August To June; Bringing Life to Palm Beach Schools


copyright © 2011 Betsy L. Angert.  Empathy And Education; BeThink or

As any Mom or Dad might do on Parent Teacher Conference Day, Amy Valens, the Educator featured in the documentary film August To June, traveled from “classroom to classroom.”  This journey was not a conventional one. Indeed, Amy did not attend a series of Parent Teacher Conferences.  What she did was appear at Palm Beach screenings of her documentary.  The film follows twenty-six [26] third and fourth graders who studied with Amy in her last year of teaching.  The public school open classroom “Brings Life” to education.

After the movie was viewed, Ms Valens and the audiences engaged in conversations. They discussed what they saw and how it might relate to a broader dialogue.  The subjects of Education Reform, Classroom Standards, Teacher Quality, Merit Pay, Student-Rewards for Success, Parent Involvement, and Testing are but a few topics prominent in our national debate.  While the assemblies of viewers varied widely, the results were the same.  Every child, every class, all Teachers, and each parent, tells a unique tale.  Regardless of the individual or group, we see the world, or in this case the film, through our own lens.

Having traveled the country with the movie, in the last ten months, meeting with audiences from every walk of life, Amy had already come to understand that each person has their own perspective.  Each place visited offers unexpected opportunities. The size of the crowd does not give a hint of what will be within.  Nor does the theme of a Conference, such as Save Our Schools or Coalition for Essential Schools, provide insight into what will occur.  The makeup of a community affords no clues.  As any Mother, [Teacher, Filmmaker] Valens experiences as we all do.  When we enter a room, or a situation, when we encounter a child or a school full of students we cannot predict what will come.

Will the experience be pretty? Will it be rich? I share what it appeared to be, at least what appeared to be true for me.

Having attended the one abridged showing, the two full screenings, each of which was followed by a discussion, and having the heard the radio interview, I recognized the theme; behind every door adventure awaits. There are lessons to be learned.  Let us take a look.

Amy’s recent tour began, not in a school, but remotely.  From a National Public Radio studio in Miami, the Host of Topical Currents. Joseph Cooper introduced his guests, Amy and Tom Valens.  The Broadcaster, heard on WLRN, might have been as an Instructor, one who is only remotely familiar with a family.  A physical distance may have played a part in the dynamic.  Amy was a County away, in Palm Beach, Florida.  Only a telephone line connected the two.  Filmmaker Tom Valens sat in his modest bungalow workplace, in the hills of Forest Knolls, California.  Throughout this meeting Mister Cooper asked Amy and Tom Valens questions. He listened for answers.  Then, the Broadcaster extrapolated.  

He pronounced what he believed might be true for the Marin County residents. The radio Journalist mused; the population is not as others.  The theory espoused; the proximity to Silicon Valley and George Lucas Studios must explain the supposed anomaly seen in August To June.  The thought expressed, was the community is unique. Indeed, nothing could be farther from the reality that exists within Amy Valens’ valley.

As is stated in the film, in this open classroom, children come from homes of median and meager means. Many if not most have experienced divorce. Several have been separated from their parents.  The world of drugs, and other abuses, is not unknown to these young ones.  The wealth and wonder that might be seen in the more opulent sphere of the technologically elite, is not real to those who reside in Amy’s classroom.  Nonetheless, for Joseph Cooper, as is true for countless who cannot imagine the educational process that unfolds before their eyes, “Yes, but . . .” lives large.  Thankfully, “Yes; Exactly” and “Yes, well maybe” also thrive.

“Our graduates have gone on to become artists, scientists, house painters, computer programmers helicopter pilots, chefs, ceramists, carpenters, tile setters, lawyers, teachers, politicians, ecologists, gardeners, musicians, security guards, engineers, viticulturists, film makers photographers, actors, dancers, salespeople, drivers, paraprofessionals, airplane attendants, animators, body workers, park rangers, camp counselors, waiters, sculptors, writers, journalists, linguists, small business people, singers, social workers, government workers, brokers, students, furniture makers, set designers, jewelers, composers, paramedics, firefighters, jugglers, loving parents, active community members and so much more.” They are you and me.

Skepticism was voiced several more times throughout the weekend.  People wanted to believe that Amy Valens was the Miracle Worker, or that the dynamics within her small District was the reason an impossible dream came true.  Several stated, only in a rural region or in an open classroom, such as exists in San Geronimo might parents be involved. The thought was, to opt-out of high-stakes tests is a fantasy not permitted in most States.  A few mused Amy could only practice as she does with elementary school age children.  Fortunately, the same sort of contradictory reasoning was heard but once in the next get-together.

