Stop Whining About Teacher Sick Days

My daughter just told me that one of her teachers had wanted to come in to work today, but a friend of hers (another teacher at our school) stopped her.

The former has just started chemotherapy because of a recent diagnosis. She is a seasoned teacher, a leader, well known and loved. I have had two of her children as students in my classroom. The latter is a very good friend of hers and likely felt compelled to push for a focus on self-care and recovery instead of committing (because of sheer dedication and love for teaching) to “the daily grind”.

I think my daughter’s teacher wanted to be in school, engaging students in excellent thinking, great work and taking her mental focus off of the battling cancer stuff. Also, she knows that the difference a great teacher can make is increased along with the time they are with their students. She knows this, like all great ones do, and despite the haters and all their moaning about how little teachers work, their summers off and banker’s hours: most teachers want to be in school for their students than they want to be away from their students. But people get sick. even teachers, even the great ones. So do the very good ones, the pretty good ones, the fair ones…and yes, even the bad teachers get sick. People get sick. They can’t plan when sick, why sick, how sick, or how long sick. Everybody gets sick at some point. People get sick.

But unlike most people: teachers of all stripes and locations within the artifice of a HEDI scale are exposed daily to pukers, coughers, snot-wipers, close-huggers, every-thing-touchers…Every cold and virus that goes through a family that has children goes into school with those children. Now multiply that by all the families and all the children going into school. And then consider that lots of teachers and children are in buildings that generously share a little of the rain and snow/heat and cold on the outside with some of the places and people on the inside. Drop-ceiling tiles show gross, brown stains and sags where roof-tar water has dripped and pooled. Musty, dusty smells in some places indicate that it is the kind of situation that runs a risk for mold and other air-borne contaminants.

Staff members might describe being chronically sick during the school year (not during summer) and parents describe increases in symptoms (coughing, sneezing, throat-clearing…) during the school year and/or in some specific homerooms. Many, many school buildings and facilities across the country are older buildings in need of continual repair. The roofs leak, the paint chips, the ventilation systems don’t work the way they should. Too hot, too cold, infested with vermin …and so on.

And yet some reformers take a perverse pride in choosing to ignore the conditions the poorest have to live and learn in…

…and that educators have to try to teach them in, and preach school “choice”  instead. That is disrespectful of teachers and neglectful of students who spend entire school years and extended hours daily in those buildings and with all those kids and all those other people. Some of those teachers do this for thirty years or more! Is it any wonder that a teacher gets sick once in a while?

It’s understandable that the drooling human rats looking to nibble away at true public education want to point to things like the “sick-out” in Detroit, as a perfect example of teachers abusing their benefit time. But beyond the fact that the time is theirs, and that something was likely given up in negotiations to get those sick days in their contract (they are not just a gift benevolently given): when teachers act together to advocate for better conditions to teach in, they are also advocating for better conditions for children to learn in. This is why teachers banding together against a lack of political and economic will is a good thing.

“Considering the average teacher salary in DPS is $63,716, this means that funds that could have paid nearly five people’s salaries went towards legal fees to sue teachers who were fighting this winter, when the suit was filed, against deplorable working conditions…” (Allie Gross, July 2016)

Interestingly: the self-righteous, editorialized lamenting over the children whose futures are sacrificed when teachers take sick days is generally not matched with columns of concern for children perpetually sacrificed to unsafe neighborhoods, lead-tainted drinking water, lack of access to sound nutrition and proper health care, absence of stable and gainful employment that sustains families and communities, programs that encourage the conditions and skills within families that prepare children for school success…

It saddens me as a teacher to see a “reform”campaign that proudly advocates driving parents towards the open arms of a market that actively separates, divides…

…and only serves to the extent that the market is served. Civil rights and civics get wrapped into the propaganda with talk of “parent rights” along with publicity stunts and slogans like “don’t steal possible”– the whole time denying the when, where, and how the stealing is actually happening; why so many children are coming to school unprepared and why some of the most high profile “choice” schools unashamedly refuse to serve them. The conditions in their communities, homes and families impacts their readiness to learn,  and we would do better by the children to take the goal off of the market and put it back on the people.

“Learning begins at birth. By the time children turn three, they have already begun laying the foundation for life-long learning and success.”

So why no real concern for communities, children or their families-the foundation of good outcomes?

