From “A New Hope” to “The Empire Strikes Back”

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“That’s no moon …”

Last year, at this time, we were encouraged, invigorated, and excited by the teacher strikes taking place around the nation. In particular, GOT is thinking of two that won concessions from the politicians and promises to meet the needs (note I did not say demands) of teachers: West Virginia and Oklahoma.

A new hope for all of us arose. If teachers can win in these deep red states, what can we not do?

All it takes is the courage to act.

But now, the empire has struck back.

The legislatures have their own ideas about how to make sure last year never happens again.

From West Virginia, we learn that the legislature has several draft bills floating around that has everyone confused. But it seems that all of them have some version of finishing the work of meeting the provisions of the strike settlement while also bringing to West Virginia the ‘reforms’ of charter school authorization and education savings accounts.

If you’ve ever wondered what a poison pill is, this is it. Don’t swallow, West Virginia.

(If you want to quibble with GOT that a poison pill is a defense against a hostile takeover, you are looking at this from the viewpoint of teachers. From the politician’s viewpoint, the best defense is a good offense. Give the teachers what they ask, but at the same time, make them accept their demise.)

“You don’t mess around with Jim Oklahoma reformin’ politicians.”

From Oklahoma, a proposed bill would outlaw teacher strikes and revoke their certification if they ever dare to do it again.

As for Florida, we can only wish we were in the original trilogy. For us, it seems like we are moving from ‘The Clone Wars,” in which we are fighting privatization, charters, and every dumb idea about education ever, to “The Revenge of the Sith,” courtesy of Ron DeSantis, Richard Corcoran, Jeb Bush, the Foundation for Educational Excellence, and every lesser politician with a side hustle of profiting from a relative or position with a charter school organization.

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“If DeSantis and Corcoran wore these costumes for the 2019 session, wouldn’t that be cool?”

Our new governor has already said he believes our public schools are over-resourced. OK, he didn’t say those exact words, but that’s what he meant when he said there is waste in public school districts’ spending.

Prepare for battle, all ye Florida defenders of public education. Voucher expansion is coming.

The Sloth Approach to School Safety

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OK, that’s a provocative headline, but isn’t that the way of media, blogging, and that internet need to get likes and shares?

LOL, being sarcastic at my own expense.

If you are a regular reader of Grumpy Old Teacher, you know that I have consistently opposed the idea that armed teachers are the answer to the black swan event of a school massacre. But that doesn’t mean the people who recommended that are completely without sense.

(Black swan theory: because no one has ever seen one does not mean one does not exist. Similarly, an extremely rare event, the odds at 1 in 10 billion, given enough time, will occur. That means while you are highly unlikely to experience a massacre at your particular school, every year it happens somewhere.)

The school safety commission that worked for almost a year after the Parkland tragedy (Margery Stoneman-Douglas High School) issued its report. One of its prominent members, the Sheriff of Pinellas County, has now said that he believes school districts are moving too slowly to implement the safety recommendations and the requirements imposed by the law passed last Spring by the Florida legislature.

I would really like to argue with the Sheriff of Pinellas County. I can still do that about arming teachers.

But in regards to my school district, we are moving at a sloth’s pace. The superintendent told the media after the Board adopted a policy about Threat Assessment Teams that the teams would be active right away in the schools.

I would really like to argue. But then, I am the faculty member on my school’s Threat Assessment Team, and nothing has happened.

Despite the policy mandating monthly meetings, my Team hasn’t met. Or if they have, they didn’t bother to let me know about it.

We can argue about putting tape on the floor to designate ‘hard corners,’ but at my school, that hasn’t happened. Didn’t the law (rightly or wrongly) mandate that?

Yep, I hate to admit it, but moving slowly describes my district exactly.

MLK Holiday

Put in I in those letters and you discover what too many people have done: homogenized and pasteurized the remembrance of a man who pushed America to do right for all its people.

This is the quote often used, but used too often by people who are doing exactly that: judging character by the color of skin.

That they may be unaware of it is not an excuse.

Anyone who believes Dr. King would approve of the retreat into racism, segregation (if you don’t believe that, you haven’t been paying attention to charter schools and ‘choice’), and violence against black persons by institutional forces is foolish.

Anyone who believes that Dr. King would excuse unjustified killings by police of innocent, no even guilty, black people because of the violence tearing apart urban neighborhoods is intellectually lazy and foolish.

Anyone who believes that Dr. King would smile upon talk radio trashing workers and unions has forgotten why he was where he was when his life was taken. They are foolish.

His greatest wonderment was why poor whites persisted in prejudice and hate. Why can’t they realize that the movement for social and economic justice would benefit them, too? They should be the greatest allies.

To this day, they are not.

If he was alive today, he would have harsh words for us but spoken in love.

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Don’t be silent. Raise your voice.

