The author, Kim Kimball, a retired South Kingstown school teacher and lifetime resident of the district, makes three points, while passively alluding to an even bigger challenge to our democracy: the fear of speaking out.
More than building blocks of a democracy, these suggestions, and her courage in sharing them, are cornerstone to strengthening the greatest asset of any school district: its sense of community. [To quote a dear friend and colleague of mine, Angela Blanchard, who shared these wise words with me on the eve of Hurrican Irene's blow to Rhode Island in 2011: "In the end, all you have is community, and in the end it's all you really need."]
In summary of - and reaction to - Kimball's three points:
1. Honor the diverse viewpoints of SK residents and allow them to be heard.
And be open to the possibility of even opposing viewpoints seeing eye to eye when real DIALOGUE takes place. Allowing everyone to speak can be chaotic, even messy; and there are methods to the madness. Real democracies dare to go there.
2. Provide a VARIETY of career path choices for our VARIETY of SK learners.
College, though one path forward, is not the only path. Better yet, to quote Doc from Back to the Future: "Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." The possibilities are infinite, and if every student believed this with all of his/her might, every student would also feel worthy of paving and actively pursuing his/her unique way forward.
3. ENGAGE the stakeholders with the greatest stake in education: teachers, staff, parents [and I would add STUDENTS].
Wanted: fewer new initiatives and more listening to those in the trenches.
This last point brings me to a subtle comment that struck me most in Kimball's letter. In her opening, Kimball alluded to her courage for speaking up on account of her retirement from teaching -- that speaking up during employment is not a safe option for those currently in the education workforce.
I hear this often from educators across the country, and it makes me sad to the core. To think that in 2015 our freedom of speech is only espoused, that we truly do not feel FREE to be free? This is especially disheartening in the education field, where, according to the late education philosopher/activist John Dewey, learning in the process of living is the deepest form of freedom:
In a nation that aspires to democracy, that’s what education is primarily for: the cultivation of freedom within society. We should not think of schools as garrisons protecting us from enemies, nor as industries generating human capital. Rather, higher education’s highest purpose is to give all citizens the opportunity to find “large and human significance” in their lives and work. (Source: "Learning As Freedom," by Michael S. Roth, The New York Times, Sept 5, 2012)
What would it take, really, for every one of us to feel free to be free? And what can we do each and every day to put these conditions in place for every life we touch? Change starts not with pointing, but with being - being the change we want to see [- Ghandi].
The solutions areresident; and listening to them requires making the time and the space for them to be heard. This is the charge of Learning401, and we have our work cut out for us. Kim Kimball's letter is one small but mighty step in sparking much needed conversation.