Saturday, October 21, 2017

He's not childish - let’s not disparage our children by comparing them to the president



I spent nine years in junior high school.  I admit that I was a late bloomer, but not that late.  Seven of those years were teaching junior high school 30 years ago.  In other words, I’ve spent a fair amount of time being and then teaching those ages.  I’ve also seen who these children become, as some of my earliest students are now in their early 50s.  And based on those experiences, I believe that it’s insulting to children to compare the current president’s behavior to theirs.

Yes, pre-teens/teens can be petulant, petty, emotional, rash.  Yes, they can speak without the benefit of prior thought.  Yes, they can make up names for people and denigrate people without forethought for what that means for those people or to their own humanity.  They can lie incessantly and almost without knowing they are lying.  They can play one friend off of another to gain advantage over both.   And, yes, those are all traits of the current president. 

But children of that age are also incredibly inquisitive, deeply loyal, willing to work hard and commit, idealistic, and above else able to learn and evolve as humans – not characteristics that anyone would ascribe to the president.  They will “hate” one minute and “love” the next minute in their march toward adulthood.  But that’s part of the malleability of their growth.  As they cope with life changes, new-found responsibilities, and challenges, they adapt.  They become talented musicians and plumbers and scientists and bus drivers.  They become us, the adults of the society.  And that transformation isn’t something that somehow magically occurs at some age or stage.  It’s a slow process of maturation that begins in childhood and gets tempered with time and life. 

Contrast that to a fully formed adult who exhibits the destructive behaviors of a 13-year-old child.  When a child is petulant, rash, and hurtful toward others, we help the child modify those behaviors.  That way, the behaviors don’t hinder that child’s long-term emotional and social growth.  Eventually, most children learn the difference between ineffective and effective ways to engage the world.  So it’s unfair to compare a fully formed adult like the president to children because, as an adult, he had opportunities to change.  An adult who doesn’t change those behaviors reifies the behaviors into how he experiences the world and expresses himself in it.  That’s very different than what children do as they learn from mistakes and mature beyond ineffective and destructive mannerisms.

So let’s stop the unfair comparisons to our children.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Should we care…?



Should we care about educating students who have diagnosed disabilities? Should we care about providing equitable educational opportunities to poor children? Should we care about teacher and principal quality? How about immigrant or migrant children? Or homeless and foster youth? For the past 50 years, our nation has made a commitment to those children at the margins, and more, through legislation and regulations as a result of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which has been reauthorized every five years. Archimedes famously said that he could move the earth with a lever and a place to stand.  For education, ESEA has been that lever and footing.  If you want to see what impact that has on Washington state schools, look here:

 


 

Please. Go to that site and look at what this act funds. It's a lot, isn’t it? We have evolved as a nation to continue to support the most vulnerable while making a commitment to education as a force for equity and opportunity. While the substance of legislation has changed (Bush II's version was No Child Left Behind and Obama's was the Every Student Succeeds Act), and politicians have disagreed with what actions are best, there has been one, critical credo that all legislatures and all presidents have supported for over 50 years: Public education must be maintained for all children. Until now.

 

Now that the Republican Party controls two branches of the federal government (and some argue, the third), they are letting loose with a barrage of initiatives to dismantle the nation’s march to a more equitable system of education.  The current Republican actions toward education range from the inane to the insane.  With the introduction of House Bill 610, Steve King (the Iowan legislator who shares that famous name, and whose writing would produce real horror stories), requests the complete removal of the 50-year commitment to all of the nation's children. This bill, in its first line, repeals the ESEA, thus eliminating all of what you read at the site above.  King’s bill, and King, actually, aren’t taken seriously by anyone but extremists, so it has little current chance of ever getting anywhere.  In contrast, the president’s proposed budget that eliminates many of the programs funded in ESEA seems mild.  But don’t confuse its intent because it isn’t as draconian as what someone like Steve King wants.

 

The president’s first budget portends the directions that he wants to take public education.  As expressed in what gets eliminated and newly funded, that direction shifts the balance between the wealthy and poorest.  The result will eliminate what has taken multiple generations of legislative action to create. Under the banner of “choice,” this budget eliminates successful efforts to support education for all.  The one common thread among all of these efforts is that they eliminate requirements for serving students who are poor, who need support, who may be homeless, or who attend schools that need better trained teachers.  Instead, we would let the marketplace resolve the issues of these people. 

 

I’m not anti-free-market.  When I need to buy a refrigerator, I appreciate the ability to shop around and to get a good deal – as much as that is possible with the consolidation of manufacturers which have absorbed the many brands that existed a few years back. Free markets assume that the self-interests of the company and my own self-interests will reach an accommodation that achieves both of our aims.  The company gets a profit, and I get a refrigerator with features I want at a price I can afford. 

