Some Alpine School District parents recently raised concerns about a Web link and phrases in the district's mission statement. Former district teacher and current UVU professor Axel Donizetti Ramirez responded recently, prompting the following comments from a local parent.
Mr. Ramirez: Thank you for writing such a thoughtful and compassionate article. I can tell from your words that you are a most patriotic, learned and compassionate teacher, one whom I'd be proud to have my children learn from. You are obviously someone who puts much time into making sure that your students are learning what they need to be the most effective citizens in this great nation. I am positive that there are many teachers in the Alpine School District who share your values, probably most of them. As I read your letter, I want you to realize that we believe in the same goals for our children. I am in no way criticizing these fine teachers. They are the backbone of society, teaching our future generations and they should be commended for all the work they contribute towards our children and society.
Unfortunately, the words of the press sometimes skew the real purpose of our concerns so I wanted to make a couple things clear about my concerns about the goings on in Alpine School District.
First of all, this has been my experience and I can only go by that and the concerns I've heard from those I know. I have only lived here a year and a half. I have children in elementary, junior high and high school levels. The academic standards are much lower here than in my former state and I was warned about this from my many friends who have moved here over the years. You might be surprised to know that the bad reputation of the Alpine School District's math program is even known in CA because of reports from people who have moved here. We were told it was a wonderful place to live in spite of these lower standards, and we have found that to be very true. We very much enjoy living in this community. We thought we could live with the lower school expectations as long as my children were happy living in this area. After we moved here, I was surprised how many children in my neighborhood went to private or charter schools because of the poor math programs as well as the lack of academic rigor in other subjects. Since my own daughter was not being challenged in any of her subjects at her elementary school this year despite trying to remedy it through her teacher and principal, and since the overall feeling of the school was one of negativity from the teachers, I decided to take her out for the rest of the year. I have been involved in education for years and have had children in many different schools for the last 15 years. Never have I seen so much negativity, yelling and humiliation from teachers towards students and this has set a very bad tone in this particular school. I hope and pray it is not like this in most of the schools in ASD, but Highland Elementary has some work to do in teaching something about character development in their teachers as well as their students. We have been blessed by wonderful teachers and employees who work there, but it is surprising to many parents how many of the teachers stay employed there and are not trained in or reminded about the social skills you so eloquently expressed are so important to teach our children. So in a nutshell, while the district proposes that they are trying to nurture our children into becoming socially well-adjusted citizens who know how to communicate with each other and are being taught critical thinking skills, these things are what are missing most from my own children's experience in the Alpine School District.
Those things being said, I'd like to share a few thoughts about your letter which I hope you will ponder. You are obviously a very educated and compassionate man who I'm sure will understand these concerns if brought to your attention.
You stated, "In Sunday's (February 28) editorial the Daily Herald defined "social democracy" for its readers. I believe the definition to be accurate in the context in which they used it. Unfortunately, many times the editorial writers were discussing words and phrases as they are used in political science but not in the way they are used in the educational literature or in the educational discussions of ASD school teachers/administrators and local institutions of higher education (BYU and UVU Teacher Education Program). I am sure there are other instances in which certain words are interpreted differently across fields of study and across social groups."
In carefully considering what you wrote here, I'm sure you will see that as a child learns what a term means through his education experience, he will naturally take that term and apply it to other contexts. Why would a child need to change the meaning of an abstract term from one subject to another? That is very confusing even to an adult. You are saying here that even though the term has a negative connotation in one field of study, that a child should automatically know or be taught that as soon as he changes to another subject, that the term means something entirely different. As an educator, I'm sure you can see the danger in this approach. It is important to teach the correct terminology and use it across the board so when our children enter the real world, they will understand these teachings clearly.
"ASD personnel value our great republic and teach about the sacrifices made to maintain our republican form of government)."
Although you have taught this and know others who are also teaching these correct principles, my experience is quite different. My daughter's history teacher argued with her in front of the entire 6th grade class that we are a Democracy even after she corrected him twice. Then he told her that a book she was reading with quotes from our Founding Fathers about the Constitution was "pure science fiction". His job is to teach history and the Constitution to all the 5th and 6th grade classes at this school so I find his comments quite concerning. My other daughter's teacher in the same school was overheard telling another teacher "I don't know why people keep saying we live in a Republic. We don't. We're a Democracy." The ASD Mission Statement page used the term 'democracy' or 'democratic' 13 times, but Republic not even once. Neither did they mention academics or excellence even once when describing to the community what their main purpose is in teaching our children. I find that very alarming. The article ASD referenced on their website to explain why our district feels so strongly in teaching democracy OVER academics clearly pointed out that they do not value our great Republic and teach about the sacrifices made, but instead view our Founding Fathers as predatory elitists only after money and power. Someone at the district had to search out that author, agree with that page describing our Republican form of government as a mistake and promoting 'Democracy' in its place. They were not talking about the democratic process, but the government form of Democracy. As you know, there is a big difference.
