America, the melting pot, has incorporated Christmas traditions from the world over. German immigrants brought with them the traditions of candy canes and Christmas trees. The custom of caroling, kissing under the mistletoe and sending Christmas cards comes from our English heritage.
Those of us who are Scandinavian have our ancestors to thank for the traditions of the Yule Log and the Twelve Days of Christmas.
As families bring their cultures to America, they often incorporate their own traditional gift bearers into our society. Among hundreds of names are St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Grandfather Frost, the Three Kings, the Magi, Santa Claus and even Baba Chaghaloo from Afghanistan, to name a few.
Mexico, our neighbor to the south is the source of the “Flower of the Holy Night” which we now call the Poinsettia. Another Hispanic tradition is Las Posadas, a memorial celebration stretching the nine days from December 15-23, to honor the nine-month struggle of the Virgin Mary and culminating in the quest of Mary and Joseph to find a place for Jesus’ birth.
Las Posadas – as in, “There was no room for them in Los Posadas” – is also the holiday most closely associated with a star shaped Piñata being hung from the ceiling and swung at by blindfolded children who are uncertain about the contents, but hopeful that it will be a treat.
In 2002, President Bush signed No Child Left Behind [NCLB], a bipartisan education bill that was certainly not a treat. It required excessive mandatory testing and unfair and unreliable school district report cards. It included teacher evaluations that failed to measure the effectiveness of the teacher.
Teachers were forced to “teach to the test” and were burdened with hours and hours of additional tasks that filled evenings and weekends with busy work and did not enhance the education of the student. In short, the politicians and bureaucrats who championed it were “blindfolded” by not being educators and their swings at success missed badly.
Through the ensuing 14 years, Bush issued exceptions to the law under the mantra of flexibility and Obama followed through with waivers and incentives. Nothing could cure NCLB.
Ultimately, last week, President Obama signed a new bill called the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] ending the 2002 disaster.
Positives of the new law include a greater degree of flexibility for the state and school districts to develop and enact local control and also a more accurate and efficient means of evaluating teachers. It will also provide more funding for social studies.
While ESSA is in its honeymoon stage and is being lauded by all who participated, it does contain some troubling aspects. There are provisions that allow wealthy investors to pull dollars from public education under the guise of being “paid for success.” Also, alternative certification provisions have the potential to harm teacher preparation programs at our colleges and universities.
The new law also requires states to fund “equitable services” for students in private and religious schools and some believe that there is not enough oversight to ensure equal educational opportunities for minorities or to address disparities in school discipline procedures and suspension policies that target minority boys.
Let’s hope that as ESSA unfolds that it helps students succeed and is not just another Piñata that delivers only lumps of coal.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives