Texas Bluebonnets

Spectacular!

Spring is blessing Texas this year with a once-in-a-decade wildflower bloom and nothing says Texas like an explosion of bluebonnets across that state.

GOT snagged the photo, uploaded it for his cover photo on his personal Facebook page, and tagged his cousin who lives in Texas. Yep, it’s a drive-by photo of the wonder and beauty of nature.

But then, GOT is taking a professional development on-line course in art and incorporating art in the classroom. The course caught his interest because he used to do that and has somehow moved away from it. Art and mathematics go together like a hand in a glove. GOT wants to bring art back into his Geometry classroom.

At this point in the course, we students are asked to slow down, even stop, contemplate a work of art and reflect on what we see. This photo of Texas bluebonnets is a work of art and the longer GOT contemplates it, the more he sees.

The rough fence post with shavings sticking out. Humanity wrenched a piece of nature, took a tree, and tried to make it fit into the mold we wanted. We want to dominate all nature and bend it to our will–make it conform. We would like a sleek, shiny post. But the wood resists. Remaining in its environment, the rain and the air turns it grey. Pieces swell with moisture and peel off.

However much we try, we humans do not control the forces of nature and cannot make them do as we will.

But we can use them much as the fence post is used to hold up the strands of barbed wire. Clearly a boundary has been set that nothing should cross.

The flowers laugh. They don’t respect the artificial boundaries of the division of land that we would reinforce with fences. They move across the land undeterred. They go where they want. They spread beauty despite the barbed wire. They will not be confined. They will fulfill that for which they were destined.

But there are more than bluebonnets. There are those other flowers, red and yellow, that rise up among the blue. In the riot of life, they do not conform. They have their own color and will be true to that. They are not a part of the majority, but they insist upon their inclusion among the beautiful flowers.

This is an education blog. But I am not going to give you my application of the art to the issues of education and life. Rather, like a good teacher, I am going to let you come to your own conclusions even though I’m making a few suggestions.

  • Will you make a connection to the fence and the flowing flowers as representing the futility of standardized testing trying to define who children are, what they can be, and at its worst, what they can only be? Can human potential be restrained?
  • Will you see the flowers as mocking the current immigration policies of the United States and the social implications that we should explore in the curriculum?
  • Will you see the red and yellow flowers as the children who don’t fit a tidy morality that many would impose and yet admit they are beautiful, that the contrast they present with the dominant blue brings out the beauty of both, and are an essential part of the life being shown?
  • Or are you going to align with ed reformers who have done their best to stamp this out of the curriculum, not because it is unimportant, but because this type of learning cannot be reduced to measurement on a standardized test?
  • GOT means how does one handle a learning exercise when no answer is wrong?
  • Such is art.
  • That is why it is an important part of life and its importance in education must be restored.

Shooting Fish in a Barrel

This post must come with a language warning. But the image is really funny.

Image result for fish in a barrel
Active-Shooter Training at Your Local Public School

From Indiana and the no-one-can-make-this-up file, we get the story of ALICE training where the trainers asked teachers to cower under a table for the purpose of shooting them with plastic pellets.

Hmm, GOT wonders if he could try that with his next Geometry lesson when the students don’t want to bother. “Okay, kids, let me show you how you need to use the Pythagorean Theorem to work out the area of a hexagon. If you don’t want to bother, I’ll shoot plastic pellets at you.”

Fight back: that was the lesson for teachers.

GOT wonders what would have happened to the teacher who did. That hypothetical teacher probably would have been tasered and put into handcuffs.

Listen to that fish. If teachers would only fight back, the AR-15s, bump stocks, multiple magazines, and body armor would be no match for them. Killers would cry, throw down their weapons, and run away.

At least, that’s what the trainers say.

Sigh, there will have to be training. There will always be no end to “professional development,” especially that which is led by people who have no clue.

You know what? You know who I want to come and train my colleagues and me?

Teachers. Teachers from Marjory Stoneman-Douglas, teachers from Sandy Hook, and teachers from Columbine High School who actually went through it.

They are the ones who can tell me what they did on that day of apocalypse, when irrational hatred and murder arrived on their campus. They can tell me what to do because they have been in the situation and have had a chance to reflect on what saved lives and what did not.

As for abusive law enforcement, with no training–nay, no understanding of trauma and its destructive effects–they should not be trainers.

Aren’t they the ones telling us teachers need to carry guns because we cannot rely upon them?!

Postscript: GOT does not indict all or most law enforcement officers who do a difficult job everyday.

But just as GOT is not an expert in law enforcement, they are not experts in education and schools. GOT will not tell them how to do their jobs and asks respectfully that they do not assume they know what our jobs should be.

Update: A link to a news story that gives added context to the story.

Samson

Not me. I am a Sampson and the ‘p’ distinguishes the English surname from the Jewish name.

