There is no doubt our public schools have changed over the decades. Often the changes are about the advancements in how classes are taught. Grandparents wishing to tutor a student in math soon are aware resolving 12 x 64 now takes a complex series of moves which makes the older person the student! Sports facilities at schools today are far removed from how they were 50 years ago. In some schools cursive writing and phonics are not as valued as they once were.
But there are also changes in our schools which are most definitely not aiding in the education of students or the betterment of society. There is a most pronounced growing lack of respect for teachers, lack of acknowledging authority figures, and a most obvious heightened degree concerning lack of self-respect among some students. There is no disagreement this is happening. News accounts abound of employees at schools slugged in the face, or threatened, and school board meetings disrupted to the point they are suspended or moved to another closed room. The issues that schools deal with are reflected in the headlines about youth who steal cars and engage in burglaries.
Taxpayers and residents know the embarrassment when reading these accounts in a statewide newspaper about this place we call home. We all talk about the problems, and bemoan what is taking place with increasing frequency in our schools and community. But what to do about the problems?
This city prides itself on wanting to have a sound education system with strong schools. There is a desire for smaller classrooms, soundly trained and higher-paid teachers, and facilities that are modern and safe. While there is an expectation that students will be grounded in geography, math, and reading it needs to be stated that schools are also designed to build character. In far too many cases that last goal is not being achieved.
That is why I am casting my ballot for David Blaska for Madison School Board.
The way any organization best serves the larger needs is to have a wide range of educated perspectives. Regardless of where voters stand regarding the candidates for office no one can claim that Blaska does not have a firm foundation of knowledge, experience, and gravitas when it comes to the matters dealing with our schools. Placing that breadth of skills and background into the mix of the board would allow for more options to be debated, and more of the city represented when it comes to our shared responsibility of insuring students have the best education possible.
Over the weeks I have talked to voters in my area about the need for school policies which reflect a standard where students are held accountable for their actions. A standard where respect for authority figures in the schools are met, and where one enters a classroom ready to sit down and learn. Too many voters scorn those standards. They are content to allow the louder and unreasonable rhetoric in Madison to rule their passions at the ballot box. And in so doing they consign a segment of Madison’s student population for failure as adults. If we do not build character and inner resolve within students at school we have failed one of the goals of our education system.
Some voters I spoke with asked me how, as a liberal Democrat, I can show such support for Blaska, a proud conservative Republican. It takes only one sentence to give the short response. Because I have seen first-hand what happens when a diverse group of equally concerned people are determined to make a positive change in policy.
Time and again the ever-changing alliances within the state assembly placed yesterday’s opponents together as allies to champion this or that cause. The following month they are aligned differently to fight for or against another measure. But therein lies one of the deeper truths about governing, something in this city we often neglect when it comes to local races, such as the school board. We love to vilify the opposition but when we learn that issues are the bridges that can connect political opposites it creates a healthier climate where those matters can be dealt with and remedied. It also needs saying that when many broad views are added to the board dialogue a stronger outcome will result. Blaska’s voice is needed on the school board for such an outcome.
One of the great education reformers, Horace Mann, in the 1840s, helped to improve instruction in classrooms nationwide, advocating that character development was as important as academics in American schools. Congress recognized the importance of this concept and authorized the Partnerships in Character Education Program in 1994. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 renews and re-emphasizes this tradition. Indeed, one of the six goals of the Department of Education is to “promote strong character and citizenship among our nation’s youth”. There is strong evidence as to why core values matter in education, and clear evidence to show what happens when we lose sight of them.
I sincerely believe that David Blaska understands what is needed in our Madison schools. Core values and a common sense approach that many of my readers grew up with in their hometown classrooms are also ones which will aid in making our schools safe, productive, and ones we can read about with pride in the newspapers.
We can do this. And we must. Tomorrow’s adults are counting on this year’s voters.