Tag Archives: parent activist

Day 28: What we’re up against and a woman who stood up

Dear Readers,

I’m in awe of Wendy Davis. It may be slightly off topic to education, but not really if you consider it a civics lesson of the best kind. Her courage,  determination, and clarity are extraordinary and I’m compelled to mention her here. I draw inspiration from her bold act standing up for women’s rights.

upagainst
Up Against

This is what it feels like, what we’re up against in our fight against corporate ed reform policies and the new strategic plan in our town. It feels like David and Goliath. It feels like the little guy up against the BIG POWERS THAT BE. It feels like small voices not being heard. There are moments of victory and it feels like we’re making progress and are being heard and noticed. It feels like a mountain that can’t be climbed. It feels like a wall stands before us, impenetrable. It feels like maybe there’s a small crack in the wall.

It feels like parent power, teacher power, student power, must come together to withstand the waves crashing down on us; the impossible race to nowhere; the wall of obsfucation, greed and lies. The reformers’ endless resources, our lack thereof. It feels like the revolution needs a nap. It feels like we can’t stop. It feels like we have no choice. It feels insurmountable sometimes, impossible, it feels disturbing. It feels painful to watch and be in it and fight it. It makes me angry. It hurts we have to spend our energy this way.   It also feels energizing and uplifting to be taking action, real concrete action to change things. It is inspiring and hopeful to discuss education and what we want for our children with knowledgeable, kind, smart, funny, interesting, talented, unique parents, educators, and fellow residents. It’s a relief to have people I can speak with openly about all this.

I won’t ever stop fighting for my son. If we multiply that I WONT GIVE UP ATTITUDE by more parents, that will be the real sea change, the mountain to climb together, the wall to break through —-standing up  together.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 27: The day after and swimming in the pool with friends

Dear Readers,

Last night M cried before going to sleep. “Mommy, will I ever see my class friends again?”

I said, “Yes, you’ll see them. Most of them will be going to your school again in the fall. And friends are friends. We’ll see some of them in the summer. Plus, you have camp coming up, and you’ll make some new friends there.”

M wasn’t convinced. “But, Mommy, I want to know which of my friends will be at my camp. I want my old friends.”

We have these conversations every time there’s  a beginning or an ending. Before school starts, before it ends, before camp, and then by the time camp is over, he’s made new friends and doesn’t want to leave them.

I told him we were going to see one of his class friends the next day. He fell asleep. Finally.

I fell asleep right after him. I woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented. I didn’t know what day it was. After going back to bed and sleeping in (until around 8am!) I felt better. This graduating K business is exhausting. Endings usually are followed by a need to rest. But so are beginnings–all that excitement,  fear, and loss mixed in with  the unknown ahead. Until you know, you don’t know.

We took our cat to the vet today for her annual checkup. I need to call tomorrow morning to get the results of some tests the vet said she needed to run. Ringo has lost some weight. She’s 14 years old. Senior kitty. I spent today trying to not to think about it. I’ll know more when I call in the morning. But of course there’s dread. What ifs. I push it all out of my mind. The same way I reassure M that yes, he’ll  most likely see his friends again, I tell myself, everything will be OK. I can’t even allow the thoughts in. What’s the point in fretting too much when you don’t know and you can’t know until you know and until then, you just don’t know? Being comfortable with unknowns is difficult, and  one thing that works for me (sometimes) is to get very involved in the present moment. Literally, only be here now. It isn’t something I can always sustain, but when I do that, it helps.

It’s the same with friendships, beginnings, endings, transitions, comings and goings, all life’s separations. We need to tell ourselves that we’ll see our friends again. That our cat will be OK. Until we know differently, we have the hopes and wishes and that moves us forward. It’s as if we must choose to be happy about what is NOW, what is good right now, until we’re confronted with news that might shatter that. We’re  here now.

M was thrilled to invite his friend over to play in our little pool this afternoon. It was proof to him  that he’ll  still see his friends. A person needs concrete proof sometimes. Or maybe often, that what’s  real is real. Saying it is one thing, but a six year old wants to see it in action. Until then, it’s just words. When will we get there? And then we get there. When will my friend be here? And then they arrive. And they are here. Now, it is real. And the fun begins.

The afternoon passed with M and his friend playing and splashing and laughing. The other parent and I chatted in the shade and kept an eye on the kids. It was easy. Not all play dates are, but this one was. Every time we make a connection with someone, it feels good. Since it’s been almost three years since we moved here, we’re still new in town, but every new friendship makes this feel more like home, and makes the thought of what is happening here feel harder. Because know we know more people and care about more people. Nothing is hypothetical anymore. It is here. It is real. The friendships are real and what threatens us is also real.

