Flashback: Water Is Wet

From December 2018:

A white person telling a black person about racism is like telling a fish that water is wet.

Fish know that water is wet. They live in water, they swim in water whether it is placid, turbulent, warm, cold, full of currents that shove them into places they don’t want to go or push them deeper into oxygen-depleted zones, … waters full of plastic they ingest to the detriment of their health … red tide threats that kill them … dangerous bacteria … mercury that stores up in their bodies …

Fish live in water. They have to. They know its qualities and what it means to live their lives in water. They know the impact on their lives and health.

They also know that they must live their lives in the water. To leave the water means death.

Now comes someone who walks on dry land and wants to explain to the fish that water is wet.

That is what it is like when white people try to tell black people what is and is not racism.

Black people know. They spend their lives swimming in it and do not need anyone to explain it. They are the experts.

Flashback: Cosplay

From November 2018:

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Another day, another poor decision that breaks into the day’s news. In this case, a Missouri teacher had students dress up as historical characters that existed when constitutional amendments were passed to show the passions and opinions that were for and against them.

Sadly, when it came to the 15th amendment, one of the historical characters, an unnamed student, came in a replica of a KKK costume.

There was no racist intent, we are told. The student was only displaying something from history, we are told. It was part of a group project, we are told. No harm meant.

This is what privilege looks like. We have no ill intent; we only mean to look at history, examine what took place, and try to get a lesson from it. We think this is supportive of people of color. We want children to imagine how it was back then and that reenacting is the way to help students develop empathy.

We don’t stop to consider that racism is still active today and that people of color still experience it. We don’t consider that seeing someone come into a classroom in the white robes of evil will trigger passion, fear, and suffering in others.

We’re tuned into what a good thing that we think we’re doing that we overlook its effects on others, in particular, our students of color. This isn’t history for them; it is life.

I’m not a hero. Whenever I read a story like this, it sends me into reflecting on my classroom and how my interactions with students were helpful or, despite my best intentions, were harmful. As a math teacher, I have little opportunity to do something like the news story, but! what about those teachable moments that arise, that have nothing to do with mathematics, but I should not let pass? It’s easy to direct attention back to the content, but are there not times to throw the lesson out the window when something important is raised by students?

Something like this is easy to flag, address, and punish. What is harder to admit is that we don’t talk about issues of racism in our schools. We ignore it; we pretend that everyone is equal and all is fair. Whenever an uncomfortable issue arises, it is better to pretend than to begin to have painful conversations that have to start with the staff.

If we as teachers, leaders, and staff cannot talk among ourselves about difficult issues of race, how can we expect that our students will?

If we want to pretend that everything is fair, then the disparities of punishment and suspension that hit our students of color disproportionately and the hardest will go unrecognized.

Please do not quote Martin Luther King, Jr. at me. All the people who use his words to justify the ongoing inequitable systemic racism … you don’t want to hear what he would say to you if he was alive today. You lift some words out of context to comfort yourself rather than get what he really was saying.

As for the cosplay in the classroom, don’t do it. Just don’t.

Flashback: Devil in the Grove

From July 2018:

(Gilbert King, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. ISBN 978-0-06-179228-1)

An unvarnished look at actual Florida history, Devil in the Grove will not be an easy read as it tells the story of four black men accused of raping a white woman (only two of whom had even interacted with the young woman and her husband on that fateful night in July 1949) in Lake County, Florida, a county located to the immediate northwest of Orange County and in the center part of the state, a part resistant to the end to the orders of the U.S. Supreme Court to end segregation.

Spoiler alert: There are no spoiler alerts. This is a story that the author cannot control. He can’t direct the plot away from the sympathetic characters because they don’t deserve their fate. The events really happened and the book will grip you as it takes you through what happened in Lake County against the larger backdrop of the action of the NAACP and its Legal Defense Fund headed by Thurgood Marshall.

It is a story of abusive law enforcement and the way it terrorized people of color in the county, a story of power among the citrus growers and their need for cheap labor, a story of how segregation recreated a system of forced labor after the 13th amendment outlawed slavery, and a story of what happens to those who protest.

