Archive for the ‘Ann Florence’ Tag

Civil Disobedience   2 comments

I wrote this essay for the Libertas Institute essay contest. If you like it, please click on “like” at the Libertas link before August 22nd 2014, and share it so that I have a shot at the prize for the most “like”s. Thank you. Also, thanks to Libertas for asking Utah citizens to think and write about this important subject.

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CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

Queen Esther of the Bible modeled the proper role of civil disobedience when she chose to break the law to free her people from the sentence of death. She did not shrink from personal consequences that her act of agency would bring. She said, “I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”

Esther illustrated the justification for civil disobedience: we break a law only when lawful appeals cannot overcome threats to life, liberty, property, or free exercise of conscience; when it’s the only honorable course. Esther’s selfless act contrasts with the self-indulgence of others who break laws without being willing to shoulder the consequences.

Martin Luther King wrote about that willingness: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.”

Thoreau explained that governments were only able to commit wrongdoings, to “crucify Christ and excommunicate Copernicus and Luther, and pronounce Washington and Franklin rebels,” because individuals upheld bad governments by their failure to exercise agency, who “serve the state…as machines.” He pressed every individual not to “resign his conscience” to a government, and asked, “Why has every man a conscience then?”

Utah’s predominant religion teaches “We believe… in obeying, honoring and sustaining the law” (Article of Faith 12) and warns: “sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected ” (D&C 134). But further study of D&C 134 reveals that “thus protected” means “protected in their inherent and inalienable rights” –defined as “free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” “Thus protected” is key: we honor government as long as we are protected in our inalienable rights. When laws fail to protect, when foul oppressions are enacted, people of conscience recognize the duty –of lawful pushback when possible, and of civil disobedience when regular appeals fail.

Pondering heroic acts of civil disobedience helps to clarify the difference between noble and ignoble disobedience.

1. 150 B.C. – Abinadi of the Book of Mormon defied the rule against freedom of speech and willingly faced the consequence of death by fire. 2. 1500′s – English protestants by the hundreds were burned at the stake or beheaded for breaking the law in refusing to follow the state religion under Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”). 3. 1776 – Many signers of the Declaration of Independence were punished or killed for signing, which was an act of civil disobedience under British law. 4. 1850′s – Harriet Tubman traveled between Northern and Southern states, illegally freeing 300 slaves. 5. 1940′s – Sweden’s diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, jumped on top of trainloads of Jews on their way to death camps; ignoring governing protocol and soldiers’ warning bullets, Wallenberg gave out illegal passports and ordered captives to exit the trains. He saved thousands and then lost his own life in a Russian prison. 6. 1940′s – Holland’s Caspar Ten Boom illegally hid Jews during World War II. He responded to those who criticized him: “You say we could lose our lives for this child. I would consider that the greatest honor that could come to my family.” 7. 1950′s – Rosa Parks was arrested for breaking segregation laws by deliberately sitting “illegally” on a bus. 8. 1989 – China’s “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square deliberately walked straight into communist tanks aimed to quell all freedom-seeking demonstrators. He was seized; it’s unknown whether he was executed. 9. 1990′s – Mongolia’s Oyun Altangarel, a state librarian, was fired for seeking freedom of religion and speech, but her organization’s hunger strike moved her country toward freedom.

Oppression is not only found in distant times and countries. It’s happening under our noses in 2014 in Utah –as are corresponding heroes of civil disobedience. Consider three stories.

1. In 2013, the Salt Lake Tribune published teacher Ann Florence’s op-ed, in which Florence wrote about “an avalanche” of counter-productive mandates which did not benefit students and did cause teacher demoralization. She lamented standardized tests and Common Core. She wrote, “We are tired of the threats and disrespect… tired of having our dedication reduced to a number. Educating children is… a life’s work that deserves the highest honor.”

In 2014, when Florence openly criticized computer-adapted standardized tests as “a waste of time and irrelevant,” refused to grade them, and spoke out to news media, the honors English teacher was fired by Granite School District for “a pattern of noncompliance”.

Florence told ABC4 news, “I am challenged constantly to teach my students to consider their own opinions, to examine their opinions …but when I try to employ critical thinking as a teacher and I have the support of hundreds of other teachers, I’m silenced and I’m fired.”

