Stayin’ Alive

Every time you think the Brothers Gibb have finally passed from the scene, another classic song is remembered because it perfectly captures the times we live in.

The pandemic theme song for all who work or learn in a public school.

As the Omicron variant drives another surge in Covid-19 illness, reaching new highs daily, we who work in education keep looking for ways to stay alive. Just this week, Chicago teachers stayed home to force a switch to remote learning. The mayor and school system leaders met that move by locking them out of their online accounts.

New York City reopened with new protocols in place. With increased testing and revised quarantine rules, in which classroom children will be tested, not automatically sent home when a positive case is detected, officials believe they can, in the words of the new mayor, “normalize education” because “the virus is dictating that the safest place for children is in a school building.

Teachers in other places, like southern California, routinely discuss on social media the measures their school systems are taking or not taking. Teachers from all over the country report on the increasing absence rates. This past week, 25% or higher is typical in many places. Speculation is rife as to whether or when schools will be forced to remote learning because too few are able to be or allowed in the building.

Stayin’ alive. It’s on everyone’s mind because when people are told that Omicron is more mild, few ever explain what that really means. The World Health Organization notes that calling it milder is misleading as its higher contagion is causing higher numbers of hospitalizations and deaths. No studies exist (how could they?) as to the long-term effects of an Omicron infection.

But never mind all that. Florida, under the intrepid or clueless governor, Ron DeSantis, and its surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, have got this:

Schools will remain open even as they are unable to require vaccination, mandate mask-wearing, or take any other common-sense public health measure to mitigate the spread. DeSantis saw to that in November with a special legislative session to pass the desired laws.

Schools remain constrained in their ability to purchase needed PPE, address ventilation, and find ways to help children learn because the governor is sitting on the federal aid. The reason? We might need it later.

Oh, Florida, how do you stay alive? When the Penguin is your governor, the Joker is your state official in charge of public health, and the Catwoman is the spox defending it all, what do you do? The Bat-signal is broken.

Wear a mask, get a test, and physically distance as much as you can.

We’re stayin’ alive!

New Laws and Old

It’s a practice that goes on in various parts of the country: when a teacher is absent, they have to pay for the substitute. In North Carolina, a new law has taken effect for those days when a teacher needs to use their leave. It used to be that $50 (about half the cost) of a substitute would be deducted from their pay. Now, it seems that the reason for the absence will be reviewed and if it does not satisfy the administrator, the full cost of the substitute will be deducted.

Surely the legislators who enacted this new law had the best interests of teachers in mind. Ha, ha, haw! This is North Carolina, a Florida wannabee. No, to a certain mindset, a punitive measure will stop these teachers from taking off for all sorts of ridiculous situations, like a funeral, closing on a mortgage and a new house, and other life events that don’t conveniently schedule themselves for summer break.

“Teachers were taking sick days to do personal type items, to attend the funeral or sign paperwork. Really that’s not the purpose of a sick day,” NC House Rep. Jeffrey Elmore said.

–WGHP, Fox News 8, in the Piedmont, North Carolina

Mr. Elmore is apparently unaware that teachers bargain leave for both sick days and personal days. In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, we get 10 days of leave of which we may use 6 of those days for personal reasons. In addition, in the case of the death of a close relative (spouse, parent, child, sibling), we get two additional days of bereavement leave.

Lest Mr. Elmore think that teachers will abuse this, let it be known that teachers have to provide proof upon their submission of the leave form: an obituary, funeral service program, death certificate, etc.

But the new North Carolina law brings up an old law, a law as old as human civilization itself, the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Consider:

  • Taking sick days for personal reasons: In other words, teachers need to lie on their leave forms. Instead of saying they were attending Grandma’s funeral, they have to say they had a 24-hour stomach virus. GOT is not saying teachers are devoid of moral character, but is taking note that the law sets up an incentive to lie.
  • If no sub was hired for the day, teachers will be refunded the amount: In other words, teachers should wait until the very last moment to put in a sub request. If they know they will be out a week ahead of time, the job is likely to be filled and they’re out $85 to $120 depending on their district’s pay schedule for subs. If they wait until the morning of the absence and put in a sub request about 7 AM, the chances of the job being filled are zilch and the teacher pays nothing. The end result? Few jobs being filled for the day and we know how disruptive that is to a school.
  • School districts find the law’s language vague: In other words, no one knows what to do. Some places will be okay; in others, it is an opportunity ripe for abuse as ultimately, it is principals who will make the decision. Hope you have a good one, teachers, one whose identity is that ‘I have your back’ rather than those whose administration philosophy is that of Yertle the Turtle.