Lest you scratch your head in wonder, that you thought the real evil was in the Deep South (and there was real evil there) states of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, that Florida being ‘south of the South,’ was nothing like them, you might be right in a twisted way: “From 1882 to 1930, Florida recorded more lynchings of black people (266) than any other state, and from 1900 to 1930, a per capita lynching rate twice that of Mississippi, Georgia, or Louisiana.” (pages 169 & 170.)

There was no rape. In describing the events against the larger national backdrop of the NAACP’s legal strategies, the reader gathers a good sense of the times, the struggles, the chaos, the fears, the terror, and the hope that were part of daily life in the South (“Lawyer Marshall is coming”), and the author then personifies those feelings and experiences in the story about Lake County, where the sheriff exercised tyrannical power to the point that people lied for him out of fear for their own lives and that in turn empowered him to be a law unto himself.

Read the book if you don’t understand #blacklivesmatter and why it is the height of stupidity to protest, “But #alllivesmatter.”

Read the book if you think those times are far in the past and we’re better now and we would never acquiesce in the worst violations of human rights.

Read the book and think about those red MAGA hats and what people really want. Fascism and National Socialism (yes, the Hitler and the German Nazis were socialists) will not take root here, but we have our own dark past yearning to break free because we haven’t ever really dealt with it.

No spoiler alert is needed because you know how the story turned out. While the NAACP was successful in overturning the original convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial. The sheriff collected the two defendants at Raiford (Florida State Prison where death sentences are carried out) and, on the way back to Lake County, was successful in murdering one. The other defendant played dead and survived two bullets from the sheriff and a third shot through his neck by a deputy.

The survivor was reconvicted but received a life sentence that was later commuted. One year after the commutation, he received permission to go back to Lake County to attend the funeral of his uncle. He was found dead within a few hours of his return to Lake County.

If you want to know why I am talking about this book in my new education blog, it is this: this book should be required reading in every U.S. History high school classroom in Florida.


As for me, Devil in the Grove is a cautionary tale about politicians and the power they wield in this state. The politicians who a generation ago would be protecting and enabling the Lake County sheriff, recognizing no bounds on their power and their desire to enrich themselves by it and the exploitation of the vulnerable and poor, these are the ones who have targeted public education for destruction in this state.

They hold the power and will tolerate no dissent. As I am a dissenter, this book is a cautionary tale about the risks of fighting back against the privatization schemes such as those manifested in the so-called Schools of Hope.

Flashback: The Witches Were White

From March 2018:

Now that’s a tease of a headline!

Yet it’s what I heard in the hallway–one of those moments when people don’t think they are being overheard.

A student was complaining about the movie, A Wrinkle in Time. That’s the movie for which I offered extra credit if students went to see it a few weeks ago.

I had a purpose for the movie viewing beyond the mathematical angle (I am a math teacher, for those who don’t know me.) I wanted students exposed to the interpretation of a well-known and much-loved story by an African-American female director and to see an African-American female in the lead role as well as supporting roles.

I wanted students to see a fresh and different perspective on the story and wondered if that would challenge their assumptions.

I promoted my offer with a movie poster prominently displayed on my hall bulletin board.

“The movie was terrible. [I am paraphrasing.] In the book, the witches were white. They had a black witch. She was a bad actor. They ruined the story …”

The student’s friend, to whom she was complaining, shushed her. He was trying to tell her to be quiet–don’t let her race-based complaint be heard lest it bring trouble.

Unknown even to her, the student’s complaint was race-based. She didn’t like the fact that there were black actors playing roles that she imagined were white characters when she read the book.

In a way, I rattled her worldview and that is part of the job of a teacher: make kids think more deeply about what beliefs they have absorbed from their subculture. In another way, it shows the challenge we have in building a better society.

The witches were white. I too have read the book and no, Madeleine L’Engle never specified a race for the witches. It is the privilege of the dominant race of a society that everyone, including the minority members, will assume that the characters of a book are from the race of the dominant race of the society.

