There is Something You Can Do

To anyone who read my previous blogs: Thank you!  One thing I attempt to do is that when I 'complain' about something, I like there to be an action step.  Though venting is important, a solution is much more important.  We all know the type of person that complains about everything.  So when they go on a trip, their room is never right, the meal next to theirs is much better than what's on their plate, and the quality of the free thing they were given isn't what it could be.  

These people are annoying.  

Gratitude is much better; as is action.  When you hear the particulars behind the most successful places, via book or talk, one of things successful people are always open to is improvement.  They ask: How can this thing be better?  I read something recently, in which a company was attempting to put out a new product.  When asked on their own, every individual team leader for the project said there were no hitches, and that it was all on schedule.  In a blind survey of the same team leaders, over 90% said there was no way the project could be completed on time.  Sure enough, when the deadline came and went, and the product was months and months behind schedule.  

The lesson here is that when these team leaders had to report as themselves, they lied because honesty wasn't rewarded.  If they admitted to being behind, they would have been replaced.  This often happens.  When honesty is not rewarded, people lie.  And lies help only a select few.  

That's worth repeating: When honesty is not rewarded, people lie; and lies only helps a select few.  

The result of a lie, in business or government, is either to avoid blame (monetary or legal) or to avoid truth.  It's easier to pretend something is fine than it is to fix it.  If you're about to get in trouble, but can lie your way out, you avoid consequence.  My concern is for the individuals that suffer from the result of a lie.  

When the lie, educationally, is to pretend things are working when they aren't, the ones who suffer are the children.  This is unacceptable.  Things often go unchanged, because systemic problems appear to be much to big and hard to change.  

This can seem like a huge hurdle, but there are things that are very, very easy to do that any (even one) concerned person or parent could fix.  Almost any change that you - as a concerned parent, guardian, or taxpayer - want changed or fixed can be changed or fixed almost instantly.  But in order for this to happen, two things action steps must occur: awareness and followthrough.  This sounds vague and idealistic, so I'll provide very specific examples of how this can work, through the two big systems I know and have experience in, those being the Chicago Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  (FYI: the particulars may change in whatever district you live, so it may take a minute or two of research, but they will be very similar to these listed below.)  

The Chicago Public Schools (at least when I taught there) had something called a Local School Council (LSC).  An LSC was essentially like a board of directors that ran the school.  They had power over curriculum, school matters, and controlled elements of the budget.  So if they wanted something done, it was done; if a teacher wanted something done,  they had to go through the LSC.  The LSC comprised of the principal, assistant principal and the people in charge of curriculum.  There was also a student representative, and two parents and community members.  The principal was accountable to the LSC.  LSC meetings were small, and had room for concerns of people.  Any individual could easily be added to the agenda.  If you wanted something changed, all you had to do was go to an LSC meeting, share your concern, and it would be addressed.  If it wasn't, you had to keep going back.  If your concern wasn't addressed (assuming it was legit) you could take it to the next level, and say your LSC was ineffective.  Since the principal was accountable to the LSC, and since the LSC was accountable to the district, showing up to the meetings ensured that your voice was heard.  

The Grand Rapids Public Schools have a school board meeting almost every Monday.  The meetings start around 6 pm, with the exact times posted on the district website.  At the beginning and end of every meeting, there is a time for public comment.  Any person that lives in the district can speak - and has a legal right to do so - during the public comment portion of the meeting.  Your comment is limited to three minutes, but they're aired on public television.  When you speak, you sit in front of a chair and your audience is the Board of Ed and the Superintendent.  They don't respond there, but the comments are heard and usually addressed in the next meeting.   

In the two schools I taught in in Chicago, the most involved parent was on the LSC.  Whatever that parent's child was involved in had funding and support.  Not a coincidence.  In Chicago, when a student had a concern, I encouraged that student join the LSC as the student representative, and have their parent do likewise.  In Grand Rapids, I've told students and concerned tax payer friends - especially ones worried about their neighborhood school - to do something like this: get twenty people from your neighborhood to show up to the meeting.  Have every person sign up for the public comment.  When it's your turn, say this:

I pay taxes to the city of Grand Rapids, and GRPS is my school district.  I live in __________ neighborhood.  I have concerns about my neighborhood school.   _______ school is poorly run, unsafe, and does not provide the educational opportunity to my child promised me by our country, state, and city.  Nor does it follow the mission of the district.  I demand for this to be changed in the next two months, and if it isn't, for a change in the school leadership.  If measures for change are not taken in the next two months, and measures for a safe, challenging, and enriching education are not met, I will notify the state and take legal action.  Thank you.

Have all 20 concerned people read that script, and take the full three minutes.  When all 20 of you have finished, an hour will have gone by where you are addressing the failing school you live near.  You will be heard.  If changes aren't made, you have places you can call.  One of those is the NAACP.  They respond.  (And I will sure as shit do this if my wife and I have children, and our minority children are not provided an equitable school option).  

Doing this is not fun.  I've done it too many times, and I can tell you: almost no one shows up.  

I've gotten in a little trouble in both districts by telling my students that if they didn't like something, there was something they could do (exactly what I wrote above): show up and voice your concerns.  In fact, almost every meeting I've had with complaining parents, I say the above script.  I add this: I'm sorry.  I hear your concerns, but I was following the mandate set by _____.  If you'd like your concerns heard, you go to ________ [LSC or Board Meeting, depending where I worked].  

Zero parents have taken me up on this.  

When they don't take action, I did what most districts do and forgot about them.  If they're not taking action, they're only venting.  And then: who really cares?  

If you're not taking action, then you're part of the problem.  

Always remember: there is something you can do.