Make or Break Time for Education

As an educator, I saw an opportunity in the return to school after that COVID-induced stretch of remote learning.

Not that COVID is really over, as much as people want to pretend it is. Right now it feels like we are fudging our way through the positive tests and the obvious illnesses. Back to knowing that if a parent has no daycare options, a sick kid might be sent to school. Onward, implementing the merest measures as a society in order to keep people at work, and students in school, protecting economic interests first.

The pandemic revealed our society for what it really is.

Regardless of what political party holds the reins, it would appear that a market-driven strategy that defers to efficiency and easily quantifiable outcomes wins out over the human endeavor of educating. If a truly educated and capable citizenry were the goal, how we design and implement the systems that allow us to educate would reflect that. There would be more honesty in policy language coming down into our schools and classrooms from above, and it would be more about learners and a comprehensive, whole-child look at their needs, less about the limiting boxes on spreadsheets filled with standardized test scores.

The opportunity I saw in the return to in-person learning was a chance to rethink our priorities regarding the goals we are setting for students.

A reach for our better selves and a higher purpose in our service to students and communities is needed, and I feel we are in a make-or-break moment for choosing to do that. The data we are mandated to collect officially is far different than the data we are compelled to collect by the multiplying realities in the moments instruction should be happening. Those “confounding variables” keep popping up to get in the way of better outcomes.

What data educators collect matters. How we use it to build understanding about the learners as developing human beings with needs and inform our educational decisions matters more. Empowering the people actually doing the work matters most.

More to come…I’m tapping this on my phone and will get to some editing tomorrow.

What Education Should Mean

I have long advocated for a better direction for education reform

Educators should be building a culture for learning, not standardization and perpetual testing, especially post-COVID. It’s not that I don’t think education needs to be done better-it absolutely does, and that’s why I am 100% pro-reform. But I am interested in real education reform. I’m talking about the type of education reform that turns our eyes away from screens, machines, and spreadsheets, education reform that empowers educators to attend to the learners as if they were actual living, breathing human beings right in front of us, because that’s what they are.

Don’t just take it from me, there are people who tell it better.

“But our obsessive need to measure academic progress and loss to the decimal point—an enterprise that feels at once comfortably scientific and hopelessly subjective—is also woefully out of tune with the moment…” (Stephen Merrill, April 2021)

      Merrill describes in that article the epic mistake of obsessing over “learning loss”, warning about focusing too much on the soulless bits and pieces of standardized assessment data during pandemic recovery. It’s a suggestion that we focus instead on the social/emotional return and support-allowing the bits and pieces to rise up from that foundation, the way it once did for the majority of students who once, long ago, arrived at school secure in themselves and ready to learn.

That article also states:

     “If there’s a pressing need for measurement, it’s in the reckoning of the social, emotional, and psychological toll of the last 12 months.”

     The best way to do that in the school setting is through culture-an approach to each other and our shared priorities and goals realized through instructional practice that includes a prioritization of social connections. Socratic Seminars are one example of how this can be worked into instructional practice. Another example, maybe even more powerful, is through storytelling.

On that foundation/culture:

     For years “Great Books” (or Junior Great Books) has been my response to the “What are your ideas/what should we do…” questions. What I really meant was the concept/approach, not that program specifically. There might be some meat on that carcass but I’d be building culture not buying more programs. The thing I loved about G.B. is the Socratic seminar format it relies on. It is engaging, challenging, and inspiring, given the right selection of texts to dive into.   

     I think using it in the youngest grades would include a lot of that morning meeting, What is the best way to take turns, …ask a friend to play, …say “I’m sorry” focus as the cognitive weaving is being done to establish social skills and consistent, reliable classroom and discussion norms. Once learners become acquainted with the thinking/sharing/ discussing around real life in and out of school, those skills can be turned towards exploring those issues and themes in what they read and in what they write about.

The Socratic Method is a way of thinking that involves three steps:

1) An initial definition or opinion.

2) A question that raises an exception to that definition or opinion.

