What Reformers Cautiously Avoid

Previously, several years ago, blogged out here . I am doing some reorganizing of old writing and it brought a tear to my eye.

My first daughter was born five weeks early. I remember that night clearly: we had just got back from some shopping and my wife had sent me out for a Burger King cheeseburger (one of those pregnancy cravings that had to be satisfied occasionally). When I got home, not too many minutes later, I found her in our bedroom on the floor-laying on her side with a stopwatch in one hand, and the book “What to Expect When Expecting” next to her. It was one of those “triple-take” moments…my wife…the stopwatch…the book. Later I was to find out she had sent me out on purpose, and that she had felt “something” was happening.

            Before long we were in the car, and on our way to the hospital, which was maybe 3 small village blocks away (a five minute walk). I was driving like she might give birth in the car and she had to let me know that I could slow down…that the baby wouldn’t come in three minutes, but I had many memories of TV shows and movies where babies were delivered in the backseat of cars by husbands, cab drivers, firefighters, or some other random good Samaritan. It always happened quick with some yelling, screaming, crying, then smiling. Painful, messy, happy…and scary.

            Needless to say, my wife was right and we had plenty of time-but I was right too-it was scary. Not just because it appeared that the moment may have arrived-but because it was five weeks early (at that stage, complications are more likely). But even though there was no backseat birth or waiting room delivery, it became clear that our first baby was coming when they could do nothing to stop the contractions with medication and decided instead to induce labor. The worry was that if birth-weight was too low, our baby would be whisked away to a hospital more than a half hour away, and my wife would remain.

            I’m pretty sure someone had their thumb on the scale-she was so tiny! But she was able to stay in Cortland, close to us. Jen was in recovery, Chloe was taken to the newborn observation room, under a hood with oxygen being pumped into it and being monitored. I went back and forth between Jen and Baby Chloe. Sometimes I would sing softly to Chloe, leaning down close to do “You are my Sunshine”, the same way I did while she was in Jen’s belly and I would sing with my mouth pretty much on her. I can’t remember how long I did this back-and-forth between rooms, singing/ talking/ comforting… but I finally went to one of the nurses on duty and asked if they could bring Chloe to Jen. Jen had just given birth to her first child, prematurely,  and was stressed. Chloe hadn’t really spent any time with her mother and was in a bright impersonal room under a plastic hood. It had probably been a few hours-but time gets warped in situations like this. It was almost as soon as Chloe was in Jen’s arms that both seemed to be better.

            Chloe is 15 years old now, one of three sisters, one of four of the loves of my life. Parenthood is an amazing, painful, wonderful, awe-inspiring responsibility, and as I write this, I am seeing my wife’s post on Facebook. She is home with her own father and family right now. I won’t share details, but home with her father is where she needs to be. There isn’t much time left for that. I am home with our daughters. Jen’s  connection with her father is a powerful one-recognized and respected by everyone in her family (and me). She knows that she’s his favorite, (so does everyone else), and while he isn’t in the mood for much right now-she is the one he wants with him.

Her FB post:

Me: Dad, remember when you used to take me fishing?

Dad: Yeah, Beansie (her younger sister’s nickname, Jen’s is “Ding-Ding”…don’t know where these came from) went a lot too.

Me: How did we ever catch any fish? We sure did talk alot……… I guess is wasn’t about the fishing was it???

Dad: I guess not…

Me: Thanks Dad. 
*****sniff sniff*****

            Chloe is sleeping right now. She’s a teen, but gives us virtually no trouble. She is bright, beautiful, creative. Brenna, 13, could be described pretty much the same (in addition to the sleeping thing)-but is already taller and “leggier” than her mother and Chloe…a fact she enjoys razzing Chloe (and Jen) with. Our youngest, Ella (8), sits on the couch with the journal of letters Jen and I wrote to her when she was only “Little Fetus McConnell”. There are too many great moments to remember, too many awesome things these kids do every day…We have from day one loved them, held them, supported them, encouraged them, and made it clear we love them unconditionally. And I think you can tell. If you are familiar with them, know them, or have seen any of the crazy stuff they do-you can probably get it. I’m not trying to brag, I think we’ve merely fulfilled a minimum requirement that many others do as well.

           But fewer parents can or do these days-cut loose to the free market and investment wind as well as policy makers and the silent hands that guide them.There is our real achievement gap problem. Education reformers avoid this conversation like the plague, because it is impacting factor numero-uno on student outcomes. Finding someone in school to blame (not something outside of school they might have to help fix) is the current agenda because it holds opportunities in a new “education reform” market. But what reformers won’t engage with is a meaningful discussion regarding the quality of the bond that parents and children share, and how significant that is in determining a student’s ability to focus and achieve in school. If their basic needs are met, if they are emotionally secure, they are more likely to succeed.  Reform stars would probably say that they understand and feel this love, this unbelievably strong bond that begins even before the moment you see and hold your baby in your arms. The feeling that parenting is the most important thing you can ever do-to unconditionally love; to put the needs of another first; to give the world the best possible future by laying a loving foundation in your family world first.

