The following speech was delivered at the Buchanan County Democratic Club on February 2, 2008. Even though this election is non-partisan, all the SJSD school board candidates were invited and all but one attended and spoke. My speech has been edited and extended (indicated by ) because of the time limits at the meeting. Here is the speech:
President Squires, Members and Guests,
When you vote on April 8th, David W. Mason, Jr. will be the third candidate listed and I request your vote.
For the last week, I have been in a listening mode—listening to teachers in 9 buildings and a group of labor leaders. That will continue all month. I want to listen to you too, but the format this morning is a speech, so let me give you some things to think about.
About 37 years ago, I made a conscious decision not to go to law school and become a lawyer. As the result of a sermon at church, a great ahha experience, I realized that I must help people to develop themselves. It took about 5 more years to realize that I should teach. Now after a 30 year teaching career that started at Lafayette High School and the Buchanan County Children’s Home and concluded at Spring Garden Middle School, the several thousand students I taught include outstanding lawyers, at least one Harvard graduate, many teachers, business persons, skilled and unskilled laborers, parents and a whole lot of young people that have “been staying out of trouble.” I did not make them successful, but I helped them develop knowledge, skills and character along the way.
I know none of you listen to conservative talk shows, but I want you to know that my classes always said the pledge and that I taught the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights—often in the original English as well as their interpretations.
Having retired, this year I am offering my services as a candidate of the St. Joseph Public Schools Board of Education. Probably none of us up here needs to do this—to spend hours campaigning and then serving without compensation. I cannot speak for the others but I cannot do otherwise. My concern for this district, its children and staff has reached a critical mass that impelled me to personally find more than 500 [people to sign] petitions and to brave snow, wind and subfreezing temperatures to get them. I am grateful for the more than twenty citizens that helped me get the other 500 so that I certified.
This morning I want to talk with you about kicking this campaign up a notch. We are at a point of decision to become or remain a truly great school district several transformations need to take place. I am prepared to talk with you about all the problems and how to fix them.
[I could talk to you about
a transformation from 19th and 20th Century infrastructure to 21st Century efficient, paperless and energy neutral or positive high tech learning environments: currently we have buildings, some well-built, but 30-140 years old, mostly lacking air conditioning, boiler heated, inefficient.
What does the community want our schools to be in 20, 50, 100 years?
I will lead the discussion of the future without fear.]
[A transformation from heavily depending on local property taxes to a more balanced funding including adequate state and federal funds:
where is the adequate funding our senator was supposed to bring? where is the increase in property tax circuit breaker to protect senior citizens?
where is the new funding method that our senator promised 4 years ago so that we could reduce property taxes?
where is the full funding that was promised by Bush that was to go along with NCLB?
I will lobby legislators to live up to their promises and answer the need.]
[A transformation from authoritarian management by intimidation and bullying to health producing, stress reducing management that maximizes the productivity of staff and students. State Representative Ed Wildberger knows that I have been promoting a “healthy workplace” bill for the last four years.
St. Joseph Public Schools have been experiencing a brain drain—the loss of many our master teachers who can earn $10-$20 thousand more in Platte and Clay Counties as well as some talented young teachers who leave teaching altogether.
For some, it is not just about the money. One of these had gone to school for seven years while working to reach her dream career as a teacher—then her dream was stolen by a supervisor who threatened her with a poor evaluation for questioning a particular view of teaching methods. She had to call her husband in Iraq to tell him she could not longer continue to teach.
Many career teachers do the best they can while they wait for their retirement.
I will be a voice, even a drum major for justice on our school board.
I will work to stop the destruction of careers.]
BUT TODAY I WANT TO TALK WITH YOU ABOUT
a transformation from teaching and learning to testing to teaching and learning to find and develop the gifts of the teachers and learners.
I want to light a fire in the school board and administration so that we all get excited about building of a transformational and transformative school district. Some districts have already done some of the things I have mentioned.
This idea came about because I talked briefly with a parent just as I was about to leave one of our schools. Later in the day I realized that our discussion was the key.
The most important transformation we need to make is the transformation from
ALL CHILDREN ARE TESTED TO ALL CHILDREN ARE GIFTED.
You see testing only shows what children cannot do; understanding giftedness reveals what they can do. Testing only shows that schools and school districts have failed to make all children above average. Presently, all public school districts are in bondage to the mistaken notion that a society can make all our communities into Lake Woebegones where all the children are above average.
Yet every educator and reasonable person knows that children learn at different rates of speed, that some children are not ready to understand algebra in sixth grade, and that some children will never read on grade level but if someone reads to them they can understand and answer appropriately.
Testing is stressful, gifting is joyful.
When we teach to find the giftedness, testing is one of the exciting ways to reveal it. Instead of the privileged few passing a obsolete, culturally biased vocabulary-based intelligence test, all students regardless of race, ethnicity, wealth or poverty become special for their gifts— Testing then will be transformed into a no fault method to find giftedness and to find ways to remove the student’s blocks to developing his or her gifts.
Even the administrator’s job is transformed from looking for the faults and failures of his or her teachers and staff, what I call the “gotcha” approach to management. Instead, if we are looking for giftedness in students, we can also look for giftedness in the adults who teach them, nurse them, cook for them and clean their floors.
Our challenge, then as educators and board members and citizens will be to make our goal the finding and developing the gifts. I have worked to do that through church and school since 1970. I know a lot about how to find gifts. There are many talented educators who will find a tremendous release of joy when we adopt this goal. I must be on the board into order to speed up the process of transformation.
Testing then will be transformed into a no fault method of finding giftedness and to remove the student’s blocks to developing gifts. The arts are then transformed from mere electives-- the after-thoughts of education--into the driving motivation for learning as Thomas Jefferson saw them. They will provide the why to learning to read and write and spell and calculate.
Craig Oldenberger was a teacher at Spring Garden who developed giftedness. He would take some of these poor, tough kids from broken, impoverished, and often abusive homes and make them fall in love with a woodworking project—sometimes just making a wooden bowl. And morning after morning they would come to his classroom often 45 minutes to an hour before school actually started to hand sand and polish that little bowl. When they were finished he would enter those humble works of craftsmanship into the state contest, take several of the kids to the contest, and they would win—beating out many high school students with the excellence of their work. Unfortunately, shortly after Craig retired, the St. Joseph School District closed all the middle school shop classes and sold all the equipment to the highest bidders.
I ask you to join my campaign to create a mandate to send me to the school board to work to create schools of hope and love and joy right here in St. Joseph.
Thank you very much.