The Sound of Silence

June 10, 2021: Florida Board of Education passes a gag rule to prevent teachers from “indoctrinating children” about disturbing topics such as how racism has shaped American institutions and history.

“The rule is clear in telling teachers what they can teach and what they cannot teach.” Ben Gibson, Florida State Board of Education member.

The rule passes as amended to specify exactly the history Florida teachers are to teach. The indoctrination insult passes with it as a corollary, but no one wanted to address that.

The last board member to speak, Monesia Brown, channeled her best Betsy Devos as she talked about the need for professional development to help teachers understand what they are to teach and what they are not.

In previous posts, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) has discussed the politics behind the rule, The Weeping Angels, and whether the facts of Reconstruction, the Civil Rights era, and the contributions of non-white people will actually be allowed under the rule given its ban of specifically identified interpretations of that history, Strange Fruit.

But the new rule is more insidious than that. It includes this language, “Efficient and faithful teaching further means that any discussion is appropriate for the age and maturity level of the students, and teachers serve as facilitators for student discussion and do not share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view that is inconsistent with the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards and the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards.” [Emphasis from GOT.]

The rule is quite clear that teachers may present facts as was the discussion surrounding the adoption of the rule, with its specific ban on teaching from the 1619 project and Critical Race Theory that is further specified as meaning that racism is limited to individual prejudice, racism may not be discussed as inherent in societal systems, and should not ever, ever, ever be intimated that there’s such a thing as white supremacy. Don’t take GOT’s word for it; read the rule as amended for yourself.

Let’s get real. Let’s get down and dirty about what really takes place in a classroom.

Teachers who bring up controversial topics for discussion are subject to parent complaints when their children get home and report on their day. It’s not what the teacher said or didn’t say; it’s not what the teacher did or didn’t do. It’s that some parents object to the topic appearing in the classroom at all.

And they complain–loudly.

As a rule, given their institutional nature, school systems react to criticism by wishing it hadn’t happened. Ambitious admins don’t want trouble; they want their higher-ups to think they have their school well-managed and under control.

They do! But that doesn’t mean that controversy will not surround them unexpectedly.

This is when the true impact of the new rule will come. Silence will fall.

Take a look at the big picture. Since 2011, ten years ago, no teacher in Florida is able to be hired except under an annual contract. That means that they must receive a renewal or new contract every year to keep their job. Teachers who change districts must go onto annual contracts. They cannot transfer the job rights they have under an existing professional services contract to the new district.

A principal, acting on their own or under district pressure, needs not to give a teacher an excuse for non-renewal. As the school year ends, all they have to say to the unfortunate teacher is that they are not renewing the contract.

The teacher is fired. Finis, turn out the lights, let the door hit you in the <ahem>, it’s over. No reason need be mentioned.

In the whispers that mark those brief in-the-hallway meetings, teachers exchange the advice that the best course of action is to ‘fly under the radar.’ Or even better, stay off the radar completely.

Don’t believe for a moment that the governor, commissioner, or the state board members are unaware of this. They publish rules whose words seem to give permission for teachers to present the entire history. But in truth, they know that won’t happen.

How many teachers will or, more realistically, can afford to buck the system? GOT is lucky to be close enough to retirement not to have to worry. But for too many, the sound of silence will be heard in their classrooms.

“Hello darkness, my old friend … people writing songs that voices never share and no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

The original. No disrespect, Paul & Art, but I like Disturbed’s cover better.

Strange Fruit

(Oh, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) knows exactly what he’s referring to.)

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How do you take bad and make it badder? The yellow highlighting offers more than a clue.

In the end, the proposed amendment to Rule 6A-1.094124 wasn’t specific enough for Board Member Tom Grady. Teach the facts, not the truth, won the day as if the two are separate and distinct and have no relation with one another.

The study of history is not about the narrative that explains what happened and how it impacts the present, which is news to Herodotus (484 – 425 BCE), the “Father of History,” who did that very thing.

Nope, for the State Board of Education and its Commissioner, doing the bidding of the Governor, and to drive home that fact, today’s meeting opened with a video address by the Governor*, who couldn’t be present because he was on the West Coast raising cash for his upcoming campaigns, history is nothing but the recitation of facts.

No wonder kids are bored in school. If ever they get interested and want to discuss what something means, the adults shut down the conversation.

“Curiosity is not a sin,” said a famous fictional headmaster. But now, after today’s meeting, it certainly is–at least in Florida. One can almost imagine Joe Friday sitting up on that dais, “The facts, ma’am. Just the facts.”

Now, teachers have no choice. Systemic racism, the type that played out in today’s State Board of Education meeting, must be denied. Different interpretations of historical events and what they mean will not be allowed. Only the official version of history, the whitewashed version as many public commenters called it, is acceptable in a Florida classroom.

