Some advice to the president from an educator and grandfather

Subject: Some advice to the president from an educator and grandfather
From: S. Lee Funk, Ed.D., Director - Special Education, SI&A/Executive Director, Attendance Institute
Date: 24 Feb 2017

Dear Mr. President:

You may not be aware of how much your actions influence young people in this country but they do. I know this because a study conducted by Ipsos Mori and King’s College London reported that more than 34 percent of people between the ages of 18-24 stated that social media influenced their voting preferences. Mr. President, you use those forums quite a bit, especially Twitter – at least six times a day, according to Twitter’s own count – to about 24,502,656 followers.

Besides, a survey of approximately 2,000 K-12 teachers conducted by Southern Poverty Law Center showed that “More than two-thirds … reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.” Now, I am aware that this poll was unscientific, partially because the participants were not chosen at random, but it is an indication of some concerns among instructors and it actually brings me to my first bit of advice.

When you cite facts, tell people the source so they can verify them and think about their validity.

Don’t say, as you did on July 19, 2016, “You know what other countries do better K-12? They let parents choose to- where to send their children to school” without telling the audience how you arrived at that opinion – especially considering that there is no research to support the conclusion. There have been no international comparisons on the topic while a 2013 study by Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University stated that “charter school quality is uneven across the states and across schools.”

Avoid hyperbole on subjects critical to our nation’s state of being.

In your inaugural address, Mr. President, you asserted “we have an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge.” We do spend more money per pupil than other industrialized nation (The United Kingdom is second) but we serve any youngster of school age – no matter what. This effort encompasses a poverty rate of over fifty percent (based on free/reduced lunch count) and teaching to 350 languages according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even so, among nations participating in the Programme for International Student Assessment (the measure frequently used to gauge academic achievement throughout the international community) America consistently scores is in the top 10 among nations with the highest achieving test takers. Oh, and don’t forget that even though your Education Secretary seems unaware of it, we are the only country in the world – the only one in history – that educates all students with disabilities, no matter how severe, from birth through the age of 21.

Quit calling people names or insinuating that they know less than you just because you disagree with them.

When I was teaching elementary school, I wouldn’t allow it from my third graders and I am ashamed when you do it. Moreover, as I reminded you in the beginning of this letter, your actions are noticed by young people. Captured on a Youtube spot entitled “Kids React to Donald Trump,” a girl said, “Oh my God! That’s so mean,” with respect to your comments about John McCain. On the same video a young boy wisely advised, “I get you're speaking your mind but say it in a way that won't hurt people.”

Stop using adjectives that only generalize but do not portray a complete picture.

When you say “Common Core is a very bad thing,” as you did on October 18, 2015” it fails to advance any argument whatsoever. If one of student had turned in an essay with that statement, I would have circled the word “bad” and wrote: “This word is too vague. Be specific!”

One last word of: Notice, please, that these recommendations pertain to your actual behavior, not your policies. As I used to tell my classes, “Part of my job is to teach you how to be a good citizen and how to solve problems.” Right now, Mr. President, you are earning failings grades in conduct, attitude, and critical thinking. But the term is just beginning and I hope you can do better.