3) A better definition or opinion

  Guided by a facilitator, individuals experience the three levels of Socratic dialogue, which are conversation, strategic discourse, and meta-discourse…

     That’s a technical definition. Execution in practice could vary a little, as the original purpose was to dissect a concept not pursue content. But teachers already engage students in this way (or something close to it), so it’s not an out-of-reach skill. Through specific activities like morning meetings and “fishbowl” discussions, it’s already done. Some teachers just have that instructional style and continually engage learners with thought-provoking questions, discussion, guided reflections and then follow-up questions, and so on.   

     Developing these skills (weaving that cognitive net) in K-12 would move that test score needle, and it might even create an eager reader/writer or two along the way. It will most certainly create learners who engage each other more productively. A more purposeful and systemic approach to creating a community of effective thinkers/questioners/ collaborators by doing Socratic seminars catches us bait that lands the fish that will fill our bellies with better test scores. 

On a personal note, this was/is my approach to my parental role in raising my daughters, and often is my approach to teaching.

     I don’t just talk a lot because I like to. I like to mess around with ideas and words and present them quickly in novel ways and I like to keep learners’ minds “on the hook”, with ideas followed by questions, then letting the line loose on occasion to see how they swim, letting them free when they’re ready to swim on their own. Whether it’s a content issue or a behavior issue I want the learner engaged in a thought-response-thread that keeps them weaving that net. Remember that net?

     So while my daughters have certainly suffered some, they are leaders because they are thinkers and reflectors. Their ideas today are a result of nurturing and engagement, and they learned early how to put good thoughts into good words. Why I remember clearly the day Chloe spoke what was (according to Jenn) her first full sentence:

“Momma, is that a crappy sidewalk?”

     With that one sentence, our little one demonstrated: great vocab skills, great recall and connecting concepts to words, presenting her idea in the form of a question to seek feedback and more ideas- a more concrete understanding (pun intended). She was out for a stroller ride around the block when we lived in Cortland, and you know how tree-lined streets in town tend to have sidewalk issues as roots heave cement and seasonal erosion takes its bites. The first thing Jenn told me when they got back to the house was the big “first sentence” event, and I couldn’t tell if it was a “proud tears moment for the scrapbook” thing, or a “this is because of the way you talk around her” thing, but casual talk and pointed and purposeful questions turned into reflective and responsive conversations as they grew. The McConnell’s “Socratic seminars” still happen, often around the family dinner table, but they are a little more demented these days.

We can’t go back in time with our students to create “ready to learn”

     …but I think we can work at establishing a foundation for and culture of learners in order to fill some gaps in that readiness while inspiring more to start weaving on their own and with each other. It will make their personal mission to learn more personal, meaningful, and relevant to their sense of belonging, to who they are, and to who they want to be. This is where storytelling comes in.

As educators we should embrace an understanding that storytelling can help educators make connections with each other and with their learners, making all feel valued and giving incentives to participate more. It is a path to better understanding, for both the listeners and the tellers. From cave paintings depicting the realities seen by long ago “historians”, to the epic oral tales of traveling performers, to stage performers and comedians like the late, great George Carlin, reflecting on our existence and sharing stories has educated us in ways that phonics drills and spelling tests never could and never will.

In my classroom, storytelling is one way I make connections and draw students in to engage their academic skills. Personal stories of my multiple foolish Tom Sawyer attempts to impress my personal Becky Thatcher (Carla) hit just right with students at that age. To know their own teacher was once living it and to have that connection makes them more tuned in to literary elements like plot, sequence, detail, characters, motivation, problem/solution… It’s about their teacher! Of course I don’t reveal that right away, but they catch on quick that the main character, “Little Danny” was me.

When I turn the stories I tell into short one-page stories they read, they are far more willing to write several sentences about the character traits of Little Danny and the mistakes he made, including descriptive details of the consequences. Some of these students, now grown, remember those stories and even the name of my crush. They remember the results of my foolish attempts to impress because those connections were built through the telling of the story. With that model to work from, students are better able to identify and track narrative elements of texts and stories they encounter, as well as start building the skills needed to develop narratives independently.

