Friday, December 31, 2010

Debate or Groupthink? An exchange with a school board member

A few weeks ago I wrote that the local climate for discussing school issues is too chilled by fear: parents’ fear of offending the people who take care of their kids every day, and teachers’ fear of how their employers might react if they say anything critical of a district policy or practice. I really believe in the old civics-lesson idea that free and unrestricted debate is likely to lead to the best policy decisions, and that a “Groupthink” dynamic that discourages dissent is a recipe for bad outcomes. And I think we should encourage robust debate on school issues not only because it’s likely to lead to better policy decisions, but also because it’s important to model a healthy democratic process for the kids.

That post prompted one of our school board members, Tuyet Dorau, to email me about the topic, which led to the following exchange. Although I don’t think we see entirely eye-to-eye on this subject, I really appreciate her willingness to respond publicly. That kind of willingness to engage publicly with parents on their concerns about school issues is an important ingredient in the kind of healthy debate we should be shooting for.

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Your assertion (in the PC online forum) that there is a blanket policy preventing staff members from speaking up is incorrect. I know that I am not the Administration nor do I speak for the entire Board, but I personally welcome different perspectives.

During school visits, I make it a point to seek out teacher input. Often during redistricting I sought out the perspective of teachers and administrators from different buildings. I think the point is that there is a time and place and each party must be willing to come to the table to discuss the matter in a reasonable and rational fashion. It does no one any good for a teacher to blast a policy when or if they have not brought it up to their Administrators. Perhaps their building administrator has a different perspective that can be equally as valuable.

I believe one of my jobs on the Board is to look at the various perspectives (student, parent, community member, teacher, staffer, administrator, legislator, etc) and try to piece together what are areas of agreement, disagreement and where can we work to agreement. It’s not always perfect, but it is a process that does better under respectful dialog as opposed to a guns a blazin’ approach.

We’ll have a chance to speak more in person.

Warmest Regards,

Tuyet Dorau
Iowa City Community School District

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Hi -- It sounds to me like what you’re doing as a school board member is all to the good. But my point is that the public, not just the school board members, should get to hear about the teachers’ experiences and opinions about PBIS and other policies that affect the kids. Why should we be kept in the dark about that? So I disagree that teachers should ever be discouraged from speaking out publicly about policies that affect the kids -- because it would deprive the public of information that it should have access to. It’s great if teachers discuss their concerns with administrators first, but that shouldn’t mean that they have to stop there.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The superintendent and the passive voice

At a recent meeting with parents about cutbacks in the time the kids are allowed for lunch, our superintendent explained that school principals have squeezed lunch and recess because of the pressure they feel to raise standardized test scores. Under No Child Left Behind, principals who fail to meet test-score benchmarks could eventually get fired. The superintendent wasn’t defending this system -- in fact he sympathized with us and agreed that the system was regrettable -- but was just trying to explain the context in which the principals made their decisions.

But people don’t just “get fired.” Somebody fires them. And who is in charge of hiring and firing school principals? The very person who was sympathizing with us and telling us how regrettable the situation is.

Will our superintendent and school board members commit to not firing principals and teachers for failing to meet unrealistic and harmful standardized testing goals?

No response from school board members on the fifteen-minute lunch

It’s been almost six weeks since Katina Lillios emailed the school board about the petition to extend our elementary schools’ lunches beyond fifteen minutes. Seventy-seven people have signed the petition. There have been several articles in local newspapers about the issue, and the superintendent even met with parents about it.

How many school board members have responded to Katina’s email, or even acknowledged receiving it? None.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Is there anything our school officials won’t do for federal money?

Here’s a comment that a local parent posted on the petition to extend our district’s fifteen-minute elementary school lunch period:

I ate lunch with my son last year for his birthday and what was more appalling to me than the 15 minute lunch was the fact that in the middle of winter his class filed in the lunch room in full winter gear, boots, snow pants, and coats zipped with their hats and gloves shoved down the inside. We were told that there was no time to get dressed for recess so they had to sit and not only eat very quickly but do so while roasting. It still upsets me to think about.

Why is this happening in Iowa City public schools? Because, as our superintendent explained, school administrators are under tremendous pressure, under the No Child Left Behind Act, to raise standardized test scores. If they fail to meet the ever-escalating testing benchmarks, they could eventually lose their jobs. That pressure leads them to try to maximize instructional minutes at the expense of lunch and recess.

