AED Scenario (May, 2009)
Title: “The Squeaky Wheel”
Dennis Potthoff, University of Nebraska-Kearney
Architect Bob and lawyer Shirley waited to have children until they were well settled in their careers. They live, with children Eddie and Amanda, in a home designed by Bob and located in a newer subdivision. From the outset, Bob and Shirley were committed to providing their children with the best educational opportunities. When oldest child Eddie was 3, they carefully researched all available preschools, interviewed teachers, and finally settled on a Montessori school. It was costly and located in a community 30 miles away. When asked why they had chosen a distant preschool as opposed to one of several highly regarded preschools situated nearer to their home, Shirley shared that they had chosen the school that “would provide the strongest academic preparation for kindergarten.” Amanda, three years younger than Eddie, eventually attended the same preschool.
In the months prior to Eddie’s first day of kindergarten, Bob and Shirley visited all of the elementary schools in the area. They were disappointed that there were zero private elementary schools within an hour’s drive. They eventually chose the public school, nicely situated in a particularly affluent neighborhood, which appeared to have the “best teachers.” Bob and Shirley responded calmly but also resolutely to the letter notifying them their preferred school was already full; they visited with the principal, conversed with parents who had successfully navigated similar circumstances in past years, and contacted members of the board of education to plead their case. They were ecstatic when the school called to inform them that there was a place for Eddie in the kindergarten class.
As soon as Eddie, and then Amanda, began their years of formal schooling, Bob and Shirley demonstrated a willingness to be a part of the process. Both willingly volunteered their time working in the classrooms. Most of the teachers, and also the principal, praised the couple’s high level of commitment and were impressed that Bob and Shirley were constantly seeking out ideas for improving learning. Bob and Shirley felt appreciated and welcomed.
Eddie and Amanda were very successful in school. Parent-teacher conferences were an affirming event for Bob and Shirley; being told that their kids were outstanding students provided cause for joy. In part because of the accolades bestowed on their children, Bob and Shirley became progressively more interested in programs and curriculum designed for students with high ability. As they read more, they realized that many schools provided formal programs for gifted and talented learners; they wondered why the school their kids attended had no such program. They began to ask questions. Questions soon festered into frustration. The principal’s perspective, a strong belief that kids should work in heterogeneous groups, instead of being grouped on the basis of academic ability, was particularly infuriating.
The frustration level continued to grow for Bob and Shirley; the time spent volunteering in their kids’ classrooms caused both to conclude that their children were spending too much time waiting for other kids and too much time tutoring students who were struggling. When they raised this issue with the classroom teachers, they were told that tutoring other kids was a good thing for Eddie and Amanda because the act of helping others was deepening their own levels of understanding. Neither Bob nor Shirley bought this argument. They challenged the teachers, instead, to provide additional and higher level work for their kids. They felt the teachers’ modest efforts to meet this request were insufficient.
Bob and Shirley eventually stepped forward to create a local chapter of a national organization, “Educating the Best and Brightest,” that expressed specific and bold commitment to “promoting the unique learning needs of gifted and talented learners.” One first step was soliciting the names of really smart classmates from Eddie and Amanda. They networked with parents whose kids, as was reported in the local newspaper at the end of each semester, were “straight A” students. They also encouraged the teachers and principal to identify kids in the school that were really smart; the teacher’s bland responses and the principal’s overt refusal to nominate students strengthened their resolve. Within six months, the new organization had attracted 54 members. At the initial meeting, the parents’ excitement was evident; they were eager to learn more about school-based strategies, including curriculum differentiation, homogenous grouping, and compacting, that would elevate the learning potential for their kids. The group boldly moved forward with an ambitious agenda. The driving goal was to lobby for the establishment of a formal program for gifted and talented learners within the school/school district.
The first action step was to address the local Parent-Teacher Organization. At this meeting they presented a proposal to create a gifted and talented learners program in the school. Undeterred by the lackluster response of the officers of the PTO, they contacted individuals serving in various levels of authority within the school district. The responses from the school principal and school superintendent were lukewarm at best. Fearing endless delays, the organization decided they needed to make a formal presentation to the school board of education.