You might say that’s strange fruit from a body of appointees who only have the best interests of students in mind. But the tools of oppression have taken many forms in American history, including the policy passed today in Florida, which lynched more black persons per capita during the Jim Crow era than any other state.

That’s a fact. Can Florida teachers teach it in their classrooms?

Maybe. Lynchings took place in an era when official governments, state and local, didn’t have to do much to uphold white supremacy. Non-legal paramilitary groups, like the KKK, took care of that. All governments had to do was to acquit if things ever got as far as a public trial.

And it happened–over and over and over again, Emmett Till perhaps being the best-known example. That’s a fact. Can Florida teachers teach it in their classrooms?

Strange fruit. That’s a song sung by Billie Holiday from the late 1930s until her death. You may not want to listen to it; it’s very disturbing to have these facts driven into the imagination through music.

She didn’t live an easy life; no black person did in those days. As she lay dying, after struggles with substance abuse, after the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, in particular Harry Anslinger, made it his mission to stop her from singing Strange Fruit, warning her to never sing the song again and pursuing her for 20 years, …

She refused. She continued to sing the song until her death and Anslinger pursued her for all those years. Even in the hospital, dying, he had her taken into custody.

These are facts, the type of facts Ron DeSantis, Richard Corcoran, and the state Board of Education pretend can be taught in Florida schools.

Strange fruit.

*GOT’s link is not to an actual video link although it seems that the governor did link to a video excerpt from The Florida Channel. That is forbidden by the terms of service of The Florida Channel, not that the Governor thinks that rules apply to him. His godfather thought the same thing, too.

The Weeping Angels

Doctor Who' Rogues Gallery: The Weeping Angels | Anglophenia | BBC America

Of all the scariest new monsters the updated Doctor Who series introduced, the Weeping Angels are the worst. They are quantum creatures, who only freeze into position when they are being observed. They cover their faces because, if they ever observe one another, they will freeze into place permanently.

Our anthropomorphism sees their hands over their faces and interprets that as the human reaction of crying and not wanting others to see. Thus, the Weeping Angels.

What makes this monster particularly terrifying are two things: one, statues of weeping angels are common, especially at cemeteries; two, they kill by sending their victims back in time. The victims live out their years in the wrong time with the wrong people. Their current potential frozen forever in the past.

So it is today with Governor Ron DeSantis, one of many American governors striving to be the most repressive of democracy, the will of the people, and equality. It must be exhausting setting up hundreds of straw men and then taking down, one by one, but this ‘angel’ is doing his best. From ending unemployment benefits to privatizing schools, forbidding businesses from asking about vaccination (you know, given how cruise ship passengers were hammered with Covid because of the shipboard systems and environment, you might think the cruise lines would be justified because their liability is off the charts) to ridiculing public health measures, the governor has moved to a new target: Critical Race Theory (CRT).

Poor DeSantis. Life is so trying for a half-wit governor with presidential ambitions, whose godfather is such a tease and now living in the backyard, who tries so very, very hard to prove that he is the most loyal as we see in real life what only an author could previously imagine: the Death Eaters in the graveyard trying to prove to Lord Voldemort that they are loyal and would never question his sanity.

“I assure you, my Trump, I have never renounced your false claims, …”

Thus, this Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Jacksonville, Florida, the state Board of Education will meet to rubberstamp the new rule proposed by the commissioner of education on behalf of the governor that forbids teachers defining American history as “something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” Teachers will be forbidden also to “share their personal views or attempt to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” (Source: Florida Politics.)

In other words, the governor demands that Florida’s public schools teach U.S. history as the successful establishment of a new nation based upon the principles enunciated in the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

He’s not alone. Many states are proceeding along the same lines. All teachers will be allowed to do is to teach that ALL men are created equal, that ALL are endowed with unalienable (cannot be severed) rights of LIFE, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) can do that. His fellow teachers, social studies and non-social studies alike, can do that. We can uphold those stirring statements while allowing students to examine how well our nation has lived up to those words.

Uh-oh. Cue the Weeping Angels. Because that is not what they intend. They want to ban the very mention of racism in the manner of a baby playing peek-a-boo that believes if they don’t see something, it doesn’t exist. CRT looks at American history, not in a condemnatory or judging manner, but in an attempt to see the racism that runs through it.

DeSantis can play his ‘whack-a-mole’ (his words) to try to stop a discussion of racism, but he cannot make it go away. All he has to do is unscrew the machine to see that the moles are still there, hidden beneath the surface, until they pop back up in places like Minneapolis, Elizabeth City, Louisville, and even in GOT’s town, Jacksonville.

