What? No More Board Meetings?

Where did eight years go? After serving two four-year terms, ending June 30th, I feel that no time at all has passed, but according to my calendar, a significant portion of my lifetime has indeed gone by.

My fellow retiring Board member John Peterson and I left behind some unfinished business that I will address in subsequent posts on my local ed blog, but in spite of the seemingly glacial pace of change in [local] education, the Board has posted some significant gains for the District, which I will also deal with later.

Right now I’m interested to see how the new Board will function. Seven individuals have to learn to function as one.

But the Board is currently — as it has been for the last two years — a mixture of independent thinkers and ideologues. The thinkers are independent learners and respect the expertise of fellow Board members. The ideologues follow partisan party and/or special interest lines, and seem incapable of accommodating wisdom offered by fellow Board members if it diverges from the “party line.”

If you’re local, check in with me once in a while at Straight Talk, and you’ll get stories that are beyond the purview of The Oregonian or the Hillsboro Argus.

Veteran’s Day

Let’s take a moment to give thanks to the extraordinary women and men who served us, under fire, so that we may live today in the land of the free, home of the brave, and vote on Election Day.

Regardless of our positions on current or past war politics, there’s one thing we can agree on…an attitude of humble thankfulness to the women and men who have served our country by placing themselves at risk to to do their duty as members of America’s armed forces. We have them to thank for the potential that our political and economic system offers to women and men pursuing their destinies limited only by their own talent and drive, operating within the law and guided by strong ethical codes of conduct.

My father , Hugh J. O’Donnell, served in WWII, entering the military with the rest of the Fordham University Class of 1943. He served a full year of combat in Germany with the 104th Division Timberwolves as a machine gun squad leader.

I was privileged to serve in my Dad’s unit, the 104th, twenty-some years after he was mustered out. That was the Viet Nam era and the Timberwolves were still a training division. They never called us up. I never faced  enemy fire, and to this day I am in total awe of the man or woman who wears the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB — Kentucky rifle on blue background, above) on their uniform. (Other branches of service have similar badges.)

God bless you, Dad. You put in the hard time so your kids could live free in peace.

Hugh J. O’Donnell, 1920-1987, was a Latin and Language Arts teacher in the Hillsboro High School District who served his students well. He taught “critical thinking” before it became a course name or a buzz word. If you want to know more about my Dad, the teacher, just ask one of his former students.

On Merit Pay for Teachers


I don’t know how long this link will be available, but Eric Schopmeyer, a Portland, Oregon music teacher speaks about, not the impossibility of instituting merit pay fairly across the board, but of the disrespect to our profession by pushing the issue.

Right on, Eric!

For another view on merit pay, which highlights how the federal government (a government that intrudes on the constitutional right of the states to handle public education) views the issue, check out Larry Ferlazzo on In Practice.


Should Eric’s link become history, here’s the text from “The Stump,” opinion from The Oregonian online.

Education, In My Opinion, Sunday Commentary »

Merit pay for teachers

By George Rede

March 21, 2009, 6:46AM
Eric Schopmeyer

Count instead on real incentives to help kids achieve

Implicit in the idea of merit pay is the notion that teachers would work harder at their jobs if only they were motivated by the promise of more money. This misapplication of market principles is utterly disrespectful to our nation’s educators. At best, it reads as a dark, satirical joke.

A scene in such a black comedy might open thusly: A classroom of 32 second-graders struggles in a futile attempt to complete an assignment while a teacher leans back lazily in her chair, ignoring them, counting out a neat stack of twenties thinking, “No, still not enough. Oh, if only someone would make it worth my while, I could easily get all these kids to pass the test. But until then … .”

Any cursory examination of our education system will turn up a group of serious and dedicated professionals who pour their hearts and souls into their jobs, working countless hours of unpaid overtime, dipping into our own pockets for needed supplies and tirelessly shepherding children toward academic success.

We do all this in an environment of essentially untenable conditions caused by the toxic dichotomy of ever-increasing demands and ever-diminishing resources. And it shouldn’t come as news to anyone that people don’t go into teaching for the money. We work our hardest every day not for the promise of the dollar but for love for the children and a deep belief that education is the key to a healthy society. You could give us a million dollar bonus every year, but it wouldn’t make a difference without a substantial investment in improving the fundamental conditions under which we are made to work.

A parallel scene might take place on the battlefields of Afghanistan. A small battalion, outnumbered and unarmed, is deployed behind enemy lines. Their commanding officer promises each of them bonus pay should they reign victorious. They’ll fight because they have to. They’ll fight for survival. They’ll fight out of loyalty. But without proper weaponry and ample reinforcements, the battle (and their survival) is a lost cause. The motivation of bonus pay is moot.

If you want to spend money to improve teaching and learning in the classroom, spend it on reducing class size, spend it on the resources and materials that we desperately lack, spend it on upgrading our crumbling facilities, spend it on programs to end the poverty that prevents so many of our kids from succeeding.

Sure, teachers deserve more pay — all teachers do. That’s a simple matter of respect for an extremely challenging profession that is so vital to our society and our economy. But I’d take a reduction in class size over an increase in pay any day.

Eric Schopmeyer is a music teacher at Marysville Elementary School in Portland.

Save the Oregon Historical Society’s Research Library


Today a fly fishing friend of mine who volunteered at the OHS museum and research library from 1979 to 2000 clued me in that the research library may be shut down for lack of funding. That would be a disaster.

Please visit the petition site to weigh in on the matter, and then let everyone you know about the opportunity to keep Oregon history available.

This resource must remain accessible to keep Oregon history alive. One of the first steps to obliterating a culture or a people is to cut them off from their history. We can’t have that happening in Oregon. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Anyone else have any ideas on how to get the word around? Please comment here and I’ll do my share to spread the word.

As of tonight, only 20 people had signed the online petition. Surely more of us must care.

Amnesty for the Field Negro


The edgier section of my blog roll includes a formidable voice for justice, not just in the city of Philadelphia (my wife’s hometown), but in America and the world.

“The Field” as he is known to us all in the blogoshere, is currently at risk. He allowed his optimism about Barack Obama’s election to be overshadowed by his cynicism about the country in general, and bet that Obama would lose. In fact, he proclaimed that he would run down Broad Street in Philly in the buff if Obama won. Field is in a tough spot today.

Field’s heart is in the right place, but he was a reluctant believer. But because he became a believer before election night, I hereby proclaim amnesty for the Field Negro.

If you wish to join me in forgiving his cynicism because his heart is pure, please visit his site, then come back here and join me with a comment supporting this amnesty. Hell, he could get fired from his day job, and we don’t want that!

Photo from the Field Negro’s web site.

Enough Already, Hillary

Yeah, I know. This is an education blog. But hey, Obama could be a great education president, so I’m gonna put in my two cents worth here.

I read an editorial in today’s Oregonian newspaper that explained the math of Democratic nomination, and it seems that, although Hillary wants to fight to the bitter end, the end, as of this moment, will still see Barack Obama with enough delegates to seal the nomination.

But Hillary’s current endgame is the attempted destruction of Obama’s campaign. What?

Cutting to the chase, like today’s editorial said, all Hillary’s gonna do is give McCain an edge with voters. She’s McCain’s not-so-secret weapon in this presidential election. Hillary is so fixated on winning that she isn’t considering the collateral damage to her party.

Come on Hillary. Leave yourself another opportunity, or a shot at the VP position. Don’t risk another four to eight years of war and mindless government and regulatory downsizing by boosting McCain’s chances. Endorse Obama and get solid.

Here’s one of today’s posts from the Obama Campaign Blog (while reading it, I coughed up another $25 for Barack — and like I’ve said before, I’ve never donated to a previous presidential campaign).

The Clinton campaign has publicly admitted that the only way they can still win this election is by tearing Barack Obama down. They have called their attacks the “kitchen sink strategy,” and Senator Clinton herself has referred to it as “the fun part” of the campaign. The result has been a constant barrage of attacks about Senator Obama’s record that they know full well aren’t true. And yet they repeat them, over and over again, day after day, in an attempt to deceive the American people just so that they can win this election.

This may be fun for the Clinton campaign, but this is exactly why people don’t trust their leaders anymore. This is exactly why so many people are so cynical about the political process. And it’s exactly what Barack Obama is running to change.

There is no more serious issue than the war in Iraq. 150,000 American troops are risking their lives every day in a conflict that this President and John McCain have no intention of ending anytime soon. It’s a conflict that’s cost us thousands of lives, billions of dollars, stretched our military and taxed their families, and has seriously undermined our national security, our moral standing, and our ability to go after Osama bin Laden and the core leadership of al Qaeda and finish the job against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Barack Obama had the judgment to oppose this war before it began for these exact reasons. Senator Clinton voted for this war, and yet she continues to tell the American people that her vote was for diplomacy even though the resolution was titled, “Joint Resolution to Authorize the use of Military Force Against Iraq.”

