"School choice" where pragmatism and propaganda collide.

Recently, the word “pragmatic” came to me in a reply to a brief twitter conversation. It was used by the author (I consider tweeting to be authorship) as a qualifier for good education policy/solutions. Essentially, that is a “What should we realistically expect  to get for our poorest and most under-served children, I mean really” (pragmatic) presentation of a “What efforts can I promote to stroke an image or agenda?” (propaganda) position.

But I don’t think a pragmatic settling for less should be the “go to” when it comes to improving outcomes for children. That’s like surrendering and accepting the attacks on children’s minds, bodies, hearts and souls coming from all directions, shrugging off the losses incurred, all while patting yourself on the back for any opportunistic half-effort made within that paradigm.

In education, that half-effort is called “school choice”.

Often, the framing of the school choice issue is that privileged families have all the choice they want, so why shouldn’t others who need it get choice as well? In that narrative, the lucky ones wander the vast school-scape looking for whatever school they want for their children and are just given access to the most fabulous schools and teachers they manage to find. The least privileged, on the other hand, are trapped where they are, in the sinking ship of failing schools manned by bad teachers, denied the freedom to wander that school-scape to choose the schools they want.

I am not so certain that privileged people wander around choosing schools. I am more inclined to believe that their schools end up having better outcomes because of the resources and stability within the communities they are in. When communities are oppressed, abandoned by the world around them, economically deprived and lacking in cohesive personal and social supports, the negative impacts compound in ways that carry over into the schools trying to serve the children living there.

So it’s no surprise that parents seek escape for themselves and seek schools less impacted by these forces for their children. Because that demand is there, it also isn’t a surprise that a market of educational lifeboats (i.e. charter schools) would arise to rescue them. Something has to be done, and as a wise man once wrote:

“ending poverty and integration are politically difficult and financially expensive goals at a time when political courage is in short supply and many elected officials – especially on the right – seem intent on starving government”

We can see this reality play out now in the current Democratic race for the presidential nomination. Leaders of the party that were once the party of the working class, the party that preserved the social safety net, now demonstrate a disdain for the working class and the poor and look to undermine and block candidates trying to pull the party of the pretend left back to the actual left. Education policy has been victimized by that rightward lean for some time, and that has led to an approach that favors free-market style solutions rather than a call to the moral and social obligations of public education.

It boils down to social and political thought that not only holds the reins of power, but has become captured by and enraptured with the wealth equals value mindset-the notion that the more money someone has or the more money something can make, the more valuable to us all it is. This fuels a bottom lines (dollars) and test scores (data) approach to school reform and school choice that deflects attention from the human condition and holds educators responsible for numbers on paper, not the actual little human beings in classrooms, in schools, in communities ignored by policymakers unwilling to address the human condition because of their lack of political courage.

Billionaires who like being looked to as authorities on how we can all be better (like them) like trapping people in that mindset. Politicians like helping to impose that mindset on the electorate because it keeps millions of people who deserve to be represented chasing the visions, policies and mandates advised by the fewest people with the most money, which is now equated with speech, and political math is simple on this matter: more money buys you more speech.

And that’s how we end up with propaganda. It’s “failing schools”. It’s “bad teachers” protected by unions and just riding it out for their cushy pensions. Funny, it never seems to be lead in the drinking water, over-policing in struggling communities, lack of health care, jobs that pay so little that it keeps parents out working instead of home hugging…

Pragmatically speaking, the response might be, how can you honestly represent and fight for the needs of the many in the current paradigm, we might as well just let them make their own schools. I am one hundred percent in favor of choices but when you start to qualify/quantify by applying words like realistic, scalable, pragmatic… Then the underlying message seems to be We can’t really do what we should for all, so let’s just do what we can for who we can. What kind of choice is that?

Is there a merit badge for surrender?

We are the teachers, so be honest about our students.