If you teach ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘life, liberty …’ to students of color, expect them to wonder about that word ALL.

We haven’t even begun discussing the property rights, the right to build, hold, and pass on wealth to heirs that is the real meaning of ‘pursuit of happiness.’ That brings up Wilmington, Ocoee, Rosewood, Chicago, the Red Summer of 1919, and Tulsa.

But the Weeping Angels have that covered. History can be taught, any history at all, as long as we pretend that race had nothing to do with it.

That’s how it was in the old days, the days of segregation, Jim Crow, and unchallenged White Supremacy. (Although, if we’re allowed to examine real history, we find out that never went unchallenged and challenges, real and imagined, were brutally punished.)

Those are the days DeSantis longs for. The days of the base that Donald Trump plays to. And the days that these Weeping Angels hope to send us back to–days to live out our lives in a past where the rights of non-white people were denied and the power of government, state and local, enforced that orthodoxy.

One tap on the shoulder should do it.

Critical Race Theory

White Supremacy dies hard and it’s not going away without a fight. Cue the deep red state legislatures and pandering governors to present another non-issue that doesn’t exist in our nation’s public schools: Critical Race Theory.

What Is Gingivitis? | SK Family Dental
Is it real or is it Listerine?

What is gingivitis? It is an inflammation of the gums. Nobody knew that when a decades-old mouthwash company threw the word into a scare ad campaign. OMG, you have GINGIVITIS?! You need to use our product three times a day!

The old pleadings to avoid ‘bad breath’ no longer worked. So borrow a word, use it entirely out of context and its meaning, and hope to scare people into buying what they were selling.

For laughs, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) will indulge in a reminiscence from his high school days, when he and his friends would go to the University of Maryland library to do research for a term paper. He loved to spend time in the stacks looking at old magazines from the 1910s and 1920s. Especially hilarious were the ads and this mouthwash company was prominent in their old-timey claims that the product would cure dandruff, prevent bruises, clean the floors, cure gonorrhea, and soothe chapped hands.

Critical Race Theory is the gingivitis of today’s shock politicians who would have you believe that it is the evil, no, currently THE EVIL, with which rogue teachers are indoctrinating children.

Before we go any further, let’s deal with that issue–teachers indoctrinating children as if your local public school was a re-education camp that the Chi-Coms specialize in (see Uighurs and cultural genocide a/k/a forced assimilation.)

When we pierce through the claims of politicians, culture warriors, and sadly-misled parents, we find the theory of B.F. Skinner: behaviorism, or that a series of rewards and punishments will cause humans to adopt desired behaviors, including thoughts and beliefs, and to abandon undesired behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs.

In the Silicon Age, where we interact daily, almost constantly, with machines driven by the movement of electrons on small wafers of sand, whose movement is guided by the programming or directions laid down by a human engineer, it is easy to believe that the education of children follows the same process.

Behaviorism is the theoretical foundation for that understanding of learning and human psychology.

How easy it is for opportunistic politicians to exploit this connection for power and profit. Children have no minds of their own; they are new computers fresh out of the box and the struggle is over who will program them: evil, leftist, commie, socialist, union teachers or those who are walking across the water to save the children.

GOT exaggerates. Or does he?! Twenty-five years of educational reform have led us to this very place, where the behaviorist/human programming theories drive laws like NCLB and ESSA, in which outside factors on the lives of children are thrown aside and teachers, schools, and administrative personnel are held accountable for a failure to program young minds made of carbon and possessing a human soul to score at artificially-set levels along an unintelligible scale.

If you need help to understand that, ask yourself why the Fahrenheit scale sets the temperature of water freezing at 32 degrees. What is magical about the number 32? Why not 50? Why not zero? Why 32?

Why indeed? And now that GOT has you wondering about the learning theories that reform-minded politicians, self-appointed experts, and others assume without ever offering an explanation as to why they are correct, he will end this post here.

Part Two to come. No ‘tl;dr’ for this blogger! 🙂

Dress Code Blues

In the old days, those ancient times before there was even an Apple II, the PC was not even an ideation in the minds of the boardroom of Big Blue, ensconced in Armonk, New York, when Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) graduation present was a 4-function TI calculator that cost his parents $100 (yes, really) that today you can buy for a quarter, we didn’t have PhotoShop.

We didn’t have the technology for this nonsense: St. Johns County (FL) yearbook advisor alters the photos of 80 girls for alleged dress code violations.

Riley O'Keefe
You be the judge: Is that some bad editing or what?

Here’s one example of what went down. The others are just as bad or worse. Maybe the poor advisor was at home, late at night, fighting a deadline, and with a little too much wine … nope, too far a reach for even GOT.