And it all comes down to that. People. Friends. Our cat. Having fun and being silly whenever possible. So, I hope, I hope that the work I’m doing with our parent group here in town will have an effect and that we’ll  change things for the better.

I know that kids learn when they can  move around and DO things. So, I’m not worried about “summer learning loss.” Children need to play. They learn best through play. They need some unstructured time where not too much is planned and they can just BE.   I’m certain M will learn a lot this summer.  But mostly, I hope he has fun. I worry about the future but I’m also determined for us to have a happy summer. To not go into future worry about what might happen, but instead, to keep our eyes on the prize, to take every step we can to create change, and to allow ourselves to enjoy our lives as best we can while we fight hard for  our schools.

I’m glad M told me he was sad about missing his class, about it ending. And at the same time, he’s really looking forward to the next step. I don’t know if there’s a way to not feel this ambivalence. I’m not sure life is any clearer when you push one feeling aside for another. It’s  just one step, one splash, one friend at a time. And it’s quite possible to be completely thrilled one has finished something big,  and  at the same time, deeply sad that the something big is over, and you have indeed finished it and are moving on. Graduating.

Nemo said, “Keep swimming.” That’s what we’re gonna do. Keep swimming.

Thank you again and again to all of you for sticking with me through this crazy month, for posting,  liking, and encouraging me, and to the recent newest subscribers–welcome. Just a few more days of the WordCount Blogathon 2013, which will end on June 30.

Good night and good morning,

Elana

Day 24: WordCount Blogathon Haiku Day–We Stand Strong.

 

Berkeley state of mind

Dear Readers,

It’s Haiku theme day on the WordCount Blogathon 2013.

I’m loving writing a short piece!

This is my message to the people who are trying to steal my son’s
education. And it is also for everyone who is attempting to steal from all our children in public schools across America; And for all those who abuse and hurt children and students, parents, and teachers  with high stakes testing, over testing, standardized testing, and terrible reformer-deformer education practices devised by billionaires who are greedy and corrupt and who are enriching themselves and destroying people’s lives on the backs of our most neediest and vulnerable citizens. These people should be arrested for crimes against education,  children, and democracy. But in the meantime, here’s my Haiku.

You came for children.

We won’t let you take them down.

We stand strong in front.

Love and peace,

Elana

Day 14: …And so now I’m a parent activist

Dear Readers,

How do you know you’re a parent activist fighting the good fight for public education? Here’s a few signs in no particular order:

  • You begin and end every conversation with “The revolution.” Or “We have to fight this.”
  • People start telling you their public education horror stories. Often finishing with, “So, I moved my kid to private school and now he’s doing great.”  Or,  “Now we home school and she’s doing well.” Or, “I don’t know what we’re gonna do.”
  • You  quote Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King, Jr.  Gandhi, Einstein, or Fred Rogers, when people ask you for the time, directions, or to please pass the butter. Other favorite people to quote include Albert Einstein,  Carl Sagan, Jim Henson, or any character from Sesame Street.
  • When you start singing Phil Ochs songs — your child begs you to stop.
  • The laundry pile gets bigger every day and no matter how much laundry you do, the laundry wins. Because  sometimes you put it off  “for the cause” and the pile gets outta hand. You feel guilty. The family needs clean clothes. This is an ongoing struggle in and of itself. You still like clean clothes, too. Eventually, laundry gets done.
  • You remember when you were so happy to be done with preschool payments and were looking forward to your kid going to public school.  It seems like a long time ago, but it was only a year.
  • You have files on your computer with links you’ve collected  and can find them in seconds whenever you need them. High Stakes, Testing, Common Core, Duncan, Broad Academy….
  • When you meet a fellow parent who’s familiar with the public ed. system, you can speak in shorthand bullet points: NCLB (No Child Left Behind), RTTT (Race to the Top), Duncan Rhee, Christie, Zero Tolerance, boys, taxes, moved here for the schools. And you both know exactly what you’re talking about. You both shake your heads. You end with, “Can you believe this is happening? And “We fight on.” You hug each other.
  •  Your home office space has become a crowded pile of papers and piles labeled PRESS,  CORRESPONDENCE, EMAILS, REALLY GOOD ARTICLES, etc. Your floor is under there somewhere. Your cat likes the piles and sleeps on them to keep you company while you work.
  •  You end up at night lying in bed looking at the ceiling and not able to sleep because although you’re exhausted, you’ve had 5 cups of coffee and are wired,  you’re worried about your kid’s future education, and your head spins in a  million directions. So you can’t sleep.
  • You use words like “resistance” and “the movement” and “we have to do this” as you go through your day. You wonder how anyone could have ever protested and organized anything before social media existed. But many have, and often successfully. You think of Rosa Parks every day. This fuels you. You know you can do this and you know you’re on the right side of history.  You’re amazed by the power of people spreading the word online, at bus stops, at parties, in passing. Standing up. Sitting down.
  •  Some people look at you funny when you tell them what’s going on. Students, parents, and teachers thank you for doing what you’re doing. Others shrug, resigned, and say, “That’s how it is everywhere.” You tell them the revolution is in progress. You’re reassuring yourself, as much as them, that you believe you’ll  make a difference even if its hard to tell that right now.
  • You believe and know this to be true:

