Participation Trophies

The mayor of Jacksonville is not known for his graciousness towards his foes. His personal motto: Prepare. Compete. Win. Next. When a challenge arises, he likes to state, “I win.”

He has. He is known as a bully mayor, but not in a Teddy Roosevelt sense.

It is remarkable that the clip is not about participation trophies; it is about suspending a coach for running up the score. The clip offers an alternative blow-out rule, one which Florida high school sports have, that would stop a game if the margin of victory exceeds a threshold level.

Lenny Curry is not known for his sportsmanship and his tweet is very revealing. “Raw competition makes the whole better and stronger.”

Never mind the price paid by those who lose, the tweet makes it seem that following the rules is for losers. Even before state athletic associations adopted blow-out rules, there existed a long-standing tradition that teams would not seek to run up a score when the victory is in hand. Coaches who violated this norm received sanction through social pressure of media commentary and public opinion.

When did empathy and compassion for the weak stop being American values?

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) wonders if that is why the murder problem is not an upfront and compelling priority for the mayor. Does he look at the victims as having lost a raw (Darwinian) competition and that the “whole,” that is, the city, is better and stronger without them?

Furthermore, the mayor has confused handing out participation trophies with an “everyone wins” mentality. The latter is stupid and no one is fooled by it, not even children.

GOT remembers a summer where he volunteered to be an adult supervisor at a church’s camp. One day, there was a competition. His team was told they won, but the children overheard another team being told they had won. When they questioned it, a camp counselor said that everyone wins at the camp.

That answer satisfied no one. But that is not what’s behind the practice of participation trophies. These trophies recognize the work and effort of competitors over a period of time. They are a memento of the experience, not a false award of victory that did not happen.

The Olympics awards silver and bronze medals as well as gold. Wimbledon gives the defeated finalists an inscribed silver plate. Other sports do so as well.

Vince Lombardi is quoted as having said, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

Lenny Curry would approve. Raw competition, baby, prepare, compete, and win.

But Lombardi also said this: “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.” (Emphasis by GOT.)

One senses that Lombardi would approve of participation trophies.

In the education world, we have toned down the sense of competition in favor of cooperation.

Industrialists, think tank foundations, policy makers, and more have said that the key to success in the 21st century economy is not the ability of an individual to outcompete all others. It is the ability to work in teams, cooperatively, contributing to the group goals. The credit for a ‘win’ goes not to one, but to all.

That’s why classrooms have children working in cooperative groups. That’s why their work is evaluated against an objective standard, not against each other.

That’s why perseverance is a key quality to success in school. The ability to shake off a failure, investigate what went wrong, and try again and again and again until success is found is crucial to acquiring an education.

That’s why GOT gives his students second chances. Failure is a part of learning and that’s as true in all life as it is in school.

That’s why failing is not seen as losing, but as an opportunity to grow.

That’s why empathy, compassion, and help are modeled for students and inculcated in the children. These are key themes in the mental health lessons we are doing once a month (a key initiative of Casey DeSantis, the governor’s wife.)

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One ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

This idea of raw competition does not belong in school. Competing and winning are parts of the American character, but so is compassion for others. Good sportsmanship is as important to winning as the winning itself. When he was a youth, did the mayor decline to participate in the post game ritual of shaking hands with the other team? Did he do so as an opportunity to gloat (Prepared. Competed. Won. NEXT!) Does he have the attitude of Sauron to crush all his enemies and subject everyone under his rule? Will we see this next above the St. James Building in Jacksonville?

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Believing in Santa

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Yeah, this guy.

So many ways Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) could go with this post and yes, GOT plans to write about the proposals of Florida’s governor to boost teacher compensation to make an entire nation’s teacher corps go, “Golly! Sunshine State or bust!”

But a recent post on the Scary Mommy blog prompted GOT to think about the day he stopped believing in Santa.

