An Enrichment Proposal 3 (Almost There!)

First,  I have thoughts on the failure to move test score needles. 

“Value added assessment”, norm- referenced data analysis, grit and rigor, HEDI scales, tethering students more and more onto screens and into platforms that exist for data production, collection and analysis, moving learners away from the symbiotic, social and synergistic processes that grow an adept human mind

The real important stuff that lays the foundation for success (e.g.,social, emotional and psychological development) was back-burnered in the pursuit of data. In the aftermath of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, schools became the distraction and target for accountability for what was ailing the nation. The housing market crashed and people’s lives were ruined, so clearly schools weren’t doing their job. We began racing to the top, and a decade later even Bill Gates had to admit his thoughts on how everybody else’s kids should be weighed and measured didn’t work out so well. 

Well, if a test score needle didn’t move, it’s no wonder. You aren’t going to save a crappy potato salad with even the most well-intended, highest quality, thick sliced hickory smoked bacon bits. It might get easier to choke down, but the salad will still be crappy, and people at the picnic will wonder why you wasted good bacon bits. 

Said more directly: academics will be a struggle if you don’t tend to the person and prepare the mind.   

An increased focus on more explicit counseling and social-emotional targets in the instructional day is really an admission of failure and/or unwillingness on the part of policymakers and society around schools. The role of public schools has more overtly become to fix the damage done by problems we refuse to take care of outside of school which transformed the natural process of SED into a necessary remediation/ intervention called SEL.

 I don’t resent it or anything, it just is what it is, and educators have already been doing it all along because we’re confronted with the growing needs daily. It’s just being officially made part of the job now. 

I say this gives the professionals a nod to not just do it as another one more thing you need to do, but do it right. Do it proudly, too, knowing that we are the ones with graduate degrees and experience, and we are capable of targeting academic skills while addressing the needs of the whole-child in order to create lifelong learners who can handle grit and rigor when it comes along. If we start enriching, in order to empower, it will be easier to educate. 

So as i work my way closer to how, know that I believe those working in schools already know this:

By treating children in the school setting like young human beings that go through stages of development that can be supported and encouraged, the same as we would with our own children out in the wild, just think of what we could accomplish. 

There’s that ringing again.

An Enrichment Proposal, Part 1.

Writing out of the humanity side of it all:

In the Introduction I lay the groundwork.

We are either blessed or burdened with one life on this tiny speck of dust, in a universe we can’t begin to truly comprehend or define, for purposes we may never know, and maybe weren’t meant to or don’t need to know. If you lean into believing there even is a purpose, and/or a demanding, all-knowing old guy in the sky doing all the work, you should honor blessings with real efforts, not just assume a merit badge or a train ride home for saying you believe. So when faculty meeting requests for ideas regarding how to best spend extra funds and invest efforts in the wake of COVID-19 began, it rolled me through that honor-my-blessings (and opportunity?) process.

Sure, I was a little leery. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where ideas are enthusiastically called for and collected. I’ve been disappointed. Pieces of chart paper hung all over with multicolored marker wish-lists/what do you needs/what should we dos in a wide variety of handwriting styles, fonts and sizes. That part was cool, I love it when collaboration and creation happen-we need more of that. It helps strengthen community and build spirit if it’s done right. 

It was almost always the same sort of stuff on those lists, though. Math facts. Phonics. Fluency. Explicit, direct instruction in handwriting. A packaged, produced and published curriculum that takes all the guesswork out of delivering content and interventions and gives lotsa books and copies to be made. Some rare glimmers of inspiration. Some definite worn down copier issues to come.

But when there was a call for Enrichment proposals, I was excited. There had been directives to think big, think “out of the box”, to think of something because we haven’t been able to move the needle on test scores for about ten years. I felt as if in the midst of a chaotic pandemic recovery, state-level decision-makers and NYSED had woken up and decided to leave behind the past ten years of their poisoned paradigm. They were sending word down from above to empower the people actually doing the job of educating children. Like they now really did want to hear from teachers and give them some say. 

And to suggest Enrichment! To me it felt like a dare. Like I might be taken off the leash. 

It felt like the universe was ringing.

I’ll explain the ringing in a sec.

An Enrichment proposal in this situation shouldn’t be an individual application or an audition for an isolated opportunity. It shouldn’t be a “Hey, here’s this suggestion that’s specifically for me and some cool thing I’ve always wanted to do with a few kids,” type thing. That’s not very inspiring or enriching. To me, a proposal is a great big, collaborative deal. 

For example, a proposal is me having the nerve to suggest to a beautiful young woman who is still way too good for me that she spend the one life she has on me, and a request that she allow me to spend my one life trying to prove what we make of it together was worth her while in the end. It might sound a little melodramatic, but looking back, the universe rang the moment I was introduced to her, when I purposely held her hand a little longer than I should have for a simple pleased-to-meet-you handshake.