I spoke to it then and again in other meetings. Personally, I know what cynics wish to believe is not so.  As someone whose teaching style differs greatly from that of Amy Valens, and as a person who taught solely in urban and suburban standardized systems, I trust much can be done within the common constraints.  My pedagogy mirrors what is seen in August To June.  For Teacher Valens, for me, and for most in the many Palm Beach audiences, the Whole Child concept speaks to our every sensibility.  What parent, Teacher, or community does not believe schools should focus on developing students who are academically proficient, physically and emotionally healthy, respectful, responsible, and caring? Since ancient Greek and Roman times, nearly everyone, if not all do.

Surely, the people assembled at the first screening of the weekend, at the Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth did.  This gathering may best represent what occurred, endlessly, during Amy’s late October, early November, Palm Beach travels.   From the discussion, it quickly became apparent, attendees embraced the philosophy and principles presented in the documentary without exception.  While rationalizations were rare, the human tendency to relate through our own life experiences was wonderfully evident.

A College Professor saw many correlations to his daily reality. He discovered big public policy issues in regards to testing, privatization, Teacher merit pay, an Instructors’ qualifications, performance, and due process, are discussed in August To June.  The subject of school quality is also explored in the film, just as it is in Faculty meetings and on the floor of Congress.

Another individual, a former Nurse, related to the relevant questions the film raises. This person understood the significance of working with the Whole Child, the whole person, be he or she a pupil or a patient.  The Health Care practitioner mentioned her distress for loss of logic in today’s society. Humans, in every profession, have been reduced to numbers.

Tests in medicine, just as in our schools, are no longer diagnostic tools.  Today, examination scores define a supposed permanent condition rather than identify a situation [or a student] in transition.  Assessments are given as a matter of course. Indeed, these are mandated in traditional medical facilities and in our schools.  Privatization is prominent. Doctors do not make house calls and Teachers, too often, never meet the families . . . that is, in schools not like Amy’s.

With privatization comes reward and punishment.  The last person to speak that evening, addressed this.  A Scholar who sat among us, mentioned his love of teaching and how, as a Social Science Educator, he was told not to engage his students.  History, Administrators said, is not an essential part of the curriculum. After all, it does not appear on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  [The inference being, nothing else matters.] Nonetheless, the Teacher thought it was important to teach.

Having done his job well, Mister M’s students excelled on the high-stakes State exam.  The mentor was rewarded with praise and a pink slip.  He was told his work was excellent.  However, with the term at an end, the school no longer needed to fill a history position.  Months later, an unexpected check arrived in the mailbox at Mister M’s home.  It seems that schools are financially rewarded, as are teachers within the school if the students successfully “achieve.”

Might Mister M’s instruction spurred greater interest in other areas.  Did the methods he employed inspire students to study well.  Could his class or the energy that was born be transferred into an overall interest in academics?  The Palm Beach County Teacher did not know.

Regardless, August To June Educator Amy Valens saw and felt the palpable sense of surprise from others in the room.  She was astounded but not amazed. Amy knew.  She heard many a story this year.  All were identical, and at the same time unique.  Consistently, as Ms Valens treks around the country she discovers that people turn to her for guidance and acumen, and Amy turns to them.  “Yes, but” and “Yes! Exactly,” as well as the reflective “Yes, maybe” are instructive and illustrate what occurs in Parent Teacher Conferences.

I began and embraced a mission in October 2010. My hope was the film August To June and featured Teacher, Amy Valens might help expand the education conversation in South Florida.  This dream has borne fruit.  I have faith that soon, we will further the discussion. Forums are in our future.  We will “Bring Life to School” every August To June in Palm Beach County.

I, Author/Educator, Betsy L. Angert of Empathy And Education, am grateful.  I offer Special Thanks to others who worked to make this tour truly meaningful …With Special Thanks to others who helped make this tour truly meaningful.  Guest Speaker, Author, Educator, esteemed Marion Brady, the Founder-Director of Sunflower Creative Arts, Susan Caruso, Co-Founder of Parents Across America, Rita Solnet.

References and Resources . . .


Progressives. Meek.Greene. Strangers in a Strange Place

Campaign ’10: Meek v Greene [1st Debate Overview]

copyright © 2010 Betsy L. Angert.

More than a month has passed, actually now it has been two.  In the third week of June, I heard the song in my head for the first time. With each day that passes the volume increases.  Friends, family, and familiars were privy to what has been a curiosity for me. Still haunted by what I know needs to be shared farther and wider, today I tell you my tale.  The story begins with two Florida Democrats.  Each aspires to fill the one open United States Senate seat.  The date; June 22, 2010.  I was amongst those invited to attend the initial Meek Greene debate.. The place?  The Palm Beach Post headquarters.   The time? Midday.  The reality realized and the reason my mind marinated in the melody titled It’s About Time. Today, Democrats, Progressives are not as they were.

