Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Welcome to Richmond . . .

I was at my first candidate forum last night. (It would make no sense to call it a debate because there was very little debating going on). It was a very strange format, since all the candidates on the ballot (write-ins were not invited) from all nine city districts were sitting side by side. We were given two minutes each for an opening and closing statement and two minutes (later shortened to one minute) to answer specific questions. It went 20 opening statements, 20 answers to three questions and then 20 closing statements. I don’t know how anybody in the audience kept track of all that rhetoric and even figured out who is running against whom.

I know your curiosity must be at a fever pitch, so I will tell you the three questions we were asked. First was “have you ever worked for Richmond Public Schools and spent time in the classroom, and are you in this board race for personal gain?” Second was “what is the most important problem facing Richmond Public Schools?” Third was the question that is my personal least favorite “Do you favor charter schools?” All of us candidates, on each question, were consistently pro-change, pro-child and pro-accountability. It was all very pleasant; the only candidates raising their voices seemed to be the ones running against incumbents.

Now, let’s step back a few days. I had asked a bunch of my friends and family to help me polish up my campaign message. My son, Josh, who lives and works in the DC area and edits publications in the international bio tech industry, advised me,

This is a key point – those kids will be competing for jobs against peers from Richmond, Virginia, the East Coast, the U.S., China, India, etc. That’s the 21st Century. So they better step it up. (On an aside, once you win, you should really try to foster communication, among kids/teachers with kids/teachers in other countries to work on joint research projects remotely via the Internet. Those connections could be more valuable than anything else the school could provide).

Hey, my Numero Uno son, what does this have to do with “are you in it for personal gain,” “what’s the biggest problem,” and “do you love charter schools”? Josh, you are talking about an issue that isn’t even a remote blip on the radar down in River City.

A friend, who is a Democratic pol up in Fairfax County and recently managed a successful campaign for county-wide office, came back with this advice,

Here's my thought: I have a grandchild. I'm concerned about her future. Education makes a difference. Our children will learn about science and math in elementary school. By the time they graduate from high school, the science they learned before will be outdated. New discoveries will replace old ideas. The pace of change is at lightning speed. Our schools must teach our children how to learn and inspire their curiosity and imagination. That's what will enable them to survive in the world just around the corner. Do our public schools do that now? Not on your life. I care about my granddaughter. You care about your grandchildren and your children. Getting by won't prepare our kids for the 21st century. I will fight to make our public schools relevant and effective for 21st century learning. They aren't now. Our kids deserve better. I'll work tirelessly for the kids, not for me.

Michael, you like Josh are raising a very significant issue. But you are missing the point—this is Richmond, USA. Here we are concerned with whether our schools are accredited. Here we are concerned about whether parents have enough school choices for their kids. Here we are concerned about high school graduation rates. Here we are concerned about whether our school administration is handling our tax dollars properly. We haven’t even begun to think about whether the SOL-based education that we give our children will prepare them for the 21st Century issues they will face as adults.

If I ran a campaign based on the issues you suggest, I fear that people around here would look at me dazed and confused. It would take me weeks just to figure out a way to explain it to them. Here we are down in Richmond, barely 125 miles from you guys, and we simply don’t have the same school issues. Our issues are all issues that other places have dealt with long ago.

But, it’s like the old joke:
A plane lands at Richmond International (we have an AirCanada flight now, so we truly are international). As the plane is taxiing to the terminal, the flight attendant announces—
“Welcome to Richmond. Be sure to set your watches back twenty five years.”

1 comment:

gray said...

"We haven’t even begun to think about whether the SOL-based education that we give our children will prepare them for the 21st Century issues they will face as adults."

This is the biggest issue we face. The teaching to the multiple choice test is robbing our children of an education and not preparing them for the real world. I had a conversation with a veteran RPS teacher yesterday about the multiple choice tests -how downtown is demanding that the teachers use them over other testing measures and how the good grades our children are receiving are not reflecting what they really know or understand. I told this teacher that I feel they are lying to us and before I could even finish my sentence, the teacher said, "they are," and that my concern was, "valid."