Reflection on the Young

We awoke this morning to the news that a major Iranian general, among others, was killed by U.S. military action in Iraq.

Social media has been on fire with shares of the news from many sources and comments on the significance of it, including retaliation by the Iranian mullahs who control the country.

The usual name-callers have posted their usual epithets against their usual targets.

The United States of America dispatched someone engaged in international conflict and violence, planning and leading efforts in covert wars, but yet is not a rogue terrorist like Osama Bin Laden, but a top official for a sovereign government.

Numerous questions occur to your Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT): Was it important? Was it necessary? Will the gain in disrupting the Iranian export of revolution across the Middle East be worth the cost of the coming retaliation?

GOT doesn’t have these answers, not yet, anyway. Does that surprise you?

GOT has no opinion about this. Perhaps in the coming days as more becomes known, he will form one. But that is not now.

I used to be so sure. I used to have an opinion about everything with the confidence, nay hubris, to pity those who couldn’t understand like me.

No more.

Teaching does that to you. In the free academy, bereft of scripted lessons and narrow curriculums, where students and teachers can pose questions and debate answers, you come to see that there are many sides to an issue and that others have sound logic for their rationale, that others will disagree as passionately as the flush in your face tells you about your passion for your position, and that the Bard was correct when he penned the words: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

As for now, GOT is transported back a few years. Whatever was happening in the news or around the world, GOT thought a war could break out, a major war, and soon the young people in his classroom, 14 and 15 and 16 years old, might be called up for military service (that big of a war!). As he watched them work at their desks during periods of independent practice, he would wonder how many would come back, how many would live their lives out of broken bodies as they reconstructed those lives, how many would have their potential cut-off before their lives could really begin?

The meaning of Soleimani’s assassination and all that will come of it, GOT has no idea.

The only thing I am sure of is that, in the months ahead, I will have more moments of looking at the teenagers I teach and wonder about them marching off to war.

2019

It’s the end of a decade! Or so the radio endlessly proclaimed as your Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) heard as he traveled over the holidays.

The artificial boundaries we draw across the time of our lives usually brings a retrospective. The airways are full of them, so why not join in?

Here are the top 19–most impactful, not necessarily beneficial–education events of the past ten years.

ONE! States adopt the Common Core standards.

TWO! States abandon the Common Core standards.

THREE! That’s a lie. States rebrand the Common Core standards, but the wording and impact remain the same.

FOUR! Betsy Devos becomes Ed Sec for the entire country and (drum roll) … la plus que ca change, la plus que la meme chose–except she doesn’t feel the need to hide it.

FIVE! Arne Duncan disses soccer moms. Later, after he leaves the USDOE, he is well paid for it.

SIX! PISA scores, NAEP scores, TIMSS scores, everybody’s scores … all have failed to rise over the past 20 years of educational reform.

SEVEN! Beyond many passionate defenders of public education, no one questions the use of these test scores as the sole means of judging the quality of public education in America.

EIGHT! The New Orleans all-charter experiment is a failure. As a result, other cities wonder how to adopt the model.

NINE! Tennessee’s grand experiment with an Achievement School District that will raise the bottom 5% of schools into the top tier fails. Turns out it’s harder to raise achievement in struggling neighborhoods than it looks. At least, thanks to generous legislators, it pays well.

TEN! Ohio’s epic experiment with online education fails. Massive fraud is uncovered.

ELEVEN! That pesky first amendment Establishment Clause that prevents using public taxes as payments to religious schools finally gets an end run around it. (Spoiler alert: court challenges to come.) (Extra spoiler alert: “I like beer.”)

TWELVE! NPE (Network for Public Education) releases a report that details how the federal government has wasted billions of dollars in grants to charter schools that never opened.

THIRTEEN! Teacher strikes in states known for their conservatism and ‘red’ status: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona. California, a ‘blue’ state,’ strikes also.

FOURTEEN! Bill Gates pulls out of his grant to Hillsborough County a year early, which leaves the taxpayers struggling to fulfill his promises to teachers without the means to pay for them. There is no more telling example of the callousness toward actual human beings from those who piously cry that they are for ‘the children.’

FIFTEEN! Betsy Devos tosses away that troublesome book known as her Bible because it advocates compassion for the poor and powerless as she advocates that loan forgiveness for young adults defrauded by for-profit colleges is unfair to the few who found a way to pay them back and the lenders who participated in the scheme.

SIXTEEN! Charter schools are resegregating America. Many approve.

