On Corbett Bashing and the Common Core

by Christopher Paslay

Common Core texts indoctrinate young children and teach them to manipulate facts for social advocacy.  Sound familiar, Philadelphia? 

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

This is the philosophy I use when I teach students in my high school English classes how to write.  There is no substitute for the right word—no true synonym—and until a writer figures this out, he won’t be able to fully articulate his thoughts.  This is the case whether you are writing a narrative, informational, or persuasive essay (the Common Core’s preferred term for “persuasive” is now “argumentative”).

Good writing, especially in today’s culture of limited attention spans, is focused, clear, and accurate.  Good writers can say more in less space—and they can back their writing with examples, details, and evidence.

This philosophy has worked well with my own students at Swenson Arts and Technology High School.  On the 2012 PSSA Writing Test, 74% of my 11th graders scored proficient or advanced—a whopping 28.1% percent higher than the Philadelphia School District average, which was only 45.9%.

Unfortunately, some English Language Arts texts being promoted by the Common Core are no longer focused on teaching students succinct, accurate writing that avoids the use of flimsy persuasive techniques (such as red herrings, overgeneralizing, circular arguments, name calling, etc.), but on writing that actually encourages the use of emotionally charged propaganda for social advocacy.  In short, some ELA texts supported by the Common Core are not making young children free thinkers, but politically indoctrinating them (type the phrase “Common Core indoctrination” on YouTube and see the results).

One interesting case of indoctrinating students and promoting the use of propagandistic writing for social advocacy is the state of Utah’s first grade ELA primer Voices: Writing and Literature, recommended by, and aligned with, the Common Core.  On the surface it appears the text is about literature and writing, but a closer look reveals a major theme is social justice and social advocacy.  This, amazingly, is being introduced not to college undergraduates in Community Organizing 101, but to first graders!

One section in Voices: Writing and Literature teaches young children how to play fast and loose with facts by using emotionally charged propagandistic words to elicit emotions and bring about liberal social change.  It doesn’t teach children to use the right word, as Twain would have advocated (as well as any respectable writing teacher), but to use a word that will get folks stirred-up for social justice, whether or not that word is true, evidence-based, or accurate.

Click on the below YouTube video to see for yourself:

Because the Philadelphia School District is flat broke and has no money to invest in a new set of textbooks, such a primer may not be made available to our city’s school children.  However, the political indoctrination of School District students—and the teaching of how to play fast and loose with facts—is well underway.  Groups like Youth United for Change and the Philadelphia Student Union, who often partner with politically motivated adult organization such as the Education Law Center, are well schooled on the use of propaganda in writing.

All three of these groups frequently use “correlation to prove causation”—a logical fallacy and standard propaganda technique—to imply that Philadelphia public schoolteachers are discriminating against minority students because black students are three times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers (and these groups continue to claim this despite the fact that no documented cases of racial discrimination by a Philadelphia teacher against a students exists . . . except, of course, the discrimination against Sam Pawlucy by a black geometry teacher for wearing a Romney T-shirt in class).

The newly founded “Fund Philly Schools Now” does much of the same in terms of their blatant use of propaganda.  Launched to help raise money for struggling city schools, an admirable goal, their website states:

Since Gov. Corbett took office, it has become clear that when he must make the choice between tax breaks for corporations and much-needed investments in our children, he chooses corporations and wealthy donors every time. The crisis in Philadelphia public schools has been manufactured by Gov. Corbett. He is starving the city of resources and then using teachers as scapegoats and Philadelphia families as pawns.

Propagandistic?  No question.  With Federal stimulus money gone, Governor Corbett has been forced to make due with less, and this has no doubt adversely impacted Philadelphia public schools (as well as most public schools in PA).  But the crisis in city schools was not “manufactured by Gov. Corbett.”