            They would say they feel the same way, and that they know lots of others who do as well. Of course they do. That’s likely how they were raised, that’s the world they live in: where families have the resources and background to form these secure and loving bonds. For the sake of public relations, reformers cherry-pick just that type of family to put out front for their lawsuits or enroll in their semi-exclusive schools. What they are NOT getting, or willfully avoiding, is the fact that more children are coming to public school classrooms without that quality family foundation in place. They are unfamiliar with and/or unwilling to discuss a different type of family and dynamic that leads to a different sort of student coming to many public school classrooms. And more of them are coming as we sacrifice real life truths to the demands of market perspectives.

            The arrogance of enjoying a gated sort of existence and undeserved influence over others, then using outcomes of inequity as criticisms of those combating inequity is aggravating. Using influence from within those equity gates to decide on and enforce a brand of generic education for the masses outside is wrong. All kids should have the connections I see in my family,many families I know. and that those driving reform likely have. But fewer and fewer do.

            No amount of testing, no exclusive “public” charter school, no amount of arrogant rhetoric from those who will not take on the real burdens, no posturing from someone who themselves enjoys a gated sort of existence can do it. It is time for honestly “shared sacrifice”. Those who already have sacrificed are being asked for more by those who continue to avoid it.

Think reformers will agree?

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The Kamala Threat

I think the Democrat establishment feels threatened right now, by the gravitational pull of voters from their left, and plans to throw anyone who can be packaged as remotely progressive-ish out there. But Beto is a no-go. He’s a pretender whose claim to fame is that he lost to Ted Cruz. A superficial look at that tells me that must sting worse than losing to Trump (and that’s pretty sad-sorry Clinton fans). Kirsten Gillarybrand? Nah. She tries but doesn’t come off comfortable in her newly found faux-progressive skin. Buttigieg? Hard to tell right now. He is young, energetic, well liked, and supports a lot of the positions progressives hold dear. It could just be that flooding the market and letting competition sort them out is the solution to the immediate problem at hand, but the risk lies in voters falling into that lesser-evilism trap.

One thing that’s obvious: the Democrats will definitely cover the spectrum to distract from and try to dilute the raw energy in what has become, for all intent and purpose, “The AOC wing of the party” that they just can’t deny or control. Not to put pressure on her specifically, it’s just that she has proven that it can be done. She has shown that there are good people out there willing to lead within the Democratic party, and that the entrenched two-party establishment bears ALL the responsibility for denying voters those exciting (non-racist, non-bigoted, non-classist, non-misogynistic…) things to vote for.

So lately, the party establishment seems to be giving the okay (or at least pretending to) for more mainstream candidates to dip their toes into a little semi- Democratic Socialism. Millionaire media talk hosts on cable channels disguised as news shows are still a little reluctant to roll it around the critical-thought centers of their brains, instead grilling any who dare mention free-college or universal health care or living wages… and spitting out some version of “How can we possibly afford that?”  But I have not seen cable pundits respond to this simple counterargument:

“We only have empty pockets when it comes to the morally right things to do, but when it comes to tax cuts for billionaires and when it comes to unlimited war we seem to be able to invent that money very easily,” (Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez)

You would think that the supposed liberal, left-wing “mainstream media” would be pushing this, but Bernie-thought is a threat to THEM (the establishment and the media outlets depending on establishment money) as well. He he gets painted as the spoiler for true Democrats (“Yeah, but he’s NOT a Democrat” is their mantra) because true Democrats, I guess, side with war and tax cuts for billionaires, not with the people?

I have been trying to figure out whose cause the party truly champions. My N.Y. Assembly person (D) was a bit irked when I met with her following H.C.’s loss and I suggested opening up primaries to independent’s (if “big tents”, unity, and pulling in votes/voters is the goal). Indies tend to go “D”, I told her. She got a little angry, griping about providing “him” with support and infrastructure when he’s not even a Democrat. I understand that on the national level, the electoral college was the deciding factor (more so than bodies, because Clinton had the numbers on her side), but build a base and inspire buy-in at the state level, and that increased number of voters will statistically push the electorate towards the left.

I almost said “then Democrats don’t have any reason to get their hands on his email/donor list”, but we have generally had friendly meetings in the past and I wanted to try and keep it that way. Seems the party really resents him, both for his courage to push policies they dare not, and for his ability to inspire voters they will not. They have no interest in winning votes, just demanding them I guess. But they aren’t stupid, so they figure on suckering Berners in.

Which leads me to Warren.

An existing Dem office holder with that high of a profile does not run for the presidency without some strategic thinking; some meetings with leaders/insiders; discussions regarding platform; surrender of some principles, etc. Warren is acceptable progressive-bait, and while her antagonizing finance-sector creeps is fun to watch, loosening the nuts and bolts of their crimes has led to no substantial restructuring of the economy, no repeal of citizens united, minimal consequences (e.g. job loss and/or jail time) for the wealthiest and tip-toppiest of the criminal executives whose wealth and position are created (not earned) by soaking the nation and the masses. Lots of lefty talk, but small threat to the system that is.

