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.

Feeling Good When Saving One

Who can argue with this when Ellen DeGeneres sends Michelle Obama into an elementary school in the Southeast quadrant of Washington D.C. to bring hope and, even better, resources that will solidify that hope for the children?

Thank you, Mrs. Obama and Ellen.

I suppose Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) can.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth–as the saying goes–and we should appreciate the generosity of Ms. DeGeneres to give this great gift and Ms. Obama to visit the school in a splashy video-recorded appearance. The reaction of the children is priceless.

But it’s one school. Why can’t we do that for all schools?

Easy answer: Celebs don’t have enough money or the attention span. Get the PR and move on.

Those who have the money, the uber-wealthy, the billionaires, those who got a huge tax cut a few years ago, who could do this for many schools … well, they don’t give charity.

They give donations only when they can control how the money will be spent. Looking at you, Bill and Melinda, Zuck and Chan, Laureen, Rex, and many more, including the Walton heirs, whose actions have the old man spinning so fast in his grave … if we could only capture the energy, America would be energy sufficient for so many years we wouldn’t need to frack anymore.

Why do we have to go through this? Why do teachers have to turn to GoFundMe to get the basic supplies that their school districts cannot afford to give them?

Why do we lack the means to equip every school with a basketball court, student laptops, teacher equipment, and more?

America, we know the answer. It’s ugly and we want to pretend otherwise.

The truth: We don’t give a damn because these are not our children.

We fight to get the resources into our children’s schools but we won’t fight to get resources into all schools.

Those other children who aren’t like us. Why do we need to educate them?

But every once in a while, we pretend to care and we get stories like what you saw in the clip. A real tear-jerker, social-media-share-worthy (hmm, that could be a new acronym to use when posting: SMSW), and we all feel good.

The Doctor calls it for what it is: you spare one to feel good about yourself.

It’s not enough to save one. Thank you, Ellen and Michelle, and you don’t have enough, but together, as the wealthiest society the world has ever seen, yes, we have enough to save them all. But that means taxes, and the T word, to those who would rule us, the new American feudalists, is worse than the F bomb.

Postscript: Fair school taxes will not be sufficient if we don’t address the inequities in America’s public schools due to the district boundaries that create ghettos for some and rich enclaves for others.

Postscript: Again, not to disrespect the celebrity and the First Lady, but did anyone else see the story as possibly providing the trope of a white savior for black people? Ms. Obama, in the clip, made sure everyone knew the largesse came from Ms. DeGeneres.

Postscript: Getting way beyond education, but is the reason the white savior is needed is because the racist structure of America means that there are no black billionaires in the quantity that we have white billionaires?

Postscript: Please don’t mention Oprah Winfrey. Watch the Doctor Who clip about allowing one person to escape to rationalize the worst behavior for the rest.

Are We Softening Up America for a Return of Evil?

It’s the Christmas season. Unlike many a past year, Grumpy Old Teacher is feeling festive, really getting into the joy of the season, celebrating good tidings to all people, the delight of children and adults in the surprise of unlooked-for gifts, sparkling decorations … and yet there is so much to be grumpy about. GOT needs to get about his work.

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A time to be merry, a time to rejoice, a time to avoid the winter doldrums.

GOT sees yet another social media post about a classroom experience for children that purports to help them understand what slavery was like. This time, a mother found a slip in her child’s backpack … take a look for yourself:

What the hell?!

This is privilege at work. In the charitable spirit of the season, GOT would like to imagine that the teacher running this ‘game’ was unaware, ignorant in the bliss of privilege, that others may find this disturbing. Worse, it may trigger trauma in those whose ancestors were subjected to this barbaric practice.

Why do teachers engage in this practice? GOT has written about this before when he addressed the cosplay of historical reenactment that went wrong.

GOT vehemently defends his profession. But he will not cover up wrongdoing just because a teacher did it. If we are to retain and regain the confidence of the public, we have to be willing to call ourselves out when we do something wrong.

“Set your price for a slave.” THIS IS WRONG.

Why do teachers do this? Remember that story from a year ago when teachers dressed up as a wall (Halloween costumes) to greet their students from Mexico?

Why? Is it a good intention gone bad?

Or in these days of MAGA (Make America Great Again), are we softening up the hard-won conviction of our society that racism is wrong, that bias is wrong, and that slavery is wrong?

GOT does not think that the 13th amendment will be repealed. But he looks ahead to where the trends are taking us.

We are headed back to the pre-Civil Rights era.

One where white people may exercise their privilege in ways too terrible to imagine.

Is EVIL returning?

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GOT wants to leave you with best wishes for the season. He chose this image particularly because at least two faith traditions are represented.

Participation Trophies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One senses that Lombardi would approve of participation trophies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Believing in Santa

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Yeah, this guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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