Even if the book had said the witches were white but someone had a new vision and changed that attribute, why would someone complain?

People, we have work to do.

After my first year at my current school, my principal gave me a ‘needs improvement’ rating in one area: knowing the background of my students. That really surprised me because of all the teachers at my school, I am one of the few, a very few, who thinks about my students, who they are, and how their personal histories play into the dynamics of the classroom.

It took me a long time to figure out that what he meant was that I was not using data (test data.) Actually, I was but he didn’t know. When I showed him the research I did on my students, the rating changed for the next year.

I brought it up in my annual review meeting the following year: how it took me a while to figure out what he meant, that I was one of the most culturally aware (‘woke’ in the current linguistic coin) of his teachers. He replied that he did not think there was a problem regarding the interactions between white people and black people at the school.

For the record, my principal is black.

But we do have a problem, the same problem of all America, that when white and black people interact, the racial history of our country plays a role in how we hear and understand one another.

(Please do not try to figure out what school I teach at and who is who. I am trying to address a larger issue.)

In my school system, in my county, in my state, a southern state with a complicated and difficult history of race relations, we don’t want to address this. We would rather pretend that the color of the skin doesn’t matter; we treat everyone the same. Nothing more needed.

Except we hear the whispers in the hall: the witches were white.

It’s time to stop the pretense. It’s time to stop avoiding the painful conversations that must take place if we want to move forward and establish a more just society.

The witches aren’t white. They are only what you imagine them to be.

Flashback: Planet of Exiles

From March 2018:

Ursula Le Guin was a science-fiction author whose works, written in the 1960s and 1970s, were said to lift the genre to a new level of excellence much in the same way that J.R.R. Tolkien did for the fantasy genre.

Planet of Exiles is a story of two different peoples, one light-skinned and one dark-skinned, who are faced with a crisis of existence and must find a way to work together or perish. Given that the author penned the work in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement, the choice to make the two peoples black and white cannot be a coincidence or anything other than a well-thought-out choice.

Without spoiling the story for you (and I recommend that you read it), I will mention many of the features of the plot that examine and perhaps turn on its head what we experience in our race relations.

Most notable is how both peoples regard themselves as human and the other as something less even though they both share the same body form and function with the same intelligence. Le Guin lets us wonder until halfway through the novella when we learn that the black people are immigrants to the planet from the League of All Worlds. That reference clues the reader to her first book, where the League of All Worlds is the interplanetary allegiance and government formed by humans from Earth after they colonized other planets.

The black people have the true claim to the label ‘human.’ They call the white people, native to the planet, hilfs. As the League humans explored planets, they catalogued the species they found. Hilf means a highly intelligent life form. When the white people hear the acronym, they bristle as they think it is an insult.

The black immigrants are immune to the diseases that plague the native peoples. This is explained by a doctor that both people are almost identical in their genome. There is only one variation, but it is enough so that the immigrants cannot be sickened by the planet’s bacteria and viruses. However, it also prevents the two races from conceiving a child together.

Both peoples are under threat from another life form that is retreating through their lands into southern places as a long winter is arriving. (The planet’s orbit around its sun results in seasons that we are told last for 24 years of our time.) These Gaal are doing something new. Instead of raiding and passing through, picking off the vulnerable but avoiding the strongholds of walled cities, they are organized and attacking the cities. The Gaal are committing genocide and taking over the cities.

A black leader proposes an alliance with the white people. But it goes awry due to a love affair between the leader and a white girl. As a result, the only chance both peoples have to turn aside the Gaal is squandered as the white people react with rage and refuse to cooperate.

Later, as the Gaal sack the white city, the black people attack them and rescue as many white people as possible. They regard it as an essential responsibility that springs from their very humanity.

As the story ends, the doctor and others are left to wonder at the disease that is claiming the lives of their people wounded in the battles with the Gaal. A young white woman, the lover and now wife of the black leader, explains that they are observing the planet’s diseases kill.

Does that mean that the black humans are evolving? Does that mean that the black leader and wife will be able to conceive children after all? Is that a good thing? How will both peoples react?

