Teaching to Combat Systemic Injustice

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic

The concept  behind the proposition is that when a name and a face can be attached to an injustice, oppression, disease, death… the argument against those negative forces becomes more powerful, personal and visceral. A story can be told about the individual. You can find ways to connect to the person and can relate to their suffering. It could be you or someone you love after all. But as teachers, how do we get our students to understand and identify greater injustices, not just the individual ones-whether they be ones weighing on they themselves or those close to them? How do we prepare today’s children and soon-to-be citizens to grapple with today’s notions that are likely be tomorrow’s problems?

When casualties reach into the millions, real understanding tends to disappear. Maybe numbers like that cognitively become labeled as some ephemeral generic mass instead of being understood as revelatory of a significantly greater issue. One child suffering from exposure to lead in their environment can have tragic consequences. But it’s difficult to imagine tens of thousands or more!

Lead causes irreversible damage to a developing brain, so it is especially harmful to children 5 or younger. Symptoms include developmental delays, dyslexia and behavioral problems. Thus lead exposure adds one more serious adversity to the multiple challenges associated with urban poverty, including nutritional deficiencies, reduced access to quality medical care, community violence and poor-performing public schools. (Washington Post, March 7, 2018)

Maybe it’s hard to believe that leaders could perpetrate or allow such things on that scale. I mean, so many people being hurt or killed intentionally or through negligence or apathy. Advanced societies couldn’t allow such things, right? They wouldn’t, would they? You do have to wonder why either a righteously proud pro-life party or a supposedly party-of-the-working class would continue to spend American dollars to fund siege war campaigns, and support rebel groups seeking to overthrow leaders of sovereign nations (with no formal declaration of war and despite both the campaign declarations of pre-president Trump and the unpopularity of endless war).

A sound, basic public education needs to prepare students to grapple with such questions when the world becomes theirs. In addition, as part of an increased focus on civics and civic engagement, educators have a responsibility to help students be fully informed about the condition of the world they will inherit in order for them to make the smartest decisions about how to best preserve both it and their best interests.

But back to the essential question: Today’s leaders would act in such self interested inhumanity as to shirk their obligations to future generations, would they?

Well, do you remember Michelle Wolf’s White House Correspondents Dinner performance-the one that had all the right-wing nancy-boys and Fox News snowflakes rethinking their brave stance on the first amendment (brave at least when it comes to the rights of speed-talking morons like Ben Shapiro to go to college campuses to show off how offensive and smug he’s willing to be). So many people wrongly interpreted Wolf’s comments to be about Sarah Huckabee Sanders and her appearance, when in fact they were aimed at her aversion to the truth. I couldn’t honestly believe there was that much ignorance or hearing impairment in pundit-land, but then I heard a comment on an alternative news source that basically pointed out how no one is even mentioning the last words Wolf spoke as she stepped away from the mic:

Flint still doesn’t have clean water.

So hell yeah, the powerful could, would and do allow atrocities on a massive scale.

Not only do they allow it, they are sometimes supportive and/or complicit and our leaders on both sides of the aisle are exhibit A in that particular shit show. They understand how to perpetuate and brush systemic injustice aside when it  benefits them and their wealthy and powerful allies. Of course individual cases are highlighted for slogans, rallies and all-around exploitation of a political agenda, but mass inequity, injustice and inhumanity are topics to be avoided.

Mainstream media news outlets are no better, allowing for the powerful suctioning away of greater truths to create a vacuum that is then filled with the latest in-the-moment palace intrigue, drama and distraction. The show put on rarely allows for reflection, because just when you lift your head above the waves to snatch a breath, the next wave of bullshit hits.

Our students need to be prepared in a way that only shows bias towards verified truths, not partisan ones.