It’s a fact that dress codes are outdated, driven by outmoded concepts of female modesty, male sexuality, and gender roles.

But it’s also true that this has been going on long before the silicon revolution that brought us computers, smartphones, and digital programs to alter images.

In GOT’s day, it was called airbrushing. Maybe someone couldn’t copy the black top and draw it into other regions, but a talented photographer in the development room could blur out that cleavage the same as they would brush out facial blemishes and other temporary flaws that the hormones of adolescence often produced to the embarrassment of the afflicted.

As others have pointed out, distraction by a ‘flat-belly’ happens to both genders, female as well as male. Teenagers are dealing with new feelings and sensations and, in a time of trying to figure it out, some disguise their reactions better than others. Things happen and we usually call it the process of growing up.

GOT imagines that back in the 19th century, when the skirt of a female was expected to reach the floor, if a girl stretched out her leg and her ankle showed, that would be distracting to males at the time. It’s not what’s showing, but that what’s forbidden is showing.

But how is that ankle the responsibility of the body that owns it? The problem of using distraction as a justification for dress code bans is that it excuses people from having self-control. The impulsiveness of adolescence carries the need to develop self-discipline. Blaming another for one’s lack of self-control delays the development of adult-needed character.

Schools shouldn’t do that even though dress codes are needed. Even as societal mores (there should be an accent over the e–pronounce it morays, but WordPress is being ridiculous about this) change and fashions come and go, most of us can recognize that an attitude of “I can wear whatever I want wherever I want” won’t work in a school.

We are dealing with teenagers, after all, whose developmental agenda includes pushing the boundaries. How else do they learn where those boundaries are? It is the job of adults to set appropriate boundaries, emphasis on appropriate, and that’s where the mischief begins. Or fun, depending on your point of view.

Schools shouldn’t have separate dress codes for males and females. Beyond the vague ‘don’t distract the boys, girls’ rule of the St. Johns County dress code, they had separate restrictions to apply to those who carry an ‘xx’ chromosome and those who have an ‘xy’ one.

CHEEKY TIE SIDE BOTTOM
Okay for the beach or pool, but not at school.

It’s not easy to spell out a dress code. Male and female fashions are different, sometimes very different.

Take swimwear for example. Simply banning attire that is designed for swimming leads to problems. No one would believe that the female bikini should be worn at school, nor the male Speedo, but the fact is that the same material that is spun out of crude oil (lycra, nylon, and spandex among many others) is used to make swim trunks and shorts.

Speedo Coded Riff Brief – Purple – The Swim Shop
Save it for the swim team, please.

One is okay for school and the other is not? What’s the difference? Swim trunks have liners sewn in and no zipper for the fly. Shorts have no liner but a zipper. Males wearing shorts need to have underwear on. None is needed for swim trunks.

Female swimwear, being designed very differently, doesn’t have this type of distinction.

Anyone getting the problem here? It’s easy to ban swimwear for a female fashion, but for the male fashion, well, how do you determine if there’s a liner? Trust GOT, no one–absolutely no one–wants to look down a boy’s shorts to decide if it’s swimwear or not.

But we seem to have no problem getting that up close and personal with girls. The St. Johns dress code story did not start with the yearbook editing; it began with the school in question pulling girls out of class and demanding they unzip or take off their hoodies so the school could see what they were wearing underneath.

‘One student, who did not wish to be named, told News4Jax a male teacher pulled her out of class and she was told to unzip her jacket in front of people in the main hallway. The student said she had a sports bra underneath her jacket and was told what she was wearing was inappropriate. The student told News4Jax: “I was walked downstairs got it taken which was my bra and was told I have detention.”’

Dress codes are needed. Adults understand that there’s a difference between what they need to wear at work and at home, at church and beach, in the mall and in the bedroom. Schools must set guidelines for students to make the right choices, but they cannot distinguish between male and female, shame students, or be disproportionate in enforcement.

There are good examples of model dress codes. Here’s one that specifies the essential without targeting a particular gender or style. Here is another.

Basically, these dress codes require that the body be covered from armpit to about 3 or 4 inches below the crotch. Upper garments should have straps that go over the shoulders and underwear must be covered. Clothing that advertises violent, sexual, illegal activity including drugs, etc. are not allowed. Other than that, good taste is encouraged in the choice of clothing that children wear to school.

That’s it.

Isn’t that all we need?

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

The quote is attributed to Winston Churchill as he received the King’s appointment to be Prime MInister in May 1940 to form a new government and prosecute the war with Nazi Germany. However, for the last 20 years, it is the plaintive cry of every American school child in grades 3 through 10 taking numerous state tests because we must have data to measure … it used to be student learning, but now takes in school quality, teacher accomplishments, administrative worthiness, and district whatever … Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) supposes that in the year of 2021, school testing is used to measure everything but the level of water in the kitchen sink.

Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat T-Shirt - America's National Churchill Museum  Store
And a #2 pencil.

It is 2021 and the ‘compassion and grace’ of the previous year has been replaced by the driving need, which rhymes with greed, of the Testing-Reform Complex to measure learning loss, a dubious concept at best that actually means how much worse will kids score on the tests this year.

Yes, we are testing this year and doing our best to intimidate parents and children who opted to continue their learning in their bedrooms to come onto our campuses because the test must be taken.

“Da Plane! Da Plane! Boss, da Plane!” was the opening shout for the TV show Fantasy Island as the assistant Tattoo (played by Herve Villechaize) watched from a tower for the island’s guests to arrive.

That is May 2021. This is the refusal of Miguel Cardona to grant waivers for state testing. “Da Test! Da Test! Biden, da Test!” is the shout of the U.S. Department of Education that echoes through American schools.

America, we are testing your children.

Again.

It doesn’t have to be this way. GOT is approaching retirement age and he can assure you, parents, community members, and children, that school was not always about testing, test preparation, endless hours spent on computers doing test preparation programs like iReady, Achieve 3000, &c. &c., and everything turned out just fine nonetheless.

For the third Saturday in a row, GOT has worked (paid hours, thankfully, at the full rate for those who know how the school district often promises to pay for extra hours but at a discount) to test children who have spent the year learning at home, but must take the test at school. Their parents did not want them to report to campus during the week; to accommodate their concerns, we have had Saturday testing sessions.

“Da Test! Da Test!”

The Biden administration along with its new Secretary of Education assures us that the tests are needed to measure what they call learning loss. They promise the results will not be used for anything but to identify what schools they should direct federal resources to.

Talk about a Fantasy Island.

Federal resources do flow to states, but then they are in the control of state governments who will direct them where they wish regardless of what a president or secretary of education wants.

And in too many states like Florida, state authorities will redirect every dollar they can into trumped-up programs (not a pun, but very much intended) that shovel those resources into private, religious, and charter schools.

Meanwhile, those struggling schools? At least as identified by state test results and that’s a debate we’ll have to leave to a later post, they get bupkis because the states believe a take-over by a charter school or shutdown is preferable to actually letting the school have the resources it needs.

But all that is predicated on giving the tests so that the agendas of people who don’t give a damn about school children can achieve their policy goals.

“Da Test! Da Test! Biden, da Test!”

Sorry, GOT knows bloggers are supposed to dispassionately discuss the issues of education, cite studies and link sources to support their arguments, and take down the stances of people who don’t know bupkis about what goes on in a school … but he’s tired.

Testing does that to teachers.

But still, we must fight back. Because the reformers … they love a very different Churchill speech. With a few edits, this is what we stand against:

“We … shall test on the beaches, we shall test on the landing grounds, we shall test in the fields and in the streets, we shall test in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this state or a large part of it stopped testing … then our state education departments, armed and guarded by the neoliberals and neocons alike, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the Brave New World of Education Reform, with all its power and might (thank you, Gates, sorry about the divorce, and Waltons), steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of …”

Testing. So very, very tired of it all.

Decisions, Decisions–What’s a School District to Do?

disney peter pan Disneyedit indianajones •
Let’s survey the audience.

Even as we close out the Covid school year, districts are wrestling with deciding how to open schools in August. What mitigation measures should they keep in place? What should they drop? What does the community want? Parents? Students? Teachers and staff?

Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district has put a survey online to gather stakeholder input. (Stakeholder is a fancy word that means anyone whose life is affected by what takes place in the city’s schools. Employees, parents, students, obviously. But it also includes community organizations, local businesses who depend upon the school for customers, people who live around a school, etc.) You can find the survey here.

If you’re expecting a bash post, you will be disappointed. GOT is going to share the questions, the limited options, the answers he gave, and what he really wanted to offer.

Face Masks: mandatory; optional except for hallway movement, crowded spaces, and lack of social distancing (now defined as three feet); optional; undecided.

Undecided. Actually, GOT is very decided, but the response that couldn’t be offered is that it depends upon vaccination rates. If a significant number of teenagers get vaccinated over the summer, GOT would support making face masks optional. If not, we had better continue with a mandatory policy.

Because the new authorizations are limited to children 12 and older, continue with the existing mandatory policy for elementary schools.

Transportation a/k/a the school bus: mandatory on buses; optional if students are three feet apart (LOL, has a district official ever ridden on a school bus?); optional; undecided.