I think about how lucky I am today for having had that moment, and I hear that ring from way-back-then. 

So in honor of the blessing and the ringing in my head

Once some tiny bit of that vast, magical unknowable (sourced from science or the divine) is captured, then mixed with some piss and rubber from melted down tires, with the magical ending of an ass getting inked onto this jailhouse called Earth…I gotta believe that creation comes with obligation. An obligation to listen for that ringing, and to try and make it happen for others.

That’s where Enrichment begins.

An Enrichment Proposal: Introduction

Introduction:

Teaching has changed. Apparently becoming  a teacher is changing as well. I just saw an article out of NYSED saying so, I think. I have to go back and see for sure but I believe I got one of those widely spread, “from the office of…”, release/emails from the office of NY Ed Commissioner Rosa mentioning the Ed Department making it easier for student teachers to get into the classroom. 

At the start of the most recent “reform” movement, when the intent was to present lack of teacher quality and education accountability as the critical issues in student outcomes, it felt as if the certification process was made more difficult. Maybe a pendulum is swinging in the other direction? I don’t want to lower standards for those educating the citizens of tomorrow, but overall I think making certification a more coherent process is a good thing. I think making it more honest is even better. For the sake of honesty: I don’t think the quality of educators and candidates for the field, or difficulty of getting into the profession is at the heart of the “why” in teacher-supply challenges.

I think it’s more a matter of purpose and lack of integrity in those who began pushing those reforms a little over a decade ago. The teacher shortage was a widely recognized concern long before COVID because the job is getting more difficult and thankless and has been getting that way for some time. Invaded by the consequences of a lack of political will outside of schools, educators are left to battle the fallout from inhumane policy blowing into schools.

If you’ve worked for more than a handful of years in the classroom, you’ve seen that fallout for some time. You know children are being neglected and left behind by “American Exceptionalism”, becoming harder and harder to engage and educate. They are more absorbed by the eye-candy found on screens and the sales of superficiality (i.e. being tick-tock famous, having lots of “hits” and “likes”, owning the latest model of this or that…). We are raising other people’s children first in order to teach them, and the ones who do come ready to learn get shortchanged in the struggle to meet the needs of all.

Education, as it is being mandated from above, is less about the value we are adding to humanity and more about competing on the playing field of standardardization, the “free market”, the statistics, and determinations of value within human beings as demonstrated by the data they produce. Educators are continuously tied to these numbers in this statistical paradigm which lumps the ready to be “proficient” with those who struggle to be so. In this manner, our attention is drawn away from the actual human beings involved. That we are just all victims and left with oh well, what can we really do about it, to me, is complacency and surrender.

That shouldn’t be acceptable for other people’s children any more than it is or was for my own. That all being said, with much more to say, I’ll get to the point. I am proposing that educators do Enrichment. With a capital “E”. Not as an intervention or an add on, but as a mindset and approach for all.

Taking Advantage of this Opportunity to Think Big

So, we have an opportunity to think big, and out of the box? Good news:

I think big as a rule…

  …and when I think about the best way to take advantage of some “closing the gap” funds and a significant opportunity, I think of targeting the foundation of learning first. For learners that foundation is a cognitive “net” woven during development from fetus to nurturing to parenting to schooling to life… It starts at the core of the person, and continues in the parents’ arms, satisfying the most basic physical and emotional needs.

Then it starts developing beyond that core’s reflexive responses to start reaching, touching, interacting. Those infant experiences are intertwining and stretching-weaving together continuously and then reaching outward and interconnecting with every new experience, whether introduced intentionally or just through circumstance. That cognitive net engages with its environment, makes sense out of it based on what it has already established, and then has new understanding as new experiences are integrated. Threads are created, reinforced, branches shoot off for little side trips that might connect with or just tickle/tweak other relevant experiences…  The result of a well woven net (aka prior knowledge and experiences) is that learners more openly experience new settings, new people, new ideas, new understandings… Kids just absorb it as they live it and new experiences get cross-connected in a “seven degrees to Kevin Bacon” way.

     The prepared and adept learner has an intricate weave and can access and pluck a plethora of threads that send signals all across that net and return information that drives that weaving and ends up providing the foundation for students at the beginning of their k-12 experience. We would like them to be at least “ready to learn” at the very beginning, and in the very best case scenarios: prepared to soar.

It seems our students are having difficulty, though.

The foundation, that “net” is the key. It’s gaps where threads in the net might have been. It’s threads and experiences we wish weren’t there. The things we need students to be able to do aren’t accessible to them yet because there’s weaving to be done. Maybe even undone and then redone.   A few years ago, as part of ongoing efforts to understand the students and their lived realities, their culture, we were made aware of what a pervasive and oppressive force poverty is during a poverty simulation.