During the Ackerman years, from July of 2008 to July of 2011, the School District blew through nearly $10 billion, spending so reckless it prompted the IRS to open a detailed audit of their financial practices.  The rapid expansion of charter schools—nearly 100 of them in 10 years—also greatly contributed to the School District’s financial crisis.  There is also the matter of Philadelphia residents owing over $500 million in delinquent property taxes.  And the fact that the School District loses millions of dollars in unreturned textbooks and stolen computer equipment each year.  And the reality that recently retired baby-boomers are overwhelming the pension system.  And all the cronyism/nepotism over the past five years from the usual suspects . . . Ackerman, Archie, Evans, Gamble, Fattah Jr., etc.

All Corbett?  Please.

Does the School District badly need money?  Absolutely.  Do I want to see our city’s children get the resources they need?  Most definitely.  But the theatrics and use of propaganda to get money is getting old.  People are growing tired of it.  Attacking public officials is becoming counterproductive (just ask Mayor Nutter).  Why does the rest of the state hate Philadelphia, think we are a cesspool?  Perhaps they are tired of Victimology 101.  It’s like with affirmative action: If groups in need simply took responsibility for their problems and said, I’m having some trouble keeping up, can you please lend a hand?, people would bend over backwards to help out.  But it doesn’t work like that.  Affirmative action in 21st century America goes more like this:  It’s YOUR fault I have problems, so give me what you owe me, now!

Not the best way to get the help you need, or to get at the true root of problems.

Neither is using propaganda to bring about reform (or to teach our students English Language Arts).

According to the mission statement of the Common Core:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.

Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes, a noted curriculum specialist and former public school teacher, disagrees with the Common Core’s mission statement and feels they have an ulterior agenda.  She writes in a recent article:

Common Core is not about “core knowledge” but rather is the foundation for left-wing student indoctrination to create activists for the social justice agenda. Education is being nationalized, just like our healthcare, to eliminate local control over education, imposing a one-size-fits-all, top-down curriculum that will also affect private schools and homeschoolers.

I don’t know if Dr. Hornsby Haynes is totally correct about the Common Core, but I know this: ELA teachers should teach students how to make strong, factual arguments, not how to play loose with the facts to support their own political agendas.

The Day Discipline Died in Philadelphia Public Schools

by Christopher Paslay

The Philadelphia School District’s revised code of conduct is evidence that officials have thrown in the towel when it comes to student discipline. 

Mark the date: 8/16/12.  That was the day discipline officially died in Philadelphia public schools.  Not that discipline was alive and well to begin with.  In many schools throughout the city it was hanging on by a thread, a brain dead body with a faint pulse connected to a life-support machine with a bunch of tubes running out of its arms.

Consider these facts: From 2005-06 through 2009-10, the district reported 30,333 serious incidents.  There were 19,752 assaults, 4,327 weapons infractions, 2,037 drug and alcohol related violations, and 1,186 robberies.  Students were beaten by their peers in libraries and had their hair pulled out by gangs in the hall.  Teachers were assaulted over 4,000 times.

In the 2007-08 school year alone, there were nearly 15,000 criminal incidents reported in Philadelphia public schools.  According to data published in the Inquirer, 1,728 students assaulted teachers, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.

Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police . . .”

In fact, from 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

Over the last five years, discipline has been hanging on by a thread.  Not anymore.  Yesterday the School Reform Commission voted to officially pull the plug on the dying animal.  School leaders are being instructed to cut down on out-of-school suspensions, and loosen punishments as a response to discipline violations as a whole.  In particular, principals can no longer suspend a student for profanity, cellphone or uniform infractions.  So when an algebra teacher is in the middle of a lesson on the order of operations and a student is interrupting the class by talking loudly on his cellphone, and the teacher says, excuse me, put that away, and the student says, fuck you, I’m in the middle of a call here, and the teacher says, give me that cellphone now, and the student says, bitch, go fuck yourself, a suspension is not in order.  Not even when a student continues this behavior on a regular basis, and ruins everyone’s education in the process.

According to a story in today’s Inquirer:

The focus now is on in-school intervention.