Image result for samson pulling down the pillars

Not that confusion doesn’t ensue. In my freshman dorm (circa 1975), the Jewish guys didn’t understand until I explained it.

Although Samson was a badass and I wouldn’t mind the comparison.

Yes, in his last act, Samson pulled down the pillars on a temple to kill his enemies. It was an act of suicide, but he saw it as a heroic sacrifice.

The temple wasn’t strong enough to survive a catastrophic event.

Our schools are. But the commish is about to change that–if he can–if he gets his way. And Corcoran always gets his way. Two years of Florida legislative history teaches us that.

Corcoran believes that a lot of money is wasted on school construction. This is not a new story although GOT is once again failed by Google trying to find a link.

Now we get this. Corcoran says that teachers deserve to make $75,000 a year (quite an increase from the current average salary of $48,000.)

Where will the state find the money? Stop building expensive schools.

Now to sew up the metaphor or analogy if you will and the news story. The biggest way to reduce school construction cost is to stop making them strong enough to serve as storm shelters.

Charters know this. They don’t bother and when a Cat 4 or 5 approaches the state, they politely decline to be storm shelters. Their buildings are not strong enough. They don’t build to those standards. They don’t have to.

So teacher, here’s the devil’s deal. You want to be paid a salary worthy of your expertise, your credentials, and your value? All you have to do is teach in a school that might fall down around your head at any moment.

All it takes is a Samson or, in Florida, a Corcoran.

Brain Break

As Spring Break draws to a close, GOT has a confession to make. He is a horrible teacher. He did nothing over the last seven days to get the children ready for the TEST. He sent home no Spring Break math packet. He didn’t do it for Winter break, either, a/k/a known as Christmas.

GOT didn’t do it last year, either.

The horror! But every year scores have gone up. (As if that mattered, but when winning at the game, it’s hard for folks to argue.)

The coffee break is a time-honored provision of workplaces as a means of increasing productivity. Surprisingly, by a few minutes of stopping work, the overall output of the work increases greatly. This was measured by researchers at M.I.T., who found that after running a maze, the rats that took a break replayed the experience in their brains to solidify what they had learned.

The same is true of vacations, including student vacations. A break from learning gives the brain a rest. But while students play, their brains work on the subconscious level processing learning.

GOT has observed this many times in the course of his career. A fall unit of middle school algebra goes poorly. Rather than regrind and reteach endlessly, a move ahead in the curriculum produces better results. Somehow, in the Spring, when the class returns to that algebra unit, they do much better.

My geometry classes are wrapping up the third quarter, which contains the hardest topics for geometry students: right triangles and circles. Assessments revealed the usual struggle.

Rather than grind brains and souls to dust, GOT decided to take a break. Let the children have some time off. When we return, the children will be refreshed and ready to tackle anew the math.

We push children too hard these days. We forget development stages and other things in our drive to improve thinking (a/k/a known as reading, but that’s another post) and math skills. We force children to do things before they are ready to the frustration of all.

Often, GOT wonders sarcastically why we don’t teach calculus in third grade?

We push too hard and children do not have the time they need for deep thinking and processing. We include too much in a year of curriculum and children are rushed through important ideas. We fall behind and give out vacation packets of worksheets, create web-based computer assignments, and must-do projects.

We ignore what we know about learning because we are driven by the tests, the standards, and the curriculum that includes too much.

It’s time for a break. Take one now.

A Rose by Any Other Name

William Shakespeare
I said it first.

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

–William Shakespeare

The College Admissions Scandal

By now you’ve heard about the test-taking scandal, oops <giggle> which one? For once we’re not reading or hearing about how the high-stakes, your-job-is-on-the-line, your-school-will-close, your-life-is-ruined testing in a K-12 school caused people to collapse under the pressure and break the testing rules states lay down about the Spring ordeal students and others undergo.

This time it’s about parents who bribed test proctors and university athletic officials to gain admission to a prestigious university through changing SAT or ACT test scores or by pretending that someone’s child was an athletic recruit.

While millions of words have been written in the last twenty-four hours about how the scandal reveals the inequity in college admissions with many noticing how legitimate athletic recruits face lower standards, how many lackluster scholars get in as a legacy because their family makes a sizable donation to the school, and how wealthy parents are able to afford the testing coaches that have a demonstrable effect on raising SAT/ACT scores, few have questioned the premise that the brand of an elite university like Harvard, Yale, or USC is worth the money.

It’s not. Here’s a helpful hint to the wealthy: save your money. If you’re not part of the club (Harvard connections are very useful in life but only if your family has had those connections before you got there), going to an elite university is not going to gain your child membership.

Image result for rose
Beware the thorns. But healthy are the ones with Vitamin C-packed hips.

What’s in a name? Not much. The rose does not consist of the name, but of the quality of the program offered. After all, roses come in many colors. A red rose is not useful for a course of study which involves yellow ones.