Le Guin leaves us wondering as we finish the last page of her story.

Flashback: Person of the Year

From January 2018:

On my way home from my weekly trek to the grocery store, I wondered who Time had named as its Person of the Year. I couldn’t think of a single personality who had dominated the news cycle for a full twelve months that would be a slam-dunk, ‘yes, that’s it,’ choice.

Then I thought of what I believed had dominated the news and I’m about to share my pick. Time did not concur and I have already shared on my Facebook page their choice and article about Time’s Person of the Year. Although they chose a worthy selection and I won’t quarrel with the #metoo and their analysis of how an outing of the sexual abuse women have suffered since forever has finally received its due condemnation, building over the course of a year, I want to offer something different.

For the 2017 Person of the Year, I offer you … Robert E. Lee.

Remember that Person of the Year is not someone admirable or execrable or somewhere in between. It is not an honor, but a recognition of that which had the most impact on events during the year.

The long pall of the Confederacy and its shadow dominated news events during 2017 and there is no one person who represents that era and place more than Lee. Indeed, it is rather unusual that a man who has been dead for almost 150 years dominates the present era. But there we go.

The election of Donald J. Trump, under the auspices of Steve Bannon, self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right, has given the neo-Nazis, KKK knights, angry young white men, and in general, the long-festering, hidden racism of too many people, the permission they craved to emerge into the light of day.

Robert E. Lee. Propose to remove a statue and all hell breaks loose.

In scenes reminiscent of Kristallnacht, men march through a college town, bearing Tiki torches from a local big box store (thus ruining forever anyone else’s party theme of Polynesia), scream out their hate. Later, in clashes with counter-protesters, one will lose his mind and drive his automobile at high speed into the crowd, killing a woman.

The protest of Colin Kaepernik grew throughout the year as NFL and NBA players increased the numbers taking a knee. It grew to gargantuan proportions when the president deemed himself possessed of the authority to dictate personnel policies to NFL owners, who are private business owners, after all. Oops, he kind of forgot that, didn’t he.

Black men protesting the systemic racism black men experience every day of their lives, every moment, they cannot escape it.

The horror!

The ghost of Robert E. Lee hovers over the landscape. As he was told at the end of the war, when he dithered whether he had the authority to surrender and thus effectively end the war without the concurrence of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, “You, sir, are the South.”

It is the battle flag, not the national flag, of the Confederacy that the neo-Nazis and re-energized knights of the Klan wave.

The battle flag.

The protests will grow. Not only was 2017 dominated by the protest, but it will grow in the years to come.

Everyone will have to take a stand. Do you protest and condemn the killing of innocent black men, some of whom laid on a sidewalk with hands in the air or were retreating?

Do police departments continue in their systemic racism because the fear of a cop that his life is in danger excuses all?

Do we notice that the infant mortality rate of black women exceeds that of all others because of the racism that still carves itself into their flesh, their genes?

Will we say enough?

This news dominated not only 2017, but it will continue to drive events in America far into the future.

For that reason, I nominate Robert E. Lee as Person of the Year for 2017.

Flashback: Junkety

What a time we are living through! Each day brings new protests, new reactions, and new thoughts. Today I’ve been reading about the lack of teaching Jacksonville’s history in our schools and that implies a lack of awareness of the corrosion of racism that afflicts our city.

Naturally, I have some thoughts, but before I get to them, I looked back at previous blog posts, both here and my previous blog ‘Stone Eggs.’ I will be rerunning old pieces in which I wrote about racism before offering a new essay.

But first, I came across this from March 2017. It plays into current events in that it is our schools in the poorest neighborhoods that are run down the most and in greatest need of rebuilding or repair.

We will vote on a half-cent sales tax in November. Charters, of course, demanded and will receive their cut, not because they needed it, but because they feel they are entitled.

From the archive:

Junkety schools with Junkety equipment and Junkety furniture for Junkety students.

That’s the executive summary. Read on.

For far too long, I have worked in schools that struggle with limited capital funds to provide halfway decent furniture and equipment for its classrooms.

