Our Duty to Guam & Her Children
An Address on the Governor’s Education Strategy
By Eddie Baza Calvo
My fellow Guamanians,
Thank you for your time today. There are critical and urgent matters we must dispense with, together. But before I get started, let me first thank the Superintendent-select for his commitment to instructional leadership of our schools. DOE needs permanent leadership — yesterday.
And Taling, I know it hasn’t been easy… so, thank you so much for your leadership these past 10 months. Please stand so we can all recognize you.
President John Adams wrote to his wife once, “I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”
It’s about a quarter-millennium later, and to my First Lady, I’ve had a very different conversation. After all this time has passed, many of Guam’s children are not studying music or architecture. Their grasp of mathematics is scarce, and their proficiency in natural history untested. Most cannot even study war, because they either did not finish high school, or they could not pass the ASVAB.
All the data we are looking at tells us that our society is going backward. Poverty is on the rise. So is crime and worsening disease. When Christine and I talk about work, it’s about the 224 foster children she’s trying to help.
These are children who live the worst kind of poverty. The worst kind of poverty is the loneliness and lovelessness an abandoned child is struggling with. It’s the stream of tears no one sees because no one is around to console him. It’s the feeling of having no family to go home to once the last bell rings on a Friday afternoon at school. It’s the unimaginable seconds before a child closes her eyes at night… alone… without a hug… without a kiss… without love… to dream about what love can be, and to confront a new day searching for someone to make her dream come true.
It’s not so much what they are going through that should alarm us… as why they are going through it. These reasons speak to the symptoms of a very big problem we all must admit and fix very quickly. These children need foster homes because their parents were doing drugs – right in front of them. Or children who had to be taken from their homes because they were being physically and sexually abused by the people who were supposed to be giving them love. Or children whose parents went to jail or who died, and they have no relatives who want to take them in. These are the children of a second, even third generation of poverty.
Their parents grew up in a better time… in a Guam where families helped each other and no one lived on the streets. And their grandparents were products of the great world war and the unimaginable occupation.
But the duty of a generation is not to hope by the memory of a better day, but to give the next generation something more.
That’s not what’s happening on Guam. In only one decade the number of families on food stamps doubled. Now nearly a third of our people are living below poverty. And while income levels haven’t changed much through the years, we are all paying more for our homes, the power bill, gas, and groceries. Ironically, sales and receipts have been going up. There are more businesses, more hotels, more mom & pop stores. The economy has been growing.
My father spent his term growing the economy. So did Governor Bordallo, who built the infrastructure we needed. Governor Ada’s development policies brought about unparalleled growth. Governor Gutierrez and Governor Camacho weathered our island through global economic downturns. The economy has been growing. Our leaders did what they set out to do, and that was to bring money in.
So where did all the money go? My guess is that most of it went back to Japan, Singapore, the U.S. mainland, the Philippines, Korea, and wherever else we import goods and services. There was nothing to stop the growth from leaving island. There are two places the money could have gone: to the paychecks and bank accounts of people who don’t live here, or to the paychecks and bank accounts of Guamanians.
Unfortunately, our workforce is increasingly unprepared to take the high-paying jobs and to create the businesses that will keep the money on Guam.
What we’re left with is high unemployment, even higher underemployment, and an economic mountain to climb. Why aren’t they prepared? The answer is pretty obvious. Thousands of adults did not graduate from high school. And of those who did, the great majority do not have the skillsets and core competencies to compete for jobs and start their businesses.
I’m glad that my Council of Economic Advisors is here, because I want to make something perfectly clear. It’s time for our community to realize that all the money in the world could not change the fact that the economy is only as relevant to Guamanians as our education system dictates. We have to realize that economic policy does not dictate education policy. Quite the contrary. What we do in education will certainly predict our long-term growth or demise. Education and the economy are linked by the workforce that the classroom creates, and that builds the economy.
This massive effort to reform education on Guam is the result of hundreds of hours of planning by teachers, principals, the legislature, and Adelup. This is the first part of the larger IMAGINE Guam project. Education reform is critical to the larger economic development strategy, because we must first align the policies. And once this alignment begins — once the reforms start — we, as a community, can build the long-term vision that will make its way to the classroom.
