Sunday, April 24, 2011

Politicians, Public Servants, Religious Leaders and Easter

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

A little over 2,011 years ago a guy who many of us believe arrived on this earth via a miraculous birth began speaking out to the people. At the time he was just about 30 years old. At first dismissed by religious leaders as a flash in the pan, his popularity began to grow. For the next three years he would push the limits of civil and religious law. Soon, he was on the radar of not only the right wing religious leaders but also the politicians. His inner circle of twelve were not the most sophisticated of their time, but they had a charismatic feel about them.

As he moved about the countryside the number of his followers began to grow. The crowds were bigger and more fervent. The religious leaders were in a frenzy as he questioned their law and their motives. The political establishment, while reluctant to enter into what appeared to be a religious dispute, were becoming concerned. The people were uneasy and a revolt might threaten the political establishment. The religious leaders on the far right began to pressure the political elite for swift action. They wanted their old laws preserved and this perceived threat eliminated. The politicians handed the problem to a dutiful public servant who carefully reviewed the facts. Being politically correct, he found no reasons for pursuing the religious leader's desire of putting their problem to death. When the public servant offered to release him, the religious right flew into a rage chose instead a thief. The public servant, weary of the fray, released Jesus to the religious leaders who took it upon themselves to put him to death in a most insidious way. Then there were the circumstances of his resurrection. An empty tomb, reported sightings and resurgence of his movement and a promise to return.

For the next two millennia no single individual would have the effect on government, politics, religion and life itself as this one person. 2000 years later religious leaders still pressure for their way, politicians maneuver and public servants to often wash their hands of the problems. One can only image he must wonder if we have learned anything from Easter.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Who is Really Failing our Students? The Teachers or the System?


My family's experience with the Pinellas County school system, a number of years ago, left several indelible feelings with me, all negative. I had no idea the impact it had on my daughter.

It was several years after my daughter received her master's degree. She was expecting her second child, the first, a son was three, pushing four, and nearing preschool age. She called from her office in Atlanta and started the conversation with a sentence that no parent likes to hear, "I've got something I need to talk to you about". Taking a deep breath I mumbled the typical response "What's that"?

She proceeded to tell me she was giving up the career and going home to be a stay at home mom and raise her children. Pure relief on my part, but then there was this. She said "I have decided to home school my kids". "Why home school?". I Asked. I'll never forget the response. She said. "My experience in the public school system there in St. Petersburg was so bad and left such a deeply negative impression on me about school and public education, that I will never take that chance with my children."

We chatted a bit more about the socialization issue and isolation of home schoolers and the conversation ended. I remember I sat there stunned. I never had thought about how the consequences of the educational process, the business of education, might affect the student's long term view of public education. It occurred to me that this school system was failing many of its students on a number of levels. Looking at FCAT scores, dropout rates and graduation percentages it would appear not much has changed.

There are now four children in my daughter's household. Two in college, another soon to follow and the youngest well on her way. All totally home schooled. Realizing the problems with home schooling, she developed an outside the home program that now serves over 150 home schooled children providing that needed socialization and academic access to arts, music and science programs that are often difficult for home schoolers to provide. I am not particularly an advocate of home schooling. I think it can bring children as many problems as it solves. My daughter and I have had many discussions about the subject.

What happens to others who are turned off by school system? Could it be today's dropout rate is influenced as much by the parent's perception of the school system as it is the attitude of the student? The point is if the public school system in this County is so poorly run that it inspires this kind of reaction why hasn't it been fixed? How many students have dropped out or been turned off on education by what goes on as opposed to what is taught?

Those were the questions almost 30 years ago and they persist today. Why has the Pinellas County school system found it so difficult to get on track and stay there ?

Some final thoughts Sunday.
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