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That fierce urgency has not diminished. This is our time and we need to be getting on with it: justice and fairness and an eradication of systemic racism from our lives.

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Whole Child Education

A recent post by Rick Hess* (American Enterprise Institute) is being shared across social media. That got my attention and you can read the post here.

With fellow writer Timothy Shriver*, Mr. Hess leads off with this great quote: “the need for schools and communities to embrace children as individuals and future citizens, and ensure that they don’t feel like test-taking cogs in a bureaucratic enterprise.” (Emphasis mine.)

Who will disagree with that? As a math teacher, one of my major frustrations is the difficulty in getting high school freshmen out of the mindset that all they need to know is how to put the right answers into the test: no learning, no understanding, no curiosity necessary. Besides Geometry, every year my teaching challenge is to turn test-takers into eager, self-directed learners.

Hess and Shriver call for an end to the dichotomy in education that they describe as false: “Schools should not have to choose between chemistry and character; between trigonometry and teamwork.”

Props from GOT for the alliteration; it makes for a memorable quote. BUT! That is exactly what schools have to do as long as the test-and-punish policy of reformsters, billionaires, politicians, and the like are maintained by state laws and regulations.

Hess and Shriver get much correct. They recognize the role of schools to develop character and help children grow into responsible, capable adults. They recognize the difficulty educators face in this job because collaboration, empathy, and integrity are not innate (their word) for children.

However, they betray themselves when they say “the Commission (the National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development) suggests … every teacher should be trained in child and adolescent development and the science of learning. This would require, of course, major improvements in educator preparation that must be accompanied by ongoing professional support for teachers and other adults who work with young people.”

Hello? Mr. Hess and Mr. Shriver? Have you ever visited a teaching college? This is exactly what they have been doing since the days of John Dewey. It is insulting to teachers to say that they do not have the training or knowledge needed.

Teachers have more than the knowledge; they have the desire, a burning desire, to do exactly what Hess and Shriver call for. Why is LAUSD on strike? More bucks in the paycheck? Not at all! They are striking because their school district, burdened by privatization policies of the school board and superintendent, are preventing them from providing whole child education.

Every teacher, including those in Florida, being handed a scripted curriculum that says, “You know nothing! Read the script because we high-ups and reformers, who if we ever taught in a classroom only spent a year as we raced to the top (irony intended), know better than you what children need,” rejects the insinuation that they don’t know how to provide nurturing, development, and caring for the children in their classrooms.

There is much in the article that is commendable. However, it is missing the elephant in the room: standardized testing and the destructive policies attached to it.

Kick that to the curb and cut teachers loose from their bonds. You will be amazed at the transformation that will take place. You will find places where, in the words of Hess and Shriver, they are “helping students feel safe at school; cultivating traits like responsibility and perseverance; developing an emotional foundation for academic success; and teaching students to respect and listen to one another in the face of differences.”

*Biographical footnote: Timothy Shriver is Chairman of Special Olympics, Founder and Chair of the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, and Co-Chair of the Aspen Institute National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development. Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of Education Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ten Days: the Maximum!

Oh, Georgia! Voter suppression by the candidate who had the responsibility of oversight over his own race. And you ignored the conflicts of interest as Brian Kemp purged the voter rolls of black voters and closed numerous polling places in majority-black counties–all to keep them folks from turning out and voting for his opponent.

I suppose I should be thanking you, Georgia, because you make Florida look good, but I am not.

An “old sweet song” of racism and white supremacy keeps Georgia on my mind.

This is what the school-to-prison pipeline looks like. A 12-year-old boy is given cash by his parents to pay for his school lunch. (Let’s not imagine what might have happened if his parents had not given him money for lunch. There are too many lunch-shaming stories floating around as it is.)

The cashier runs the counterfeit pen across the bill and the streak turns blackish or brown. Counterfeit! (The iodine solution in the pen reacts to wood-pulp-based paper, but does not react to the fiber-based cotton and linen the U.S. Treasury uses to make currency.)

What happens next? The straight A, honor roll student is punished with a 10-day suspension. Although the investigation reveals he had no idea and his parents did not know either, that did not matter.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, boy! Neither is your tender age and innocence that kept you from questioning the cash your parents gave you for your lunch. Possession is nine-tenths of the law (as the saying goes), you possessed, you will be punished.

Sadly, tragically, this young man is innocent no longer. He now understands what it means to bear a black skin in America.

Oh, Georgia! Oh, America! How can you be okay with this?

About that Road to Hell

Good intentions paving the way.

Why do teachers do it? From South Africa, we get this story: Teacher suspended over class ‘split by race.’

Everyone makes mistakes. This post is about how we can stop making mistakes.

Executive summary: Don’t be stupid.

As in, we teachers must always be aware of the effects of the decisions that we make. We can have all the right reasons free of discriminatory effect, all the right data blind to demographic breakdowns, and the best of intentions.

