The Governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force has held public meetings in two of six scheduled cities around the state. Cindy Peterson, mother, business owner and wife from the Chamberlain area attended the business leaders meeting in Chamberlain on June 2, 2015. She sent me this email with her thoughts and observations from the meeting and has given permission to publish here. I appreciate her insight, honesty and candor.
Some Thoughts from a Blue Ribbon Attendee
By Cindy Peterson
I was torn on whether or not to even attend. I thought, why bother? After all, it’s easy for me to mistrust the bureaucrats, elected or appointed, that have failed to listen or be open to any honest discussion. Are the results pre-determined? Probably. Is the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Education just a show and in the end, the above mentioned politicians are just going to stay the misdirected course regardless of what the public discussion was?
Then an oddly worded email went out to legislature’s inboxes stressing that the panel would not be discussing standards, assessments and anything related to such things because those aren’t related to funding. But how can we possibly discuss funding without discussing spending? What have the state and school districts spent on implementing new standards and the associated curriculum and assessments?
It goes without saying that we are behind in this battle. The millions spent for promotion, the emails and mass-communication to legislatures, administrators, school boards and teachers with talking points and motivation to tow the line began months, if not years before many of us even realized the reforms were coming down the pipeline. And when the massive changes started taking place in our kids’ classrooms and in our kids’ behavior, we got emotional. After all these are OUR children. Not the school’s, not the state’s. My husband and I are responsible for their education and we may choose to sub-contract that out to the public or private school but in the end, I am the parent. So I’ve gotten upset. I’ve gotten emotional. I’ve asked questions that wouldn’t or couldn’t be answered and I got angry. But if I did those things towards a reformer, they could quickly label me a crazy suburban mom with too much time on her hands thanks to the prep work already done to prepare the decision makers in anticipation of people like us coming to talk about the reforms. (And by the way, I run a business, am active in my community/church and keep my kids active and engaged. I don’t have the extra time I have taken to research and learn. I depended on my elected officials and my school administrators to do that work for me. But they didn’t. So here we are.)
But I learned something in the last few years of doing what I could to redeem my children’s public education. Let me fill you in on a secret. When we are angry and upset we play right into the reformers game plan. By going in guns blazing, the shields go up and any chance for meaningful conversation gets tossed. Has it always worked? Heck no. But I’ve realized that we are at the point that we aren’t going to win the minds of those already set on following this agenda. But we do have an opportunity to defy the label that has been placed on us and help others see the problems that face our children’s education.
At the beginning of the Blue Panel session, the moderator ran through a list of how we were going to act, listen and be open-minded to others thoughts. We were asked to “be present”. Which seemed funny because the group of legislators were anything but present as they talked amongst themselves and pecked away on electronic devices in the back of the room. In my opinion, those associated with this task force aren’t interested in hearing what we have to say. If they did, they’d be sitting at the tables listening to the meaningful discussions taking place. They’d be engaged. They’d be present. They weren’t.
But I knew I wasn’t there to convince them of anything. I’ve been there, done that. I attended to give encouragement to the enlightenment stage of others sitting at my table who maybe haven’t had the full dosage of complacency kool-aid.
So again, why do we bother going to the Blue Ribbon meetings? I don’t have time to play their games and I’m sure you don’t either.
But what if we were able to take the opportunity to listen to others and gently mention the topics that most people can agree on?
At the session I attended, a funny thing began to happen. The “cost of compliance”, “cost of federal and state mandates” were the themes in some of our smaller group discussions. When these were mentioned in the small groups everyone at our table nodded in agreement. Including educators.
I never heard the words Common Core or Smarter Balance. But someone said that “the constant change in reforms and mandates must be expensive.”
I asked leading questions, like, “Are we spending our education dollars on proven methods or are we spending money on the latest education fad?” Heads nodded in agreement. Then a teacher asked “How much are we spending on programs or curriculum to help our kids achieve on a test?” Which led another participant to ask “How much are we spending on the test!?”
When the discussion turned to retaining quality teachers I asked, “Do our experienced teachers feel respected? Do they feel the training they’ve received was a good investment?” The teachers’ heads shook, no they didn’t. “How much was spent on that teacher training a couple years ago?”, I asked. “Too much” an educator answered.
We discussed what we were spending money on and if it gave value to the education of our children. And if the quality of that education was evident to the taxpayer.
I think the key for me was to hold my cards tight. I wasn’t there to discuss my concerns with bad curriculum based of off poorly written standards or ask questions about a test that so many other states are stepping away from. I realized that many people at these tables have been warned about people like me. I tried to hide my crazy as best I could and let the conversation flow. If I’d blasted them with other issues, I would’ve done exactly what the reformers wanted me to do. Then they could discredit everything I said. I planted seeds and I pray those seeds will continue to grow into empowerment.
I’m not so sure that there aren’t planted participants engaging in discussion to try to guide or control the small groups, after all we’ve seen that in action. But there was little that could be done when respectable dialogue was taking place and people were nodding in agreement.
I encourage you to attend. Smile and nod and play that part of the game. Encourage the discussion. We are engaged in these discussions because we care about the state of education for our children in South Dakota. We are engaged because we care about our teachers and want to let them to be able to do their jobs and be paid appropriately for that selfless call. We are actively involved because we don’t want wasteful spending on unproven, latest and greatest education fads. We are speaking out because we don’t want to spend money on assessments that aren’t going to lead to meaningful development of our children into well-rounded adults that are given the freedom to follow their God-given path in life.
Why are you involved? What is the monetary cost of those concerns? Those are the seeds you can plant. Go forth and gently sow. And try not to gag when you’re asked to consolidate your thoughts on a 3×3 sticky note. Yes, because the world can be changed one sticky note at a time.