Truly, Diane Ravitch is an amazing woman — no matter what side of the education reform movement you are on, you must admit this. She is 74 years old and blogs about 10 times a day, runs all over the country defending public education and helping to build morale for an industry being brutally attacked, and still finds time work on a book. Since she started her blog last April, I have learned so much from her.
It seems that Cranston has once again become the epicenter for acting out a drama that is likely being repeated, on a much smaller scale, in communities all across the country. This time the hot now-in-the-national-news debate is about father-daughter dances and how we are now calling them family dances.
Sometimes I feel like we have a special talent here in Cranston for making an issue out of things that would make common sense for us all to agree on. I wish we all could have agreed to just take the “Heavenly Father” off the prayer banner and call it a school pledge. I wish we could agree to let this family dance be our clarion call of respect for our different ways of raising children in the community. Sometimes I wonder if we were having this conversation in the presence of the children whose fathers are not available for the dance, how many of us would make the right decision and say to the children, “This is a family dance, and all are welcome. You can bring anyone you want.” But as Bob Plain points out, we are still feeling the pain from out last go-around with the ACLU, which may be driving a certain amount of the posturing and outcry.
I can sympathize with people who want this name to go away. While the pictures could line our walls of my husband and our ever-growing daughters posed side by side for the father-daughter dance photos, it’s not right for children to feel excluded. I know from my practice of social work, these issues are particularly hard on children in other family constellations, such as being raised by grandparents, foster parents, single parents, or in families with two moms. Our school changed to from the Father-Daughter dance to the Family Dance last year, and reports from our parent-teacher organization were that it was a successful event and we raised money for the school.
Carolyn Mark, who is the president of the National Organization for Women in Rhode Island, and who is running for school committee in East Greenwich, co-authored the letter that prompted the change in nomenclature. Click through to read more about the issue, including the letter she wrote.
Thomas Lewis, a professor of Religious Studies at Brown, provides an excellent summary of the prayer banner controversy. He points out that Frank Lombardi, whose terrible judgement (IMHO) in the prayer banner controversy helped to fuel the fight with the ACLU, will be squaring off against Gene Dyszlewski, an ordained minister who defended Jessica Ahlquist, for the Rhode Island Senate District 26 seat. More on that to come.
My overall analysis is that the real problem we have right now in Rhode Island is not that the Cranston Schools had a banner hanging in an auditorium that had a prayer on it. The real problem is that our economy is sagging big time, and we need to figure out how to turn that around. But the prayer banner controversy does define an important distinction about what government can and cannot do. The thoughts of Oswald Krell also serve to give more historical context to the discussion:
[...]To begin: any sentence that contains “the founding fathers believed/thought/said/wanted/intended/were, etc is necessarily wrong.
The founding fathers were not a monolithic bunch. Exactly the opposite. They were a group of men, many of whom had long years of experience in politics in some form. As such, as a group and for the most part, they understood the necessity of compromise. Not all of them; there were some doctrinaire ideologues, especially in the earlier days, but they were weeded out as time passed.
A great example of this is Sam Adams–whose father was a brewer, by the way. He played a major role in the early days of the protests that led up to the outbreak of fighting, but he did not have the political chops to play any role in congress during the war.
If I had to call it, my call at this point would be that the Board of Regents will vote to approve one, and only one, Achievement First School to start up in Providence. I have followed this issue closely for the past year, though I am by no means an insider to the process. I am merely a concerned parent and a somewhat obsessive follower of the corporate-influenced education reform movement and its critics, of which I am one.
But it appears, with the Providence Mayor, the (Providence-Mayor-appointed) School Board, and many Providence legislators on board, this Achievement First thing is headed for a ram-through. It’s not going to be a big ram-through, and for this I am grateful. It’s just going to be the first foot onto the slippery slope of the corporate-influenced divvying up of the education money pie. There will still be one foot on firm ground, so if we want to pull back and cancel this whole thing in a few years with only one Achievement First school opened and closed, that will still be possible.
In the meantime, if you still want to try to influence the vote on this matter by beseeching our Governor to intercede (not sure he could actually do that, other than by trying to influence individual Board of Regents members), you can sign the petition at Change.org.
There are many reasons why I believe Achievement First is not the answer to our social and educational problems in Rhode Island. I’ll let the petition speak for itself: Go here to read and sign.