2. When Stuart Harper, St. George High School Physics Teacher, spoke out against the Common Core “reform,” he was threatened with job loss.  Harper had stated that he didn’t like Common Core being “pushed upon us [teachers],” nor could he tolerate the “lack of control we have over its content.” He criticized the “awful quality of its math core,” an “over-emphasis on testing,” “burdens on schools for curriculum changes and data collection” and said that “its focus drives schools deeper into the political realm and further from real education.”

The district told Harper he’d created rebellion and insubordination. They insisted that he accept their claims about Common Core– as if seeking verification was not scientific; as if truth cannot hold up under scrutiny; as if freedom of thought equals insubordination; as if debate equals unethical conduct.

Harper reasoned with officials, saying, “my intent was not to promote rebellion, but to simply encourage personal research on the subject and exercise freedom of speech on my off time, as a citizen and father. I was told, ‘Those freedom of speech rights you are probably referring to do not apply’ … I made it clear that if I continued to be intimidated into silence that I would resign…”

Harper would not be silenced, though he knew that the system “expects acceptance and conformity to its decisions… and even goes as far as intimidating and threatening those who have differing opinions. ” In his resignation letter, he wrote, “Any society or organization that silences and discourages freedom of speech removes the possibility to express ideas…” He revealed that the system hurts not only teachers’ freedom of conscience but also students’ freedom of conscience: it “no longer promotes learning, but rather focuses on training. It teaches what to think, not how to think.”

Harper was pressured to resign and did resign– not just over academically inferior standards, but over “an environment that clearly has no respect for the Constitutional right of free speech.”

3. When Utah high school student Hannah Smith (not her real name) saw, during the state’s Common Core (SAGE) test, that an objectionable test question should be viewed by parents, she captured screen shots of the question with her cell phone. She sent them to her mother, and they were shared, published and viewed nationally.

Smith was threatened by administrators with possible loss of graduation and was told that she was a cheater. The teacher who had been in the room was also threatened with professional action. State education leader Judy Park was quoted by the Salt Lake Tribune, threatening, “Any licensed educator that has been involved, I will report to UPPAC (Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission of the state Board of Education), because they have now violated the obligation to follow ethics.” Park added, “[A]ll this concern about Common Core and SAGE has led us to the point that parents are encouraging students to break the law.”

Utah’s government uses multiple methods to stifle debate and freedom of thought in education. Utah teachers and school staff report (anonymously) that they must conform to education and data reforms without discussion. They’re told that they may not inform parents nor students of legal rights to opt out of SAGE testing, nor speak out against the Common Core without punishment for insubordination.

Key to the coffle is the state school board’s selection procedure, which narrows the candidate pool before voters get a chance to vote. The selection procedure starts with a survey that asks whether candidates support Utah Core/Common Core. It is further narrowed by insider committees and narrowed again by the governor to two pre-selected candidates. From these, voters may choose one. A rejected candidate recently sued the governor, calling this selection procedure “viewpoint discrimination.”

Why must we reclaim the sacred freedom to disagree and debate? Benjamin Franklin explained: “Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions. if these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions?”

Speaking against inappropriate education reforms now ranks as civil disobedience for Utah educators. Utah parents who opt children out of SAGE tests are sometimes chided by school administrators as “unsupportive” of schools despite the law upholding the parental right to opt out of the tests.

Utah’s predominant religion says that we “do not believe that human law has a right to…… bind the consciences of men” (D & C 134). It states that the “magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” The chapter teaches “that the commission of crime should be punished… all men should step forward and use their ability in bringing offenders against good laws to punishment” (D&C 134). I think Thoreau would agree: he called government’s harm to conscience a “sort of bloodshed” and said, “through this wound a man’s real manhood” flows out. He wrote: “we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”

Although Utahans are witnessing the lack of freedom being put into place by the Common Core tests and Common Educational Data Standards (CEDS) –most fail to step forward.

Why?

In part this may be because there is controversy over whether new standards harm or help, but it’s unarguable that the oppressive nature of implementation harms free exercise of parent/teacher conscience and that the tests and data collection systems make students unwitting guinea pigs of D.C.’s experiment. These things should matter; even those who believe Common Core’s claim to improve education may recall that the Declaration of Independence speaks of “consent by the governed” which Common Core can’t claim since it wasn’t vetted by teachers, parents or taxpayers prior to adoption.

