Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Mirror of Accountability

In the past few years, there has been much talk about education and accountability.

What is happening with the money that has been entrusted to schools to educate our people?

Are kids being educated?

Are adults being educated?

How can we measure that?

Understandably we are concerned because it is our money that is paying for it.

We earn the money.

We pool some together to take care of ourselves - what we call taxes.

We ask particular people - people we vote for - to think about how this money should be spent to care for us as a people, to draw up a budget to do that, and to be sure it's fair and wise.

That's where we're at right now. 

We're waiting for the elected people to make their final decisions about our money.

We're nervous.

We're waiting.

It's all about trust.*

Will they make decisions that we think are fair?

Hit the "read more" link to find out what happens if they don't.

Decisions about our money?

Decisions about us?

How can we trust them?

What will we do if they betray our trust?

That's where the accountability comes in.

In the case of K12 schools and No Child Left Behind, if the schools don't show enough progress - according to the measuring stick provided by that program, the schools get taken over by the federal government.  

(You can disagree with the stick being used, but you can't argue there is no stick.  In K12, there are definitely sticks.)

In the case of elected people, if the elected people don't make decisions we like, we can elect someone else.

In both cases, we still have to live with the consequences of the choices everyone makes. 

We can't control anyone.

I know, disappointing, hunh?  

People sure do try!  But so far, no one has figured out a way to do that.

Actually, a good thing, given what happens when we try to control the power of another human being.  Slavery, oppression, injustice - those attempts to control the beauty and talent and goodness of another human being create consequences that last for generations.

Why am I bringing all this up?

Why am I talking about K12 schools and No Child Left Behind when this blog is about Adult Education?

Because Adult Education, like every branch of the public education system, is held accountable, too.

It's less known but it is.

The CASAS test measures how much English a student has learned and other systems track other programs.

That's how we're held accountable.

Now we look through the other side of the mirror.

The elected people.

Five years ago, in a money crisis, they made us the blood donor to keep K12 schools alive, much as you would ask a parent to sacrifice for their child.

We did.  And many of us died in the process. 

Now there is more money.  Money we contribute.  Including money from new taxes (Prop 30) which we voted into place.

Now the elected people decide how to spend our money to take care of us as a people.

What will they choose?

Will they decide to give Adult Education designated funding?

Will they decide to do that in a way where Adult Ed has its own seat at the table, making them an equal partner in Brown's proposed regional consortia, and CDE (California Department of Education), the server?

Or will they put Adult Ed at the "children's table" and give Community Colleges the deciding rights about serving size?

Will they give Adult Ed the money it needs NOW so that schools hanging on by their fingernails - Riverside, Oakland, Azusa (actually already closed!) - can make it?

Or will they tell those schools to keep hanging on by their fingernails - because in two years, they'll get a hand up onto the ledge.  Just keep hanging on.  You can do it.  Keep hanging there.  Hanging.  Kind of sounds like what it is, doesn't it?  A way to kill someone.

Will they keep all programs at the table - ESL, Citizenship, GED, High School Diploma, Job Training, Disabled Adults, Older Adults, Parent Ed?

Or will they decide we don't need the old and the sick and the young.  A people moves forward as an army.  The old and the young and the sick just hold it back.  There is no power, no wisdom, no future in such people.  Only those who can hold a pick and axe now are worth saving.

Whatever they decide, they are accountable.

And in ways far bigger than whether or not they are elected again - or even can be, given term limits.

Because accountability is just a structure to encourage trust.

Trust is the real issue.

And trust, once broken, has far bigger consequences than a school being closed or an election lost.

Loss of trust creates discord.







The ills our people suffer every day.

The refusal to vote. 

The refusal to compromise.

The refusal to try.

The failure to see the humanity in another human being.

The failure to see the humanity, the talent, the power in oneself.

These tragedies bring great suffering to our people.

And they are connected to the choices we make every day.

Including the choices our elected officials are making right now.

We have entrusted them with our money.

We in Adult Education have done no wrong.

We created a wonderful, low-cost system to care for the neediest of our people.

We served the people and we used systems of accountability to show we did so.

When a crisis hit, we took the hit.

Now the crisis is over.

Now, by the decisions they make, elected officials make clear how they see us.

Will they use that crisis as an excuse to do away with all or some part of us?

Which is to say, to claim that all or some part of the people we serve are less valuable than others?

No people moves forward by its army.

Just as the mighty river of the Sacramento is fed by a thousand creeks and streams, which are in turn fed by a million drops of water percolating up through the ground, so a state is fed by all its people.

Every one is valuable.

Every one of us matters.

Do we sometimes need to make sacrifices for the group?


Do we, as Gov. Brown advocates, need to practice tantum quantum, and not take more than we need?

That's an ideal that can save us as a people and I'm right there with him on that one.

Although it must be said, and I quote Karen Arthur on this one, "choosing to cut back is a lot different than being without."

In the name of thrift, we shouldn't fail to water the garden that feeds us.

That's why I'm advocating for Adult Education - all of it - not just the parts that are about putting people to work, but the parts that are about creating a healthy, functioning people, so that we, as Brown says, avoid "the government becoming the family of last resort."

We need our families.

School can never be a substitute for them.

And sometimes, in order to do their job as only they can, families need support.

That's where Adult Schools can help.

Adult Education Parent Education, Older Adults and Disabled Adults programs, Family Literacy, and yes, ESL, Job Training, Citizenship, GED, and Job Training,  help families to do what only they can do.

And if our elected officials choose differently, if they choose to spend our money in a different way to support our people, they must account for that.

They must tell us what they are choosing.

And why.

They must acknowledge our worth as a people.

And provide an accounting of how they are spending our money to care for us.

All of us.

To do otherwise is to deepen the mistrust that already divides and sickens us a people.

Already, facing tremendous challenges - global warming, shifting world economics, and an increasing capacity to destroy ourselves  - we wither and waver because we do not work together as a people.

We distrust each other - on both the individual and the community level.

We distrust "the government" - which in fact, is us, but we have lost sight of that truth.

We are one people.

We are responsible to and for each other.

And the most precious resource we have in facing a challenge is trust in each other.

As our elected officials - Assembly members, Senators, and the Governor - come together in these final weeks to decide how to spend our money in care of us as a people...

Let them remember that even as we in Adult Education - and all branches of public education - are accountable to them, as the guardians of the public trust... 

So are they accountable to us, as the guardians of the public good.

The mirror works both ways.

But no matter which way you look at it, it holds the same truth:

We matter.

* Money is one meaning of the word, "trust" -  and in fact, we use the word "trust" to refer to both feelings and dollars.

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