Another Reminder to Learn Our History

And for those who think this lacking grasp on American history is limited to those writing on the right-hand side of our historical ledger, one only needs to look at recent responses from the left on what needs to be done to get rid of President Donald J. Trump to understand that a broader understanding and appreciation of American civics is needed by all comers.

From dear ol’ Eduflack’s latest commentary on Medium, exploring recent rhetoric on removing President Donald Trump, rhetoric that flies in the face of everything on which the United States is built

Immigration Lessons, Third Grade Edition

The edu-daughter is learning about immigration this month in her third-grade class. Before things even got started, we made sure she realized she was, herself, an immigrant. She arrived in this country at 13 months old from Guatemala. She was sworn in as a baby U.S. citizen in the basement of the Bush Airport in Houston.

For whatever reason, she has really taken to this focus on immigration. Over the weekend, the edu-daughter went to work on her personal white board to write up what she has learned so far about immigration. (She then asked if we could text the picture to her teacher, so she could see what she was up to.)


My first thought, after reading her notes, was that she is learning about immigration via The Godfather Part 2. There is a rising sense of pride that she sees immigration as Vito Corleone did as he arrived on our shores.

But after further reflection, I was even more proud with how she has jumped into this lesson and how she is not reflecting any of the ugliness that we see on the topic of immigration in the mainstream media these days. It would be very easy for a child, particularly a brown child, to realize that when they talk about “those people” coming into our country and us needing to send them back home, that some of those people carry the same blood and look just like she does. But she’s not seeing that.

One of these weekends, we need to make a trip to Ellis Island. I want to show her where the Finellis and the Perones on my side of the family came into the country. Sadly, the Ricciardellis didn’t come in through Lady Liberty, they arrived via Boston. But there is enough family history on Ellis Island for her to get a sense of things and better understanding of how this country came to be and on whom this country is truly built.



Self-Awareness on “Majority-Minority Districts”

In recent weeks, there has been significant chatter about the shift in P-12 school demographics across the United States. In this Education Week piece, reporter Lesli Maxwell notes:

America’s public schools are on the cusp of a new demographic era.

This fall, for the first time, the overall number of Latino, African-American, and Asian students in public K-12 classrooms is expected to surpass the number of non-Hispanic whites.

The new collective majority of minority schoolchildren—projected to be 50.3 percent by the National Center for Education Statistics—is driven largely by dramatic growth in the Latino population and a decline in the white population, and, to a lesser degree, by a steady rise in the number of Asian-Americans. African-American growth has been mostly flat.

These shifts have results in folks talking about “majority-minority districts,” those school districts where the number of white students is less than the number of minority students. Of course, such a concept is nothing new. We have long had districts that were majority African American or majority Latino or majority Asian-American. But the rapid shift of some districts, going from majority white to majority minority is sure to catch folks’ eye.

Why does Eduflack raise this? Because of personal realization. Last evening, the edu-wife and I headed over to our local school for a “new parents orientation.” It was a great event. The teachers and administrators who led the event were top notch. The orientation went as scheduled, with nothing taking them off track., And for a welcome for district-wide new parents in the middle of August, the school auditorium was almost standing-room only, with most families represented by both parents.

And then there was the parents themselves. In a sea of parents, the edu-wife and I were one of only a handful of parents who were not of color. I may have missed a few, but it seemed there were maybe five or six other parental sets that looked like us. There is no question we had moved into a “majority-minority” district.

We picked the town because of the schools. Great schools. Experienced teachers. Strong attention on the whole child. A running list of services and opportunities to ensure our kids get the best public education possible (particularly important in a house with a struggling reader).

Out of curiosity, I checked out the demographics this morning. We live in a community that, as a whole, is about 55 percent white. Last year, 33 percent of the student population was white, representing a major shift in resident demographics over the past two decades.

Then I dove a little deeper into the student demographics. Minority students comprised 70.6 percent of last year’s first grade class. And 75.5 percent of last year’s kindergarten class. And 87.8 percent of last year’s preK class.

So why write about this on this little ol’ blog? No, it isn’t that I am just waking up to demographic shifts in our country. As the father of two Latino students, it is something I am well aware of. 

The real answer is we need to get to the point where we stop thinking about majority-majority and majority-minority school districts. What I saw last evening, and what I have seen in countless schools where I’ve visited or observed, is that this is America. Our schools are now the melting pot that our Founders envisioned. They are where stereotypes can be broken .., or reinforced. They are where opportunity can be found, regardless of race or family income.

I’m proud that my two kiddos are now going to be a part of that educational quilt. They will meet kids from backgrounds they know nothing about (there are more than 45 languages spoken in our little ol’ district). They will be on the frontlines of that new demographic area. And it will seem completely normal to them.  