If we do not do something… if we do not demand the alignment of education to employment to the economy, then we will doom our future to even greater poverty and crime. We will alienate our people further from the hope that they are part of the economic prosperity.
What will it matter to Guamanians if the economy grows, yet their families are left behind? This alienation should concern us, because the more it happens, the less support we have to make the difference. And, my fellow Guamanians, if we can admit to ourselves now that the root of poverty today is the classroom, then we can act quickly to make the classroom the root of prosperity. This alignment requires us to change the very way we see public schools and the way we educate the next generation.
It starts with reversing the 100-year-old focus of the American education system. We can no longer depend on the classroom inputs to measure success in the workforce. There is no way to align education to employment with the current system we have now… because the current system is not based at all on student achievement. It is based on their attendance in the classroom, and whether a teacher was there teaching. How can you align the needs of the real world to the classroom without real world standards being met?
Learning and mastering those standards must be the new focus. Our expectations of student achievement must be tailored to what graduates must know to be ready for college and career. But how do we make this change? How do we ensure learning happens?
This kind of change takes a while, because we have to change everything about our system before we can demand accountability from teachers and students. I explained many of these needed reforms in the past five weekly addresses on reform.
First, the mission of the department to prepare all students for life must be reinforced with common vision and strong leadership. I am pleased with the board of education for selecting a permanent superintendent who I understand is committed to instructional leadership over operational management. I look forward to working with Jon and supporting him with what he needs to be the chief instructional leader of our schools.
Second, the curriculum and the assessments must be standards-based. Again, I am pleased with the board for the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. I implore the Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction to waste no time with full implementation. And I thank Joe for his powerhouse leadership in curriculum.
Third, teachers must have all the professional development and teaching resources to abide by the new standards. They, guided by the principals, must have the time needed to collaborate about students’ needs.
Fourth, we must take the education agenda to parents and the community. We need to fortify teachers’ efforts with parental and community supports.
All of these actions will foster the right environment for learning to happen. And these solutions are no-brainers.
A long time ago, I remember being a 10th-grader sitting in English class. My teacher had a podium and spent most of the class talking and writing on the chalkboard. We were all expected to listen, to do seat work, to turn in homework, and to take tests. That’s it. Learning wasn’t fun or interesting, and I said so to my classmates. They agreed, too.
This is a very similar conversation among students that’s been going on for decades… and ignored. Well, what do you know? Turns out that us students had it right all along. There are schools throughout the nation called “Blue Ribbon Schools.” They started out a lot like our schools. Teachers didn’t have the tools they needed. Student achievement was secondary to teacher attendance. The students came from poor families, and the community wasn’t really involved.
But these Blue Ribbon schools started changing things. They adopted standards and started holding everyone accountable. Teachers were no longer isolated in their classrooms. They started collaborating and coordinating students’ needs. And they started sharing with each other the teaching practices that led to learning. All of a sudden, the classroom was no longer a place with desks and a chalkboard. It became a true learning environment where teachers had the liberty to do what it takes to get students to learn.
They started relating their lessons to things that were relevant in the students’ lives. For instance, a math textbook used in rural Louisiana could ask its poor students to add up the costs of bags, golf clubs, and polo shirts at the city department store. A good teacher will change the math problem, knowing that her students have probably never been to the city, or in a department store. She may gauge that her students go grocery shopping with their parents on the first of the month. So, she’ll ask them to add up the prices of a milk carton, cereal, and a pound of crawfish. She may even bring in the groceries and make the activity interactive. Or, she could even take the students through an interactive shopping center on the iPads that the school issued each of them.
It’s important for each school on Guam to examine the teaching and learning practices of Blue Ribbon schools so that best practices can be replicated. It’s also important for teachers to take a look at Breaking Ranks schools, to understand why the shift from teaching to learning is needed.
Equally important to a fun learning environment is the guidance each and every student needs. This comes with the understanding that no student is identical to another. They are diverse and have diverse needs. It comes with the understanding that the person who most influences learning is the classroom teacher. The teacher is the true guidance counselor and role model. The classroom is where elementary students should be taught that they will go to college. And when they get to middle school, the personal belief that post-secondary training for college or career should be reinforced. And by high school, the students should be preparing themselves for college or career, with a teacher guiding their development.
