Partisanship and Schools
Friends, Colleagues, and Neighbors,
I find myself in a new place. Since I started running for the Columbia County (Georgia) School Board, District 3, I have found myself with a whirlwind of ideas. As someone that has spent an entire life in education (either student, teacher, or professor), I feel like I have gained the experience and education required to make informed decisions that are in the best interests of all students.
And then there is the political sphere. Whether we like it or not, running for a public office is a political act. This race, for the school board, is non-partisan. You cannot declare a party. Education is supposed to be free from political influence. Yet, I have read comments to articles about the political leanings of candidates. I have been asked directly with which party I identify. I have been put on the spot to label myself.
Does it matter? My one and only concern is to improve the education of our children. We are bound by the shackles of testing and assessment. In my opinion, it has taken away from our educational system. While almost every school espouses the virtues of critical and creative thinking, how does that happen when everything has been broken down into testable pieces.
During this campaign, I have reached out to both parties. However, recently, reaching out and being asked specifically for a label, I was told, “No.” I wasn’t that party. They didn’t want to hear what I had to say. For a non-partisan race, it certainly seems partisan.
I am here, I am running for the betterment of our schools. Where I live, we have an outstanding school district. The scores are high, students move on to college and career, and the reputation is great. But, there is more to schools that this. It is more than, “Move them along to college and career.” This is the time for students to learn to live, to think, to understand, to analyze. It is the time to critique, to participate in the world, to discover. It is the time to be creative, critical and conscientious. Right now our schools teach students three things: content, conformity, and compliance. And then we expect them to be contributing members of society.
If those things and wanting those things are partisan issues, I guess I am partisan. Are there issues where I am slanted one way? Of course. I don’t think we should arm teachers. I think schools should not focus just on skills and content, but on critical and creative thinking. I think that teachers aren’t just there to fill young minds with information, but to allow students to question. I think that we only celebrate success (tests, grades and awards). We need to let children fail. There is a famous quote that has been attributed to Thomas Edison. He said, I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” We don’t let our students fail and learn from failure.
If this is partisan, wanting more from our schools, then I am partisan. And you should be, too.
Friends, Colleagues, and Neighbors.
After the tragic events in Parkland, there has been a movement of students about the issue of school safety. Recently, someone asked my opinion on the idea of student protests, walkouts, and the threat of punishment.
I think that everyone wants our youth to be thoughtful and involved in the world around them. The First Amendment grants, “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” With this in mind, I believe that students have the right to protest and have a well-planned and organized walkout. Students availing themselves of their right to protest in support of safer schools is not only noble, but also has the potential of enacting the discussion that we need to have.
I would urge schools and teachers to not punish students for airing the concerns and make sure that the situation remained safe.
We want students to be thoughtful members of society. We want students to be problem solvers. We want students to be active in their communities.
I am not saying that they should protest everything as an excuse to get out of school. This situation is unique and deserves attention.
Educator John Dewey once stated, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Let students experience life. There should be no punishment, no threats of retaliation. Teachers should not assign things during that time as punishment. Something need to change. In fact, I believe that teachers should join them to provide guidance, safety, and support.
Being a member of a democracy is work. Finding out what is important is work. Students should have the right to protest this event. We need safe schools and have serious discussions about them.
As an educator, I feel that it is my duty to address the tragedy in Parkland, Florida. And Marshall County, Kentucky. And Rancho Tehama Reserve, California. And Roseburg, Oregon. And Newtown, Connecticut. And…actually, the tragedy is that I was only picking places with many deaths. And public schools. If I were to list all school shootings, it would go on for pages and pages. And that is not counting non-school shootings. Las Vegas. Orlando. Virginia Tech (which is a school shooting, but not the P-12 system).
As a former teacher in Florida, I cannot fathom what the feelings are there.
To be clear, I am a proponent of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and what they stand for. However, this is a working document. It has been amended and changed. The First Amendment has limitations (such as you don’t have total free speech at work, speech at schools, obscenity, slander, etc.). After the Bill of Rights, there were 17 other amendments that were ratified. With changes in technology, the growth of the population, and other issues, we need to consider keeping the Constitution and Bill of Rights updated to match contemporary society. It has happened before (voting rights, term limits, etc.).
With that being said, our schools cannot be dangerous. Students need to feel safe to learn. Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a hierarchy of needs that need to be met for students to be able to become self-actualized and learn. Just about physiological needs are needs of safety. Without being safe, people cannot find love and belonging, self-esteem, and ultimately self-actualization.