     The differences in the learners’ exposure to language and vocabulary. The proportion of positive to negative interactions, and how starkly different that proportion looks when comparing our most stable and nurturing homes to those on the other end of the spectrum. Those eager to attack what educators are trying to do with catchphrases like “poverty is just an excuse” come up short on substance because they know the truth. The poverty line is not just a number to be exploited (like standardized test scores), and to engage in a rhetorical battle to blame teachers for the perpetuation of inequity and oppression through political and economic policy is disingenuous or misguided.

This process starts with students’ core relationships with parents or primary caregivers in their lives, which form a personality that is either secure and attached or insecure and unattached. Securely attached children typically behave better in school (Blair et al., 2008).

Our academic mission is supposed to be our primary mandate, but we find ourselves having to spend a lot of effort on social and emotional gaps in order to get to that mandate.

The in loco parentis role (I’m told that means we are like crazy parents) kicks in because we find that prior knowledge/learning/skills (“ready to learn”) is wanting in the areas largely pertaining to learners’ empathy, emotional stability, social connections, sense of self-worth… A growing number are “trauma informed” in ways we wish we didn’t know about, but need to know about to be our most effective.  We are spending a lot of time actively nurturing in order to get to the teaching we’ll be held accountable for. 

     So, us crazy parents have no choice but to rush into situational fires to save these children, only to emerge with them, covered in soot with our eyebrows singed off.

     So that we can then make them take standardized assessments and later be shown spreadsheets of test data that show how badly we are failing them.

Sure we have to move that ELA test score needle in the right direction in a sustainable way, but it is going to require a shift in mindset not just doing the same things more rigorously.

     We still need to target those mandates, but doesn’t anyone wonder if we married our endeavor to the wrong spouse? I envision a more desirable common-law wife than HEDI, but getting rid of her evil influence is a side mission of my own.

In the here-and-now I’d like a shift away from:

  • continually identifying, measuring and remediating/repairing on the back-end to try and catch those falling behind and falling through that “net” because they haven’t engaged in experiences and exchanges that weave well.
  • thinking that the space inside the four walls of the classroom is the “least restrictive environment”. 
  • accepting the crap of disingenuous reformers with an agenda that is more about markets and their opportunities, less about children and what they need.

I’d like to shift towards:

  • helping learners weave in more threads to extend their nets with, giving them more cognitive integrity and flexibility to support further (and more independent) learning.
  • re-envisioning the least restrictive environment. In my mind it is outside the box, out in the world, or at least in one that mimics the flexibility to move into and out of various settings and cooperative (mixed grade level, even) learning groups within the school.
  • teachers being the respected experts who have say in how education gets done instead of blamed for the results when others tell them what to do.

So, let’s think big and “outside the box”.

     If the regular, standard setting/environment/program is one that allows more movement between settings and groups, it isn’t an “accommodation” or “program modification” when it happens. It IS the program, and one that sends the fewest “why am I different” signals to students because everyone is doing it. The movement through and reconfiguration of various groups would be continuous and feel organic, while actually being planned to combine students in a purposeful way and track progress towards academic and social/emotional targets.

      It’s establishing that foundation/net and growing a culture of learners on the front end, and it could help prevent some holes in the net while inspiring more learners to start weaving on their own.Think of a district-wide PBL where “effective” (thanks to HEDI for that, at least) means active participation in one’s own learning as well as the learning of the others in your community. 

My opinion is that focusing on our school culture and nurturing learners first is a better strategy than obsessing over raised bars, grit and rigor. 

      A well-nurtured and guided learner is prepared for that grit and rigor when it happens. We shouldn’t force grit and rigor onto them hoping for better outcomes. Remember the fable about the sun and the wind having the contest to see which could get a man’s coat off the fastest? The wind was sure that by sheer force it could achieve the goal by just blowing the coat off. The harder it blew, the tighter the man gripped, held, resisted… and the coat stayed on. 

     The sun simply shone. 

     The man took the coat off himself!

     Pretty cool that warmth did the trick. Even cooler that I am using “cool” and “warmth” together in a sentence that way. Hey look…I did it again!

So let’s think big, shine like the sun, and warm this place up!

What’s up with teaching

There is something amazing about that first sip of coffee on an almost cold enough to snow Sunday morning. Even at pretend 4:30AM (because it’s 5:30 real AMs), and at sixty-three real degrees in my living room, even though I have the thermostat set for what I now know is pretend 70.

Seems the furnace got added to the list of things needing fixin’ on this week’s agenda. It’s not a long list but there’s now more than one thing on it.

I look at the sunny side, though. I still have heat, and I have a home to heat to begin with. I’ll pay a little to maintain a good vehicle that no longer costs me a lot.

Like how health care could but probably never will be.

See, I’m not just a glass is half-full type; my glass is full. I’m just a little clumsy so a drop spills here and there. “Still full!” I say, because I don’t allow the lost drops to diminish the glass.