But when the result is discriminatory? Then we need to pull back and realize we should go another way.

In this case, the teacher grouped her class according to language ability and knowledge. Apparently, she wound up grouping her class into groups that were white only and black only.

She had a non-discriminatory basis for what she did. But the effect was discriminatory and a photo shared on the school’s social media account provoked an outcry.

Now the teacher is suspended pending an investigation.

This problem crops up in the United States. It’s not only the cosplay gone awry; other problems also take place.

Always, always, we teachers have to be aware of the effects our decisions and interactions have on the children who are our students. I’m not without sin myself, but I always reflect on what took place each and every school day and, if something didn’t go well, how I could do it better.

It goes beyond race. Sometimes, teachers allow their personal convictions to affect their words.

Regardless of how you feel about LGBTQ teenagers, you have to remember that this is a vulnerable time of their lives. The adolescent agenda for development is one of identity. Teenagers are working out who they are, which is why they may do something out of character at times. They are trying out a way of understanding themselves. Most of the time, it doesn’t work (peer feedback can be savage) and they move on.

We teachers are not to judge them. We should support them because our jobs go far beyond that of imparting knowledge. We guide children along their path to develop into adults and we recognize that it is they who have the right to determine who they will be.

Regardless of how a teacher feels about a transgender student, if the child says this is my name and I identify male or female, go with it. Use the name they want and use the pronouns that match.

If you can’t understand why, then don’t be stupid. Don’t insist on doing what you want and getting into trouble. Respect the child.

As for those groupings, every wise teacher knows that after the groups are made according to the data, common sense must prevail. No matter the data, two kids who will fight if they sit next to one another cannot be in the same group. Two lovebirds who only need one desk because sharing a chair is happiness cannot be in the same group. Two chatterboxes who will socialize cannot be in the same group.

Have a mind about what’s taking place in the classroom.

Remember that data has its place, but its place is not primary. It informs and supports teacher decisions, but it does not control. There are other things more important and one of those things is diversity.

If the groupings are not diverse, throw them, the data, and the theoretical framework upon which it is based into the trash can.

Students will thank you for it.

Get off the road to hell.

“Why are ‘Student Loans’ calling me on my phone?”

But first, Publisher’s Clearing House.

If you are old enough, like GOT, you remember those sweepstakes. They came regularly in the mail and, to win a few million dollars, all you had to do was risk a stamp to put your entry into the mail.

Not a few cynics believed that unless you ordered a boatload of magazines, which Publisher’s Clearing House was after, your entry went into the trash.

PCH took pains to explain that they complied with state laws and that every entry, magazine subscription orders or not, had an equal chance of winning.

But they knew, by putting the advert into people’s homes, many would decide to order magazines. And, it was kind of fun, looking through the offerings, detaching the stamps, licking the back, and pasting them onto the order form even if your Dad made you throw those orders into the trash.

Ah, an innocent fun our young will never know.

Why is PCH still in business? Print is dying.

That was my question when a tablet ad barged into my consciousness as I caught up on a few games.

I took the bait. What I figured was they would take my info, ask some questions about my interests as in what kind of magazines I would be interested in, and then sell the data.

I took the bait because I figured that was what they were after–data, which as we all know is big bucks these days–and by entering their contest, I would gather some info worth a blog post about privacy.

But PCH asked nothing more than my address and my email address … well, they needed my birth date also.

But that was it. How could they gather data about my interests if they didn’t ask subtly through magazine choices? What exactly were they after? An email address? Pbbft. They can have it. One day I’ll burn it when the spam gets too annoying. (Something an old person would think and do.)

Let it rest, I figured.

Maybe I’ll learn something later once the spam starts rolling in.

But then it hit me … a conversation I had with a student in my second period today.

“GOT (he used my name), why are ‘Student Loans’ calling me on my phone?”

At first, I was confused. He was too young to have student debt and I was thinking he was getting a debt collection call.

Nope, if it was mistaken identity, you wouldn’t be reading this.

The truth is worse.

At 14 years of age, he is receiving solicitations to take out student loans through the boiler room that is doing the calls.


I told him he was too young to be thinking about student loans–that is for college. In a year and a half, when he is beginning to identify colleges he may want to attend and researching the costs, at that time he will work with our outstanding Guidance Department to find scholarships and financial aid through organizations that are not out to exploit him.

This … 14! … is not a time to fall to a pitch to enter into a soul-crushing, life-long debt that must be paid off.

(Student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.)

14! Are you as outraged as I am?

14! And now GOT must wonder how they found him. Who gave up the phone number?

Student privacy is a real issue. There’s an upcoming webinar about protecting student privacy and you can sign up for it here. (Source: Badass Teachers Association and Parent Coalition for Student Privacy. Mentioned by Diane Ravitch in her blog.)

Watch it. Grumpy Old Teacher plans to.