SEVENTEEN! Pre-K is the new 5th grade or so it seems as schools abandon the importance of play in the early grades. On a related note, anxiety levels of older children and teenagers is noticeably higher.

EIGHTEEN! School shootings continue and society continues to argue about reducing access to guns as part of the solution.

NINETEEN! Democrats began to shift away from the agenda of corporate reform, especially as seen in the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Has the tide begun to turn?

GOT is sure you have your own list and it seems that 19 is limiting. Add what you think is missing in the comments.

How About It?

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Looking at you, Mayor.

My city is broken. No statistic is more telling than that, despite the extra spending for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the Cure Violence nonprofit initiative, and the handwringing, my city continues to experience more murders per capita than any other place in Florida.

Yet our politicians and leaders remain focused on privatization as the solution that will bring relief.

The now-aborted process of selling off our city-owned utility, the blocking of a school sales tax to rebuild and reinvigorate our city’s public schools, the vision of a city that is 50% or more charter in schoolchildren enrollment, the proposal made by a Downtown Investment Authority board member to privatize parking meters (by himself, of course, but at least he had the decency to resign from the DIA before immediately making the proposal … but wait, for the sheer chutzpah of the action, he was immediately nominated to a board position on the city utility), the condemnation of city (public) owned buildings and the fencing off of the resulting grass lots … how is this helping?

My city is broken.

2019 has not been a good year for Jacksonville. The “Bold New City of the South” has been spiraling backwards to the days of pre-consolidation, when every city leader had his own barony, a fiefdom of corruption, the stench in the city was not merely pollution from the paper mills.

The new American feudalism.

Fortunately for Jacksonville, the attempt to sell the utility brought about a public fury that even the chief baron himself, the overlord Lenny Curry, had to back off.

That doesn’t mean he has changed, either his philosophy or his intentions. He will have to try a different way.

Wait a minute, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT). You started this post talking about the murder rate.

Yes, I did. All the privatization mentioned above, even if it does take place, how will this change the circumstances in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods? How will despair change to hope? How will this cause young men to throw down their guns and see a future in which they can make a living wage, establish loving relationships, and be fathers to their children?

GOT is not blaming the young men. They are making the best choices they can under the circumstances in which they find themselves. GOT does not condone the choices, but! to change the choices means we must change the circumstances.

How about a city that provides resources where they are needed?

A rich, gentrified downtown will not save Jacksonville from the violence. Better opportunities in its neighborhoods will.

A public-owned utility can help rebuild neighborhoods by upgrading water and sewer systems without the need to satisfy a ROI (Return on Investment) that a privately-owned company must meet. It can replace failing septic systems. It can improve the quality of water throughout the city.

How about it?

Good neighborhoods need a school. Public schools are more than centers of learning; they are community institutions. They provide identity, they provide meeting space, and they provide programs that communities need outside their operating hours.

In Jacksonville, public schools and city parks go hand-in-hand. To lose the former is to lose the latter, access to green spaces, access to places where community sports teams can practice and compete, access to recreation.

If we turn our public school facilities over to charter schools, will they provide that access? Anyone playing basketball on KIPP’s courts over the weekend, please speak up.

This points out how the city only works well when resources from disparate sources are combined to meet the needs of the citizens, those whom do ‘most of the living and dying’ in the town. (Obscure reference to a line from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.)

How about it? How about, instead of shutting schools down, we brought the resources to bear that would make them a success?

How about establishing enterprise zones in the places they are needed instead of the sports complex so that people needing jobs could find them in the places where they live instead of providing subsidies to a certain billionaire who wants to develop property next to a stadium? How about it?

How about we stop judging our schools by test results, nay a test result, singular please, a once-a-year stress-off-the-charts failed exercise that fails to capture student learning and achievement due to bad standards, bad practice, and political pressure to perform? A test that most closely correlates to the income levels of the families of the children.

How about it? How about we use our city resources to bring all agencies to address the trauma of children that leaves them biologically less able to learn?

How about a mayor more concerned with helping the least of his people rather than leaving a legacy?

Years ago, GOT lived in Chicago. The public housing projects were a mess. Crime-ridden, forlorn, no one wanted to address the issues.

Then a mayor made a splashy move. She moved into the worst of the projects as she reasoned that if the mayor lived there, the city would focus its efforts on making the project an outstanding place to live.

How about it? What would happen if Lenny Curry moved his family into the northwest corridor? Grand Park or across the river in Arlington.

Would his priorities change? Would the city’s?