I knew this was true and have for quite some time.  Still, never was this veracity as stark as it appeared to me on that day.   Oh yes.  Daily, none of us escapes what fills the airwaves.  We have heard the newer definitions and seen greater divisions within the Party; indeed, the population, for years.  During election seasons yours and my mailbox burst with messages, all of which signal the metamorphosis.   Often, in most every campaign, “It is about time, about space, and about two men [or women] in the strangest place.”  The difference for me, is blatancy.

A close comparison, face-to-face with the candidates, the two campaigns, persons in the crowd, and the strange circumstances that surround each of these, magnified what is evident everyday.  Amongst the audience alone, there were Democratic loyalists, persons with a strong  commitment to the Party.  Independents, people from the Press, there only to cover a story took their chairs.  Present were former Republicans, individuals who did not identify their preference, and those truly enamored with a billionaire’s earnings.  Then, there were a few such as me.  I value the common good, government of, by, and for all people.  The commonweal, I believe, is the basis for all that ensures a quality life, liberty and the possible pursuit of happiness.  We were a somewhat skewed sampling of the electorate. Within the Senatorial candidates and campaigns one could see aspects of any or all of us.

Their beliefs, background, and circumstances that brought each challenger to this scene were as dissimilar as the makeup of the spectators.  Jeff Greene led a lavish life of luxury and indulgence.  Even in the hard times, he managed to attend all the best schools and work in exclusive environs.  

Kendrick Meek has a skeleton in his closet, or at least that is how Mister Greene framed the phenomenon.  That aside, Senatorial hopeful Meek has a far more humble background.  He is and has always been an average American, amongst the working class.  Despite his less than glamorous childhood; he has achieved. Ultimately, Mister Meek worked his way into the Halls of Congress.  Currently, he serves Floridians in the United States House of Representatives.    Separately and together the two personify the strangeness of the times we live in and the dilemma that has become Democratic politics.

In 2010, Democrats are a divided bunch.  Perhaps, they always were.  Near a century ago, Will Rogers asserted, “I do not belong to an organized political Party.  I am a Democrat.”  At present, a far Left fringe and followers of a more conservative liberal agenda are self-identified Progressives.   As one author observed, Beware of the Progressive Democrat.  Helen Redmond cautions against a “Party of Lemmings.”  One might wonder . . .

What Do Progressives Believe?

When I was younger, I trusted that Democrats believed in social equality.  Those who identified themselves as advocates for democracy, a principle that speaks to government of, by, and for the people, marked off the box on their voter registration forms that denotes, “Democrat.”  However, slowly, over the decades, a silent transition occurred.  

Democrats began to define themselves as “Progressives,” or at least many did.  Unlike a score ago, when a large body of research revealed “that individuals were frequently unable to correctly identify their ideology, unlikely to express an ideologically constrained set of political values, and unable to consistently use ideology to inform their political preferences in a coherent way,” today individual survey respondents  report a preference for  an ideology that does not fit neatly into the conventional  liberal or conservative categories.  

Polarization has come to define political elites and the common people. People presume that labels are legitimate.  The latest examination of the electorate exposes what is evident through Jeff Greene and Kendrick Meek.

Let the Debate Begin. Pundits, Press, the Public Define Progressive Positions

The opening scene began with little fanfare.  The dynamic duo, or applicants for the United States Senate seat, walked onto what sufficed for a stage, and spoke to citizen concerns.

Democratic Party neophyte, frequently featured CNBC guest speaker, The Man Who Shorted the Subprime Market, also known as a billionaire, Jeff Greene espoused his expertise.  Next to him, and there to promote his past performance, as well, was United States Congressman Kendrick Meek.  

Years earlier, the specifics of what each said, would not have been defined as democratic.  Today, we see this novel truth daily. Countless Democrats, moderates, conservatives, and liberal, call their positions Progressive. Studies seem to support  the divergence that has occurred.  For me, the hour and one half encapsulated what had occurred over time and in the vast space we classify as America.

The candidates posited their “Progressive” practices.  Humanitarian travels were amongst Greene’s treasure trove.  A trip to an island Republic, certainly would calm the United States, Cuban conflict. Further investigation revealed that Cuban American affairs were not Mister Greene’s priority.  Personal purchases played a primary role in what was professed to be a charitable  mission.  

