Taking Advantage of this Opportunity to Think Big

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

I think big as a rule…

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

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

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

It seems our students are having difficulty, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d like to shift towards:

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

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

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

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

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

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

     The sun simply shone. 

     The man took the coat off himself!

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

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

What’s up with teaching

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

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

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

Like how health care could but probably never will be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s up with teaching?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet here we are.

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

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

Before you use history, know it.

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

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

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

Which is zero.

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

But the donor-class is getting nervous.

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

And the streets are boiling over.

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

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

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

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

There is a debt owed, party affiliation aside.

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

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

Educators need to teach about racism.

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

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

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

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

Existing political and economic establishments continue to suppress human potential.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we educate learners on the topic of racism?

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

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

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

Share everything,

Play fair

Don’t hit people

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

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

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

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

The human beings encountered in the explorer’s log.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) What do you know about Christopher Columbus?

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of the people, Columbus says:

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

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

The kicker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even better, another reflection question:

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

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

Being me being presidential

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

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

On the “threat” of socialism

Originally appeared in Cortland Standard March 6th, 2020

When the levers of government benefit society as a whole, that’s socialism. Those levers facilitate capitalism as an overall benefit to society. Government builds and maintains bridges and roads  to assist capitalism: people working, delivering, buying, selling, vacationing… Government supports fire and police departments that drive on those roads and bridges to protect us and our property. That’s socialism facilitating capitalism to the benefit of all.

                 Levers of government work to bail out big banks, subsidize multinational corporations and redistribute the wealth of our nation upward with a supposed return of innovation and job creation. When the wealthy trickle down on us we all enjoy the warmth, they say, but the trickle has diminished these past few decades. That happens with age I hear. Other levers can help a semi-literate lecher claim bankruptcy multiple times, call himself a business genius, and win the White House to add “President of the United States” to his list of accomplishments.

                The problem with these levers is that misuse and abuse by those who need and deserve them least erodes democracy. So don’t allow yourself to be brainwashed by those who already benefitted from socialism the most and now use their soapbox of privilege to scare you. The have-nots aren’t coming for your stuff. Those who already have it want even more.

                Taxing the 100,000 wealthiest Americans in a way that makes no material difference in their lives could transform the lives of everyone in America for the better. The rich will continue to get richer just on the capital they’ve already accumulated. They’ll just be leaving us further behind at a slower pace.

That’s not so scary, is it?

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

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

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

Don’t just count your blessings, share them

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

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

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

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

My Good Fortune

I can’t explain my good fortune

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

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

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

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?