Because it costs money to address the real systemic and endemic evils policymakers enthusiastically sacrifice our children to daily, and to get that money you may have to spend less on bombs, war, corporate subsidies, etc…But you can save or even make money gutting the middle class, labor protections, teachers’ pensions and benefits (like sick days, remember sick days? This is a piece about sick days. I’m bringin’ it around I swear, but I think and write like Arlo Guthrie doing Alice’s Restaurant), the public commons of schools and taxpayer dollars meant to maintain that commons for the good of all…

This can no longer be pinned to typical Republican evil, because despite the current scary right-wing agenda being driven-the Democrats have helped slow-walk us to where we are today. They might be the “lesser evil” but are complicit in bringing the greater evils. The reformer response to their lack of will in addressing those greater evils is usually the typical dodge: “We are in a crisis! We can’t waste time addressing the decaying communities, destabilized families, crony capitalism, political dishonesty that backs our agenda-we just need to focus  on pumping out propaganda on the evils of unions and the promise of an edu-market of ‘choices’.” Or it may be continued promotion of alternative certification for teachers (de-stabilize, de-professionalize the profession), cheap disposable TFA teachers who’ll work a few years and then move on to some political action, non-profit organizing, charter-school creating, uber-driving…whatever. As long as salaries, unions, benefits and pensions can be reduced, eliminated and/or side-stepped. It’s that exciting new transient, insecure, lack of commitment to people, families and children economy and job market that “choice” proponents seem to crave. Choose-em, use-em and lose em I guess.

But, back to sick days (I told you I’d bring it around).

With so much that really needs reforming how can reformers effectively whine about career teachers, their salaries, their benefits, their sick days? “Most people only get two sick days a year…”, “Most people don’t get a pension…, “The days of careers that last 30 years are in the past…” It’s all language intended to sow resentment and discord among the lower classes and encourage acceptance of on-the-job exploitation by the wealthiest (through the government and economy they own) who themselves enjoy the revolving door of never-ending, high-paying opportunities to fail outward, upward or away. This is the paradigm, by the way, that gives birth to a Trump presidency-where those who enjoy position, privilege, protection and pay believe they have earned it, and that their millions or even billions should entitle them to more respect than your average worker, or family, or child…

So back to here, returning  home after my psychedelic journey of a rant.

It is, about 8PM, and my 16 year old daughter is absorbed in some school work, typing and sending some questions to this very teacher at home, by email, regarding the writing of the constitution. How/why was Madison chosen to do the writing and not Bartlett and Dickinson (the writers of The Articles of Confederation, the predecessor to The Constitution)? Interesting question. Even though I’m an elementary teacher, I’m a history buff and have a feel for the tenor of those times (and love to weave history into stories I tell) when leaders sought to make a more unified and powerful (but clearly defined and “checked”) central government. The Articles empowered states in their own interests while the “founding fathers” looked for a more unifying document the put more power in a central government, I know that much but can’t help my daughter with this one.

That’s my daughter, any of my three girls, really.

…wondering about the people and personalities of revolutionary times, and how they were involved and intertwined, not crying over a boy, complaining about a mean girl…She wants to communicate with her teacher. I almost tell my daughter not to bother her, but then I know (or I think I know) that a serious student who is a serious thinker and has a serious question has some healing value. So she sends this teacher, my colleague, the woman beginning a battle with cancer and staying home, her question.

Within 10 minutes my daughter gets a response. It is a mix of admiration for a “great question from a great writer”, an admission of not knowing too much about the specifics of how the decision to choose Madison to write The Constitution was made, a direction to seek out a real history buff teacher at the high school, and (get this)…some seeming enthusiasm for a homework assignment my daughter inspired for her as a teacher.

And I bet she will actually use her sick days to do that homework.

I get that it bothers those looking to exploit others that groups can organize to resist exploitation. But the whining about the sick days teachers have and take has to stop, okay? The resentment wealthy strategists want to sow for what little is left of job security and respect for workers will not reap the benefits anyone wants, and making comparisons to other disrespected workers is not a license to spread that disrespect.

It’s time for any describing themselves as a “reformer” to reflect on who they serve, what it is they are really trying to reform and what they are and are not willing to push for. Whining about sick days in not helpful.

 

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Growing up Then, What About Now?

Retitled from a past post here

My great grandmother, Ada (Burgess) McConnell taught in a one room school house in Summer Hill, N.Y. Her son (My grandfather Halsey McConnell) served in the army during W.W.II. My grandmother (Lucille) was a woman of faith and family. Her neighbors, her church, all of them and all of us were among her primary concerns.