How about it?

DeMinimal DeSantis DePay Proposal

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock … oh, wait, this is Florida, it may be better say unless you’ve been hiding out in a hammock under mosquito netting in the swamp … you’ve heard that the governor made a proposal to raise the minimum salary for Florida’s public school teachers to $47,500 a year.

An estimated 101,000 teachers throughout the state would benefit from the proposal. (Disclosure: Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) would be one of them, but not by much. After 15 years, he has been able to get close to that amount.)

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Oh, Florida! Teacher pay proposals often end up here.

Veteran teachers have objected, not because they think they are paid enough, but because the plan would nudge them up to a level that will also be offered to brand-new teachers, the teachers whom they are expected to mentor and develop. The plan would devalue the years of experience that veterans possess despite generally-accepted research that teachers grow in effectiveness over the years, especially after the first five years in the classroom.

That’s particularly galling to veteran teachers under current Florida law, which prevents pay raises to any teacher not rated effective or higher and steers bonus payments to teachers based upon being rated ‘highly effective.’

If effectiveness is so important to the politicians, why does the governor’s proposal make no distinction between teachers who have persevered in the classroom and new hires, who have only a 50% chance of remaining in the classroom after five years?

Despite this, the proposal to set a minimum teaching salary is a good start.

But it’s only a start.

How about we set a minimum scale instead? New teachers up to five years of experience make about $43,000? Five years to ten years, $46,000. Ten to fifteen (gracious, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) hopes that doesn’t sound like a prison sentence), $50,000. Fifteen to twenty, $55,000. Over twenty, $60,000.

Provide the funding to school districts through the base student allocation and let each district’s teachers negotiate with their school boards to set an actual contract.

But even that is only a start.

It is scandalous that support personnel make low wages and get ignored when pay for educators is discussed. While this can be a difficult area, they should not be left out. For purposes of discussion, how about a minimum of $15 an hour, a generally recognized standard to aspire to for all workers.

That should extend to contractors as well. It does no good to specify a mininum wage for a custodian or cafeteria worker if a school district contracts with a private company for those services and the private company is free to suppress wage levels.

Other issues remain. There is the cost-of-living differential across the state as well as the fact that some counties have recently adopted taxes to supplement teachers’ salaries and others have not. Finally, legislation would need some kind of linkage to cost-of-living indexes so that the new minimums would not be made irrelevant by rising prices.

Finally, the elephant in the room must be addressed. Which teachers would be included under these proposals? All teachers, all teachers whose schools receive public money in some form (traditional, charter, vouchers), only public school teachers? If only public school teachers, how do we define public? Does that include charter schools?

This is why good ideas are often hard to implement in legislation and get the intended result.

But let’s make a start a graduated scale of minimum salary geared toward years of experience.

Disclosure: GOT is in his 15th year of teaching. According to his pay scale, he would receive a very modest bump with the governor’s proposal to set a minimum salary of $47,500.

Jaguars and Schools

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Not these jaguars.
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Nope, nope, nope.
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These guys.

Diverting the decent (and not-so-decent, perhaps) denizens of Jacksonville from the debacle of the now-debunked scheme to divert dozens of dozens of dollars from the city-owned utility to the executives’ bank accounts … it’s Christmas, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is on his first day of break and having some fun with words, laugh with him … we are also dealing with the diatribe the NFL Players Association distributed about the demands of the executive dictator of the team and the resulting dismissal of the demanding disciplinarian.

But let’s get serious.

Has anyone else recognized the deep problem afflicting the team? It’s more than Tom Coughlin.

The players are discontented. Many have been released, one demanded and received a trade, and most have gone on to successful careers with other teams.

Too many talented players have moved on after their time with the Jags (as we often abbreviate the team’s name.)

Jalen Ramsey tweeted, “I tried to tell y’all.”

Dante Fowler tweeted his relief that he would get $700,000 refunded from the assessed fines that violated the contract between the players and the National Football League.

GOT hasn’t seen Yannick Ngakoue’s reaction or that of Miles Jack, but in Jacksonville, Florida, it’s no secret of the discontent of the defensive players on the team.

The most they would say is that their front office doesn’t know how to relate to today’s players.

There’s a deep problem with this team. Has anyone else noticed it?

It’s a problem that won’t be solved with the coming dismissal of the general manager and head coach.

Let’s go back two years. At the end of the 2017 season, the Jaguars were one play away from being in the Super Bowl for the very first time. In the ensuing celebration after years of being the league’s doormat, contracts were extended.