This isn’t going to end well. But maybe that’s what Mr. Elmore and his legislative buddies intend. And THAT! is a pun intended.

What is Love?

It sparked a response. After some thought, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) decided not to embed the tweet. It’s not about who said it and firing off a snappy reply. It’s about the difficulty of reducing complex opinions into 140 characters. “If teachers don’t love their students they need to reevaluate themselves as teachers.”

A LOVE story for Valentine's Day: How Robert Indiana's sculpture (not statue)  came to symbolize Philadelphia - 6abc Philadelphia
What is Love? Easier to sculpt than define.

Some responses ran along the lines that love is for family and friends. Others talked about the need for boundaries, something GOT can agree with. Among the more cringe-worthy phrases for him is when teachers talk about their “babies,” because our students are not our babies. We did not conceive them, we did not nourish them and grow them in our bodies for nine months, and we did not go through the pain of childbirth to bring them into the world.

Yet others said that they cared about their students. Isn’t that the same as love? Maybe, maybe not. In the English language, we use the word love for multiple things, including emotion and procreative activity. If we say that teachers should love their students, what exactly are we saying?

To answer the question, GOT turned to a classic definition of love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres. (The Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, NIV translation.)

Certainly, the ideal teacher is one who is patient, kind, not easily angered, one who is not haughty and demanding obeisance from children (although good ones earn such respect.) Teachers do take pride in the accomplishments of their students, getting excited over those a-ha moments when students master a difficult skill or understand a difficult-for-them, new idea.

Teachers do report the happiness of the learning that takes place for their students, but they do not seek praise for themselves. That should not be mistaken that teachers should not be thanked; everyone deserves recognition and appreciation for the work that they do.

The lack of self-seeking does not equate to self-sacrificing. If the tweeter meant that teachers should be willing to give so much of themselves that they lose their health, sufficiency, and families, that is, if teachers are not willing to become martyrs who give all, then they should not be teachers, that is not love and those who suggest teachers should be martyrs should not themselves be among the ones doing the killing.

Do teachers love their students? They, along with schools, do keep records of wrongs known as parent contact logs when a phone call, email, or note home is sent to inform parents of misbehavior. If a series of behaviors continues to the writing of a discipline referral, those contacts must be documented showing that the teacher tried to resolve a problem before invoking an administrative consequence.

But perhaps the apostle meant that love does not hold past offenses against another, it carries no grudges, and it moves into a restoration of relationship. That too is a part of teaching. Those who think that ‘if only we could get rid of the bad kids, then we would be fine,’ are warned that even if a student goes to alternative school, they will come back. Teaching involves knowing a way to move forward, to always have hope.

Teachers protect their students. While we have school shootings on our minds, there is more to the job than knowing what to do during a drill or actual event. Children are seeking and growing, a process that involves vulnerability and risk. Teachers create safe places where students do not face ridicule or humiliation, places where they are willing to fail so that they may learn.

If this is what the tweeter meant by love, then GOT can agree that teaching involves love.

(But the second part of the tweet deserves its own response.)

Safe Schools

Sculpture by Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, a 17-year old student who died February 14, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.

TBH (to be honest,) when Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) first saw this image circulating on Twitter, his mind went back to the 1950s nuclear safety drills in which schoolchildren were told to huddle under their desks if the Soviet Union was attacking the United States with nuclear bombs.

Fortunately, those doomsday scenarios never came to be. We can’t say the same about mass homicide events on our campuses that take place every year.

The sculpture depicts the terror on a child’s face, desperately seeking cover and wanting to live. There’s a strong feeling of despair about it as if we will never know how to stop the mayhem … as if an Oxford, Michigan tragedy is coming to a school near you.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have yet to experience a true lone wolf who gives no signs, makes no drawings of violence, posts no warnings on social media … that’s the lesson we fail to acknowledge even as America’s premier security agency, the one that’s tasked to protect the president, studied school violence and issued their report. The updated version can be found here.

The Secret Service, which has prevented even an attempted assassination of a president since 1981, realized that their threat assessment techniques had wide application outside of their protective services. In particular, threat assessment works in detecting threats of school violence and preventing them.