A glance at the clock, and I gauge my inner-being to see if he’s prepared to get the dog out of her crate earlier than usual.

If I go down to the furnace to open the first-floor zone, the dog will see me and think it’s time to get up and…

My inner-being tells me I really have no choice and should prepare to get the dog out. That means start the coffee, bundle up, put shoes on, grab a few treats, do the furnace, get the dog, take her outside and have coffee waiting when I come back inside.

I’m generally not this methodical, but when confronted with a set of challenges there is something about the teacher-brain (part of inner-being) that kicks into gear and lays out a plan lickety-split. It’s a skill that gets honed in the classroom because the pretend routine establishes a tendency towards procedure, while the reality of persistent confounding variables enhances a knack for problem solving.

But I need to get back to that coffee. Remember the coffee? This is a story about coffee.

Apologies to Arlo Guthrie, and if you don’t know that name just apologize to the person closest to you. I got distracted by the teacher stuff for a moment, and I know it seemed like forever, but consider this:

In the time of that ramble off-course with real me, pretend me got bundled up a little, went to the basement and got heat to the first floor, got the dog out the basement door (remembering to put on the don’t run off red collar), let the dog do her business after showing her how, came back in the side door, and poured a cup of coffee.

The coffee though, for whatever reason, was incredible. I don’t know if it was that I put in just the right amount of coffee grounds (I never measure, I dump-and-eyeball it). I don’t know if it was the combination of a slightly chilled face, a well-behaved (*cough*) dog that pretty much comes along when I call, and a favorite cup next to a fresh pot waiting for me.

Who knows what it was, but the first sip was heaven. Real me and inner being were one-hundred percent together at that moment, and the realization of the entire situation made me think:

What’s up with teaching?

There is additional heaviness that has come to the endeavor to educate.

So, I bring it around to the title. Here’s what’s up with teaching:

The combination of a Trump presidency and a pandemic has made teaching feel heavy. Heavy as in a weightiness to what it does, could, and should mean to educate. We are at a crucial moment and for those who survive the rising waters on higher ground or grow gills, and somehow end up reading this:

Teaching should not continue to mean ticking off boxes and analyzing progress towards serving an unacceptable status quo, because that status quo is why our struggles increase while being ordered to throw ourselves into the most of it by those who struggle least.

In service to “the economy” instead of mankind and creation, it seems.

Education should be preparation to combat that reality, not surrender to it or an illusion of “liberty and justice for all” that uses patriotism and religion as sword and shield slice up and beat down truth.

And yet here we are.

Around the nation COVID is coming back, closing schools, sending college kids home and threatening to overwhelm hospitals and medical services. This is not the way it should feel, but if it feels this way to a teacher, how does it feel for students?

That’s why I try to go at it hoping for the best. Remote teaching and remote learning is not the way this stuff should happen. In school, students shouldn’t be masked and distanced, but we have to be. This is what’s up with teaching, and I’m getting another cup of coffee.

Before you use history, know it.

I’m unhappy about the growing imbalance between rhetoric and reality in this lead up to November.

It has driven what was already a WrestleMania like plot-line into an epic battle for the soul of the nation, driven by a fantastical energy and fought by slavish cult followers.

What I did right there is an example of what I’m describing: “epic battle”, “slavish cult followers” and whatnot. It’s how issues and reality are lost in the logical fallacies and mythic narratives both parties distract us with-especially if they go unquestioned. You think Ravishing Rick really was going to steal Miss Elizabeth from the Macho Man with some magical smooch? If so, you might actually believe Joe Biden and Kamala Harris threaten the nation with some radical, far-left, socialist agenda that will rip out the very soul of the nation, because those two stories are grounded in about the same degree of reality.

Which is zero.

Biden and Harris are the party’s ticket because the Democrats fight off the left more ferociously than they would ever fight Republicans. If it was a Sanders/Warren ticket, in either order, I could see some thread of reason in the alarmist positions but be serious: no way the Democrats want to win that badly. They just want the reins of the center-right wagon that the Republicans pulled too hard, too right, too quickly. It’s a bipartisan wagon that has rolled this far because of the cooperation between the two parties.

But the donor-class is getting nervous.

They want stability back with a return to the quiet sort of cruelty and exploitation executed by both parties in cooperation. The market always squeezes 95% of the nation for the grease that fattens the few, Republican or Democrat. Trump, though, is kind of a dope about it. He’s doing it out in the great wide open, making his family out to be some type of royalty, and plowing forward with his red-hat brigades mindless of the pain and suffering, and executing a thinly veiled white-supremacist and classism agenda.

And the streets are boiling over.

It must be a little embarrassing for some of the early supporters, and that’s why you see some of the rats jumping ship. That’s why you see Conservative organizations like The Lincoln Project running anti-Trump ads. They know. They know Trump is dangerous. So dangerous, in fact, they’d get behind the Democratic ticket. If Democrats focused on issues-messaging they could win easily without turncoats from the right, but do you think they’d get behind issues that would win them voters let alone a Sanders/Warren or Warren/Sanders ticket?