Kendrick Meek humbly offered his own openhanded gestures. He unassumingly touched on his work in Haiti.  The Congressman never mentioned the banner headline; Haiti tragedy puts Kendrick Meek in spotlight,  his record. or the ample documentation to support his claims.  

Congressman Meek has often been characterized as an actual Progressive by numerous reputable and respected organizations.  On many themes the Representative speaks and votes  as a more liberal person might.  However, whether or not Mister Meek is an authentic Progressive, well, that depends on who you ask and what actions you assess.

For persons who favor a fuller, more robust reform than we have seen enacted, Kendrick Meek can be quite regressive and Progressive. Thus, the dilemma for persons in the audience such as me.  I felt  and feel immersed in a strange time, at a strange place,  almost as though I were in outer space.

The only clear consensus; corruption.  Weeks before the big debate, billionaire Greene stressed what average Americans might think questionable, regardless of a Party affiliation.  Jeff Greene accused Kendrick Meek. and the Congressman’s Mom of being in the pocket of an arraigned developer.  Mister Meek responded then, and in this more public forum.  Meek maintained his innocence and addressed his association.  Jobs and development for Liberty City residents was the reason Representative Meek had any relationship with the local businessman.  

Surely a Progressive or a Democrat would declare that rationale just. Yet, what of Congressman Meek’s vote on House Resolution 310?  “It hands over  public lands to an organization that seeks to develop them for its own private uses.”

What might spur a shopping spree or justify a jaunt to Cuba with no visible altruistic intent?  Well, only Jeff Greene knows for sure and he has yet to suggest what might help a Progressive believe he had the people’s best interest at heart.  Evidence for such a claim cannot be easily unearthed.  Nonetheless, the candidates Campaign Manager, in a telephone conversation, assured me that aspirant Greene is absolutely a Progressive.

Emblematic of Elections and Electorate

During the formal appearance, and earlier in interviews held with the Editors, Jeff Greene and Kendrick Meek outlined their stance on the issues.  Jeff Greene articulated his values and addressed his financial worth as well.  People’s interest was obviously peaked.  After all, money in America is not only a source of pride, as it is for the billionaire businessman; it is also scorned.  Dependent on your principles or principal a person could be impressed or disgusted by what they think decadence.  

Mister Greene was asked why he thinks himself the more priceless aspirant.  His response evoked thoughts for why he may not be.  Default swaps loomed large in this discussion.  Lead Journalists felt no need to focus on the topic when they addressed Congressman Meek. Issues were the central theme.

Environmental concerns, Mister Meek explained, was an issue that helped demonstrate his consistency.  His record on Education, Health Care, the Economy, and Veterans Affairs, Meek said helped to illustrate that he was a worker.  He has been and would be  there for the people.  In the Meek interview, credit default swaps were not the issue. The financial faultfinding the Editors found in regards to Congressman Meek was his action on overcrowded classrooms.  

Mister Meek believes that Legislators must fund schools as the class-size amendment states.  The candidate cries out in favor of a reasonable student-teacher ratio.  On this subject, Kendrick Meek does exemplify what I think is a Progressive point of view.  

However, only days before the debate Alex Sink, another supposed “Progressive” candidate, and I believe a life long Democrat who seeks the Governor’s seat, stated that she disagrees with Kendrick Meek on this issue.  Jeff Greene appears to stand silently on the subject, perhaps, in the corner of an overcrowded classroom. In this strange time, it would seem there is no safe place.  There are only strange locales where the song plays as background music.  Might we consider many a recent political and philosophical campaign in this country?

Hillary Clinton recently described a progressive as “someone who believes strongly in individual rights and freedoms, who believes that we are better as a society when we’re working together,” (CNN/You Tube Debate). The description offered by Center for American Progress is more precise. Their website explains, “As progressives we believe that America should be a country of boundless opportunity-where all people can better themselves through education, hard work, and the freedom to pursue their dreams. We believe this will only be achieved with an open and effective government that champions the common good over narrow self-interest, harnesses the strength of our diversity, and secures the rights and safety of its people.”

A different perspective is offered by the monthly magazine The Progressive which explains that since 1948 it has “steadfastly stood against militarism, the concentration of power in corporate hands, and the disenfranchisement of the citizenry.

While people and organizations might posture and proclaim an allegiance, what is perchance more real is The Role of Reputations.  Public opinion can be manipulated.  What the Press presents and persons choose to believe can build a movement.  Frequently, voters cast a ballot for or against an aspirant based solely on a sound bite,  Personal jabs can count more than a candidate’s record.