Bob and Shirley mobilized a team of interested parents who agreed to approach the school board. Their level of preparation for this event was extensive. They consulted local and national experts. They mailed copies of particularly enlightening articles to all members of the school board. They created a brochure that was distributed throughout the school district; the brochure was funded, in part, by donations from a private foundation that supported initiatives that “seek to educate the best and brightest.” They studied school district policy manuals in order to fully comprehend the decision-making process the school board was required to follow when considering creating a new academic program. They also spent many evenings going door-to-door handing out information to citizens living near the school. The response of citizens ranged from visibly pleased (“it is high time that schools do something to help the most talented students”) to visibly disgusted (“this sounds like another way for schools to spend more money–and I’m tired of paying more taxes to support schools”).
One evening, two interesting and unexpected conversations ensued. Shirley found herself in conversation with a neighbor who declined the brochure and asked Shirley if she ever worried about the kids that were not unusually talented and whether or not she had considered how this proposed new gifted/talented learners program might impact the rest of the kids. Shirley shrugged and replied: “I think that every parent needs to do what is best for their kids. I care enough to devote the time and energy necessary to insure that my kids’ education is excellent. John Locke was right when he observed that people typically act on the basis of self-interest. I sincerely hope that all of the parents in the school step forward to support their own children. If every parent would do this, all schools would be immeasurably improved and the common good of our society would also be better cared for. I think all parents are morally obligated to be active, engaged, and responsible stewards of the schools.” A few blocks way, Bob encountered Fr. Richards, the priest who had presided over Bob and Shirley’s wedding. Bob was pleased to stand on the steps of the Church; it was a stately structure that reflected Bob’s architectural values. The conversation, however, took an unexpected turn. Soon after Bob launched into a detailed description of his current quest, it became evident that Fr. Richards was amused. When Bob probed Fr. Richards, the Father replied: “Why are you going to all this trouble? Don’t you know that schools already work best for the high achieving students?” Bob replied: “We are determined to provide our own children with the best possible education. We know, far better than we understood before we began volunteering in the school, that this will not just happen naturally. The old adage is correct; the squeaky wheel does get the grease.”
Questions to Consider:
- What is the problem? What are the key issues that emerge?
- More fully explore the concept of “self-interest” particularly as it relates to schools and school decision-making. To what degree is it appropriate for parents to advocate for their own children? It is okay for a parent to be the “squeaky wheel?”
- We live in a country in which equality is viewed as a basic right. However, equality can be viewed from different perspectives as demonstrated by multiple articles in professional journals and books. Evaluate the truth of the following two views of equality:
- Our current system is shockingly unequal and inequitable; it is a national travesty that some youngsters attend schools that have superior facilities, more talented teachers, and a more extensive program. It is essential that schools become places, to the greatest degree possible, where all children receive the same education presented in the same way and generally at the same time. This would be equal.
- Because people are unique and different, equality is better accomplished when each youngster is provided with the type of education he or she needs to learn; it is more equitable in a democratic society to provide specialized instruction for children who are gifted and talented when they need no additional instruction to meet grade level standards.
- Analyze the following quote put forth by John Goodlad (1994): “Even as the public school became more commonly attended, it served best those whose educational needs and interests could be well served without it . . . It is difficult to effect reforms unless these can be portrayed either as not threatening the interests of the well-served or as benefiting them and the poorly served at least equally.” Do you agree with Goodlad’s assertion? Why or why not? How might Goodlad’s assertion be specifically related to this scenario? What are the broader implications of Goodlad’s assertion with regard to the renewal of schools and schooling?
- One could make the case that the Squeaky Wheel scenario illustrates life in a democracy and reflects vibrant, democratic practice. After all, the scenario depicts: a) freedom of speech on the part of citizens/parents without fear of retaliation or suppression; b) a transparent, open, and orderly decision-making process; and c) role-modeling of how citizens/parents can and should contribute to the common good of the school and community. What could be better?
The Federalist #10 (The Utility of the Union as a Safeguard Against Domestic Faction and Insurrection–continued)
Author: James Madison
Source: Daily Advertiser
Date: Thursday, November 22, 1787
The Federalist No. 51: The Structure of the Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances Between the Different Departments
Author: James Madison
Source: Independent Journal
Date: Wednesday, February 6, 1788
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