August To June; Bringing Life to Palm Beach Schools



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

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 . . .

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Primary Teachers and Their Pedagogy



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

I offer homage to a Teacher whose pedagogy touched me in a manner invisible to me until this moment.  For scores, I understood what a gift he was to me.  His open and caring ways were as I craved.  However, I had never imagined that this man’s schooling style made the difference in my life.  Today, I invite each of us to look beyond the boundaries or the labels.

Often in life we are asked to reflect; who was or were your most profound Teachers.  I shared my stories in a missive or more.  Those Who Can Teach; Life Lessons Learned, Those Who Can Teach; Transformative Teachers, and Why I Write and Write, Then Write Again.  There are myriad sorts of Teachers.  A few are true treasures.  These special souls take a personal interest in us as individuals.  Students are seen as whole beings, not solely a score, or a name to be identified as a number.  Without these rare Teachers we would not soar.

Innumerable Scholars seek to inform rather than interact in a way that inspires.  Academicians, an abundance of these, think to fill a brain full of facts, formulas, and figures, is to teach.  I wonder; do these Educators believe they learn from their students?  I cannot know with certainty. For myriad mentors, their labor is not born out of love, but out of need . . . the need to train students for a test.

Gurus, a few, will sacrifice personal standards.  The belief that it is best to do as was done to them is deep.  Countless more desire to do as expected.  To save oneself, retain face or employment becomes a personal priority.  Few dare to test the system, rock the boat, or retreat from the status quo.  Possibly, less think to do what is different, even if the untried is the truest pinnacle of pedagogy.  A Mom, Dad, Grandparent, or Guardian, can be as classroom Teachers are, entrenched in established traditions.

This has an effect on us all, for some say their Primary Teacher touched them as no other did.  This sage is frequently thought of as Mom or Dad.  A mother or father, or each, teach us how to be and who we might be.  For the fortunate, this relationship is a close one.  Physical proximity usually allows for an experience that envelops everyone involved.  However, there are those such as I who learn from a distance.  It might be, as it was for me, that a corporeal togetherness did not exist, or did so only from an emotional distance.

Absence can make the heart grow fonder.  Often, we want love from the person who is not with us, be it in our life, in our home, or in a heart, his or hers. For others, this feeling is far from reasonable.  People ponder; why would I wish to be with someone who rejects me, abandons me, or is emotionally absent.  Regardless of what might be for you, I suspect that you, as I, feel the person or persons who taught you most were your caregivers.

Some Moms and Dads are superior Teachers; several are less than lovely role models.  Still, even the worse Instructor and instruction teaches.  Each Educator has or had, their own “teaching style.”  Only today did I intellectually evaluate the pedagogies of parents.  Indeed, I wonder if I would have ever thought to do so had it not been for my very, very, very, young 93-years of age cousin and his reflective ways.  Alexander asked of my Dads.  Yes, there were two.

My Daddy, Logan, passed from his Earthly existence only weeks ago.  My natural father, not the same person, departed from the planet decades earlier.  In truth, “Michael,” the man whose genetic makeup made my life possible, fled from my sphere before I was born.  While we shared a house for more than eight years, we were not truly part of each other’s life.  Our experiences, and the individual present at my conception, were profound Professors.  Each taught me tons.  Nevertheless, I feel secure in saying, Daddy taught me more.

My Dad gave me life. He breathed oxygen into my lungs.  Daddy filled my world and taught me the ways in which I might choose to move through time and space.  Logan provided the lessons that became my being.  Forever, I acknowledged this, just not in the way I do today.

Alexander, the reflective truth-seeker that he is, has thought a lot about my Dad in recent days.  While the two knew each other, they have not seen each other in more than two score.  Alex has always felt my Dad hurt my Mom.  Divorce does damage or at least it felt that way to my relative when he first spoke to my Mom immediately after the event that ended my parents’ marriage.  While Mommy believed that the split brought her the best of what was to be her life, Alexander never did.

My cousin admits that, slowly, he has come to appreciate Daddy through our relationship, Alexander’s and mine.  Alexander is an exemplary learner.  As every Teacher has quoted at one time or another, “To teach is to learn twice,” ~ Joseph Joubert.

I speak of Daddy often.  He is a Scholar, a sage, a sensational Instructor.  I recall when he helped me with a fifth grade science project.  Together, Daddy and I built a light.  We cut the wood, stained and lacquered the lumber, created, cut, and snipped the wiring, and voilà, the lamp lit.

Logan also taught me to look, perhaps:  look deeply into the fullness of an idea, a supposed fact, or an idea.  Nothing for Daddy [and for me] is ever “just that simple.”   When I was a child, my Dad would invite me to read the newspaper.  H would peruse one section and offered me another.  I am unsure whether he had an influence on the veracity that comics were of no interest to me.  Nonetheless, I am aware that cartoons were not entertaining for me.  News was my delight.

Logan would hand the front pages to me and the two of us would read our respective sections silently.  When we were ready to switch, Daddy would ask me, “What did you read?”  I would tell him.  Topics were ticked off one-by-one.  Then, Logan would look at me with his piercing eyes and inquire further.  “What did you think?”  He might begin with one story and then probe in depth dependent on my response.  The questions were open-ended.  If I was unsure or did not know an answer, my Dad would suggest that perchance, I missed a portion of the narrative.

He offered that I re-read, or research.  Funny. Daddy never made the request in a way that demanded I do as he thought wise.  Logan’s own excitement in the possibility that the two of us might learn together was a source of excitement for me.  Indeed, I recall the occasions well. I would pose a question to Daddy.  He  would grin, from ear to ear, and then without the least bit of embarrassment say, “I do not know.  Let us look for that answer together.”

With boundless energy, I or we would walk to the books that were our family library.  Oh, think not visions of grandeur.  After my Mom’s divorce from the “sperm donor,” Michael, we were extremely poor.  Daddy was a student in Post-Graduate school at that time. He supported us with the paltry funds secured from a fellowship.  Mommy was not employed in a manner that brought in income.  As is titled today, my Mom was a “Domestic Engineer.”

I would search and search, share the words and wisdom I found.  Then, Daddy might wonder aloud again and thus, I or we were off again.  Just as frequently, Logan would smile.  Our discussion might take us to another topic, or he would tell me about the tales he read.  Once we were ready, we exchanged pages and perused quietly again and again.

There are so many stories to tell, and there always have been.  Over the years, Daddy was still my Dad to me.  We chatted consistently.  Even when we lived States away, we were in touch.  He is, at present, as well.  Even in what most call “death” Daddy lives large in my mortal fiber.  Hours ago, my mentor taught me another lesson.

Alexander asked.  Engaged in a conversation in regards to the roles of men and women, the conventions and the truth, which bears no resemblance to traditional views. Alex spoke of the woman in his life.  Maria is techno-savvy.  At 93, she cannot get enough computer-time.  Facebook is her friend.  She is abundantly connected, as am I. Maria, my cousin’s companion of six plus decades, can fix most any object.  She is skilled manually.  I too can and do much that women are not thought to do.  The men in our lives . . . well some can and many cannot.