Maybe it’s the graffiti that’s never cleaned off, maybe it’s the fact that I have to keep a toolkit in my desk to repair student desks and other furniture, maybe it’s the oddly bent legs on tables, maybe it’s the fact that my chair at my desk cannot hold its height and I have to sit at a level equivalent to a full-grown man, which I am, squeezing into a desk made for a kindergarten student.

Maybe it’s the hallway lockers smashed in. Maybe it’s the parent who comes to me as I rent lockers during preschool orientation to say, “My child will not have that filthy graffiti to look at all year long.” Maybe it’s the fact that my floors are never mopped or rewaxed during the year, and by now, no one would contemplate eating off it.

Maybe it’s the screws and other hardware I pick up every year as desks deteriorate under student use.

Maybe it’s stepping around the goose droppings on the sidewalk.

Whatever. The impression is clear: Our schools are junkety. We struggle to maintain them.

And then, we have to take the viewpoint of a child, who doesn’t understand a legislature determined to defund public schools, a lack of resources, a tired staff not paid nearly enough to clean and maintain schools.

Is this the best we can do?

Our schools are junkety. Filled with junkety equipment and junkety furniture, and for a student, it only can be because they are junkety, too. Not worth the expenditure to have a decent place to learn.

According to the Florida legislature, yes. We have too much money for our schools via our local property taxes and they want to take more for the charters.

Memo to Florida legislators: If the last time you stepped into a school was when you were a student, you are not able to cast an informed vote on any education legislation before you.

Junkety schools; junkety students. How dare anyone believe that.

And the Survey Says!

Family Feud' Releases Video Compilation Of The Most Outrageous Answers
Always a surprise on the board, but Steve Harvey pulls off the comedy every time.

Having sat through too many dreary faculty meetings, in which everyone sat around and speculated on what the students thought about the school’s programs … you have too, haven’t you, and wanted to jump up and scream with Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) that if we want to know what students think, we should ask them!

Thus, GOT’s student survey to find out how well the distance learning worked for them over the past two months.

There won’t be a lot of analysis on this post, but reporting of one non-scientific sample (GOT classes only) on what took place.

  1. No surprise, but 78% prefer learning in the school building to learning at home.
  2. GOT settled into a format of conducting live lessons via the district-approved platform according to the school’s normal schedule. In other words, what we would have done in the building is what we did online. (The school advised us to keep to the A/B day schedule.) The results were split: 50% said it worked for them, 50% said it did not.
  3. As an alternative, the nos expressed a preference for online programs: Khan Academy, Math Nation, or something similar, including recorded GOT recorded videos of instruction. This is a result that cannot be understood without context. Read on.
  4. Only 10% wanted daily live meetings. That’s probably for the alternate days we did. 35% wanted a weekly meeting; 41% wanted a meeting only as needed.
  5. Trying to arrange group work was also split. 40% said no. 43% said maybe, but wanted to know how it would work.
  6. As for the learning schedule, 46% liked continuing the A/B school day. 49% wanted weekly assignments that they could complete according to their personal schedules.
  7. Given the option of having the scheduled classes, but at later times, only 4% thought that was a good idea.
  8. 70% reported that they missed learning in person. 59% missed interacting with teachers. 87% missed being with their friends. 42% missed sports, but only 12% missed other after-school activities. 57% said they missed having the structure of the school day. (In comment boxes, many talked about lack of motivation at home and the distractions of siblings and even parents who took them away from learning for other tasks.)
  9. GOT’s students are teenagers. The thinking might be that they are old enough to look after themselves, but here are the skills they said they needed help with: 75%, keeping track of assignments; 32%, organizing a work space at home; 68%, creating a time schedule that they could keep; 35%, submitting assignments; 31%, asking for help.
  10. Most students needed about an hour for GOT’s math assignments (on average.) Only 8% said two hours and 6% said over two hours. (GOT cringes with that 14%. How often has he told students not to waste hours on something they don’t understand; stop and seek help.) But see above–31% need help to do that.
  11. Average daily time for all lessons was evenly distributed. Only 17% reported needing more than 8 hours.
  12. Generally, students tried multiple means to submit work. What worked was below what was tried. No one method worked for all.
  13. For assessment, 45% of students wanted a traditional test even if it was made very difficult to combat cheating. 40% wanted project-based assessment.
  14. How to record attendance also varied. No one method was preferred overall.
  15. For communication with teachers, 59% said a live class meeting, 52% wanted a post in the meeting app, 62% said email, 15% wanted a personal appointment, and 11% wanted to be able to call teachers on the phone.
  16. Finally, curriculum preferences varied: 28% printed textbook, 27% online textbook, 9% teacher handouts, 37% software program.

