Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Note on Comments

I love comments.  I've never had any bad comments on my posts (at least not in writing or to my face), but I wouldn't hate that either.  Well, I would, but only on a personal level and only because I want everyone to love me.

Anyone can comment.  You can comment annonymously or you can sign in on a Google account.  I prefer civilized communication, and wouldn't leave a post that contained ugly comments about someone else, but I'm pretty flexible.

If I decided to delete a comment, I'd explain why.  And that's what I'm doing now.

Some people have noticed that on a couple of posts there is a note "comment deleted."  I deleted these because they were spam.  Although most of them are simply selling stuff (and have the pictures to prove it), some have dangerous links.  I hate to even check them out.  One time someone put a comment in French that linked to a viagra ad.  A couple of links are in a language I can't get translated, and I delete them on the assumption that they are selling porn or sending secret messages to Osama bin Laden.  That's the way I am.

Please comment.  Please use a language I can understand or can have translated.  I speak three languages: English, sarcasm, and profanity, but I don't use profanity here.  (I stole that line from someone of Facebook.)  I can have French, German, Spanish, Italian, possibly Japanese and Chinese, and maybe Greek and Russian translated.  This is not to say I encourage that, because although I've had visitors from around the globe, this is an English-speaking blog and the whole point is to communicate, right?

And to sum up: go ahead and comment.  No SPAM.

And thank you for being here.  Y'all come back, y'here?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Carolina School for Inquiry: A Vision of Sustainability

I am running for the Board of Directors of Carolina School for Inquiry again.  I know, nutters.  But this is why I am running, and why I think I can make a difference.

Carolina School for Inquiry is in its 5th year.  We have made AYP for two years in a row, with test scores that exceed many of the district's best schools.  We have done this without teaching to the test, without segregating the blue birds from the red birds from the crows, without breaking the spirits of the children. 

We have done this with child-centered, inquiry-based, multi-aged education.  Innovation that has been proven to work for all children and not just for children of privilege. 

Now it is time for the board of directors to work hand-in-glove with the director to make sure that this success is sustainable, long after we are gone. 

In the development of a charter school, as with a young nation, there is a need for different kinds of leaders at different times.  Some can transition, but others will move on to new projects that better suit their style and emotional needs.

The early leaders of CSI were visionaries and charismatic leaders who were able to convince people to take a chance with their most precious resources, their children, and to pin their hopes on a new way of teaching and learning... a new way of thinking.  Like the leaders of the American Revolution, such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, & Benjamin Franklin, they were flashy, fast and opinionated. The charisma was palatable and people were drawn like moths to a flame.  And that was good.

After CSI was established, the mission remained the same, but the job at hand shifted from recruitment and rhetoric to "making it happen."  Carolina School for Inquiry was fortunate to have a director who had the diverse skill set necessary to make the "fine fine ideas" a "fine fine school."

I'm constantly amazed at the things Victoria Dixon-Mokeba has done.  The job hasn't been easy and it hasn't been glamorous.  There will be no parades or national holidays in her honor.  She has charisma, although it's not the kind that sucks the oxygen out of any room she enters.  It's not a "look at me" charisma, but the charisma that you feel when you talk to someone who is really interested in you, your child, and your ideas. She has developed her natural empathy, organizational skills, determination and dignity into a skill set that pretty much defines "great charter school leader."  I think that one of the most important skills is her humility, her ability to set aside her ego in order to listen to others and to learn new things.    She is determined and hard working and has inspired (and sometimes cajoled) those around her to work as hard and to take the responsibility that comes with freedom and flexibility.  Although I think there must be other people who could have lead Carolina School for Inquiry through the tumultuous first five years, I am not sure anyone could have brought us to this point of success.  Most of the board members over the past five years have supported Ms. Dixon-Mokeba as she lead the school through the development phase. 

And now we are here, what next?

The Carolina School for Inquiry Board of Directors needs to move CSI from "fine idea" to "fine fine school" to "fantastic model of a fine fine school." 

