The Alt Right Has a Friend in Common Core




Let’s say you’re a modern-day hipster Nazi.



You’re bummed out.



No one wants to hang out with you because of your bald head and your red suspenders and your commitment to the ideals of a defeated and disgraced totalitarian regime.



What are you to do?






It’s simple.



No more National Socialist German Workers Party! That sounds too pinko!



Now you’re simply a member of the Alt Right!



It’s not racist! You’re just committed to traditional attitudes and values — if those traditional attitudes and values come from 1945 Berlin!



Heck, you don’t even have to call yourself Alt Right.



You can call yourself a White Identitarian.


You aren’t over-concerned with any one side of the political spectrum or other. You just strongly identify with whiteness — and by extension increasing the political power of white people at the expense of all others.



That’s all.



It should be obvious that this isn’t merely rebranding. It’s propaganda.


In today’s fast paced information age – where every fact is merely a Google away – that can be hard to get away with – UNLESS



Unless you already have a readymade tool to protect propaganda from the kind of informed critical thought that can pop it like a bubble. Something to insolate the ignorance and keep out the enlightened analysis.



I am, of course, talking about Common Core.






How does Common Core have anything to do with white nationalism?



Common Core is just a set of academic standards for what should be taught in public schools adopted by 42 of 50 states.



Academic standards aren’t political. Are they?


Actually, they are. Quite political.


Just take a look at how the standards came to be adopted in the first place.


The Obama administration bribed and coerced the states to adopt these standards before many of them were even done being written.



Hold your horses. The Obama administration!? That doesn’t sound exactly like a friend of the Third Reich.


And it wasn’t.



It was a friend to big business.


When first created, these standards weren’t the result of a real educational need, nor were they written by classroom educators and psychologists. They were written by the standardized testing industry as a ploy to get federal, state and local governments to recommit to standardized testing through buying new tests, new text books, new software and new remediation materials.



It was a bipartisan effort supported by the likes of Obama, the Clintons and Bill Gates on the left and Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos and Bobby Jindal on the right.



After Obama’s success pushing them down our collective throats, many Republicans vocally decried the standards – often while quietly supporting them.


That’s why after all this time very few state legislatures have repealed them despite being controlled predominantly by Republicans.


Okay, so what does this have to do with the Alt Right?



People like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are engaged in redefining the conservative movement. Instead of circulating ideas with a merely racist and classist undertone, they want to make those subtleties more explicit.


Most aren’t about to hop out of the closet and declare themselves open Nazis or members of the Hitler fan club, but they want to make it clear exactly how wunderbar the Fuhrer’s ideals are with a wink and a smirk.


For instance, Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again.



When exactly was America great? When white people had unchallenged political and social power and minorities and people of color knew their place. That’s when.



This is obvious to some of us, but we face a real obstacle making it obvious to others.


And that obstacle is Common Core.



A generation of Americans have been brought up with these shoddy academic standards that don’t develop critical thinking but actively suppress it.



For instance, take the absurd ravings of the Core’s chief writer – and current head of the College Board – David Coleman.



Going counter to the thinking of nearly every expert on literacy, he emphasized cold or close reading over reading text in context.



In particular, he said:



“Do you know the two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today?…It is either the exposition of a personal opinion or the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with these two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a shit about what you feel or think… It is a rare working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.”



Later, he added:



“The most popular 3rd grade standard in American today…is what is the difference between a fable, a myth, a tale, and a legend? The only problem with that question is that no one knows what the difference is and no one probably cares what the difference is either.”


And finally:



“This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students.”



However, Coleman was dead wrong on all counts.



What you think and feel IS important. The requirements of the corporate world ARE NOT the only reasons to teach something. Being able to distinguish between similar but different concepts IS important. And context is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to understanding!


For instance, today’s spin doctor Nazis soon realized that you can’t go goose stepping down main street blindly espousing how much better it is to be white — better than, say, being black or Jewish.



But you can hang up posters in college campuses that say the same sort of thing in a cutesy, passive aggressive way. For instance: “It’s okay to be white.”


If we look just at the text, as Coleman advises, we see a rather innocuous statement.



There’s nothing racist here. It’s just a simple statement that being white is also acceptable.



However, if we add back the context, we find an indirect racial undertone.