Conclusion:

Teachers need to be teaching with more stories. Not just stories in print or those read together and read aloud in class. I mean telling stories, sharing experiences and bits of themselves in a way that models for students how they can do that too. When people tell stories they provide their audience windows of opportunity to better understand the world, the others in it, and the experiences others have and are having. Creating communities of learners who engage in this practice would help strengthen the social and emotional connections humans crave and are sorely lacking in today’s world because this type of connection is what really matters to social animals such as ourselves. Stories and story sharing are primary ways learners build background knowledge, from cradle to grave, that they carry into their learning experiences.

An invitation to story time

This is a description of, and an invitation to, an endeavor that is purely for the enjoyment in participating and value in whatever takeaways you find. The path and destination are TBD, but the jumping-off point is gathering initial interest, in this school and in others around us, from former professors and teachers I know, and writers in the area. I’m collaborating with SUNY prof David Franke and we’ve spoken about what might come next down the road, but at this birth-of-an-idea stage, there’s no submitting for approval. There’s no post-conference survey, which means it’s no inservice credit thing. Right now it’s more of a gathering together, feel-good, self-care, soul project, SEL thing: 

Who doesn’t have a “got pulled over” story?  Have a “my favorite teacher” story? And everyone has a “What was I thinking!?” story! We tell stories from morning to night because they’re informative. They’re how we make sense of our experience. They’re a generous way to share what we know. The best stories are crafted, and for that, storytellers need a good audience.

Dan McConnell (Marathon SD) and David Franke, (Seven Valleys Writing Project, SUNY Cortland, English) would love to have you join us, first online and then in real space, to practice our stories. Our stories do not have to be about school and teaching, but we figure that will figure in. To put it another way, we have heard a lot of badly told stories (the news is an example), but we get few opportunities to tell our own.

If you are interested in listening or maybe even telling, you are already on your way to supporting the skills your learners need. Feel free to reach out and learn more, maybe even participate.

dmaxmj@gmail.com

More on Enrichment

Introduction

Public education has moved too far away from whole child and developmentally appropriate practices. The shift over the past decade-plus has been towards an endless pursuit and analysis of data that serves less humane motivations. This data, generally gathered through standardized assessments and representing student acquisition of discrete skills, is far too valued in the “how should we educate children” wake left behind the education reform and accountability movement from over a decade ago. Enrichment is the best way to shift the endeavor and focus back on the actual learners and their needs.

So what can we do?

Some of this long drive to Data-Town is beyond the control of classroom teachers and public schools. Through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) there are funds tied to efforts to “closing gaps” and accountability through data collection. States, my supposed teacher-union stronghold of N.Y. included, have had to develop plans for collecting statistically normed data for purpose of comparison, ranking, tracking of progress, and accountability.  

Now I like data and I crave information. Accountability, though, is a double-edged sword, and for a long, long, long time the only edge discussed is the one that cuts schools, educators, and in the end, students. Statistics I don’t like so much. I call it dishonest math for gentle liars, but I can understand why some choose to reach for numbers instead of truths and hug spreadsheets instead of children. I have little respect for it all, but it’s a fun thing to do with numbers if you’re not hurting people and it’s a low fence and a light lift. You get to avoid the hard truths.

My main issue, which I think could be largely resolved through enrichment, is that government agencies charged with oversight in a human endeavor like education continuously preach a caring message while perpetually falling back on that sterile and inhumane numbers-driven accountability bottom line. 

Take, for example, the goals of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative meant to close and “eliminate opportunity gaps” for boys and young men of color, and all students.”:

From p.7 of the 2020 revised NYSED ESSA plan

It’s easy to see that these are sequential goals, from entering school to a productive post-education life. The “Grow up in safe communities…” at the end is a sweet and hopeful goal.

But what about the first goal: “Enter school ready to learn”. Why is the Board of Regents, the body regulating public education, weighing in on what happens before students even arrive to participate in the public education they are regulating? What control do they have over what happens to students before they even arrive for day one of their public education?

