On Communion

Before beginning, readers should know that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary, M. Div., class of 1996.

Events move fast in the never-ending 24/7 news cycle. Another Big Lie rally, a condo collapse, and a suspension pending disbarment divert our attention from the newsworthy events of the week prior. But GOT is a reflective blog, not the place to find breaking news or in-depth research (at least, not now while GOT remains a working teacher). Occasionally, you will find a humorous piece; hopefully, you end your read wanting to have a conversation.

GOT took his time to reflect and think about U.S. Catholic Bishops debating and advancing a policy about withholding communion from politicians and leaders who do not adhere to church doctrine. In particular, those who support a woman’s right to control reproductive choices that involve her body, more traditionally called abortion.

In a not-well-reported update, the bishops announced that there would be no national policy regarding the withholding of communion from politicians.

Problem solved, right? Let’s move on. But then, in a moment of excellent critical thinking, you might ask why GOT is bothering with this post. Thesis: Actions are guided by beliefs and, if we do not understand that people believe different things that lead them to adopt very different attitudes and behaviors, we will not understand much of the conflict that divides our society and why it threatens to devolve into violence.

350+ Holy Communion Pictures | Download Free Images & Stock Photos on  Unsplash
“Do this to remember me.” -Jesus of Nazareth

When it comes to the Eucharist, the name for the rite popularly known as Communion, there are different understandings of what takes place during the rite. Those different understandings are the basis for the different approaches to who may participate and who may not.

Many social media reactions that GOT observed questioned why the Church believes it should control access to the elements at all. They mainly had a Protestant perspective. GOT does not opine whether they were right or wrong, but merely observes that there was a failure to understand Catholic doctrine.

Let’s look at the different understandings. The Catholic doctrine is called transsubstantiation, in which the bread and wine are literally changed into the human flesh and blood of Jesus even though they still seem to be bread and wine. This change occurs at the moment of consecration as the priest reads the Mass over these elements.

If you are going to allow someone to drink the very blood of God, wouldn’t you have a concern that they are worthy? Don’t argue; think about it and why Catholic practice is that the priest may deny communion to someone in the line. Much of religion is about the separation between the holy and the profane, the sacred and the sinful. If someone has embraced sin, that is, advocated and worked for a policy that offends the sanctity of life, why wouldn’t the sacred be withheld? Especially something so sacred that it is the very essence of life itself?

Again, GOT is not arguing for or against, but demonstrating how different beliefs guide different actions.

But that is not the only view of the Eucharist. There is consubtantiation, which holds to a dual nature. The bread and wine remain bread and wine, but their spiritual nature, as opposed to their material existence, is such that they become the body and blood of the Lord once the priest performs the ritual.

This is the position of the Lutheran church, not surprising given its historical revolt against medieval Catholicism, in which the Pope’s earthly authority was disputed.

Then, there are those who aver that the bread and wine are only symbols. They represent the theological truth that Christ spoke (as recorded in the Gospels,) but they don’t change in substance or form.

Some say they are mere symbols, while others say there is a divine presence that they cannot explain.

Different beliefs lead to different practices. If you are at a United Methodist church, you are invited to the table and to partake regardless of your status. John Wesley, the founder of the sect, said that even a sinner, encountering the presence of Christ in the elements, is led to repentance. Therefore, let all who are willing come.

Easier to do when you believe the juice is only a symbol rather than the very blood of God.

In a way, Joe Biden is more welcome to participate in a Methodist church than a cathedral of his own faith. But that is a function of how each denomination understands the ritual and what they believe is taking place.

The entire issue is complicated by how different churches understand their source(s) of authority.

Much of the social media reaction to the news was posting scriptural references to refute the position of the Bishops. That works if you fall along Lutheran and other Protestant lines: sola Scriptura, or the Bible is the only authority.

But the Catholic Church has a different view. It holds that the Scripture and their tradition are equally authoritative; in other words, they can ignore the Bible for their centuries-long practice and polemics. Therefore, they are immune to criticism because they can rely upon their tradition.

The post grows long–nearing 900 words and certain to surpass that by the end. GOT’s purpose is not to argue for one belief or church or another, but to illustrate how different beliefs and understandings of authority lead to policy and action.

And now, as you’re wondering how any of this has to do with education, this is at the heart of the education wars.

