Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Representative Government 101


For those of you who do not know me, I am a fifth grade teacher on Long Island. I am also someone who believes in teaching my students much more than what is required on some asinine Common Core assessment. I teach them how to be truly prepared for the wonderful futures that each one of them deserve and hopefully achieve. Today was one of those days when they learned much more that my planned aims of today’s lesson.

I have been teaching about the American Revolutionary  War and our nation’s struggle  to establish a form of government that is … “of the people, by the people and for the people.” We have been having discussions as the the importance of representation on government and what that really means. So today, I planned on demonstrating to my students that anyone, even them, can contact a legislator that represents them and either find out where they stand on an issue or to give their own opinion on any issue.  I have also been teaching them that opinions back with facts and background are far more powerful than just plain opines.

Today, I called my NYS Assemblywomen Michaelle Solages, while my class watched. First I showed them how they could find their assembly person and how they could contact them. We went to the Assembly website and searched. I explained that yesterday there was a controversial vote regarding the Board of Regents and that I wanted to find out how Assemblywomen Solages voted. I also gave them some background as to why I was interested. I explained that there were many people who were looking for a change in the Board and that Assemblwomen Solages had led many of her constituents to believe that she would not vote to reappoint  four Regents.

I showed the class that I would be taking notes during the conversation and asked them to be patient. I called her office and a staff member answered the phone. I introduced myself as a constituent, the staffer asked my address and why I was calling. I stated that I wanted to know how the Assemblywomen voted on the Regent issue. The staff member then told me she did not know, and that she would have someone call. I asked if I could hold on while she found out and she said, that this is an issue that is of high priority. I then asked if that was so, why can’t she just tell me how she voted. She again said, someone would call me.

Three minutes later, the Assemblywomen called. The first thing she wanted to know was my address. I told her, then asked her how she voted on the Regents issue. (Please keep in mind, at no time was she on speaker phone. My class was merely listening to my words only not hers.) As I was talking to her, my principal walked into my room, I handed her a note, that said ‘ lesson in representative government, Assemblywomen Solages on the phone”.

The Assemblywomen, began by telling me that people move into my village because of the schools and how they affect our property values. I interrupted her and said, I merely wanted to know how she voted. She then went on to ask me if I had children and what age they were and how long I lived in my Village.

I again asked her how she voted. I explained to her that I was a teacher and that I grew up in the village. I know how important our schools were and that I didn’t understand why she just could not answer my question.

She threatened to end the call if I would not let her speak. I explained once again, all I was looking for was a simple answer, “how did you vote?”

She then told me that she could not in good conscious vote for some of the candidates due to their stance on guns. I then asked her if she voted to reinstate the incumbent Regents. No answer.

I then asked her if she voted for Finn.

She responded, “Justice Finn?”

I said yes, “Did you vote for her?”

She said, “yes.” I then asked her how justice Finn was able to bypass all the other candidates and get pushed to the front of the line? No answer. I then said something like, well now we have a “spiritual adviser’  as a Regent.

I then asked her again if she voted for the others. This went back and forth without any definitive answers.

It was futile, I then told her that I was in front of my class ( Where else would I be at 10 A.M.) and that I will have to tell my students that my representative in government refuses to tell me how she voted.

At this point she said that I was wrong for doing this, how would my students parents feel about my call, and I shouldn’t use children this way. I told her, I was teaching my students how they can find out how their representative voted. She then abruptly hung up on me.

I then turned to my class, they asked me how she voted, I told them she did not answer me and that she hung up.

I thought the lesson was over, not quite…

I needed to explain that what she did was wrong, that she should have answered my questions and that she most likely avoided  answering because she knew I would not have agreed with her. I then explained that my only recourse was the ballot box .

Several minutes later, my principal walks in at informed me that the Assemblywomen, called her and complained that I was doing something wrong and requested my principal talk to me about it. ( How did she know where I worked? I never told her. Did she misuse her official office for an attempt at revenge?)

I then called her office back, and informed her staff member that her attempt to get me in trouble failed and that now it is “game on.”  I explained that I would actively campaign in my village to ensure she never gets reelected.

I thought my day was done the, but not quite.

On my way home, I received a call from NYSUT. She called my regional office to once again complain about me. I calmly informed NYSUT what transpired, assured them I never had her on speaker phone and that she never answered my question.

I then call Assemblywomen Solages office once again, and told them that I was informed about her call to NYSUT. I told her staffer that unless the Assemblywomen called to apologize I would approach the press.