As long as the adults carry through–

There is no profile for a perpetrator of violence or a school target. All kinds of schools have been threatened by all kinds of demographic categories. There is no one or two to watch out for.

Often, but not always, the perpetrator has grievances involving bulllying, neglect, or abuse that have gone unaddressed. Social stressors gathered in a cloud as the shooters experienced turmoil in their relationships.

All behaved in concerning ways leading up to their atrocities. Most of the time, the behavior is noted and the person involved communicates their intentions.

We CAN prevent these tragedies.

Threat Assessment Teams empowered to act before the threats manifest are one way.

Preventing access to weapons is another. America has a gun problem. It’s less about the right to bear arms than it is the right to RESPONSIBLY bear arms. Trigger locks, gun safes, unloading the ammunition and locking it in a separate place, and keeping the keys away from children would not only help to prevent school homicide but also the many tragedies that we read about every year when children play with loaded firearms.

A well-regulated militia … yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what the military does with soldier or sailor weapons? They lock them up. The officers keep the keys and only when the weapons are needed are they issued. In a war zone, of course the enlisted keep their arms about them. But other places? Nope, no weapons.

In civilian life, if no one had a gun, no one would need a gun. Don’t tell me about criminals–they get their weapons from legal, careless owners. There’s a reason GOT’s city issues a gun reminder at 9 PM every night: Secure your weapon. Lock it up, Lock your car.

You mean, GOT, it can be as easy as walking down a city street and searching unlocked vehicles?

Yes. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office will tell you if you don’t want to believe GOT.

We did our monthly Code Red drill. GOT had a senior TA (teaching assistant) sitting by himself in the testing classroom because the senior’s teacher was absent. Immediately, when the call came, GOT jumped up from his office and went to the room. In a rare lapse, GOT forgot to put his mask. on. Even for a drill, there have to be priorities.

GOT was glad to see the senior had retreated to the hard corner of the room. But he didn’t know what else was needed: turn out the lights, cover the window, etc. GOT took care of that and moved into the hard corner himself.

After all, art is art and expresses deep emotions and great ideas, but when you scroll up to that sculpture, don’t you really want to say that this is one piece where art should not be life?

Gingerbread Crime Scenes

They were fantabulously wonderful! Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) received permission to share pictures and will insert a few below.

The Forensic Science teacher came up with a project for students to build gingerbread houses in which they could demonstrate everything they had learned across the Fall semester.

How do police forensic technicians and experts process a crime scene? How do they gather evidence? What are those little number markers used for? Why do they use the crime scene tape? What goes into a crime scene report? How strong a stomach do they need for such work?

Yeah, you could give a multiple-choice test, run the bubble sheets (Scantrons for insiders) through the machine, tap a few numbers into the online grade book, and call it a day. Quite boring for students whose response might be ‘O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree! How I love to bubble ye!’

If you’re not laughing, you need to make the acquaintance of public school teachers.

Or, you could design a project that jaded teenagers could get excited about and throw themselves into.

That’s what happened when a science teacher at Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) school decided to do something original. The students were to build gingerbread houses (very appropriate for the Christmas season) that a crime took place in or around, They had to create a scene that showed the police technician processing, take pictures, and write up a crime scene report for the teacher to grade.

Amazing work! As the teacher works through the projects, pictures, and reports, she gathers a much better understanding of what each student actually learned across 18 weeks (4 and a half months) than what a standardized test can deliver.

The students have a more accurate and discerning evaluation of their work. The feedback the teacher will give will be priceless.

A standardized test cannot do this. Why do we insist upon such nonsense? Short answer, because the politicians have convinced the public that teachers cannot be trusted for reasons that involve building politicians’ power and wealth.

So much more to say, but sometimes less is more. You get the point.

SWAT team if you’re wondering about the toy soldiers.

The PSAT Report

You have to hand it to the College Board. Given that colleges are giving up on SAT scores as a meaningful input into admission decisions, the College Board has worked to add value to the standardized testing it markets to high school students and their families as well as middle schoolers with the PSAT 8/9 test.

Ima B., an unfortunate choice for a student pseudonym.

If you want to see an upbeat, cheery-voiced video that promotes the wonders of the PSAT, you can watch it here.

If you’d rather have the executive summary to the blog post, it’s rather simple: the College Board understands that its target audience has changed and that to continue selling its products, it has to deliver a value-added model. (Pun intended!)