I don’t believe that there is any administrator in the world who could think that the scene described in the above comment is good for the children. The only explanation for it is that administrators can no longer do what’s best for the kids without putting their jobs at risk. No one should be surprised. The whole purpose of No Child Left Behind is to use federal funds to coerce school officials into doing things to the kids that they would not otherwise be willing to do.

At what point will our district say no?

Try this thought experiment: Imagine that the federal government decides to cut off school funding to any state that doesn’t institute corporal punishment in its public schools. Suppose the state of Iowa, to ensure the continued flow of federal dollars, then passes a statute requiring local school districts to use corporal punishment. Suppose districts that refuse to comply would incur penalties, such as administrators getting fired, funds getting cut off, and accreditation being withheld.

What would our school board, our superintendent, and our local school administrators do in response? Would they take a stand against beating kids as a form of punishment? Would they refuse to engage in practices that hurt the kids, even if that meant risking state and federal penalties?

Or would they convince themselves that the loss of federal money would do more harm to the kids than the occasional beating? Would they imagine themselves, as they execute the new policy, to actually be protecting the kids by not beating them as badly or as frequently as they’re supposed to? Would they start using words like “spanking” and “paddling” instead of “beating,” or phrases like “behavioral consequences” instead of “corporal punishment”? Would they begin to cite research showing that beating the kids leads to higher short-term compliance with rules? Would they remind themselves that the kids can just behave better if they don’t want to get beaten? Would they start to think that some kids actually deserve a good whupping now and then?

Would they say they were only following orders?

On second thought, let’s not do that thought experiment.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Iowa Public Radio to cover the school lunch issue

Iowa Public Radio will cover the school lunch issue on "The Exchange," today (Friday, December 17) at noon. Both Katina Lillios, who organized the petition to extend the lunch period, and Steve Murley, the Iowa City school superintendent, will be on the program, which will also be available afterward via podcast. Details here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thoughts about the school lunch meeting, part 2

The thing that most surprised me at last night’s meeting with the superintendent about the fifteen-minute lunch period: There are apparently no state or federal requirements on how elementary schools must allocate the time in the school day. How many minutes to give to math, reading, art, music, gym, lunch, recess: it’s entirely up to us as a community.

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So why has lunch been squeezed down to fifteen minutes or less? According to the superintendent, it’s because school administrators know that they’ll be subject to penalties, under No Child Left Behind, if they fail to raise standardized test scores. Those penalties can even lead to administrators and teachers getting fired. In response, the administrators have concluded that they have to add instructional time to the day, and there are only so many places to find those minutes. Hence the disappearing lunch and recess. The superintendent did not endorse this system, but was just describing the objective reality. So much for what our community would choose for our children. More on that issue in an upcoming post.

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The superintendent started the meeting by talking about how the “twenty-minute lunch period” came about, and conceded that some schools may be counting time getting to and from lunch as part of the “twenty minutes.” This attempt at spin went over like a lead balloon. No one in the room acknowledged his characterization at all, and discussion quickly moved on to the actual fifteen-minute lunch period and how the fifteen minutes even included time waiting in line and cleaning up.

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A paraphrase that I think captures the essence of the evening:

PARENT: There is more to education than raising test scores. We want to educate the whole child.


ANOTHER PARENT: Evidence shows that kids learn better if they eat a healthy lunch and have sufficient down time to socialize and play.


ANOTHER PARENT: I don’t see why my first-grader needs an hour of math instruction every day. If math were fifty minutes long, and lunch was twenty-five minutes long, nobody would be here complaining that we need to cut lunch and add to math.

ANOTHER PARENT: We need to question the assumption that more is always better. Piling additional instructional time on the kids is counterproductive, even if raising test scores is your goal.

SIXTH-GRADER: After about forty minutes of any class, I start to zone out anyway.


PARENT: So how do you suggest we solve this lunch problem?

(Drum roll please . . .)

SUPERINTENDENT: I think we should make the school day longer.

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In fairness, a few of the parents were open to the idea of extending the school day to make more time for lunch. I don’t know whether that’s because they’d be against redrawing the line between instructional time and down time, or just because they sense that the administrators won’t be willing to extend lunch any other way.

