The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Welcome to The Treasure Hunter, a blog by Joanne Yatvin

ButterflyJYThe purpose of this blog is to highlight the good things now happening or possible in public education.  Although I will write pieces as often as I can, I welcome contributions from others who are aware of positive happenings in schools  or have good ideas for change.  My hope is that this blog will become the loudest voice in support of our schools, teachers, and students.

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How Should Students Dress For School?

Today’s blog is not the long, difficult piece I’ve been working on (which I think won’t be ready till next week). Instead, I will describe an article in today’s New York Times and ask for your opinions about the issue it covers.


An article in today’s New York Times told the story of a 17 year old female student named Lizzy, who came to school wearing a large, dark, loose t-shirt with no bra under it because she had gotten sun-burned on her chest over the weekend. Unfortunately, the outlines of her nipples were somewhat visible, and that had drawn the attention of some boys in the classroom.

In this situation the teacher did not say anything to Lizzy. But soon after the class had begun, the girl was called downstairs to meet with two school officials: a school dean and the principal.

The first thing the officials asked was why wasn’t Lizzy wearing a bra. Her answer was that her chest was sunburned, so having anything tight on it would be painful. Nevertheless, the officials were not sympathetic. They told her that she was violating the school dress code and should put on an undershirt

Almost immediately, Lizzy started to cry and said she wanted to go home. She called her mother, who was a nurse at work and couldn’t leave to pick her up. So the dean insisted that the girl must put adhesive bandages over her nipples and went down to the school clinic to get some. Lizzy put them on as directed and went back to class.

After 45 minutes in the classroom, Lizzy began to cry again because the bandages hurt her as she moved. She was allowed to go to a bathroom with a friend, and once there removed the bandages and called her mother again. This time her mother came and took her home.

Two weeks after that happened Lizzy sent out a tweet that many of her friends read and responded to. On the next Monday she and about 30 of her classmates came to school without wearing bras under their clothing, and several other students had taped Band-Aids on their backpacks in the shape of an X.

As you might expect, the practice of girls wearing unacceptable clothing in school is spreading to many other schools all over the country. Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney a the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU says “It’s not clear whether the rise we’re seeing in advocacy around the issue of dress codes is because schools are imposing them in more discriminatory ways now than they were before, or whether more students are feeling empowered to speak up and complain about discriminatory dress codes. But we do definitely see that more students are speaking up.”

If you were the teacher in Lizzy’s classroom or the principal of that school what would you do or say if you saw students’ clothing that you considered inappropriate? Think about boys’ clothing as well as girls’, and nasty messages written on shirts. I hope to get some answers that will make me think more about facing such a problem.  I will respond with my own answer afterward.

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Allons Enfants de la Patrie*

*Arise, Children of our Country

Faithful readers will recognize immediately that I wrote this piece more than a year ago.  I am re-posting it today because I didn’t want readers to think I had given up blogging or was incapacitated.  The fact is that I’ve been working on another piece for several long days, and I haven’t finished it yet.  I would guess that I will finish it byFriday and then post it.  I hope that it will be worth your time to wait and read it then


Although there is no research evidence to confirm such beliefs about American students’ laziness or the ineffectiveness of our schools, public education has operated on those assumptions continually through the actions of Congress, the Department of Education, and state legislatures. Those bodies have also used public humiliation and punishment of students, teachers, school principals, unions and—indirectly—parents to prevent any resistance from gaining ground.

Thus far, all efforts to reverse the current concept of education and create a humane and reasonable foundation for our public schools have failed. Recently, we believed that the new federal law, ESSA, would return authority to states and their communities, but that belief was crushed by the Department of Education with its rejection of any state plans aimed to serve students’ needs and interests rather than raise test scores and improve graduation rates.

From my perspective, as the mother of four children who were public school students in far better times, and also as a teacher and school principal back then; there is only one possible solution.  We must have a widespread public rebellion against the current system. Parents should refuse to have their children participate in high stakes testing and demand age-apropriate standards for all grades. Communities need to re-shape their public schools to fit the needs of their students; and state officials must fight any moves by the Federal government to punish  schools for non compliance.

We have wasted more than twenty years trying out the beliefs and programs ordered by  powerful, but know-nothing politicians.  For the sake of our children and our country we must take back public education and allow it to grow naturally through wisdom and humanity.

 

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In Memory of All the Children Killed or Injured by Guns

Although it took me more time and thought to write this piece than usual — and I am still not sure that everything I suggested is reasonable– I felt that it was necessary to give a tribute to all the students who lost their lives in school gun attacks, and those young people who stood up for them all over the country last month. 


While students, their families, and friends were busy marching, speaking, and pressing for action against the use of dangerous guns and the right of dangerous people to have them, the NRA was mostly silent. Were they ashamed to defend their beliefs and actions about guns? Not in the least. They were just waiting for the public protests to end and the protesters to go back to their homes, jobs, and schools. Then things would return to normal, and the guns that had been identified as “extremely dangerous” and “must be removed” would sell more briskly than before.

Somehow, I doubt that things will happen as the NRA expects. Adults may return to their normal lives, but I don’t see students just going back to school and settling into their classes and homework assignments like before. A new way of life has been opened to them, and I suspect they feel that’s where they belong.

The problem for students who marched, spoke out on television, made contact with state and national officials, and lived in the real world for a while, is that now they have to devote themselves to required school programs that are not all that meaningful. In their classrooms they are chained to the traditional routine of classes in English, Math, Science, Social studies, Physical education, a Foreign language and the Arts. With that routine five days a week, ten months a year, I just see school absenteeism rates rising.