Thus, my cousin who knew my natural father far better than he does Daddy asked. “Did I learn to be as I am from Logan?”  I have long known this was true.  However, only this morning did I realize the variance in pedagogy.  Michael, the little he taught, offered exercises in memorization.  Daddy adopted a more eclectic style.  Critical thought, creativity, curiosity were the “subjects” my Dad thought vital.  The curriculum Daddy embraced was not rote; nor was it rigid.

All lessons were unrestricted, undefined; mostly instruction and instructions were not limited by parental parameters.  Logan never told me what to think, say, do, feel, or be.  With him, I was free.  My Dad freed me to learn and develop a love of learning.   Imagine that!?

My primary Teacher, was not one I often thought of as a favorite.  My third-grade Teacher, Mrs Kleefield was great!  I trust she is even still.  Yet, Mrs Kleefield and all she taught me cannot begin to compare with the scads Logan H. Angert bestowed upon my brain and being.  Doctors Murdock, Hartung, Lathrop, and . . . while also exceedingly profound in my life, these Professors are not the Teacher Daddy was for me.

Oh, there are sooo many superior sages who have touched me.  Some with similar styles to that of my Dad.  Still . . . as cousin Alexander articulates, “More is caught than taught.

Logan Angert, Daddy, you cast pearls of wisdom to the wind.  Your manner said to me you expected nothing from me in return.  Free to chose as I might, I cheerfully gathered the clusters as they fell. Your energy empowered me to be curious, to think critically, and to form my own foundations and future. I thank you.

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Save Our Schools; Let Us Never Forget the Mission, March, and Movement



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

Near a month has passed since the Save Our Schools storm swept through Washington District of Columbia.  As with all squalls the effects of such an event linger long after the winds die down.  A physical space cleaned-up after a tempest takes place does not erase the memory of what occurred.  Be it a blast of air or an action, the calm does not close a chapter in our lives.   The current, commitment, the cause, and our concern do not wane with time, that is, unless we choose to move on or tell ourselves that that is possible. I believe the notion the past is past is fallacious. Our past permeates the present and is a foundation for the future.  Thus, for me, the thought, and the March to Save Our Schools are strong. It survives as is evidenced by the now named Movement.

I believe the Movement did not begin with the March.  The happening was but a moment, albeit an extremely significant historical occurrence.  The energy exhibited on July 30, 2011 was an expression of what preceded it and illustrates what will follow. Determined not to invite the doom of a forgotten precedent, demonstrators such as I reflect on what was.  Together we will build a better potential for our progeny.  May we begin to extend the journey today?  Ask yourself what you saw, did, felt, tasted, touched; tell your Save Our Schools March story.  I offer mine as a gift to you.

I ask and answer questions presented to me. Whether you were in Washington, District of Columbia for what some characterize as the main event, at another Demonstration elsewhere, or connected only through the tube, YouTube, radio, and papers, what did you perceive, receive, or retrieve?  Please share your personal story!

May our offspring, schools, society, and we, grow greater through our caring and sharing.  Let the past, the procession, and the prospect be our guide.



1. Describe what you saw at the Save Our Schools March, July 30, 2011.


As I approached the Marchers, or where the throng would be, before the actual walk began, I saw only a loosely dispersed crowd.  I looked for familiar faces.  Fortunately, I was made aware of an opportunity to lead the “parade.”

A good friend of mine was selected to escort the procession.  He would chant into the megaphone.   I would be just behind him, or so I thought at the time.  Slowly, people gathered around us.  The Save Our Schools banner appeared, accompanied by those chosen to carry the sign.  The “pilots” took their positions.  I watched it all.

As we Marched, I saw more.  I was astounded.  City dweller and visitors to the nation’s Capital stopped in their tracks.  Cars and cabs stopped.   Passengers took photographs of the event.  Visibly, conversations centered around our appearance.  Thumbs went up.  Frowns turned to smiles as the Save Our Schools protesters approached.  A few applauded.  Many mouths were agape.  Some seemed stunned.  No one was numb.   Even the one dissenter did not stand idly by.  He addressed the crowd and began a tête-à-tête.  Talk is what I observed at every turn.

However, I never saw the depth and breadth of the moment . . . that is not until the March was over.

2. Describe what you heard at the March.

While at the March, as we proceeded up and down the streets of Washington, I heard a harmonic hum.  The voices of two persons with megaphones, my friend’s and another man’s, sang out.  The amplified sounds filtered through the air.  The now massive following repeated the words these individuals sang.  “Our Children.”  “Our Schools.” “Our Voices.”  “Save Our Schools.” These slogans were among the more easily recognizable refrains.  Other odes were also opined.  However, none was more memorable or meaningful to me than the one that I continue to hear in my head.  Aloud, marchers offered an appeal, “Show me what democracy looks like.”  In response, we all trumpeted, “This is what democracy looks like.”  As we did so, I heard and felt my own sobs.  Tears streamed down my face.

3. Describe what you felt (emotions)

Oh my!  What I felt?  Empowered. Energized. Emotional which is not my usual.  Indeed, feelings have never been my friends.  I prefer living in logic. You cannot imagine my surprise.  I was struck by how often I choked.  My first March, or the first time I ever participated in a civic action was long ago, I was eleven or twelve, enrolled in Middle School.  Equal Rights for all races was the issue.  Black Americans had finally found their voice and all those years ago, I mine.  As I marched this July in Washington District of Columbia I realized the connection.  The two topics have tugged at my heartstrings.  Each has torn my spirit into tatters.  They are one.

For me, society, our schools, our students have forever been separate and unequal.  As a culture and a country we segregate.  We speak of fairness and justice, and then act on inequitable simplistic “solutions.”

Children of commoners are seen as scores and statistics.  Even those in the Middle Class and Upper Middle are given few chances for true fulfillment.  I think of my own experiences.  At times in my life, I was poor, comfortable, or well-off.  I was part of every population, all but the most elite.  Yet, in each, as an auditory learner, I was subjected to examinations meant for a visual learner.

The young are often used as a means to serve adults and their silly need for some mythical sense of accountability.

Black and Brown people are treated as slaves. White people may wish to deny this; however actions speak.  African-Americans are also taught to serve.  Rarely does the majority expect much of those forced to live in miserable circumstances. Indeed, I believe for generations we have been taught to fear persons of color.

Lest I forget to mention another thought that troubles me.  I observe that the poor, the impoverished, Black, Brown and Caucasians, who have far fewer means than the affluent do, do not have equal access to high quality education.  These persons too are economically enslaved.  The difference is, traditionally, society does not easily define the paler of these individuals as inadequate to achieve. One is standardized; others are defined as substandard.  Neither is given a chance to truly thrive.

The emotional effect of what I experience as true hit me, hard, as I marched.

4. Describe what you touched (physical sensations)

I touched less, far less, than what touched me!  In truth, other than the water bottle in my hand and perhaps, another persons body as we brushed by one another, I do not think I placed my hands on any object, being, or entity.  All the physical sensations were felt through a mere presence at the event.

Indeed, I wonder; did my feet touch the ground?  Perhaps, my head made contact with the clouds.  Surely, my vision soared far above the skies.  Stars surrounded me!  No, this is not a reference to movie star Matt Damon, who in truth, as a thinker and writer impresses me more than his acting ability does.  The light and luminaries were seen in people; persons who stood strong to support a Movement, Save Our Schools!