Be real about our students. We are their teachers, so we know what’s going on and can spot edu-BS from those who don’t know or who refuse to be honest about what is going on. While seven Democratic candidates for the presidency spent a day this past December sharing their perspectives at the Public Education Forum 2020, and the audience and moderators pressed the candidates regarding their plans for public education, there is still a lack of experienced rank and file teacher voice at such events. The reality of what is dealt with in our public schools, delivered by those with ongoing firsthand experience, would carry far more value than political campaign style events.

This is the problem with “reforming” education from above and outside. It ignores the experts and replaces their input with a “failing schools and entrenched ineffective teacher” narrative. Danger lies in the path that is leading down this rabbit-hole. These are the “in-roads” for the attack on democratically-run truly public schools serving the communities they are located in.

Don't just count your blessings, share them

This was a letter to the editor I wrote to The Cortland Standard. I heard from somebody that it was in the paper, but I’m not sure what date.

Don’t just count your blessings, grow and share them. My daughters are home and it’s the time of year when I think things like this. Supposedly Mother Theresa said something like that: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” My three ripples amaze me with their hearts, minds, and horrible senses of humor, and I believe they cast out decent stones of their own.

But I worry about the world they are growing into. We hope for leaders to be those ripples and represent our values-not realizing we are the ones responsible for making the world we want. Politics is theater, and it has descended into bipartisan tragedy. Republicans promise to ignore their constitutional duty and simply do as their king commands. For them, free speech is about freedom to be mean to others. On the leftish side, Democrats are most obsessed with blocking progressive policies and working-class voters behind them. Their “big tent” and “unity” propaganda is just demands to get under the tent they say and unite behind the candidate they choose.

My Christmas wish is for better from both, and leadership reflecting  the goodness that people send out. But there’s no power in wishing. So I’m left with my stones and ripples. I’m not going to worry about whether or not Santa is going to get into the fridge and take one of my beers again. He deserves one. That’s a stone I’ll cast and the houses he visits afterward will feel the ripples. I’ll hug my girls, we’ll think aloud over some nog about the state of the world, and plot their takeover. More stones, right? ‘Tis the season, so I have come to grips with sharing my blessings, not just counting them.

Critique of Warren (or Clinton) isn’t always sexist

I don’t think I am sexist, but maybe I am and just don’t know that I am?

This issue arose as I exchanged messages with a few on twitter regarding the candidacy of Elizabeth Warren. I can comfortably say that when you engage in critical analysis of ideas, and the ideas are those of a woman, critique isn’t evidence of sexism or misogyny-it’s evidence of an ability to engage in critical thought.

If you are involved in public education, assessment and the analysis of data: it’s vital that you know what that type of cognitive engagement means and what qualifies as evidence of it happening. To suggest that a person’s ideas aren’t worthy of standing alone for analysis and must be defended simply because the thinker is a woman says more about you, your lack of objectivity and your feelings regarding a woman’s ability to think than the nature of the critic or the critique. 

But let’s just keep it about my analysis regarding candidates, not the self-congratulatory “gotcha” mindset of those who latch onto what’s in a candidate’s pants instead of what is in their platform.

If Warren had run against Clinton in 2016, I would have voted for her over Clinton in a heartbeat. Over Sanders too, to be honest. That move by Warren would have spoke to what is in her heart and to her drive to lead- and a belief that she would be better for this country than Hillary Clinton (which I believe is true). Even though I was inspired by the Sanders run, and am again, I knew (then and now) that the machine would rise up against him in a way it wouldn’t be able to against Warren. I had seen Warren speak about a First-Lady Clinton and read her words about what allegiances with the wealthy do to candidates and office-holders:

 “The bill was essentially the same, but Hillary Rodham Clinton was not,” she wrote. “Hillary Clinton could not afford such a principled position. Campaigns cost money, and that money wasn’t coming from families in financial trouble.” (from this 2016 Washington Post article)

I had also seen prior to that the February 2005 testimony given by Warren regarding consumer protection from bankruptcy. You know, the one where lifelong mansplainer Joe Biden sides with protecting the profits of creditors over consumers, and tells a then Professor Warren in a very paternalistic way “You’re very good, Professor”   when it becomes clear that he is intellectually and morally outmatched.

I actually thought back then: This woman could be president someday.