Parents, teens: first decide upon what your interests are. Then, look for a college whose strengths are in those areas. You may be surprised how strong and well-regarded are the programs at your state universities and other colleges.

The value of a college’s education lies upon the strength of its programs. The world is far too large to be swayed by a mere name. After a few years, no one cares anymore. It’s what a person does with the education that enhances their value to future employers and life prospects.

Affordability matters. Look for institutions that will not require taking on student loans that will total more than a mortgage.

Demographics matter. Look for a campus with diversity. One rife with opportunities to try new things, to break out of one’s bubble, and to see how different people live their lives.

As the college years will also be the first place young adults will experience serious love affairs, make sure the college offers what interests the student has.

Image result for skunk cabbage
A rose of a skunk cabbage.

Choose carefully and wisely. The name means nothing in comparison to what the college offers in academics and experience. After all, consider the skunk cabbage. It moves upward in the early Spring because of its ability to melt the ice and frozen ground above it.

Isn’t that what all parents are after? Upward mobility for their children? The skunk cabbage may not have the name, but it has the capacity to deliver that.

So do the many, many universities and colleges that don’t possess elite status. Check one out.

The Problem and the Echo Chamber

Image result for echo chamber
Life in the Bubble

Recently GOT was meeting with a financial advisement firm to review plans for retirement. It’s always good to get an outside viewpoint and GOT looks forward to their analysis and recommendations for his investments. Not having been a teacher for an entire career with the result retirement savings are in four different accounts with four different firms as well as the fact that GOT has borne the market risk for his career means that careful review every so often is good. GOT will not retire with a traditional pension.

As we did the obligatory small talk to get the meeting underway, GOT mentioned the legislative action in Tallahassee and the increasing difficulty for public schools to continue to exist given the new voucher program moving through the legislature. The business people couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t imagine the threat that increasing voucher programs and charter schools pose to the public sector.

They have the belief that public schools will be around forever.

That’s the problem. The public simply doesn’t believe, not yet anyway, the behind-the-scenes machinations of groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and Americans for Prosperity to bring about a libertarian dream to end what they call ‘government schools.’

(Other views for ALEC and AP can be found here and here.)

When GOT told the advisors that the true goal of Florida Republican politicians was to enact education savings accounts, in which parents would be handed the money and they would choose where to spend it, charter, private, home, or public school, further, that public schools would have to compete for the money like a business merchandising its wares, they were against the idea.

Unaware, but opposed. That probably sums up most of the public.

Bloggers write and write and write informative pieces. GOT is gratified that his modest effort has gotten some notice over the last ten months by some of the greats in the educational blogger ranks. But it must be noticed that the typical blog lives in an echo chamber.

Great pieces are written and shared in the usual social media groups. The likes and shares pour in … to like-minded other social media groups. It’s an echo chamber.

We join groups where the members think as we do. We like their comments and flame the people whose comments we don’t like. Those people eventually go away unless they enjoy trolling the group. We settle into a small (sometimes not so small) community where everyone thinks alike.

Here’s a good piece by the Washington Post about the echo chamber and how news media can counteract it.

Back to the problem, the public doesn’t live in the educational blogosphere. If we want to pull in their support before we lose our schools, we will have to find ways to escape the chamber and reach them.

That’s what GOT is working on–a strategy to attract readers outside his echo chamber. It’s got to include a way to get onto other platforms, traditional media, maybe some wacky promotional ideas, and even (shudder) some social media advertising.

Think about it. The latest action taken in Florida was to send postcards to lawmakers pleading for the destruction of schools to stop. The effort was sincere, but perhaps the audience did not care?

Let’s take the leftover postcards, send the same message, but address them to our neighbors and fellow citizens. Get out of the chamber and reach those who support public education but don’t understand the urgency of now.

The New Normal

One year later, while the Florida legislature meets to tweak the well-intentioned, yet hasty, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Act, districts and schools are still trying to figure out how to implement the full act. Schools have been hardened, guardians have been hired, threat assessment teams … well, read on.

GOT has previously reported that he was placed upon his school’s threat assessment team (TAT). He went to the mandatory training in youth mental health, and since then, well no one seems to know what to do.

While Tally (short for Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, and usually used to mean the politicians that gather there to pass laws and govern the state) debates what to do next and the governor received his wish fulfillment for the empaneling of a grand jury to investigate school districts regarding their implementation of the MSD act, which will be sited in Broward County, thus it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the targets are, GOT has tried to move forward.

This is not a critique of anyone, but as guidance is not forthcoming, GOT has worked to find resources for school TATs and wants to share them with you.

These are only a few. But, as GOT told his administrator, if guidance is not forthcoming, we need to get on with the work anyway. We’ll do the best we can through research, discussion, and action.

If you are also a part of your school’s TAT and don’t know how to move forward, GOT hopes this has helped.