Fantasy vs. Reality at CISD

My name is Gregory Roper and I moved here in 2000 precisely because of the fine schools in Coppell. I have two sons in CISD. I have always valued the hard-working, dedicated teachers I have found here.

As an English professor, I enjoy fantasy literature. I do not enjoy fantasy in educational discourse, but that is what I heard last Monday night and what I have been hearing since August when my son was put in the CG3 initiative.

The fantasy is that iPads allow access to learning anytime and anywhere. The reality was my son sitting for several hours at a wrestling tournament in Keller in January in the days just before semester exams, panicking, unable to access review materials because, of course, he did not have access to Keller ISD’s password-protected network. When I asked, “Surely there’s some review sheets and your textbook you can study from?” he said, “No, Dad, it’s all online.” His technology cut him off from learning, not made it available.

The fantasy is that technology is inevitable, leaving us no choice. Last Monday night, all I heard were ancient Greeks who believed they were fated to live under the power of the god Technology. The reality is we always have a choice—when, how, whether, and how much—to incorporate technology into our lives.

The fantasy is that, and I quote, “95% of the students will use these devices responsibly.” The reality is image after image my son’s classmates have taken (with their iPads!), showing 70% of the students playing games or distracting themselves with social media in class. The reality is that rampant distraction is enormously destructive to the kids who want a quiet, studious environment in which to learn.

The fantasy is that the filters work, and we’ll just teach “Digital Citizenship” and kids will become ethical users of these devices. But as Binu Joseph says so well, the filters do nothing against the apps, where pornography and games are easily accessible. Kurt Klement speaks clearly and passionately about the huge number of kids with good parents who teach good values who have been caught up in pornography.

The fantasy is that parents have been consulted, and listened to, in this process. The reality is that it was sprung on us last fall with no warning. I have been to meeting after meeting after showcase where no questions are allowed, or where thoughtful questions have been dismissed, set aside, or edited out of the transcript.

The fantasy is that everyone is 100% behind this. The reality is that some of the best, most rigorous and experienced teachers are sidling up to people I know saying they cannot speak up for fear of losing their jobs, that they have been explicitly told not to speak to anyone from the Engaged Parents group—on pain of dismissal.   The reality is they have been told to “go along or get out,” that an oppressive environment has in recent years been created where no dissent or even critical thinking about this Transformation is allowed. The very lively debate that COULD make this program better has been systematically suppressed. This is not a feature of a free, healthy educational system that believes in critical thinking.

The fantasy is that this whole transformation will increase choice and individuality. The reality is that parents who explicitly chose NOT to send their kids to New Tech—because their sons and daughters learn better in a traditional environment—are finding that the entire district is now adopting most of the features of the New Tech model. I didn’t choose to put my son in this transformation; it was coerced upon me. And now you are ready to do the same to my middle-school student.

The fantasy, by the way, is that one can opt out of this transformation. The reality is that the transformation has already gone so far that it would be impossible for my son to do his work without the apps on an iPad. You have deprived me of choice without asking me.

The fantasy is that this new curricular model, driven by visually-based technology, will produce better learners. The reality is that more and more visual presentations with their brevity and visual flash are taking the place of deep, significant reading and writing—writing that develops care and precision in language and concept, argumentation and evidence.

The fantasy is that, once again, progressive ideas will underpin a successful reform of the schools. But we in America have been trying this for over forty years. The reality is that it never works, so school officials come back, asking for even more progressive reforms. What did someone say the definition of insanity is?

The fantasy is that vast amounts of screen time are value-neutral, or even beneficial, for our kids. The reality is that the American Society of Pediatricians continues to recommend no more than two hours of total screen time a day (which includes television, computers, etc—all totaled!) for children.

The fantasy is that we can, as Mr. Farsai said, “build this plane while we fly it.” I understand this might be a joke phrase from the IT world. But that is a terrifying analogy when applied to schools. None of you would set foot on a plane that was missing a wing and wheels and half of its engines. The reality is that you have put my two sons on that plane, and they do not have two, three, or more years while the administration figures out how to build it. A few years might seem a short time to adults working on their pet fantasies, but it is an enormous chunk of a sixth-grader’s crucial time of learning foundational knowledge and skills, and it is utterly irresponsible to treat those years so cavalierly, while ignoring sound, thoughtful, and time-tested ways of educating him. We are a conservative community; these fantasies add up to a huge, progressive, even radical transformation, and to spread it further at this point is irresponsible. We used to be flying a sleek fighter jet here in CISD; now we’re building a risky, incomplete Fantasyliner and flying it at the same time. It’s time to put away fantasy, and return to sound, conservative, Coppell values. We need leadership that can address these realities, listen to all parents and all educators, and craft a new vision for CISD that is aligned with reality.

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