Being “political” doesn’t have to be the same as being partisan if your continual mission is seeking the truth on any side of an issue and finding a way to engage the issues and others on those issues, putting your thoughts and findings into words. So listening, hearing, analyzing and discussing events and issues all need to be a part of the civic engagement of students. But having them think well means teachers standing in front of them need to also think well. And getting there requires practice.

Think Justice Kavanaugh was simply a hapless and pleasant virgin pray-boy who went to Yale, maybe had a couple beers once in a while, went to church on Sundays and then was suddenly attacked out of the blue by schemers, connivers and rabble-rousers on the left?

Think Chuck Grassley’s sense of justice and decorum was so offended that he just became angered at the behavior coming from the Democrats? Maybe he is just a recent player in politics and is unfamiliar with the game?

Think Lindsey Graham just forgot about defending the sanctity of higher office which he so proudly spoke up for and stood by when hunting down Bill Clinton for an adulterous (but consensual) relationship?

Think that Mitch McConnell repeatedly reaches back to the 1800’s to defend his open obstructionism of Merrick Garland’s appointment to the Supreme Court because he is a purist when it comes to history and tradition in regards to nominations?

Then you have definitely been infected by the right.

Alternatively, do you think that any of the crusty, dusty old establishment leaders on the left really feel bad about tilting the Supreme Court to the right, allowing for a defensive fortification of well-moneyed and corporate influence over policy?

Then you have been infected by the fake left. Probably a more dangerous condition because you’ve been tricked into believing you are “left” when you’re actually just left-ish of where crazy-right is. You might not even be on the side of the activated true-left. Those willing to spend their time speaking truth to power, or even a little time in jail for doing so.

You know, those advocates of “mob rule”

Now the Republicans are running around afraid, talking about the threat of “mob rule”. These rich white men whose pockets get well-lined by other rich white men are shameless hypocrites, not patriots. They have no honor because their political positions  and loyalty are taken out of convenience and to match the agenda of the day. I won’t even comment on morality because elevating their understanding of morals would require a trip to meet them in Bizarro World where they live by some strange code of moral convenience and equivalence.

For example, referring to concerned citizens exercising their first amendment rights as a “mob” intentionally loses the human and familiar face. This makes you forget that Christine Ford could very well have been or be your own daughter, mother, wife, sister… Somebody you care about brushed aside does not inspire you to spontaneously join a “mob”, but instead it lights a fire under you in regards to a specific issue and for a cause near and dear to you. The freedoms of this nation and it’s citizens have been hard won by the masses inspired in this manner, not through the masses obediently complying with the wishes of the fewest and the wealthiest.

The arrogance of Chuck Grassley, the staged bluster of Lindsey Graham, and the desperation of Mitch McConnell begs for this kind of response to these elite, privileged old men. The ineptitude of the leaders on that fake left have only made that mob’s presence and it’s voice that much more necessary.

Once upon a time they were called patriots, and their presence reveals the tyranny and cowardice of leaders.

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Cynthia Nixon, Zephyr Teachout in Ithaca Saturday

From Emily Adams

View this email in your browser (especially useful if you can’t see the images, or if you want to access back issues…)


Cynthia Nixon returns to Ithaca…

… with Zephyr Teachout and special guest Akeem Browder!

Please join us at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 1st, at the Space @ GreenStar. Cynthia will make a special announcement regarding her environmental platform. She will be joined by Zephyr Teachout, candidate for NY AG, and Akeem Browder, the brother of Kaliff Browder, who recently recorded a powerful endorsement video with Cynthia. Several Ithaca leaders will also say a few words, including legislator Shawna Black and activist Sandra Steingraber.