“Though there can be no excuse for behavior that harms or disrupts, there may be reasons that caring adults in school need to understand. We educate the whole child,” the code declares. It lists a range of in-school intervention that should be employed, from “get a student’s attention by calling his/her name in a calm voice” and “address the student in private” to drawing up behavioral contracts.

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (trying to teach the class):  Put away that cellphone. 

Student: Man, I’m in the middle of a call, yo.  It’s my mom.  It’s an emergency.

Teacher (whispering calmly to the student): Darryl, you can’t use the phone in class.  Remember our behavior contract?  Can you see me in the hallway, please?

Student:  Bitch, get the fuck outta my face!

Greg Shannon, who is in charge of the school district’s disciplinary hearings and expulsions, said schools need to find ways to work with children and patiently figure out why they continue to break the rules: “We have to say, ‘Why are you coming to school out of uniform, and what can we do to support you? What can we do to get you in uniform, or get you a uniform?’”

How might this work in real life?  Here’s a scenario:

Teacher (being patient): Stacy, your skirt is too high and your shirt is too low cut.  We talked about this, remember?  Where is the uniform I gave you?  You haven’t worn it in three weeks?

Student: That golf shirt is corny.  I ain’t tryin’ to wear that uniform.

Teacher: But you are dressed inappropriately.  Is there a problem at home?  Do you need to talk about something?

Student:  Bitch, mind your business.  You ain’t my mom.

Lorene Cary, the head of the SRC’s safety committee, said, “The idea is that the best way to be safer is to change our culture to a safe culture.  We really have looked at prevention.”

Prevention?  Really?  What a novel idea (as if principals and teachers haven’t been trying prevention for decades).  What school district leaders have yet to answer is what should be done with students who continue to rob their hardworking classmates of an education even after preventative interventions such as restorative justice, positive behavioral supports, and peer mediation are used?  What do teachers and principals do then?

The answer: nothing.  Nothing is done.  Because of pressure from civil rights groups, because of pressure from toxic progressive organizations such as the Education Law Center, Youth United for Change, the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, and the Philadelphia Student Union, the rights of violent and unruly children supersede the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hardworking students trying to get an education.  Instead of suspending such children and placing them in alternative learning environments where they can get the remediation they need (and their classmates can finally have a chance to learn), these incorrigible youth are forced to coexist in classrooms with their peers where they ruin everyone’s education.

Now the SRC, as well as Superintendent William Hite, are on board with this mission: robbing our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  They are now bowing to the notion that the school district’s code of discipline is racist, is disenfranchising innocent children, and is not working; they are buying into Youth United for Change’s canard that the school district’s discipline policies are creating a “pipeline to prison.”

It is pathetic.  The code of conduct doesn’t work because the district doesn’t have the guts to enforce it.  Overall, policies have no teeth and teachers and principals get inadequate backing and support.  Parents and community leaders are absolved of all responsibility and the students themselves are no longer held accountable for their own behavior.  Why?  Because it’s too difficult a battle for the district to fight.  Like a parent who gives into his child because he doesn’t have the energy to enforce his own rules, the school district is taking the easy way out.

Yesterday’s decision to fundamentally revise the student code of conduct was the death blow to school discipline as we know it.  It appears that the SRC, as well as Superintendent Hite, have officially washed their hands of the whole mess.

God help the School District of Philadelphia, and the tens of thousands of hardworking children who will have their right to an education violated now more than ever.

Three reasons why Philadelphia public schools fail (and what can be done about it)

by Christopher Paslay

Acknowledging three key problems—and providing solutions—can save the Philadelphia School District.

Thursday the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a report detailing “key findings and recommendations” on how to improve the workings of the Philadelphia School District (PSD).  Titled “Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools,” the BCG was paid $4.4 million from private donors to produce it. 

Here are three “commonsense” findings and recommendations not included in BCG’s multimillion dollar report:  

 COMMONSENSE FINDINGS: WHY THE PSD CONTINUES TO FAIL

1.  The PSD remains unable to remove the violent and unruly 15 percent of students who cripple the entire school system and ruin the educations of the hardworking 85 percent. 