I was eight years old. I don’t recall the thought process, but I do remember jumping in and out of an armchair in the rec room (short for recreation, like many families, we were living in a split-level house that was a popular architectural style of the time) and announcing to my older sister that I knew there was no Santa.

She is three years older than me. She was practicing at the piano and she did her best to talk me out of my opinion. But I rebutted that Santa Claus and our mother used the same wrapping paper for our presents–case closed. My sister jumped up and went to inform my mother.

Soon, GOT was called for a private talk. Mom didn’t pretend, but said she wanted GOT to keep quiet so as not to spoil the fun for GOT’s younger sister. Being a compliant kid, GOT agreed.

Ah, faithful readers, you’re saying nice story but what’s the point? This is a blog about education.

The point is this: those who have studied and are experts in child development, including your child’s teachers and especially your child’s elementary teachers … that is to say, IF they have gone through traditional teacher programs in college or done alternate work that duplicated such … know that at a young age, such as that of first graders, children believe in a fantasy world that is as real to them as the actual world we all live in.

You cannot convince a young child that Santa Claus does not exist. The evidence is obvious: Every 25th of December, they get up, go to the Christmas tree, and the swag glitters in the flickers of the lights on the tree. There’s no Santa? Then why are all those great presents under that tree?

As children grow and develop, the fantasy world fades and they eventually come to understand that it wasn’t real. But until they reach that point, they will believe.

Teachers know this. They tailor their lessons to meet children where they are at in their development stages.

Politicians do not know this. They make bad policy out of their ignorance. But in an ironic twist, they are like little children believing in Santa. They are incapable of apprehending the needs of children, how they grow, develop, and learn.

They stick to their fantasies that charter schools, vouchers for private and religious schools, annual punitive tests, school grades, teacher bonus schemes, and the like will meet the needs of children.

They are wrong. In being wrong, they commit the worst sin of all: THEY ARE HARMING CHILDREN.

WaPo: Teachers Speak about Supplies

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Might last a week.

The joke goes that teaching is the only profession where employees steal supplies from home to bring them to work. From the Answer Sheet, the outstanding column written by Valerie Strauss, teachers talk about the supplies they have to buy out of their salaries for their classrooms.

Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) confesses that he, too, buys supplies as needed, but not to this extent that these teachers do. Being the grump that he is, he refuses to buy supplies that the school system should be providing. There are a few exceptions: staplers, because the quality of the school staplers is poor (in fairness to his employer, GOT has also bought staplers for his work when he was in business–same issue); whiteboard erasers, because the school provides felt erasers which smear the whiteboard because they were manufactured for chalkboards; golf pencils for those without, because that encourages children to take responsibility to bring their own basic supplies; paper clips, because GOT likes the plastic-covered ones; and that’s about it.

It should be noted that the state of Florida provides teachers an annual check to purchase classroom supplies. By law, the funds are not to be used to buy pencils, paper, and other supplies for which schools should budget and purchase from their operating funds. The funds may not be used to buy equipment or food, but they are to buy all the extras that teachers need and school budgets do not cover.

For GOT, that means compasses and protractors for Geometry, toner for his classroom printer (that he had to provide for himself because the central printers–one is broken and the school system won’t fix it; the other has a bad power supply and crashes regularly), copy paper (math uses lots of paper), tissues (taking a roll of toilet paper is a poor alternative), graph paper, and instructional aids.

The annual check is between $200 and $400 depending upon the economy and Florida’s sales tax revenues. This year, the amount is $325 per teacher.

In further fairness to the school system, most principals are good-hearted, understand that their teachers need support to succeed, and will work to get them what they need. But it takes time, planning, and patience and many teachers buy with personal funds what they could submit a purchase request for.

For example, this year my Geometry colleague and I asked to have tables and chairs in our rooms rather than student desks. The principal agreed, first and foremost because we believed that the change would improve the student learning environment. He also was not adverse to taking the desks from our rooms and allocating them to other classrooms. Due to increasing class sizes, our classrooms are always short of enough desks.

