Monday, September 12, 2011

A Parent Activist New to the Movement Shares Her Thoughts

I only met Janine Sopp last spring at a CEC District 14 meeting in Williamsburg where her daughter goes to school. She urged parents to fight the budget cuts. Since then we in GEM have grown increasingly close to Janine. She jumped into the work of the GEM testing committee and recently joined the GEM steering committee. Her insatiable desire to find out about everything and share what she learns with everyone is inspiring. Meeting people like Janine is why I'm still involved in this mishegas 9 years after I retired. Here is an email she sent out expressing her wonder at what she has and is continuing to learn.

To Friends, Family, Parents and Teachers I have been in touch with regarding Education,

Welcome back to PS 2011-12. I hope you all had a wonderful summer. What seemed to be slow in arriving was quite enjoyable for my daughter and myself once it kicked in. The cold spell with hurricane-like rains sent a little chill down my spine thinking about the upcoming long and cold season, but the heat of last week helped me relax a little into the more gentle transition toward the fall season.

Now back to school, some of you may be thinking about what this new school year will bring. After putting a tremendous amount of energy into the issues around budget cuts during the spring, I began to learn and understand that these cuts were just the tip of the iceberg as to the state of affairs of our Public Education System. I guess having a child IN public school makes one become aware of these surroundings. Little did I know that much of what is happening is due to policies put in place long before my daughter was born by the Bush Administration, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), in 2001. At this time because I did not have a child in school I was not thinking about education. Now, it seems like the only cause I can find the time for. The learning curve has been dicey at best, but I spent the summer reading and meeting and have a much better handle on why things look the way they do.

If you are (still) my facebook friend, you have seen my posts. If I had time, I'd become a blogger, but there are others who do this extremely well. Though delighted by the teacher my daughter has and our love for her school, I can hardly believe that the circumstances that we now face daily are such a travesty. That the stakes are so high to not only her, but to her beloved classmates, teachers and the survival of her school. Not to mention the 1.1 million school children in NYC, NYS and far beyond in our nation.

I did not sit down to write this while simply preparing to forward this particular petition, but I was moved to give you the back story of what I have come to understand. Some of you may already know what our kids are facing, others may not, or simply might agree with how things are. I make no judgement because we all perceive things differently and have different needs. I only share what I am learning because if you feel as though something does not feel right to you, you are not alone. If you feel that the priorities of your school (or all schools), it's curriculum, the Department of Ed's focus, the issues surrounding high stakes testing, the concerns of your child regarding these tests, the lack of funds, the 10 minute recesses, the loss of art, music, etc., the increase in class sizes and the general state of education is just not right, you are NOT alone.

I did not realize when I began to find my voice and look for support that there are many, many organizations already working on these issues. There are websites, blogs, books, internet radio shows, facebook pages, the list is endless. I felt like I found a wealth of information just because I was looking. Maybe you are afraid that if you do share your opinion or begin to discuss these concerns you will be met with negativity from others (teachers, principal, parents, spouse, etc.) Or maybe you don't think anyone else shares your concerns and you will stand out like a sore thumb. I know I have and do, even with people I seem to have so much else in common with.

It has not been easy to come to terms with the information I have attained. I suppose if it was happening to someone else, maybe in another town or country, I could turn away and just keep my life going. But this is not the case. It is happening in my school, in my town, and with my child. It is happening in my State and in our Country. What I see is not right in my eyes. What I feel goes against the grain of all I believe in for my child, our children and what all children should have. I have never felt so much passion for anything in all my life, and believe me, my passions run deep. I have been interested in world affairs for a long time, but this one, this one that affects our kids, has me in knots.

I realize I cannot save the world (tried that before). And I realize this is a long journey to freedom. This world will likely not become the vision I have in mind, at least not in my lifetime, so I have accepted I may never see the changes I'd like to see while my child is in school. But since there are children younger than her, and many more who haven't been born yet, I can only hope that at some point in time, the way we educate (the masses of) children will be very different than they are today. I also believe that if we do not step up now, we will have tremendous trouble bringing Public School Education back on a healthy track (much like Global Warming?)

Having said all this, I guess I am asking those of you who would prefer not to receive my emails to kindly just let me know. I won't be offended because it will ease the guilt I tend to feel about taking up unsolicited space in your inbox. But for those of you who want to share in learning more, discussing some and possibly taking steps toward making changes, please raise your hand by emailing me back. If you don't respond, I'll just keep sending you my news until you tell me to stop. Sometimes it just helps to learn a new piece of information and you don't need to do a thing. Knowledge is Power as I see it.

Other than this, what I really meant to do was just share this. I look forward to seeing you around.

All the best,
A little over a year ago, Julie Cavanagh asked me what my goal was in all this. I really don't have goals and  don't look too far ahead. Long term for me is about a day. I thought about her question and finally responded, "My goal is to find 50 more people like you." Basically, I'm a talent scout.

Since then I've met people like Janine and Liza Campbell and her crew in NYCORE and the New Teacher Underground. I view "growth" of a movement not in thousands but in double digits - a relatively few key organizers and activists who will go forth and organize and find more organizers and activists. Now, when you start putting these people together you eventually get to spontaneous combustion.

Let me give you one example. In December 2009 I introduced teacher Julie to parents Leonie Haimson, Lisa Donlan and Khem Irby. Boom. The combination of people of this quality working together is like splitting the atom. So I'm incredibly optimistic from my very narrow point of view at the growth in opposition to the ed deformers. If I were Bill Gates, I would be scared. Very scared.

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1 comment:

Tory Frye (District 6 parent) said...

Beautifully put Janine! You captured the difficulty of doing this work in a community that you want to be a welcoming and happy place for your child. You also described well the sadness that comes with the realization that your child will suffer because of misguided state-level policies. Welcome to the struggle; you are badly needed; your efforts are deeply appreciated. You will be paid back in love from fellow parents and the knowledge that you are an inspiration to your child, who watches you fight for what you know to be right!