In the immortal words of Joe Biden: “C’mon, man.”

I have even seen some people use “Marxist” as a way to describe the Biden/Harris ticket, but are you kidding? The two are probably about as much of a Republican ticket as you could fashion from what was the available field of Democrat candidates-other than a Bloomberg being thrown in somewhere, but that was highly unlikely. So instead of piddling with made up stuff we should set the ravings of the lunatic right and its melty snowflakes aside for a minute, and deal with racism.

If you are going to inject political party into how racism became a systemically oppressive force in this nation, you can’t use the Lincoln was a Republican maneuver and just stop, thereby absolved of any responsibility to reason. There was and is struggle faced by former slaves and their descendants then, and Black citizens today, to obtain that “liberty and justice for all” Republicans love to insist we all enjoy..

There is a debt owed, party affiliation aside.

When time and time again, radical right extremism is pointed to as a threat to our national security, the legitimacy of an “ANTIFA” threat has to be questioned. When doughy white right-wingers can wander around armed like wannabe soldiers, even invade statehouses and block roads, and be hailed as citizens exercising their constitutional (and “God-given) rights, don’t you wonder why unarmed Blacks are murdered almost indiscriminately for “resisting” and “not cooperating”. What is the difference between the rights, God-given or otherwise, granted to one group versus the other?

Now the violence and looting, which is happening, is the distraction because no one wants to talk about our obligation to address the larger core issue: that we need to prove “all lives matter”. If you dare let it leave your lips, you need to step up to that rhetoric. It’s not a Republican/Democrat thing, because both parties have come up short on that measure. There is no indicator of substance that a Biden/Harris platform wants to aggressively take on injustice, whether it’s social, political, economic or racial. Their platform is merely another “We’re not them” platform, and they are right, but it’s not nearly good enough.

Educators need to teach about racism.

Educators need to teach about racism. It’s impact on America’s past and present is undeniable, and there needs to be a counter-narrative provided to the “all lives matter” deflection coming from places of power and privilege. Clearly all lives don’t really matter to them, or our domestic and foreign policies would look much different.

But what can we do? We face a couple hurdles:

  1. Teaching truthfully or speaking truthfully about ways America has fallen and presently falls short of it’s professed ideals can get you labeled an America-hater, as opposed to a true citizen who understands civic responsibility and action.
  2. Curriculum was scrubbed of much beyond college and career ready goals in the most recent wave of attacks on public education (a.k.a. “education reform”). This resulted in a disproportionate amount of effort going into ELA and Math-the primary areas targeted for testing and accountability.

“Accountability” in this paradigm means find a way to blame schools and teachers for problems our social and economic policies create.

Existing political and economic establishments continue to suppress human potential.

The establishment deflects from our social and moral obligations. It does this to draw focus instead towards easily measured and exploited data that will validate, serve and preserve the establishment and its agenda. That’s why “education reform” is such a joke: it’s defined and driven by an establishment that resists needed reform itself and seeks only to perpetuate itself. It’s hard to teach about racism when the message from that establishment is:

What do you mean corruption, growing inequity, police brutality and racism? Look how bad your school’s test scores are!

So why should we be educating learners on the topic of racism?

What good is “college and career ready” if a students aren’t reality-ready and society-ready? Currently, citizens’ rights, civic engagement, and cloudy definitions of patriotism are in-our-faces realities. Many people want to remove monuments to racist history, while other people defend those monuments as American history, or “heritage”. But a heritage made up of what qualities and beliefs?

Protestors are in the streets demanding verification of the fact that Black Lives Matter, because time and time again it has appeared that those lives do not matter, are taken for granted, or are simply taken with impunity. To address this, educators need to be prepared to teach about racism. From the beginning, educators in America need to be honest with learners: racism was baked into our society from day one.

Honest examination of this history does not mean you “hate America”, it means you genuinely want to understand America as you move forward as an informed citizen.

How can we educate learners on the topic of racism?

That is a bit heavy for primary and elementary students, but we can certainly start young with how people should treat each other, and move towards a look at how our nation has or has not risen to that ideal. Think about it in terms of starting with simple classroom rules that should apply to the world outside of school as well. Pretty much the type of rules you would and should introduce at the beginning of the school year anyway.

Robert Fulghum is a great place to start, I think. In his All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Fulghum lists essential understandings regarding “how to live, what to do, and how to be.” Very basic, intuitive things, but at the same time things that are forgotten when doing the right thing is inconvenient or uncomfortable.

For example, the first things on Fulghum’s list are:

Share everything,

Play fair

Don’t hit people

I try to keep my own rules short, simple and accessible-you know, kid friendly stuff. Fulghum keeps it warm and fuzzy, and teachers should at first too. Hold off on Don’t shoot little kids on the playground and Don’t choke people to death on street-corners until at least second or third grade.