So far no call at 7:35PM.. Therefore the blog posting.

The sad thing is, if she would of allowed her staffer to answer my question, it would have been over, my students would have learned a little something about representative government and all would have been fine.

But no, the Assemblywomen  demonstrated behavior that should never be tolerated in representative government and my students learned much more than I even dared to dream they could learn in one day. Thank you Assemblywomen Solages!

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27 thoughts on “Representative Government 101

  1. Patti on said:

    I’m appalled.

  2. NYSUT and SEIU were her two largest campaign donors. I think maybe we should be calling NYSUT to inquire if this is what we can expect for our money.

  3. Diane on said:

    Wow…. Just wow

  4. Debby Kerr on said:

    And she gets away with this attempt to intimidate? So, they “trace” numbers of constituents in order to intimidate? Prou of your principal…..most would cave and punish you.

  5. Michael Richmond on said:

    I love this… a representative that feels intimidated when asked to answer simple questions. The lesson to your students is that the “fix” is in, despite all of the clamoring for transparency and accountability, politics is obtuse
    . I think the next lesson should be about Plutocracy and how in reality nothing has changed in politics and government.

  6. Talk about a “real world” example! I applaud you!

  7. Anonymous on said:

    What does American History have to do with a board of regent vote?

    • It happened to be the last thing she voted on just several hours before the call. Contacting a local politician, live, is a great example for students. The AM’s response wasn’t.

    • Our country was founded on the belief on representative government . It wasn’t about the Regent vote, it was about my representative informing me of her vote.

  8. This story is insane. Rather than teach from a textbook you were trying to give your students a real world example of representative government. Instead they received a valuable lesson in how politics unfortunately really works. There is so much that is wrong with Assemblywoman Solage’s behavior today. Whichever way she voted she should feel comfortable sharing with her constituents. Representatives must be honest about their voting records. It makes me wonder what else she hiding? Not to mention her vendetta against you by calling the school and the union. How much time did this elected official waste on tracking you down in an ill-fated attempt at revenge? And revenge for what, wanting to know something that is public record? Please update if she ever gets back to you.

  9. I would say you can’t make this up, but look at the proposed legislation she sponsored. http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/?default_fld=&bn=A08019&term=&Summary=Y&Text=Y

  10. Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

    Benjamin Franklin

    Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/benjaminfr383997.html#WMKCLDUZStow0oZx.99

  11. Amanda on said:

    Excellent lesson for your pupils. What a shame that they had to learn the real world of politics, that politicians aren’t always truthful and ethical. BTW, please remember to proofread for correct spelling and use of grammar. It seems like you are an outstanding teacher, but it abhors me when people, especially professionals like yourself, make spelling/grammatical errors in their writings.

    • Thanks Amanda. I really did not have time to revise or edit last night. I really wanted to get my story out as quickly as possible.
      But, yes you are right. We must model what we want our students to do.
      Thanks again for the reminder.

  12. Kerry Morris on said:

    She should be ashamed and you should be very proud.

  13. Juan Pablo on said:

    I imagine like your students we are getting we are only hearing HALF of the conversation, YOUR half.

    I am not in education, nor am I a parent. I am concerned about the future of this country, and education plays a big part of that. Your word choices in this blog post “some asinine Common Core assessment” make me wonder how exactly you framed your questions. Is it possible that the way you presented your demands may have in some small way precipitated the response you got?

    I believe you have strong opinions, and conviction. I also believe that those may cloud your judgement.

    I’m guessing that you will respond to this by stating in some fashion that you were not wrong….

    • Juan,
      My comments to the Assemblywomen were noted on my posting. I repeatedly asked her how she voted. If you were to poll my class, they would tell you the same thing.

      They did not hear a word she said.. that was to protect her. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t answer a very easy question, did you vote for the incumbents?

      If her staff member would have given me the information, all would have been fine.The call would never have happened.
      I am sure any other vote I would have received a reply from any other staff member of any other representative. That is what open government is suppose to look like.

      And yes, I believe the Common Core is asinine. I invite you to read my past postings. The parents of my students as well as my students know my thoughts on the Common Core.

      My question for you, are we only suppose to contact our representatives in government only when we agree? It seems as though that is what your post is implying.

      • Juan Pablo on said:

        On the contrary I believe our government is a mess.