Physical contact with individuals’ intent on their work for the cause touched my heart, my head, and helped me to ascend to greater heights.  I will forever feel the climb worthwhile.  I can see the peak from here.

5. Describe what you smelled.

The sweet scent of strong support for public education filled the air as we marched.  I could smell it, taste it. I ate in every savory bite.  The saucy speeches were a spicy brew. Aromatic essences, energy filled the air before demonstrators pounded the pavement.  Hot as the day was, and as long as the Rally might have been, hours in the sweltering sun did not cause us to break out in a shared sweat.  No, the only smell I detected was one of success.  Everyone appeared satisfied.  If nothing more Teachers, Pupils, Parents, Principals, Psychologists, Guardians, Grandmas and Granddads made a statement.  It was obvious to each of us; we were heard. Smells?   How do you describe the indescribable? Delicious!

6. Describe what you thought (random thoughts, consistent thoughts, or anything that comes to mind when participating)

At the time of the March, my thoughts were many.  Indeed, all of the reflections experienced then linger.  In this moment these are no less large.  I could not get my first March ever out of my mind!

When a little more than a child, enrolled in Middle School, I demonstrated for Civil Rights, Equal Justice, and Opportunity for All.  Then, it seemed apt that the chant “Power to the people” would be uttered.  For but a moment, this July 30th, in Washington, the Marchers sang the same tune.  I was instantly taken back or aback.

When we repeated words that spoke to Schools, Tests, and more so the Children, I cried!  So often I choked as we marched.  The fears I feel as I contemplate the future of public education came out in my tears.

My belief is the need for authentic instruction and assessments is great. Yet, I see that in action, as a society, we turn away from these.  The mantras recited reflected the meaning of a genuine education.  My heart melted with most every phrase.

However, for me personally, nothing was as profound as what still resonates within me.  The tune rings in my ears even now . . . “Show me what democracy looks like.”  “This is what democracy looks like.”  At one point, early on in the March, I realized that five thousand persons stood physically behind me. Hence, as I spoke the words, I extended my arm in a sweeping motion.  My intent was to point to the voice [the power] of the people.

I never in my life felt the intensity I did on that date . . . during the Save Our Schools March. Imagine all the people, sharing the entire world and serving our children, society, and future.  I do.

7. What was the March about / what was the message/story being told?

I smile.  The thought that there might have been a single message, a singular focus, or but one story being told fascinates me.  Over the past year, as plans for the March were being made, I had the opportunity to speak with many on the subject.  I chatted with a few on the Save Our Schools Executive Committee.  Conversations with volunteers were also abundant. Interested parties and persons, activists engaged me in discussions.  The apathetic too happily joined in dialogues.  Talk of the subject can be heard on every street corner.

Individuals, who, for a long time did not seem to care about our schools, now, apparently, feel a need to respond to reforms they perceive as painful, punitive or pernicious.  I spoke with parents, pupils, Principals, and those whose guiding principle is privatization.  Each mentioned the error that is, or the erroneous policies that exist within, our current education system.  Yet, even those who hold similar beliefs differ on the message, the mission, and the narrative.

How we might enact any extraordinary plan[s]? This is a question debated endlessly, just as it was on July 30th at the Save Our Schools March.

Some say programs such as No Child Left Behind and or Race To The Top are anathema.  Fix these and all will be well. Others argue testing is the terror.  Were we to teach to children not to tests, life would be good.  Teachers tremble at the thought of merit pay and how this practice might affect performance, or at least the review of these.  Then, there is the issue of poverty.  Tis true; dearth dictates how well a child, a community, and a culture might do.  However, today holes are found on the hearths of the poor and in the hearts of the affluent.  Students slip through all sorts of cracks.

For me personally, the problems are not unique to our generation.  What occurs today is a reflection of shortsighted solutions from the past.  I believe what was and is void from the system, in schools and in our society, is Emotional Intelligence.

In my mind, were we to ever respect the construct, change is incremental perchance we would learn and provide our progeny with this opportunity.  If elders were to honor the invisible, to acknowledge what adults knew in their infancy and adolescent years, that true learning and the love of it is innate, then, perhaps our children would have a chance.

I think if are to teach the young well we must begin with their parents!  Let it be known that Accountability in the form of “facts,” figures and formulas is Arrested Development!

If we are to ever address authentic instruction and assessment, we must remember how we felt when we were young.  All those decades ago we knew that who we were as a whole unique being was being ignored by a system that score us, ranks us, separates and segregates us from our innate creative, curious, and critically thoughtful selves.  We understood that tests did not accurately evaluate our edification.  No one of us had a day when what occurred at home did not have an effect on our school days or daze.

As children, we were as we are, brilliant.  The difference is, then, we did not accept false notions as fact.  “I am not an “A,” “B,” “C,” or “D,” student.” My school is not a “failure.”  “The adults defined me; thus negated me.”  Remember when we begged to be seen as a Whole Child?  Now, as adults, sadly, supposedly “mature” persons do what was done to them.  

8. Were there any villains or heroes presented at the March? Explain

Audibly, I grunt and groan at the thought of villains and heroes. Granted, people seem to seek each.  An adversary spurs them on.  A hero inspires.  Yet, neither can save a school, a system, or a society.

Several saw Diane Ravitch, Matt Damon, or Jonathan Kozol as our champions.  The Department of Education, Arne Duncan or the man who appointed him Secretary of Education, President Barack Obama, were frequently posited as scoundrels.  Any or all might be thought of as Supermen or women, dependent on whom you speak with.

However, to me, each is but a mere mortal.  Humans can do harm and can aid health.  Yet, none are saviors.  Perchance they play these on television or people think they do.  That posture is as false as the premise there is one solution that will Save Our Schools.

9. According to what you heard at the March, who has the voice in public education decisions, i.e., who has the power?

I wish I could offer a quote or two from the March.  I only have my memories.  From what I heard, read, before and after, have experienced, and believe, Big Businesses have the power.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration, just as those in the past were, is inextricably linked to corporate lobbyists.

[This reality is as it was with the Bush bunch. No Child Left Behind: A Primer for Business The Clinton collective was also well connected to corporations.   Are We There Yet? and Clinton Presidency: Expanding Education Opportunity All have emphasized standards and accountability.  Administrations before these three were also less than friendly towards education.  Many reflect and recall . . .

Ronald Reagan’s impact on education today

From my personal experience the veracity Power Belongs to Policymakers has been true for longer than I can remember.  Educators in 18th century Prussia, precursor to the American education system, were not seen as policymakers..  Autonomy existed only behind closed classroom doors.  Thus, the beat goes on.  Rally speakers, some, and Save Our Schools supporters, several, spoke to this . . . my personal truth.

10. Who do you think will be affected by this March?

I believe, as I did for long before the March, the Save Our Schools demonstration will do little in the immediate to generate genuine education reform, and that “little” is a lot!  The March is but a moment, a necessary moment!  The Walk will bring attention to a problem easily lost in the education legislative shuffle.  Parents, Teachers, Principals, Pupils and the peers of each will be able to vocalize their frustrations, their fears, and even shed some tears.

Our schools are in a shambles and never needed to be.  Students yearn to learn. Teachers chose to inform and inspire.  Parents want their progeny and the offspring’s’ Professors to succeed.  Principals and Administrators, as well as School Boards strive for superior scholarship. Yet, for too long those on the frontline have been forced to stand behind the scenes.  The March ensures that Educators and those who seek an excellent education will be seen and heard!