Make the link between these things we intuitively know are right, and what we should be able to honestly admit is wrong later on.

Instead of planting any ideas, I like to let students lead this thought process and discuss. Try this exercise in early elementary school thought-you could apply it to any grade because it is more appropriate to further develop as students get older:

You are the captain of an alien spaceship sent out from your home planet to explore the farthest reaches of space. When you land on Earth, you want to record your observations about the strange new place and the creatures and beings living there. Describe:

The human beings encountered in the explorer’s log.

Knowledge or gifts you want to share with the human beings. What do you tell them?

Things you hope human beings can share with you- what do you want to find out from them?

The more endearing responses will probably come from the youngest students. That is where the more pro-social behaviors are reinforced. The Do unto others… code. Older students might have become more jaded or started to develop some world-view or political identity, but don’t be surprised if they are still overwhelmingly in the peace and kindness zone.

Regardless, this is a good opportunity to extend thought. Ask “How should you behave when traveling and meeting new people, especially when arriving where they live?” The discussion might even include some personal experience stories.

Where it can get interesting is when you shift to American history, the mythos supporting “discovery”, and relationships between races.

After having had the chance to discuss alien space-explorer “log entries”, and What should YOU do if vacationing to a new country, ask students:

1) What do you know about Christopher Columbus?

and

2) What do you think his observations were after arriving on land?

This is another share back and discuss opportunity. Groups are great for this because some know more than others, and some can articulate thoughts better than others. Older students may have already been primed for heavier discussions centering on European conquest, but younger ones are likely more familiar with the myth of Columbus’s “discovery” of the “new world”. Brave Christopher Columbus ventured out across the ocean, discovered a new world, and America is great.

Primary age students might truly think Columbus thought and intended good things-as a responsible traveler and visitor should. After discussing some student thoughts regarding what Columbus’s observations might have been, let students know that we actually know what he thought. He kept a log, he wrote letters…We have a pretty solid recorded history of what he did.

Share with students Columbus’s initial impressions of the place, and of the people who lived where he made landfall.

In a 1493 letter to one of his patrons, Lord Raphael Sanchez, Columbus wrote:

“…mountains of very great size and beauty, vast plains, groves, and very fruitful fields, admirably adapted for tillage, pasture, and habitation. The convenience and excellence of the harbors in this island, and the abundance of the rivers, so indispensable to the health of man, surpass anything that would be believed by one who had not seen it.”

Of the people, Columbus says:

“…they are very simple and honest, and exceedingly liberal with all they have; none of them refusing anything he may possess when he is asked for it, but on the contrary inviting us to ask them. They exhibit great love towards all others in preference to themselves: they also give objects of great value for trifles, and content themselves with very little or nothing in return.”

How do these words make Columbus sound? What does he think of this place and the people? Admiration, awe, maybe what sounds like fondness for these generous kind people? This might match some of the student thoughts regarding what might have been going on in Columbus’s mind.

The kicker:

Then you tell them that his communications and log entries also included

“But, should Your Majesties command it, all the inhabitants could be taken away to Castile [in Spain], or made slaves on the island. With fifty men we could… make them do whatever we want.”

Or when you let them know that Columbus and his brother were not brave heroes, but cruel rulers and thieves that brutalized and decimated the population and left what would become Haiti devastated. Aura Bogado, in this 2015 article wrote:

“Haiti remains the poorest country in the all of the Americas; the European Union region remains one of the wealthiest in the world. This isn’t because of some innate curse on Haiti. It’s because its peoples, their labor, their lands, and their resources have long been embezzled without reparation.”

This is what Columbus did. He didn’t discover, he pillaged.

When we teach about racism, we don’t want to share the gruesome details with our youngest students. They should simply understand how racism has hurt people throughout our nation’s history, how a race believing itself superior will tend to be inhumane towards other races.

Also: They should be able to see who has and does benefit from the implementation of racist policies and practices. For the elementary youngsters, a gentler and somewhat diluted version is more appropriate.

Even better, another reflection question:

What if space travelers arrived on Earth, looked down on us and treated us with disrespect? Enslaved us, stole our children and separated families? Forced us to work for them and were cruel to us if we failed to please them?

What would us human beings do if that happens? Would we protest in the streets? Should we?

Building Brainpower 1: Hide-n-Seek, Dad’s Way

Learning can seem like magic when you observe it.

Starting with “peekaboo”, then moving to on-the-spot games like cover-uncover the binky (or some favorite little toy) with the spit-cloth, you are making magic happen. You are laying the foundation for a mind. Object permanence, the notion that even if I can no longer see it, I know that it exists. That quickly grows into I know it exists, and that it is somewhere where I can’t see it right now, so I COULD go find it. That’s where I’m heading with this: hide-n-seek.

