Monday, December 05, 2011

Texas student's refusal to say Mexican pledge, anthem starts controversy

Every day students in Texas public schools pledge allegiance to the flags of the United States and Texas. But when a teacher in a Rio Grande Valley high school assigned students to stand and pledge allegiance to the Mexican flag and sing Mexico's national anthem, one student refused.

The resulting controversy has one East Texas lawmaker wanting changes in the state's curriculum on how culture and patriotism are taught in schools.

15-year-old Brenda Brinsdon entered her sophomore year at McAllen ISD's Achieve Early College High School just wanting to do well in her classes.

But in mid-September she got an unexpected lesson on personal conviction and taking on the system. "I feel that I did what's right," Brinsdon said. "And I know what I did what's right [...] I'm going to stand my ground."

Brinsdon said she stood her ground by staying seated when first-year Spanish 3 teacher Reyna Santos assigned her class to stand and recite Mexico's pledge of allegiance.

Students stood with right arms straight out and palms down, which is how the school district says Mexicans say their pledge.

Calling the lesson "un-American," Brinsdon recorded the class, which occurred the week of Mexico's Independence Day and also the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The teacher also told students to memorize and recite the the pledge individually.

And when the time came for the part of the assignment to sing Mexico's national anthem, Brinsdon again refused. With that, Santos asked the class to stand and led the class in the anthem.

"I told her, I was like, 'I thought this was a Spanish class,'" Brinsdon recalled. "And she's like, 'Well, yeah it is, it's like, it's a cultural thing.' And so I was the only one that sat down."

She was given an alternate assignment.

Brinsdon's father, William, backs his daughter. He said that reciting a pledge to any other nation has no place in public schools. "What are we to do? Just lay down and let it happen?" Mr. Brinsdon said. "Or should we stand up for our country?"

Santos couldn't be reached for comment.

The school district declined several News 8 requests to interview someone with the district. But in a statement, said it was a single lesson on Hispanic culture in one class at one campus, the lesson will be reviewed and students recite the U.S. pledge daily.

This Spanish class assignment, Brenda Brisdon's refusal and the school district's response caused a firestorm on the right.

Conservative websites erupted, getting the attention of Republican State Representative Dan Flynn of Canton. "It was a shock to me," he said.

The Texas Education Agency says the state curriculum outlines what must be taught, but local districts decide how it's taught.

Flynn said since the state allows that much discretion, he'll file a bill again to require more mandatory studies on the U.S. Constitution.

"I do have a problem if we're making that the assignment for young people to stand up and pledge to another country," Flynn said. "It lessens the value of the pledge to the United States flag."

After no one with the district agreed to an interview, News 8 confronted McAllen School Board President Sam Saldivar after a meeting. He indicated he didn't agree with the lesson. "I would have taken a different approach, again I'm not an educator," Saldivar said.

But as the leader of the board that sets policy, Saldivar said there's no decision yet on whether to change the curriculum. "That's a curriculum, a teacher working with the administration," Saldiver said. "As I understand it, it's going to be reviewed, and more likely a better approach will be taken in the future."

Dallas Democratic State Representative Roberto Alonzo said to question the loyalty of the teacher and school district is unfair.

"This is a class," Alonzo said. "This is not doing allegiance to Mexico, it's not you know you are going to be part of Mexico, this is just a class to learn Spanish - to learn an aspect of what is Texas."

Brinsdon said she's been pulled from Santos' class and gets her lessons separately now. Despite the controversy, she has no regrets. "I really hope that I was an inspiration to a lot of youth in America to stand up for what's right," Brinsdon said.


California Dream Act: 3 times more costly than previously projected

New research suggests that the recently passed California Dream Act may actually cost taxpayers more than originally estimated. Due in part to continually rising tuition costs, the revised estimated figure stands at $65 million per year, starting in 2013. This is more than 3 times the initial estimate.

Consequently, the amount of funds available to legal California residents applying for student aid will be impacted. There will be less funding available which will be more widely distributed. The end result is less funding available for legal California residents per individual.

Critics have long asserted that in light of current economic conditions, passage of the Dream Act was and is a misguided option, unfair to legal residents, and representative of thinking based on unrealistic evaluations of current financial and economical trends. Many feel that financial aid to illegal citizens should only be considered in a scenario where a surplus of funding exists, not when state and federal budgets are in a state of extreme deficit.

Those who support a referendum on the Dream Act should contact their local state representatives before January 6th. At least 505,000 signatures are needed in order to put the measure on the November, 2012 ballot. The referendum, sponsored by State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Hesperia, primarily deals with the second part of the Dream Act. This is the provision that allows for undocumented citizens to apply for taxpayer funded state aid. "This is a really, really bad idea," Donnelly said. “At a time when we're broke, when we have two million people unemployed, when state colleges are underfunded and overbooked, we're creating a brand new entitlement." Donnelly also believes the Dream act will create further incentive for increased illegal immigration.


Row as British school tells 11-year-olds to write letter to PM about retirement income for teachers

A school has been criticised for telling pupils to write letters to David Cameron - asking him not to cut teachers’ pensions. Parents were horrified to learn the Year Six pupils had been ordered to write to the Prime Minister arguing he should not reduce public sector pensions.

The children – aged 10 and 11 - were left bewildered by the task, with some even having to ask teachers what a pension was before starting their letter.

Parents have accused the school, which was closed this week after so many teachers went on strike over pension changes, of trying to politicise the youngsters. One, who did not want to be named, said: ‘Surely this is far too political, especially at the moment, for 11-year-olds to be questioned on. ‘About half of the kids in the exam had no idea what a pension was. I believe a number of the children even asked the teachers.’

The pupils were asked to write the letter as part of a three-hour entrance exam in the top stream at the over-subscribed Poole High School for September next year.

‘These exam questions are to test the children’s ability with English and spelling and how to construct sentences,’ the parent added. ‘They are normally asked to write about a journey or holiday or something like that. ‘The subject matter in this instance was totally inappropriate. ‘It was bringing politics into the classroom and was in danger of politically influencing young minds.’

After complaining to the school the parent was told the question had been a mistake, and the teacher who set it was to be formally rebuked. ‘When I complained to the deputy head teacher she was quite open about it,’ the parent said. ‘She said she was shocked and only realised what the question was two days later. ‘She agreed that it was a completely inappropriate question to ask and that she was sorry. ‘I was told the teacher who set the exam question was due to go before the chair of governors for a telling off.’

The school, where three quarters of staff belong to unions which chose to strike over pension changes this week, is partially selective. The three hour examination process is something parents can choose to send their children to.

The school has since apologised, admitting the test was ‘inappropriate’.

Mrs Fan Heafield, deputy head at Poole High School, said: ‘Students are required to take a three hour academic test as part of the school’s annual admission process. ‘This includes a short writing task on a topical subject in the media, of which the students may have some knowledge.

‘The purpose of the exercise is to assess students’ competency in spelling, punctuation, structure of writing and vocabulary. ‘The writing produced by students in this task is intended solely for the purpose of internal marking by an experienced teacher and is not for wider distribution to external individuals or organisations.

‘Clearly, on this occasion, the subject chosen for this task was inappropriate and we would like to apologise unreservedly for any concerns this may have caused parents or students. ‘We will ensure that our pre-test procedures do not allow this situation to arise again.’

Poole High School has recently been accepted to be a specialised school for Business and Enterprise to train pupils to become ‘wealth creators’.


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