“Ready to learn” happens at home and they know it. They know it, you know it, I know it…It happens in the community before they enter school. Otherwise, they enter not ready.

I need to gather my thoughts for part II. I’ll be getting more into enrichment when we get there.

An Enrichment Proposal 3 (Almost There!)

First,  I have thoughts on the failure to move test score needles. 

“Value added assessment”, norm- referenced data analysis, grit and rigor, HEDI scales, tethering students more and more onto screens and into platforms that exist for data production, collection and analysis, moving learners away from the symbiotic, social and synergistic processes that grow an adept human mind

The real important stuff that lays the foundation for success (e.g.,social, emotional and psychological development) was back-burnered in the pursuit of data. In the aftermath of the 2007-2010 financial crisis, schools became the distraction and target for accountability for what was ailing the nation. The housing market crashed and people’s lives were ruined, so clearly schools weren’t doing their job. We began racing to the top, and a decade later even Bill Gates had to admit his thoughts on how everybody else’s kids should be weighed and measured didn’t work out so well. 

Well, if a test score needle didn’t move, it’s no wonder. You aren’t going to save a crappy potato salad with even the most well-intended, highest quality, thick sliced hickory smoked bacon bits. It might get easier to choke down, but the salad will still be crappy, and people at the picnic will wonder why you wasted good bacon bits. 

Said more directly: academics will be a struggle if you don’t tend to the person and prepare the mind.   

An increased focus on more explicit counseling and social-emotional targets in the instructional day is really an admission of failure and/or unwillingness on the part of policymakers and society around schools. The role of public schools has more overtly become to fix the damage done by problems we refuse to take care of outside of school which transformed the natural process of SED into a necessary remediation/ intervention called SEL.

 I don’t resent it or anything, it just is what it is, and educators have already been doing it all along because we’re confronted with the growing needs daily. It’s just being officially made part of the job now. 

I say this gives the professionals a nod to not just do it as another one more thing you need to do, but do it right. Do it proudly, too, knowing that we are the ones with graduate degrees and experience, and we are capable of targeting academic skills while addressing the needs of the whole-child in order to create lifelong learners who can handle grit and rigor when it comes along. If we start enriching, in order to empower, it will be easier to educate. 

So as i work my way closer to how, know that I believe those working in schools already know this:

By treating children in the school setting like young human beings that go through stages of development that can be supported and encouraged, the same as we would with our own children out in the wild, just think of what we could accomplish. 

There’s that ringing again.

An Enrichment Proposal, Part 1.

Writing out of the humanity side of it all:

In the Introduction I lay the groundwork.

We are either blessed or burdened with one life on this tiny speck of dust, in a universe we can’t begin to truly comprehend or define, for purposes we may never know, and maybe weren’t meant to or don’t need to know. If you lean into believing there even is a purpose, and/or a demanding, all-knowing old guy in the sky doing all the work, you should honor blessings with real efforts, not just assume a merit badge or a train ride home for saying you believe. So when faculty meeting requests for ideas regarding how to best spend extra funds and invest efforts in the wake of COVID-19 began, it rolled me through that honor-my-blessings (and opportunity?) process.

Sure, I was a little leery. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where ideas are enthusiastically called for and collected. I’ve been disappointed. Pieces of chart paper hung all over with multicolored marker wish-lists/what do you needs/what should we dos in a wide variety of handwriting styles, fonts and sizes. That part was cool, I love it when collaboration and creation happen-we need more of that. It helps strengthen community and build spirit if it’s done right. 

It was almost always the same sort of stuff on those lists, though. Math facts. Phonics. Fluency. Explicit, direct instruction in handwriting. A packaged, produced and published curriculum that takes all the guesswork out of delivering content and interventions and gives lotsa books and copies to be made. Some rare glimmers of inspiration. Some definite worn down copier issues to come.