Fact: Utah’s government oppresses exercise of conscience by threatening job loss to educators who exercise it. Teachers governed thus are not protected in their inalienable rights. Fact: because the government creates no allowance for parents to opt children out of its federal-state database tracking system (State Longitudinal Database System) it also violates parental “right and control of property”–privacy being personal property. Fact: for at least two years the state school board (collectively) has rejected every plea for relief from parents and teachers on this matter, and the legislature has not succeeded in righting the wrong.

The choice then has become to behave as silent property, as governed as cooped chickens, or to rise to the scary, defining moment of Common Core. Stand-up actions (parents opting students out of testing, administrators claiming the right to say no) may result in ridicule or job loss but may be the only way we can defend the Constitutional right to local control of education, the only way to do the right thing.

Consider Thoreau’s words: “under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

For the sake of our American liberties and for the sake of our children, it is time for those who share the spirit of Queen Esther to echo her example: “I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish.”

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Salt Lake Tribune Hosts Video Interview: Judy Park v. Christel Swasey on Common Core Aligned SAGE Tests   6 comments

This week, the Salt Lake Tribune invited Utah Assistant State Superintendent Dr. Judy Park and me to a filmed interview concerning the increasing number of Utah parents who are opting their children out of the Common Core aligned SAGE testing.  Here is the link if you want to watch the half hour at “Trib Talk.”

(I will return to this post to update it soon.  There is so much more that needed to be explained about the psychometrics that are apparent when you read the AIR (test writer) contract with Utah; about the data collection SLDS machine that is fed by student participation in SAGE and other digital testing/learning; about the need to defend teaching time and teacher professional judgment which are harmed by this testing; about the national opt out movement that is growing in strength and numbers across the nation.  I also want to transcribe some of the questions and answers, word for word, later.)

Ann Florence: Utah English Teacher Stands Up for Real Teaching and is Shut Down by Administrators   15 comments

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“I am required to teach key reading comprehension strategies,  the writing process,  information-gathering skills, grammar, vocabulary, etc., etc.  But I also hope to awaken a love of reading and literature, ignite curiosity about our complex world….  “All children are gifted—some just open their presents earlier than others.” I know that every one of my students understands something I don’t and has something to tell the world that no one else ever has. I am a “treasure seeker” and “talent scout,” hoping to help young people discover the gold within themselves and each other.”

This quote is excerpted from the disclosure statement of Utah English teacher Ann Florence who has been placed on forced leave, pending probable termination.  How awful.  This beautiful quote reveals that Florence is a treasure, not some problem teacher to be forced out.   But she has been pushed out, for her act of standing up for the right to teach and the right to be judged on her actual teaching rather than endless government mandated tests.

Administrators have labeled her insubordinate.  Read the news.  See  what has happened. 

It seems to me that Ann Florence doesn’t buy the notion that teachers must give up their rights to free speech, nor give up their rights to participation in the political process, just because they are employed by the government.  She certainly doesn’t believe that teachers should give up the art of real teaching to bow to government enforced, excessive high-stakes tests that narrowly judge not only students, but teachers as well.

A year ago, Florence  wrote an op-ed voicing her concerns.  She explained (excerpt):

“Managing teachers through intimidation is not working… teachers are looking for work elsewhere. Teachers who have loved their jobs are discouraging their own children from pursuing careers in education…. we feel exhausted and demoralized by the avalanche of mandates from the state and district… While legislators constantly raise expectations and think they can motivate us by publicly posting test scores, our time for teaching has shrunk….I now administer 19 days of standardized tests, costing me an entire month of instruction. This doesn’t include the days the testing site is down or the system crashes, eating up even more days…. I am held accountable for nine months of curriculum without enough time to teach it… Granite District has required teachers to learn the new Common Core, use a new grades program (which crashes regularly), design a new honors curriculum, use a new online system requiring the scanning and posting of all assignments and a daily summary of class activities, and learn to analyze complex data … No test score reflects the number of students who return to thank a teacher, the number who fall in love with reading again, gain new confidence to speak up in class, find solace in a teacher’s support, decide to try one more time just when they want to quit…  We are tired of having our dedication reduced to a number.”

Now, the Salt Lake Tribune reports that after Florence criticized new “standardized tests as a waste of time and irrelevant to what students are being taught” she was “placed on administrative leave and may be fired.”

Her students’ response?

“Oh captain, my captain, you have taught me so much this year. The value of honesty, imagination, and freedom to express myself. I cannot thank you enough for that. You are the best teacher Wasatch could ever ask for.”

