You Can’t Solve Prejudice With a Cookie-Cutter: Celebrate Diversity

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If America was a cookie, it would probably be chocolate chip.

Sure it’s mostly dough, but the chips are what give it flavor!

I mean, come on! Who wants a plain sugar cookie!? Yuck!

Maybe that’s what they meant all those years ago when they described us as a melting pot. All these different races and nationalities blending together to form a delicious whole.

However, some flavors just don’t mix – or at very least are slow to come together.

In fact, since the very beginning, much of America has been obsessed with ensuring we DON’T mix! Chips and dough can’t melt together! We must preserve the purity of the batter. In fact, let’s send those chips back to Belgium!

But times have changed. We’ve tried to legislate our way to equality. Voting Rights Acts. Anti-Segregation Acts. Non-Discrimination Laws. But the legal system is far from perfect, and it can only do so much. If we’re really going to become one big tasty treat, we’ve got to do something about it – each and every one of us.

So how do we all come together? What should be our goal?

For some people, the answer is silence. We shouldn’t talk about this stuff at all.

There’s very little scientific justification for categorizing ourselves into different races, anyway. Just button your lip and it will all go away.

To which I say, yeah, many things such as race, nationality, even sexuality are to a large extent man-made. They’re the product of culture and society, but that doesn’t make them unreal. They’re totems, archetypes, symbols we use to navigate the social universe. If you think a social constraint is unreal, try violating it.

Moreover, ignoring inequality won’t solve it. That only ensures that the status quo continues to reproduce itself.

In short, if we don’t talk about prejudice, we’ll never get over it. Our biases will never go away.

Other folks – many with the best of intentions – think not that our differences are unreal, but that we should ignore them. Don’t talk about us and them. It’s all just us.

No more twitter campaigns proclaiming #AllChipsMatter. We should instead join hands and proclaim #AllIngredientsMatter.

And I do see your point. We are all important regardless of race, nationality, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. But is this really the best way to come together as a nation? If all of us taste the same, we’ll certainly be one – one bland and lousy confection sitting in the bakery that no one in their right mind would really want to eat.

Homogenization has its strengths. Look at white folks. We used to be very different. Czech, Slovak, German, Russian, etc. Now we’re one indistinguishable whole. Sometimes we venture outside of that label for a few hours to celebrate some ethnic festival, but most of the time we’re just white, White, WHITE. Having a beer and a Wiener Schnitzel during Oktoberfest doesn’t change how you usually identify and how you are identified in the world.

But something has been lost here. You can only be blind to the differences in people if you wipe away the rough edges. People become less distinct, more similar. That’s not the best way to be.

There’s another way.

Instead of ignoring the differences between people, we should embrace them. Don’t hide your nationality, your race, etc. Celebrate them!

I am the proud product of this culture! I am the son or daughter of this type of person! I love this! I believe that! I am not just anyone – I am ME!

There is a danger when anyone suggests conformity as a way to fight racism, sexism or any form of prejudice. It puts the responsibility on those who are different. If you don’t want to be discriminated against, YOU need to conform.

I think this is wrong. You have the right to be yourself. Instead it is the responsibility of those who would discriminate to STOP.

If you’re racist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re sexist, YOU need to stop.

If you’re homophobic, YOU need to stop.

And so on.

This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t just walk it off. Prejudice is the result of years of enculturation, socialization and bigotry. It takes time. It takes a loving heart. But most of all it takes two very important things that few people in America have truly achieved:

1) Willingness to try.

2) Acknowledging that there is a problem in the first place.

That’s where we are today.

Very few people exist in the United States without some prejudice. People feel uncomfortable around those unlike themselves. We have preconceptions about how certain people will act. We think we know better how other people should live their lives.

These are all prejudices. And what’s worse, many of them are actually unconscious. I didn’t even recognize that I got nervous around black people – and now that I do, I don’t want to feel that way. I know it’s not justified, but I still can’t help the feeling!

So there is much to be done here in the USA to make us the best we could be. And it is our job to do that work.

Because the cookie of America has lots of cracks in it and more than a few nuts.

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Pennsylvania GOP Lawmakers Demand Seniority For Themselves But Deny It For Teachers

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Seniority.

Somehow it’s great for legislators, but really bad for people like public school teachers.

At least that was the decision made by Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania House Tuesday. They voted along party lines to allow schools to furlough educators without considering seniority.

But the House’s own leadership structure is largely based on seniority!

Hypocrisy much?

Most legislative bodies in the United States from the federal government on down to the state level give extra power to lawmakers based on how long they’ve been there.

Everything from preferential treatment for committee assignments to better office space and even seating closer to the front of the assembly is often based on seniority. Leadership positions are usually voted on, but both Republicans and Democrats traditionally give these positions to the most senior members.

And these same folks have the audacity to look down their noses at public school teachers for valuing the same thing!?

As Philadelphia Representative James Roebuck, ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said, “If it’s wrong for teachers, why is it right for us?”

If passed by the state Senate and signed by the Governor, the law would allow public schools to lay off teachers based on the state’s new and highly controversial teacher evaluation system.

Teachers with a “failing” ranking would go first, then those with a “needs Improvement,” label.

This system is largely untested and relies heavily on student standardized test scores. There is no evidence it fairly evaluates teachers, and lawsuits certainly would be in the wings if furloughs were made based on such a flimsy excuse.