One student said -- and was quoted in the paper -- “I’d much rather have a long day than a short lunch.” That’s exactly the choice the superintendent wants us to see. Considering the possibility of a longer lunch in the existing school day would force a discussion of whether the administrators’ interests actually differ from the kids’ interests, a subject I sensed the superintendent would prefer to avoid.

My sense was that the superintendent already wanted to extend the school day, and hoped to use the school lunch issue as a way to win parents over to the idea -- thus pleasing both parents and administrators. I know a lot of parents whose reaction will disappoint him.

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For a while discussion turned to how the district’s behavior management program, PBIS, was creating a negative and overly restrictive atmosphere in the schools. The superintendent’s defense of PBIS struck me as particularly lame. He said that there is nothing wrong with PBIS itself, because all it means is setting clear community expectations about how the kids should act. I’ll agree that PBIS, defined in that way, is unobjectionable, but it’s also a meaningless platitude. No one objects to the schools setting clear expectations about behavior. But it is simply false to say that that is what PBIS is. PBIS is a specific approach to achieving behavioral goals -- one that emphasizes rewards and external motivators, and puts no emphasis on helping the kids develop their own intrinsic sense of right and wrong that is independent of simply obeying whatever rules the authorities present them with. All of the non-imaginary objections to PBIS follow from that fact.

Although the superintendent defended his contentless version of PBIS, he at least conceded that there may be problems with the way PBIS is being implemented. All right. If he wants to think of all the actual content of PBIS as an “implementation problem,” fine, let’s work on that implementation problem.

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Am I being too harsh? The guy came out on an eight-degree night to meet with us for an hour and a half when he could have been at home with his family, and I appreciate that. And he understood -- and even anticipated and sympathized with -- much of what we had to say. But I’m afraid my experience has taught me that school administrators often try to placate parents by sympathizing profusely with their concerns, only to then enact policies that exacerbate those very concerns -- usually asserting that they have no choice because of decisions made at higher levels. I sometimes think it must be the first strategy they learn in Parent Management class in education school.

If this superintendent increases lunch and recess time without extending the school day, and gets rid of the harmful aspects of PBIS, and resists as much as possible the dehumanizing pressures of No Child Left Behind, I’ll be his biggest fan, and you’ll hear about it here. In the meantime, I’ll view him the way I hope my kids will someday view public officials who tell them what they want to hear: skeptically first, and hopefully second.

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Above all, I was struck yet again by how our “public” school system is primarily driven by factors other than the community’s preferences. Here is an issue -- allocation of time in the school schedule -- which is entirely in our community’s hands. Yet even the identity of the people deciding the issue remains unclear. The superintendent said that the schedule is decided by individual principals, but also mentioned that the district “suggests” a rough schedule outline to the principals. My experience is that “suggestions” made by one’s employer carry a lot of weight. But, conveniently, this division of responsibility between the district and the principals allows each to blame the other for the outcome.

The superintendent explained that our district operates “more like a confederation than like a nation,” and that the district gives a lot of discretion to individual principals. I’d be in favor of that system, but for the fact that principals are the least democratically accountable of any actors in the system. We can vote for the school board members, who hire the superintendent. But if they delegate the policymaking to the school principals, what possible role is there for public input into those decisions? (Even the superintendent acknowledged that the PTAs do not play that role.) My suggestion that each school might have a parent council that would advise the principal on policy decisions -- an idea borrowed from our Canadian friends -- received a polite nod from the superintendent before he moved on to the next person.

Of course I have no way of knowing how much the parents in the room last night were representative of our district’s citizens as a whole. But when I heard the stories of kids being rushed through lunch in their winter coats and/or in near silence, I couldn’t help thinking how little resemblance our school system bears to any system that our community would ever consciously choose to create.

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More soon. Part 1 here. To read all posts on the school lunch issue, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thoughts about the school lunch meeting, part 1

A group of parents and students met with our school superintendent tonight to talk about our concerns that the lunch period in our elementary schools -- which is only fifteen minutes, including the time spent waiting in line and coming and going -- is too short. (Their petition is here.) Over the course of the meeting, people expressed other, related concerns as well -- such as some schools’ practice of insisting the kids eat lunch very quietly, or while fully dressed in their outdoor winter clothes (since there is otherwise not enough time to dress for recess). People also expressed dismay at the role No Child Left Behind, with its forced emphasis raising standardized test scores, has played in causing school administrators to increase instructional time at the expense of the lunch and recess.