First is the drive to explore, find things, get things, get into things…To recall where those things are kept and go there to get them! Who hasn’t found their child, new to and excited by the mobility of crawling, in the lower cabinets? Or in the laundry basket pulling out folded clothes; in the kitty litter pan pulling out…

Yeah, those kiddie cabinet locks are a pain, but you need them because kids are smart. And that’s just baseline smart with little effort or intent on behalf of the parent. The little rats basically come wired for trouble.

This is why intent and effort at this early stage have incredible returns on investment later on.

You really need to guide the development that itty-biddy humans are pre-wired for, because they’ll figure stuff out, alright. A responsible adult can move them in the direction of the right stuff to be figured out. While “responsible adult” might not apply to me in the traditional sense, I still attacked parenting with a mission in mind. I wanted my daughters to be super-sharp and out-of-the-box thinkers. Unafraid, self-assured, confident… And I know that type of person and mind is built. Beginning this building right out of the gate maximizes success.

At the same time baby-mind is developing that concept of object permanence with things, it is beginning to grasp the same concept with people. For example: Mommy or Daddy aren’t in the room, I can’t see or hear them, but if I call or cry they’ll come because they’re somewhere. They exist nearby and if I need something, they can help.

Once that understanding becomes locked in, baby starts to sleep in later, maybe start waking up giggling or babbling instead of crying for comfort because they know that comfort isn’t far away when they need it. They start to self-soothe and then even self-entertain. Baby thinks “Those important nurturing others that tend to me are somewhere nearby, so I can take a few minutes to swat away at that mobile, or shake and interrogate this Teddy here and try to make him answer a few questions.”

Okay, maybe not exactly that, but you get the picture.

The simpler object permanence concept starts to connect to the people and things in the environment and there is now an awareness of places beyond the immediate space-empowering planning to pursue some need or curiosity. Behavior is starting to become goal oriented and reaching out for other places and discoveries as mobility and curiosity increase.

Hide-n-seek is a powerful tool at this time because it exploits both the desire to interact and the growing desire to explore. Parents and guardians are vital in the development of mind and mindset, and you might as well have fun while you’re doing it.

The learning that goes on is perpetual, and it accumulates…

…threading, spreading, reaching, winding and weaving-making connections between things already known and the new things discovered- a nucleus of self and security shoots feelers out to establish other smaller conceptual “home-bases” (for parents, home, rooms, toy box, favorite foods…) that also shoot out to connect to related concepts. A connection might be made between the unusual sound of Mommy calling from some room where her voice resonates, and the room that makes it happen. That connection is made as Baby gets carried to it for a bath. The resonant sound is now attached to that bath place and Baby can hear in-person how it sounds, maybe shouting to hear their voice do it.

And, oh! The little yellow squeak ducky is there in its spot. Then it’s there again, and the next time, and again, every time it’s bath time. Pretty soon the mind has grasped where to go to find and get Ducky- It’s Loudvoice-Bathplace. When Baby becomes More-mobile Baby, he/she just might escape your sight, especially when you hit the walking/climbing stage. They’ll be on the way up the stairs to get Ducky on their own because they’ve pretty much mapped home in their memory.

They have become an adept seeker, and are now ready.

Stretching the mind of an adept seeker-child.

Seeking starts in the arms of one parent while the other hides. Looking in closets, under the beds, behind the shower curtain, with an occasional sneaky giggle from under the blankets as a “clue”. Baby starts to get that Daddy, Mommy (Brother, Sister…) are somewhere, but hiding on purpose, and the fun is discovering where.

Now while you are strengthening a mind and making connections, be warned that you are also inviting future trouble. Your consistent guidance on the how/where/when/why it’s appropriate to go off seeking is crucial. Trust me, the last thing you need is to be invited to the neighbors’ for dinner and have it be your toddler looking through Mister’s sock drawer. Curious is good, precocious and lacking discipline- not good.

So with the child at this stage, mobile, and knowing the home, I am going to switch from “child/baby” and just use a name. I am going to tell you how I did this with Chloe, the oldest of my three daughters.

We had followed all the required steps. The formalities had been observed.

For Chloe, finding me had become no challenge-other than how fast could she. Our house was quite tiny. But speed is a measure for concepts that are almost reflexive that get done pretty much the same way every time. Before calcification settles in you’ve got to throw in a curve and keep that hide-n-seek nucleus loose and capable of sending out new thread-connection to some novel concepts.

So I didn’t just hide, I used dishonesty and diversions.

It was probably by the tenth time of doing the same-old same-old that I changed it up a bit. Sitting in a chair covered by a big blanket was just too easy. Hiding behind the curtains that hung to just a few inches off the floor was too easy. Dad was either the lump in his chair or the feet sticking out from under the bottom of the curtains.

So I mixed it up.

