Archive for the ‘Published Articles’ Category

An Op Ed on White Racism

July 12, 2020 Comments off

Here’s an op ed I wrote for our local newspaper on White Racism that will appear in Sunday’s Newspaper:

George Floyd’s killing jarred me. In the aftermath, I spent hours reading books and articles, participated in two online forums exploring race in our culture, filled some gaps in my knowledge of US history, and examining my own attitudes toward race by looking at my upbringing, Ultimately, I came to the unsettling conclusion that the benefits I received because I am White gave me an unearned and unfair advantage over people of color at every turn. I also concluded that the history I learned in school omitted some important and crucial details.

Growing up, I attended schools in different parts of the country. After moving three times during my early years of schooling, I attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma for grades 4 through 6. Located on a tree-lined street in an older part of the city, the Lee School offered daily Art, Music, PE, and science in a lab designed for our age group. The school had a well-stocked library and an auditorium large enough to accommodate the entire student body. In 5th grade at the Lee School I was taught Oklahoma history. We learned about the Native Americans who “settled the state” after following the Trail of Tears; about the Land Rush of 1889 that opened the state to White settlers eager to start their own farms or open their own businesses; and, about Oklahoma’s economy based on cattle ranching and oil. We didn’t learn about how a White mob desroyed Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” and murdered over 200 Black residents 36 years earlier in 1921 in a section of town roughly 30 blocks away from our school. Nor did we learn how the Native Americans who “migrated” to Oklahoma lost almost all of their reservation land over the next Century to the White settlers in the Land Rush or the oil companies whenever their territory was located above an oil field. We did, however, learn about the heroism of our school’s namesake, Confederate war hero General Robert E. Lee, each year in a school assembly.

I spent all of my junior and senior high school years in West Chester, Pennsylvania, during the height of the Civil Rights era. A small college town outside of Wilmington, Delaware, West Chester’s schools and public swimming areas did not fully integrate until the mid-1950s. The Blacks in West Chester almost all lived in the same neighborhood and almost all worked in what we now euphemistically call “essential jobs”. Roughly 10% of the 600 students who graduated with me in 1965 were Black yet only one of them was enrolled in the college preparatory classes I took. There were three Black teachers that I recall seeing in the school during my six years of junior high and high school. When it came to history, we covered the traditional topics: explorers, the Revolutionary War, the work of the Founding Fathers, and a long sequence of names and dates. We DID learn that the Civil War resulted in the freeing of the slaves in the South, but the two times I took American History we skipped Reconstruction and went right to World War I.

As I examined my upbringing in Tulsa and West Chester in the 1950s and early 1960s, I see that I clearly benefitted from being White. Had I been Black in Tulsa I would not have attended Lee School, whose attendance zone was drawn so that it served only White neighborhoods. Had I been Black in Tulsa I would not have been able to play ball with my friends in the leafy city parks reserved for Whites, or been able to earn money delivering newspapers in my all-White neighborhood. Had I been Black in West Chester, Pennsylvania it is unlikely that homeowners in my all White suburban subdivision would answer the door when I was fundraising for school clubs, little leagues, or Boy Scouts. I doubt even more that they would have become lawnmowing customers throughout my high school years, customers whose support helped me to earn enough money to pay for my freshman year in college. Finally, based on what I observed, had I been Black in West Chester it is unlikely that I would have been assigned to the college prep classes I took.

As I’ve reflected on what I was taught—or not taught– it is clear to me that we need to do a better job teaching about race. Children need to be made aware that the racism that exists today is systemicl. Racism is built into our system by our Constitution that allowed slavery to continue; by early state laws that denied any free Black men the opportunity to vote; by Jim Crow laws passed after the Civil War; by court decisions in the late 1800s that supported laws creating “separate but equal” public services and schools; by bankers and realtors across the country who red-lined specific neighborhoods and towns for Blacks to buy homes in; by the GI Bill which made it extraordinarily difficult for Blacks to obtain mortgages or attend college, particularly in the South. Children need to be made aware that racism is not limited to bad deeds done by malicious individuals. Racism is baked into our system, a system that repeatedly and relentlessly reinforces a message: Black Lives DON’T Matter.

