ended up with about 900 gifts, almost six per student. There were Legos, Barbies, Hot Wheels, Roblox, skateboards, Play-Doh and so many more. It took less than 10 minutes for all 900 gifts to be opened. After presents were opened and other classes left the gym, her second graders remained, along with one final surprise. Pulling aside a curtain, she revealed new bikes for everyone in her class. Yep…the Tusculum way lives on.

Over at Main Street Nashville Vivian Williams has an illuminating piece on what Tennesseans may expect this coming legislative session. Politicians on both sides of the aisle continue to publicly commit to making adjustments in regard to the third-grade retention law. Rep Scott Cepicky R – Culleoka told Main Street Nashville, “We need to make sure that we’re getting to the point that if a student fails the third grade TCAP test, we’re shocked because we probably missed a learning disability,” Cepicky also expresses interest in revisiting the minimum age to begin kindergarten.

According to William’s piece, House Speaker Cameron Sexton R – Crossville says the legislature may expand measures of third-grade proficiency to include benchmark tests administered throughout the year and not just the TCAP test. I’d like to pass a law that states lawmakers must understand what benchmark testing is and how it should be appropriately used before making policy. A benchmark test is designed to guide instruction, not serve as an accountability tool.

Last week, local districts received word that their federal funds were being adjusted, This is a routine process, but in the past has happened during the first few weeks of school. Changes now, leave districts scrambling to make adjustments as they are about to enter the second semester. It’s kind of like when you pay your mortgage and the bank waits a while before taking the money out of your account. You forget the funds already spent, and two weeks later when they withdraw it, you are overdrawn. You should have known the money was gone, but they should have taken it in a timely fashion. Either way, it’s a case of the TDOE doing things too late, and communicating too little.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Over the weekend, US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona tweeted out what I’m sure he thought would be received as an uplifting message, Unfortunately, that phrase “aligns with industry demands” didn’t sit well with many.  His thoughts shouldn’t surprise anybody thought, the focus of schools long ago shifted from producing educated citizens to being a glorified trade school.

Over at the TNed Report, Andy Spear tells how Kentucky is killing voucher legislation even as Tennessee is looking to expand an existing program. Merry Christmas.

Interesting feedback was provided this week from a reader about Commissioner Schwinn. They read last week’s piece about Schwinn being MIA and report seeing the commissioner at least once a week driving around Green Hills, usually mid-day. For the record offices for the Tennessee Department of Education are located downtown, not in Green Hills. But at least shes back from DC.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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. Not begging, just saying, Christmas is right around the corner.



Categories: Education

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