        I think you should question your representatives especially when you disagree with them. However it should be done in a professional and courteous manner. I’m guessing she reported you because she didn’t feel like you were acting like a professional. I don’t agree that “pressing for answers” in front of your 5th grade class is appropriate. What were the kids doing while you were “making your point”, sitting idle I’m sure (you will say something like “listening intently to see how our government really works, I was molding young minds”). Doesn’t sound like participation to me. If you have issue with a government official’s decision or a question about a vote, then you address those concerns on your time. I would have reported you too.

        As to your common core comments. I like the idea of the common core. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I also don’t think it does enough. So when I hear comments like “I believe the Common Core is asinine” it makes me think. I’m sure I know why you don’t like the common core. Most people don’t like standards, they like being held to them even less. Now before you ask. I run my own business, and have for many years. Something I’ve seen happening is the children our schools have been churning out have become less and less prepared for life. I applaud the common core for what it is trying to do, and I believe it is a good thing.

        • I was self employed for 20 years.. this is my second career. The only thing I pressed her on was was her vote. That was the purpose of my call, my students witnessed a constituent attempting to get information that should have been easily given.

          As far as Common Core is concerned, there are many pedagogical argument against it.

  14. Juan Pablo on said:

    “As far as Common Core is concerned, there are many pedagogical argument against it”

    Asinine is the best you could come up with.

  15. readingexchange on said:

    Juan, I wonder if you know the assembly woman personally. You defend her non-answer by attacking the caller. ‘Makes little sense.

    • Juan Pablo on said:

      Readingexchange – Just in case you aren’t paying attention. I’m not defending her.

      “I think you should question your representatives especially when you disagree with them.”

      “I’m not supporting her reaction, I am saying both of you are in the wrong.”

      I’m just calling out Mr. Ratto for misusing his classroom time, throwing his weight around, and creating an excuse to preach from his bully pulpit.

      I wonder if you are a personal friend of Mr. Ratto or just a blind follower. You ignore the facts and attack me.

      • Now that I know what your real concerns are I can respond Juan.
        First, read my post again.. I was teaching my class that our government is a democratic republic. Being a democratic republic we elect people to represent us. We have the right to know. We have the right to know how our reps vote, where they stand on issues. We also have the right to vote them in or vote them out.

        I often model what I teach, whether it be a using math in a everyday situation, sharing a book or article, or even enjoying a song. This time I modeled how to contact an Assembly women.

        First.. If her staff member would have just answered my simple question.. this would be over
        second.. if the assembly women would have answered my question …this would have been over
        third.. if the assembly women would have just hung up on me.. this probably would not have gone viral…

        She chose to ramp this up, She used her bully pulpit to contact my school district and my union. Her office chose to conduct a smear campaign by sending fraudulent comments from her office impersonating my towns residents and union members. I am pretty darn sure, her office sent my district an e-mail that looks to get me fired. (The writing style is similar, and the same points that really were not part of this were made)

        So Juan, disagree about my teaching style, but let’s get straight about this. Solages chose to disturb this hornets nest. She was not forthcoming to direct answers from a constituent, her actions were abhorrent and possibly criminal (my formal complaint to the AG goes in the mail today).

        In our democratic government, our representatives are not suppose to act this way.

  16. Ironic that you brought a real world lesson into your classroom and you’re being harassed. It’s what the new standards want us to do. I guess you can only show rigor (mortis) when you do not embarrass anyone.

  17. Where does all this judgemental negativity come from? Have you ever been in Ralph’s classroom? The venom your spewing is very passionate. It’s unfortunate that this passionate energy is wasted in such a negative way. It’s nice to offer each others viewpoint on important topics, but why the nastiness Juan? I’ve been reading along and find it interesting to see how much time you’ve invested in all this.

  18. Juan, your comment: “Oh Mary. It’s not ‘rigor’ to bully someone, and tell half truths about it. This has nothing to do with standards. It only has to do with Mr. Ratto showing off for you.” has not been posted or was taken off. I do not know RRatto personally so why would he show off for me? Rratto gave a ‘real world’ lesson on civic rights and the assemblywoman made a fool out of herself; evading a question that she could’ve simply answered. That’s not bullying. Her response was inappropriate. She missed a golden opportunity to debate the reasons why she appointed Finn and demonstrate to a class of fifth graders what a good public official does. Instead, she used her position as an elected public servant, to harass a ‘simple’ teacher. How unprofessional can you get?

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