11. Was this March effective? Explain.

Effective is exactly the word I would use to describe the March.  While it was but a moment in the grand scheme of the Save Our Schools Movement, I think it is, was, and will forever be a vital one.

I trust it was crucial for each of us to connect to the whole, the whole of the frustration, situation,  the possibilities, and the policymakers.  What better way to make the shared angst and our aspirations known than to communicate the love we feel for learning and learners loudly.

Most accept, if education policy and practices are to be truly effective these plans and procedures must relate to those they serve.  Students, Parents and Teachers are the individuals served.  I believe if school children and their elders are to be fully effective in  the realm of education, they too must relate or communicate. Under these circumstances, people of every age must also relate, as was done during the Save Our Schools March.

Common folks showed themselves.  Average Americans spoke with Congresspersons, and the Obama Cabinet about shared concerns.  Our presence and protest reached the ranks of corporate philanthropists, who now design education reform rules.  All this was achieved this July 30th. Thus, for me, the March was absolutely effective!

12. In order for this March to be effective, what will have to happen in the short-term to make it so?

I think what needs to occur has already occurred.  People were energized.  Participants were perhaps more eager to act than those unable to attend.  However, in my own life, I have come to see the power of such enthusiasm.  I have spoken with those back home in a manner that listeners said they found contagious.  Frustrated Moms and Dads who never knew of the Movement are ready to act.  It seems several were only waiting for someone to say Let us come together to Save Our Schools.

Zeal for real and reasonable education reforms were realized.  The broader population viewed videos, read reports, and at times met someone who was there.

From what was said to me once home, everyday people unaware of the happenings prior to the event felt connected once they learned of the Conference, Rally, and March.  Mothers and Fathers felt hopeful; Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles too. Perhaps, was the newer thought, if that many people were willing to speak out and endeavor to Save Our Schools, so too could they.  A few expressed a desire. Please keep them informed.  Next year, or next week locally, individuals who before never knew they could, said I am ready to March, Rally, to work towards real reforms for my children.

13. How do you identify-Ethnically? Gender? Professionally? Politically? Age? (This information helps determine whether there was an underrepresentation or overrepresentation of any of the above categories).

I am an Educator. For near three decades, I was in the classroom.  Indeed, in my youth, I helped my parents teach University students, graduate and Undergraduate classes.  Recently, the realities of our schools, and the sights of our students’ struggles to survive took me to a place that I cannot describe.  Challenged with a change in curriculums and thus, in attitudes . . .  for the young, the love of learning died . . . I realized my spirit too took a fall  What might have began as frustration turned into a distress so deep I could no longer go on doing as I had done for decades.  I am a Teacher turned Author, Activist, and Advocate for real excellence and equality in education reform.

By appearance, I am Caucasian, although admittedly, my own experiences as a toddler and tot are not as those of the White Woman I am. I am intensely aware that this truth shades my reality.  I am equally cognizant that I cannot accurately be classified as being of another race or ethnicity.  My “color” too, be it only skin deep affords me a life that I would not have if my flesh were not pink.  Indeed, I am able to hear and speak to discriminatory commentaries that would never be expressed aloud if a person in my presence knew how I feel about being “White.”

In truth, I do not feel good about being characterized as a “woman!”  Danish Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s words resonates within me; “Once you label me, you negate me!”  Perchance, the intensity with which I respond to stereotypes is the reason I relate so strongly to the notion of the Whole Child, the Whole Being, and the need to individualize instruction.

My age and politics, and political activism speak to far more than my gender and ethnicity.  I grew up during the Civil Unrest of the sixties in a home where current events were customary conversation.

As a child, the Black community cared for me and about me.  Those pale in color were not interested in me.  Indeed, Anglos rejected me, even, if not especially, my blood relatives.  Possibly, that is why I took the path I did early on. I spoke out and marched for Civil and Equal Rights as a Middle Schooler.

In my teens, I became more closely connected to my family,  By then, much had changed, mostly my Mom and my newer Dad were transformed, as was my relationship with kin.  I am a third-generation Peacenik, extremely “liberal” if that word can be defined.  Yes, I was as I am, ready to March!

14. How did/does your biography prepare you to participate in a March on Washington? (Meaning, were your parents organizers or are you a activist; or are you a fed-up teacher, etc.)

I believe my response to question 13 [above] answers this question as well!

15. Did this March change your thoughts, positions or feelings about the public school teacher?

The March was my revival, renewal, a Renaissance I anxiously awaited.  My energy, enthusiasm, and eagerness have not changed.  Nor have my thoughts, positions, and feelings.  These are but enlarged.

I continue to yearn for curriculums comprised of creative, curious, and critical thought.  Now, knowing that thousands stand with me, I will work harder to ensure such excellence  exists for all.

My belief is that to ensure availability and accessibility to the best that is education, public schools must be preserved. Educational institutions must prosper.   Today, with renewed strength, and the visible support of so many, the quest continues.

Authentic instruction and assessment, an equal education for every child, will be my vision and my mission. Today, I realize, the aspiration part of a magnificent and massive Movement.

16. Did this March change your thought, positions or feelings about the American Public School system?

I smile and say no.  The March change your thought, positions or feelings about the American Public School system could not have changed what for me has lived too large since childhood.  In my youngest years and throughout my education, I struggled with test anxiety, evaluations that never gave a hint of what I learned, and pedagogical agendas that preached learning modalities while ignoring these.

As an adult and Educator I came to understand the conventions, controls placed on curriculums.  I saw as I felt, children respond not well to what kills a spirit.  The hunger for creativity, curiosity, and critical thought is not lessened only lost and sought elsewhere.

My thoughts, positions, and feelings about the American Public Schools System are, as these were.  I see reason for hope, glimpses of light, and lots of darkness.  The latter, I believe is self-inflicted by a population beaten down over many decades.

17. From what you can tell, who was at the forefront of this March, or who was leading this March?

Physically, I was.  I was at the front of the procession.  In essence, I think even those who think of themselves as Leaders are not and were not on this occasion.  No one is moved to March because someone else said he or she “should,” “must,” or “needs to.”

Leadership is myth.  This concept denies people their own power.

Perhaps, as a society, were we to understand and accept that change, learning, walking, talking cannot be controlled by an outside force . . . that these are choices, people, at every age, make, then we would stop force-feeding children, their Teachers, School Administrators and even Moms and Dads policies and practices.

I smile as I realize Advertisers and Philanthropists acknowledge this veracity.  That is why these persons spend billions on marketing their message.  “Privatize and standardize education;” that is the mantra the America people have been sold.

Those who led the March are one for all.  We each listened to and responded to “me, myself, and I.” The way we individually feel about issues that affect our family, our friends, and all that is familiar to us promoted us to travel and trek!  No one could have told me to walk or stay at home.  I wonder if all those present would not say the same.

I think of the words Rita Solnet, Co-Founder of Parents Across America, an organization more than twelve-thousand strong, articulated from the stage.  Anyone of us might have been the first to say as Marchers later chanted, “Our Children.” “Our Schools.” “Our Voices.” Each of us uttered the phrases from a heart that belongs only to us, as unique individuals.  No one can lead another to love and work to better the lives of those important to him or her.  