I remember them all well.

Ada lived to be 96 years old and was always a gracious and clever woman. When I was a young boy, she was adept at keeping me busy looking for four leaf clovers, swatting flies for a penny a piece, or going through photos from long ago-telling me about the people and places in them. She never stopped being a teacher. My grandmother was determined to get us to church. I can recall a few different head pastors in the church, many of the “regulars”and while it wasn’t the most favorite place for a boy to be on a beautiful Sunday morning, that country church was part of my childhood. Sunday church in Sempronius often came with an after church stop at the general store for a candy bar-possibly a slight detour to the rod and gun club for their chicken barbecue. Grandma was good at getting us to church on time, no matter how we attempted to thwart her. She had a comb at the ready. Tissues and grandma-spit were the wet wipes “back in the day”. I remember thinking one time that getting my church clothes dirty would be my ticket to unsupervised outdoor country trouble instead of church.

I had underestimated my grandmother.

From the depths of the house, fashion from the 50’s showed up. Probably having once belonged to my own father or Uncle Denny (his younger brother), the clothes were close enough to my size to get me redressed, far enough away from current trends and my size to get me beat up if I had been going to school instead.

My grandfather was practical and wise about the world, while still being inappropriate in the most awesome ways. If you could have combined W.C. fields, Groucho Marx and Archie Bunker, you would end up with someone like my grandfather. He lived to a respectable age, but it’s likely that lifestyle changes might have added another decade to that life. If I close my eyes and imagine him, it’s with a beer in his hand. A cheap beer. In his other hand is a cigar that was smoked down about halfway, but gone out long ago and more of a placeholder in his mouth to be possibly re-lit at some point, but maybe not as well. Chewed down, black and soggy on the end, I sometimes catch myself wondering why he didn’t just chew tobacco, but then I remember that he simply chewed his cigars.Sometimes there were car rides after the kids came back from church with Grandma, where my grandfather and my father would take the front seat, me and my younger brother would be in the backseat. The trip would often be a long and winding circuit to Moravia to pick up a 12 pack, maybe a watermelon and a Sunday paper, sometimes other things. Often the trip back would stick to the back roads: taking us up behind Fillmore Glenn State Park on an indirect course home.

Dad and Gramp handing back empty cans, us boys handing up the refills.

My grandfather would drive casually, left elbow out the rolled-down window concealing the beer held just out of sight in his left hand. Right hand on the steering wheel somewhere between 12 and 1 o’clock and that cigar/pacifier in between his index and middle finger when it wasn’t in his mouth. Sometimes we’d go by the birthplace of Millard Fillmore. Sometimes we’d stop and see Charlie Peak, who sold discount shoes. Sometimes we’d go by the Summer Hill nudist camp, and my grandfather would say “Keep your eyes open boys-you might see something!” He was the best kind of wise-ass you could ever want to know. He really was laughing with you, not at you.

Gramp used to tell stories about his time in Europe while he was in the army. The German soldiers captured, he said, were decent guys-just doing what they had to do. The officers now, they were the Nazi’s, the arrogant bastards. You could tell they thought they were smarter than you. Not that smart I guess now, were you? The soldiers would try to run to be on the work detail Gramp was guarding. They liked him so much that Gramp could grab a nap and they would work and wake him if an officer was approaching, and he had to tell those prisoners to not be so enthusiastic about running to be on his detail or t They were, Gramp said, happy to have been captured. Their treatment and conditions as prisoners of the Americans were far better than the conditions they had been in.

Dad tells stories about Gramp. About how when Gramp was a boy the local law was a constable. An honest to goodness man on a horse who would patrol the area, staying the night at one family’s house or another as he made his rounds. Gramp dumped wood-stove ashes in the constable’s boots one time while the constable slept. Another time, skipping school to go pheasant hunting, Gramp encountered the constable. They made an agreement that if Gramp laid low and didn’t get caught, the constable wouldn’t tell. When Gramp returned from the war, that same constable picked Gramp up at the train station. He had moved up from the horse and now had a car. The constable took Gramp out for a drink before delivering him home.

This was a time when it wasn’t who you know, or how high you could climb above them and/or others-it was about how you treat the people you know.

