Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Washington State’s Unique Educational Ombudsman Office in Danger

It seems as if we take two steps back for every step we take forward. In an earlier post below, we described the Office of the Educational Ombudsman in Washington State, an office that may be the first agency of its kind in the nation. We just received a letter that the office is in danger under HB 2127. Here is a portion of the letter from its office:

Last week, Governor Gregoire presented a Supplemental Budget calling for more than $2 billion in spending cuts which includes a 28% annual budget cut to the Office of the Education Ombudsman (OEO). This devastating cut will reduce our staff numbers significantly and we will not be able to serve state-wide parents, students and schools effectively. As you know our budget has been cut each year since we opened our doors in 2006, and we currently operate with 60% less of our original budget.

To date, OEO has resolved nearly 3,000 complaints and has saved millions of dollars to parents and school districts by preventing costly lawsuits and administrative hearings. We have kept students from dropping out, ensured that students learn in safe environments, and helped children with disabilities get their educational needs met. With our current budget of $547,000 a year, the return for the State’s minuscule investment is huge.

The Governor’s budget proposal is now House Bill 2127 which is currently in front of the House of Representatives and the Senate for hearings and debates. Legislators are taking public input and comments before making final decisions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

C.A. Bowers Announces New Books

Editor: Readers will remember the article by C.A. Bowers in our issue on “The Hidden Dimensions of Poverty: Rethinking Poverty and Education.” The article was titled, “Rethinking Social Justice Issues within an Eco-Justice Conceptual and Moral Framework," and elicited a very spirited debate on our Rejoinders page. We would like to announce three new books by the author that we think our readership will enjoy reading. Watch for our special issue on "Sustainability and Education" in 2013. A call for papers will be announced by the end of the year.

Latest Books by C.A. BowersPerspectives on the Ideas of Gregory Bateson, Ecological Intelligence, and Educational Reforms

  • Perspectives on the Ideas of Gregory Bateson, Ecological Intelligence, and Educational Reforms
  • University Reform in an Era of Global Warming 
  • Educational Reforms for the 21st Century: How to Introduce Ecologically Sustainable Reforms in Teacher Education and Curriculum Studies

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Institutional and Cultural Silence: What Are We Teaching Our Children?

Editor: With our recent posts on the problem of bullying and harassment, we thought our readers would find this article interesting. It looks at the problem along with a number of recently related disclosures in the media within the framework of cultural and institutional silence. We thank Professor Blumenfeld for his permission to reprint his article.

Sexual Abuse and the Institutional Conspiracy of Silence


Warren J. Blumenfeld
Iowa State University
The allegations of sexual abuse and surrounding scandal, resulting in the firing of legendary football coach, Joe Paterno, and the president of The Pennsylvania State University, Graham Spanier, and the placement on paid administrative leave of assistant coach Mike McQueary, highlights in clear relief an overarching corporate/institutional culture of silence and cover up.

Whether it be allegations of sexual abuse of young boys over a 15-year period by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky; convictions of sexual abuse on young boys and girls by priests that has rocked the Catholic Church; allegations of sexual harassment by Herman Cain, former National Restaurant Association CEO and current presidential hopeful, and reported NRA cash settlements to his female accusers; or the estimated one-in-three female soldiers who experience sexual assaults by their male counterparts and higher-ups within the military establishment, institutions frequently close ranks to protect alleged perpetrators at the expense of alleged sufferers. As they model a culture of conspiratorial silence, institutions send the defiant message that they care more about their institutions’ reputations than the alleged targets of sexual harassment and assault.

On an individual level, this is also apparent, for example, in episodes of schoolyard, community-based, as well as electronic forms of bullying. According to the American Medical Association definition: “Bullying is a specific type of aggression in which the behavior is intended to harm or disturb, the behavior occurs repeatedly over time, and there is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one.”

We seem to live in a culture in which adults often project the idea to young people that when they are the targets of bullying or when they witness bullying incidents, they must work it out themselves, and if they tell anyone, they are simply tattling.

According to bullying prevention educator, Leah Davies, however, a vast difference exists between “tattling” and “reporting.” Tattling is telling or complaining about the actions of a person or group intended to get another in trouble. Reporting, on the other hand, includes the divulging of information when an individual or others are hurt, injured, or are being injured. It is something intended to help oneself or another person.

Dan Olweus, international researcher and bullying prevention pioneer, enumerates the distinctive and often overlapping roles enacted in these episodes: the person or persons who perpetrate aggressive actions; the active followers; those who passively support, condone, or collude in the aggression; the onlookers (sometimes referred to as “bystanders”); the possible defenders; those who actually defend the targets of aggression (sometimes called “upstanders”); and those who are exposed and attacked.

Each day we all are called on to make small and larger choices and to take actions. At a homecoming dance at Richmond High School in California on October 27, 2009, for example, up to ten young men grabbed a 14-year-old young woman who had been waiting outside the dance for her father, dragged her behind a building, and gang raped her for over two and a half hours with approximately ten witnesses observing. Some even cheered on the attackers. No one notified the police. The perpetrators left the young woman in critical condition.