Is Education a “Top” U.S. Issue?

Today, Gallup came out with its latest public opinion poll on the top problems in the United States. It should come as no surprise that dissatisfaction with government was at the top of the list. Whether frustrated with a do-nothing Congress, an overreaching president, or general frustration with Big Brother telling us what to do, Americans speak loud and clear that they are frustrated with government. (Of course, they are coming at it from all sides, so there is no clear fix.)

Immigration is a close second, with the economy coming in third. All of the issues we would expect to see at the top of the list for our citizenry’s general frustration.

So where is education on the list? Surely with all of the national fights over testing and Common Core and teacher tenure and everything else that is keeping edu-minded Americans up at night, concerns about our educational systems must be right up there, right?

Uh, not quite. Education comes in with a thud at number nine. It follows poverty and comes in just above the national debt. Where 18 percent of Americans say government is our top concern, and 15 percent say it is immigration, a whopping 4 percent say it is education. And that is now down a percentage point (or 20%) from last month.

Should this surprise us? No. For decades now, we’ve long realized that education is not a ballot box issue. Sure, we are all concerned about education, but it isn’t an issue that is make/break for us. We care, but not before we care about six or eight other issues first.

What do we do about this? First, we need to recognize that while many of us live in the edu-bubble, the vast majority of Americans do not.

Second, we need to be mindful of how education ties into the topics that are driving concern. Concerns about government? We see that extended in frustrations with everyone from EdSec Arne Duncan to local superintendents and principals. Immigration a concern? Especially as it relates to those kids who are stuck at the border, looking for a better life and opportunity that begins with access to our public schools. Economy a worry? How does that crosswalk with grad rates and STEM and higher education in general?

The short story is that education does not live in its own silo. It permeates each and every topic of discussion and concern that we have. If we treat “education” solely with a neat little k-12 or higher education label, we miss the bigger picture. And we lose the opportunity to draw attention to both the concerns and the solutions.

I yield the soapbox …


Don’t Know Much About History …

As Eduflack has written before, I am the son of an historian.  My father is actually an expert on the American presidency (the office itself, and the evolution of presidential leadership over the past two centuries in particular) and is the author of countless books and articles on the subject.  Add to that four years at Mr. Jefferson’s University, and it would be hard for me not to be fascinated with history, particularly American history.  That’s why I am always fascinated with the latest numbers on how little the American people know about our country.  We struggle to name the VP.  We can’t recall how many members are on the U.S. Supreme Court.  We struggle to ID our own elected officials.  And forget it if we’re asked to recall the facts, figures, and dates for the truly significant moments in our nation’s history.  (And we only have 200-plus years of it, imagine if we were Chinese, Greek, or British.)

So I was, of course, taken by a survey shared with me today from the American Revolution Center.  Eduflack was shocked — shocked, I tell you — to learn that 83 percent of adults failed a basic test on the American Revolution (and this is after 89 percent of those surveyed believed they could pass such an exam with no trouble).  Among some of the highlights from ARC’s survey:
* 90 percent of Americans think it is important for U.S. citizens to know the history and principles of the American Revolution
* Half of those surveyed believe we have a direct democracy, despite having pledged to “the republic for which it stands” every morning as a school kid
* More than half of those surveyed attribute a famous quote from Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto” to George Washington, Thomas Paine, or Barack Obama
* No surprise, but more people can ID Michael Jackson as the singer of “Beat It” than know the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution
* Half of those surveyed believe the Civil War, Emancipation Proclamation, or War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution
* One-third of Americans do not know the right to a jury trial is covered in the U.S. Constitution, while 40 percent think a right to vote is covered (when it is not)
For more of these interesting factoids, give a gander over at the report on ARC’s website — <a href="
Every congressional session, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) and U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (WV) offer legislation to refocus on the instruction of American history (particularly around our nation’s founding).  And Eduflack’s former boss, the esteemed Senator Byrd, still carries around a copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket, as a reminder of the very reasons why he has committed his life to our nation’s government.  Legislation focusing on the importance of history of civics in a K-12 classroom may not be sexy, but can we really question whether it is seriously needed?  While we may not be developing common core standards on U.S. history, shouldn’t every high school graduate know the basics about their country, its history, their rights, and other such noble pursuits?
Each year, thousands upon thousands of immigrants study up on U.S. history in order to pass our citizenship test.  They learn more about the nation they hope will soon adopt them than those who are born and raised in the land of the free and the home of the brave.  It’s a shame we don’t all have to pass a citizenship test to be an adult citizen.  Just as we register with Selective Service, if you want a driver’s license or a student loan or the right to vote, why not require passage of a basic skills test.  I’m just sayin’ ….