Since we had already added the “Are you ready?” yell, and the “Not yet,” or “Come find me!” response, it was easy to buy the time to play a little trick and get myself hidden. Chloe was a good counter and could get to 20 and beyond with no problem.

This time my response was “Not yet, count again!”

I was busy, you see, constructing a “Dad-lump” under some blankets on the chair. Something bigger and poofy-er for the midsection, a couple throw-pillows maybe; a knit winter cap stuffed with some socks for the head, something to fill out that lap/leg space under the bottom of the blanket. Then, for the pièce de résistance: a baseball cap perched jauntily on top and a couple boots poking out on the floor down below.

There was no way a sane person, even a child, would think that lump was me.

But they’d think it just might be!

Chloe came down the stairs and ran to the Dad-lump to tear away the hiding blankets, only to be surprised by the stuffing. And then the giggle from behind the curtain where a different pair of Dad’s shoes could be seen. Sure, it only added about five seconds to the time it took her to find me, but keeping her from finding me was the last thing I cared about. I was dropping a new, little, pliable concept-nucleus. One for subterfuge and how to do it right.

I could have stopped with the lumpy stuff covered with blankets. But the hat perched on top and the boots down below added a twist. Visible cues that Daddy is being tricky, but this is just silly. He’s not really wearing that hat or those shoes-he’s making a crazy-looking pretend Daddy! What now happens is independent creation and invention start to branch out.

Chloe would occasionally make a fake Chloe, with a hat, maybe a pair of mittens…which I had to discover loudly and with cartoon villain frustration. She also started to adopt some of my “misdirection” techniques:

“I’m under the blanket.” (When I’m really behind the curtain)

“I’m in the closet.” (When I’m really under the blanket)

“I’m behind the curtain.” (When I’m really in the closet)

She would hear where I was calling from and go directly to that spot, at which time I would protest loudly “No, not here, I’m in (that other place)!

Deception, invention, creation…

Scenarios, strategies and possibilities. A world of pretend is opened up through this kind of play. With it comes the understanding that by using the creative mind-more things become possible. I am not advocating destructive dishonesty, but an ability to conceptualize and describe possible realities, stories that haven’t been told, ways to use the materials and supplies around to make cool things happen. I don’t want you to think I had fun lying to my children. At least not yet.

Because next comes the Lying to Children as a Brain-Builder!

Being me being presidential

You know they talk about my twitter, you know, tweet. Tweeting? Have you heard? I’m sure you have. Three billion followers. All over the world. Something like that, it’s a big number. A really big number for a president. The biggest, maybe in history. They say Lincoln, you heard of him? A lot of smart people say he was a really good president. Great president, really, some say. I’d say he was in my top five somewhere, it depends. Maybe not for my second amendment folks, ahhh? You’re really thinking about that second amendment now, aren’t you. You gotta’ liberate that second amendment! Liberate it! That’s right.

But Lincoln didn’t tweet. He said some stuff people remember. Famous stuff. You learn about it in school. You know how that really big one goes? That “Four scores so many years ago” thing?  A lot of people don’t know that was him. That was Lincoln, can you believe that? No one knew it. I knew it. Now the stuff that I say is even more famous because I tweet, and everybody loves it. That’s how you know these guys right here are fake news. They tell you “Nobody likes it” and “The president was mean on twitter,” have you heard that fake news?

Our hardest workers at risk

“Facts don’t care about your feelings” is the tagline of a young conservative hero who always sounds like his feelings were hurt. Mr. Feelings (a.k.a. Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro) recently whined about Amazon workers striking over low pay and unsafe work conditions amid this pandemic. He even suggested that given the power he’d fire them all and replace them with people willing to work. He’s one of those gems of the mindless right that views the working class as disposable, until suddenly realizing how essential they are. Comfortably at home awaiting delivery of his online purchases, he might not get what it takes to keep him in the style he’s become accustomed to.

Closer to home we don’t have millions of people needing deliveries, but my house gets a few. I have those Amazon workers to thank, and I want them taken care of. I also know that in health care facilities around us, some of the most underpaid and overworked people provide critical care, and now do so with added risk to them and their loved ones. In addition, some fine local restaurants have provided take-out service that has made isolation feel a little less isolated.

This brings to mind consideration regarding how we reward and retain these dedicated workers, and how to unite to help small businesses around us survive. In our current system, it has become common for those in power to ignore the vulnerability of those much less powerful. But imagine instead a capitalist system actually based on merit, not speculative value or policies corrupted by that speculation. A system where whiners like Ben Shapiro aren’t so well compensated simply because they whine so well. Where one with considerable wealth might be burdened by riding an elevator to executive suites knowing someone on that same elevator is almost as wealthy- but also knowing that the contractor maintaining the two elevators he has in his mansion can afford braces for his kid, or roof repairs, or can go to urgent care if he has a fever.