In particular, the front office three of executive VP of football operations, general manager, and head coach as well as the ‘franchise’ quarterback had their contracts extended with their compensation improved. We couldn’t wait for the contracts to come up for negotiation at the end of their term–went the explanation–because we need these people to know we appreciate them.

By the way and it gets to the point of this post, these persons are white.

The Jaguars have had and still have many talented players on their defensive roster. Not by the way and we’re moving to the point, these players are black.

Two in particular have been reaching the end of their rookie contracts. Their outstanding play has been crucial to the team’s strategy. They are recognized as All-Pro despite the team’s record. One is called a ‘once-in-a-generation’ player. [Editorial note: this player demanded and received a trade because of his issues with the team.]

They asked to renegotiate. They were told not to get out of line. Wait your turn.

Are you getting it now?

If you’re white, the team needs to show love. Here’s a renewal you didn’t ask for.

If you’re black, wait your turn. Get back into line. We have the ‘franchise tag’ for one of you to keep you out of free agency.

Until the Jaguars deal with the racism in the organization, they will never know long-term success. Good players will count the days and mark their calendars until they can get out of town.

Sadly, the same is true of schools. Charter schools are resegregating America.

Voucher plans (GOT would say schemes, but he knows that word is fraught with emotion) are doing the same.

Even public schools ignore the problem. This post grows long, GOT does not wish to indict the particular school system he works for, but racism is in the halls and goes unaddressed.

I’ll say the same about schools, all schools, that I did about the Jaguars. Until we get about addressing racism, we will be stymied in finding the success we seek.

Vassals and Serfs: The New American Feudalism

In classic medieval feudalism, the vassal was a person who swore loyalty and service to a higher lord. The vassal relationship could be between a king and his nobles, nobles and lesser personages of military professionals, and nobles or lesser persons and tenants of the land under their control.

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Much of the tribal politics in America
resembles the lord/vassal relationship.

In return for the promise of rents, paid either in coin or produce as well as service in war when called upon, vassals would receive a grant of land for the support of themselves, their families, and their obligations to their lord. Vassals retained their freedom and other certain rights as well as a claim to protection from their lord.

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Serfs, on the other hand, were bowed down by lifelong,
undischargeable obligations.

Serfs, on the other hand, had no freedom. They were bound to the land of their lord and forced to work hard labor in the fields for the production of produce and income. They were under the control of their overlords with no way out.

Rather like the current student loan crisis, where students find their loan balances increasing as their lives go on, they will never pay it off and they cannot discharge the debt through bankruptcy, their degrees are worthless from the for-profit colleges that suckered them, … these students have entered adult life in a type of serfdom, where the banks/loan holders own them. Their ability to buy a house, own an automobile, marry and support a family are compromised by the student debt burden that they bear.

Furthermore, the debt will prevent them from building an estate from which they can pass on generational wealth to their heirs.

Under the new American feudalism, the billionaire class is hoovering up the wealth built by the generations of middle class and working class people in the 20th century.

But they’re only keeping score.

But the bulk of the American people are their points.

Some financiers have proposed a solution to student debt. They will pay for a young person’s college education in return for future payments of a specified percentage of the young person’s future earnings.

For example, one of the wealthy will pay the tens of thousands of dollars for tuition, books, and other college expenses. In return, the benefiting person agrees to pay 15% of their lifetime earnings.

Talk about a vassal relationship with a lord! Here is the promise of fealty, the obligation of paying rent for the land, in return for a grant at the outset of one’s life.

The new American feudalism at work. And there’s no way out for anyone driven into making such a Faustian bargain.

How the Grinch Stole School Lunch

You’re a mean one, Mr. Prez …

700,000 people across the nation are going to lose their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits as a new federal rule goes into effect.

In Florida, that would mean that 200,000 children will lose their free school lunch.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump! The song parody is writing itself in Grumpy Old Teacher’s mind even as he writes these words.

But in these DeVosian days of American public schools, Scrooge is in charge, the pre-ghost Scrooge, and don’t put another coal on the fire, Bob Cratchit!

If they can’t pay, let ’em go hungry. That’ll teach ’em.

You’re a mean one, Mr. Trump!

Look at him loot the icebox.

Why is it that lunch-shaming stories never shame those who take lunch out of the hands and mouths of children?

Who is that cold-hearted? What misanthropist could do that?

Previously, we have read the occasional story of a lunch debt problem gone bad. But this takes the cake–literally.