Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Romney in Small Town America: Coal vs. Kids

Yesterday was an historic day in the rural Northwestern community of Craig, Colorado. With a population of less than 10,000 people, it was an unlikely campaign stop for Mitt Romney. But thanks to the hard work and passion of some local residents, to Craig he came, ready to discuss coal and energy concerns. The event was everything a small town could ask for. I could not begin to sum it up better than local newspaper columnist, Janet Sheridan, in her beautiful post Americana in Craig.

I was honored to be asked to participate in a small round table discussion with Governor Romney prior to the community event. The small gathering included local businessmen and representatives from the local energy industry. I would represent education concerns. The opportunity was an honor to me and I put a great deal of effort into researching Romney's education position prior to attending. I also spent a great deal of time carefully selecting the words I would use in the few moments I would have to actually speak to someone who may become the leader of our country. I wanted to make the words count and to reflect what I considered to be the most important issue standing in the way of education in the United States.

I should have realized when his first question was asking which of us was the teacher, that I may not be seen as an ally equal to the energy people in the room, but that did not occur to me until I began my turn to speak. My message was simple:

"Our community has the obvious concerns about funding needs in education. That goes without saying. Class size does matter, especially in the primary grades. But more important to me is the need for our country to change from an emphasis on creating a nation of successful test-takers to building an educational system that inspires problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.

An overemphasis on standardized testing performance is crippling education and stifling innovation.

I have teacher friends in countries around the world. Our educational system is seen as the test-and-punish system.

Educators, parents, and community groups are working hard in Craig to transform our district from the industrial age model to meet the 21st century learning needs of our young people. Perhaps less top down government regulation and more support for grass roots efforts are worth a try."

I did not actually get to state all of that before he began to respond negatively, telling me that without standardized testing there would be no way to know which were the bad schools. He told me we need to teach the basics of reading, writing, and math and that teaching to the test was not a bad thing because it represented teaching the basics. As I tried to continue to make my points, he offered charter schools as a solution and put down the teacher's union. His exact words at the community rally: "I love great teachers, I love great parents, and I love great kids. I'm going to put our kids first. I want to make sure we have a president that cares more about kids than he does about the teacher's union."

I am not a member of the teacher's union. That is not because I don't value and support its work, but due to the fact that I have not received a cost of living raise for several years, have had my insurance costs increased, and can not afford the high monthly union dues. I do teach reading, writing, and math in my first grade classroom. Those are the very basis of all 21st century skills. In fact, my students' work has been recognized by both the Smithsonian and Microsoft in the past few years. I consider myself to be a great teacher and children are my life. Anyone who knows me, knows I go above and beyond to advocate for my students and their needs.

In the end, I was left speechless, resentful, and plan to cast my vote for anyone other than Mitt Romney. By the way, just before he boarded the bus in downtown Craig, he stopped and shook my hand again and asked which grade I taught. I told him first and second and he said his second grade teacher was the one he remembered most. 

This morning as I took a walk, when I do my best thinking, I reflected on the experience and the role point of view played in the day. I had listened to other people at the round table tell of hardships created by too much government regulation. They told of lost jobs and lost income. He sympathized and asked clarifying questions. They put down Obama and cast him as the cause of all the misery. Romney agreed and said he would be different. When it was my turn, I expected the same respect for my cause, but it did not happen because my cause did not provide an opportunity to sway votes or attack the existing president. No Child Left Behind was created by President Bush. Governor Romney's plan, A Chance For Every Child, is not a new plan. It is more of the same. 

We live in a country where we are blessed to be able to choose our leader and state our opinions freely. I was blessed to have the opportunity to state mine to a powerful person yesterday. I will always be grateful. I can only hope that perhaps Governor Romney has moments of solitude to reflect on the things people say to him. I hope that in one of those moments he realizes that my words were, in fact, in support of great teachers and great kids. Just the fact that I am a teacher does not make me the enemy. Our educational system is burdened by too much government regulation and, as a result, people are losing their jobs, just as they are in the energy industry. Watch the video about coal and imagine it talking about our schools. The issues are very much the same. It is time for politicians to advocate for what is right and what they believe in, not just what will get them elected.


  1. Great article. I just left a charter school after 2+ years, which I LOVED, and we started teaching to the test the middle of last year. I believe doing this takes a lot away from what students should actually be learning. They are learning to pass a test, but what are they REALLY learning? I am old school when it comes to learning. I learned to read by sounding out words, did math without a calculator, and never was the best at writing so I really can't comment on that. I don't feel like today's students are really learning, but rather doing what they need to do to make it through school, while at the same time trying to pass those tests to make the school look good. Unfortunately, they then move on to college where things are different and they are in for quite a wake up call. That is my opinion, for what it's worth.

  2. Thank you for your comments, Shawna. I am an advocate for changing learning to meet the 21st century needs of kids. Project based learning, inquiry learning, and student directed learning are key. The tests are crippling efforts to transform education. Just reading about the schools and teachers that are cheating should be a clue as to how high stakes the government regulations are. When you give kids a chance to learn in new ways they are intrinsically motivated and there is no stopping them. We owe that to our kids. The way we learned as kids is no longer appropriate, but we need to free teachers to change what they are doing and that is difficult when they are so judged by a single high stakes test.

    1. Cheryl, Thank you so much for participating in a discussion with Governor Romney concerning our community. Education is key to our future, no matter the type of education format or level of studies. My term as a commissioner has given me the perspective of viewing our future business, industry and leaders that will make the decisions. Our students today are the workforce and leadership of tomorrow. I believe we all improve with education - all types of education. (The 'school of hard knocks' is also included.
      Recently I was invited to learn about ubD - Understanding by Design. Hopefully, the success will build as this project was initiated by a group of teachers and will be implemented by those same teachers.
      My job as a community member and commissioner is to support our school teachers and students as they shift to these 21st century skills of learning. I am not professing to know about teaching, but intend to support those who do the best job of growing our future leaders.
      Cheryl, you and I have know each other through our children growing up together. I am so impressed with the information you post electronically about your classroom activities. As you know I was astonished at your 1st graders level of interest and the questions they pre-wrote on the white board and posed to me when I was invited to be in your classroom. Yes, they are young children and full of enthusiasm, but were so excited to 'learn' and also tell me what they knew about water. Thank you again for a wonderful experience.
      This interaction with Governor Romney seems to be a very good example of 'critical thinking'. I appreciate your candid impressions. Audrey Danner

  3. Audrey,
    Our community is miles ahead in transforming our schools because of the rich interaction and collaboration between school and wonderful community members like you. Our children deserve the chance to learn and grow with the support of all of us. Thank you for your support, your participation, and your leadership. I'm so proud to live in Moffat County!

  4. Ms. Arnett, Is there any audio or video recording of the roundtable with Mr. Romney? Thank you! DK