18. In your opinion, how many people attended the March? (If you heard an estimate from the news media, please indicate the source.)

My opinion as it relates to the numbers there changed as I read various sources.  I first read 3500, then 4000.  More recently 8,000 is the total. Thus, I know not with certainty, not that I did before.

I share sources . . .

The Save Our Schools MarchThe Answer Sheet – The Washington Post

I don’t know how members of the audience (UPDATE Aug.9: a Park Service employee on the day of the march told me that as many as 8,000 attended; however, it’s worth noting the Park Service itself does not provide crowd estimates) withstood the heat but they did, and then they marched to the White House, in hopes that someone would let President Obama know about their disappointment in his education policies.

Dora Goes to Washington: The Save Our Schools Rally and March

The number of participants continued to grow during the rally. The Park Services estimated early on that there were approximately 8,000 people in attendance including a contingent of Parents Across America members representing North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, California, Iowa, Colorado, Louisiana as well as our fair state and others.

Education Week: Education Policy Critics March on White House

Organizers estimated the size of the crowd at 5,000, but a rough count by Education Week put it closer to 3,000. Before the event, organizers had said they were expecting 5,000 to 10,000 people.

An Urban Teacher’s Education: SOS March in DC

Although there were a few more events scheduled after the march, participants all but disappeared after the march was over. Anthony Cody estimated about 5,000 people turned up and hoped for 50,000 next year. Education Week suggested the turnout was closer to 3,000.

More than 100 Wisconsin teachers attend education rally in D.C. JSOnline

The Save Our Schools March & National Call to Action in D.C. on Saturday had around 3,000 participants, according to Education Week. The grassroots protest movement featured well-known speakers on education as well as actor Matt Damon.

19. Based on your vantage point, what was the composition of the March (ethnicity, gender, age, ideological position, etc.)?

From what I saw at the Save Our Schools March the crowd was overwhelmingly White. Many, if characterized by the formal Education acquired were bright.  Indeed, those with far less time in a classroom were truly learned.  [I think of the Piece By Peace and ReThink persons!  I loved these persons!!! After their performance I spoke with many of them.]

The leaning would likely be considered Left of Center, “right” without being “Right”  . . . as though a correct or wrong exists.  Even directions such as up or down are dependent on where one stands.  Smiles.

Most at the March would probably be defined as Middle Class and Middle Aged.  I thought of who attends Netroots Nation Conferences.  While countless of every age, near a half a million or more read Daily Kos, Caucasians of a certain age and financial status gather.  Even the more extreme philosophically seem to appear less often.

I think this is a reflection of society.  Mobility correlates to money.  Those who have, can and do.  Those with less do not have the opportunity to be present.  If perchance the poorer find a way to a walk, a talk, or a forum, there will be but a few in attendances.  The reality that lives large in our schools and society, is economic slavery survives and thrives.  Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.  A trip costs time and depletes the dollars put aside to merely live.

20. If you were to summarize the overall impression this March has made on you, what would it be?

Wow!!!!  Not only did the March make an impression on me, one that is permanently etched into my being, I have yet to speak to a single person who did not think the event, the experience was essential!!!!

I trust that every participant was energized and expanded, even those not present on that toasty July 3oth day.

All of us spoke as one, and part of the many.  Indeed, I believe, the sum was far greater than the parts!  The total effect, for everyone will be felt as we walk with others to build a broader movement.  As individuals we will, as I did speak to persons who never knew of the March.  This action will advance further awareness, participation, and conversations . . . The garden created for future generations will grow.

Last week, as I entered a plane, I spoke with the man behind me in line.  I told this stranger about the March.  Possibly, the tune that plays in my head ever since the demonstration prompts me to share what I still see and hum.  “Show me what democracy looks life.  This is what democracy looks like!”  Perhaps, never have I felt so empowered as a citizen . .  and I have been an Activist since Middle School.

Nonetheless, that aside, the gentleman responded well.  As I said, he thought the March vital!!!  As the other passenger reflected further, I learned he thinks Tenured Teachers are responsible for Communism.  He warned, persons such as paid sages and the political philosophy he strong and loudly opposes are coming.

“So true,” said the Flight Attendant who overheard the comment.  The Airline employee expanded the thought.  She offered, “We were just speaking about “Bad Teachers” and how they are the worse!”  The two happily engaged as I expressed my dissent, stored my luggage and sat down.

Thus, my impression, my belief, my thoughts and feelings . . .  nothing I have ever done was as crucial.  I may help a child or children love learning.  I may nurture growth in toddlers, teems, tots, tweens, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety something’s; still, as one person, I can never speak to the masses in the way I might when I am part of a whole far bigger than any I can easily measure.

21. Will today’s events cause a shift, a rupture, interruption, mutation or otherwise in the current conversation about public school teachers? Shift, rupture, interruption, mutation, or otherwise? Explain.

Absolutely!  Shifts, I believe, are eternal, invisible, subtle, seemingly slight, and sensationally huge!  Sadly, most do not realize what occurs.  We are each too close to fully comprehend the changes we create.  However transformations are constant!  Every conversation is a cause.  Reflections, ruptures, interruptions, just as interpretations, are the effect.

I cannot predict what will occur, how, when, where, or why, what will be will be.  However, I am certain, whatever becomes of what we began will also evolve, as will we. Our education system will also progress.  I can only hope that in time the Movement will be a wise one . . . one that opens hearts, minds, souls, and society.

May we see each other as uniquely whole beings, to be honored and revered rather than counted, scored, standardized, and seen as statistics!

22. Reasonably, what will you need to see in the long-term in order to think that this March made a difference regarding the American public school teacher and/or the American public school system?

There is nothing specifically I need to see in the short or long-term to think the March made a difference.  Years ago, I wrote of another frustration, action, and movement, Peace.

I offer that thought to help illustrate why I look for nothing in particular, and why I do not think one moment is the only cause with a singular effect.

Boca Peace Corner Participants Cultivate Harmony

© copyright 2008 Betsy L. Angert

“The heights by great men reached and kept

Were not attained by sudden flight,

But they, while their companions slept,

Toiled ever upward through the night.”

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Peace comes upon us without much fanfare.  Most await an announcement or seek a moment of resolve.  However, the message never comes.  In this country, in our local communities, and perchance planet wide, a small number of people acknowledge goodwill is not created in an instant.  It grows.  The transition from warfare to common welfare is invisible.  Tranquility enters; and no one stands triumphantly.  Buglers do not blow their horns.  Twenty-one guns do not salute.  Serenity is a state of being.  This is true for individuals and for the world as a whole.  Harmony, once achieved will be but a hush.   Peace grows as a tree does, from the roots up.

23. Did I leave out anything you’d like to address?

For me, I have faith that I will ponder all that you asked about further.  Conversations, as the cause, Save Our Schools, have no beginning and no end. If any aspect was not addressed, it is I who was remiss in my responses.

I thank you for this opportunity!!!!  The reflection, inspired by your inquiries, was and is truly wondrous in my life!!!!  The interview is the cherry on top of a glorious growing experience.  May our shared travel live on.  May the seeds we planted be sown eternally.  May our students, schools, and society bloom and blossom.