What one believes about education, the good and the bad, determines the practices and policies one advocates. What is the source of authority? Ed reformers discard child development experts in favor of their own research, their ‘tradition’ if you will, and do not listen to those who think differently.

What is education? What is learning? How does it happen? There is no agreement, and yet, what one thinks leads to what one demands for schools.

The education wars rage, on battlefield after battlefield, until all despair of ever reaching a Peace of Westphalia.

But if we don’t, um … did you know we have a really good teacher at my school if you want to learn how to speak Chinese?

Survey Monkey

The title writes itself as news comes of the latest wacky act of the most Florida man of all Florida men, Governor Ron DeSantis. He has signed a bill that now requires Florida universities to conduct surveys of student and staff viewpoints to ensure that indoctrination is not taking place, a vague claim that the Survey Monkey cannot back up.

Go ahead and laugh. Florida’s governor collects nicknames like a philatelist collects stamps or a numismatist collects coins. He has many: DeathSantis, DumbSantis, DuhSantis, DeSastre, moRon DeSantis, the internet is full of them.

(BTW, for those not-in-the-know, Survey Monkey is an online platform for administering surveys.)

SurveyMonkey Logo
“Be the person with great ideas. Surveys give you actionable insights and fresh perspectives.

That’s a quote from the website. Florida’s Survey Monkey is proud to be the person with great ideas (arguable, at best) and loves the actionable insights that will come. [Emphasis by GOT (Grumpy Old Teacher.)] But fresh perspectives? Meh, Florida’s Survey Monkey is having none of that.

No, the entire idea is to stop indoctrination a/k/a a fresh examining of accepted wisdom that might no longer be true.

You know, the kind of thing that universities exist to do.

Like Galileo averring that the Earth revolves around the Sun. In his time, nobody, a/k/a the Catholic Church, was having any of that <ahem> and Galileo was forced to recant. From Wikipedia:

In February 1616, an Inquisitorial commission declared heliocentrism to be “foolish and absurd in philosophy, and formally heretical since it explicitly contradicts in many places the sense of Holy Scripture”. The Inquisition found that the idea of the Earth’s movement “receives the same judgement in philosophy and … in regard to theological truth it is at least erroneous in faith”.

Eventually, Galileo was put on trial and condemned for his ‘heretical’ views. He is reported to have said at the end, “And yet it moves [referring to the Earth.]”

Like Darwin, proposing his theory of natural selection. Oops, did you think GOT meant evolution? No, the idea of evolution was under consideration and discussed for decades before Darwin published. Darwin was the first, although not the only and that’s a fascinating tangent this space doesn’t have room for, to expound a theory that seemed to fit the scientific observations of his age.

He, too, was met with great opposition and ridicule for his ideas. The prevailing orthodoxy and conventional wisdom of the day condemned his theory. The problem is that Darwin offered the best explanation of the fossil record and the variety of life on Earth. But, <ahem>, we’re not having any of that <ahem> in our schools.

Darwin’s groundbreaking work has been improved and now is largely set aside. His theory of natural selection has been replaced by theories of sexual selection, because those following in his path observed puzzling characteristics in species that worked against their survival, but did attract the other in ways that enhanced their breeding success.

That’s the process of science. Like Freud, whose theories (as weird as we now regard many of them) established psychotherapy and yet mental illness is now understood as biologically based and able to be treated, as tricky as it is, with medication. Yet, talking therapy is also an important part for those who are managing a disease of the brain.

We wouldn’t be where we are today if our universities weren’t free to propose new ideas, forced to defend them, and, in the process of peer-reviewed research, discard the rabbit trails. In that process, students are challenged to defend their ideas. It’s not indoctrination; it’s learning.

Irony of ironies, the Harvard and Yale graduate Survey Monkey of Florida is having none of that <ahem.> You would think, given his education, that if indoctrination was taking place at universities, he would have plenty of personal history to share to support his allegations.

Alas, earwax and the Florida man of all Florida men was hoping for a toffee.

He learned from the best, our Survey Monkey. If he can’t make the argument, he’ll fake the argument.

Oh, Florida! You wonder what those surveys will reveal. Maybe our Survey Monkey will make it interesting and do a half-hour game show like Family Feud!

If we have to put up with this stupidity, the least our Florida man can do is make it entertaining.

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.)

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.

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.


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?

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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.