Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who, Exactly, Was Daniel Webster?

Ever since Bob Dole tipped me off on that St. Paul's Webster Elementary School was trading up its 100-year old name in favor of "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary," I've been quite obsessed.

Of course, the Star-Trib reporter didn't bother to ask the question--so this duty falls upon The Activist. I mean--aren't you kind of kind of curious? I was.

So who, exactly, is Daniel Webster? The “statesmen” that St. Paul’s Webster Elementary School was named after? Obviously, he can’t be anybody important. I mean, they are just getting rid of his name. Is this Daniel Webster? The guy that made this speech? I will leave it up to you, readers, to bring any ironies to light. I guess it doesn't matter. Because this isn't about Daniel Webster. IMHO, this is about an opportunistic Principal with a political agenda who wants publicity.

And the publicity really isn't about the name, per se, it's about the liberal Service School Movement behind it.

From and MPR article in April:

Leaders at Webster Magnet School say they want their name change to reflect the school's renewed focus on teaching students about community service. One name being considered is the "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary School."

Wondering what a “Service School" is?

Under Webster's online school newsletter’s “Service Spotlight”, we get a better feel for what this model looks like at a micro level:

  • Webster Staff & Students Present at Congressional Field Hearing with Representative Betty McCollum AND Visit by Senator Amy Klobuchar Staff
  • Recently, Webster’s principal, staff and Club Leadership Executive Board students presented to Representative Betty McCollum at a Congressional Field Hearing on Service-learning.
  • The students helped to plant trees in memory of Paul and Sheila Wellstone. During the presentation, students had the opportunity to share how their service-learning projects have helped the community, and helped them to develop leadership skills.
  • Last Friday, April 24, was Global Youth Service Day. Our Webster students cleaned up our entire school grounds and extended their work into some our surrounding community. Joining some of the classes were several staff from Senator Amy Klobuchar’s offices in Minnesota and Washington, D.C.
Do you see a pattern here?

Let me tell you something. As the mother of two elementary school kids and the friend to several teachers, this is NOT what children this age need to be doing. Especially if they are attending a failing school. They need to focus on the fundamentals so they have a shot at being good students for the duration of their years in school. My kids have great teachers but even the best teacher at the best school can only do so much. With 20 + kids in a classroom, they teach to meet standards. The students that exceed standards typically have a solid skill foundation (reading and math). This gives them the confidence to do more. Kids get a break from the grind through their “specials”…art, Phy-ed, music, occasional events/speakers, computer class After seeing this, I have a new appreciation for what my kids are doing from 7:50 am to 2:20 pm every day. This seems like stuff that junior high kids should be doing on their own time as a part of a community or religious youth group. I’m shocked. I know that I shouldn't be. But I am. I really am.

So, they want to change their name to reflect their Service designation?

And the information above should clue you in about what, exactly, that means. They aren't visiting Veteran's hospitals or planting trees to honor the victims of 9/11, they are rubbing elbows with all the local liberal politicians.

It looks like the school’s Principal, Lori Simon, and her buddy Betty McCollum are quite the movers and shakers in the Service Education movement (and, make no mistake, it is a movement). If the liberals have their way, people who "serve" in this way will have the same benefits/pay/pension as our military members. That's where this whole thing it going.

In my opinion, these schools are just feeder programs for Americorps and its baby sister the well-funded Minnesota Reading Corps. From Webster's website:

Join Webster Minnesota Reading Corps as we Expand! Webster Magnet School needs you! We have openings for 6 members for 2009-2010 (1 pre-K, 5 K-3)

• Help Minnesota kids learn to read
• Receive a living allowance, health care and child care if eligible
• Great experience and money for school
• Must be high school graduate

"Money for school." Where have I heard that before. Oh yeah, that was a big military promotional slogan back in the 1980s-early 1990s.

So..that is what is going on behind the scenes at Webster. That is the stated catalyst for fast name change. It started to hit the press in early April. Here's how it played out:

"I did a survey with staff and our parents to find out if there enough support to even consider looking at a name other than Webster," Simon said, in an interview. "77% of my staff indicated some level of support and 85% of parents did."

Two names went on the ballot:

  1. "Webster Service Learning Elementary"
  2. "Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary"

Barack Obama was elected in January. By April, the Principal was talking to the press. The final decison will be made May 19th. The school is 100+ years old. Why on earth does this have to happen at lightening speed? And with the economy in the tank and people hurting, n0 matter which name they choose, it's going to cost money to change signage, systems, and materials--is this really necessary? RIGHT NOW?

It's all smoke and mirrors.

Any dimwit knows that if Ms. Simon really wanted the name to reflect the school's program, she would simply pick #1. It would have been much easier and it would have made sense. It woul have saved the time spend running a big CYA community election.

But, then again, it also wouldn't have garnered any publicity.

The election process is it's own CYA and done as a "school project." Principal Simon says:

"The actual election was run by third graders and their teachers as part of a service project - and the students took it seriously. 'Observing the process, you would have thought you were at the polls at a normal election.'

But I'm confused by this. Didn't these children already have this experience in November during the presidential election? Isn't this a redundant lesson? I'm no expert in elementary school curriculum but this seems like overkill.

Also, did this really reflect a "normal election." In most normal elections, there are two or more campaigns. Did the Principal and other "influencers" offer the children a balanced look at the two alternatives? Did they present the children with a history of the school’s namesake? Did they talk about the alumni-aspect of the equation?

My feeling is that these kids simply aren't old enough to understand the magnitude of stripping a school of its name. They don't get the political part of this little lesson. And this just isn't right. Because, ultimately, the kids determined the results. An MPR article shows the actual breakdown:

"Students, staff and St. Paul residents were invited to cast ballots Thursday. The Obama name came away with roughly 60 percent of the 854 votes cast."

  • Staff voted slightly in favor of keeping the Webster name, 57-43
  • All St. Paul residents were invited to vote, but only 59 did. That group slightly favored the Webster name (34-25).
  • Parents of Webster students favored Obama, 30-12.
That means that the other 653 votes were cast by students (I've sent these number to Acorn and am awaiting confirmation).

Although the name has not officially been changed yet, that will happen on May 19th, when the School Board takes a final vote. But make no mistake--unless there is public outcry, Daniel Webster’s name will be taken off the school.

"The only person brave enough to stand up, thus far, is Board member Tom Conlon, the board's sole Republican, said he plans to vote against the name change. He thinks naming schools after politicians -- Republican or Democratic -- should come at the end of a politician's career, or even life, and pointed to "Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary" in downtown St. Paul as an example." (Strib)

Contact him via his website, and tell him to keep up the fight!

And if you want to get in on the conversation, check out this St. Paul issues forum. Just be careful, the moderator is already accusing people of racist comments.

P.S. if you are really bored, you can check out the 3,000,000 slides on the school's website to see Ms. Simon's little election.


Bob Dole said...

Webster was a good man, a statesmen who didn't need a teleprompter. What the hell is a magnet school? Magnet for what, welfare?

How can they rename this school after someone who isn't even dead? And the name is too long. May as well call it the Bill-lied about-cheating-on-Hillary Clinton School. Teach the kids to spell "impeachment". Have them do book reports on Vince Foster. Extra credit for kids who know the what the definition of "is" is.

Jim said...

It sounds like they are realizing that around 60% of the kids will hardly be able to read or do math no matter how much extra money they throw at them, so the best plan is to turn it into a community service school and hope they can be trained to find a "job" in the one place that tolerates such below average mental ability... government. They'll grow up to collect tax dollars as they "work" in their government "job" handing out tax dollars to "the community."