A lot is determined about a child’s future by the third grade. This is why early childhood learning is so critical. We need UOG and GCC to build their early childhood programs. The infant, toddler, pre-school, and K to 3rd programs need to work with families. These are the most critical years we must invest in. High-quality early childhood programs will cut crime, teen pregnancies, high school drop-out rates, and welfare. High-quality early childhood programs will deliver healthier children — physically, emotionally, and mentally. Business and military planners alike are now recommending that high-quality early learning will deliver a stronger workforce… and more ready military.
This is why we need the best and brightest teachers to fill the kindergarten to third-grade classrooms. We need to strengthen early interventions and the system of care. We all need to be more empathetic to the diversity of early learners, especially as parents cope with the realities of a diverse family.
And to break the cycle of poverty that consumes the lives of students today, we have to teach them very pointedly that a culture of achievement is far more beneficial to them than the culture of entitlement.
This agenda can only work with the support of the legislature and the community we serve. Senator Guthertz and Senator Yamashita, you’re both life-long teachers, who’ve dedicated your lives to children. And together with Senator Respicio, you’ve provided solutions to our aging school facilities. Thank you very much.
Senators, just as we got together to repair the physical plant, we must come together to fix the heart of education — student achievement. Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen said something that I think our people expect of us. He said, “Let’s leave behind the predictable and stale debate between liberals and conservatives. Let’s take the resources that we have, and prioritize, and manage, and focus our energy on just doing things that count — on real results.”
So we must act. There is no quick fix to the problem we have at hand. Even if we pay tax refunds on time every year. Even if we secure a China visa waiver and get a million more tourists. Even if we grow this economy to $15 billion in annual sales and receipts.
If Guamanians do not have the education to take advantage of all this economic growth, then what have we accomplished other than making Guam a place where it’s good to do business and take the money somewhere else? And where will that leave Guamanians? On welfare. Fighting for the scraps. Beleaguered by poverty, and taken far away from a middle class that their parents once belonged to. We cannot afford to deplete the middle class. We cannot grow the rift between the haves and the have nots. In my vision of Guam, all Guamanians have.
My vision of my grandson’s Guam is strong. I don’t want him to live in an island where most of her people are hungry and counting pennies in their shacks. Or where they have no electricity in their homes and no gas in their cars. Or where they helplessly watch others take all the jobs because they couldn’t even read the application for work. I want to break this cycle today. Because the Guam I envision is teeming with the prosperity of Guamanians who made it on their own. The cafes are filled with college students who aren’t worried about daycare for their young children. They are studying the arts and discussing philosophy.
The streets are lined with well-dressed Guamanians going to the businesses they built. Homes are adorned with bright lights at night, and happy and safe families inside. Where parents are healthy and live long lives because they had the options to make the right choices for themselves. And where children fall asleep to the hugs and kisses of mothers and fathers at their bedside, excited to wake up for a brighter day in Guam.
If we can embrace change now, then what can get in our way of this vision?
Two thousand years ago, a civilization without all the knowledge and technology we have today built the great Library at Alexandria. The people were not concerned with war. Legend has it that they sat at the fountains with their instruments and poetry, and from their wisdom grew a great republic where the people thrived.
And where is the Library at Alexandria today? After coming so far, the people of Greece began to abandon the society they built so strong. Their focus turned from the arts and the humanities — from education — and they became concerned with politics and conquest. One by one, the people left the Library. And what was once the hum of the lyre in a hall of wisdom, became the silence of a civilization in decline. And its decline was so severe, that today no one knows where the great Library at Alexandria ever was.
That library was the classroom of a great civilization. It was abandoned, and so civilization abandoned them. That must not happen to us. We must not allow it. And, yes, it is our choice… it is within our control. We are the generation entrusted with 4,000 years of Chamorro progress that built the Guam we know today. We have an absolute duty to our ancestors to sail forward and achieve, not to break what they built. We cannot abandon the classroom, or civilization will abandon us.
Why can’t we, today, also build a society that every day grows more prosperous… and in every way reaps the reward of a strong classroom. The future is in the classroom, and it must be reformed now if our children are ever to see the future we dream for them.
Thank you, and God bless you all.
Our Duty to Guam & Her Children