Huge hugs and infinite kisses.  I thank you !!!!!

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Why We Say Save Our Schools





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

I am but one who will stand strong to ensure an equal education for all.  All who do or plan to, will express themselves in various ways.  Some will March. Others will Rally or gather in Conference.  Several have, do, or expect to act locally.  Countless change what they can for children within the dynamics that define their family.  Nationwide, innumerable Americans join hands and embrace a common cause. Let us Save Our Schools.

Jointly, we wear our hearts on our sleeves so that our children, our communities, this country can see we care.  As our forefathers did before us, Americans invest in a shared future.  We trust that learned little ones, as well as those denied an adequate education must have a solid foundation on which to build.  Our offspring and we will suffer if, indeed, we do not work for the good of our young.  It seems our many decades long shortsighted education “solutions” have already had an adverse affect.  People from every political Party and point of view proclaim the need to teach the children well.  

The Left, “Right,” and middle muse; our education system needs reform. We must Save Our Schools.  The questions are how, which schools; charter, private or public institutions and why?  These queries lead to further reflection.  What might be preserved, reserved, reformed or left for ruin?  Would it be better to transform an arrangement that many agree fails our young?  The answers spur people to act.  It seems with little forethought, the process has already begun.  Indeed, change commenced decades ago.  

Headlines herald the news. Jonathan Mahler wrote in The Deadlocked Debate Over Education Reform. “The modern school-reform movement sprang to life in 1983, with the release of “A Nation at Risk,” an education report commissioned by the Reagan administration that boldly stated…that the United States had embarked upon a “unilateral educational disarmament…The Clinton administration’s emphasis on national standards… President George W. Bush’s declaiming of “the soft bigotry of low expectations”… ”

For some, the history is nothing in comparison to what we witness daily.  Children are being left behind.  The past was but prologue. It is now our present.  Education observer Mahler continues. “On to the current generation of reformers, with their embrace of charter schools and their attacks on the teachers union. The policies and rhetoric changed, often dramatically, but the underlying assumption remained the same: Our nation’s schools are in dire need of systemic reform.”  The debate as to how, why, when and where has become less about the little ones and more about rhetoric.  Messages are “framed” to ensure that a political agenda is maximized.

Today. Public Education has all but Perished.

The Frame; Change arrived in the form of “No Child Left Behind.” This law caused our children to languish further.  The One-Size-Fits-All tools adopted fit very few.  The state and the nation are pursuing policies that have not closed the achievement gap and have aggravated the situation for many students.  “Indeed, No Child Left Behind’s ‘get-tough’ approach to accountability has led to more students being left even further behind, thus feeding the dropout crisis and the School-to-Prison Pipeline.” ~ Bob Valiant. Kennewick School District. Education Matters. March 19, 2011

Political postures are effective, that is, for all but the young and their Moms, Dads, Grandparents and Guardians. These elders see the pain on their little loved ones faces.

Students Struggle to Survive…

Curriculums have been cut to the core.  Classes canceled. Test scores and statistics govern what occurs. “Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.”  School Districts confronted with possible punishment, or the promise of financial rewards, dependent on student test scores, thought it wise to remove coursework that did not pertain to the subjects tested.  

Reading and math became the sole priorities. All other topics in a school’s curriculum, with the exception of Science, at minimum, were reduced in scope.  Some disciplines, such as the Arts, Social Science, and Literature were as the children, left further behind to the point of being lost.  For persons who care about our progeny, this point alone became the raison d’être for a Save Our Schools March, a Rally, a Conference, and a mass Movement.  The populace observed Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar. The pain became more and more palpable.

Students Stifled Will Not Sing or Soar.

Critical Thought, Creativity, and Curiosity are now null and void in our schools.  Public and private institutions wane.  Rather than a shared success among all students, today we have winners and losers.  Parents work to see that their children achieve.  The less financially fortunate will wait in enrollment lines for hours in hopes that by lottery, their young ones will triumph.  

Yet, few truly do.  In contrast to the much-touted claims, children who are accepted into these so-called “exceptional” charter schools are, in actuality, no better off than those who are rejected.  After a lengthy study, Senior Harvard University Lecturer Katherine K. Merseth observed, “No matter how they are measured, there are some amazing charter schools…At the same time, however, we know that there are many charters that are not successful. A further disappointment for me is that essentially given the freedom to create any form or structure of schooling, the vast majority of charter schools look just like the schools we’ve already got. ”

Religious schools fare no better.  Often seen as the savior for less than affluent parents, they also struggle with standards. Hard times push Catholic schools toward crisis.  Enrollment is down and the need to satisfy an insatiable American need for “accountability” is up.  Government sponsored voucher programs contributed to each of these truths.  Popular conventions are also the reason that Standardized Tests Taken by Nine Out of Ten Voucher Schools.

Even private schools have not fully escaped what often holds young learners back.  Standardization, in other words and ways, the testing craze is alive and well in exclusive schools.  These privileged institutions too have seen the errors of this way. Entrance exams are inaccurately evaluated. “Substantially equivalent” educations are as advertised.  Differences, in the end, are not realized,  Hence, as might be expected, most every curriculum in each locale has suffered, just as students have.  Again, as parents pour over test scores and the scours on little ones faces, in harmony, they chant “Please Save Our Schools!”

“Only two subjects [math and reading.] What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”~ Sam Dillon The New York Times.  March 26, 2006

Students are at risk when punitive policies promote more scales, less music!

“Teach to the Tests.”

Proud Papa Barack Obama understands the problem and spoke to it in March 2011.  As the nation’s Chief Executive stood before students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network, at Bell Multicultural High School, in Washington, District of Columbia, the Professor turned President said, “Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.  Yet, Administrations Mandate More Standards, Scores, Statistics, and School Closures.  Today, Performance is Reviewed Rigorously. “Race To The Top Requirements” rule.  Please peruse Race to the Top Program Executive Summary.  Department of Education. November 2009

While intellectually, Mister Obama understands the myriad hazards associated with “common core standards,” he and his Administration adopted these.  “Standardized-test scores can provide useful information about how students are doing  But as soon as the scores are tied to firing staff, giving bonuses, and closing schools, the measures become the goal of education, rather than an indicator.  Race to the Top went even beyond NCLB in its reliance on test scores as the ultimate measure of educational quality.” ~ Diane Ravitch. Historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System.  Newsweek. March 20, 2011

Race To The Top Myths.

  • Teachers are to blame for the education crisis.
  • Business practices build solidly performing students and schools.
  • Rigor is “right.”
  • Teaching is a task anyone can do.

Race To The Top Truths.

“Race to the Top? National standards for math, science, and other school subjects?  The high-powered push to put them in place makes it clear that the politicians, business leaders, and wealthy philanthropists who’ve run America’s education show for the last two decades are as clueless about educating as they’ve always been.” ~ Marion Brady. veteran Teacher, Administrator, Curriculum Designer and Author. Washington Post

Administration after Administration administers standardized exams.  The scores reveal one truth consistently; our children are not standard.  Each is a Whole being, a child who yearns to learn more than memorize.  Indeed, to commit a fact, figure, or formula is not learning at all. Rote and regurgitate; this rhythm does not resonate in a mind, heart, body or soul.  Adults will tell you, in retrospect such an education is not an education at all.