As field organizer for Ithaca, I hope than an insane number of people turn out to see this event first hand. (We will also be livestreaming on NYPAN’s facebook page.) If necessary, we’ll move the whole thing out into the parking lot. (If someone can attend the event with a rusty Ithaca pickup truck with some bales of hay in the back, that would be awesome.  We’ll save you a parking space near the door… and we can be ready to put Cynthia in the back of the truck with a microphone if need be…)

I need to recruit a whole team of people to help Cynthia (and Jumaane and Zephyr) defeat the incumbents and “business as usual” in Albany. The word from the Nixon campaign is that upstate will be the key to victory. Cuomo can be beaten. Zephyr led the way, 4 years ago, with a 33% showing, but she couldn’t break into the NYC media market. In contrast, Cynthia has plenty of media coverage downstate, but upstaters have been a bit reluctant to get out and champion her. If and when they do, we win!

I would like to personally reach out to everyone who is on the fence and say: OK. She is a NYC celebrity. I get it. But she is fearless and she is progressive to the core. Zephyr supports her. She is smart, and she is working very hard to gain in depth knowledge about the issues that are important upstate (in addition to the issues that are important to everyone, like fully-funded schools, medicare for all, free college tuition, etc.) And on Saturday, she will demonstrate some of that intelligence and passion, when she is joined by Sandra Steingraber at the podium.

Please join us, bring your friends and family.

And bring your smart phone, if you have one. Before you come, download the app “outvote”, and connect to the online app “reach” (go to chrome or other browser and enter: app.reach.vote.) You can practice using them and get questions answered, before or after the program. These tools are going to make the difference for our campaigns.

“Reach” requires that someone give you an access code or pre-approve your cell phone number. Reply to this newsletter with your name and cell phone number, and I can activate you right away! Otherwise, you can get a code on Saturday. You will be amazed and inspired, trust me.

Reply to this newsletter if you can volunteer on Saturday, or if you already know that you are ready to sign up for some volunteer shifts between Saturday and election day. On Saturday, we need volunteers to use “reach” to identify voters at the Farmer’s Market — meet at 9 a.m. at the Piggery and we will train, and then join Cynthia at or near the market from 9:30 to 10:30.

Thanks from me, and thanks in advance from our younger generations, who need strong, honest advocates!

Emily Adams  (NYPAN secretary, TCP chair, field organizer for Cynthia and Zephyr)

emily@nypan.orgemilyadams@cynthiafornewyork.com, 607-708-0342

Holding Schools Accountable

While sorting through some old, old stuff, I came across a hard copy of this. I think it predated flash drives, I’m not really sure. Thank god I have a beautiful young typist that will ask for little more than a burger and maybe a few bucks. About 16 years ago, I think it was, and yet it could be today. 

 

National Standards:

Holding Schools Accountable

by

Daniel McConnell, Jr.

State University of New York

Cortland, 2002

 

Introduction

            While on the surface educational standards appear to be merely a logical move to provide cohesive instruction, the forces behind their origin and the pairing of standards with a call for “accountability” reveal other motives. Historically, the United States has taken great efforts to achieve and maintain a dominant world presence, much through advances in military technology (which are closely linked to the math and science fields). Most notably since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, when the former USSR beat the United States into space, policy makers have demanded that schools prepare students to be an active part in the US- led future. When “A Nation At Risk” was published in 1983, warning of pending failure in the competitive world market, the cry for school reform was renewed with a focus on curriculum standards, and accountability for schools not demonstrating student achievement of those standards. While doing this, policy makers ignore their own accountability in helping to nurture capable students and productive future citizens.

Background

            “Our Nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” (A Nation At Risk, 1983)

