Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Quotable quote

"Service is our duty and our obligation to repay those who served us. None of us have come from a void; we can only reach enlightenment when we go together hand in hand."

- John Louis Meeks, Jr. John Louis Meeks, Jr. currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida where he teaches social studies at Mayport Middle School. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of North Florida and a veteran of the United States Air Force.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Making a difference for ALL students

The old he-coon may no longer be with us, but we can carry the torch for Governor Lawton Chiles and all Floridians who want our schools to be the best for all of our children. I attended the Duval County School Board debates this evening at First Coast News and was disappointed that one candidate decided to play up his conservative credentials at the expense of understanding that there are liberals, moderates and independents who also want our children to succeed. The school board races have been traditionally nonpartisan, so it annoyed me that we have folks who depend on big names from Tallahassee to steer voters in the direction of one party coming in and telling our community what is best for our schools. I believe in accountability for our public schools. I believe in supporting the best and the brightest educators to help our community. I believe in best serving our children in all schools - public, charter, private, parochial and home. I do not believe in the current paradigm in which we continually use 'accountability' as a weapon with which to remove resources from the schools that need it the most, with which to punish communities that are already struggling, with which to demonize the teachers who toil daily and spend their own money to build better schools and with which to paint a negative picture of the professional organizations that advocate for public schools. The national debate is vigorous as we search for ways to compete in the global marketplace. The real issue is how to solve these pressing problems, and I can say that our educators and education support professionals are not the problem. The real problem lies in perverting the true purpose of what was supposed to be diagnostic testing into a partisan sledgehammer that is used to cripple our schools. This is why I am taking a stand this evening to fully throw my support behind Jon Heymann for School Board.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Learning knows no color - my Times-Union commentary

Four decades after strife and struggle marked race relations in our nation, Florida appears to be taking a step backwards in our work with minority children in the classroom.

In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed Howard University on this very issue, telling Howard University of the perils of freedom when Americans have been playing a catch up game with regard to all Americans having a fair chance to succeed.

You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, "you are free to compete with all the others," and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.

While I understand the reasons behind the state Board of Education’s directive to set student progress goals by race, I respectfully disagree on the grounds that this new policy directly contradicts the goals that we have planned for real accountability in schools.

All along, teacher and parent organizations chafed at the punitive approach that our state’s leaders have taken with what was supposed to be standardized testing to diagnose the ills that are harming our students. All along, teacher and parent organizations pleaded with the state to take into account the factors that negatively affect our public schools.

Our problem is not racial, our problem is poverty. We miss the point when we believe that an African-American student in a relatively prosperous ZIP code needs to be given a pass in meeting the standards. I would point out that students, regardless of race or ethnic group are struggling because they happen to come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Look at the neighborhood schools with high percentages of students who are on free and reduced lunches. The data will point out that failure knows no color. Socioeconomic status is what really dictates how students will perform on standardized tests.

While it is easy for us to change the rubric for student success to yield better numbers, the real work at hand is for us to change the circumstances that hobble our young people.

Regardless of our ideology, we all continue to fight a losing war on poverty that can only be addressed in ensuring that all citizens prosper with better jobs, better wages and better quality of life.

This, of course, is not going to be easy because we have been fighting a recession that seems to be as endless as the number of students who are dropping out of school and being lost to the criminal justice system or the welfare state.

The beginning of the real solutions is for our state’s leadership to finally listen to the people and to finally set aside petty partisan grievances and games to afford all Floridians a chance to work together for better schools that work for all.

The obvious answer, say many, it to divert more public funds to charter, private and parochial schools. This neglects the fact that we still have to operate public schools as our state constitution mandates in accordance with a paramount duty to do right by our students.

We are right to decry efforts to water down standards for minorities for the sake of moving children of color along. We are right to question Affirmative Action programs that ask more from white and Asian children simply because of the color of their skin.

What frustrates me about this issue is that this is a bed that we have made and now we are being forced to sleep in. What frustrates me is that we are tacking the same problems that we were warned about when FCAT turned from a helpful tool to a cudgel with which to assault educators who toil daily to meet the needs of all children.

The right thing for us to do now is to stop and repair this dysfunctional system that begins not in the classroom but in the pocketbooks that deprive many of our young people of an equal chance to succeed and in the economic policy that can put more people to work.

John Louis Meeks, Jr. currently resides in Jacksonville, Florida where he teaches social studies at Mayport Middle School. He is a 1998 graduate of the University of North Florida and a veteran of the United States Air Force.

Source: http://jacksonville.com/news/florida/2012-10-14/story/florida-taking-step-backward-setting-standards-based-race

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Backpage Editorial - Folio Weekly

We are looking for a few good men and women to lead our nation. The problem is that we cannot handle the truth about politics or else we would not be beating ourselves up every four years over politicians who allegedly break their promises or commit the cardinal sin of flip flopping.

We like to think that we live in the real world while we consign our leaders to Mount Olympus where they should rule like gods. When we learn that they are men and women like the rest of us, we are quick in our condemnation and judgment of them. This attitude is already going to doom the person who will be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2013.

