Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama's speech and public education

President Obama's inaugural speech had great impact on me. The power of his message and, of course, his skill as an orator are undeniable. He seems to possess that rare gift of great leaders to shape, motivate and inspire the collective will.

I was struck by his ability to make connections- he acknowledged and honoured the past and yet was clear about the need for change, innovation and forward movement. He encompassed both the need for restraint, humility and tolerance AND the need for forceful defense of key principles and ideals. He spoke to everyone and everyone found a message that rang true for them: the soldier and the peace protestor, the environmentalists and the industrialists, the rich and the poor, every faith and possibly for the first time, the "non-believers." Everyone has a place at the table. Everyone has a part to play and an important contribution to meet the challenges and forge a brighter future for all.

President Obama used the metaphor of the quilt to describe America. He commented that this was a strength not a weakness. This appealed to me and made me think of the diversity in our schools. It is not uncommon to have over 20 nationalities represented in a classroom in an Edmonton Public School. Some may focus on the challenges that those demographics present and truly, they exist, but perhaps the answers to those challenges will emerge when we all shift our thinking and see this as our greatest strength. Every child has a place at the table with Edmonton Public. That is what the first trustees believed back in 1881 and that continues to be the guiding principle behind public education. Every child belongs. Every child has the right to belong- rich or poor, from any background, any ability, any faith, any circumstance. You are all welcome and you will be given the very best we can offer. That is our commitment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Obama is a strong advocate of the charter school movement. In many American cities, the public system has not seemed to do a good job responding to the needs of kids growing up in urban poverty.

Part of the problem is funding. An inner city school district may not have sufficient tax base to ensure quality education.

However, another reason for the growing popularity of charter schools is that they empower parents to become more involved in setting educational priorities for their children. The public system in Edmonton has become very professionalized, with decisions left up to experts. In the long term, the district's efforts to counter charter schools by focusing on programming choice could fail. Clustering, in my view, will not substitute for what parents really want, which is meaningful consultation.

In theory, voters elect trustees to set a direction for administrators. There seems to be a deficit of democracy within the system as currently practiced.

What is the point of public education if trustes are reluctant to set policy, because the experts know better, and people are not willing to engage with candidates at election time?