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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Schools’

Education is a hot political issue here in the States, and it’s no wonder that Waiting for Superman has hit the headlines.  In my last blog I wrote about Geoffrey Canada, founder of the Harlem Success Academy and honoured guest at this year’s Conservative Party Conference.  

Another prominent character in the film is the feisty and controversial, Michelle Rhee, Chief of the Washington Schools District, whose resignation this week was a major news item. Rhee has been responsible for a radical shake-up in the system which included the sacking of hundreds of teachers, seen by her as ineffective.  Her departure is in the wake of the failure of Washington’s Mayor, Adrian Fenty (who appointed Rhee to the job), to make it through the Democratic primary.  Fenty lost the nomination, following a strong campaign against him by the teacher unions.

Also in the headlines has been the spate of suicides by teenagers, linked to anti-gay harassment. This is a highly emotional topic in Minnesota, where local Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has campaigned vociferously against the acceptance of homosexuality as normal and natural.

At least five students in the Anoka-Hennepin school district of Minnesota have killed themselves in the past year. Bullying is likely to have been a factor in at least two cases.  District School Superintendent Dennis Carlson spoke out this week about his concerns that the district’s policy on sexuality (“neutrality” in classroom discussions of sexual orientation) may have created the impression that school staff wouldn’t confront anti-gay bullying. At a press conference, Carlson catalogued the hate mail the district has received — from left and right — in response to its review of anti-bullying strategies.

Both here in the States and at home in the UK schools are increasingly becoming the battle ground on which controversial issues in society are being fought over. And as one of the American principals whose school is at the maelstrom told me this week, ‘Our job is to keep our kids safe – practically and emotionally. But it’s hard to do this when views are so entrenched.’

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