Undecided. Again, it depends upon the vaccination rate. As for that three feet apart rule, the district wouldn’t run a bus with that few children riding on it. They would find a cheaper solution–like giving children vouchers for the city bus system. Don’t sneer, they’ve done it before. GOT remembers the summer program where 12 year old children were going to be given vouchers for city buses until an assistant principal brought the district to their senses.

Desk shields: mandatory; mandatory in classrooms that can’t meet the three foot rule or for small groups (LOL again! Nothing promotes small group learning like erecting barriers so the group members stare at one another through cellophane windows); teacher preference (Don’t be cynical. That really is an option); available for any student or employee who wants one; removed; undecided.

Removed. Even the CDC now says they do nothing to prevent the spread of disease. If you don’t believe them (they do have some credibility problems left over from 2020 when their contortions to please ‘the former guy’ and yet give sound advice left their reputation shredded,) know that when the county health department (DOH) calls to identify students for quarantine, they don’t give a hoot about the desk shields. They quarantine everyone, shielded or not.

Temperature checks: continued for students and employees; done only when the DOH says to; eliminated; undecided.

Eliminated. Praise to the parents! They kept sick children home this year, which made the temperature checks unnecessary. We don’t need them.

Did you notice that the survey combines checks for students and employees together? Why didn’t they offer the choice of students only? GOT is weary, so weary, of his district treating him like a cheat and a liar that cannot be trusted. If GOT is running a temperature and is sick, he will stay home. That’s what adults do. The problem with school systems is that, because they exist for the benefit of children, the honchos who run things tend to treat everyone like they are a child.

Hand sanitizer: placed in classrooms; only if the DOH identifies an ‘outbreak’ of Covid; stop providing it; undecided.

Provide it to classrooms, now and forever! Teachers have needed hand sanitizer before the pandemic began in March 2020. Begin with the fact that student bathrooms seldom have soap in the dispensers. The first thing a student returning from the bathroom asks for is the hand sanitizer. Flu season arrives and hand sanitizer would be a great boon in maintaining the health of children and staff. But before the pandemic, the district was meh! Buy it yourself, teacher, isn’t that what your supply money check is for? Maybe now, they will see the importance of classroom sanitization and will continue to provide the supplies for it.

Anti-microbial spray treatment: continue to treat every 90 days; treat only when DOH determines there has been an ‘outbreak’ of Covid in the school; stop; undecided.

Continue. While we have no direct evidence of efficacy, we also know that the typical flu season was non-existent this year. Covid and flu are different viruses when it comes to size. Covid is tiny, floats in the air for a long time, and prevention measures need to address ventilation and air filtration. But flu is large and heavy, and tends to settle on surfaces only a short distance from a cough or sneeze.

How narrow a focus should a school district have on the health of students? Should we only talk about Covid or should we widen our approach to address the common viruses that spread through schools? A wider focus would demand that the treatments continue. Even if Covid wanes and dies out, flu is endemic. It is a recurring part of our lives. Continue the treatments.

Wellness app: continue each day; use only when DOH identifies an ‘outbreak’ at a school; eliminate; undecided.

ELIMINATE! Forgive the all-caps shouting, but this has been the dumbest mitigation measure the district implemented. First, revisit the point about treating employees like children rather than the adults that they are. We can be trusted. Second, has anyone in the district even read the app? Why do they ask an employee every day if they have been exposed to Covid within the last 14 days? Didn’t we answer the same question yesterday? Do they think we are liars and this time they will catch us?

Third, students do not have to answer the questions. The entire wellness app is exactly what anyone fills out when going to a doctor’s office. The district forced this on employees not because it would help stop the spread of Covid in the schools, but to allow the legal department to aver that we follow CDC guidelines. Why does the district seek to be compliant rather than have classrooms engaged in sound practice? (Yes, for the astute, that’s a veiled criticism of the learning arcs and administrative inspections.)

Lastly, do district employees fill out the same app when reporting to headquarters? Does the superintendent? Do school board members? (Enquiring minds want to know.)

That’s a wrap. These are the questions for which the district seeks your input. Again, here’s the link to the survey. And if, like GOT, you want to add an explanation or offer an answer not on the menu, put a comment on the post.

Closing Out the Covid Year

It has been a year like no other. While a pandemic disaster did not strike to close all the schools in Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) north Florida district, as we once anticipated through the holidays, Covid mitigation and adjustments have still had their effect. As we close out the school year (thirteen school days left [yay!] along with a boatload of testing [boo!], how are we doing in our schools?