Value-Added Measures such as these have routinely been criticized by statisticians as “junk science.”

It’s kind of like giving legal favor to the management practices of Darth Vader. In “The Empire Strikes Back,” when one of his minions displeased him, he choked them to death with the Force.

No second chances. No retraining. No due process. One misplaced foot and you’re gone.

Pennsylvania’s proposed method isn’t quite so harsh, but it’s essentially the same. You’re fired because of this flimsy teaching evaluation that has no validity and can really say whatever management wants it to say.

Technically, things like salary are not allowed to be considered, but given the unscientific and unproven nature of this evaluation system, management could massage evaluations to say anything. Administrators didn’t mean to fire the teachers with the highest salaries but those voodoo teaching evaluations said they were “failing.” What are you gonna’ do? OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!

While seniority is not a perfect means of selecting who gets laid off, at least it’s impartial. Moreover, teachers who have lasted in the classroom longest almost always are highly skilled. You don’t last in the classroom if you can’t hack it.

Being a public school teacher is a highly political job. Your boss is the school board and members are elected by the community. While many school directors have the best interests of their districts at heart, favoritism, nepotism and political agendas are not unknown. Teachers need protections from the ill-winds of politics so they can be treated fairly and best serve their students. Otherwise, it would be impossible – for instance – to fairly grade a school director’s child in your class without fear of reprisal.

As it stands, state school code specifically mandates layoffs to be made in reverse seniority order, also known as “first in, last out.” Pennsylvania is one of six states that calls for this to be the sole factor in school layoff decisions.

It’s unclear how the legislature could pass a law that contradicts the school code without specifically voting to alter the code which governs the Commonwealth’s public schools.

Moreover, it may be illegal on several additional counts. Public school districts have work contracts with their teachers unions. The state can’t jump in and void those contracts between two independent parties when both agreed to the terms of those contracts. Not unless there was some legal precedent or unconstitutionality or violation of human rights or SOMETHING!

Get our your pocketbooks, Pennsylvanians. If this law is somehow enacted, you’re going to be paying for years of court challenges.

And speaking of flushing money down the toilet, the law also allows school districts to furlough employees for financial reasons. At present, layoffs are allowed only when enrollment drops or by cutting programs wholesale.

This is especially troubling given the legislature’s failure the past four years to fairly fund its public schools. Ninety percent of school districts have had to cut staff in recent years, either through attrition or furlough, according to the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

So this law makes it easier to rob poorer schools of funding. If it were enacted, districts could fire teachers and reduce programs to pinch pennies. Now they are constrained to keep the highest possible level of quality for students regardless of funding shortfalls. This puts them at odds with the legislature and forces them to demand fair funding for their districts. Under this new law, school boards could more easily ensure that some students get a higher quality education than others in the same district!

Oh! We increased class size for the struggling students (most of whom are poor and minorities) but decreased it for the advanced classes (most of whom are rich and white).

Finally, we get to the issue of viability. Will the state Senate pass this bill?

Maybe.

The House passed it without a single Democrat voting in favor. The Senate is likewise controlled by the GOP. However, Gov. Tom Wolf is a Democrat and has said he’s against it. Seniority issues, he said, should be negotiated through the local collective bargaining process.

So once again we have partisan politics reigning over our public schools – Republicans actively trying to sabotage our public schools and fire their way to the top! Democrats vainly trying to hold the line.

Couldn’t we all just agree to value our public schools and public school teachers?

Or at very least couldn’t we all agree to give others the same benefits we demand for ourselves?

You know. Things like seniority!

Selling the Big Lies About Schools and Teachers on Sci-Fi Fantasy TV

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“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Malcolm X

I’m with Brother Malcolm on this.

The media matters. And not just the news.

We learn what is real from the stories we tell ourselves and allow to be told about us. We construct our view of reality based on fairy tales, soap operas, rap lyrics and energy drink commercials.

There are cultural truths left unspoken that govern the very way we think. When the media speaks, we listen.

How dangerous, then, that we allow money to write the script. We let the 1% define who is an enemy and who is a friend. It’s no surprise that this almost always aligns with their interests.

As a public school teacher, I am an enemy of the plutocracy. I dare to teach children – even poor children, especially poor children – that knowledge is free. I stand in the way of the monetization of our schools. So I am a frequent target of attack.

It happened most recently in such a subtle way you might not even notice it. Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers briefly shifting the narrative of science fiction/fantasy to increase the bottom line.

Marvel Studios is often concerned with escapism. But this season, two of its television shows – Marvel’s Agents of Shield and Daredevil – offered brief propaganda amid the comic book action.

Agents of Shield is a superhero/spy drama that connects the production company’s big budget blockbuster films – Iron Man, Thor, The Avengers, etc. It follows the escapades of a well-meaning intelligence agency made up of folks without super powers trying to deal with a world where super heroes are becoming more common.

This season on the ABC drama, one of the major arcs focused on Skye, a young woman just getting used to her super powers, and her quest to find her mother and father both of whom had abandoned her as a baby.

When she finally meets her dad, Cal, he is a mentally unbalanced enemy of Shield . However, as time goes on, Skye begins to see a nicer side to him.