Still, though, my dream ticket is a Warren/Sanders or Sanders/Warren. I don’t care who’s on top, but the Democrat establishment has not indicated honesty or consistency of will in tackling the issues AOC, Sanders, and Warren have made their names speaking out on. Quite the opposite, I think. Sputtering, pretending, deflecting, and denying the will of the voters on those issues while still feeling either entitled to the votes, or willing to sacrifice America to the greater evil instead of holding themselves accountable to the greater good.

That’s why I honestly think a Trump presidency was their 2016 fallback plan. They figured, worst case: after suffering through a Trump presidency, the Democrats could play hero and offer up to their voters someone slightly more center-right than Obama or Clinton and have it feel like that is a totally acceptable “lesser evil”.

Which leads me to Kamala Harris.

Her status as the party’s pick for 2020 seems pretty obvious. 20,000 people do not just show up in Oakland for a campaign kickoff . What is she, like the friggin’ Beatles doing an impromptu rooftop concert in the middle of London? Like people just hear her Kamala noise and wander inspired into the streets?

Hardly.

And this is why SHE’S the threat. Clearly there is an apparatus that would like to paint her to be the presumptive. She is smooth enough to say the almost right thing, and she ticks the superficial demo check list in enough places to get the resentful identity politic-ers heartily on board to push back the progressives.

But has it been so long since she laughed about cracking down on the poor parents of truant children? So long since she was dismissive of people wanting more schools and fewer jails, describing her need to have three locks on her door as evidence that you need to put people and keep people in jail. Stayed tough on low level/poor criminals and not-so-tough on banker crimes? Oversaw lawyers from her office who argued against early release for good behavior and time spent fighting wildfires for indentured servitude wages?

When the Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prison population because of the terrible conditions created by overcrowding, state attorneys argued that “if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool.”  (Nonprofit Quarterly, August 10, 2018)

Disclosure, Harris claims to have been unaware of this, but her willingness to incarcerate and to prioritize prisons over schools makes me wonder.

We need transparency to fully vet her as a candidate. We need to see her donor list. We need to know who chartered buses and got permits to bring in the crowd that showed up.

AND we need to go beyond that.

If freshman lawmakers are being oriented to their jobs/expectations by a string of CEOs and bankers, and being told “You’re in over your heads” and “You don’t know how the game is played” by rats like Gary Cohn, then we need to know who puts that schedule and list of speakers together and the first people we ask are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Then we go to Cohen and have him describe the game and how it’s played in his estimation.

Once we know the game, we decide whether on not we like it, want it and/or want to scrap it or change the rules. I’m not sure that Harris would be on board with that.

The Real “War on Christmas”

This appeared in the Opinion section of the Cortland Standard on December 19th, 2018.

As the season of giving arrives and resolutions time approaches, I think we should reflect on the nation’s potential better-self and plan to reach for it. We only blind ourselves with a limiting “presently great America” myth and deny the need for any change at our own peril. Can we possibly be better? Of course we can. We can always be better. An example of where we risk failure is in allowing the “war on Christmas” myth to live rent free in our minds without questioning it. In this modern age, no snowflakes should melt over this make believe war any more than virgins should be sacrificed to the volcano gods. We should be smarter than that.

I was never made to believe that the most important thing about Christmas was my right to deck halls, be jolly or say “Merry Christmas”.  I just do those things. I was especially  never made to believe others had to do what I do or say what I say. If demonstrations  of  spirit or belief are valued, I was made to believe that works of grace and good will are available all around us to either do ourselves or see others doing. Do them when you can if you want. Take comfort in knowing others do them when you see it happening.

But if you buy into some made up “war”, you’ve already lost a battle.  If you look the other way when you see a piece of the real war on Christmas being waged against refugees at our border (while raging over decorations, salutations or songs), you risk losing that war.

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. For example, one child suffering from exposure to lead in their environment can have tragic consequences, and that tragedy hits us in our heart when we see the face or know the name. 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 our leaders here in the land of the free and home of the brave could perpetrate or allow such things on that scale. I mean, so many people being injured, impaired intentionally or through negligence or apathy-advanced societies wouldn’t allow such things, right? Is that the sort of American Exceptionalism™ they want to lay claim to? You do have to wonder why, in what is more or less a two-party duopoly, neither the righteously proud pro-life party nor a supposed party-of-the-working class would address this sort of glaring, life-destroying oppression.

While so many here at home suffer, they instead cooperate in spending tens of billions of American dollars overseas- funding siege war campaigns, and supporting 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 amongst the population).

Education should aim for better than test proficiency

A sound, basic public education needs to prepare students to grapple with deeper questions once 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 mechanisms of the government and condition of the world they will inherit in order for them to make the smartest decisions about how to protect their best interests. But back to the essential question:

Today’s leaders wouldn’t act out of 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.

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.