Oh, the years we teachers have had students daily move desks among the rooms on the hall based on class size so that every child had a place to sit and work! But this is a separate issue, one caused by class size, not underfunded districts.

GOT did not expect new tables and he did not get them. But it was the best the school system could do and he made it work. His colleague took one look and went to Lowe’s and bought tables for her room.

GOT has more patience and fortitude. He will not use his personal money. If he has to do without or put up with junkety furniture, so be it. He remains on the lookout for upgrades, but not on his dime.

Purchasing supplies for the classroom is a decision that no teacher should ever have to make, but every teacher has to decide: will I? if so, what are the limits?

Amazingly, Las Vegas has a solution to consider (and they are not alone):

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I’ll never feed a parking meter again.

The Mask of the New American Feudalism

Libertarianism is a political philosophy that extols maximum political freedom and autonomy of the individual, including the ideals of individual choice, freedom of association, and ownership rights to private property free of government confiscation.

Libertarianism views modern governments, with their reach and regulation of society, as an evil to be curtailed. Libertarians question why a government should be allowed to take their money (note the sense of private property) and give it to others in the form of welfare programs, research grants, health insurance and benefits, provision of a pension, and education. (Especially education.)

Libertarianism decries the law-making and regulatory power of government that attempts to guarantee the safety of food, the fairness of markets, financial and otherwise, the efficacy of medicine, the solvency of banks, the management of money and capital, accident-free workplaces, disease control, … it’s a long list of the many roles and responsibilities government has taken on.

A libertarian wants government out of people’s lives.

A worthy goal perhaps, but libertarianism has never caught hold of the American imagination because it is impractical for the world we live in.

Libertarianism would restrict government to the functions of foreign relations and defense, the only two functions for which it sees a collective effort necessary.

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Libertarianism is the mask of the new American fuedalism.

Persons such as the Koch brothers* extol the virtues of libertarianism. But that is not the goal they seek. If it was, they would not support school choice programs, which take the public’s tax dollars away from public school systems and hand them over to private operators of charter, religious, prep, segregation, and other academies not controlled by democratically-elected school boards.

Libertarianism denounces ‘government schools,’ but it does so because it pronounces that education is the responsibility of parents, not the public. True Libertarianism would end school taxes and place the burden upon parents to obtain and pay for the education of their children. True libertarianism would recognize the right of ‘choice’ as a parent’s right to not educate their children at all.

This is not the intention of the Koch brothers or other wealthy philanthrocapitalists who seek to control the population in order to enhance their wealth and satisfy their ambition. But libertarianism forms a useful mask for their true intention to erode the rights of ordinary people, to become the barons of competing fiefdoms (remember the Devos’ quote that “money is how we keep score”), and to roll back the New Deal that FDR ushered in.

Education is a key battle for the new American Feudalism. What education reformers push is not a libertarian call for individual rights in totality; it is a diversion of that libertarian-despised ‘confiscation of wealth,’ also known as taxes, and choosing who will use that wealth for the provision of education to the young.

The feudalists are winning. The idea of parental choice is appealing to the libertarian streak we all possess in some measure. What is lost in the volume of the debate over the choice options of charters and school vouchers is that parents are not choosing to fund their child’s education themselves. They are content to allow that to remain an obligation of the public.

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If I wear this at school, will it keep me from the disease the feudalists are spreading?

Divide-and-conquer is a time-tested strategy for winning wars. It is also the strategy the uber-wealthy are using in their maneuvers to usher in a new era of feudalism in America. Charter supporters, charter opposers, parents looking for a good school, defenders of public education, journalists, teachers, and even politicians are being divided in the education debates. Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not discussing authentic debate over policy; he is recognizing the deep divisions being created in American society as people no longer care about truth in an objective sense. It’s about identity and winning, an approach to life and career espoused by Jacksonville’s current mayor, who likes to proclaim that “I win,” as he exchanges tweets with Richard Corcoran, the current education commissioner of Florida, whose hatred for Florida’s public schools is unbounded, who has made it his mission to see that a large majority of Florida’s children will be in charter and private schools.