  • After a brief return to the cult of personality, it is time for the board to re-establish policies and procedures that serve as clear guidelines for the administrator, faculty, staff, parents and children, so that the director can operate without fear that the board will "get her" to satisfy a private grudge or to meet a private need.
  • The Board of Directors needs to establish a 10-year plan, which should include the funding and purchase of a school building so that CSI is no longer used as a pawn in the drama and personnel issues of other agencies.
  • A long-term sustainable fund-raising plan needs to be developed, and I'm not talking about wrapping paper and donuts.
  • We need to support and encourage the development of cutting-edge movements in education in order to serve the students and their families better and better.  I'm particularly excited about the plan being implemented by the special education teachers to help kids before they become paralyzed by their labels.  (I think this is going on, unless the past board shut it down.)   The board needs to encourage innovation, through its support of the director's initiatives.
  • CSI needs to serve as a resource to other schools and educators who want to develop child-centered, inquiry-based, multi-aged schools.  We need to allow the director to re-establish relationships with colleges and universities in the area.   We need to work with groups hoping to form middle or high schools on the inquiry model and with people who want to replicate the K-6 model of CSI.
Now, why me?  Because I am willing to do it.  I don't expect a plaque or even an opportunity to give a speech.  I have learned a whole lot in the past 6 years, and I want to use that knowledge to help CSI move into its next phase. 

There is a vision that I share with Victoria Dixon-Mokeba and with many other former board members and members of the CSI community:  A Vision of Sustainability.  And that will be our reward.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sure you can, but SHOULD you?

Many many years ago, I sat at a table in a college bar with a young man who informed me that he could put his fist in his mouth.

Many people would have said, "this I gotta see!" but I said, "I don't think that's a good idea."

He said, "You don't think I can do it, do you?"

I said, "If I thought you couldn't do it, I'd let you try."

The point of this story... the relevant point of this story... is that just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.  And by "can" I mean physically or "have the right to" do something.  Because that's what I want to talk about.

We are often faced with the question, "I know I can, but should I?"  It usually involved eating a chocolate cake, telling a racist joke or letting your sister-in-law know what you really think of her.  And that is important.  But sometimes it involves bigger issues.

There are two situations now where I would defend to the death people's right to do something, one with more enthusiasm than the other.  But I wonder, should they do it?

Case one is cut and dried to me:  the idiot Pastor in Florida who wants to burn the Koran on September 11.  Sure he has the right to do it, as long as he bought the books and he has a burning permit. 

But should he?  Isn't it always icky to burn books?  Even if you weren't forced to read Fahrenheit 451 in high school (and if any book should be burned...), doesn't the notion of burning books and thereby symbolically burning ideas make you feel dirty?  Don't you wish the Pastor would just stick his fist in his mouth?

But no, he wants to burn books to defend his perverted notion of Christianity.

I can't accuse the Pastor of being a hypocrite, since I recognize that in his world view, it's OK to burn other ideas while insisting that your ideas be spread by any means.  I am tired of these people who call themselves Christians insisting that they are being persecuted because people disagree with them.  What do they know of persecution?  You don't hear about St. Cyndi who complained to the principal when the other girls laughed at her for praying during lunch. 

But there is persecution, and it is possible that his selfish actions will cause Americans (military and civilian) to be killed or tortured in Iraq or Afghanistan.  It is one thing to be willing to join Daniel in the lion's den.  It is another to sit in sunny Florida and send others into the lion's den.

The other event is very different, in my mind.  But in thinking about the moron Pastor, I've rethought this, too.

A group of good-hearted people want to build a Mosque near Ground Zero.  It is their hope that the center will serve to open relations among people of different faiths and to help educate Americans about Islam.  I believe them, and I think that it is a great cause.

Whether I believed them or not, I'd defend their right to build. Since I believe them, I have thought that they should build.  But now I'm not sure. 

It's not because I think they should back off from the angry, bigoted crowd.  I don't think we should be "sensitive" to bigotry.  If I offend someone by being a Muslim or a lesbian or an Episcopalian, I am not going to change so as not to offend them, or even to make myself more comfortable in their presence.  (See "martyrdom" above.)  If that were the only issue I'd say, build it bigger and better.  Who cares?

I think they should reconsider building the Mosque at ground zero because their purpose is to open hearts and minds and to educate, but that isn't going to happen because the issue has shifted to the building and the place and not the mission.  I think that the anger and vitriol shows that there is a great need for education and bridge-building.  I'm just not sure this is how to start.

The pastor is clearly wrong.  The Mosque may defeat its own purpose.  I'm going to eat the whole chocolate cake and not tell my sister-in-law what I think of her.  I will not tell racist jokes.  Civilization is saved.