These posters weren’t put up willy nilly. They were hung on college campuses where white nationalists wearing MAGA hats were recruiting. They were pasted over Black Lives Matter posters, accompanying drawings of Donald Trump.




In context, then, this statement doesn’t just mean “It’s okay to be white.” It means “It’s okay to be pro-white supremacist, to be pro-white power.”



And that brings up two other examples.



MAGA – Make America Great Again.


Take it out of context and it’s innocuous. It just means to increase the abstract greatness of the country to what it was at some unspecified time in the past.


However, if we put that statement in the context of the Trump campaign and its xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, etc. — then it’s meaning becomes clear. As noted above, it’s an ode to white power and nostalgia for greater white privilege.



And “Black Lives Matter”? Why do many of these same Identitarians take exception to that slogan and the movement behind it?



The Alt Right says BLM is reverse racist. They claim the name BLM means “ONLY black lives matter.”



Context tells us differently.



The BLM group was formed in response to the indiscriminate murder of people of color and those who committed these crimes not behind held accountable. Officer Darren Wilson not indicted for killing Michael Brown. Officer Daniel Pantaleo not indicted for killing Eric Garner. Officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback not indicted for killing Tamir Rice. And on and on.



Yet the Alt Right is allowed to mischaracterize a simple call for peace as if it identified a terrorist organization.



Why? Because context has been banished from the building.




I’m not saying that Common Core has caused these problems, but it has allowed them.


I doubt this is what Coleman, who is Jewish, intended.



But whenever you water down critical thinking – even if it’s for purely practical ends – you end up hurting everyone.



The best societies praise intellect and tolerance.



For all their faults, our founders knew this. That’s why they emphasized the importance of public education.



If we had ensured everyone in the country had access to the best possible education, this modern Nazi subculture wouldn’t be able to make as much headway as it has.



This is yet another way that our obsession with unrestrained capitalism, neoliberalism and plutocracy has put us on a road that may end in fascism.


The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Businesswoman shouting through the megaphone in the open air.


Everybody wants to fight the good fight.


Until the battle begins.


Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before.


To paraphrase Thomas Paine:



These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman.


I see this almost every day in our schools.


Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face.


They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore.


The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy.


To which I say – Amen, Sister!


Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest.


Two conflicts of interest, actually.


First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell.


Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools.


So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks.


But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.


What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today.


Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests.


We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment.


I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight.


But I find myself standing there alone.


“You can’t do that,” I say.


“It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.


(Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.)


Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote:


If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…”


Or how about subsection (d) (3):


“School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians [have]… (3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.” (Emphasis mine)


In other words, parents have a right to excuse their children from the tests and/or instruction such as test look-a-likes.


If we go forward with requiring students who are opted out to take tests that are just like the ones their parents instructed us NOT to give, we will be violating parents’ rights under state law.”


That seems pretty airtight to me.


But the administrator disagrees.


And I look around at the assembled mass of workaday teachers for support.


Not a peep.


Instead I get this:


-We’re being evaluated on these standardized tests, we have to make sure kids take them seriously.


-I see where you’re coming from but we have to do something about these kids who are opting out just to get out of doing the work. They don’t have any real intellectual objection. They’re just lazy.


-We’ve got to do something about grade inflation.


Oh. Em. Gee.


Yet after the meeting, some of them cautiously walk up to me asking my opinion of what went down.




Take my word for it.


Tomorrow or the next day or the next week, they’ll be complaining again.


I’ve seen some of these people reduced to tears by administrators unfairly manipulating them based on their students’ test scores.


Yet none of them have the guts to stand up and be counted when the moment comes.


I say again – everyone wants to fight. But no one wants to do the fighting.


They want someone else to do it for them.


Does that make you angry?


It makes me furious.


But if you feel that way, you’ve got to do something about it.


You think teachers are too cowardly? What have YOU done to fight corporate education reform today?


You think too many administrators are quislings. You think the lawmakers are bought and sold. You think the public schools are under attack.


Well, get off your ass and do something.


I am tired of being the lone voice of dissent here.


All across the country there are people like me – people willing to stand up and fight.


But it’s a big country, and we’re usually spread pretty thin.


We need people willing to put their money where their mouths are – right here, in our hometowns.


Put up or shut up, America.


Do you want a school system that serves the needs of children?


You’ve got to make it happen.


I can’t do this all by myself.