An Educational Future for the Edu-Daughter

Later this morning, Eduwife and I will board a plane in Guatemala City with our new 13-month-old daughter, Anna Patricia.  At 10:35 a.m., we will touch down in Houston.  Once we deplane and pass through Customs, our first order of business it taking little Anna to the Homeland Security Office in Bush International Airport and have her sworn in as a U.S. citizen.  Before lunch time today, Anna will be part of the American dream, gaining access to the greatest public education system one can find on the planet.

All week, I’ve been down in Guatemala thinking about family, thinking about what is possible, and thinking about what may have been.  I do so knowing that we did not adopt Anna to give her a better life.  No, we did it because my wife and I are selfish and we wanted a better life for ourselves and a bigger family.  Anna provides us both.
But I can’t help but think about the educational path now before her, and the opportunities to which she will be exposed.  I spend so much time railing against the problems in the current system, advocating for the issues that may be unpopular to some, and generally agitating the system in hopes that such agitation will ultimately result in change and improvement.
I watch my two-and-a-half year old son, and Anna’s full birth brother, soak up every educational opportunity made available to him.  He wants to be read to and he models reading behavior.  He is growing more and more computer literate by the day.  He is passionate about art and music and athletics.  He is now working on counting and beginning math skills.  He is putting together full sentences (lots of them declarative), using subjects and verbs.  And he is bilingual to boot.
I am expecting Anna to follow down the same path, modeling herself after her brother.  Yes, she’ll be interested in playing the Wii, but she’ll also embrace the written word.  She’ll enjoy watching Franklin or Little Bear on TV, but she’ll also figure out the puzzles that are recommended for those far beyond her age.  I expect both my children to take full advantage of the educational opportunities available to them, and I expect to do all I can to offer a clear path to high-quality learning.
What is my vision for my children?  Let me nail Eduflack’s 10 tenets to the electronic wall:
* I want every kid, particularly mine, reading proficient before the start of the fourth grade.  Without reading proficiency, it is near impossible to keep up in the other academic subjects.  And to get there, we need high-quality, academically focused early childhood education offerings for all.
* I want proven-effective instruction, the sort of math, reading, and science teaching that has worked in schools like those in my neighborhood with kids just like mine. 
* I want teachers who understand research and know how to use it.  And I want teachers to be empowered to use that research to provide the specific interventions a specific student may need.
* I want clear and easily accessible state, district, school, and student data.  I want to know how my kids stack up by comparison.
* I want relevant education, providing clear building blocks for future success.  That means strong math and technology classes.  It means courses that provide the soft skills needed to succeed in both college and career through interesting instruction.  And it means art and music right alongside math and reading.
* I want national standards, so if my family relocates (as mine did many times when I was a child), I am guaranteed the same high-quality education regardless of the state’s capitol.
* I want educational options, be they charter schools or magnet schools, after-school or summer enrichment programs.  And these options should be available for all kids, not just those struggling to keep up.
* I want schools that encourage bilingual education, without stigmatizing those students for whom English is a second language.  Our nation is changing, and our approach to English instruction must change too.
* I want a high-quality, effective teacher in every classroom.  Teaching is really, really hard.  Not everyone is cut out for it.  We need the best educators in the classroom, and we need to properly reward them for their performance.
* I want access to postsecondary education for all.  If a student graduates from high school and meets national performance standards, they should gain access to an institution of higher education.  And if they can’t afford it, we have a collective obligation to provide the aid, grants, and work study to ensure that no student is denied college because of finances.
Is that asking to much?  I’d like to think not.  I’d like to believe we are there on some points, and getting there on others. But I recognize we have many roads to travel on quite a few.
If we’ve learned anything from this blog, we know that empty rhetoric is often worse than no rhetoric at all.  If we believe in these principles, we need to do something about it.  We need to move to public action.  I am committed to building a public engagement campaign around these principles, helping parents, families, and communities throughout the nation take these on for themselves and demand them of their local schools.  I am ready to lend a voice to such an effort and do what I can to promote these tenets.  I’m ready to do my part.
The question that remains is who is ready to take up the cause and build a national commitment to such principles?  Who will call on a new president and a new U.S. Department of Education to embrace these ideas?  Who will pick up the flag?
In many ways, this is the sort of thing that a group like Ed in 08 could have embraced.  Maybe the Gates and Broad Foundations are willing to lend a little of their cost savings to building true national understanding and commitment to high-quality education in this country.
I yield the soapbox.  Welcome home, Anna!