To control education is to program the minds of the upcoming generations. That is why the privatization of America’s schools is a key objective of the uber-wealthy, the new American Feudalists.

That is why public schools, true public schools, remain a threat to their dreams.

In an upcoming post, GOT will explain the danger of public school systems to their goals.

The first post in this series, The New American Feudalism, which is an overview of the phenomenon.

*David Koch recently died so perhaps GOT should not use the phrase ‘Koch brothers.’ However, as David was a partner with Charles in pursuing the new American feudalism, it is useful to refer to both brothers as the feudalistic spirit of David remains with his brother in pursuing their agenda.

The New American Feudalism

1000 years ago, European society was structured by a political and legal system known as feudalism, whereby a local lord or baron controlled a grant of land from the king. Serfs and vassals lived on the land under obligations of service to work the land and hand over a portion of the produce as well as military service, if needed. Vassals enjoyed limited freedoms; serfs had none.

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Fine living … for the barons.
Vassals and serfs didn’t have it so good.

Peasants were bound to the land, either legally or economically. They could not escape the control of the local lord, who would draft them into military service as needed or direct their labor on the estate: agriculture, trades such as farrier, carpenter, and blacksmith, and whatever other pursuits the lord desired.

Times change, the Crusades introduced trade, working people organized into Guilds, merchants formed a middle class, and the resulting freedom eroded the power and structure of feudalism. The people broke free of the control of their feudal lords, who would turn to a new form of societal and economic organization, capitalism, to retain wealth and control, albeit at lower levels.

Throughout the capitalistic era, wealth and labor engaged in great battles over the condition of the working people and the rights of labor. While the 19th century was touch-and-go, in the 20th century labor won bargaining rights such that the foundation was set for the great expansion of the middle class as codified in the laws and policies of the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt.

Since then, under the guise of conservatism and since the time of Ronald Reagan, libertarianism, pushback against labor unions, workers, and the middle class has taken place.

The reduction of income tax rates from 70% to today’s low levels combined with the abandonment of regulatory power that the federal government wielded, free trade agreements and blocs, and technological innovation whose key piece is the internet, resulted in globalism, in which economic power can be held outside the check of democratic government.

The uber-rich now find themselves in the position of feudal lords, whereby they can use free trade and globalism to erode the rights and threaten the existence of labor unions. If the workers get too agitated about falling wages (in real dollars) and loss of benefits such as medical insurance and pensions, they can move the production to another country where the workers won’t protest conditions.

Through the use of modern propaganda techniques, developed by the science of psychology and manipulated by politicians in the service of ideology, persons have found social media an ideal platform for exploiting the thinking of persons who are bound by tribal loyalties rather than truth.

And so, as long predicted by persons such as George Orwell (1984) or Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), the very few lucky, privileged, and wealthy have found the means of controlling the masses, the large number of persons who live each day trying to survive.

Grumpy Old Teacher thanks you for your indulgence as you wonder how this relates to education. Education is the lynch pin and the critical piece to establishing the new American feudalism, whereby the poor and working class lose their freedom as they watch the wealth their forebears left them flow into the hands of the uber-rich. Education is the threat that holds the uber-rich back, and yet, education is the means by which they can achieve their goals.

GOT will explain in his next post.

Not a Keeper

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Smiling for the mug shot.

Every angler knows that the size of fish that may be kept is regulated. For example, in South Florida, speckled perch under 10 inches in length caught in Lake Okeechobee must be released at once. In salt water, such as would be found around the Florida keys, a red snapper must be at least 20 inches in length if caught in the Atlantic Ocean or 16 inches in length if caught in the Gulf of Mexico.