Along with the emailed poetry, students launched a petition drive, urging that Florence not be terminated.

The Tribune reported that Granite District spokesman “Ben Horsley said personnel decisions of this gravity take time to make the right choice. He said Florence has been unreasonably aggressive in demanding an answer.”

“Unreasonably aggressive” seems a more appropriate label for the policymakers at the district, state and federal levels who are intimidating and degrading the professionalism of top notch teachers while trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public.  Shame on them.

Bravo,  Ann Florence.

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Update:  The Salt Lake Tribune reported that Ann Florence has been fired.   I sent a letter today and encourage others to write as well.  Every voice counts. Here’s mine, and contact info if you want to write too, down after the letter:

Dear Granite School District, State Board, and State Office of Education:

Granite District made news this week by firing Ann Florence, an honors English teacher who stood on principle and did what she (and I) saw as the right thing to do. I am writing to voice my support for Ann Florence’s actions and to ask the District and State Board to take action to right this wrong.
The Salt Lake Tribune reported, “Florence refused to grade the writing portion of the districtwide Acuity Test. She said the exam was a waste of students’ and teachers’ time, did not further any education agenda and that it was unethical to have teachers grade their own students on a standardized test that then would be used to judge the teacher. In a letter to her students, she said she loved her career but had to stand up for principle.”

The Acuity Test (McGraw Hill) was offering financial compensation to schools for having students take this test.

Did Granite District actually fire Ann Florence for refusing to enable the District to make money –by using children for unpaid research guinea pigs? What does “professional compliance” and “teacher ethics” really mean to the district?

Ann Florence’s opinion editorial of one year ago in the Salt Lake Tribune deserves careful re-reading. Her concerns included the non-validity of high-stakes testing because of the testing conditions provided at the school, about the push for Common Core and data analysis, and about the non-validity of reducing the whole time and dedication of a teacher to one student-test-based number, a number over which that teacher has relatively little actual control.

The Tribune also reported that this teacher was punished for speaking about her concerns with the high-stakes tests vocally, including speaking out in front of students.  Does a teacher lose her Constitutional right to freedom of speech just because she is employed by the government? Are teachers to pretend to political neutrality or should they instead be shining exemplars as vibrant participants in the American process of open debate –and sometimes also in honorable disagreement?

Furthermore, basing the heaviest “accountability measures” of state tests on the federal-corporate collusion known as Common Core State Standards, in my opinion, is not only an error but a form of academic malpractice.

Thus, any teacher who refuses to push the SAGE test on students, or refuses to give or grade the Acuity Test, or to promote other high-stakes tests that do not honestly benefit students nor teachers –tests that exist to benefit powermonering politicians and moneygrubbing corporate aims, is, in my opinion, the teacher who is ethically and morally defensible.

The Granite District has marred its honor by firing Ann Florence. The State Board and Office, by doing nothing in this teacher’s defense, are complicit in the wrong.

Christel Swasey

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Granite District Superintendent Martin Bates: mwbates@graniteschools.org

State Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove: Martell.Menlove@schools.utah.gov

Wasatch Jr High Principal Christine Judd: crydalch@graniteschools.org

Wasatch Jr High Asst. Principal John Anderson: jcanderson@graniteschools.org

State School Board:

kbuswell@wadman.com; jensen1brit@earthlink.net; dthomas@summitcounty.org; krb84010@aol.com; dgriffiths@tannerco.com; lesliebrookscastle@gmail.com; jj@jenniferajohnson.com; heather.groom@gmail.com; crandall@xmission.com; jeffersonRmoss@gmail.com; dixieleeallen@gmail.com; markopenshaw@gmail.com; debrar@netutah.com; barbara.corry@schools.utah.gov; teresatheurer1@gmail.com; jensenmk@ldschurch.org; freddiecooper1@comcast.net; jamesvolsen@gmail.com; kelinkowski@msn.com; dbrowley@q.com;

Granite School Board:

ggandy@graniteschools.org; thbawden@graniteschools.org; clanderson@graniteschools.org; ccburgess@graniteschools.org; jmjolley@graniteschools.org; dlofgren@cowboy.us; srmeier@graniteschools.org;

Governor Herbert: http://governor.utah.gov/goca/form_comment.html (copy/paste your email into this form to send it to the Governor)

Utah legislators: http://le.utah.gov (look up by address here)

 

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