Despite “School Safety Advocates” and “zero tolerance policies,” the fact remains that Philadelphia public schools are rife with violence and inappropriate student behavior (see the Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series Assault on Learning).  Unfortunately, in today’s politically correct environment where a suffocating brand of educational socialism is promoted, the rights of the incorrigible few supersede the rights of the admirable many.  In other words, it is near impossible to remove students from PSD schools (even “permanently expelled” students can file a right to return to their neighborhood schools after their “sentence” is served). 

One reason is that under PA’s Compulsory Education law, school districts are responsible for providing alternative placements to students they remove from schools, and this can be quite expensive; as a result, troublemakers are forced to coexist with their peers and negatively impact classroom learning environments.      

Another reason is that social justice lobby groups (such as the Education Law Center) and student activist groups (such as Youth United for Change, the Philadelphia Student Union, and the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools) play the race card and fight to keep violent students in schools instead of putting their resources behind the educations of the majority of their hardworking peers struggling to learn.  (This is why charter schools are able to thrive in poor urban districts: instead of removing the bad to save the good, charters simply remove the good from the bad).        

2.  Too many PSD parents are “passengers” and not “drivers,” and feed off of the school system instead of fueling it. 

In the PSD, 81 percent of families are economically disadvantaged.  But this isn’t simply a financial issue; it is a cultural one as well.  In the suburbs, parents and communities drive the school system—they are the core that makes the schools run.  They parent their children and teach them that education is a priority.  They understand that being a stakeholder in their school means making an investment (chaperoning trips, helping with homework, attending teacher conferences, instilling core values in their children, etc.). 

Tragically, too many families in the PSD want to be a stakeholder without making any real investment; they suffer from an entitlement mentality, and believe that the district owes them despite the fact that they have only taken from the system and never carried their own weight and produced their fair share. 

The cycle of poverty in the PSD is tragic, but undeniable: out-of-wedlock teenage births; domestic violence; crime, drug addictions; etc.  This kind of environment is a drain on the PSD, not a force that fuels and propels the system.        

3.  Too many Philadelphia residents do not pay their property taxes.   

Why is the PSD suffering from money problems?  A major reason is because Philadelphia residents owe over $500 million (a half a billion dollars!) in property taxes.  What has the City done to address this problem?  Increase the property taxes of those residents who already pay their fair share!    

 COMMONSENSE RECOMMENDATIONS:

1.  Expedite the removal of the PSD’s violent and unruly 15 percent by building alternative schools that specialize in remediation and alternative curriculum instead of expanding charters. 

In short, remove and remediate the maladjusted and don’t let civil rights or social justice groups bully policy makers into keeping troubled students in classrooms and continuing to rob our hardworking children of a quality education. Do this by building alternative schools instead of pumping more money into charters (or require charters to service the alternative population).      

2.  Run a grassroots campaign to strengthen the culture of PSD families and communities.

The PSD should fight to instill traditional values into its students and their families.  Community leaders should preach that citizens are the captains of their own ship rather than fostering the idea that they are victims of an unjust system.

In addition, the PSD should: rail against teen pregnancy; promote the importance of two-parent families and call for men to father their children; promote personal responsibility and individual achievement; speak out against misogyny, violence and materialism; encourage students to cooperate with police and law enforcement officials; bring back the abstinence only message in sex education; reinforce speaking Standard American English; launch a campaign to cut down on TV watching, internet surfing and video game playing; promote exercise, good diet and proper nutrition; and make Bill Cosby’s book Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors part of PSD required reading for 9th graders.    

3.  Collect the $500 million owed the PSD by seizing and auctioning-off the property of all Philadelphia residents who do not pay their property taxes.

Tax delinquents, whether rich or poor, should not be allowed to deprive the PSD of money and rob our city’s hardworking children of their educations.  If residents don’t pay their property tax, their homes or businesses should be confiscated by the city and sold at auction.   