Someone needs to explain this to the Dennis Ward, the State Attorney of Monroe County (Florida.) From a news network in the Keys comes the story of the arrest of a 10-year old girl for the act of being terrified of a school shooting and bringing a steak knife to school with which to protect herself.

Not a keeper: she’s too small.

“This was an unfortunate incident, but it was handled quickly and professionally by our School Resource Officer Robert Bulnes and school officials,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay. “I’m grateful this young girl did not threaten anyone and that did not appear to be her intent. I’m also grateful to report that the incident was handled jointly with our law enforcement and community partners who decided what the appropriate criminal measures should be going forward.”

That gurgling sound you are hearing is air in the school-to-prison pipeline. In Monroe County, they need to fill it up and any size will do.

For the rest of us, we have to question the wisdom of this decision. The 5th-grader had no intention of threatening anyone, even less than to harm anyone. Why an arrest? Why proceed with criminal charges?

What is the point?

It would be better to proceed with restorative practices, to address the young girl’s fears, and to explain to her why she made a bad decision and how it impacted others.

Why is this so hard nowadays?

Yesterday, a young lady walked out of my room. Many teachers might have immediately written a referral, but Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) did not. She walked out for a reason and, until GOT knows what that reason is, he cannot decide upon the best reaction. GOT planned to call her mother during his planning period and ask her to talk to her child, but he had an opportunity to talk to the student at lunchtime. She explained why she left the classroom and GOT had the opportunity to explain how he had to work as the teacher in the room. The issue was resolved; no punishment needed.

Do not tell GOT that the 10-year-old couldn’t get counseling services to deal with her fears unless she was given a juvenile arrest record and entered the justice system. There are ways of doing that if services are needed without an arrest.

We have become a harsh nation indeed if we have lost the qualities of mercy and grace. The authorities determined that she did not threaten anyone or intend to.

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She’s not a keeper. Put her back in the water, Mr. State Attorney, Mr. Sheriff, and all others involved in this terrible decision.

Quick Draw McGraw

Note to Greatly-Appreciated Readers: Grumpy Old Teacher is a reflective blog. GOT doesn’t try to break the news or be the first to opine. Rather, GOT allows himself time to ponder the meaning of what is happening in the education world and then to express his thoughts, sometimes funny, sometimes odd, sometimes with the crowd, sometimes not. Thus, GOT is only now getting around to last week’s news about the Commissioner of Education saying that schools should arm teachers and dismiss their School Resource Officers.

Commissioner Corcoran brings back memories of childhood.

“In 10 years, every single school in the state of Florida will have guardian teachers,” he said. “It’s coming. It’s going to happen. It’s volunteer. It’s the safest, most absolute best outcome practices that you can have.” Thus said the Commish.

Is he for real? GOT supposes this is how our esteemed Commissioner views school security and the need for professional, trained personnel:

Love that dog biscuit at the end. Is there any better way to grasp how Florida’s politicians treat Florida’s teachers?

What could go wrong? Don’t reply everything–you would be correct, but the man from Lake County, which gave the state the shameful Willis McCall and his many outrages of miscarried justice and outright murder that Lake County residents were too cowed to effectively stop, believes himself to be the law and the law to be whatever he decides.

Let’s take a look at what the Commissioner has in mind:

At least school guardians get 176 hours of training, the equivalent of five weeks,
oh wait, that’s what TFA teachers get. Is this a coincidence or a farce?

GOT admits you may find this piece ridiculous, but that’s about all you can say about arming teachers in schools. But in this age of T…. (not gonna say it or the haters will troll me ad infinitum), anything seems to be accepted.

If you needed a visual of how Guardian Teachers … or custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers, anyone else working in a school, would be expected to perform, go into the mine with Quick Draw.

And if you think this is a serious solution to school violence, don’t come out. And please, pretty please, pretty please with a cherry on top, take Corcoran with you.

A theme song for the Commissioner. He ought to open every Florida State Board of Education Meeting with it.