The Role of Reputation

Every person I spoke with before the two men entered the room had an impression of who the individuals might be. The records paved the way; nevertheless, in National, state, or local campaigns the Party, and or person who sets the agenda  will affect electoral outcomes.

Framing and funds to move the message mean more than a “fact” check.  Reputation rules.  A political hopeful will push possible hot buttons, posture, and pay for Press that promotes his or her position.  Personal attacks are preferable, perhaps more so today in a social media saturated society.  On the day of the debate as occurs daily on radio, television, blogs, and periodicals, Progressive politics are not the paramount issue.  Whether he [or she] was a newcomer to the Party or a ” career politician” matters more.

Alliances and allegiances also count.  When a candidate says they support the President and his policies this can work for or against him [or her].  Progressives might pounce, “panderer,” “Party pleaser,” or a person unwilling to really risk reform. On this single subject devoted Democrats have lost what would be their base.

War and Peace. Fund the Fight. Commit to End the Combat.

Congressman Meek supports global tranquility and a pay-as-you-go system.  Each could be considered a Progressive value.  However, in practice, the fiscally aware United States Representative, voted to fund further combat on credit.

Representative Meek recognizes and states, were we to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan we, as a nation, would greatly reduce our expenses.  “The war was a reason for chest beating in many cases and saying we need to continue to fight in Iraq, not looking at the price tag,” Meek said. “When it comes down to the war, I think we have to have enough discipline to say when.”  Then, days later, just as he had on other occasions, Congressman Meek voted to continue the flow of cash for endless war.

Strange as the contrast between Representative Meek’s rhetoric, voting record, might be, these are nothing in comparison to the silence heard from the Greene campaign. When asked of the war in Afghanistan, Jeff Greene endorsed an eternal devotion to Israel.  (Meek agreed.)  Mister Greene assured the audience, military engagements in the Middle East would not diminish his dedication.

Jeff Greene (and Kendrick Meek) avowed loyalty to war and peace as though the two divergent possibilities could be one.  The Progressive populace, on the other hand, is more definitive.


Self-identified progressives appear to have a strong commitment to diplomacy in international relations and are predisposed to think of immigrants in a positive light. Zogby reports that 77% of progressives say that it is not America’s job to promote its values around the world and 97% think that our efforts in the war on terror should focus on reducing anti-American sentiment rather than on military force. . .

Activist progressives identified by Pew are even more likely to be dovish in their approach to military affairs than liberals. For instance, 96% of activist progressives think that diplomacy is the best way to ensure peace compared to 76% of liberals. About 78% of activist progressives believe that the United States should take its allies’ interests into account even if it means making compromises with them and 93% agreed that it is acceptable to refuse to fight in a war one believes to be morally wrong..

Then there is the issue of tax and spend.  Did the candidates think it wise to allocate Federal funds to forward America’s future?  As a United States Senator, would Mister Meek or Mister Greene vote to invest even more money in a Military Industrial Complex?  Would either work to endow the infrastructure, education, environmental research, or expand the development of renewable fuels? Perhaps the answer is revealed in personal realities.  Historically, how have Kendrick Meek and Jeff Greene handled their own taxes? Obfuscation and again the role of reputation reign in the Greene rhetoric .  Representative Meek returns to his theme, the record.

Tax and Spend

Traditionally, a “Progressive” tax structure is one that charges those with higher incomes.  This is, usually, a prospect that Democrats endorse.  As one would expect, Florida Democrat and candidate for the United States Senate, Kendrick Meek supports such a system.  On this issue, Citizens for Tax Justice with an established thirty-year mission of “working for a fair and sustainable tax system” rated Congressman Meek’s record 100% in support of a Progressive tax.  Citizens for Tax Justice and Congressman Meek advocate for  “Taxation that minimizes distortion of economic markets,” CTJ and Kendrick Meek also think it necessary to “Require the wealthy to pay their fair share.”

Neither are philosophies reformed Reagan Republican Greene, from his actions, would favor.  The fiscally very flush candidate nay his wife, think such an agenda serves them well.  When asked Will Jeff Greene release his tax returns? they exclaimed in chorus, “Hell no!”

Ah; the paradox. For Democrats, and or Progressives this is truly a strange time, a strange place and these two men are in the strangest place, or they are but a reflection of a novel reality.  For me, personally, favoritism for other than the greater good is extraordinary.  In a country where all men are believed to be equal I struggle to understand.  Thus, as I cast my ballot for the candidate that offers a chance at meaningful reforms, Congressman Meek, I could not help but think of America and the newly adopted ballad; Look What They’ve Done to My Song.

Reformers and References . . .