My experiences as a child were interesting, most of the places I spent time at, the things I saw/did, the people I hung around…they are the things you hear about kids today (kids who struggle with the responsibilities of the school day) and shake your head in disapproval. I cannot ever remember a time when my parents were together, but I never once remember seeing them argue, or even have unkind words. I lived with my mother, had bookshelves full of books, family gatherings, lots of cousins to play with…I had this variety of questionable experiences and more within the context of a family of people who were all there for each other, any time, all the time, no matter what. My models were those of responsibilities first, informed by a wide array of people who had little in terms of material wealth but a vast amount of character and integrity, and usually a very colorful vocabulary. Somehow, I seem to have turned out okay.

What has happened in our country that makes it so difficult for people to succeed and why are public schools suddenly being held responsible for citizens’ failure to thrive?

The version of reform being forced upon our system of public education is only advancing the lack of integrity we have seen advancing upon our society. Reality TV portrays a path to success that includes the lowest of low behaviors: the promotion of self-indulgence, greed and dishonesty as the path to success.

I should not even know who Honey- Boo-Boo is.

Or the Kardashians.

Nor should the name Carlos Danger mean a thing.

Lloyd Blankfein and Goldie Hawn get top billing at an Education Nation event, Diane Ravitch is invited to watch the spectacle from the audience.

Is it really schools that need to be reformed?

Is our problem really an achievement gap, or an integrity gap?

This is the how and why

History

Lloyd Blankfein testifies that he deserves every damn penny 
Goldman Sachs pays him for screwing investors.

(This is from 2013)  The current  attack on public schools had its beginnings in the financial crisis of 2008. At that time the blame for the economic woes of the nation had appropriately been pinned on the financial games and the players within the investment community. Everybody knew whose fault it was and that the people to blame had made out very well at the country’s expense. There were congressional hearings, the country was hopping mad, and it was about time-thank you very much.
Unfortunately, the tone of the game players was not apologetic, in fact it was dismissive. You got the feeling watching that they felt put out by this congressional hearing silliness, and that the way they do business is the industry standard…a “ya pays yer money and ya takes yer chances” midway challenge. Little time was spent dealing with the fact that as industry insiders, the heads of big banks and finance industry insiders had not only been instrumental in designing the rules to be almost impossible to understand, they had designed it so they would win even when their customers and the economy lost.
So we all lost. “Too big to fail” meant incredible amounts of taxpayer money went to bail out and prop up the institutions that had already abused their position and our trust. The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (2008) authorized the U.S, Treasury to spend up to $700 billion to buy up distressed assets from financial institutions that found themselves heavily leveraged in a failing market. Those funds were then redirected to inject capital directly into those institutions. Finding themselves flush with taxpayer cash one of the first things they did was pay out executive bonuses. (Los Angeles Times, July 2010)

(A couple tidbits from that L.A. Times story):

  • The Obama administration’s pay czar on Friday came to the same conclusion about fat Wall Street bonuses that average Americans have already reached: There’s no logic behind them, except greed.
  •  There’s simply no justification for multimillion-dollar bonuses that are paid out to people who were irresponsible,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who this year proposed legislation levying a tax on bonuses of more than $50,000 at TARP recipients. The money would be used to increase loans for small businesses.


But this criticism and attention (and outrage?) dissipated quickly. When the occasional hard question about incredible salaries and bonuses paid to top executives in the financial sector arose, the response had something to do with the necessity to pay competitively in those fields to attract talent.

A good question would be talent to do what?

“The anger at these corporate subsidies was justified because breaks like these are a symbol of a budget process designed to shift money and power to people who already have too much of it”

Ironically, public workers during this time came under attack for their salaries, benefits and pensions. It was the only move that could be made when it had become clear that policy makers were either unable/unwilling to address, or culpable in the abuses of our economy. Someone had to fry, and public workers with the pensions that were not only an obligation-a debt to be paid,  but a source of play-money were a strategically smart target.  And this is one of the most vital things to keep in mind:

As average Americans struggle more and more financially, a very purposeful effort has been made to avoid contrasting the wages and benefits of public employees with the segment of the upper class that controls an astronomical amount of wealth, continues to see its fortunes grow, and controls policy. Instead, the powerful have used the media to make the comparison between public workers and the “average American worker” who has struggled with stagnant or declining wages on an economic playing field tilted towards the wealthy. For the wealthiest, fostering resentment and suspicion between the classes below them has been their solution  to the potential danger that those citizens might unite with an agenda of social justice and equity.