Paper reports are out. No more mail for you, eager students, you need to log into your College Board account and read it online. Most will because, just like teachers, even if they think the exercise pointless and stupid, they still want to see how they did.

The summary page delivers the number, the overall score that is a sum of the reading … oops, excuse Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT), the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score, which the College Board abbreviates as EBRW … and math scores. Those individual numbers are also given, and then the College Board adds detail. They show a range for the student because most students are taking a PSAT product multiple times, perhaps beginning in 8th grade, and continuing year after year until they move into the big time, the 11th grade PSAT/NMSQT that gives them the chance to qualify for a one-time freshman scholarship of $2,500.

Nothing to sneeze at, but it brings up collateral issues like many college scholarships are for the first year only, leaving a continuing sophomore scrambling to replace the funding, most of the time borrowing to finance the tuition. The scholarship is merit-based, which means the students who scored the highest and then went through a grueling application process to move from semi-finalist (score-based) to finalist (panel selected.)

About 16,000 are asked to apply, and that gets winnowed down to 8,000 finalists, and that gets winnowed down to about 3,000 winners. Lordy, lordy, what we put kids through even as we ignore the racial bias that has been present in the SAT from the beginning. Fellow blogger Steven Singer explains it well.

Let’s go back to the report. The PSAT gives the range in which a student has been scoring because they have been taking this test multiple times. The data point should drift upward because the reporting scales shift as well. From the PSAT 8/9 to the SAT, the min-max moves from 120-720 (PSAT 8/9) to 160-760 (PSAT 10 & PSAT/NMSQT) to 200-800 (SAT.)

Students are given a percentile rank, not based on actual test results, but based on research samples that attempt to fix how scores would look if all students at a given grade level took the PSAT.

With this information at hand, the score report now delivers a deep dive into … something. Students are given subscores and cross-scores that attempt to tell them their strengths and weaknesses and point them to areas of focus.

Students are prompted to connect their results to Khan Academy and spend their spare time practicing for the SAT. (Take that, Tik Tok!)

Students are given an analysis of which Advanced Placement (AP) exams/courses they would do well at and that they would … cough, cough, oh, I’m gonna do it … suck at.

Students can look at the College Board’s ideas about what majors they should decide upon and what careers would fit them.

Students can go back, read all the test questions, look at the answer choices presented, and see what they chose and what the correct answer is. Kudos, sincere kudos, to College Board for this one. They understand that test results are meaningless if no one can go back to the actual test and review the performance.

Looking at you, Pearson et al. Your cost-cutting secrecy over test questions makes annual state testing pointless. How is a teacher supposed to know what a Level 2 means without having access to the test and questions to pinpoint where a child struggled?

In GOT’s day, there was no advance warning. One day, we were marched to the cafeteria, sat down at the tables, and handed a test to take. GOT supposes he eventually got a piece of paper with the results, but no one ever talked about it or what it meant.

Now, we take a half-hour of the school day so all teachers could have students access their score reports, go over all the resources and value-added, online features, and encourage them to do what few kids ever do … study and practice on their own.

The College Board has taken a test and turned it into an experience. The effort could not have been cheap, but when the relevancy of one’s products is being questioned by the market, it’s time to pull the new, improved, advanced version off the shelf with slick sales pitches built-in–here are our AP tests you should take!

This points to the existential crisis for the College Board. How do they keep teenagers taking their tests? After all, would you voluntarily go take a driving test if your state didn’t require you to pass it before you can operate a motor vehicle on public roads? Somehow, GOT doesn’t think the promise that you would get a report identifying your strengths and weaknesses as a driver would motivate you.

The Meatgrinder

3 Best Manual Meat Grinder in 2021 - The Video Ink
Not making sausage, the usual reference to the legislative process.

We move through Hannukah, toward Christmas and Kwanzaa, and other winter holidays of major and minor religions. As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

Maybe not for the students for whom we have once again set up the meatgrinder. The period between Thanksgiving and Winter Break is also the next testing window for those who have been unable to pass Florida’s arduous graduation bar known as the Algebra 1 End of Course exam.

It is time for testing. Time to remove from class those least able to miss it, the ones who struggle to understand mathematical principles and execute mathematical procedures, the ones ground down by the prospect of taking the test for a third, a fourth, maybe even a fifth time.

It is a daunting prospect. Those of us who turn the handle sometimes forget how the chunks of meat feel as they are pushed through the gears that disgorge them from the other end as sloppy strings of muscle and gristle.