In episode 2X18 “Frenemy of my Enemy,” the two spend the day together walking around Milwaukie and have a conversation about why she had been deserted as an infant. It was all rather interesting until they walked through a puddle of stinking corporate school reform.

Cal talks about how he and Skye’s mom had planned to raise her before they were thwarted by the evil Hydra organization. He talks about the nice middle class suburb where he had bought a home. He talks about the cute local businesses. And to show what an awe shucks great dad he might have been, he rhapsodizes about a really good local charter school where they were going to send her.

Skye: So, you had a … you had a practice here?

Cal: Yeah, before I met your mother.

Skye: She was a doctor, too?

Cal: Studying to be one. She had a natural gift for it … compassionate, beyond intelligent, wise … always five steps ahead of me. She wanted to finish med school here. Oh, and there was this great, little charter school just around the corner.

Skye: A charter school for medicine?

Cal: What? [Chuckling] Oh, no, not for her … for you. Oh, it was gonna’ be perfect. I was gonna’ drop you off every morning and pick you up, help you with your science fair project … the volcano, because who doesn’t love a volcano, right? We’d go to the father-daughter dances together, get ice cream. Ah, the life we could have had … should have had…

A charter school!?

Are you freaking kidding me!?

First of all, let’s talk continuity error. The first charter school law wasn’t even passed until 1991 in Minnesota. Skye was born in 1988. There were no charter schools in existence when Cal was musing about sending his infant daughter to one. Moreover, Wisconsin didn’t allow charter schools until 1993, long after Skye was separated from her parents!

But putting aside issues of believability (This is a show where people have super powers, after all) the charter school reference is hardly organic. It’s used as an emotional shorthand to show that Cal was a good father once. And you know what else is all warm and fuzzy? Those plucky charter schools. Shouldn’t you consider enrolling your child in one today?

However, charter schools have a terrible academic record. They either do no better than traditional public schools or – in most cases – much worse. In fact, for-profit charters are notorious because – unlike public schools – they don’t have to spend all of their budgets on kids. They’re big business producing huge profits for investors at the expense of student learning. Just google “charter school scandals.”

I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that some of that lucrative taxpayer money may be finding its way into Marvel’s coffers to buy advertising space on Agents of Shield.

Product placement: drinking a Coke, driving a Toyota and – now – if only daddy could have sent me to a charter school.

Instead Skye had to deal with a life in an orphanage, at foster homes and – yuck! – the public school system!

Even worse, though, is the outright libel on Daredevil, a show delivered streaming on Netflix.

Most of the time it’s a pretty good action thriller about a blind lawyer who moonlights as a vigilante superhero fighting crime. (Yeah. He has superpowers, too, kinda.)

One of the supporting characters is Ben Urich, a grizzled seen-it-all investigative reporter. While New York’s Hell’s Kitchen is being taken over by the evil businessman, Wilson Fisk, some of Daredevil’s friends try to convince Urich to write about Fisk in the newspaper.

In episode 1X04 “In The Blood,” Urich warns feisty secretary Karen Page about how dangerous it is to go after nefarious evil organizations – like the mob, corporate polluters, the VA and – gasp – the teachers union!

Karen goads him by saying, “I read every big story with your byline. The VA kickbacks, toxic runoff, the Teachers Union scandal. Hell, you pretty much brought down the Italian mob back when I was in diapers. What ever happened to that reporter, Mr. Urich?”

(Later)

Ben Urich: You said you read a bunch of my articles. Remember the one about the, uh the runoff? What that company was dumping into the river?

Karen Page: Yeah, sure.

Ben Urich: Fished the guy that tipped me off out of that same river a month later. And that fella trying to clean up the Teachers Union? Moved out of state after flyers went up saying he was a pedophile. They underestimated what people in power will do to stay there.

So in the Marvel Universe, the ultimate evils are Red Skull, Loki, Thanos and public school teachers.

I’ve got to tell you my union must really be slacking. We never seem to get to world domination at our meetings.

I pay my dues. How come I’ve never gotten to whack anyone? Why haven’t any of our members – who by law can’t have a criminal record to work with children – why haven’t any of us ever slandered each other as pedophiles? All we do is talk about how to make our school better for both the students and our members.

But those big corporations drooling all over themselves at the prospect of privatizing public education dollars sure do hate us. We’re the last line of defense stopping them from stealing from the piggy bank of tax money put aside to educate your child.

So it’s no wonder some of their shadowy money donated by multi-billionaires like the Koch Brothers and the Walton family probably made its way into Marvel’s bank account.

I can’t prove that Marvel Studios took a cent to write either of those episodes. The Daredevil script was written by Joe Pokaski, a television writer for other genre shows like Heroes and also a Marvel comic book author. The Shield episode was written by Monica Owusu-Breen, one of the show’s co-executive producers. She also has a long career writing for television.

Maybe they each just have personal axes to grind.

Or maybe vampire organizations trying to bleed public money into their bank books might use some of that blood money to soften their image and take down their enemies.

Hey, Daredevil! Hey, Agents of Shield! Maybe if you really want to root out evil, your next mission should be at Marvel Studios! Because making nefarious charter schools look just swell and attacking school teachers – that’s not something heroes do.


NOTES:

“The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages and symbols to the general populace. It is their function to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society. In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class interest, to fulfill this role requires systematic propaganda.”
Noam Chomsky & Edward S. Herman
Manufacturing Consent

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.”
Adolph Hitler


-This article also was published on the Badass Teacher Association Blog.