The superintendent, who is new this year, was personable and good at conveying that he understood people’s concerns. Nonetheless, I left the meeting feeling that there was a noticeable gulf between him and the parents in the room. What was missing was any acknowledgement from the superintendent that, when school administrators are deciding that it’s a good idea to make the kids eat lunch in under fifteen minutes, without giving them time or permission to converse in normal voices -- and sometimes even bundled up in winter clothes -- something has gone very, very wrong. The superintendent seemed to respond to those concerns by saying, “Well, I can see your point.” Meanwhile, the parents in the room seemed to be thinking, “What the hell is going on in the Iowa City public schools?”

Part 2 here.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The incredible shrinking recess

Over at Parenting is Political, northTOmom is arguing against cutbacks in recess time in Toronto elementary schools. Students there currently get two fifteen-minute recess breaks, plus an hour-long break for lunch/recess. Under a new system that is being implemented in many Ontario schools, they would get two forty-minute breaks, with each one evenly divided between time to eat and time to play. That would give the kids twenty more minutes to eat, but thirty fewer minutes of unstructured play.

I hope Toronto holds the line against cuts in recess time. I wonder what they would think of Iowa City, where my fifth-grade daughter gets one thirty-five minute break for lunch and recess combined, plus a five-minute bathroom break, and that’s it until she goes home at three o’clock.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

“We must treat each one of them exactly as we wish for our own loved ones to be treated.”

The other day I wrote about Tolstoy’s dismay at the level of compulsion that he saw in the schools of his day. I think there is too much compulsion in our schools today. I’m not against forcing kids to do some things: if my daughter has a burst appendix, she goes to the hospital, whether she wants to or not. But I am against the use of excessive force, and most of the compulsion I see in schools today seems to be unjustified, if not outright counterproductive. I’m worried that No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on raising test scores, is leading schools to take a top-down, “make ’em learn” approach to education that’s bound to have unhappy consequences on our kids’ attitudes toward school and toward learning. If you force a student to learn algebra at the cost of making her hate math, you’ve won the battle but lost the war.

A school’s first task should be to build on -- or at least not to kill -- the natural sense of enjoyment and fulfillment that all kids get from satisfying their curiosity about the world -- that is, from intellectual activity. A good school should be a place where the kids would choose to go, even if they didn’t have to. It should treat the kids as individuals to be engaged and won over, rather than as subjects to be dictated to.

I suppose there is only so much that individual school principals can do to pursue that philosophy, given how many decisions are imposed on them from above. But I do think there are differences in attitude and approach. That’s one of the reasons I liked what I saw in a recent newsletter from the principal of our local high school, John Bacon:

How can City High truly be The School That Leads? How do we live up to this proud tradition? How do we put meaning behind our motto? There are many ways we must do this, including these:

1. We must lead in delivering engaging instruction. We can hook our students into what we are teaching so that they look forward to coming to class each day. There is an element of performance to great teaching. We have a tremendous faculty and we must keep getting better.

2. We can lead in “customer service”. We must be family friendly, highly positive, with excellent communication. All stakeholders must be treated with respect and dignity each day.

3. Most importantly, we must lead in caring for our students. We must call them by name in a positive way each day. We must listen to them and respect them. We must treat each one of them exactly as we wish for our own loved ones to be treated.
Now, some of that has an over-the-top, motivational-speaker quality to it, and of course it’s easier to state goals than to put them in practice. (My kids aren’t in high school yet, so I can’t speak to the practice.) But as a statement of goals, from a principal working within a system that’s not of his own making, this seems like a good one. I’ve heard only good things about John Bacon, from both students and school staff, and I count this as one of them.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Tolstoy in the schools of Marseilles

Over at Kid-Friendly Schools, FedUpMom has a brief post about how China’s high test scores have come at the expense of real learning.

Here’s Tolstoy, writing almost a hundred and fifty years ago:

Last year I was in Marseilles, where I visited all the schools for the working people of that city.

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The school programmes consist in learning by heart the catechism, Biblical and universal history, the four operations of arithmetic, French orthography, and bookkeeping. In what way bookkeeping could form the subject of instruction I was unable to comprehend, and not one teacher could explain it to me. The only explanation I was able to make to myself, when I examined the books kept by the students who had finished the course, was that they did not know even three rules of arithmetic, but that they had learned by heart to operate with figures and that, therefore, they had also learned by rote how to keep books.