Our Present Situation

   The promise of “hope and change” that we had been sold by candidate Obama has vanished in swirl of bailouts and an assault on public workers. Suddenly the public is responsible for repairing the damage done by the irresponsible behaviors within the banking, mortgage and investment community. The loss of jobs; the loss of value in our homes; the difficulty in securing financing for the simple projects or possessions that the average American hopes for: a new car; a home equity loan or refinancing… Portraying public workers and public schools as the significant economic burden worked as a blame shift away from the true culprits while the myths of  investors and job creators went only briefly examined. Time and time again politicians called for that “shared sacrifice” in these trying economic times-but they weren’t usually speaking to the top 1-2 percent. They were signaling to everyone else that they would need to tighten their belts.

Shared sacrifice, really?

These calls for shared sacrifice, criticisms of public workers pay, doomsday prophecies regarding social security…all  have been echoed repeatedly by news pundits with little real connection to the majority of citizens already victimized-now being told they should accept being further disrespected.

And more often than not, the word “unions” is attached to the narrative as if it is at best a quaint but outdated concept-at worst a parasitic scourge and job-killer. Even gentler assessments of unions and their purpose miss the point.

“The struggle between teacher’s unions and conservative think tanks to influence educational policy is clearly a key battleground in the context of school reform.” (Neoliberalism in the classroom: The political economy of school reform in the United States)

It isn’t about influencing “educational policy”.

In the same way that teachers and schools are supposed to be apolitical in the way they deliver an education and support learners inside the school and the school day, politicians should refrain from assuming an understanding of the job of teaching that they have not earned. It’s about professional autonomy and the difference between a mission statement for teaching that we can all agree on, and one that is either loudly ill-defined or silently shameful.

Common Core, College, Career? Too Many C’s!

From 2013

I have always said that common core standards are a good idea, for some consistency and continuity. I’m not sure that they are always developmentally appropriate at the younger years, and the “college and career” stuff is a starry-eyed, back-handed slap of an accusation that comes without the conversations:

1) Careers?!? What careers? We are not long off a Clinton-to-Bush run where our leaders more or less told us that good jobs were gone, retraining and acceptance of less might be the lot of a lot of us, and a town hall where Bush II just didn’t get it when a clearly well spoken and educated, almost middle-aged mother lamented the need to work three jobs just to make ends meet.

Bush: “Three jobs? That’s truly American!”
The movies really do get it right once in a while: “If you build it, they will come.” When “job creators and investors” really did, and supported the nation/workers/economy that gave them investor/creator powers…our schools churned out workers that participated, and kids who went to college were ready. The investors creators have turned to hoarders in a speculation based economy and now they are speculating on the value of people, their public institutions, and finding a way to restrain and milk them on their public-to-private farm. If good jobs existed, parents would be working, feeding, loving, preparing students to succeed.


2) College? What exists after that would pay back the Sallie-Mae master? Not only that, but are we really going to pretend that so many American students are ready for the rigors of college level study? Are we instead going to alter “college” into a costly vocational/trade-prep option for some, or are we going to honestly look at the fact that we push more students onto the college path than we really should, that the payback on that investment is harder to find these days, and that negative comparisons to other systems around the world (where students are more filtered along the path to higher education) is simply not fair?

So…Common Core? I say okay. Wrap it around a turd sandwich that places the “no excuses” blame on teachers for not healing an economy wrecked by the same crew forcing the standards and test-based reform on us all (except for their privileged children)? No way…at least not quietly.

Is There a Better Way? Yes There Is!

… Yes, there Is! is another blast from the past. (Dec. 2012)

I am sitting at home in one of the regions made post-Christmas famous by the storm that just whacked the area with anywhere from six to thirteen inches of snow-maybe more, I haven’t had the chance to get my morning news/weather fix. Normally I would have gotten a decent helping of three-stooges style news with Fox and Friends, watching them stumble around the truth and poke real journalism in the eyes-one of the “anchors” (appropriately named, because FOX is the “cement shoes” of our nation’s collective soul) practically “nyuk-nyuk”ing. I’ll let you guess which of those schmoes is the curly-joe character.