I remember watching the State of the Union address on television back in the days when it interrupted our regularly scheduled broadcasts on our three available broadcast networks. I remember marveling at the cavernous chamber in which the president gave his annual message to both houses of Congress and the co-equal branches of our republic.

I surely felt that I was dreaming when I visited the House of Representatives in person and looked down from the visitors’ gallery onto a space that could be no larger than the average junior high school gymnasium. The games that Congress plays, of course, have higher stakes than the typical match between school children, but I am tempted to believe that the adults who debate the issues of the day can be just as juvenile.

To say that I am shocked by the nature of today’s politics would be untrue. We elect leaders who we believe are going to change the world singlehandedly. This is a delusion that ignores the fact that our nation is a constitutional republic. Our system is designed to rebuke those who engage in overreach to achieve their aims. Notice how quickly our nation recoiled when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt attempted to pack the Supreme Court with justices who would be friendlier to his agenda. Look even farther back to the effort by radical congressman to remove President Andrew Johnson over making decisions that were within his purview as chief executive.

We are lying to ourselves when we demand that our presidents move mountains. The kind of man or woman who can truly reshape our nation also has the power to become a dictator or a monarch – the kind that our Founding Fathers revolted against when King George III and his parliament attempted to exercise absolute power over the colonies. We are deluding ourselves when we believe that the men and women whom we elect are going to magically solve all of our problems so we can go back to our comfortable lives of sitting on the couch, updating our Facebook pages and watching reality television. The genuine reality of our politics is much more complicated.

If we are to judge our leaders on their broken promises, we must also afford them the benefit of the doubt regarding their effort. If President Woodrow Wilson were alive today, the same man who has numerous streets named for him in Europe and around the world, would be deemed a failure for his ‘broken’ promise of getting the United States into the League of Nations. Never mind that Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke while in office and his wife ran the nation by proxy, our results-oriented society would have condemned Wilson in ways that his contemporaries never would have imagined.

Yes, we expect candidates for public office to issue sweeping agendas for our future and we expect them to follow through, but we ignore the fact that our system is more than just the person who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

President Ronald Reagan raised taxes. Did he want to raise taxes? No. As the flag bearer for the modern conservative movement, he did what was necessary to keep our nation solvent. He did what was necessary out of necessity. This meant that he had to govern in ways that supposedly betrayed his political beliefs and he was rewarded with reelection. This would never happen today because our petty dogma prevents such leaders from making the difficult decisions to move us forward.

President John F. Kennedy cut taxes. Did he need to cut taxes? Yes. He defied the liberals in his own party to prime the pump for the world’s greatest postwar economy not out of expediency but in the best interests of those who put him into office. These moments of acting out of principle and not out of partisanship are what make us nostalgic for the leaders who actually did lead.

Leaders, however, cannot take charge without support from the people. Our prevailing attitude is that once the polls close, our job is done. We could never be more wrong. The New Deal coalition of old was composed of active citizens who worked together for the betterment of our nation. The common good was the motivation for people of all backgrounds to unite around the cause of good government. Instead, we retreat and expect our politicians to do all of the heavy lifting by themselves. It is most convenient for us to condemn our public officials for failing us when we indeed have failed ourselves.

I am not speaking of a new malaise when I roundly condemn our action, or inaction, in affecting the change that we crave. I am speaking of an ignorance that speaks more to our own personal failings that permit us to continue to be lied to by our leaders.

Remember when former Vice President Walter Mondale leveled with Americans in 1984 that he was going to raise taxes? He was rewarded with a historical drubbing at the polls. This kind of honesty did not go unpunished. This is not unique to our shores, either. In 1983, the British Labor Party wrote their own suicide letter with a manifesto (platform in our parlance) that told their electorate exactly what they wanted to do. They lost in a bloodbath that helped keep Margaret Thatcher in office for a generation. It should come as no surprise that our politicians are wearing flip flops. As Bill Maher wisely said it, these people are not waffling or flip flopping – they are adapting to what we want in our government. This is why a pro-choice candidate for president in 1980 turned into a pro-life candidate when he was chosen to be the vice presidential candidate by Ronald Reagan. This is why President Lyndon Baines Johnson went from opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1957 as senate majority leader to being a president who championed civil rights. Changing our mind, in my opinion does not indicate weakness, it indicates the maturity to understand that consistency is indeed the hobgoblin of little minds – to borrow a phrase from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The words and actions of men and women indeed can be great, but we must never forget that these fellow human beings are as fallible as we are. We must always remember that when we point the finger of judgment in the direction of those who seek to lead, we are pointing fingers at ourselves. It is time that we grow up and wake up to the truth of our politics.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Open for business for educators!

I woke up this morning and found the right resource for the right time when I turned on the television. The Morning Show, on WJXT-TV, featured a story about a website called TeachersPayTeachers.com. It has been the answer to my question about how educators can network with other educators to share their lessons and to supplement their income. I have launched my participation in this new venture by including materials that connect art and history. If you teach art or history, please feel free to visit the below link and buy my work!