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”—Albert Einstein

Goodnight, and good dreams,

or good morning,

wherever you are.

Elana

Day 12: A Letter to the BOE

Dear Readers,

I wrote this letter to two board members. I’m calling them BOE 1 and BOE 2. The reply from BOE 2 is at the end.

Dear BOE Member 1 and BOE Member 2,

I’m a parent of a kindergarten student in Montclair.
You might recall that I spoke up against the Strategic Plan
at the BOE meeting on Monday, June 10, 2013.

I understand that Common Core is being implemented by the State
and that is a separate struggle for those of us who believe it should be taken down.

Montclair has an opportunity, as do many other districts, including our neighbor Bloomfield and in New Milford, NJ, to determine how we will use our creativity and imagination to keep the values of our school system intact—even with CCSS and as long as it is mandated and in place. We should not be adding one test or assessment above and beyond the minimum required to  comply with CCSS. And our district should eventually be in vocal opposition to CCSS, but that’s aside.

I feel our students, parents, citizens, educators, and community are losing precious time having to debate High Stakes testing, when there is overwhelming evidence that High Stakes testing doesn’t work and is a failed policy. Instead of being able to truly dig into and address the many issues our schools face, we’re stuck having to deal with additional High Stakes testing, added evaluations, added assessments that are not part of CCSS requirement and a plan that doesn’t reflect the real values of our community and are a set up for failure for our students, teachers, and principals. We must reject what isn’t acceptable to Montclair residents. We must remain vigilant so that all our voices are heard and represented. We should not be embracing this failed business model approach to education. We should be turning far away from it. It is shocking to me and many others that this plan has even gotten as far as it has.

We must use our collective imaginations and creativity to really think about how we can move forward and maintain our core values (and all that is good about our schools) and focus on the individual student, build on our strengths, and not lose what this town has offered in the past. Montclair has had an excellent reputation, has been a leader in desegregation, and has been recognized as a top magnet school district that  thrives on its diversity and strengths of its citizens who believe in democracy in our town and in our public schools. Do I believe there is much to change and improve upon? Of course, and there always will be room for improvement. However dismantling everything is counter productive and destructive. We’re not a “failing school district” in need of a complete overhaul of this type (which no district would want or need even if it was “failing”) and in such short a time, and at such cost. The measures being implemented here are drastic and a radical departure from our town’s core values. They do not address the many real issues, but instead they distract us away from what really needs to be done. They divert us away from even from having that conversation in a meaningful real community -input -way.

I offer up some alternatives and suggestions of where we can begin to have that conversation. The Strategic Plan as it is currently written is a disaster for our school district and will be harmful to our students, teachers, and entire community. It represents a gutting of core values, it won’t close the achievement gap, won’t inspire our teachers or students to have meaningful, authentic learning experiences that really could prepare our students for the world we live in now and in the foreseeable future. The Plan must be  rejected.

The following are links I urge you to read, watch, and consider ahead of the next BOE meeting on 6/17/2013.

http://bloomfield.patch.com/blog_posts/the-problems-with-high-stakes-testing-in-our-public-schools

http://www.northjersey.com/news/204865771_Bloomfield_BOE_wants_assessments_re-examined.html

http://atthechalkface.com/2013/05/23/wow-a-tremendous-media-report-about-high-stakes-testing/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/06/11/a-new-education-declaration-for-genuine-school-reform/

http://www.salon.com/2013/06/03/instead_of_a_war_on_teachers_how_about_one_on_poverty/

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-coming-revolution-in-public-education/275163/

http://criticalclassrooms.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/a-nuanced-look-at-the-no-excuses-slogan/

http://www.democraticeducation.org/

http://www.ayearatmissionhill.com/index.php

http://www.upworthy.com/elementary-class-solves-one-of-the-worlds-biggest-mysteries-in-10-minutes

http://esheninger.blogspot.com/2013/05/authentic-learning-cant-be-standardized.html

Thank you for your consideration and time.