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Not one boy in these schools was able to solve, that is, to put the simplest problem in addition and subtraction. And yet, they operated with abstract numbers, multiplying thousands with ease and rapidity. To questions from the history of France they answered well by rote, but if asked at haphazard, I received such answers as that Henry IV. had been killed by Julius Caesar. The same was the case with geography and sacred history. The same with orthography and reading. More than one half of the girls cannot read any other books than those they have studied. Six years of school had not given them the faculty of writing a word without a mistake.

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After the lay school, I saw the daily instruction offered in the churches; I saw the salles d’asiles, in which four-year-old children, at a given whistle, like soldiers, made evolutions around the benches, at a given command lifted and folded their hands, and with quivering and strange voices sang laudatory hymns to God and to their benefactors, and I convinced myself that the educational institutions of the city of Marseilles were exceedingly bad.
At the root of the problem, Tolstoy believed, was the degree of compulsion -- which “becomes worse and worse in every year and with every hour,” to the point where “There is left only the despotic form with hardly any contents.” To the contrary, Tolstoy concluded, “the criterion of pedagogics is only liberty.”

But why listen to people like Tolstoy and Einstein when we have Arne Duncan, E.D. Hirsch, and that principal with the baseball bat?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A public meeting on the school lunch issue

Should kids get more than fifteen minutes to eat lunch at school every day? The issue will be discussed at a public meeting with the Iowa City school superintendent on Monday, December 13, from 6:00 to 7:30, at Shimek Elementary School. I hope anyone interested will attend and speak up. More information here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Fear vs. the First Amendment

When I published an opinion piece last week that was critical of the way our school district, and our particular school, are teaching kids about good behavior, several people asked me whether I was worried that expressing my opinion might negatively affect the way the school treated my kids. In fact, although I have disagreements with our school principal and think that she could do better at handling questions and criticism, I have absolutely no reason to think that she or anyone at the school has treated my kids differently because of anything I wrote or said. But there are apparently a lot of other people who would think twice about expressing similar opinions, for that reason.

Then a local teacher published an opinion piece that seemed to be defending the school district on some of the issues I raised. When I invited him to discuss those issues at more length on this blog, though, he let me know that he wasn’t really intending to take a position on what school policies should be, but merely to say that teachers should not be criticized for policies that they don’t have any say over. I agree with him about that, and I understand why he wouldn’t want to get involved in publicly debating the district’s policy. But I also think it’s a shame if teachers in the system feel free to publish only the most uncontroversial opinions, when their contributions on more debatable issues would actually be very valuable.

Today, someone posted the following comment in response to that teacher’s piece:

Amazing comments.

As a teacher with more than 30 years in the ICCSD, I can say that the teachers I know dislike PBS (knowmn as “PBIS” in some schools)

However, because of the unruliness in an increasing number of students who have not been taught the basics of socially acceptable behavior, the PBS system is being implemented on a district-wide basis. This decision has been made at the expense of the majority of the students, in my opinion.

Until the ICCSD allows the individual schools to handle discipline in a realistic manner instead of a “one size fits all achools” model, the majority of students will be subjected to this policy that is a total waste of time and resources.

If the public wants to make a difference, show up at School Board meetings and state your opinion.

The teachers I know who have protested this approach have been told by their administrators to be quiet.
Set aside for the moment the question of whether district-wide PBIS is a good policy. (I happen to think that it’s a bad policy policy for any set of kids, including those who aren’t already well-behaved, but I’ve explained my reasons elsewhere.) Is there any excuse for an administrator telling a teacher to “be quiet” when the teacher thinks a district policy is bad for the kids? If that report is true, how is it not a scandal? How is it not a betrayal of the kids?

Of course teachers are going to be reluctant to contribute to debate about school policies if they’re worried about how their employer might react. In fact, public employees have a constitutional right to speak on matters of public concern, and it would be great if they took advantage of it. Unfortunately, the courts have muddied the contours of that right to the point where speech is obviously going to be chilled. You can read more about the right of public employees to engage in free speech here. (Notice, for example, point number 9.) The inspiring message for public employees: Yes, if you speak out on a matter of public concern, you might win the lawsuit that you bring after you’re fired! When that’s the good news, who needs the bad news?