     I am relegated to the spare room with my laptop, because two of my daughters and one of their cousins camped out in our living room for a girly slumber party. My littlest got up early and is forcing me to live, at this very moment, through one of the High School Musical DVDs-complete with her analysis of the acting and dancing, demanding my participation in the conversation. She’s six years old! That Troy Bolton has got magic that transcends age and grade level it seems. Or maybe my little girl just likes cute boys. Man, I’m in all kinds of trouble, and incredibly blessed at the same time. I have three beautiful daughters, and they are incredibly smart, creative, savvy, family oriented. When they are together, great things happen. The link I just placed is to the YouTube channel (or whatever) the girls have made for their videos and their “production company”, TwistedDollStudios. If you visit, hit the “Browse Videos” button. They really are quite warped and fun.

Chloe, my oldest daughter, used to strip her Barbie dolls naked and tie them up in various ways to mesh laundry baskets, bedposts, floor lamps…whatever. She was like three years old! The first video they made on my old cheap basic cell phone had several Barbies and a Ken involved in a love triangle of some kind-nothing nasty, just soap opera teen drama, it was hilarious! A sorceress Barbie transforms Ken into a plastic dog (it was a bathtub toy) and there was a song/video performance (C’mon Barbie, let’s go party-the “dog’s” line, with a close-up camera shot…)-all performed on my little cell phone. I wish I had saved that one, but the YouTube stuff shows some growth in concept, and the cooperative efforts of these kids, even the gross boy cousins, is inspiring.

I don’t worry about the ability of my kids and their cousins to have a great future, if they seek it. I see what they do when they’re together. Through their play and their talk, I see how they think and feed off each other-building products from grains of thought-sand. Smiling, laughing, cooking, camping…They live to get together and do things together, and even though some of what they do is maybe a little twisted, maybe slightly inappropriate, these kids are amazing, loving, brilliant and capable of almost everything.

So how does this happen? I can tell you FOR SURE that no %$#&!!@ standardized test is making these things happen. The teachers these kids have had did much to foster the skills (and the ability to use them), but the opportunities to CREATE are the most important. Generally the foundation for that ability is constructed and refined at home, but it is directed and applied in more practical ways in school. Wasting the time of children and dedicated lifelong educators on test-shackled goals and standards is doing a disservice to learners and teachers. There is a better way to reform education than by isolating the individuals involved in the process with endless, cumbersome testing in a data-fixation and stratification process.

The kids are finally waking up in the living room, Gabriella and Zac (I think) are almost done singing, pancakes and snow play are on the agenda I believe, and at least one more video on YouTube this vacation-especially once the boys from Virginia arrive.

There is definitely a better way to assess our children. Investing our time, money and energy into saddling our families, children, teachers and our schools with standardized baggage: not the way. We need to stand in opposition to this foolishness.

Wow, a blast from the past.

From my old blog that I need to do some curating from. Clearly I haven’t broken the quotations around “reform” habit. Oh well…I’ll keep trying.

Note:   When I write about reform, I usually put quotes around it (“reform”). This is because I believe the word is supposed to mean actively make improvements, or change something for the better. I do not believe that much of what is being called education reform really does that for public education. Using the quotes, though, puts me in the position of deciding whether to keep using quotes later on in the same piece when the word shows up. Do I NOT use quotes with later uses of the word and make the reader think I believe reform holds true to the meaning, or keep using quotes and have the reader think “Okay, okay-I GET IT. So… no quotes at all. Just know that I do not trust much of what is described as education reform.

-D.McConnell

The United States, is seeing an ever-increasing economic class division between those with the most wealth and power, and those with the least- in effect pushing out the middle class that historically has been a cornerstone of the economy. Policies (foreign. domestic, economic…) have served to allocate wealth and political power so that “the masses” continually find themselves victims of the desires of “the few”. As an effort, I believe to maintain and increase their power and position, the few have initiated a reform movement targeting public education. The motivation to target education as a means to their end is likely two-fold: economic and strategic. On the economic front there is a significant amount of money to capitalize on in both the public funding and private institutions that collaborate to provide schooling to the children of the country. That aspect of the motivation behind reform is quite easy to understand. If there is money to be had, someone will come along looking to have it-even the head of sensationalist infotainment style media sources. On the heels of the financial crisis, the current slow recovery means that corporations accustomed to hand-over-fist money-making need new sources of profit. The public funds going to public schools look good indeed to private corporations. In order to get their hands on that money they have to justify (politically) taking it away. This is why you see well funded reformers like Michele Rhee, travelling around the country-showing up on news programs and at speaking events to continually suggest that America’s public schools (and their students) are performing poorly. According to Diane Ravitch This assertion does not stand up well to the data . Low test scores, in addition, are more closely tied to poverty than poor teacher quality. The motivation to avoiding examination of this correlation, choosing instead to misuse testing data and scapegoat schools, allows bad economic and social policy to continue-essentially passing the responsibility for poverty off onto public schools.