After a brief statement of educational philosophy, A Nation At Risk begins with this ominous warning. It does not warn against a pending invasion by a foreign power, or a nuclear attack, or even an anonymous biological threat. The threat, it seems, is economic: based on the ability of the US to compete and profit (to a greater degree than other nations of the world) in the global market. But the insinuation, if it could even be considered as subtle as that, is that the threat is just as dire: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” (p.1). The tone of A Nation demonstrates a shift in perspective regarding the nature of America’s “world leader” role, and the responsibilities of schools to support that role. Once in the business of promoting the rights of citizens by educating those citizens to exercise them in a responsible manner, schools have gradually found their role shifting from responsibility to protect the nation from tyranny to supporting the near-tyrannical forces of a corporate driven system. This system places monetary profit and domination of the world market high on the priority list, while subjugating the needs and desires of present and future citizens (i.e. the students themselves). With current US policy funded, advised and driven largely by leaders in the corporate world, legislation tends to favor the already wealthy and powerful minority at the cost of the less wealthy majority of Americans. This legislation includes the educational standards, and the standards-based reform movement that began largely as a result of A Nation At Risk. While staying competitive in the fields of math and science (which are cornerstones of the tech market and essential in maintaining military dominance) is important for the economic health of the nation, current efforts to impose standards and high-stakes standardized tests should be closely evaluated to determine whose needs they truly serve.

The History of Reform: Sputnik and the Science Scare

“Unless future generations appreciate the role of science in modern society and understand the conditions under which science thrives”, he (Dr. Elmer Hutchisson, Director of the American Institute of Physics) said, “our way of life is, I am certain, doomed to rapid extinction.” (New York Times, Oct. 8, 1957)

America’s public school system has, since its inception, been a source of hope and a focus of criticism. It has been given the responsibility for shaping society at times, blamed for not doing so (or doing so in a misguided fashion) at other times. One time from our not so distant history that many believed revealed a weakness in our education system was in 1957, the year Russia launched the first space vehicle, Sputnik. At a time when the nations of the world were just beginning to consider the possibilities of space exploration, and most believed that the US would lead the way with its Vanguard program, the Soviets caught the world off guard when it launched a satellite weighing eight times that of the one the US intended to launch. The possibility that the Soviets had outmatched the United States in its ability to not only launch a satellite, but to launch a significantly heavier one gave rise to two fears: 1) the capitalist beacon of hope that was the US was technologically inferior to the other world power- the communist threat that was the USSR, and 2) If the Soviets could launch a satellite into space, they could launch a nuclear missile that could reach the United States.

Dr. Elmer Hutchisson, director of the American Institute of Physics at the time Sputnik was launched, gave the statement at the beginning of this section. In addition to the accusations from others that the Eisenhower administration was under-funding satellite research, Dr. Hutchisson added a warning about the science education students were receiving

 ..the United States must distinguish carefully between ‘highly accumulative’             scientific knowledge that can be taught by rigorous discipline and the namby-                pamby kind of learning’ that seeks to protect children against inhibition of their              individuality or their laziness

According to James Rutherford, former director of Project 2061, the American Association for Advancement of Science’s program for revamping K-12 science education, the efforts to improve science curriculum and training throughout the educational system began shortly after Sputnik, but then halted after the United States put the first man on the moon (Harvard Educational Letter: Research Online, Sept/Oct, 1998).

Not surprisingly, this article states, results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, 1997) showed that US students scored lower than half of the students in other developed countries by the eighth grade, and “dead last” by the final year of secondary school. Despite the call for creation of standards across subject areas by the first President Bush in 1989, America’s schools are still having difficulty meeting the high expectations implicit in the new standardized assessments.

The Confounds Regarding Success in Reaching the Standards

“The average grade for all the standards he [L. Lerner] appraised is C-minus…In fact, we can only be confident from this analysis that six of our fifty states have first-rate science standards.” (The Fordham Foundation, 1998)

While students are apparently not performing as well as those calling for standards and accountability suggest they should, other influences confounding those goals exist. Once source blocking student success is the standards themselves. Vague and/or poorly written for many states, teachers with standards that are not clear are left unsure of what to teach and how best to teach it. Another source of poor student performance is the “baggage” that students bring to school with them. An issue highly stressed in the current reform movement is the “achievement gap” between the high and low socioeconomic groups.

