About a month ago I volunteered (again) for something in my son’s PTSA (again). This time, it was Legislative Advocacy.
To put this into perspective – every PTA/PTSA in Washington State is encouraged to have a Legislative Advocate to present and appear for their school at state events. There are thousands of schools in the state of Washington. There are not thousands of Legislative Advocates here at the Sea-Tac Marriott, perhaps there is a thousand but I estimate it’s more like 700.
I’m at the Sea-Tac Marriott for the annual PTSA Platform Conference. For two days we go through all of the issues – getting funding, teacher tenure vs. performance, quality of food in the schools, math and science emphasis, literacy, etc. – and then vote on behalf of our school. The larger your PTSA constituency, the more votes you get. I get three this year.
The agenda for today starts with breakout sessions on the variety of topics – in the case of my school, according to the survey we provided to our members, we’re interested in Math & Science, Literacy, and Funding Schools First. Ergo, to these sessions I will go (am going…) in the next three hours. Then there’s Advocacy Training—how to look at the issues, how to get people fired up, why advocacy is important – and caucusing.
The polls open at 9:30pm and are open for 1 hour, 15 minutes.
That’s right. My day as the Advocate started at 7:30 and will end slightly over fourteen hours later. As unpleased as I am with this – and largely it’s because the original agenda I saw released us for the day at 5:45 – I am already finding this a pleasant surprise in other areas. I didn’t honestly expect to be vociferous today; you’d think everyone else thinks the way you do. But when the man in front of our Issue Education Session on Math & Science got up in front of the “class” and asked what was wrong with Math and Science in schools, this is what I heard:
· I’m worried that kids that like math and science are unfairly labeled as nerds in school
· My kid only got xyz grade in science last year
· I’m worried that kids with math majors can’t do anything for a job but teach
Hearing this I thought it prudent to speak up. We need consistency in math and science education, both between schools and through the grade process. We need to start science in our classes earlier – the scientific process (hypothesis – method – experiment – results – review) can be used in not just science but a variety of other fields, even within the purview of schoolwork itself. To my way of thinking, what children are labeled as – whether it be as a result of what subjects they enjoy, how they dress, or other affinities they have – is not a fault of the subject. It is a fault of the parents, who need to educate their children on how to deal with discrimination and rejection; it is a fault of the school for allowing an environment where such discrimination and rejection is tolerated. It is not a fault of the math curriculum.
Likewise, your child’s score is not a fault of the curriculum – if most of the other kids are scoring within the norm. There’s this thing called statistical analysis (we’ll get into that later) which has this concept called a “bell curve”. It looks like a bell and if most of the kids are in the bulb of the bell and your kid is not, they’re either super-succeeding or failing. If they’re super-succeeding, get them into an honors class. If they’re failing, help them with their homework (or find someone who can). As to the ability to get a job with a math degree beyond teaching: there are many successful statisticians who seem to be doing just fine with their 150k/year jobs, thanks.
The definition of an Advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. There is a difference in being an advocate for your child (which is your responsibility within the context of your child and your child’s school, for example) and being an advocate for your school. In short: we are not here to address your individual issues with your children; we are here to address our collective issues with the educational system.