The strategic basis of education reform is a more complicated issue, may be a speculative consideration, but must be considered because it implies more danger in terms of the future-for the majority of citizens and the state of our democracy. The growing trend of taking control of public schools in order to privatize and create price-layered options-selling it back to the people on a “you get what you can afford” basis is great for what may come to be the “business” of education, but will lead to a disparity in knowledge and service. Should this be the direction education in the United States takes, the easiest to teach (usually from the wealthier families) will receive even greater access to the benefits of education. Those families and students will grow into the positions of security, income and influence handed down to them. The most challenging students, requiring more time, effort and resources are likely to face an education that does not meet their needs or help them to maximize their true potential. Most often, the neediest students come from homes with fewer economic resources. While education is a key component to reducing poverty, poverty impacts the ability to succeed in school to begin with. These students will likely also inherit their position in society from their parents. It is very true that poverty is not destiny, but it is a significant hurdle that prevents more and more students from realizing their potential. For school reformers, weakening the public institutions of education would lessen the ability of public unions to influence policy collectively, and the straining of students into a caste-like system would help solidify the position of the groups already enjoying high caste placement.

This is how the current education reform movement, together with political policies of the recent decades, is serving to divide access to freedom, knowledge, and the political process. In education policy specifically, children are being subjected to a mechanized and controlled process of standardization that conflicts with their normal developmental process. We are essentially being moved towards a modern version of the “Dark Age”. Neil Postman, in his book The Disappearance of Childhood says of this time in history:

Our textbooks cover the transformation well enough except for four points
that are often overlooked and that are particularly relevant to the story of
childhood. The first is that literacy disappears. The second is that education
disappears. The third is that shame disappears. And the fourth, as a
consequence of the other three, is that childhood disappears.

This was Postman about 20 years ago, writing about a time in ancient history (following the fall of the Roman empire), but the parallels to modern times are uncanny.

“Soft Skills” Part I : Teachers Go Far Above and Beyond Gates

To reformers, the well-being of children is just not the point.

But it never really was. Early on, the financial crisis was used as an opportunity for a political maneuver, an education-reform launch; an opportunity to pull a bait-and-switch, except this one was a Gates and switch. In 2009Bill Gates, billionaire and default oracle on anything he throws his money at, spoke to the National Conference of State Legislatures and first described the crisis and sets up the problem:

“These are not ordinary times. We’re in a severe economic downturn—and you, as state legislators, may have a more complete picture of the impact of this recession than anyone else in the country. You are forced to balance your budgets, even as the recession increases your expenditures and cuts your revenues.”

On some level, he clearly got what was going on financially-for policymakers anyway. But he avoided the institutionalized avarice of the financial sector and the policies serving to protect it, regardless of the damage to working-class families being done, and instead he skips to describing that damage:

“Your constituents are losing their jobs, their savings, and their homes—and everywhere you go, people are asking you to make it better. This is a painful time.”

Now about here is where a person with a soul and a backbone would say something like:

“This nation is infected with some very powerful, influential and wealthy maggots eager to feed on what little is left of the very people, your constituents, who made this nation great. This has to stop and the way we stop it is with some social, economic and political reforms that will truly make America great again. Whoa- can someone write that down? I may want to put that on a bright red hat or something!”

But Gates didn’t say any of that. Well, maybe he had something to do with the hat, but he definitely didn’t point the finger or give the finger in the direction it was needed. Instead, this is where the switch followed the bait. Like the manufactured “crisis” in education that the Chicken Littles of the post Sputnik year lamented, and the diversion that the alarmist Reagan-era Nation at Risk was going for, Gates decided to make public education the enemy:

“We’ve been in an economic crisis for a year or so. But we’ve been in an education crisis for decades. As a country, our performance at every level—primary and secondary school achievement, high school graduation, college entry, college completion—is dropping against the rest of the world.”