Schools have been called upon to reduce this gap, with the hope that it can be eliminated, but research shows what teachers know: students that come from stable, nurturing and supporting homes are more likely to succeed academically (Pianta, 2002). Instead of pushing policy that would enable lower class families to lead more enriched lives, devoting more time to bestowing the school readiness skills that are associated with future success for students, policy makers choose to make schools the repair shops- charged with fixing the damage done to the family unit by corporate-centered policy.

That the standards themselves need fixing is an ongoing issue. With individual states being responsible for their own, variance in style and quality of those standards is to be expected, and so then is variance in what is taught and how students perform. The Fordham Foundation is one organization involved in the education reform movement, and in 1998 they published a report on the progress states were making in their effort to write science standards. An excerpt from that report reads like a scolding:

            “Among the thirty-six jurisdictions with elementary/secondary science standards fit  for appraisal, he found six that deserve “A” grades and seven that earn “B’s”. Good grades for more than a third of the states! Yet that sounds good mostly because our expectations in such matters have fallen so low. Here’s another way to look at the  results: Dr. Lerner conferred nine failing grades and seven “D’s”: three more than won honors. Seven states earned “C’s.” (New York was among the “C’s”)”

This repost goes through each of the thirty-six states evaluated and thoroughly analyzes the quality and substance of the standards the state has developed for science, as well as the examples of properly achieving them. Without arguing the foundation’s qualifications to do so, one could suggest that the nation’s leaders have given little support for this monumental task, merely directives. If, after all, a standardized result were the expectation, then a more centralized and standard approach would be the best from the beginning. Rather than having fifty different sets of standards and exemplars with the hopes of reaching a similar achievement goal, one set for all to follow would be a more sensible approach.

In addition to standards that provide little help in reaching lofty new goals, administration officials have lumped in a healthy scoop of criticism- as well as a call for “accountability”. Unfortunately, they overlook their own accountability in helping students reach their true potential, and fail to notice that very early in A Nation At Risk, the authors admit as much:

            “That we have compromised this commitment is, upon reflecting, hardly surprising, given the multitude of often conflicting demands we have placed on our nation’s schools and  colleges. They are routinely called on to provide solutions to personal, social, and political problems that the home and other institutions either will not or cannot resolve. We must understand that these demands on our schools and colleges often exact an educational cost as well as a financial one.” (p.6)

Rather  than overhaul policy that has served the desires of the wealthy few (campaign finance, corporate reform, foreign trade initiatives) at the expense of working families, the finger has been pointed in another direction. More recently, the attack has turned ugly: Following in his father’s school reform footsteps, President George W. Bush has lent his straightforward approach to the reform movement. Consider his words as he addresses the audience at the signing of the Education Bill in Hamilton, Ohio (Jan. 8, 2002):

            “If we’ve learned anything over the last generations, money alone doesn’t make a good  school. It certainly helps. But as John mentioned, we’ve spent billions of dollars with lousy results. So now it’s time to spend billions of dollars and get good results.

The message from The White House seems clear (if not unsettling): a lot of money has been wasted, and now it’s time to all the public school system to the carpet and make it do its job. But what does the president mean by “lousy results” and “billions of dollars”? The “No Child Left Behind Act” fact sheet released by The White House on the day of its signing by the President conveniently arranges the reform position in a problem/solution format. In regards to money spent and the results that have gone unrealized, it says:

 -Since the original Elementary and Early Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was                    signed into law in 1965, the federal government has spent more than $130 billion               to improve public schools.

 -Unfortunately, this investment in education has not reduced the achievement                     gap between the well-off and lower-income students or between minority and                     non-minority students (p.2).