-The article inspired fellow blogger Peter Greene to write a post, “Privatizer Product Placement,” asking readers to contact Marvel Studios and ask the company to stop putting anti-school propaganda in its TV shows.

Why Are Black People So Nonviolent? And Why Aren’t Whites?

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If hate were a sport, I’d bet on white.

Really. We’re good at it.

White people have been hating, brutalizing and killing people way more effectively than black people for – well – ever.

Don’t be modest, Caucasians. The Holocaust, ethnic cleansing, colonization of Africa and the Caribbean, American slavery, Native American Genocide, Jim Crow – we’re the world freakin’ champions!

But somehow in the media it’s the black man who is portrayed as the savage.

It’s just not fair. We white folks are so much better at race-based aggression than our darker complected brothers.

Just this Wednesday a white guy walked into a historic African American Church in South Carolina, was accepted as part of the service, stayed for about an hour before shouting a spiteful message and gunning down several parishioners!

Now that’s some hate right there!

But at first the people on my TV refused to give us white folks credit. They were questioning everything from the killer’s motives to his race! As if this had to be a black man in white face persecuting the faithful! Not some kind of hate crime!

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the media narrative always runs counter to the truth of the violent white man and in favor of the myth of the savage black man.

Whenever anyone brings up race and violence, the first thing people mention is crime.

There is more black-on-black crime than white-on-black crime, they say. And they’re correct!

According to a 2013 FBI Uniform Crime Report, when it comes to murder, 90 percent of black victims were killed by black offenders.

However, what people fail to mention is that according to the very same report, 83 percent of white victims were killed by white offenders, too.

These numbers don’t show black people are more violent than white people. They show that BOTH white and black people would rather kill within their own race.

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In terms of raw numbers, black people and white people actually commit about the same number of murders. But you wouldn’t know that from the media.

I don’t know why these media types aren’t wringing their hands over the spurt of white violence in this country instead of spending valuable broadcasting minutes exclusively on black people.

You’d almost think they were biased or something, trying to spin the truth, tell you a story that wasn’t entirely factual.

And speaking of bad arguments, this one has suddenly shifted.

We started talking about race-based aggression and we suddenly shifted to all violence. Let’s get back to hate crimes, because that’s really the area where white people excel.

The FBI is charged under the Hate Crime Statistics Act with compiling statistics on spite-based legal transgressions. In its most recent report, for 2013, hate crimes based on race are far more numerous than any other kind.

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Moreover, bias-motivated infractions against black folks far exceed those against white people.

According to the FBI statistics, 54.5 percent of the reported single-bias hate crimes that were racially motivated in 2013 targeted blacks. Only 16.3% target whites.

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But you really didn’t need an FBI report to tell you that, did you? American history is littered with the bodies of beaten and brutalized people of color. You could make a very convincing argument that these dead souls make up the foundation of our country. Would our economy really have been so robust without the free labor of all those slaves? Heck! Would we even have a country at all if we hadn’t murdered all those indigenous peoples in the first place?

I know. You’re going to say that other predominately white countries have violent histories, too. And you’d be right. But notice the difference in our attitudes about it today!

Historically, Germany is no slacker when it comes to racial violence, but is there any government building in the German Republic today that continues to fly a Nazi flag? Absolutely not. In fact, it is illegal to do so.

By contrast, in America we love the stars and bars of the Confederate flag. It still waves proudly over the South Carolina capital building. (But I’m sure that has nothing to do with the violence we saw at that Charleston church I mentioned earlier!)

So let’s put it to rest. When it comes to hate crimes, white folks kill! But don’t feel too bad, black folks. There are things you’re good at, too. Like nonviolent resistance.

Heck! You’re amazing at that!

Langston Hughes wrote, “Negroes – Sweet and docile, Meek, humble, and kind: Beware the day – They change their mind.”

After all this time, black people have very rarely used violence as a means to achieve their ends, to try to secure the rights and freedoms white America guards so jealously.

In just the past year or so, unarmed black folks have been assaulted or killed for holding toy guns, being suspected of selling loose cigarettes, listening to music at a gas station, asking for help after a car accident, wearing hoodies, wearing bikinis, running, and now just going to church!

And the response from the black community has been pretty darn nonviolent. Yeah there’s been some shouting and looting, but very little beating or killing.

White folks, can you imagine having to undergo such indignity on a daily basis and NOT responding in kind!?

No wonder a blonde white girl from a Christian fundamentalist home darkened her skin, curled her hair and tried to pass as black! Sometimes – often really – it’s darn embarrassing to be white! Black folks have the moral high ground.

Somehow they live in an American society that heaps hatred on their every move and they respond with dignity and perseverance.

So why are black people so nonviolent?

Damned if I know! But I wish us white folks would take a lesson from them.


NOTE: This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.


 

UPDATE: There has been a criticism of this article I’d like to address. I have claimed, “In terms of raw numbers, black people and white people actually commit about the same number of murders.” Some say this works against my argument that black people are less violent than white people. After all, there are fewer black people in the country, yet they commit about the same number of murders as white people. Doesn’t that make them more violent?