In less than five years after saying this he would be predicting that many jobs would be lost to technology and automation. Today you can see that happening as cashiers disappear only to be replaced by computers that help you do your checking and bagging yourself; touchscreens take your order and your credit card payment at fast food restaurants, so no teenagers saving up for their first cars needed; ATM’s to take and deliver your money from and to your bank-so no teller needed! Rest afraid that it will continue to happen,  and that as time goes by this dehumanization of the labor force and increasing intrusion of technology into our daily existence will have impacts on our students.

But Gates avoided, in his mission to educate the nation, the consistently high correlation between economic stability within communities and families (likely to be eroded with an eroding jobs market) associated with student level of  academic achievement and life outcomes. At the same time, he jumped fully on board with pushing more “products” into schools and a data-driven high expectations, test-and-punish, “common core” mentality that insists all students should perform the way the top 1/3 or so have historically performed. Why would Gates choose to implicate and scapegoat public education, or suggest that more private market philosophy imposed on the public commons was the way to go?

While I can read minds (I do it in classrooms every day- every good teacher does), you don’t really need to in this case. Gates is an open book. Let’s boomerang back to that NCSL speech he gave about how to do a proper rich white-guy gentrification of public education, eviscerate the teaching profession and bend and shape poor children of color to his specifications:

When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better. Imagine having the people who create electrifying video games applying their intelligence to online tools that pull kids in and make algebra fun.

Ohhhhh…so there’s a market! There’s products to be developed and sold and money to be made for some people to come up with things to make other people’s kids do. If you didn’t get the tingles of excitement just reading that, imagine how it has felt being a victim of what that money has bought for the years between then and now. Or a parent watching what was being done to your child and his/her school in the name of “reform”

“But misuse of assessments by politicians isn’t about my kids, really. It’s about the ever-increasing number of those left behind in the economic competition model of public education. More and more kids are coming to school tired, hungry, emotionally and economically insecure, with school and academics low on their list of priorities. Children can’t eat tests and tests can’t hug children.” (Me, April 2015)

Or better yet, imagine if you were a corporation just waiting to crank out some of those “products that can help every kid learn”.

All the PR and promotion you can stand, with little reflection

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-Gates. I am just anti wealth-backed elitist narrow-minded BS “philanthropy”. Oh-and the ability of a lot of money to pay politicians to force poor people into indentured servitude and  intelligent people to chase that gravy train and continually defend negative PR campaigns and undeservedly hyped reputations and resumes. I almost forgot that last part. Thank God for notes-huh?

“She gleefully assumes the mantle of arch-reformer from a long line of disruptors like Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, John King, Wendy Kopp, John Deasy, the first generation of charter school founders…” 

That quote was from an article written by Peter Cunningham. In it he describes how Eva Moskowitz descended from the clouds carried on the backs of a dozen winged (say that “wing-ed” like its two syllables) cherubs playing golden harps. Spoiler alert: a heavenly golden aura magically frames her benevolent and at the same time grimly determined and unafraid visage, she sheds a tear of mercy, and then makes a self-sacrificial vow to open the doors of a new school of miracles to all who would come.

Okay, so I’m kidding.

It is a good read, though, primarily as a specimen of the craft of shameless promotion, and for the inclusion of the names in that “long line of destructors”. They are tremendous. Everybody knows it. They do school better than anyone, believe me. Believe me. I’m being wise, so let me dial it back and say A) disruptors not “destructors” (Freudian slip) and B) Peter is one of the more reasonable people in the “reform camp” I’ve communicated with. I just don’t care for the deflections of Moskowitz herself or the lack of honesty in the promotion of her school or others that operate like it.

You see, data, tests, formulas and educator evaluations based on all that are sucking the life, purpose and honesty out education and the debates regarding reform and what “choice” should really mean. Schools that engineer a student body through filtering enrollment and unreasonably strict disciplinary practices in order to manufacture stats should be a “choice” available, but can’t be represented with chin-held-high as “better than” truly public, open-doors schools because of their manufactured better stats. If you really want to, and you manage to get your child into a school like that, then kudos to you. But this is the type of education system, one that ignores what the neediest really need and who can best to define and provide it, that is supported by those disconnected and elite destructors…I mean distractors…no-wait disruptors.

Be patient, I’ll get it eventually

But I don’t want to stretch this out too long. I am going to save some for my next installment where I get to the “soft skills” that employers demand, teachers provide, and reformers so desperately want you to ignore.