"I made the commitment to make sure that none of my students left my classroom without knowing that I expected them to be active citizens in our great republic. While I may fail from time to time to reach my goal, I never miss a chance to tell my students of my love for this great country. This passion to share my love for our political and economic systems.."
I commend you. You sound like an excellent teacher. Unfortunately, there are many who do not share your love for our political and economic systems as is evidenced by the attack on our country by many progressive leaders in government. This attack is also going on in higher learning institutions in this country by those who would like to change our history so that the next generations don't have the basic knowledge of the founding of this nation. They would like us to move towards socialism slowly so that we don't even know what's happening until it is too late and we lose our freedoms. They make the socialist teachings palatable by sounding 'warm and fuzzy'. (i.e. Hope and change, health care for all, bailouts, free this and that, redistribution of wealth, social justice, democracy, nurturing, moral dimensions.) I'm positive great teachers like you are only teaching what you think is morally right, but I do believe that progressive professors like John Goodlad who came up with these programs in ASD are introducing dangerous principles into our school system which will ultimately rear their ugly heads in the end.
We need to do our homework to know the sources from which these teachings come. We cannot naively accept these "fuzzy feel good" terms without knowing the source. I encourage board members, instructors and parents to search these terms out and find out who introduced them. You may be surprised to find out that Bill Ayers and other radicals, socialists, communists and atheists teach these same philosophies in learning institutions around the nation while sugar-coating them to sound mild enough for trusting teachers and administrators to incorporate into their curriculum.
You stated, "As a result, I interpreted the word "enculturate" to mean the promotion of the kind of culture our founding fathers set out to promote; a culture of patriotism, free agency, and the right to defend our God-given rights."
Why should a mission statement which is the main direction of purpose for the entire school district be so complicated, ambiguous and interpreted in so many ways as to cause even a teacher to have to ponder the meanings for hours and come up with his own interpretation? Surely you can see the danger in affording many different teachers, each of different political leanings, the job of "interpreting" that statement. Why not incorporate a simple motto which states a school district's main purpose, that of educating a child in academic excellence to succeed in the world he lives in and be able to participate in his social and civil duties? Most other school districts in the state have excellent models of mission statements which ASD can incorporate. Why do they need to use such a controversial statement?
You said, "However, the glitch is fixed, it was not part of a socialist conspiracy, and we should now move on to focusing on educational issues that are real and need real discussion and dialogue."
I agree that we should move on to focusing on educational issues. People are missing the point. It's not about semantics or one link on a web page. Add all these things together. It's about the direction of where this school board is taking our children. We have voted for these administrators, we pay for their salaries, and we expect them to be accountable to their constituents and to these children.
Anyone acquainted with setting up websites for an institution or business will know that it takes someone to search out a link, read it, agree with it, and have someone higher up in authority authorize its use on the site. It was not a mistake or "glitch". Although I'm quite certain no one on the board purports to believe that Jesus is a vampire or agrees in some of the preposterous things that William Meyers endorses, I do believe from all the above information, that some in the district definitely hold very progressive ideas about this country, are pushing that agenda in the district and that the superintendent and board are doing a disservice to all those who have voted for them to continue downplaying this controversy, claiming "misrepresentation" and not addressing the concerns of their constituents.
Between 200-250 concerned (not angry) parents packed the last board meeting, standing room only and spilling into the outside foyer, to calmly state their concerns about the use of this motto and the wrong direction we think this board is taking our children. We have received no answers to our concerns or our questions and continue to be surprised at the arrogance and lack of accountability from the majority of this board and the superintendent.
Alpine School District needs to get out of the business of politicizing our children through their mission statement and get to work on challenging the students in this district with better academics so that they can compete in this ever changing world.
Once again, thank you for writing such a thoughtful and respectful response to the editor. We need to celebrate and encourage people like you who truly have a love for the founding principles of this nation and teach by example those attributes which are most important to our children. And just as important, we need to continue to be educated as parents and teachers so we are careful to only let true principles of freedom into our classrooms so that our children are the hope of this nation, not the downfall because of being taught false and "fluffy" lessons from the educated elite who profess to know more than the good parents of this community who pay their salaries.
Susan Schnell of Highland is the mother of 5 children. She has a
B.A.in Liberal Studies (Elementary Education) from CSU Sacramento and is a United Families International "Champion of the Family" award recipient. She is a former research specialist for United Families California