Implementing these straightforward commonsense solutions will go a long way in reclaiming Philadelphia’s public schools.

Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ Mission is Admirable but Misguided

by Christopher Paslay

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools’ primary focus should be on character building and traditional core values. 

The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools (CNS) is a youth-led coalition dedicated to ending school violence and improving school climate.  According to their Facebook page:

The Campaign is building a nonviolent student movement across neighborhoods, schools and organizations, engaging hundreds of youth in exploring the roots of violence in their own lives and developing a personal commitment to nonviolence.

Prison-like school environments, a lack of resources, high staff turn-over rates, and suppression of youth leadership are examples of conditions that enhance feelings of anger, frustration, and helplessness that young people may already be struggling with. These conditions help to create school environments which are a breeding ground for physical and emotional violence directed at other students and staff members.

CNS’s goal of ending violence in schools is admirable and its members should be acknowledged for their involvement.  However, CNS’s mode of operation is predictable and disappointing, and its members still are not thinking outside the box: they, like most progressive grassroots movements, preach that students are victims of a broken system, and that change doesn’t begin with character building or proper conduct, but with the airing of the same tired grievances.           

Comparing schools to prisons is irresponsible, as is the notion that our city’s public education system is a “pipeline to prison.”  This so called “pipeline” exists not in the school where a system of educational and behavioral supports is in place to help children grow and succeed (teachers, therapists, counselors, coaches, nurses, mentors . . . all providing free books, equipment, individualized education plans, food, medical resources, etc.), but rather, in the surrounding neighborhoods feeding into the schools.         

In other words, the schools themselves aren’t violent; the students coming in from broken and dysfunctional homes and communities environments are.            

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize winning series “Assault on Learning” gave us a small glimpse of just how dysfunctional students coming into the system can be:

  • There were over 4,500 violent incidents reported during the 2009-10 school year.  According to the Inquirer investigation, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff member were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes.
  • In the last five years, there were more than 30,000 violent incidents reported—from assaults to robberies to rapes.
  • In the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted.  In the last five years, 4,000 were. 
  • In the 2007-08 school year, 479 weapons were discovered inside elementary and middle school hallways and classrooms, and 357 weapons were found in high schools.  Tragically, almost half of the most serious cases were not reported to police.  Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham wrote that “the most serious offenders—including those who assaulted teachers—were neither expelled nor transferred to alternative education.”  She also added: “Just 24 percent of the 1,728 students who assaulted teachers were removed from regular education classrooms, and only 30 percent of them were charged by police.”
  • From 2006 to 2008, not a single student was expelled from the Philadelphia School District.

These statistics reveal two things: one—a violent and unruly minority of students are violating the rights of the majority of Philadelphia’s hard working public school children and robbing them of their educations; and two—not enough is being done to protect the rights of these children.   

Instead of CNS siding with the majority of their peers who are tired of being short-changed in school—instead of calling for the violent and unruly minority to shape up or ship out—CNS calls for discipline policies that prevent the proper removal and alternative placement of the incorrigible few. 

In particular, CNS opposes the use of more punitive forms of punishment, like suspensions and expulsions:         

We demand a smart school discipline policy that uses restorative practices and/ or other preventative discipline measures that focus on addressing root causes of issues rather than merely doling out punishment.

Positive behavior supports, restorative practices, and peer mediation are all well and good, but groups like CNS never adequately explain what should be done with the scores of students who are still behavior problems after these interventions are provided (and after they’ve taken valuable resources away from the students who want to learn).  Tragically, these students are too often kept in the classroom where they continue to rob their peers of an education. 

CNS has yet to speak out against this horrible injustice, just as they’ve yet to adequately hold their peers accountable for their own behavior.  If CNS truly wants to campaign for nonviolent schools, they should start by demanding that all the hooligans, bullies and thugs stop destroying the system, and fight to promote character and traditional core values among their own peers and classmates.