It’s time to ponder and plan for the future. Some of these responses are not limited to the pandemic and distance learning; the inability to ask for help, for example.

Others, it’s not an either/or situation. Multiple avenues work best.

Finally, for context, the response rate was 84%.

Address to the Class of 2020

Everybody’s jumping into this game, from the classy to the cringe-worthy, and Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) cannot resist the opportunity to deliver a virtual address to the graduating class of 2020.

You were robbed. How you looked forward to your capstone year, the culmination of everything you had known since that first day when you toddled into kindergarten, that year of triumph, of prom and senioritis, that strange ‘disease’ in which you wonder why you find it hard to finish your classes and tasks, of senior trips (commonly called ‘grad bash’) and discipline assemblies during which principals did their best to intimidate you out of the traditional senior prank … oh, you could throw some toilet paper into the trees but oops, too many people are hoarding the rolls …

You can’t even walk the stage.

The feelings you feel … they are real. It is grief. You are grieving all that you should have had and now will never have.

Grief is a part of life and it is more than an emotion attached to death.

Humans grieve losses. Even in normal times, as you celebrate your achievement, you would find feelings of sadness mixed in. The friends you are saying goodbye to, the teachers who gave you advice and provided a foundation for your world, but it’s time to move on.

Every change brings the excitement of new possibilities, but the grief of leaving the familiar behind.

The pandemic of 2020 means that you have more losses and, therefore, more grief to process.

Give yourself grace. This is what it means to be human. Not only the triumphs and the exhilaration of wins, but the experience of loss and sadness.

But it is not the end. GOT remembers living in southern Indiana decades ago. Too many people were trapped in their past. Their life trajectories peaked at their high school prom and went downhill after that. Nothing else would compare, not even their weddings.

Don’t make that mistake. Life is full of possibilities and you must move forward to embrace yours.

What? Should GOT dwell on his prom as unmemorable as it was? The pictures were so awful that his date made a pact with him that we would bury them forever. No one will ever see … not even now, 40 years later.

Then there was the senior class trip. GOT spent a day with a friend, who quickly became a girlfriend, but the bus ride home in the dark < censored> disgusted his friends, hmm … too much information? Well, GOT had cut out another boy, who confronted him on the floor during the graduation ceremony … well, let’s just say no one wants to get into a fight when the Principal and Superintendent are ready to hand off the diploma.

Too much information? And yet, in the long run of a life well lived, it didn’t matter.

That is your future: a life well lived.

It’s not easy to see now. You cannot grasp that you are writing your life story, but you know what? You are your own author. If you don’t like a particular plot twist, you have the power to erase it and write something different.

You won’t remember me. That is the lot of a freshman teacher. No one ever looks back and says that was the one that made a difference.

It’s not important. I did it for you, but not to be remembered. I did it, as all your freshman teachers did, to provide a blessing that carries on long into the future: for your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren.

The world is out there. For my life adventure, it was a restless movement to Chicago, back to Silver Spring (Washington, DC), the land of my youth, out to French Lick, Indiana (oh, what a name!), down to South Florida, up to Kentucky, back to Lake Okeechobee, until I finally took root among you in Jacksonville.

Who knows where your adventure will take you? All GOT can tell you is that it awaits you and no pandemic will rob you of it.

Go forth, Class of 2020. Be the change that we’ve been waiting for.

Tomorrow belongs to you.

The Four Horsemen

Who Are the Four Horsemen?
War, famine, disease, and death.