But we don’t need a constitutional amendment to address this problem. Nor can this problem, like so many others, be blamed on federal or state mandates. On this issue, the buck stops with our superintendent and our school board, period. Do they believe that free and open debate produces better policies -- and thus is better for the kids -- or don’t they?

If they do, they have the power to do something about it. They can encourage teachers to speak out publicly on school policy issues. They can instruct school principals to encourage teachers to speak out. They can actively solicit public comment from teachers on school policy issues. They can discipline administrators who discourage teachers or parents from speaking up. They can enact policies providing teachers with more generous legal protection against retaliation than the courts have provided, and incorporate greater protection for speech into teacher contracts. Is there any reason why they should not do those things? How can they possibly expect to reach good policy decisions when the people closest to the kids -- parents and teachers -- are worried about the consequences of speaking up?

If our school officials aren’t furious about the possibility that teachers are being told to “be quiet” about matters of public concern, I’d sure like to know why. These are the people who are someday going to teach my kids about the purpose and value of the First Amendment? When they do, what are they going to say?

Follow-up post: Debate or Groupthink? An exchange with a school board member

Yet more follow-up on Press-Citizen opinion pieces

The other day I posted about a guest opinion piece in our local paper. I read the piece, which was written by a local teacher, as defending the district’s approach to teaching behavior that I had criticized in my own guest opinion the week before, and as suggesting that criticism of those policies somehow amounted to “negativity” that was unsupportive of teachers in the system. This prompted me to speak up in the comments on the piece, since I thought the piece did not directly confront the legitimate concerns that people (including me) had expressed about the district’s policies. More importantly, I thought it was wrong to suggest that criticism of district policies is somehow unsupportive of teachers. I don’t think opposing a school or district policy is unsupportive of teachers, any more than I think opposing a war is unsupportive of the troops.

At the same time, I sensed that the author and I had some areas of agreement. I emailed him and invited him to exchange emails to discuss the issue further, and offered to post that exchange on this blog. Yesterday, he wrote back to me. He said that his main point was that people shouldn’t criticize teachers for policies that they have no role in adopting, and on that I agree completely. He said that he was reluctant to get into any public exchange about the specific policies, though, and I think that’s understandable. I really appreciate that he took the time to reply. Here’s part of what I wrote back:

Thanks for clarifying -- I totally agree that no one should hold the teachers responsible for policy decisions that they don’t get to make. I have always tried to make it clear that my disagreements are with the policymakers (which sometimes includes the school principal, since she does appear to have some discretion in how PBIS and other programs get implemented at Hoover). I really do believe that the teachers -- because they’re actually *with* the kids all day -- are the people in the system who are most likely to treat the kids humanely and respectfully, and are often the people who take the edge off of some of the policies that I find objectionable. Which isn’t to say that they necessarily agree with me about everything or about anything -- I assume there is variation among their opinions on policy issues, just as there naturally is in any large group -- or that they are infallible.

Part of your article did seem to be defending the approach the schools have taken to discipline and to teaching good behavior, so that was the part that I thought was in response to some of the points I made. But if you were just trying to call out some of the more extreme commenters, I don’t have any disagreement with that. On the other hand, teachers are public employees paid with taxpayer money to care for the people we love, so I think they should expect to face some scrutiny and probably can’t afford to be too sensitive to criticism. On the whole, I stand by the idea that a robust public discussion of school policy issues is far, far better for the kids than is no discussion at all, even if it occasionally brings out the worst in some people.

I certainly don’t mean to drag you into the debate about whether PBIS or Social Thinking or 15-minute lunches are good policies. I can understand why a teacher working for the district would be reluctant to get involved in that debate. I think it’s unfortunate that teachers do feel that reluctance, since I think they would have a lot of good experience to bring to bear on those questions, and they certainly have some constitutionally protected rights to speak about matters of public concern, not to mention contractual and statutory rights to discuss working conditions. But realistically, I know that employees are unlikely to want to get involved in speaking out about their employers’ practices, especially if they disagree with them. All the more reason, then, that parents and ordinary citizens should speak up. From some of the responses I’ve gotten, it seems like a lot of people are taken entirely unaware by the idea that there might be different ways to approach teaching about behavior, and that some ways might convey different messages and teach different values than other ways. Unless someone speaks up to make those arguments, a real policy debate can’t ever occur.
It does seem to me that the environment for free speech on local school issues is less than ideal. More on that in an upcoming post.