A common idea that has been circulating is to arm teachers. As a former school teacher, in no way should an educator have that responsibility. Aside from the technical issues (where a gun would be, securing it, making sure it wasn’t stolen, etc.), an educator’s job is to educate. When the teacher becomes an armed bodyguard, it is time to rethink the entire system.
So, you might ask, what can we do? If we can’t protect ourselves, what options do we have? The problem is bigger than this. There are 5 million (that is 5,000,000) AR-15 rifles in circulation. That is one for every 65 people. There are also 270 guns in circulation in the U.S. How do these school shootings happen? People have guns.
I do not have a solution. But, I know we do need to start having serious conversations.
However, what I do know is that if we want students to be successful, to be critical and creative thinkers, they cannot live in fear. Right now, I think, there is fear. This happens too often. As a society, we get outraged, and then nothing changes. Well, something needs to change.
Our children are who we are. Each time one dies in a school shooting, or through suicide, or through careless behavior, we, as a country are diminished.
Friends, Colleagues, and Neighbors,
As we move forward in this election campaign, I have been blogging about education, our schools, my beliefs, and, to be honest, some random stuff. You can find my blog at http://andrewtkemp.com/blog/.
Today, I want to talk about the mission of the Columbia County School District. According to the website (http://www.ccboe.net/) the mission is We LEARN.
Lead by Example
Expect All to Succeed
Achieve excellence through engaging experiences
Respect and value each other
Now and tomorrow
Lead by Example: This first statement is essential. I think we should lead by example. However, what we want for our children is to be critical and creative thinkers. This is the example we must set. We must have teachers that are critical thinkers and creative practitioners to make education come alive. I know that many are, but we need to strive to make our schools not just places of content, but places if learning and inspiration.
Expect All to Succeed: This is a primary part of my platform—education for all. I want to ensure a quality education for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or ability. I want all students to succeed. However, we can’t have generic measures of success. Students are individuals. Our measures of success should allow for individuality.
Achieve Excellence Through Engaging Experiences: Learning is an active process. Learning needs context. Learning needs to be engaging. I think that students spend too much time in textbooks. I understand and support the need for a strong education filled with literature, science, social studies, math, music, career education, and art. However, much of what we do is about learning facts. We need to have students be engaged in their education through rethinking what we do.
Respect and Value Each Other: In these times of conflict and a society at social war within itself, I think that teaching about others is of vital importance. We are a society of different views, different beliefs, and different ways in which we define ourselves. We need to celebrate the diversity of everyone so that, perhaps, we can learn from each other and find commonality and unity in who we are.
Now and Tomorrow: I know it might seem odd, but I like this simple sentiment. Our schools need to focus on now and tomorrow. We don’t need to be stuck in the past with what we do. We must allow students not only live in the moment, to make decisions that can change their lives for the better, but to look toward making decisions for a better future.
My name is Andrew Kemp. I am running for the Columbia County School Board District 3.
Friends, Colleagues, and Neighbors,
While thinking about my candidacy for the School Board of Columbia County, Georgia, I have come to a conclusion. Education is an odd profession. I don’t mean the profession itself. I mean how we think of education. In almost every field, there is some board, governing body, or executive council that is tasked with overseeing the profession. For lawyers, it is the Bar Association. For doctors, it is the American Medical Association. Engineers? In Georgia we have the Georgia Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors. In each of these professions, experts in the field are tasked with making decisions. In fact, according to the state website regarding the Georgia Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, “The Board consists of nine members appointed by the Governor for a term of five years: six professional engineers, two land surveyors, and a member appointed from the public at large.”
So, why is it in education, the profession that has a direct influence on the future of society, do we give this task to lawyers, politicians, accountants, business people, and a host of other professions? Why isn’t the school board made up of educators?
Now, I do think that there should be representation of the community on a school board. However, like the Georgia Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, the bulk of the membership should be educators. In a 2009 study, the Council of Great City Schools found that only 14% of urban school board members were educators. This mirrors the 17% that I discovered doing research during my doctoral work.
So, why is it that we want professionals from the field to oversee other professions, but not in education? Being a teacher, educator, administrator, or other educational professional is not easy. It requires a degree. It requires certification. It requires certification examinations. Yes, representation of the community is important and essential to an effective school board. But, shouldn’t the bulk of decision makers be educators?
My name is Andrew Kemp. I am running for the Columbia County School Board in Georgia. I was a public school teacher for 9 years. I was a program coordinator for two years. I have a Master’s and Doctorate in education. I have taught in a College of Education for 10 years. I have the requisite knowledge and experience to help lead Columbia County Schools.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.