But Warren didn’t run for the 2016 election and my choice was Sanders or Clinton. Have you asked yourself why Warren didn’t run? The seeds of a potential run must have been germinating in her mind. She must have thought about it. Others besides me must have hoped she would.

Her unwillingness to step up to seek leadership was probably a result of her being told not to; being informed that it was Hillary’s turn; that this Hillary run was planned in 2008 after a humiliating defeat by Hope and Disappointment Obama. So Warren dutifully stepped aside, and actually endorsed Hillary-even though her self-styled persona would seemingly align more with Sanders. Ironic that the banker and Wall Street shamer sided with the candidate who refused to release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches and not the candidate who made no such speeches. I was hoping then for a Sanders/Warren ticket when Warren didn’t run, so those hopes were dashed.

But let’s stick to the here and now. I am still inspired that two candidates who offer the potential for new directions are near the front of the pack. I am sad that the establishment and mainstream media have whipped a Biden candidacy with no other justifications than nostalgia, association with President Obama, and fear of the change we so desperately need. There are too many strikes against the man already, and he just keeps swinging his bat around like some kind of maniac who doesn’t even realize he’s not up to the plate. And there isn’t a pitch to swing at. And he’s not on a baseball field. Or talking to Corn Pop at the local pool.

Warren and Sanders. Neither are unintelligent, and both have a history of being on the better side of many issues, in my mind. So why wouldn’t they team up and sweep this mother? They would be an unstoppable force and it can’t be that I am the only one who knows it. “Alas” (as an expert on being passive-aggressive once wrote). It appears I won’t get that ticket and need to compare/contrast (common core literacy standard for that skill at the grade level I teach is here) . “No tears, please” (to quote a genius I know well). To adults and children who fear those CCLS performance indicators: we can do this.

They both agreed on about 90 some percent of the votes in the 115th Congress (2017 to 2018), and are seemingly pretty simpatico , which is why I am trying to send some psychic unity vibes their way. Honestly, I don’t care who is on top of that ticket.

But there are key differences between the two. One is her support of military budgets and U.S. militarism:

“While Warren is not on the far right of Democratic politics on war and peace, she also is not a progressive—nor a leader—and has failed to use her powerful position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to challenge the status quo. While she’s voted for military de-escalation on some issues, including ending the Yemen War, she’s gone along with some of the most belligerent acts that have occurred under her watch, cheerleading Israel’s devastating 2014 war on Gaza and vocalizing her support for sanctions against Venezuela.”

Another is her willingness to court the big money. It just doesn’t look good for a candidate who has positioned herself as a watchdog of the wealthy elite and big money interests to turn around and take the payoffs from them.

Didja take offense at me saying she “scolds” them while Sanders “fights” them? Huh…didja? Suck it up. Money buys allegiance and policy, everybody knows it. Sanders is clearly more aligned with the masses, and that is why the money is aligned against him, and that is why I would choose him first.

It’s unfortunate that people who pose as data-minded, objective thinkers ignore history and historical patterns, evidence, behaviors, and data when it comes to those we would choose as leaders and those that a “Citizens United” paradigm allows us access to . It is weak thinking, whether male or female, and the failure of those types of voters, a failure to demand a better type of candidate and leader, that brought us a Trump presidency. Yuuup.

So, from a man who owes who he is today to his wife; from a father of three brilliant daughters who won’t take crap from anyone and will one day rule the world: I blame you morons for us having a President Trump. Not any “bro’s”, not sexists or misogynists. Get over yourself and give up your sad scapegoats and excuses. Vote the way you want, but if you go public with accusations that avoid intellectual engagement and deflect attention from your weakness in character: expect return fire.

Only my daughters

About halfway through this family vacation, we looked for some active participation thing for the kids to do together. Jet skiing? Parasailing? A museum or a tour of some sort? One of the things my daughters and their cousin have enjoyed in the past are escape rooms. That is what they have decided to do.