 

I think if you factor in poverty, the numbers wash. After all, poor people are generally more violent than those in better circumstances. Since most black people experience higher levels of poverty than most white people, we can only expect higher proportions of murders from them. When your options are limited between working several minimum wage jobs to squeak by or to engage in the drug trade for a higher income bracket, well it’s not surprising. If black folks weren’t subjected to such high poverty rates, we would expect the black murder rate to plummet.

 

I know some readers won’t accept that answer. And if so, fine. However, this doesn’t affect at all my assertion that black people commit a fraction of the country’s hate crimes. Whether you look at it proportionately or numerically, white folks are MUCH more likely to commit hate crimes than black folks. I think that’s significant.

 

However, I have received enough correspondence from readers of this article to know that many don’t care. This article has been surprisingly popular. It still gets hundreds of hits every week. Unfortunately, many of the people who seem to find it appear to be those with an axe to grind. WordPress allows me to see what readers type into a search engine to find this article. I can see what sites lead you here. I know that white supremacists and far right conservatives are loving this article as an example of “liberal, white self hate.” The responses to this article in some of the darker corners of the Internet have been as hilarious as they are badly argued. It appears that some people are so committed to the idea that black people are violent that nothing anyone says could convince them otherwise. Moreover, they are so enamored with white violence that they see it as evidence of white superiority or else they try to argue it away as being perpetrated by people who are not truly white.

 

To those people I have only pity. Love is stronger than hate. I honestly hope that one day you will understand.

 

 

The Only Teaching Evaluation That Matters

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“Yes, my writing got a lot better than what I was, and I love writing now. And you pushed me to do better. Not a lot of teachers push their students, some teachers don’t care about their students.”

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One of my 8th graders wrote that to me on the last day of school.

I had asked her class to fill out an anonymous survey about my teaching. I said that all year I get to grade THEM, but this was their chance to grade ME.

I made sure to explain that they didn’t need to put their names on it. This would not be graded. Spelling and grammar didn’t count. The only thing I wanted was honesty.

I told them I wouldn’t personally collect the surveys. They should NOT hand them to me; they should put them in a pile on the desk by the door when they leave. I promised I wouldn’t even look at what they’d written until class was over. That way they could feel free to write whatever they wanted. If I did something bad or there was some way I could improve, I wanted them to tell me. If I did something exceptionally well, they should tell me that, too.

“Please help me become a better teacher,” I said.

As an 8th grade public school educator, I get evaluated a lot. I’ve spent countless hours gathering evidence that I’m “proficient” at my job.

I’ve had to endure formal observations, informal observations, H.E.A.T. observations, Student Learning Objectives (SLOs), written explanations of specific lessons with appeals to which Common Core standards I would be teaching – and there always seems to be a new one added to this list next year.

But I’ve been giving a version of this simple student survey to my classes on the last day of school for over a decade.

It’s not something I’m required to do. I don’t share the results with administration. The responses don’t go on file, increase my pay or get recorded in the newspaper. They don’t become part of the district’s ranking in the Business Times. No one is going to withhold funding from my district or close my building and convert it into a charter school based on these results. No one ever will be on television decrying the state of public education referencing these surveys. They are low stakes, class-based, teacher-centered and personal.

But I do this because I think it actually gives me useful information. I really want to know what my students think. That’s one of the things that truly drives my instruction. Not politically motivated standards monetarily incentivized and adopted before they were even completely written. Not standardized tests that measure little more than parental income. Not the latest fad handed down by the superintendent. Not a threat shouted at us through an email or at a faculty meeting.

No. I’m motivated by my kids in the classroom and the answer to the question, “Have I helped you learn?”

The survey is quite simple really. It’s two-sided.

On the front page are 5 multiple choice questions:

1) The amount of written homework I had in this class was                             in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

2) The amount of reading I had in this class was                                in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

3) The amount of studying I did for this class was                                 in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

4) I received                                    instruction and comments on my written work.

A) much more than enough
B) Somewhat more than enough
C) Just enough
D) Somewhat less than enough
E) Much less than enough

5) In this class, I learned                                         in my other classes.

A) much more than
B) Somewhat more than
C) The same as
D) Somewhat less than
E) Much less than

When it comes to homework, students almost always say I give too much. The majority (68%) gave me an A or B.

I only require about an hour of extra-class work a week. I don’t think that’s too bad. However, many teachers give less or none. I go back and forth on the value of homework, myself, but I know that once my students get to 9th grade, they’ll have a tremendous load of it. I figure if I don’t prepare them for that, I’m doing them a disservice. So an avalanche of (one hour a week) homework it remains.

Likewise, kids often say I give a lot of reading. A language arts class should give a substantial amount of reading. So I’m glad most kids (69%) give me an A or B. I require my students to read one self-selected book a month. I don’t think that’s too burdensome. If the book is too tough or boring – hey! You picked it! Pick another one. I also provide them with 15 minutes per day to read in class.

Studying is not something I emphasize. But students are almost evenly divided whether I require too much, just enough or too little. I’m not big on having kids memorize something and then regurgitate that on a test. I’d rather spend time getting them to take good notes that they can use on the test. I’m a big fan of open notes or open book tests. But I hardly ever use the word “Test.” I give frequent short quizzes. I think tests (and even quizzes) are limited evaluation tools. I’d much rather assign a multi-day project. That tells me much more than a brief snapshot of what students were thinking at any one given point in time.