Children internalize failure. “I failed” easily becomes “I am a failure.” Adolescents, intensely focused on their developing personalities, are prone to this type of thinking.

We see this inside the testing room. The thinking manifests itself in testing behaviors: students who blast through 34 algebra problems in 20 minutes or less, put their heads down, and go to sleep; students who stare at the screen immobile as they take large chunks of time to answer one question; students who never pick up their pencil and work out a solution on the work folder they are given–it all takes place in their heads even if they need to use the quadratic formula.

Quadratic Equations - Quadratic Equations How to Solve
Didn’t someone set this to music? Why yes, grasshopper, yes they did: https://youtu.be/E2eVZFy9yzk

The heartwrenching sight of teenagers sitting in a test room and the light goes out of their eyes as they despair of ever passing this test, which in Florida means they will not receive a diploma even when they complete high school … Florida hands them a participation trophy known as a Certificate of Completion. Thanks for playing, kid, better luck in your next life.

The fact is that a lot of young people do not test well. The fact is that many students, whose knowledge and competence their teachers will attest to, have too much trouble negotiating the test platform. They calculate correct answers, but they enter them wrong.

The fact is that many students understand the math, but the way the test presents the problems, the test is a foreign language they do not comprehend.

The most wonderful time of the year–bah, humbug! It’s the time of year when Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT), now tasked with coordinating all testing that goes on in his school except for IB, transmogrifies into Krampus, the Christmas demon. The one who steals the joy from the season with showers of coal.

(Although, given energy prices and fuel shortages these days, maybe we need to revise that cliche.)

But there are those moments when a teenager walks into the testing room to ask why they weren’t given a testing notice, why they weren’t included on the testing roster, and when they will test.

In the twinkling of an eyebeat, Krampus transmogrifies into Grumpy Old Santa, still grumpy but …

He looks up the PSAT score to be sure he will not say something wrong. “You did not pass the test in September, but you scored a 440 on the PSAT in October. That PSAT score is concordant, which means Florida accepts it as passing the Algebra 1 EOC. You are done. You do not need to test anymore.”

A wild flash of joy crosses the teen’s face. Elation! The skies have opened and the angels are singing. Christmas has come indeed, perhaps a few days early, but who’s complaining?

That is how you come to understand the deep and malevolent nature of the meatgrinder. The intense joy is born from the deep despair of someone who thought they would never make it.

GOT (Krampus, GOS, call him what you will) does not live for such moments. He lives for a time when such moments are no longer necessary, a time when the test has been burned in the fireplace to heat the schoolhouse and is no more.

Presidential Timber

If you don’t believe Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, is covertly running for the 2024 Republican nomination, you’re not paying attention. The Former Guy is and he’s not pleased. The gov will not publicly state that he won’t run if the guy does. TFG is coming for Ron and that makes for one very interesting 2022 governor’s race.

How does Ron do it? One way is throwing raw meat, bloody and dripping, to the party’s base. Meat like convening a special legislative session to bar local school boards from implementing mask mandates as a public health measure during a pandemic.

Water Oak Tree 2-3' image 1
Water oaks grow fast which makes them weak.

Even as school systems backed off of mask mandates, some say under threats from the Department of Education to cut funding, others because the summer wave of Covid infection, hospitalization, and death has been receding, the governor needed to be sure the mandates would never happen again.

DeSantis frames it as a parent’s right to decide what are the best practices for their children’s health. As a result, school employees are receiving messages like this one that Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) received from his superintendent:

Employees,

Today, Governor DeSantis signed into law HB-1 which passed during Special Session yesterday.  The new law specifically applies to school districts, school boards, and superintendents and places restrictions on our ability to require students to wear masks or facial coverings. Specifically, the new law prohibits mask mandates for students and restricts districts from requiring a parent to opt a student out of wearing a mask.  This means that effective immediately, parents may still allow their child to voluntarily wear a mask; however, the district can’t require a family to submit an opt-out form. Therefore, all requirements for student opt-outs are immediately terminated. 

We will continue to do our part to keep our schools, employees and students safe by ensuring other COVID-19 mitigation measures are continued.  Specifically, we will continue to ensure hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and other PPE are available to schools.  The district will continue the application of anti-microbial protectant spray in high touch areas and enhanced cleaning schedules.  We have also committed to ensuring nursing staff and school health aides are available in schools.  Finally, we will continue to offer opportunities for employees and eligible students to receive COVID-19 vaccines through our ongoing partnership with the Florida Department of Health.