Better Way to Police Teens

 

 

 

Note: This commentary was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on January 25, 2008.  I’m reprinting it here on Chalk and Talk as a means to try to ease tensions between teens and police in light of the incident at Sayre High School last week.

 

 by Christopher Paslay

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once said that justice was incidental to law and order. Although there is some truth to this statement, when it comes to our police force, there is a fine line between keeping order on the street and fostering a culture of mutual respect.

 

The balance between order and respect is even more delicate when it comes to policing teenagers.

 

An alarming number of the adolescents I teach admit in class discussions that they don’t like cops. Many feel disrespected by police on a regular basis, and complain that cops are always “in their face,” when they’re talking on street corners, for example, or congregating at playgrounds.

 

I believe this hostility stems from a communication breakdown between teenagers and police. The majority of law enforcement officials in our city are good, hard working people, and so are most of our youth, even though some are quick to challenge authority figures. But when the two interact in our fast-paced society, relations can go sour.
 
As a
Philadelphia public school teacher, I understand the importance of being able to communicate effectively with teenagers. In my experience, effective communication boils down to three things: awareness, listening skills, and tone of voice.
 
Everyone—teachers, police, and teenagers included—are the star of their own personal drama. As human beings, we have the egotistical habit of taking everything personally. If a teenager gets mouthy with me in class, my first reaction is that she doesn’t like me. If she doesn’t immediately submit to my authority, I assume it means she thinks I’m a push-over.
 
In reality, this isn’t the case. When a young person acts out, the root cause could be anything—trouble at home, a fight with a sibling, a missed meal—none of which have anything to do with me. There’s no excuse for the behavior, but as a mature authority figure, I have the awareness not to take it personally.
 
I don’t have to argue, raise my voice, or become hostile. Most importantly, I don’t have to compete with the child. I can take a step back and become a neutral observer. I can note the emotion of the individual, and try to find a way to defuse it.
 
In order to do this, I must be a good listener. I must have the ability to listen to alternative points of view, even if it’s from a juvenile. And I must take this point of view to heart. Many times as a teacher, when I’m dealing with a student who rubs me the wrong way, I find myself shutting down and refusing to hear what he or she has to say. It’s during these times that I take a deep breath, close my mouth and open my ears and listen. Most times, I realize the student has something important to say. Either way, it builds mutual respect and keeps the lines of communication open.
 
Finally, I believe it is important for authority figures such as teachers and police officers to watch their tone of voice. Sure, there are times to get loud just like there are times when you must stop and listen, but either way, it’s important to have a respectful tone. I think the “golden rule” works well in this situation: Talk to others the way you expect to be talked to, even it’s a young person.

 

Police officers are not teachers; their job isn’t to counsel or educate. Their jobs are obviously more dangerous; oftentimes, in threatening situations, they don’t have time to reflect upon opposing points of view. However, a heightened awareness of teen behavior, coupled with listening skills and a respectful tone of voice, might make a world of difference when confronting adolescents. It might help dissolve underlying tension and cut down on violence against police.

 

The hostility teens feel toward law enforcement officials is unhealthy and must be addressed. Communication skills could be the first step in a new and improved relationship between cops and our region’s young people.

Philadelphia Student Union Fails to Hold Peers Accountable at Sayre

 by Christopher Paslay

 

I’m extremely disappointed with the Philadelphia Student Union.  They squandered a golden opportunity during their recent protest at Sayre High School to show the city that they truly value education and strive to hold each other accountable.         

 

I say this with all due respect, in light of the pleasant correspondence I had with the PSU earlier this week on Chalk and Talk.  But the PSU made all of us in the Philadelphia School District look foolish when they protested police instead of the unruly behavior of their peers.

 

The PSU missed the chance to highlight FIVE important student behaviors during their recent demonstration:

 

1.  The importance of coming to school on time.  The students who supposedly started the brawl at Sayre came to school almost two hours late.

 

2.  The importance of following the school dress code.  The Sayre students who came late allegedly started the brawl because they were turned away for not dressing properly.