I do assign a lot of essays so I’m always anxious to know if I’ve given enough written feedback. The research seems to show that if you mark every error on an essay, you get diminishing returns. You discourage students. So instead I try to focus on a few trouble areas we’ve already discussed per essay. And students seem to appreciate it. Most of my kids (85%) gave me an A or B or C in this area.

Then comes the cumulative question. How much did you learn? I used to have my classes assign me a letter grade A-E. However, answers were all over the place. When I compared the results with surveys from students who had revealed their identities, I found that kids usually gave me the same grade they received in my class. A-students gave me As. C-students gave me Cs, and so on.

When I changed the question to “how much have you learned?” the results changed drastically. Most students (84%) gave me an A or B. Yes, that’s the result I’m aiming for, but I think it’s a more honest answer, too. It doesn’t focus on grades. It focuses on each child’s assessment of his or her own progress. That’s really what I want to know.

But this side of the survey still provides very limited answers. It is multiple choice, after all. It’s useful for a brief overview but not very deep.

The second side of my questionnaire only has two open-ended queries. Students can write as much or as little as they want to the following questions:

6) What did your teacher do especially well this year to help you succeed?

7) In what areas can your teacher improve his/her instruction?

To be honest, when looking at the surveys, I usually skip right to these questions. This is what I want to see – not a bunch of alphabet soup. I want to know what they really think.

What have I done well? Here are some answers from this year’s kids:

-He understood the learning abilities of certain students and helped them to the best of his ability.

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-You made it hard so that we would have to work for the grade.

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-Before we could ask him for help, he asked us if we needed help. He’d help everyone, even the person who didn’t ask for it.

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-He was really good at explaining and pushed me to never give up. Therefore, Mr. Singer is one of my favorite teachers.

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-Well, I didn’t like as much work as he was giving us, but then I understood he was trying to help us with our grades and trying to make our grades higher.

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-Always explained stuff good in class. He was always giving good instructions.

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-He helped me as much as I needed and made things easier to prepare for high school.

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-He helped me understand the concept of simile and metaphor (which I understand now)

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-What my teacher especially helped me do to succeed is writing essays.

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I was just floored by these responses. Talk about data I can use! But there was one answer that stood out above even these:

-He helped me learn what I needed to do and he helped me by being a mockingbird because I think he tried his best to teach me what I needed to be taught.

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No, she wasn’t literally calling me a bird. She was relating me to our last novel – To Kill a Mockingbird. In the text, some characters are innocent victims. They try to help others but come under fire because of it. The author, Harper Lee, symbolizes them as “mockingbirds.” These include: Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of rape; Atticus Finch, the lawyer standing up for a fair trial despite social criticism; Arthur “Boo” Radely, the recluse who saved lives at the expense of his privacy.

And here my sweet little student was including ME in this venerable list!

That choked me up a bit I can tell you.

When it comes to areas for improvement, my students aren’t the most forthcoming. Answers include:

-I don’t think he needs to because he already does his best to teach us kids what we need to be taught and his instruction is easy to understand.

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-None. He was the best teacher! 🙂

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I appreciate the approbation but I wouldn’t mind constructive criticism. I do get complaints about the amount of homework and writing I assign. I also get requests for more free time.

I think if I wasn’t in the room when students took the survey, I might get more criticism. Ideally, I would leave the room for the last 15 minutes of the class, and kids could fill out their surveys. However, this is impractical. I don’t see how I could arrange it given the current climate, lack of subs and skeleton crew staff.

These surveys have given me much to think about over the summer. Maybe I should try to include more group work in next year’s class. Maybe I should revisit the homework situation.

But as June turns to July and then August, I know I’ll be thinking about all that happened this school year.

Some kids came in and out of shelters and juvenile detention. Some were present at a shooting at the local mall. Parents and I had to fight administration over valuing standardized test scores over classroom grades for student placement. The School board enacted a pointless student uniform policy. Students were demoralized and angry over national racial tensions involving Michael Brown, Eric Garner and the Baltimore uprising. Teachers had an active shooter drill for the first time as part of our professional development.

But most of all I’ll think about my students – well, no longer mine – off to the high school and bigger, better things.

For a brief moment I was an important part of their lives and they were an important part of mine. I’ll forget their names. (It’s like my mind is making space for the new ones I’ll have to learn.) But I’ll never forget their struggles and triumphs.

It’s easy to lose sight with all the privatizers and standardizers trying to dismantle our public schools. But even with all the political nonsense, selfishness and small-mindedness, teaching is the best job in the world.

Yes, it really is!

Every day I get a chance to positively impact dozens of lives!

I am truly blessed.

That’s what these surveys tell me.

And that’s why they’re the only evaluation that really matters.


NOTE: Here is a copy of the survey I use in class.

Student Survey

-This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Turning Kids into Cash

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For too many children, public school is just a “GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL” card.

Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

The institution that should be raising kids to the skies is chaining them to the ground.

It’s called the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and it disproportionately affects students of color and the poor.

School policy at the highest levels is designed to sort and rank students. Some go to the college track. Some go to the industrial track. And even more end up on the prison track.

We actually have procedures that prepare certain children for life behind bars.

Why? Because people make money from it.

Think about it. The United States represents only 4.4% of the world population but we house 22% of the world’s prisoners. We’re the number one jailor!