War upon war upon the earth, and not only those in which the United States has involved itself.

Disease flourishes among us. We flatten the curve while we curse its name because we don’t have an answer: no proven treatment, no vaccine, no end. All we can do is to mitigate the rate of infection so as to give our health care systems the ability to deal with the sick.

Famine? Locust storms unprecedented since the days of DDT afflict Africa. Here in America, our slaughterhouses (usually going by the moniker “meatpacking plant”) are closing as the virus sickens many of their workers and the rest refuse to show up.

Death is close behind. Many of us check the websites from Johns Hopkins and others that track the progress of Covid-19, confirmed cases, and deaths.

Are the four horsemen loose upon the Earth? Personally, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) is not given to an end-times view of the pandemic. Let’s leave the dystopian fantasy end-of-the-world stories to Hollywood.

But we can still have some fun in identifying the horsemen of the education apocalypse.

Conquest, the white horse, whose rider holds a bow, wears a crown, and rides as a conqueror bent upon conquest

Major education bill to create new school voucher and redo teacher ...
His moment of triumph; at last, people are clapping for him.

That would be Jeb Bush, Florida’s governor from 1999 – 2007. He originated the idea of giving schools a single letter grade to indicate their quality and performance that was based only upon the percentage of students passing state exams. He established foundations to push the school grading practice to other states. While the practice remains controversial–without evidence to support its validity–it has spread to 15 other states.

He proposed a voucher plan whereby school tax dollars, those paid by the public through sales taxes and local property taxes, would be diverted to private schools, even those run by religious institutions. The original 2005 law was declared unconstitutional because it violated the Florida constitution that required a uniform [GOT emphasis] system of public education. Not to be deterred, through his foundations, Bush kept at it and a new voucher bill was passed in 2019.

Complete privatization is the goal. The coronavirus pandemic is only his latest opportunity to advocate for the shutdown of traditional public schools, “It’s time to learn the lessons from these heroic efforts and plan for a future in which public education can continue without access to classrooms — not just because of a pandemic but because that’s the future of learning.” (Source: May 3, 2020 guest column in the Washington Post.)

“Longer term, all K-12 schools need to adapt to distance learning. Already, one-third of college students take courses online. The $200 billion-plus market for corporate learning is exploding with content libraries, assessment tools, workflow learning and “micro-learning.” (ibid.)

Conquest. Currently the chair of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (which he founded), Jeb Bush now sees no need for schools to have a physical location. He does note the inequity of digital learning, the challenge in providing required-by-law services to students with special needs or are English-language learners; yet that does not slow him down as he rides over the landscape seeking the privatization of all schools.

Full details of all that this white horse has done and, more importantly, what he hasn’t done even with his ideas like third-grade retention because of low-reading scores, may be found in this Answer Sheet column by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.

Bent upon conquest, he sees that his hour has come.

War, the fiery red horse, who wields a great sword and has power to take peace from the Earth

Under House Budget Plan, No Public School Funding Without Corcoran ...
A gavel will do just as well when running a legislature as a tyrant.

Richard Corcoran, current Education Commissioner of Florida, declared war on Florida’s public schools long ago. Long connected to ALEC, the Koch Brothers front for pushing privatization and other destructive legislation for the rights and lives of workers, the Commissioner’s greatest legislative triumph came two years ago when he single-handedly discarded a carefully crafted education bill by both chambers of the Florida legislature and substituted his version.

Many bills died that year, including the former Speaker’s cherished Schools of Hope initiative, an attempt to impose charter schools from a very small list of favored vendors on neighborhoods whose schools are deemed failing. But Corcoran was not to be denied. On the eve of the final day of the legislative session, he took the compromise bill, did a strike-all amendment (a legislative maneuver that takes a bill that passed out of committee and replaces all the language with entirely new text and often legislative intent), and put in place everything he wanted including Schools of Hope and other public school harming provisions.

Not content to be termed out of office, Corcoran is now the state’s Education Commissioner who has stated that his goal is to cut public school enrollment by two-thirds in the next few years. He is bold in his praise for choice, ignoring the fact that choice is the choice of the charter and private schools, not that of parents.

