Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multi-million-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education re-imagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.

To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

Dream On

 – – –

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

I Am the Walrus” is a song by the Beatles released in November 1967. The walrus refers to Lewis Carroll‘s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter” (from the book Through the Looking-Glass).  

I wrote this in 2004…..

I  really liked the line in the Beatles song “I Am the Walrus”:  “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”  The song was inspired by the nonsensical Lewis Carroll poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

Described by Ian MacDonald as “the most idiosyncratic protest song ever written.”  “I Am the Walrus” highlights some of John Lennon’s brilliant verbal efforts.  Some critics believe it may also have served as the Beatles’ greatest moment of musical triumph.  In one sense, “I Am the Walrus” seems completely devoid of meaning.  The angry outburst unapologetically tackles the prevailing social structures and creates the need for further contemplation.

The song, indisputably a rage against forces outside John Lennon’s control, took root after he read a letter from a student at his old school.  The same institution of learning whose headmaster commented: “This boy is bound to fail.”  Following the usual expressions of adulation, this young man revealed in the letter that his teacher was playing Beatles songs in class. After the students had their turns analyzing the lyrics, the teacher would weigh in with his own interpretation of what the Beatles were really talking about.

JC Julia Lennon (2)

A masterful stroke of finality concludes the song with a scene from a BBC radio production of Shakespeare’s King Lear, one of Shakespeare’s most depressing works. The reference to death, which the protagonist has feared along with his madness throughout the song turns into the inevitable nothingness, the last piece of pandemonium. After he wrote, “I Am the Walrus,” Lennon challenged the authority figures that he felt had tormented him to figure out the meaning.

Another great Beatles song “A Day in the Life” was another dramatic climax on an album where the Beatles practically changed the world and themselves.

Overflowing with vivid hues and an assortment of fascinating sound effects, the Beatles contrasted deceivingly upbeat insert with the effects of the workaday world with expressionless stories of disillusion and regret.  A Day in the Life’s radiant, open-ended refrain, “I’d love to turn you on,” represents the possibility of escape.  Yet the song suggests a hint of guilt and that our emotional release will always remain an unrealized dream. Sound familiar?  Like intellectual refuse, written by a perturbed woman with paranoiac anxiety aimed at an aging, political frustrated audience.  Someone you cannot turn off, and would never turn on.

Writers, actors and singers seem captivated by everything from the grotesque to the merely banal.  While film director and actor Mel Gibson gets brutalized for portraying the crucifixion of Christ in a vicious manner, Lennon took the existential harshness and emotional spectrum and placed it in a psychedelic prism carefully separating forms of anxiety, sadness and fatalism.

So, what can we discover in a meaningless morass of musings?  The boy did not fail.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

Dr. Ryan Jackson from Mt. Pleasant High School in Maury County, TN, “The Mount,” shares real life examples as he talks about educators being advocates for the “underdog.”
   

 

2018 Suicide Prevention Poster

Every day we lose three people to suicide in the state of Tennessee. Here are a few more facts for the Volunteer state:

  • We lose one person aged 45-54 every two days
  • We lose one person over the age of 65 every three days
  • We lose one person between the ages 10-24 every four days
  • Suicide is the 2nd Leading cause of death of Tennessee youth aged 10-24.
  • There were 1,110 reported suicide deaths in Tennessee in 2016
  • Tennessee suicide rate = 16.2 per 100,000 (National suicide rate in 2015 = 13.3 per 100,000)

What can you do?

1) Be aware of the warning signs:

  • Threats of suicide or statements revealing a desire to die.
  • Previous suicide attempts or self-harm.
  • Depression (crying, changes in sleeping/eating patterns, hopelessness, loss of interest in hobbies/activities).
  • Final arrangements (e.g. giving away prized possessions).
  • Drastic changes in personality or behavior.

2) Take the following steps if someone you know is contemplating suicide.

  • Keep calm and take it seriously. Do not minimize the threat or assume it is a joke or a way of getting attention.
  • Discuss suicide openly and directly.
  • Listen. Show your support and concern.
  • If possible, remove objects such as guns or pills that could be used to inflict self-harm.
  • Get professional help.

Signs of child abuse are all around us.  We need to know where to look.  #TNEdu

 

Christy Ballard is the long time General Counsel of Tennessee Department of Education.   Nobody in the state knows Education Law better than Christy Ballard.  And  she shares her vast knowledge.   She regularly assists in the implementation and enforcement of Tennessee’s education laws and regulations by providing legal technical assistance to local school board attorneys, other state agency staff, legislators, LEA officials, teachers and the general public by providing the TDOE’s position on school related laws and regulations.

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Julia Lennon and JC Bowman at Beatles Tribute

I was too young to really appreciate the British Music Invasion.  However, I became a die-hard Beatles fan in 4th grade, a tradition that I passed down to my children.  Later, I listened and enjoyed the different directions and songs of the individual members of the Beatles.  One of my favorite John Lennon tunes was Mind Games. Lennon nailed it, about how ideologues betray themselves in the clash of competing ideas.