 

That idea breaks down in thinking about social services, and modern societies have learned that lesson over the past 100 years as we’ve found that the interests of people, especially marginalized people, are often forgotten if the powerful are left unimpeded.  I’m old enough to recall Bobby Kennedy’s reaction to what he found in Appalachia when he visited the people there who’d been completely forgotten and of whom he wrote:

 

In nearly every place, especially rural communities, where we found a severe unwillingness to help the poor, we also found, and not always because of ethnic differences, a pocket of feudalism in America: a local power structure committed to perpetuating itself at all costs and unwilling to countenance the slightest improvement in the lives of the excluded, for fear they would gain the confidence and the wherewithal to overturn the status quo at the ballot box. Elected officials, judges, police officers and sheriffs, and local bankers and business people were always ready to use any tool necessary to quash dissidence whenever it appeared.

 

Sound familiar almost 50 years later?  A society that does not hold the powerful in check gets the kind of feudal totalitarianism that Kennedy described.  Through American history, when we forget those checks against the avarice of the wealthy and powerful, we’ve had to be reminded of what happens when we let the market decide about the social well-being of all people.  Does anyone remember why we developed anti-trust laws, or labor laws, or environmental laws?  It’s because we wanted to protect the powerless.  We began the experiment of democracy in this nation over 200 years ago with most of the people in the nation disenfranchised.  With time, we have reached toward the egalitarian promise of our founding. 

 

A market-driven system of social services means that the powerful will remain powerful and that the poor will remain poor.  Unlike my purchase of a refrigerator, there isn’t any choice for the poor when choosing a social service like education.  In this marketplace, the poor are told that the refrigerator choices are for people with money and they should be satisfied with a melting block of ice.  After all, this logic suggests, the people with resources earned what they have, and it’s only the fault of the poor that they didn’t earn more.

 

The idea that vouchers will even the playing field is an embarrassing joke on the working class and impoverished.  As the Washington Post noted, in 2013 school spending per student averaged almost $11,000 annually and the range was almost $20,000 at the top and $6,500 at the bottom.  As the information compiled by Great Schools notes, none of the voucher states and the District of Columbia come anywhere near providing funding that covers the amount paid per pupil in even the lowest cost state.  So it’s a cruel joke to say that anyone is evening the playing field because, in reality, vouchers are a subsidy for people who want to send their children to private schools.  It helps reduce their tuition costs.  This isn’t the marketplace.  It’s welfare for people who already have resources.

 

If you want to see where this downward spiral is headed, look at states Like Oklahoma that have been on this path for some time.  I know we’re in an age of disbelief of facts and a cynicism that pervades both our public and private discourses.  And I share some of the skepticism.  But without ESEA and the long march toward equitable participation that it encourages, the marketplace isn’t going to somehow magically change the dynamics of power and oppression that have drove us to create laws like ESEA.  So before we start dismantling a system that has evolved in order to be more inclusive and equitable, let’s take a pause and ask why we would change the trajectory of inclusion that has driven us to create the laws and regulations that have taken a half century to develop. 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

To my teacher friends and others (thoughts as I near retirement):


Ever want to see how far you’ve come as a teacher?  Wait a few years and then go back and look at your planning documents from your first year.  In my case “a few years” is almost 38, and I just spent a few moments looking through a lesson plan book from my first full year of teaching high school during the 1979-’80 school year.  My memory hasn’t been so faded at any point that I thought I was a good teacher in that first year.  I even use some stories from that first year to highlight how not to train and prepare teachers these days.  Almost from the start, I recognized my inadequacies and worked hard to gain the skills I missed prior to starting as classroom teacher.  Although I was as proficient as the more experienced teachers with whom I worked, I was wholly inadequate.  Looking at that document from so long ago highlights how far I’ve come in my skills, as well as my perceptions of learners, the relationships among learner, teacher and content, the ways to engage all learners, and a host of other issues.  My learning over the past 38 years has shaped not only my thinking about the craft and artistry of teaching, but my thinking about the world overall.  To be successful in the classroom means that you have to think expansively and see the potential of every learner’s success.  You have to believe alongside learners and sometimes have to believe in them when they don’t believe in themselves.  And you need a lot of skills to pull that off authentically while helping learners explore and gain the knowledge they need to build their lives.  It’s an incredible gift to spend part of your life doing that, and an incredible responsibility to do it well.  In my case, my growth as a teacher has helped me see the world as an intricately connected web where each of us has an opportunity to participate in each other’s lives.  What a wonderful profession this has been to allow me such a journey.