I look forward to hearing from you and hope to continue this conversation about our school district at the next BOE meeting.

Sincerely,

SIGNED NAME

The auto reply I received from BOE Member 2:

“Thank you for taking the time to contact me.  Your comments are important and I wanted to confirm that I have received your message.

I also will review your message and refer it to the appropriate staff members for a response.  Should I have additional input or need information from you, I will be back in touch.    Again, thank you for your communications.”

That’s all folks…..Have a goodnight or morning!

Elana

PS. I found this online and don’t know who to credit it to.  I loved it and it helped me today during a moment of —-ARGH I can’t take it anymore —-and so I’ll try to find out who made this and will credit them in an update when I do. Meanwhile, if you made this and you see this post, please tell me who you are and I’ll credit and link asap. Thank you!

rightandwrong

Day 11: A sea change, the revolution, and speaking up for our children

Dear Readers,

I believe I’ve earned my first rabble rouser stripes.  At yesterday’s BOE meeting where we’re now fighting a district takeover by a Broad Academy Super and all the powers that are behind her, I and a few other parents spoke up. We didn’t have prepared remarks, as we wanted to see how the meeting would unfold. We had to wing it.

Sitting there listening to the awfulness such as: how its going to be and how difficult but it’s a sea change and we all have to work hard and pendulums will swing and freight trains are coming fast and  “this is an open dialogue” and “we want the community to be involved” and “its all for the children” and “rigor” and “achievement”—– blah, blah, blah. We sat there and listened and then decided we would speak up and whatever we said would have to be good enough.

We spoke passionately and from our hearts. I mentioned Albany, NY and Nikhil Goyal and told them, among many other things, that they need to go read his speech and that the Revolution was coming. I called for a BOE resolution against High Stakes testing. I questioned the new recent student (Tripod) surveys done and misuse of funds and waste of money that caused, instead of hiring more needed teachers or useful resources for our classrooms, which are short staffed and under funded. Plus a whole bunch more. I can hardly remember what I said.

BOEmeet2

We were cut off, one by one. Our comments and questions were met with, “Motion to adjourn.” Boy, did they want out!

The meeting was taped. Local press was there. One didn’t mention parent dissent at all (ah, mainstream media). One gave a brief mention and I was quoted. I said the word REVOLUTION.

I was shaking and my heart was pounding as I spoke. I was all over the place, not polished, completely going with my gut. I told them this plan isn’t good enough for my child or this town. I stood up for my son and said he’d be entering 1st grade next year and that I won’t allow him to be tested or “assessed.”

After, and still shaking, I asked my fellow rabble-rouser parent friends, “Was that awful? OMG, what did I say? Did I sound crazy?” We had a good laugh at ourselves. My friend spoke eloquently and well and asked excellent questions that were not answered.

Bottom line, we created a stir and shook them up. They were all sporting deer in headlights looks and had a long huddle afterwards whispering and shaking heads. We had our own huddle.

I feel like everything I’ve ever done, ever learned, who I am, what I believe and know is coming to bear in this struggle. It’s not about me, but I need to use everything that I can that is within me for this struggle. One by one we’ll use our strengths to fight back.

I was crying the other day. I felt so discouraged and hopeless and wondering if we will ever make a difference. What we’re up against, all that. But justice is on our side and I won’t stop. There are many of us and we’re helping each other.

After the BOE meeting we learned that the students have organized and created their own movement (and we’d started talking with some of them only a week ago when we met elsewhere and so being able to help our students feels really good and is why we are doing this in the first place). They thanked us for leading the way and our page, which they used as a resource.

While I made my drawing,  M made this:

ourfamilybyM

We’re now cross promoting and helping each other (parents  group and students group). But this isn’t about thanks or who did what —it is an ever expanding circle of people who are fed up and are not going to take it anymore finally coming together for a common goal. We, the people, hear us roar.

I know this is going to be a long fight. So be it.

Love and peace,

Elana