If you aren’t familiar with these things, these “escape rooms”, let me describe them briefly. They are far more than rooms, and yes-the point is that the challenge is to escape. The escape is quite often a successful navigation of a mystery or adventure of some sort, not you as the victim of a kidnapping or unlawful restraint. The “escape” is a stage by stage progression through multiple rooms and areas as you successfully solve each stage of the mystery or quest. You emerge “free” at the end if you are successful in the time allotted.

A couple years ago I did one of these escape rooms with my two older daughters and a college classmate of the oldest. Between the four of us we believed we had quite a collection of brainpower, so we chose the most difficult “room” (you are provided a success percentage in the description of each before you sign up). We succeeded with the granting of a few extra minutes. Your progress, I guess, is observed via close circuit video and occasionally a voice from the sky either provides vital information as it’s scripted, or may give a hint. I think the extra time came after my oldest, in a moment of worry and frustration, looked up into the camera and said:

 “Can we please have more time. I will do…anything.

We escaped, and nothing ever came of that commitment, but my daughter worries about the day when the phone rings and that debt comes calling. She also worries about going back into the clutches of the same organization she made such a huge open-ended promise to. Which will happen tomorrow.

Of course I’m dramatizing this. There’s very little chance that all will happen. What will happen, though, or what is very likely to happen, is that these kids will run out of time and some very befuddled escape room staff will wonder what the hell is wrong with my daughters, my nephew, and the tagalong boyfriend who came with us. He’s an awesome kid. He came with number two, is a little younger than her, but a standup young guy.

Anyways, why my prediction?

They spent the time immediately after deciding on the escape room, and once again choosing the hardest room, deciding on what roles each would play within the world of the challenge. They have chose some pirate themed one. The basics are that they are supposed to complete a mission on the pirate ship in service to their captain. Before they get any details on what we’ll be paying for, though, they have decided to hatch their own plan. They have picked pirate names and back stories. They have assigned general roles. They are practicing pirate accents and insults. And have done a blind draw to see which one will take on the role of a traitor to the group… All I can imagine is these facilitators watching them act out this crazy crap as if they are on a stage built just for them and their story, while they try to complete the story they’ve paid for.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes.

My Good Fortune

I can’t explain my good fortune

I can’t explain my good fortune, and why should I try? It is what it is. I am consumed by the understanding that I am blessed, I am nearly brought to proud tears daily when I am lucky enough to spend time with my family. My daughters three, one in college, the second off to college, and three navigating the path through high school, amaze me with their keen intellects, warm hearts, and  open souls. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve these people around me.

But consider first what this train of thought implies. Was some decision made to grant me these things, this life, these daughters, my wife? Or instead, have my decisions and my approach to the world sown the seeds for the garden that has grown? I can hardly believe I’ve earned it, I just need to acknowledge that it’s here, and realize that my navigational skills (and let’s say it’s spiritual and intellectual navigation, okay? I mean, I could get lost in my own home town) have some influence.

So follow me, let’s talk navigation, I’ll be Magellan.

Republican leaders ’take shelter behind hypocrisy’

This first appeared as a letter to the editor in the Syracuse Post Standard. It can be seen online here.

For the Republican Party, religion seems more about branding, less about belief. Passing time brings less doubt. Make no mistake, I’ve been a political junkie since the day I turned 13 plus one week. That night, I watched 6-foot-something of Bryll Cream and B.S. say, “There you go again.” It was a smug, rehearsed response to another man’s observation that Republicans would gut social programs. The former would go on, as president, to pursue that exact agenda. The latter would go on to build houses for the homeless, bring medical care to the sick in impoverished nations, and serve to this day as an actual example of grace and morality.

I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time in church, though I could do with more — only for the fact that it could make me a better son. But there’s no religion I know of that allows you to take shelter behind hypocrisy and still claim the moral high ground. Sen. Mitch McConnell should just come out and say, “I am going to blame the Democrats for obstructing if I don’t get my way, and then I will proudly refuse to cooperate with anything they want to do. Amen.” Now their standard-bearer is either an embarrassment to silently endure, or champion they are ashamed to claim.

The true struggle, though? Overcoming the complicity of Democrat leaders. They have somehow turned “lesser evil” into an art form. No wonder new blood within their ranks has both sides worried.