Still policymakers are intent. Reinstatement. Rewrite. When will Legislators learn? The Race Leaves Children Further Behind. Please Save Our Schools!

National Standards. Low Expectations.

Countless concur. Standards and standardization in our schools has not helped advance humanity.  These are the cause of the stagnation we see in our schools.  Indeed, with the restrictions imposed, more students and Teachers dropout of an already diminished system.

More than five years ago, it was calculated that “Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout. Then and now we pay the cost for inadequate education structures.  

The number of Teachers who dropout of our schools in the first five years of their careers is far greater than that of students.   Studies show the most qualified Educators leave first.  Little support, poor conditions, and poverty play roles in what occurs.  Innumerable acknowledge; scarcity and the problems this puzzle presents within our society, specifically for our schools, is intolerable.  

Writer Kozol perhaps, speaks for the American people when he says,  “Good God, with all these gifts, useful energy, innocence, curiosity, why don’t we give [our children] everything we have?

This question is one every individual has asked at some time in their lives.  Even the childless are troubled by perceived injustices.  Teachers are troubled.  Parents perturbed.  A Professor ponders and shares her exploration. University of Berkeley Social Scientist Dacher Keltner reminds us of our roots.  Innately, humans hold dear the notion “survival of the kindest.” This truth is our strongest instinct. “Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner.

Dacher Keltner’s research reveals that Political divides and partisanship disappears when compassion, particularly for the children, is the issue.  Possibly, this is the essence that energizes the masses to Rally, to March and to build a Movement.  The people are compelled to call for action.

Finally, as education worsens Moms and Dads put their habits and hubris aside.  Many have decided dollars can no longer dictate deeds as have been true in the past.  Compassion for the children can and must be our guide.  

Perhaps, that is the real reason people from every political Party will join hands. In Washington District of Columbia, in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, California, in every State in the Union the public proclaims, we will not abandon our public schools.  This is why I will March, attend a Rally, Register for a Conference or two, and you? Will you?

References for Real and Rhetorical Education Reform . . .

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Why I Write and Write, Then Write Again

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Looking back, I understand that I was teaching myself to write.

~ Mary Wesley [British Author, 1912 to 2002]

I write, I write, I always write.

~ Tom Araya [Vocalist, Bassist, Thrash Metal Band. Slayer. Born 1961 to present]

© copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

Many authors have broached the question, “Why do I write?”  World renowned, science fiction writer, George Orwell penned a memorable and oft-mentioned exposé on the topic.  This novelist knew at the early age of five that he “should” be a writer.  I struggle with the idea of what we “should” do and apparently, Mr. Orwell did as well.  He did not do as he thought he “should” until his mid-twenties.  If only I had my awakening that early in my life.

I suspect for me, part of my delay was due to the fact that in my life, the concept of “you should” was never imposed.  My parents never professed to claim that they knew what was best for me, and certainly, I had no idea, though I usually thought I did.  On occasion, I would ask my Mom or my Dad, “What do you think I “should” do.”  The response was always the same, “Do whatever makes you happy as long as it does not hurt anyone.”  That was easily accomplished.  Much makes me happy.  The only thing that does not bring me joy is hurting another.  Thus, I pursued the thing that brought me the greatest pleasure, learning.

I learned to talk and walk by the age of eight months.  My Mom enrolled me in school, not day care, at the age of eighteen months.  By the time I was two years of age I knew I wanted a Doctorate of Philosophy; perhaps I was suited for the study of Psychology.  This discipline had served my parents well.  As I aged, I was very interested in the topic.  Textbooks in the field were fun for me.  Fiction was never my favorite.  Real life was always more appealing.  While attending high school, I helped my parents teach graduate classes in the subject.  Yes, psychology and social sciences were something to consider.

However, I had no ego-strength.  I am not a competitive spirit.  The idea of entering my parent’s area of expertise left me cold.  I decided that studying as they had would not be wise.  Instead, I studied Art.  I took many other classes.  I only wanted to learn.  Career paths were not my quest.  I considered my career to be that of a college student.  I took course after course.  I did register for and complete classes in Psychology.  Communication, English, Social Science, Political Science, Education, and Film Analysis also struck my fancy.  I did take a class in writing; however, I did that just for fun.  I thought no further of it.

For so long, I did not know I was a writer, though I wrote daily.  I was most absorbed when I was writing; yet, I never recognized that this was my passion.  Only in recent years have I discovered that I spent much of my entire life living in fear, avoiding all that I loved; I entertained options that seemed less threatening.

To this day, I work to discern, do I fear failure, or perhaps more aptly, does achievement cause me greater angst.  I know not with certainty.  I only understand that the life journey that I am on offers many unexpected opportunities for insight.  However, sadly, I am a slow learner.

As I reflect on my own history, I recognize that words were always my greatest companion.  As I said, I began speaking at the age of eight months old.  Even in those early moments, my chatter was comprehensive.  I was able to communicate well.  My Mom marveled at the depth of my dialogue and wondered what it all meant.  She had no trouble understanding my meaning.  It was the idea of giving birth to such an articulate precocious child that concerned her.  After all, few babies speak fully when they are less than a year old.  I, on the other hand was quite fluent.

I thought nothing of this, for I did not know that it was unusual.  What did I know; I was three-quarters of a year old and trusted that being as I am was best.

As I grew, my vocabulary and verbiage increased as well.  I loved words, though I questioned my understanding of these.  My Dad consistently claimed it is not wise to use a word unless you knew the dictionary definition of such.  While I acknowledge that one word can have many meanings and it is not humanly possible to recall each of these, I still feel a compulsion to understand the lexicon.  I live with a dictionary by my side.  In fact, I have one in virtually every room of my home.  Though I use these often, when choosing a word I still doubt; is this the correct usage

I, as my Mom, must make a concerted effort to pronounce words properly.  This has been a battle for each of us as long as I can recall.  I respect that my Mom is a genius and that her challenge with pronunciations is not truly a problem; however, for me, the struggle seems huge.  It haunts me.

Perhaps, these tales are telling.  Possibly, they delayed my awareness for who I am and what I love.  As I said, until recently I did not accept or acknowledge that I am an author.  Yet, I have been one since the beginning of my time.

I write it to get it out of me.  I don’t write it to remember it.

~ Kathy Acker [American Feminist Writer. 1947 to 1997]

In seventh grade, I began collecting quotes.  I purchased a small spiral notepad fashioned in the form of a piece of fruit.  The pages are orange.  I know this because I still have this booklet.  I began placing every word of wisdom I could find into this little leaflet.

In this same year, I, along with each of my classmates was required to write an essay.  The subject was, “Why Parents “Should” be Members of the Parent-Teacher Association.”  We were given class time to write the composition on Wednesday, the day before our regularly scheduled Tuesday/Thursday Home Economics class.  I wrote the paper and put it away.  In those days, I was not the most organized student.  Then on Thursday, we were told to turn the pages in before we were dismissed to our Domestic Arts class.  I knew I had completed the work; therefore, I was not worried.  However, I could not find it.

