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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 29 2013

Franken urges Moorhead, D-G-F educators to 'teach so they can learn'

MOORHEAD – U.S. Sen. Al Franken gave local educators a laugh and a few verbal pats on the back Thursday before they dove into training sessions to prepare for the school year.

The Minnesota Democrat brought his deft, dry wit to a warm, muggy Moorhead High School auditorium, where he urged teachers and administrators from Moorhead and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton to make every student feel loved and “teach so they can learn.”

Franken said he isn’t a fan of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, with its high-stakes testing and single standard for all children.

“Practically the only thing I like about No Child Left Behind is the name,” Franken told the group.

Instead, he wants the nation’s education system to focus on the annual growth in knowledge and ability for each student.

“To me, a sixth-grade teacher who takes a kid from a third-grade level to a fifth-grade level” in reading, “is a hero,” said Franken, who said the “drill and drill” model that’s grown out of the federal mandates isn’t the way to spark learning.

Franken, a member of the Senate Education Committee, is a supporter of a bill called “Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013,” which includes initiatives to:

E Make college more affordable by offering grants to fund coursework that can count toward college credit.

E Recruit and train principals for high-need and rural schools.

E Allow computer adaptive testing to more accurately gauge student knowledge.

E Offer grants to create a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Master Teacher Corps.

E Improve mental health services for students.

E Prohibit discrimination in public schools based on perceived sexual orientation or sexual identity.

E Improve education for youth in foster care.

Franken said he and his brother were “Sputnik kids,” who grew up in the era of fierce competition with the Soviet Union.

He said that in 1957, when he was 6 years old and his brother 11, the boys were marched into the living room of their family’s home and told:

“You boys are going to study math and science so we can beat the Soviets,” Franken said. “I thought that was a lot of pressure to put on a 6-year-old.”

But the boys excelled in math and science, he said.

His brother got a physics degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “and he became a photographer.”

And Franken? “So I got to go to Harvard and graduate and become a comedian.”

But he said he knew from his teachers “that I could take that risk.”

“You have a powerful, powerful influence on these kids,” Franken said. “I just want to thank you … for the amazing, important job, the most important job we have in our country, which is teaching our kids.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583