I know that some of you may not support the new requirements.  As a district, rest assured that we are doing all that we can to keep you safe while concurrently complying with the law.  Thank you for all that you continue to do to care for our students and each other.

Kind regards,

Parents rights! The rallying cry these days for tearing apart public education and dividing the spoils among … edupreneurs, hedge fund investors, and TFA champions who signed up to spend two years in a classroom because they hadn’t figured out what to do with their lives and realized that they had staked out a claim to a gold mine.

DeSantis defends parents’ rights, among them the right for parents to spread sickness and disease to other people’s children.

It’s no surprise to GOT that he has had several children home in quarantine during November. It’s no surprise that he is receiving daily emails from students that they will not be in school. If they don’t say they have Covid, they say they don’t feel well, are running a fever, or having other symptoms.

Some mention a diagnosis of strep throat. It’s not only Covid that’s now running through the bodies of children. But we have discarded the lessons of the pandemic, that a simple mask and common sense regarding classroom practices go far to keep children healthy.

None of that matters to DeSantis, who spreads his branches and dreams great dreams of occupying the White House. He denies it by saying that he is focused on re-election to his current office and has not thought beyond that.

Trump objects as he strives to remind us that he made Ron DeSantis. That is true. DeSantis was an obscure, little-known Congressperson (did you catch what GOT did there?) from north Florida. When he decided to run for governor, he had no chance until Trump endorsed him.

Like a water oak, DeSantis grew fast and thus he grew weak. Water oaks are an undesirable tree as they tend to fall over in storms when the ground is saturated, but they also are subject to rot in their cores. The outside looks good, but the inside is rotten.

He certainly is like Trump. He has little interest in governing, but a great interest in traveling around the state to brag about his (questionable) accomplishments. While he insists that schools be open regardless of pandemic case counts, that Florida’s children must be in schools, and with the latest legislation, have no protection against what other children bring into the building, he continues to shield his children. Tours of the governor’s mansion are limited to the legislative session, which GOT must admit is better than nothing that was the rule for much of the pandemic.

No masks, no vaccine, DeSantis is the cancerous version of that Vegas cliche: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

He wants to be president. If that doesn’t frighten you, this should: he would likely bring Richard Corcoran to Washington to be his Secretary of Education. Trust GOT, that would make you nostalgic for the days of Devos.

Peek-A-Boo

One of the earliest games parents play with their children, Peek-A-Boo exploits the fact that infants who are nascent toddlers, believe that whatever they do not see cannot exist.

PEEK-A-BOO! You play the game by covering your face with your hands, and whoosh! you’re not there. Then you throw your hands open, show your face, and say peek-a-boo. The baby sees your face, you’re now there, and giggles. You laugh and cover your face again.

I say Peek A Boo

It’s not a fun game when we see the same game being played by school boards and superintendents, in which they cover their faces with their hands and pretend that the pandemic never happened.

They may throw their hands open every once in a while and acknowledge the struggles of their employees as they admonish them to practice self-care. They might send flowery messages about how hard this has been for everyone. But then it is ‘Game On!’ as teachers continue to have their time wasted in meetings called to discuss testing data, progress monitoring, ongoing classroom inspections by admin, &c. &c. all to answer the big question that has devastated education more than a pandemic ever could, “How will they score on the test?”

THE Test. There is no vaccination, no medicine, no social distancing, or mask that can protect American schoolchildren against it. No sneeze guard, HEPA air filtering, or UVC light zapping of viral particles that can end it. No opening of windows, distance learning, or other mitigation measures will deter school boards and superintendents from their obsession with test results.

Why? Because their jobs depend on it.

Years ago, when Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) was running a back office for a real-estate sales operation, he had an employee whose job was to collect back payments on outstanding loans. The employee often complained about resale companies, who convinced people that they could resell their now-unwanted property (the reason for the delinquency) for them. The resellers never delivered, but they did collect listing fees.

One day he changed his tune. The resellers offered an essential and wonderful service. As I inquired for the reason, it came out the resellers were paying him a $50 referral fee for every listing he sent them.

Yes, GOT put a stop to that practice immediately.

But it was a fascinating insight into human behavior. Money talks and drowns out other voices. When the Test asserts itself, it’s all that matters. All other concerns fall away.

