Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Art of Ignoring

Webster’s defines “ignorance” (n) as (a) “lack of knowledge, understanding or education.”  On the other hand, the word “(to) ignore” (v) means “refuse to take notice of; or acknowledge; disregard intentionally; pay no attention to; fail to consider or reject”.   Although these words have the same root “ignore” does not mean to be in a state of “ignorance”.   Last week I wrote about the frustration of being ignored by the State Education Commissioner and other education and state officials, which I described as a “strategy of ignorance”.   I went on to say that they hope by “ignoring” me/us that we would just go away.   At this juncture, my dear readers, you may be asking the question, what’s the point of this discussion?  To use an old cliché, some people say “toe-ma-toe” and others say “toe-mate-toe”.  In the end what does it matter?

However, as an educator I feel compelled to provide accurate information and to correct mis-information when warranted.  In light of the foregoing definitions, I need to restate that what I and others have encountered is not a strategy of “ignorance” but one of “ignoring”.   It’s an important distinction.   When confronted by the former, we could educate, inform or raise the awareness of the State officials through dialog, communicating new information and/or teaching.  With the latter, however it’s not possible to initiate a dialog as attempts to communicate, inform, raise awareness or teach are refused, rejected or simply not acknowledged.  Ignoring is deliberate, calculated and willful in its intent.

Since mid-December I have been vocal in asking for answers to a number of straight-forward and critical questions concerning the future of our school district.  I am not alone in raising these questions.  In fact, advocates here and across this state have many of the same concerns.  State imposed receivership threatens to strip our communities of local control of our schools.  The recent release of Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force recommendations, however, raises considerable doubt about the validity of the standardized tests, which were used to identify the receivership schools.  An additional caveat is that most of the receivership schools are located in urban school districts, which are disproportionately poor and of color.   Urban communities are under siege throughout this country.  They are targeted for takeover under emergency management, receivership or other tactics designed to limit local democratic agency.  We only have to look to the tragedy unfolding in Flint to understand the importance of not tolerating a strategy of ignoring.

It is not my intention to compare our situation to the deplorable one in Flint, but what has happened in Flint should be instructive and demonstrative of what can happen in any community whose voice is ignored and marginalized.   For example, there were red flags raised years before the catastrophe, which were met by indifference, dismissiveness and rejection.  We see a tunnel vision response that labeled questioners as complainers or whiners and their concerns as insignificant or baseless.  Advocates were discounted and disenfranchised because they lacked the resources, and or status, to make their voices heard.  There was a top down bureaucracy that had little respect for or valuing of the opinions of the “little” guys.   In many instances, stakeholders were not even given the courtesy of an acknowledgement of their letters, petitions, calls, etc.  Does this sound familiar?  It’s the “art of ignoring” as practiced in Michigan as well as in our own State by agencies and individuals who should be responsive to constituents. 

What makes this strategy of ignoring even more salient and troubling in the case of Buffalo School advocates is that my colleagues and I are publicly elected officials, informed and very involved Board and community members.  However, even these credentials aren’t enough to warrant a professional, informed, timely response from State Education officials, to our questions about receivership, the use of standardized tests results and the Common Core Task Force recommendations. (With one notable exception; I want to thank Senator Timothy Kennedy, who took the time to meet with me last week.  He listened to the issues and the rationale for the request to the Commissioner and the Board of Regents. He has promised to look into the matter)

Last week, I posted an online petition for supporters of the request for an open, transparent and inclusive process that would engage the community in a dialogue about the implications and implementation plans of the Task Force recommendations.  I’ve been requesting this dialogue with a dialogue about the implications and implementation plans of the Common Core Task Force ld enlocal and state educational officials since the Task Force Report was released in December 2015.  

This online petition has received nearly 500 signatures since being posted on January 24th.  These are in addition to the 115 sent to Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Tisch last week. Thanks to all who joined us to bolster this request.  You can still sign the PETITION.

Commissioner Elia, the strategy of ignoring is unproductive and ultimately detrimental.  Over 600 education stakeholders are asking NOT to be ignored; disregarded; or rejected.  We are asking that you pay attention to our questions and our concerns.  We are asking that you acknowledge us and we look forward to hearing from you!

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