It’s not that our citizens are out of control. It’s not a rise in violent crime. In fact, the crime rate has decreased to 1970s levels.

But instead someone has found a way to convert prisoners into cash.

Since the 1980s, we’ve been handing over our prison system to private companies to run for a profit.

The number of inmates in privatized prisons has increased by 44% in the last decade alone, according to a 2013 Bloomberg report.

This creates a market. Without a steady stream of prisoners, these institutions would go bankrupt. And corporations such as Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group spend tons of cash lobbying our government to ensure just that.

It’s no accident that our national education policy meets the needs of the for-profit prison industry.

Look at the so-called education reforms of the last decade: increasing standardization, efforts to close schools serving poor and minority children, cutting school budgets and narrowing the curriculum. All of these serve to push kids out of school and into the streets where they are more likely to engage in criminal activity and enter the criminal justice system.

Federal education policy – whether it be No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top – continually doubles down on privatization and standardization. These policies consistently have failed to produce academic gains but are offered as the only possible solution in school reform initiatives.

Question: Why do we keep enacting the same failed policies?

Answer: Because they are not MEANT to succeed. They are meant to fail a certain percentage, race and economic bracket.

If we had effective education procedures that increased academic success, we wouldn’t have enough prisoners to feed our for-profit prisons. Lawmakers would loose valuable lobbying revenue.

Call it what you will – misplaced priorities, profiteering or an outright scam. But the reform-to-profit cycle is advocated, perpetrated and championed by the most prominent figures in the so-called education reform movement.

Take Bill Gates – the monetary force behind Common Core State Standards (CCSS), one of the leading policies in education.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also is an investor in The GEO Group – one of the biggest for-profit prison providers in the country. It’s most recent tax filing (2013) shows a more than $2 million investment.

Nominally a philanthropic organization, the Gates Foundation refuses to admit if it still backs the industry or by how much. Sure Gates underwriting is just a drop in the bucket, but it proves how the organization’s interest is economic and not charitable. It is one of a herd of Trojan horses stampeding over the cries of critics under a banner of largesse.

Likewise, Common Core essentially isn’t concerned with increasing the quality of children’s education. CCSS has never been proven to be effective and is – in fact – developmentally inappropriate. But it’s touted as a panacea to a host of ills when its real concern is to continue fortifying the prison machine.

We live in a country where more than half of the children attending public school live below the poverty line. They need proper nutrition, social assistance, tutoring, counseling and a host of wrap around services. But instead they get so-called “higher” academic standards and standardized tests.

It’s like a sporting goods store withholding wheelchairs to the Special Olympics and instead donating extra hurdles – all the while claiming it was trying to help participants become better hoppers!

Even worse, these standards aren’t actually better. They’re just confusing, ignorant and ill-conceived. After all, they weren’t developed by educators. They were made by ideologues who admit they were unqualified for the task.

Was this a huge mistake? No. These standards and the associated bubble tests that drive them do exactly what they were meant to do.

They increase the numbers of failing students. They push more kids out of school and into the waiting arms of the prison industry.

And when kids have difficulty sitting through the hours, days, and months of test prep that are increasingly replacing a well-rounded curriculum, they face unfair discipline practices.

We treat misbehaving kids like little criminals.

Can’t sit still in class? Can’t keep quiet? Can’t control your frustration?

Out you go! Detentions, suspensions, expulsions!

We have zero tolerance for your childish behavior – even if you are still a child.

And unsurprisingly the majority of the children who are crushed by the hammer of discipline have dark skin.

Let me be clear. I’m not saying that misbehaving children shouldn’t be disciplined. Far from it.

But we need to stop criminalizing their misbehavior.

If we can’t provide them with schools that teach in a developmentally appropriate manner – it’s not the children who are misbehaving. It’s us! The school system!

Moreover, when a child has a problem conforming to the norm, our first reaction shouldn’t be punishment. It should be understanding. The goal should be to find ways to change the negative behavior, not weed the kid out of the system.

But this means treating children as ends not means.

We have to care about their well-being. They have to be more than just piggy banks for big business.

Otherwise, it is our sick society that really deserves to be sent to jail.


NOTE: This article also appeared in the LA Progressive, ConversationED and the Badass Teachers Association blog.

I am Racist and (If You’re White) You Probably Are, Too

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I am a white man.

I am racist.

But that’s kind of redundant.

It’s like saying, “I am a fish, and I am soaking wet.

In some ways, I can’t help it. I don’t even notice it. I live my life immersed in a world of white privilege that most of the time I frankly can’t even see.

That doesn’t excuse me. It doesn’t mean I should just shrug and say, “What are you gonna’ do?”

But it does mean that the first step in removing that racism – in undoing the systematic subjugation of people of color – is recognizing my own culpability in that system.

It’s like being an alcoholic. The first step is admitting the truth.

I know I’ve pissed off a lot of people with what I’ve just written. This article isn’t about gaining new friends. But I’m sure I’ll have a lot of death threats to delete from the comments section tomorrow.

The initial reaction white people usually have to being called racist is – Who? Me? I can’t be racist! I have a black friend! I dated a black girl once! I listen to rap music!

Or a whole host of other excuses.

First of all, relax. I don’t know you. For all I know you’re that one white guy out there who has somehow escaped the pervasive societal attitudes that the rest of us unknowingly took in with our baby formula.