  • Warm and sometimes humid weather has arrived, which makes mask wearing uncomfortable for students. They are weary of the mitigation measures, yet will still comply with the mandate when told to do so. Everyone is done and ready for the end, including teachers, administrators, and support staff.
  • Almost all parents are sending their home learning children to the campus to take the state tests. It seems that the test-taking culture is well-ingrained into our culture. They kept their children home for health and safety reasons, but it is the test after all and the almighty test must be taken.
  • The usual strain on school resources, time, personnel, and space, has been trebled by the need to keep the in-person students and the at-home students separate.
  • The at-home students don’t want to be separate. They ask why they can’t eat lunch with everyone else.
  • No teenage boys have yet laughed when GOT tells them to ‘keep it up’ referring to their face mask.
  • Grades are suffering. Children who normally care about their performance are lackluster about their coming report card.
  • We will return to a full campus in August. It is highly unlikely that Florida will allow public school districts to continue remote learning next year. At that time, we will have the challenge to rebuild our school cultures so the students reconnect with the school and to help those who need to recover from this year and resume progress toward completing their K-12 education on time.
  • If we want normalcy, we need our student population vaccinated. Now that the Pfizer is approved for children 12 and older, GOT is encouraging all of his students to get vaccinated over the summer. “If you want to put these masks away, get rid of the desk shields, and get back to normal, that is how we do it.”
  • 13 days.
  • Many of you who start later than southern states, who typically begin a school year mid-August, have longer to reach your finish line.
  • The state has granted ‘grace and compassion’ to students and schools. End of Course exams will not be factored into their course grades (Algebra 1, Geometry, Biology, Civics, and U.S. History) unless it improves the grade. Florida will not issue school grades for 2021 unless a district requests it. That would happen if a district believes that an individual school’s test performance would result in a better grade than its 2019 scarlet letter.
  • Teachers, you will not be surprised to learn, are not excused from growth scores and VAM rankings. The state has weaseled out of the issue by saying districts have ‘maximum flexibility’ in determining how to issue growth scores for teacher evaluations. But GOT’s district, to date, has shown no interest in that. It has been game on, test all the kids, get those remote kids on campus, and if the parents are reluctant, offer them Saturdays … GOT has worked today and last Saturday testing kids. At least his district is going to pay him for the hours.
  • A sacrifice must be made for the testing gods to be happy.
  • Enrollments are down. Despite the best efforts of school districts to find students, many are simply missing.
  • They may show up in the fall. The legislature is determined not to provide extra funding, but they have set aside a contingency fund if students reappear and additional funding is needed for schools.

Finally, about that learning loss. There have been other losses as well. Students have been isolated at home, kept in contained pods at school, clubs and activities did not take place or happened under restrictive conditions … others have talked about the nonsense of learning loss as the squealings of think-tankers, astroturfers, and other self-appointed experts pushing an agenda that would hold children in school over the summer because … test scores.

They have debunked the learning loss theory. Not that anyone is listening, from Uncle Joe to the USDOE to states, but GOT doesn’t have anything to add to that debate.

But there has been a different type of loss that has occurred over the last 15 months. A loss of childhood, a time to be a kid and to play and have fun with friends.

That’s it. That’s the tweet as people occasionally tuck into their 140 characters. When the last bell rings, when the last teacher-tired memes have had their last postings, when the last bus finishes its run, it’s time to let our children be kids.

Forget the summer enrichment programs. Forget the leaky mind theories of knowledge pouring out of heads into the storm water drains. Forget the summer academies and keeping kids in a stuffy classroom sitting on butt-pinching chairs for hours on end to try and make anything up.

We’ll handle that in the fall.

Let them go to the pool. Let them hang out in the park. It’s time for play and laughter and, for the lucky, summer romances. Let those who are into it go to the library and check out books to read for no other reason than they want to without the need for reports and logs.

They won’t stop learning, but they will be getting on with the learning that the pandemic interrupted.

Let’s leave them to it.

Love, American Style

If you’re old enough, you might remember that television show from the early 1970s that featured comedy skits about couples and their relationships.

Love, American Style - Wikipedia
It’s almost teacher appreciation week. Are you feeling the love, public school teachers?

Teacher Appreciation Week has come upon us as well as the charter attempt to coopt the week into a celebration of themselves.

Wait, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) googled that and it seems this year charters will wait for the second week of May to celebrate themselves.

What can a GOT say? If you have to give yourself a birthday party, … how much does anyone else care?

But the moment is here when we thank our teachers for the work they do.

How do we show teachers our love?