President Barack Obama, when asked about the events transpiring at Penn State commented that: “We can’t leave it to the system. We can’t leave it to someone else. We must take it upon ourselves to protect our children.”

So, which side are we on? This question brings to mind the truism that: “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Today as in the past, no more spot-on words were ever uttered, for in the spectrum from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape, there is no such thing as an “innocent bystander.”

Dr. Warren J. Blumenfeld, Associate Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Iowa State University. He is co-editor of Investigating Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in the United States (Sense), Editor of Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price (Beacon), and co-editor of Readings for Diversity and Social Justice (Routledge).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

CANCELLED: Washington Educational Ombudsman to Speak on Bullying and Harassment on Nov. 17th

We regret to inform everyone that the November 17th event with the Washington State Ombudsman that we just announced below has had to be cancelled.  We are planning to reschedule the event in the spring. 

I have received some inquiries asking me -- what is the office of the education ombudsman?  The Office of the Education Ombudsman functions out of the governor's office and is independent of the public school system. It claims to be the "first agency of its kind in the nation."

Here is a description from its website:

The Office of the Education Ombudsman (OEO) resolves complaints, disputes, and problems between families and elementary and secondary public schools in all areas that affect student learning.

We function independently from the public school system and provide an alternative to costly lawsuits and administrative hearings. Our services are available to students from Kindergarten to 12th grade, and are free and confidential. Learn how to Request Our Services.

Our work contributes to quality public education, the closing of the achievement gap, and helps prevent students from dropping out. OEO is the first agency of its kind in the nation. Find out more in What We Do.

What is an Education Ombudsman?

OEO Ombudsmen are education professionals with extensive expertise in K-12 education, conflict resolution, mediation and family involvement in education. They advocate for fair processes for students in public schools.

How do Ombudsmen work?

Ombudsmen speak to all parties involved to understand the problem, research applicable laws and policies, facilitate and/or mediate conversations between parents and school officials, and guide all parties towards resolution focusing on what is best for the student.

Who should contact OEO?

Parents, legal guardians, students or educators who need to resolve a problem affecting a student. Also, professionals working with families who need to consult about public education.

What kinds of issues does OEO work with?

Ombudsmen tackle issues such as: bullying/harassment, suspension, expulsion, special education, enrollment, transportation, discipline, academic progress, truancy, and more.

You can learn more about the office at its website:

Here are some of their publications:

We Can Help

What Every Parent Needs to Know

Resolving Conflict at School

Participate in Your Child’s Education

Make the Most of a Parent-Teacher Conference

Bullying at School

How Does a School District Work?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Washington Educational Ombudsman to Speak on Bullying and Harassment on Nov. 17

We are providing an opportunity for the community to learn about the problem of bullying and harassment in the schools. Every school district in Washington State is now required to adopt new state model anti-bullying and harassment policies and procedures. We have invited an expert who can provide information and answer questions. Adie Simmons is the Washington State Office of Education Ombudsman Director whose office deals with these issues. If you are in the area, come learn how these new requirements protect students from harassment and how families can get help.

Bullying andTeasing is No Laughing Matter

Thursday, November 17, 6:30 – 8:30pm

Bellingham Public Library Lecture Room, 210 Central Ave, Bellingham, WA

This event is free and open to the public.

Sponsored by the Educational Institute for Democratic Renewal, the Journal of Educational Controversy, and the Whatcom County Chapter of the ACLU - Washington.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Fresh Analogy for Democratic Schools and Democratic Life

Editor: Sometimes a fresh analogy can unplug our thinking and open avenues for new perspectives and questions. In the post below, Jim Strickland, regional coordinator of the National League of Democratic Schools, offers one such analogy. Jim's earlier post on a Declaration of Education Rights stirred some interesting discussions. Perhaps, his latest post can stimulate us to think about the "plugs" in our collective lives.

A Renewal Analogy

Jim Strickland

National League of Democratic Schools

I'm in the middle of reading an Einstein biography and was struck by how certain physical processes are mimicked in the institutional world. For example, imagine the whirlpool created as water drains from a sink. The whirlpool is a real entity, but its existence depends on the dynamic interaction between the water, gravity, rotation of the earth, and the open drain. Plug the drain (stop the dynamic process) and the whirlpool disappears.

In similar fashion, healthy, democratic schools are like these whirlpools -- products of a dynamic process, the process of continuous renewal. You can stir the water with a stick, but cannot create a sustainable entity (whirlpool) without unplugging the drain. In this analogy, I think of the open drain as the creative power of ongoing dialogue -- the bedrock foundation of the renewal process. Trying to have healthy, democratic schools (or any healthy institution) without the dynamic motion made possible by the "open drain" is an exercise in futility -- like trying to preserve whirlpools without motion.

Here's to you "plug pullers" of the world...!