But chances are – yeah, you’re a racist, too.

Second of all, I’m not talking to people of color. None of you are racist. Congratulations!

You might be a hate-filled bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic, prejudiced asshole.

Again, I don’t know you. But racist? No. You can’t really be that.

Here’s why. Racism doesn’t mean hating someone because of their race. That’s a kind of prejudice. And anyone can be prejudiced.

Racism is hate plus power. If a black person says, “I hate white people,” he is prejudiced. However, there is no system that then backs up his hatred. The police don’t arrest white people more than black people for the same crimes. The judicial system doesn’t give harsher sentences to white people than it does black people for the same crimes. Public schools serving a majority of white students aren’t chronically underfunded. It isn’t harder to get a loan or a job if you have a white-sounding name. If it did, THAT would be racism!

Get it?

So I’m sorry, white people. This means there is no such thing as reverse racism. Despite what you may see on Fox News, the only racists in America have white skin.

Don’t get me wrong. There are degrees of racism. If you have a Confederate flag prominently displayed in your home in front of your personally autographed picture with David Duke, well you’re probably a bit more racist than most Caucasians. But no matter what, if you’re white, you’ve probably benefited from white supremacy and are de facto racist.

Maybe your folks gave you a middle class upbringing in a quiet suburb. Maybe you went to a well-funded public school in a wealthy neighborhood. Maybe your dad was convicted of white collar crime and got little to no jail time. Heck! Maybe you just walked down the street once and the police didn’t follow you through a convenience store or reached for their guns.

If your upbringing was in any way favored due to wealth amassed over a few generations, you benefited from white privilege. If the judicial system let you or a loved one go with a lighter sentence, you benefited. If you were not harassed by law enforcement because of your complexion, you benefited. And when you benefit from a system, you’re part of it.

For every white person in America, it is almost certain that something like this happened to you at some point in your life. And you probably had no idea it was even occurring.

Good fortune becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People start to think they deserve it. And maybe they do, maybe they don’t. But people of color who don’t have such privileges certainly don’t deserve their inequitable treatment.

When we fail to acknowledge that white supremacy exists or that it benefits us, white folks, we’re just perpetuating that same system.

Some of you will say I’m putting too much emphasis on race. We’re all the same under the skin. We shouldn’t bring up the topic of racism. It just makes things worse.

Easy for you to say! You’re on top of the social food chain! If we don’t talk about the inherent inequalities entrenched in the system, nothing will change. Us, white folks, will continue to benefit, and black folks will continue to get the short end of the stick.

One of the biggest obstacles to solving racism is its invisibility – to white folks.

We’re shielded from it because its negative effects don’t reach us, and its positive effects to us are either shrugged off or we assume we deserve them.

Being racist rarely involves overt action anymore. It’s become covert, an entrenched sickness in all our social systems. And the only way to cure it is to make it visible – to recognize, isolate and destroy it.

I know. Some of you will say you had it tough, too. And you probably did. Few people live charmed lives. There are poor white folks. There are white people who are discriminated against because of their gender, nationality, sexual preference and/or religion. But this doesn’t mean you didn’t benefit. There is a crossroads of American prejudice and racism is only one of many intersecting avenues.

Maybe you were the victim sometimes, but you were probably the victor in others, and you never even saw it coming.

The point isn’t to say which malady is worse. They’re all bad and all deserving of a cure. But if you really don’t want to be a racist, you have to look it straight in the eye and call it by its rightful name.

You probably didn’t ask to be treated differently. Most of us just want fairness. But to be on that side we have to proclaim our allegiance. We have to take a stand.

Whenever you see injustice against people of color, you must call it out. You must make yourself a part of the solution and not the problem. You must be a voice demanding the citadel of white privilege be burned to the ground.

It’s not easy. You’ll be called all sorts of names: bleeding heart, libtard, self-hating white, maybe even cracka. Because even people of color may not understand what you’re trying to do. After so many years of racial oppression by people with melanin deficiency, they may not trust an open hand when they’ve been so used to expecting a fist.

But that’s okay. It’s understandable. The only thing to do is press on. Understanding will come – eventually.

Racism is a problem for black folks, but the solution is mostly in the hands of white people. We’re the ones doing – or allowing – racism. It’s our job to fix it.

And much of that work will not be in the public sphere. It will be in our own hearts.

Many of us have been socialized to be afraid of black folks. We get this from the news, movies, television, the internet, often even our own relatives and friends. We’re constantly told how dangerous black people are, how untrustworthy, how violent. But the facts don’t bare this out. Given the degree of aggression – both overt and covert – black people have endured from white people over time, they have been incredibly non-violent. It is us, white people, who have been violent and inhuman. That is the legacy we hide under our fear of dark skin. We’re really afraid that one day our black brothers and sisters will have had enough and give back to us all the accumulated hate of centuries.

No. We aren’t responsible for slavery or Jim Crow or lynchings or a host of other horrible things. But we still benefit from them.

So it is up to us to even the scales, to treat black folks fairly and equitably with a loving heart.

That is why I make this confession. That is why I write this article that will probably be roundly criticized or maybe just ignored.

That’s why I admit I’m a racist.

It’s the only way to stop being one.


NOTE: This article also was published on commondreams.org.