The evidence is neatly laid out, but goes unexamined. Although $130 billion sounds like a lot of money, if you do the math and divide it across the years it was spent, it comes to a mere pittance when matched against other national budgeting priorities. Thirty-seven years passed while that $130 billion was spent, which raised two interesting questions: 1) If The White House wants to insist that this amount of money spent on the public school system should have been sufficient to close the achievement gap between the well-off and lower-income students, then why have they failed to consider some other source for failure in closing this gap other than schools- mainly, some function of the inequitable class system which creates “well-off” and “lower-income” students? And 2) With military spending far outpacing any developed country in the world many times greater than the money allocated to public schools (not to mention the hundreds of billions being allocated into new “homeland security” measures) how can the White House justify this indignant attitude of having spent “billions of dollars with lousy results”? If the future of our country was to truly be invested in and protected, it would be reflected in a national budget that better funded schools, and made it possible for struggling families to spend more time at home building the skills and experiences that foster school success.

The Issue Of Accountability

“You know, a huge percentage of children in poverty can’t read at grade level. That’s not right in America.” (George W. Bush)

According to New York University’s Edward Wolff, and expert on the wealth gap, a wealth tax starting at one-twentieth of one percent on net worths of $1 million, and rising to one percent on the super rich, would yield about $50 billion per year. Imagine earmarking this for, say, the education of poor kids.

As a teacher, I can accept that I am responsible for helping my students achieve the educational standards set for my students. It is, after all, my job. I resent, though, the treatment of my profession as if it were some magical machine that can turn the star-bellied sneeches and the ones with no stars upon thars (apologies to Dr. Seuss) into standardized products with equal potential and opportunity. Children come to my classroom from vastly different homes and those differences manifest themselves in all sorts of measures of behavior and achievement. It is a difficult thing to do, and has historically come with its own drawbacks, but I think the best way is to treat children as individuals- helping children meet their own goals to the best of their abilities. True, a sound set of standards that reinforce necessary basic skills is needed. But we have to avoid turning students into numbers within a statistical framework, and expect them to become “standardized”. Human beings, with their wide variety in desires, abilities and learning styles- not to mention home environments, just don’t work that way. Children are coming to school every morning from all sorts of family situations and it is reflected in what they are ready to do. At the end of the day, they go back to that home again. The connections are logical, even without hard evidence. More stable homes generally display stability across economic resources and family configuration. Families with two parents making a decent living wage have more time to be involved and supportive, have some history with and/or appreciation for education, and pass these values on to their children. They often are less stressed by the demands felt by lower income families who may not have the time to spend fostering the “readiness” skills (mostly communication, listening, and language skills). which are valuable to students (and the teachers who have them in their classes). Despite this, teachers must accept the responsibility for helping all children meet tough academic goals, with the expectations and demands continually rising.

Conclusion

While teachers, on the one hand, must accept accountability for their results, there is only avoidance of accountability from those imposing standards upon schools and students. District report cards outlining in detail how schools perform on high-stakes standardized tests appear in huge spreads in local newspapers. How our elected officials are voting on specific legislation and specifically whose agenda is being forwarded on Capitol Hill is information that requires extensive searching and investigation to uncover. Having clearly acknowledged the achievement gap between classes, our elected officials have chosen to avoid the issue of inequity in wealth and resources (including a parents’ ability to spend quality time with their children) between the classes. Instead, “leaders” have chosen to subject the public schools to accountability for making up for this inequity. But if a standardized product is expected, then the materials that go into making that product must be standardized, as well.

The demand for standardization needs to be turned around and slid back across the table to the policy makers of America. If they will spend the time and resources to close the gap between the classes, they may see the achievement gap start to close, as well.

References

Harvard Educational Letter: Research Online (Sept/Oct, 1998). From Sputnik to TIMSS: Reforms in Science Education Make Headway Despite Setbacks. More time is needed for widespread classroom changes, By Naomi Freundlich. (http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/1998-so/sputnik.shtml)

Lawrence S. Lerner (March, 1998) An appraisal of science standards in 36 states. Fordham Report; Vol 2, 4

National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A nation at risk: The imperatives for educational reform. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education

Pianta, Robert (2002). School readiness: A focus on children, families, communities and schools. Educational Research Service, Arlington, VA.