Although I don’t think high schools should throw the current classes down the drain, I hope that teachers will make an effort to reflect the real world as it is today in their classes. It is certainly possible for students to use math in making a chart of how many people who didn’t receive Flu shots died of viruses last year. In an English class students can write persuasive pieces about the importance of voting in all elections.  And students in an art class can paint pictures of families that are homeless. If teachers make a strong effort to bring the problems and realities of the outside world into their classrooms, along with the usual topics, education will become more meaningful for all students–and their teachers, too.

On a regular basis students should read newspapers, news magazines and other materials in class in order to keep themselves up to date on the issues that are most interesting to them. Then, they can discuss what is happening and decide whether or not to take action. If a topic is right for them to handle, they will make plans for what to do about it at school and in their communities.

One definite student action should be to move outside the high school classroom by writing or speaking to local audiences and making videos for groups that are hard to reach.  Whether or not students can do those things on school time is a question their school must answer–and I hope it will be yes.

In addition, I think it is also important for students to have a special day every year for protest marches against guns, like the ones held after the school killing in Florida. Although we can’t assure that they will be as large and dedicated as those that were held throughout our country last month, they will still be reminders to the NRA and local gun lovers that gun protests will not cease.  I hope marches will also persuade many citizens that owning several large guns and hanging them on their wall are not symbols of beauty and power but of vanity and ignorance.

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Information for Readers Interested in the “Opt-Out” Movement on Testing

A few days ago I received a message from a non-profit organization named “FairTest” which has been working for several years to help public schools give their best teaching to students and true information to parents. Below I will try to explain the important project the organization is working on now. I will respond to their request and I hope many readers will do that too.


Although the Federal government passed a law allowing parents in all states to opt-out their children from the yearly school testing, many parents are not aware of their rights and states do not want them to know. They are afraid that schools with many well-educated parents would opt-out their children if they knew that they had that option. A large number of op-outs from any school would make it impossible for the Federal government to judge the quality of education there.

As a result, many school districts in some states, which have to inform parents of their rights, make that information hard to find or hard to understand, and consequently, there are very few student opt-outs there.

“FairTest”, a non-profit organization devoted to the welfare of all students, works hard to let parents know of their rights, but it is difficult for it to obtain the information it needs For that reason it has reached out to knowledgeable people in various states, asking them about the formal policies and hidden practices for opting-out students in their state. I will respond with what I know about Oregon’s information to parents, and I hope that readers in other states will do the same.

To give you an idea of what many states are now doing, I will repeat the information provided by the state of California below, which is similar to that of other states.

California has a school-distributed letter with one sentence on the right to opt-out           buried deep in the text of a memorandum to parents about testing. We do not know what is on the state website or if opt-out forms are readily available. There is no link to an Opt-out form on the school’s letter.

FairTest is assembling material from all states with opt out laws. I hope that many readers will send them whatever information they have, including links. Their Email address is: fairtest@fairtest.org.

 

 

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The “Treasure Hunter” Answers a Letter From a Mother Who Needs Help

Today’s post is very different from anything I’ve written before, yet still relevant to the job of a “treasure hunter” in the field of education. In yesterday’s Oregonian I read  a piece  I couldn’t ignore that included a letter from a mother who was very concerned about her child’s school behavior and wanted some advice. It also included a response from the newspaper’s “expert”, who also writes for “The Washington Post” specifically.  She proposed several possible reasons for the child’s behavior and also some cures.  Since I did not agree with either one, I decided to give my own response. Whether you agree with me or not, I would love to receive your version of some good advice to the mother.


The Mother’s Letter:

My second-grader (almost eight years old) says he hates school. He cries every Sunday night. When he’s asked about his day he says that the only parts he liked were lunch and recess. and that the rest of the time he was bored. I have talked to his teacher several times, and it sounds as though he and six or seven other boys in his class are very chatty, distracting one another throughout the day. When we ask him to stay focused and avoid distraction, he says he can’t focus because he’s so bored. Despite all of this, his academic progress is on track or ahead, and his teacher says he frequently participates in class. Two other key points: He gets anxious about getting in trouble, and it sounds as if classroom management is a challenge this year. He only gets 20 minutes of recess a day—a real pet peeve for me. Is there anything we can say or do to help him feel more positive about school?

My Response:

After visiting your son’s teacher many times you must have a good idea about how helpful she can be in solving the problems facing him. If she seems cooperative, go again and emphasize the things your son has told you, such as the distractions from boys sitting near him and his need for more exercise. Then, ask if she could change his seat to a quieter part of the room. You should also mention the unusually brief recess time and ask if there is any chance of extending it. If not, what about a short break or two inside the classroom for student games or marching around the room?

If the teacher says she can’t help with more recess time, you might try the school principal, showing him/her how much time is allocated at other schools locally or in nearby school districts.

Finally, if all your suggestions for change are met with opposition, point out to the teacher that your son is doing well with his learning, and finishing early most of the time. TelI her that if he was allowed to read a book of his choice after he completed his assigned work that would solve his “chatting” problem. Maybe it would also work for the other students who are misbehaving.

All the actions I have suggested above are appropriate for you as a concerned and cooperative parent. Your son is doing his best to learn and rightfully feels bad about his misbehavior. Now it is the time for you to summon all your courage (and perhaps also the courage of other parents) to stand strong for student’ needs

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