 

3.  The importance of respecting police officers.  Two Sayre students were charged with assaulting a police officer during the brawl.

 

4.  The importance of respecting school teachers.  One Sayre student was charged with assaulting a school teacher during the brawl.

 

5.  The importance of respecting each other.  17 Sayre students were charged with disorderly conduct for fighting.      

 

The PSU was curiously mum on all five of these issues.  They did however protest the actions of Philadelphia police, the men and women called into the school to control the chaos started by unruly Sayre students.  Ironically enough, no formal complaint was ever filed against the police, nor was there any report of excessive force given to the principal or school officials.

 

And yet the PSU was there in force, waving their banners and shaking their fists, insisting Sayre students were unfairly labeled as trouble makers.  “We want people to know that we’re not animals, monsters and crack babies,” Candace Carter, a senior at Sayre said.  Who called anyone a “monster” or “crack baby”? 

 

After carefully pursuing their website, I’ve come to realize some of the PSU’s core beliefs contradict those of genuine proactive learners, and I find this troubling.  Despite the PSU’s record of peer tutoring and community service, members still subscribe to the notion that students are not ultimately responsible for their own educations.  They blame everything except the kitchen sink for their lack of academic success (teachers, schools, books, budgets, principals, politicians, etc), but nowhere in there mission and vision statements do they lay out the ways they can hold THEMSELVES accountable for learning; although I was highly impressed with the PSU earlier this week, a closer examination of the group makes me realize I was too quick to shower them with praise.

 

Motivation comes from within.  The PSU’s idea that a student’s yearning for knowledge is somehow “crushed out of them” by a failing system is dangerous.  In essence it is saying that it is okay to give up on school, that just because learning conditions aren’t up to par, teenagers are absolved of responsibility for their own schooling, and have the right to point fingers and place blame.

 

If students are going to be successful in Philadelphia public schools, we ALL must step up to the plate.  We ARE the system, and we must stop making excuses.

The Philadelphia Student Union Answers the Call

by Christopher Paslay

 

Chalk up another victory for the Philadelphia Student Union.  On Thursday they held a rally on the steps of Masterman High School that gleaned the attention of the Inquirer, Philadelphia’s biggest newspaper.  Now this prodigious group of Philly teens strikes again with an impressive response to yesterday’s blog, “To Members of the Philadelphia Student Union: You Must Speak Out Against Truancy”.

 

Dan Jones wrote the official comment, and it was very well crafted indeed (I am a high school English teacher so I read student writing with a critical eye).  The thing that impressed me the most was the timeliness of it: his response came not even four hours after I posted the blog entry.  That’s great journalism. 

 

Well done, Dan.  Again, it’s refreshing to see students taking stock in their educations.  Not only that, but getting active in the community in a positive way.  To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about the PSU, but Dan certainly enlightened me.  And I give the PSU website two thumbs up!

 

To keep the lines of communication open (because that’s what this is all about anyway, right?), I’d like to further discuss two points Dan made in his response to yesterday’s blog. 

 

The first is that Dan faults the “system” for the lack of parental and community involvement in education in Philadelphia.  He stated, “we argue that these things are not the fault of the people, but rather of a broken system that is failing everyone . . .”

 

This is where I disagree.  There is no such thing as “the system,” some detached entity that exists in a vacuum.  People ARE the system—parents, teachers, students, etc.  If we work, than the system works.  Just as members of the PSU have distinguished themselves with their activism and thirst for knowledge, so must parents and community; I do not accept the arbitrary excuse of a broken “system”.

 

The second idea I’d like to discuss is the PSU’s idea that parents must choose between work and their child’s education (as stated on their website).  As the old saying goes, a mother doesn’t divide her love between her children, she multiplies it.  The same goes for education: Moms and dads must extend their days (by getting up a half hour earlier perhaps) in order to MAKE time in their schedules to help their children with school.

 

Thank you again Dan for your insightful comments.  I am thoroughly impressed with you and the PSU.  I hope I can establish a dialogue with all of you, and I’ll visit your website often.