Schmeck, Harlold M. (October, 1957). Nation is warned to stress science. Times looks back: Sputnik. The New York Times learning network. (http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/specials/sputnik/sput-15.html)

The White House (January 8, 2002). Remarks by the president at education bill signing. Office of the Press Secretary (Boston, Massachusetts). Hamilton High School Hamilton, OH.

The White House (April 4, 2002). Fact sheet: No child left behind. (On-line). (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020108.html)

So… you want to be a teacher.

You need to really, really think about this.

I’m not trying to scare you away; I’m just trying to prepare you. You can’t go thinking that liking kids, that kids liking you, that believing you can make a difference, that wanting to make a difference, that being smart…you can’t think that any of that is enough. It’s prerequisite, sure. But it isn’t nearly enough.

Not even close.

You need to be ready to pretty much give up a chunk of your life.

Once you have been teaching for a while, you’ll find yourself strategizing ways to carve out time for yourself, your family, your own health…because that time will mostly be taken by other people’s children and by other families. Planning, correcting papers, grading, and just decompressing can eat into your home life-the “you being you” for your family.  Challenging days will dry up your well of patience, and then what happens when you get home? What is left for your children? Your spouse?

If you decide to be more involved, in coaching, running clubs or activities, taking a leadership role in your union…be prepared for even more sacrifice. Attending board meetings or participating in the PTA, lending a hand for special events…deciding to be an educator, if you really take it on rather than just going through the motions, means time given to the endeavor and taken out of your life.

You need to prepare to have your heart broken.

Again, and again and again, in a hundred different ways. You will see kids beaten down psychologically and emotionally by the lives they live and the families their losing-life lottery dumped them into. Don’t think I’m being “judgy”, there is not enough time for me to share all the mothers who leave, fathers who return after getting out of jail, live-in boyfriend, custodial non-related “grandmother”, busted for meth and heroine stories I know. What I can tell you is that children come to school bearing this weight and you will have to try and shoulder some of it to help them get through the day and what you are told you have to do. The grit, the rigor, the “raised bars”, the tests and whatnot.

You will likely see girls having babies far too young, boys unable to take responsibility even if they are willing to try, and that custodial grandparent cycle will come back around for another generation. You could very well end up teaching the grandchildren of your former students. You could also see former students die. In war, by overdose, and in the most heartbreaking ways. You may hear of a sweet, funny, freckle-faced boy from your very first real elementary classroom who, for whatever reason, made it through high school but then took his own life.

You need to be prepared to have your profession both revered and reviled.

Despite all you will have dumped onto your lap and into your life, there will be rewards. When children are thrilled to see you, either in school or out in public, when you get notes of appreciation from them or from parents, it lifts a little of that weight and helps to keep the heartbreaks patched together.  Notes that say “[Enter student name here] never liked reading until he had you,” or “[Some other student] wants to come to school now because of you,”  are little pieces of treasure to keep safely tucked away to be pulled out and reread on those days you wonder why the hell you went into teaching.  Your students will know, and their parents will know how important you are, and you’ll see the “aha” moments in the classroom (where students get excited about learning something new);  when their work shows that they grasp a concept and gain some skills…those are the times that make a teacher keep coming back to brave the bad days.

At the same time, you will have to suffer the deliberate attacks on the profession you chose. Education “reformers” will look to reduce your worth to test scores, and the value of education to empty slogans like “college and career ready”. They have been and will continue to campaign to dismiss the parts of the job you have no choice but to do, while they promote schools that avoid those parts. They will paint you as greedy, because you expect a living wage and the deferred pay you contribute to a pension fund once you retire. You will be lumped into the “lazy” category because you get holiday and summer breaks that others don’t get (never admitting that if it were such a wonderful gig, it would pay more and more people would be doing it). You will see these “reformers” look to cheapen and de-professionalize teachers, reducing them to gigged, at will hires to fuel the education market they want to profit from.

