Kitty Boone: Guest opinion
September 11, 2009
I confess, I am confused. Confused by a nation that has experienced a meteoric rise over the past decades to the position as world superpower, yet suffers a gap in math, science and literacy that places its student population in 24th place worldwide in various levels of educational achievement. Confused by statistics that suggest 50 percent or more of the American public denounces evolution in favor of a view that the earth was really formed just 6,000 years ago. Confused by a staggering drop-out crisis among our nation’s high school students that accounts for one child leaving high school every nine minutes; in some urban districts drop-out rates amount to 35, even 40 percent and higher. Confused by a nation where urban districts can predict future prison beds based on third-grade reading attainment, and chagrined that the percentage of African-American males incarcerated in the United States approximates 50 percent of those between 18 and 35 – 50 PERCENT.
So imagine how confused I am now when a local school administrator and a handful of parents in this valley decide that a president who makes it a priority to address our nation’s young people directly regarding the value of education and the critical importance of staying in school has a message that might be construed as too political or somehow inappropriate for their children’s ears. I was pretty interested when our last president supported Cs in school, to – that is an interesting message to send.
But this one doesn’t talk about grades. He talks about studies, discipline and hard work. He talks about turning off the TV and the Xbox in favor of a book and, yes, homework. He talks about his single mom who got up at 4:30 a.m. to teach him extra lessons before heading to work, so that her son might keep up, perhaps get ahead. He talks about the future of this country, and how it rests in the hands of the generation now in school, and how critical it is for young people to apply themselves. He raises the specter of possibility and inspires hope that these kids too might be the next great inventor, next author of the great American novel, next scientist to discover a cure for a major disease.
So, in an attempt to wade through this confusion, I did some research to find some clarity. I didn’t find it. The drop out rates for the RE-1 School District amounted to 9 percent in 2005 (the last year for which I could find statistics); by comparison, the average in Colorado for that year was 3.9 percent. Test scores more recently suggest that students in the district average in the 40th percentile in their CSAP math scores, and in the 50s and lower in writing. (They do better in reading – up in the 60s). If these percentiles were to translate into grades on an exam, would these be passing grades?
I fully appreciate the challenges of teaching today. Pay stinks for teachers, workloads and in-classroom challenges are staggering and resources for the job are sub-par, to say the least: Colorado ranks 40th out of 50 in state funding per pupil. We as taxpayers should be embarrassed.
This week we were all offered easy access to a remarkable, teachable moment. But what do we do? We eliminate the opportunity to share it with the intended audience: our kids. A simple and straightforward message, from the one person they might listen to: a passionate believer in the promise of young people, the president of the United States. And to thwart the suspicion that our children might be victims of some hidden political agendas, he even offered the speech to us in advance, that we parents and school administrators might vet his remarks to be sure they were appropriate. And some of us still put up a stink.
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NOT IMPORTANT, is the real message we get. NOT FROM THIS PRESIDENT, is the subtext of the decision. But if not this or any other president, then who might our teens and younger kids look to for this level of mentorship? Does anyone else come to mind that might address a nation’s youth with more conviction and appreciation than the person who ascends to the Oval Office?
Lest you haven’t read the speech: President Obama asked our nation’s kids to take school seriously and to STICK WITH IT. He encouraged your high school students, Ms. Haponstall, to stay in your schools and to see the value of the education you offer. He beseeched them to respect your teachers and to pay attention to them. He attempted to engage their imaginations with the prospect of hope that they too could live a dream, should they elect to do the work to get there. My gosh, Madam Superintendent, you may just have blackballed the single biggest cheerleader for the very good and critically important work you are attempting to do. If your nation’s president can’t inspire you to keep going yourself, who will?
I can only hope that President Obama will address more young people more often over the course of his term. Wouldn’t it be stunning if our high school and younger students demand to listen? President Obama is talking to them about their future, not ours, and they have a right to hear that.
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