The 8 minute 46 second video of George Floyd’s murder, seen around the world, made the point that Black Lives DON’T Matter in a way that words in this essay cannot. As a result, the rationale for the “Black Lives Matter” movement has never been clearer. If our country hopes to reverse the stain of systemic racism we have in place, the coming months are critically important. In her book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo suggests that only those of us who are White can change the system in place because we, alone, benefit from it as it exists now and we exert the most control over it. She suggest that if we “White people understand racism as a system into which we were born and socialized”, we can begin to identify the ways we unwittingly reinforce the system and the ways we might be able to change it. I fear that should this teachable moment pass, should we White people fail to “begin to identify the ways we unwittingly reinforce the system and the ways we might be able to change it”, George Floyd will be another name added to a long list of Blacks who died at the hands of the system and will be forgotten until the next time our racist system kills an innocent Black person.



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Mission Creep

June 21, 2014 1 comment

Timeless Posts XXI

Mission Creep in Public Schools

Posted in January 2012

I recently received a copy of the Weekly Legislative Report from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns urging town officials and school board members in Vermont to prevail upon legislators to stop “mission creep” in our public schools. “Mission creep”, according to Wikipedia’s definition is “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial success”.

I wrote this article for the Valley News in 2007 because I was concerned that our schools were being asked to do too much. The article implies that schools should have a limited role: we should focus on education and education alone. I’ve changed my thinking on that: as noted in my posted White Paper on Reformatting Schools I think that the schools should become the nexus for providing social services to students and should assume the primary responsibility for before-and-after school child care. The White Paper on waivers reinforces this by pointing out that by the time a student takes their first standardized test in 3rd grade they’ve spent 6% of their life in school… and yet the school is 100% responsible for the student’s performance. I don’t think our responsibility is going to change… so it is then imperative for use to work collaboratively with social agencies to prepare children to be successful learners once they set foot in our schools. 

Here’s the op-ed piece from late 2007:

The recent Dresden School Board meeting offered two examples of “mission creep”: v    A review of a proposal by concerned parents that we forbid the sale of junk foods in our vending machines v    And a review of the Code of Conduct agreement signed by parents and student athletes in which athletes pledge to abstain from the use of drugs or alcohol, with an eye toward expanding this agreement to other extra-curricular activities. Implicit in these deliberations is the assumption that public schools are responsible for students’ diets during the hours they are in our schools and for the behavior of student athletes around the clock during sport seasons. There are arguments for and against the schools assuming the responsibility to provide only healthy foods on campus. If we serve students junk food and soda during the hours they are in school, we are effectively endorsing their consumption despite the lessons we teach in the health classrooms about nutrition. If we ban these foods, however, we are effectively denying students the chance to exercise the good judgment we are teaching in those same classes. Similarly, there are arguments for and against the efforts of the school to assume responsibility for the off-campus behavior of student athletes. If we don’t ask students to sign a pledge that they will not use drugs, tobacco, or alcohol when they are participating on a sports team, we are tacitly accepting these behaviors as acceptable off campus and indicating that training rules only apply during the hours students are under our direct supervision. If we require students to sign a pledge, though, we are effectively intruding in their personal lives and holding them to a higher standard than their peers who do not participate in sports. In both cases, our schools considered or accepted these responsibilities with the best of intentions. Both the high school and middle school decided to stop selling french fires and other unhealthy foods because of health concerns, so an outright ban of junk food in vending machines would appear to be the next step in assuming responsibility for students’ diets. The high school instituted their code of conduct agreement because everyone has witnessed how the use of drugs and alcohol affect the health and well being of high school students. In both cases, the roles and responsibilities of parents and the community come into play and, too often, have a limited effect on our efforts. How can the school ban junk food within its cafeteria and allow students to bring junk food in their lunches packed from home and local businesses (not to mention our cafeterias) that depend on revenue from the sale of junk foods? How can the school forbid the off campus use of alcohol by athletes when some parents and community members believe that those of us who attempt to regulate the use of drugs and alcohol around the clock are somehow intruding into the private lives of student athletes or being moralistic. As state legislatures convene in the coming months and our local school boards deliberate on policies and budgets, keep your eyes open for “mission creep”… and let your public officials know when you think they are accepting responsibilities beyond their original goals.