They stake proud claim to agendas called “school choice”, and “the rights of parents”, while avoiding the essential truths behind what those slogans mean in practice and why more communities and schools and students are struggling to achieve better outcomes.

Good news is: despite reformer attacks on communities, schools, educators and students: parents overwhelmingly support public education and teachers, and want to see it funded and supported.

You will be confronted with your own old age.

Through the advancing lives of your students, you will see the truth in “Days crawl, but the years fly.” It is exhilarating, scary, and inspirational. One of my early career students is now substitute teaching in my school. She was in the staff room eating lunch and I noticed an engagement ring. Her fiance was a student in my homeroom two years before her. He has been working in the school also. Two of the sweetest kids ever…But holy cow! Where did the time go??? My oldest daughter just went to college, and many students I taught have as well.

I guess that must mean I’m getting older, right? I mean, that’s how time works…if it passes for them, it passes for me too. You don’t really feel it happen, but one day it hits you. After that day the hits keep coming. My god, the time has flown. But I am so happy I chose to do what I do.

Just be prepared to be reminded one day of how old you are getting.

So…do you still want to be a teacher?

If so, you are the type of person I want doing it. The type of teacher I would have wanted for my own, the type I want my someday grand-kids to have, the type I know kids desperately need.

And I hope I get to work with you before I’m done.

What The President “Said”

You know what I mean. I don’t need to repeat it. The quotes around “said” in the title of this piece are because there is no recording or video of this, no solid proof that I’ve seen. Maybe there is and if so I’d want to see it, or hear it, because I am in that uncomfortable place where I believe it was said- but have to filter it through the accounts and opinions of others instead of verifying it with incontrovertible evidence. I have to think about it with the balance of what others say and what I have seen and heard in the past.

It’s one of my weaknesses, I sometimes spend too much time in internal deliberation before making a judgement. Maybe it’s the Libra in me, I don’t know.

But one thing I am very good at is reading “tells”, analyzing words, behavior, body language, demonstrated character and patterns. I’m also pretty good at spotting a weak or specious defense of abhorrent behavior offered up by those desperate to defend the indefensible (because they benefit when they do).

Case in point,  Jesse Watters, the Fox News version of Kelly Bundy, made the dismissive observation that  “…this is how the forgotten men and women in America talk at the bar.”

But his time spent working with grouchy pervert Bill O’Reilly, doing his hard hitting ambush interviews of Occupy Wall Street stoners and bikini-clad spring break coeds, may have made his thinker soft and broke his integrity meter.

It isn’t “how the forgotten people talk in barrooms around the country”. Trust me, I have been in barrooms with those folks. Grew up with them. And yeah…the “talk” can get kinda filthy, but there’s some differences:

  • The filth is usually for dramatic effect, emphasis and punctuation-not used to belittle and objectify some “others” for their “otherness”.
  • It’s very rarely done with absolute disrespect of anyone who doesn’t either fit a preconceived image of success or human potential, or occupy a similar station in life.
  • It’s almost never getting “talked” by someone who themselves spent a lifetime of unearned privilege and entitlement while also going to great lengths to avoid the obligation and efforts. Those talkers have lived lives of responsibility, worked hard, served their nation bravely and proudly (not just by going to a military academy)
  • These people, unless we’re talking about a different breed of the forgotten, would give you the shirt off their back and respect and appreciate those who they know would do the same. Can we say that about the man-baby in chief?

The way Trump talks is how entitled, fake-fancy, full-of-themselves and empty-of-heart people talk when only they can hear-except he is loud and proud with it, unaware that well-adjusted and decent human beings capable of empathy just-don’t-talk-that-way. Maybe they do in the country clubs, and men’s clubs, in places those “forgotten people” could never afford to go to and wouldn’t want to go anyways because arrogant ***holes unwilling to do the work and make the sacrifices they, their peers, their parents, and their parents’ parents made make good beer taste bad.

 

Jan 15 2018

 

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.