Our own school could not house the room for this Home study.  We did not have the facilities.  To attend the mandatory sessions, my follow classmates, and I had to walk two miles down the road to another school.  There was only so much time allotted for the travel.  I panicked.  I had never been absent or tardy and the option to be so never entered my mind.  Thus, I sat down and quickly wrote a second essay.  I tried to recall what I had said in the first.  I rushed, remembering little.  I completed this “complex” thesis and then rapidly ran to catch up to my peers.

Weeks passed and I never thought of the passage.  I had not realized that faculty, staff, and parents would review these dissertations.  The idea of a contest was a foreign to me.  I have disdained competitions for as long as I can recall.  I never enter these.  I only knew that I was required to write and I did.  Then, I learned that an announcement was made at the last Parent-Teacher association meeting.

The “winning” essay was publicly revealed.  The parents of the student were asked to rise and claim the prize for their progeny.  No one stood.  Of course not; my parents were not affiliated with the Association.  They too, do not react well to the idea of “you should.”  The honor was bestowed upon me in class.  I received a check for ten dollars.  My dad framed it.

Though I received accolades and attention, they meant nothing to me.  I have never trusted compliments, or at least at that point, in my life I did not.  I have learned since.  Criticisms come easily.  People are reluctant to offer praise.  However, I digress while still relating to what was.  The possibility of judicious reviews caused me to cringe.  What if I was not good enough?  I was certain I was not.  There was no need to establish this with certainty.  I continued on, as I had.  I wrote for fun, for relaxation, for me, nothing more.

“Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”

~ Gloria Steinem [American Writer and Activist.  Born 1935]

In high school, on most Wednesdays, we had all school assemblies.  During my freshman year, the Milwaukee County Symphony Orchestra came to entertain us.  The music they played was classical; it was not my style though I as the performance went on I realized I was riveted.  The orchestra chose to present a musical piece titled “March to the Gallows.”  As the sounds filled the stage, I closed my eye; a story surfaced.  I wrote it.

I turned this narrative into my English teacher, Mrs. Finn, for a grade.  She loved the work and repeatedly suggested I submit for publication.  The idea frightened me.  I knew not where to begin.  I did nothing with this narrative, though now decades later I am considering the prospect.

I did take another writing course in high school; however, again, I concluded this class was fun, nothing more.  I did well, very well, and did not think that significant.  For me, in taking classes, I was pursuing my passion.  I was learning.  I entered the University and followed the career path I planned.  I chose to be a professional student.

I saw myself as a scholar; I lived in school and never wanted to leave.  However, life became more real, too real.  I took a summer job in the mailroom of a school district and discovered that I had more education than some of the executives.  Yet, I did not have a college degree, only a high school diploma.  I could not be placed in a better position.  I needed credentials.  I recognized, one day I would need to graduate from college and begin a professional career.

I decided I would study Education, at least that way I would still be among academics.  As I absorbed myself in my studies, I wrote paper after paper.  You might think we all do that in school and you would be correct; however, for me, this type of writing was a challenge.  As I said, in my youth I was far less organized.  My mind was all over the place.  Outlines were not an art I mastered.  I was [and am] a compulsive researcher; however, I compiled so much information, that it consumed me.  I did not know where to begin or end a thought.  I had so much to say, I could not focus on a singular theme.

For me, writing was as breathing.  It was a constant.  It took no thought; it was, my way of thinking.  As I wrote, I learned.  One thought leads to another, the words flowed.  Rarely was there a distinct direction.  The ideas that rose from the words often surprised me.  When I wrote I was on fire.  I exemplified spontaneous combustion.

“Writing is an exploration.  You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

~ E. L. Doctorow [American author, Editor.  Born 1931]

While working on my Professional Clear Teaching Credential, my Academic Advisor, Dr. Elisabeth S. Hartung required that my fellow students and I write.  She did not ask us to delve into data; she required that we reflect.  We penned observations and experiences we shared with our pupils.  Professor Hartung often expressed an appreciation for my prose.  On more than one occasion, she suggested that I publish my journal.  Of course, I dismissed the idea.  As always, I trusted compliments came from those that were trying to be nice.  I believed people always were.  When I was praised, I pondered little.  Words commending my work only served to secure my position; people are consistently giving.  Certainly, my writing was not noteworthy; it was, well indescribable.

Then in graduate school it happened.  I was given an opportunity to grow that differed from those in my past.  His name was Everett E. Murdock, Ph.D..  I enrolled in one of his classes.  He understood my desire to learn.  He allowed me to ask infinite questions; he willingly answered these.  Dr. Murdock quickly recognized my lack of competitive spirit.  He realized that grades were not as important to me as erudition and doing what I thought best for me.  When he assigned a paper, I did not do it once, receive the best of grades, and then leave the composition behind.  I rewrote the pages and resubmitted these again and again.

Professor Murdock patiently re-evaluated my work.  He assessed not only the content but also the context.  He corrected my grammar, remarked when concepts were unclear, and allowed me to learn from his constant and consistent feedback.  I did.  I took all seven classes that he taught.  Dr. Murdock told me, “One day you will go on to teach these same courses.”  I did.  Still, I did not feel passionate about my pursuits.  I went through the motions avidly, though something was lacking.

Years later another opportunity entered my sphere.  It was in the form of a man.  I will call him Gary.  On our first official date, Gary asked, “When you are troubled in a relationship, do you tend to write your thoughts rather than speak aloud of these.”  I had never considered the possibility before.  I only knew that in our four hours together days before, Gary impressed me.  I was happy to make him happy.

When he inquired, I thought for a time.  I remembered on occasions, after a disagreement with my Dad, I had written of my concerns.  I would present these communiqués to my Dad and we would, then discuss.  My dad and I always discussed easily.  Therefore, the writing seemed a non-event.  It was not meaningful or significant; it was just what I did.  Nevertheless, rather than be nit-picky, to please Gary, I said yes, I wrote when speaking was difficult for me.

Gary immediately signed up for email and gave me his account.  I thought this nice, odd, and interesting.  Actually, I was unsure of what it meant.  Soon after I discovered Gary was not the easiest person to talk to.  He was unpredictable, volatile, erratic, and explosive.  Having grown-up in a home when no one ever yelled and consistency was the norm, Gary’s behavior terrified me.  Yet, I was drawn to him.  I knew there was something I needed to learn from this enigmatic man, and as you may recall, I do love learning.

This lesson was the most painful I ever experienced and yet, the most rewarding.  Gary and I exchanged, or might I more accurately said danced as we did for years.  Our exchanges were tentative, though deep.  Misunderstandings were eternal.  The slightest quip could be hurtful or loving.  A rollercoaster ride is calmer than my time with Gary was.  It was so difficult to speak with him and there was so much to say that I took up writing as a regular habit.

I realized almost immediately that if my written phrases were the least bit reactive; they would be received with hostility.  If I could express myself assertively, though with love, I would receive that in kind.  I learned the power of considering an audience.  My skills expanded; I developed an ability to be focused and specific.  I fine-tuned each turn of a phrase.  I grew.

I evolved as a person, as an author, and I realized, writing was my passion all along!  I do not write because I want to say something.  I write because I must express myself with written words.  For me, if I do not write, I do not truly exist.  I am barely alive.  Thus, I write, and write, and write again.

“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.”

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald [Author of the Great Gatsby. 1846 to 1940]
  • Why I Write. George Orwell. First published: Gangrel. London. Summer 1946.