Peek-a-boo! If school boards and superintendents cover their faces with their hands, the pandemic never happened. Everything is normal. Kids aren’t hurting, there’s no trauma to be addressed … get out the whips and drive them forward to the scores we need. Or teachers, feel the lash on your backs.

Peek-a-boo! Open the hands and here’s a spa coupon. Pamper yourself, but be sure to take the backlog of grading with you as you soak in the tub. Multi-tasking, ya know?

Peek-a-boo! Close the hands and the long, slow exodus of professionals AND essential support personnel won’t be seen. It doesn’t exist. Nothing to worry about, keep that long line of automobiles belching carbon monoxide into the air moving … because bus drivers are as rare as hen’s teeth these days … have you seen the latest progress monitoring results? What’s wrong with our teachers? If they really cared, they wouldn’t complain about losing planning time (we pay them, right? Don’t answer that question, we might not like the answer.)

Peek-a-boo! Keep those eyes covered, lest a long look or even a quick peek in the mirror might reveal something the movers and shakers don’t want to see. They could do much to change the impossible demands upon classroom teachers, support personnel, school leaders, counselors, and others even being under the constraints of state statutory requirements, but they don’t.

Peek-a-boo … how long can this game go on?

A Birthday Cake for Mr. Washington

Several years back, Scholastic Publishing Company published a children’s book titled as you see above. The book told a story about how George Washington’s slaves baked a cake for him to celebrate his birthday. As you might imagine or remember, controversy erupted.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington - Wikipedia

Although the author defended the story as well-researched and one that captured the complex relationships between the enslaved and the enslavers, it only took 12 days for Scholastic to pull the book from its catalog.

It was described as an “incomplete, even dishonest view of slavery” and “offensively sanitized version” of the history of slavery to be told to children.

It fell into the Happy Slave trope, one that walks hand-in-hand with the Lost Cause theology. Black people were better off as slaves, they were fed, clothed, and housed, they were grateful and loved their enslavers, they were valuable property and would never, ever be mistreated because who would damage their property …

Looking for the vomit emoji to insert into the text.

Real history says otherwise. The Federal Writers Project collected the narratives of the formerly enslaved to preserve them for future generations. There are the speeches of Frederick Douglas and others. There are the stories passed through the generations of Black people.

Black people were not happy slaves. Whitewashing their history helps no one for the history of Black people, the enslaved, is the history of white people, the enslavers. We must admit that. The institution of slavery in America is the history of white people, too.

But there are those who would deny that, which brings us to the controversy du jour in education–the chef’s special, you might say: Critical Race Theory (CRT).

CRT is not taught, nor has it ever been taught, in K-12 grades of any public school. It is a way of understanding history that was developed in the 1970s for graduate-level (master and doctorate university students) debate. This is a fact that is irrelevant to the protestors who storm school board meetings to demand an end to CRT in public schools, irrelevant to the politicians (hello, Glenn Youngkin) who don’t care because it’s a useful means of stirring up the kind of hatred that will storm the polls and deliver votes, irrelevant because the anti-CRT controversy has nothing to do with the actual theory itself.

CRT these days has become a catch-all label for any teaching about race that deviates from the traditional history text that deals with the slavery issue as one that had white people arguing in the 19th century lead-up to the Civil War (North good, South bad), a mention of the 1820s Nat Turner rebellion in Virginia (which frightened white people), and a wrap-up that the Emancipation Proclamation freed all enslaved Black people (spoiler alert: it did not).

Beyond that, nothing else was taught. Even 50 years ago, there was too much to pack into one course and students moved on to Manifest Destiny, which ignored the post-Civil War wars against indigenous peoples to settle … er … move across … er … conquer … er … take over all territory between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean south of the 49th parallel.

Manifest Destiny, the only history that the far-right, the nice-white, and the rabble-rousing elite want taught, all for reasons that promote privilege and wealth. God gave us this continent and it is our destiny to rule, which enables and authorizes any evil needed to do so, which we will not speak of. We forbid others to do so.

It is useless to ask the protestors what CRT is. They don’t know and they don’t care. The question is irrelevant. They want Manifest Destiny taught and anything that would challenge that viewpoint must be suppressed.

The enslaved were happy. They weren’t oppressed; they were being civilized. They were fortunate to encounter the white race and have this chance at being bettered. That’s the narrative and the far-right, nice-white crowd is sticking to it.

And … if you don’t like it, they will smash Mr. Washington’s cake in your face.