He has threatened to take over entire school districts because they do not bend to his will. Given a choice, if the district does not make the choice he wants and turn their schools over to charter operators, he will make war upon them.

Waging his war, he sees this time as a strategic opportunity by any means possible, such as increasing the capacity of the state-run virtual school to be able to serve every student in Florida.

Famine, the black horse, whose rider holds a set of scales amid cries of a day’s wages for a meager meal

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But why are they wearing masks?

One of the more devious ways to starve public schools is Step Up for Students, the not-for-profit tax dodge that began as a way for Jeb Bush to evade the court decision that declared his voucher program unconstitutional.

If the children never receive the bread, are we starving them when we give it to others? That is the reasoning behind the dodge. If the state never receives the tax dollars because it grants a tax credit to corporate donations to this group, does that count as a diversion of tax dollars? No, the reasoning goes, because the state never touched the money it was due.

The overall problem, as numerous people have noted again and again, is that the state government does not increase the funding nearly enough to account for the additional parties to whom it distributes the FTE budget. Under the current expansion of recipients, every small church school holding class in their basement, parochial schools, charter schools, and more are lining up for funding.

Backroom Briefing: Kirtley Takes the Stage | Sunshine State News ...
One face among many that would qualify for black horse honors.

But the way the legislature plays it, it’s a zero sum game. Every dollar given to a ‘choice’ option is one less dollar for public schools. Public schools are slowly being starved, which is highly ironic during these days of pandemic closure when it is the public schools feeding children, not the charters, many of whom directed their parents to drive down the street to the public school to get the free lunches and snacks being provided.

Death, the pale horse, with the power to kill by sword, famine, and plague, as well as the wild beasts of the earth

Betsy DeVos rolls back Obama-era guidance on campus sexual assault ...
At least GOT was able to find a pic without
that annoying, obnoxious smirk.

There are many who would qualify as the rider of the pale horse. On the national scale, there is Betsy Devos who might easily qualify as the educational antichrist of our time. Her hijacking of CARES act relief money, meant for all schools, for her pet cause of private school vouchers, is typical and troubling. Her rewriting of rules meant to protect victims of sexual assault chills the blood. Her continuing, coercive attempts to collect on student loans when the courts have told her to stop … yes, Betsy brings death and Hades rides in her train.

But this is a Florida-focused piece. There are still many candidates for the rider of the pale horse, indeed, the three mentioned above could easily be in this saddle. But today GOT will let the honor go to Erika Donalds, who has pushed death to public schools in the guise of choice since her days of serving as an elected board member of a school district.

Her history has long been recorded:

“My time on the School Board really led me to conclude that the best prescription for school reform is the free market,” said Donalds, who listed her ideal objective as finding a way to get education scholarship accounts to more all students. She acknowledged that some leaders of the “monopolistic” school district model might argue the idea of funding children’s education wherever they find the best opportunity for them would spread funds too thin, making it harder to plan and diminishing children’s education.

Erika Donalds brings years of commitment to school choice issue
GOT was unable to find a pic without the smirk. Apparently, it’s as contagious as Covid-19.

From the Tampa Bay Times: Donalds has some skin in the game. She also runs the Optima Foundation, which helps charter school startup organizations to open their schools. And her husband, Rep. Byron Donalds, chairs the state House PreK-12 Quality committee, which hears legislation on some of the same issues she’s advocating.

Because why kill a public institution of 200 years standing if you’re not going to get paid for it? Influence helps.

She’s not the only one. Richard Corcoran’s wife runs charter schools. Manny Diaz, Republican state senator from Miami, works for a charter organization. He exploited his political power to get his employer, Academica (Doral charter schools) onto the Schools of Hope list when it first was excluded. There are many, many others.

They have one wish and that is death to public schools.

Florida, take note. These horsemen are riding and it will take more than a pandemic to defeat them.

It will take your votes. It will depend upon a change of power in Tallahassee.

Be a #publicedvoter. Vote them out, all of them. Let’s start afresh with a government that responds to the needs of its people.