Adequacy, Equity and Broad Based Taxes

June 23, 2012 1 comment

This originally appeared as an op ed piece in the Valley News, our regional newspaper. It was written at a time when the legislature was trying to come up with a definition of “adequacy” that wouldn’t require huge sums of money

The recent court ruling in New Hampshire, which found that the State failed to define a “constitutionally adequate education”, comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the issue of education funding in New Hampshire. For decades the state legislature has grappled with the issue of funding equity, a seemingly impossible task given the state’s heavy reliance on property taxes to fund public schools, and over the years they have repeatedly fallen short of the mark. While the court ruling last week did not address the issue of equity directly, the legislature will be faced with the equity issue when it addresses the court’s mandate to “define and determine the cost of a constitutionally adequate education, further define the requirements of accountability, and establish a uniform tax rate by the end of fiscal year 2007”.  Following this legislative session, the Court will reexamine the funding method enacted and may take further action, if necessary, to ensure that the State provides a constitutionally adequate education.

In order to meet the directive set forth by the court, it seems to me that unless the legislature defines “adequacy” at a minimal level, they will be faced with two distasteful choices: raise tax revenues in the state or redistribute the existing funds raised in the towns. As an educator, I am concerned that the state will base their definition of “adequacy” on the economic realities they face and shortchange the opportunities for future New Hampshire students.

As a superintendent who has worked in five different districts in four different states, I can attest to the reality that local communities and state legislatures often define an “adequate education” based on political and economic realities. In Bethel, Maine in the early 80s an 1890 vintage elementary school was “good enough for my kids because it was good enough for my grandfather”. In Brentwood New Hampshire in the mid 80s physical education, art and music programs were viewed as “frills”. In Western Maryland in the 90s class sizes of 25 were sufficient in elementary schools and class sizes of 35 or more were acceptable in upper level middle school courses. In all of these districts an “adequate wage” for teachers and administrators was so low that turnover was a fact of life— and the teachers and administrators who left the district were inevitably the best and brightest. These standards were not based on any dispassionate definition of adequacy. They were based on economic constraints.

Based on my experience as a school administrator, and given the urgency to have all students achieving at the highest level possible, I believe that the definition of an “adequate” education should be based on the explicit and implicit standards set by the highest performing districts— without regard to cost. If those standards are used, an “adequate” education would include the following:

  • Kindergarten
  • Class sizes of 18-22 in the primary grades
  • Class sizes of no more than 25 in intermediate grades
  • Art, Music, and Physical Education at least twice per week in the elementary grades
  • A media center in each school equipped with internet access
  • A computer classroom in every school large enough to accommodate a class
  • At least one computer in every classroom with internet access
  • Opportunities for High School students to enroll in courses that prepare them for SAT II tests in all content areas
  • Opportunities for High School students to enter the workforce upon graduation with pre-apprenticeship skills
  • Funds for each teacher to pursue graduate level courses and/or professional growth opportunities throughout their career
  • Teacher compensation levels that attract and retain talented and creative college graduates
  • Clean, well maintained schools

These “adequacy” standards are needed if we hope to graduate students who can compete in the global economy. But today these standards cannot be reached across the board in New Hampshire because of disparities in the property tax base. This conundrum may lead the legislature to revisit the notion of redistributing “excess” property tax revenue from relatively wealthy communities to poorer communities in order to avoid a broad based State tax. As Californians can attest, this approach is self-defeating since it will eventually cause the wealthier towns to depress their property taxes to avoid sending the “surplus” to other communities and institute user fees to retain the higher standards in their community.

In the weeks ahead, I urge you to share your “adequate education” standards with the candidates for the legislature in your communities. If the legislators tell you those standards require more funding, ask them how they plan to provide the funding needed to achieve these standards or to share their definition, for that definition will determine the fate of our students for the years ahead.