  • Ignore them until we want something from them. Then, write flowery letters of praise with an ask buried in the middle.
  • Ask them about their test scores and sniff if we don’t think the scores are high enough.
  • Tell them they are essential to our society as they raise the next generation until they ask for a pay raise. Who the <ahem> do they think they are?!
  • Gut their pensions. We got a lousy deal from our employers, so teachers should get the same.
  • Give them a raise and then tell them they have to pay for their own health insurance. Reason? See the point above.
  • Call them selfish when they point out that they are really taking a pay cut.
  • Give nurses and teachers the same week for appreciation because, you know, women’s work. We don’t want to spare an extra week to give both an exclusive spotlight to celebrate them and what they do for us.
  • Dismiss them when they take on the greatest challenges and the test scores remain low. Tell them the teacher is the most important factor in student success when the truth is that the teacher is the most important factor in the school building (even that is debatable, GOT would argue for the principal) to send them on guilt trips for not being superheroes or even ordinary heroes because outside factors have much more influence in how well children learn.
  • Tell them they are ‘preaching to the choir’ when you are running for president and they explain how unnecessary and destructive standardized testing is. Then, upon being elected, support the failed reforms of the last 20 years. GOT will spare you a long explanation. From here on out, he will simply use the phrase, Joe Biden.
  • Push for 3-year-olds to start formal learning and begin reading because Joe Biden.
  • Aver that K-12 education is not working anymore, be oblivious to how insulting that is to America’s teachers of the last two generations, not to mention those generations who turned out fine and are achieving success in life, because Joe Biden.
  • Open charter schools and voucher private schools because a flood of cheap, unqualified labor that suppressed wages worked so well in preserving manufacturing in America.
  • Give them cheap trinkets like coffee mugs or t-shirts (gotta keep it under 10 or 15 dollars; districts have rules about gifts) rather than the respect they deserve for their professional education, experience, and expertise.
  • Attack their unions not realizing that teachers are the union. Attack the union and you attack teachers.
  • Block them from the dialogue about what good teaching looks like and how learning takes place. Discard child development knowledge acquired over the last 100 years in favor of a tabula rasa approach. The human mind learns by downloading knowledge from any source by any means.

The list has come full circle. Let’s celebrate teachers!

Hmmm, in looking over the list, it seems that teacher appreciation (cough, cough, we really need a sarcasm emoji) is unending.

Truer than the red, white, and blue! Freer than the Land of the Free! Love, American Style!

Math Path

Several years ago, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) took a MOOC provided by Stanford University’s Jo Boaler in which she presented ideas about better maths teaching in schools. That’s not a typo, Dr. Boaler is British and they pronounce the subject with an ‘s’ on the end.

GOT is a math teacher and one of the lessons has stuck with him; the one in which Dr. Boaler described a public high school classroom where students were learning by discovery. Observers and visitors could hear the excited buzz pouring out of the room as they came to find out what was happening.

There was only one problem. Parents and others who said, “This is not how I learned math and so no one else should either!”

Sigh.

It wouldn’t help, GOT supposes, to tell you that this is what the Common Core developers have in mind. By now, the phrase ‘Common Core’ is a ringing bell that causes everyone to drool in response, usually a response that involves a lot of growling, snarling, barking, and snapping at the nearest flesh-bearing human.

But the American approach is one that is over a hundred years old, one that Charles Elliot, president of Harvard University, specified. Thereafter, American high school students studied mathematics branch by branch, year after year, as distinct and separated bodies of knowledge, rather than as an integrated academic discipline.

The world did not follow. The international approach to maths (the ‘s’ intentionally applied to the word) is the integrated approach. Each year, students study all branches of mathematics as they acquire knowledge and skill.

A state deciding to reorganize math courses is not radical or new. It is different and that is all it takes for the snarling, growling, and snapping to begin.

“How are the advanced students supposed to take advanced courses?”

First, students are not as advanced as everyone thinks. If you take a hard look at math curriculum under the Common Core (and yes, most of America still follows it however the individual state attempted to rebrand it), you see that students redo most of Algebra 1 in Algebra 2 because …. we really need a drum roll here … Common Core shoved Algebra 2 into Algebra 1.

What happened to Algebra 1? It got shoved into Pre-Algebra, the course most students skip over as they are accelerated into Algebra 1 in middle school.

When ninth grade Algebra 2 students show up in GOT’s classroom, most of them are in desperate need of remediation. They missed a lot because they were plopped into Algebra 1 in seventh grade! No wonder these students tell GOT they never understood what everyone assumes they know.

What about Geometry? Ninth grade students taking that class were also skipped over Pre-Algebra. They found a way through the Algebra 2 disguised as Algebra 1 course, but they never learned how to write linear equations, determine the slope of a graphed line, Pythagorean Theorem, simplifying radicals (square roots), or basic transformations.

And yet students and teachers are faced with a demanding curriculum that assumes that these Geometry students arrive in high school with that knowledge that they were never taught!

Part One.