When Senator Obama arrived in the Senate, he called for a phased withdrawal before Senator Clinton did. He also introduced comprehensive legislation in the Senate to begin removing combat troops at a pace of 1-2 brigades a month, with an end date for completing that drawdown – legislation that became the basis for the Senate Democrats’ plan to end the war.

Barack Obama has said, repeatedly, that when he is President, his first act will be to convene the Joint Chiefs of Staff and ask them to immediately put in place his plan for withdrawal. He’s also said, as he did recently on 60 Minutes, that as Commander-in-Chief he would retain the flexibility to implement this withdrawal in a way that ensures the safety and security of our troops. But there has never been a doubt about the purpose of his policy – ending this war and bringing our troops home on a timetable for withdrawal.

The Clinton campaign knows full well that this is Senator Obama’s position, and they know full well that this flexibility is what his former advisor was referring to. They know it because preserving flexibility for the Commander-in-Chief has also been Senator Clinton’s position – or at least it was until she made the judgment that attacking Barack Obama on this issue is more politically beneficial to her campaign.

Washington has played too much politics with the issue of war. It’s what got us into Iraq in the first place. It’s why so many brave Americans have lost their lives. And it’s why the real Commander-in-Chief test in this election isn’t about some TV ad, it’s about whether the American people will be able to trust in the judgment and the honesty of their next President.

If the Clinton campaign wants to have a serious debate about who opposed the war in Iraq and who’s more committed to ending it, we’re more than happy to have that debate. But they should stop playing politics with war, and they should stop telling the American people things that they know aren’t true. We will not let this campaign be about who can tear each other down. We owe it to the American people to try and lift this country up.


Time Out

Recently, my education projects have taken a familiar turn. Here in Oregon, we have laws that guarantee the public’s right to recreate (lawfully) on the state’s waterways. Sometimes these rights conflict with the beliefs of private property owners whose land borders waterways.

The picture you see is an extreme example of private landowner disregard for the public’s right to float a river. (Imagine moving on down this river and running into a barbed wire fence. There are other, legal methods of containing range cattle.)

Long story short, I took a little time out to put up a blog with some pages from the former web site of Common Waters of Oregon, a grassroots organization dedicated to preserving the rights of Oregonians and visitors to use our waterways.

I was a founding member of this not-for-profit outfit, and I figured that the holiday season was the time for me to “give back” because the site needed some updating and a way to interact with people who want to converse about “river rights.”

It’s also the holiday season, we have company, my favorite guide is visiting too, so, as the Science Goddess recommends, I’m kicking back for a while, like Santa, with a cool one. 😉

My best wishes for a joyous and safe holiday season, and a happy and prosperous new year.

See you soon!

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

You probably recognize, in the post title, a popular paraphrase of the words of Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797):

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”  — Edmund Burke (1770)

He was an Irish statesman and supporter of American independence while a member of the British House of Commons,

The inscription on his statue (Bristol, England) reads: Burke 1774-1780. “I wish to be a member of parliament to have my share of doing good and resisting evil”. Speech at Bristol 1780.

This blog is about education, but we’re at a point where education and political activism may be running down the same track.

I’m not talking about partisan politics, I’m talking about educators taking their proper places in public life as leaders and persons of good example. We are some of those people Burke is talking about.

By now, the story of the Jena Six should be familiar to edubloggers worldwide. I posted about Lessons From Jena just a few days ago, hoping to remind teachers and administrators to bring some enlightenment about racial tolerance to their students (yes, looking to break or weaken the cycles of prejudice that infest entire families). The fallout from the Jena story makes me wonder if we ever entered the twenty-first century.

Today’s New York Times carries a story about the Canarsie High School Principal, Tyona Washington, who received a package yesterday at school with a hate note and a noose. According to the article, “The Canarsie episode was at least the eighth time in the past few weeks that a noose was discovered in the New York area. In one instance, a noose was placed on the doorknob of the office of a black professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.”

The eighth time!?

And here’s a story dated two days ago from the Times that deals with incidents that are on-going in Nassau County, where I spent most of my elementary and all my secondary school years. I’ll be 63 years old next month, folks, and I assure you that this sort of crap wasn’t going on there even in the pre-civil rights legislation days of the 50s and early 60s.

Looks like we need to do the thinking I was talking about on the move, pick the lesson plans well, and get to work now.

This is not something we can put off until our curriculum guides say it’s time. The fallout is raining down now, and we have to step up to the plate.

Another reminder of our need to act comes from a poem by Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892–1984) about the failure of German intellectuals and other public figures to respond to Nazi bullying and terrorizing of the German population. Some of you may have seen a famous filmstrip that dramatized the poem.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Speak out folks, talk about race and racial tolerance. Teach about it.