Penny Lane has barbers with photographs, but today trends come with charts and graphs.  Pharisees today would rather stifle debate and only present one side of an issue.  These are people who would sooner ridicule someone, rather than pushing barriers or planting seeds.  In Mind Games, Lennon coined the term mind guerrillas, which was absolutely brilliant.  The mind guerrillas are alive and well. They talk a good game. Unfortunately, a few of them are in our classrooms with captive audience and captive minds.

On both the political right and the left, academic freedom is sometimes erroneously confused with complete autonomy, with thought and speech freed from all constraints. There are definitely limits, and educators have responsibilities.  Students have the freedom to form independent judgments on subjects.  In education, as in life, we must engage differences of opinion, evaluate the evidence, and then form our own individual opinions.  Students have the right to hear and assess diverse views, as long as they are age appropriate and not merely propaganda disguised as information.   American’s have debated the issue historically.  Because of this, in 1840 the Massachusetts Legislature debated the increasing government control over education.

We often see in the media egregious examples of taxpayer dollars being used in ways that seem more in line with indoctrination, rather than mere encouraging independent thought.  We suggest to teachers to be careful in their lessons, unless they are not afraid of it appearing in the local newspaper or nightly news.  In fairness, most educators never have to worry about this issue.  However, let me give you an example of one instance, paraphrased and sent to me by a well-respected classroom teacher:

A local high school was registering students to vote.  This in of itself is a positive step.  It was designed for students to get informed and vote.  However, the person promoting the event didn’t stop there.  She went on a rant about the electoral college system and she said that she thinks it is archaic.  She then proceeded to talk about medical marijuana and said that Tennessee is still Tennessee and that medical pot legalization won’t happen anytime soon. Then, she further highlighted a specific political race between a conservative and a liberal candidate.   Pointing out the virtues of the liberal candidate, and criticizing the conservative.

The teacher closed her email by saying: “I could give many more specific examples, but, again, my goal is not to get anyone in trouble, just to make sure parents aren’t entrusting their children to an institution that is going to push their beliefs in one direction only.”  She then added: “Obviously teachers are going to have diverse political opinions, even strong ones, about all types of issues. My problem is with them pushing those opinions on public school students and the one-sided nature of it.”  That is the heart of the issue, whether it is conservative or liberal.

As educators, it is often hard to keep private personal views out of our public lives—yet we should exercise restraint.  Our education system is not intended for political goals and political purposes, it is intended so that all students are equipped with the knowledge and skills to successfully embark upon their chosen path in life.  We benefit as a society when we develop children with independent critical judgment.  Martin Luther King Jr. poignantly stated: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.”

Chinese leader Mao Zedong wrote:  Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.  When it came to education, Mao stressed that students should have a “correct political point of view.”  That collectivist thought sounds like indoctrination.  John Lennon had a message for that in Revolution, “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow.”

Educators are entitled to their own political opinions.  However, when they are performing official duties they should remain politically neutral.  The youngest citizens of our state and nation who walk through our classroom doors each day deserve to develop their own opinions, be taught to discuss issues respectfully, and not be ridiculed for have a different political or religious belief.  There is a fine line between a teacher sharing their view, or forcing their view on students. It is not the job of the educator to force their point of view on anyone in a classroom or school.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education reimagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.  To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

##

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

thomas jefferson
Jefferson Memorial with Declaration of Independence 

Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th in the United States.  “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison.

Thomas Jefferson, known for his expressive writing style, was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.   Ben Franklin reminded delegates of the Continental Congress of the importance of the occasion by telling them: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  While we often focus on the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

It is the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence that has always remained a powerful reminder of a promise among the signers of the Declaration to: “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” These men thought liberty was more important than their own lives or their very possessions.  By risking everything, signers of the Declaration of Independence, men of wealth, many of whom the ultimate price—either through loss of life or prosperity.

Ronald Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”   What sacrifice would we be willing to make today for freedom?  That is a question we should ask frequently.  Benjamin Franklin would likely respond “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The last letter Thomas Jefferson ever wrote was about the celebration of Independence Day and missing the 50th anniversary of America’s independence.  He was 83 years old and would die within ten days of penning a poorly punctuated letter in 1826, that still contained brilliance within.   It’s good to know he wrote that “our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.” Jefferson wrote:

“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

Freedom should never be taken for granted.  Today we are debating the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.  While many citizens are very passionate about our country, others seem disillusioned and some openly hostile.  It is why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document. It expresses what it means to be an American.  We would be wise, as a state and nation, to teach the next generation of Americans what the words of the Declaration of Independence mean.  We must remind ourselves and children that there once lived men who mutually pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the love of freedom.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.