But when there was a call for Enrichment proposals, I was excited. There had been directives to think big, think “out of the box”, to think of something because we haven’t been able to move the needle on test scores for about ten years. I felt as if in the midst of a chaotic pandemic recovery, state-level decision-makers and NYSED had woken up and decided to leave behind the past ten years of their poisoned paradigm. They were sending word down from above to empower the people actually doing the job of educating children. Like they now really did want to hear from teachers and give them some say. 

And to suggest Enrichment! To me it felt like a dare. Like I might be taken off the leash. 

It felt like the universe was ringing.

I’ll explain the ringing in a sec.

An Enrichment proposal in this situation shouldn’t be an individual application or an audition for an isolated opportunity. It shouldn’t be a “Hey, here’s this suggestion that’s specifically for me and some cool thing I’ve always wanted to do with a few kids,” type thing. That’s not very inspiring or enriching. To me, a proposal is a great big, collaborative deal. 

For example, a proposal is me having the nerve to suggest to a beautiful young woman who is still way too good for me that she spend the one life she has on me, and a request that she allow me to spend my one life trying to prove what we make of it together was worth her while in the end. It might sound a little melodramatic, but looking back, the universe rang the moment I was introduced to her, when I purposely held her hand a little longer than I should have for a simple pleased-to-meet-you handshake.

I think about how lucky I am today for having had that moment, and I hear that ring from way-back-then. 

So in honor of the blessing and the ringing in my head

Once some tiny bit of that vast, magical unknowable (sourced from science or the divine) is captured, then mixed with some piss and rubber from melted down tires, with the magical ending of an ass getting inked onto this jailhouse called Earth…I gotta believe that creation comes with obligation. An obligation to listen for that ringing, and to try and make it happen for others.

That’s where Enrichment begins.

An Enrichment Proposal: Introduction

Introduction:

Teaching has changed. Apparently becoming  a teacher is changing as well. I just saw an article out of NYSED saying so, I think. I have to go back and see for sure but I believe I got one of those widely spread, “from the office of…”, release/emails from the office of NY Ed Commissioner Rosa mentioning the Ed Department making it easier for student teachers to get into the classroom. 

At the start of the most recent “reform” movement, when the intent was to present lack of teacher quality and education accountability as the critical issues in student outcomes, it felt as if the certification process was made more difficult. Maybe a pendulum is swinging in the other direction? I don’t want to lower standards for those educating the citizens of tomorrow, but overall I think making certification a more coherent process is a good thing. I think making it more honest is even better. For the sake of honesty: I don’t think the quality of educators and candidates for the field, or difficulty of getting into the profession is at the heart of the “why” in teacher-supply challenges.

I think it’s more a matter of purpose and lack of integrity in those who began pushing those reforms a little over a decade ago. The teacher shortage was a widely recognized concern long before COVID because the job is getting more difficult and thankless and has been getting that way for some time. Invaded by the consequences of a lack of political will outside of schools, educators are left to battle the fallout from inhumane policy blowing into schools.

If you’ve worked for more than a handful of years in the classroom, you’ve seen that fallout for some time. You know children are being neglected and left behind by “American Exceptionalism”, becoming harder and harder to engage and educate. They are more absorbed by the eye-candy found on screens and the sales of superficiality (i.e. being tick-tock famous, having lots of “hits” and “likes”, owning the latest model of this or that…). We are raising other people’s children first in order to teach them, and the ones who do come ready to learn get shortchanged in the struggle to meet the needs of all.

Education, as it is being mandated from above, is less about the value we are adding to humanity and more about competing on the playing field of standardardization, the “free market”, the statistics, and determinations of value within human beings as demonstrated by the data they produce. Educators are continuously tied to these numbers in this statistical paradigm which lumps the ready to be “proficient” with those who struggle to be so. In this manner, our attention is drawn away from the actual human beings involved. That we are just all victims and left with oh well, what can we really do about it, to me, is complacency and surrender.

That shouldn’t be acceptable for other people’s children any more than it is or was for my own. That all being said, with much more to say, I’ll get to the point. I am proposing that educators do Enrichment. With a capital “E”. Not as an intervention or an add on, but as a mindset and approach for all.

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.