Twenty-One Reasons People Hate, Hate, HATE Betsy DeVos



Lesley Stahl: Why have you become, people say, the most hated Cabinet secretary?


Betsy DeVos: I’m not sure exactly how that happened…

I’m more misunderstood than anything.



The above exchange from last night’s 60 Minutes interview highlights an important point about our Education Secretary.


She is deeply unpopular, but not because she’s misunderstood. If anything, she’s understood too well.


We know what she stands for and we don’t like it.


If she was really so misunderstood, why didn’t her answers in the interview veer away from the same usual canned responses she’s given time-and-time-again to the same type of questions?


What’s wrong with schools? NOT ENOUGH CHOICE.


How do we prevent school shootings? LET SCHOOLS ARM TEACHERS.


You didn’t really even need DeVos to show up to the interview to be able to guess with a high degree of accuracy what her answers would be.


In fact, many of her responses seemed to have been coached – as if someone had prepared her with talking points before the interview even took place.


So without further ado, here is my exhaustive list of all the reasons I can think of why people really, REALLY hate Betsy Devos. If I’ve left something out, please feel free to add it in a comment.




1) She didn’t earn her position as Education Secretary. She bought it. And even then it took a tie breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to shove her down our throats.


2) She wants to spend tax dollars to boost privatized schools in which she has a financial stake.


3) She doesn’t mind taking funding away from public schools to do it.


4) She wants to destroy the entire system of public schools which enroll 90% of America’s children.


5) She doesn’t really know what public schools are, having never attended one or having never sent her children or grandchildren to one.


6) She wants to arm teachers not because it will protect kids from school shooters, but because that boosts her family’s investment portfolio. (i.e. her brother’s mercenary army for hire, Blackwater)


7) She won’t make charter and voucher schools give the same services to special education kids as those provided by traditional public schools.


8) She’s getting rid of students’ civil rights protections while adding protections for nefarious student loan providers and fly-by-night on-line schools.


9) She’s rescinded rules that protected trans students.


10) She’s considering rescinding rules that protect minority students from being unfairly and disproportionately disciplined by schools.


11) She’s made it harder for victims of sexual assault and harassment to report abuse and easier for those accused to avoid prosecution.


12) She talks about state’s rights to determine their own education systems while using the power of the federal government to coerce them to doing things her way.


13) She wastes public tax dollars. She is the only Cabinet member protected by Federal Marshals, which costs us nearly $1 million a month. Whether this is necessary or not, as a billionaire she could save the taxpayers money by taking on this cost, herself.


14) She doesn’t care if the public doesn’t want her at their school or event. She goes anyway and then pretends to be angry that protestors showed up. She doesn’t seem to understand that as a public servant she should serve at our pleasure – not the other way around.


15) She uses tragedy as a photo-op – as she did when she visited the Parkland school to promote arming teachers. She didn’t meet significantly with students or staff. She didn’t listen to their concerns. She even bailed on her own press conference there when the queries weren’t to her liking.


16) She has no problem whitewashing black history as she did when she claimed historic black colleges were pioneers of school choice. In reality they had no choice. For many African Americans at the time, it was create black colleges or forgo post-secondary education at all.


17) She is ignorant (purposefully or not) of the results of her own policies. Her advocacy of school choice in her home state of Michigan has weakened that state’s public schools, not strengthened them.


18) She’s out of touch with average Americans. She’s the richest member of Trump’s cabinet and often travels in her on super luxury yacht.


19) She’s rich not because she earned it, but because she was born into it and married into even more wealth. Moreover, much of her wealth is due to her family’s Amway fortune – basically it’s founded on rooking average people out of their hard earned money with what’s essentially a pyramid scheme.


20) She’s arrogant. She smiles vacantly at topics that don’t deserve a smile – they deserve serious regard.


21) She is extremely biased and partisan. She is supposed to serve the public interest, but her radical Christian Fundamentalism and anti-LGBT activism make her untrustworthy to serve in that capacity. Statements such as “There is enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education… Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom,” do not help.


Okay. That’s all I can think of – though more may pop into mind as soon as I publish this. If I missed something please include it in the comments.


Hopefully this answers DeVos’ question about why she’s hated.

Rampant Ignorance of What a School Should Be



From politicians confusing a living wage with a handout—


To a white supremacist teacher podcast.


From a tone deaf government flunky using tragedy to do anything to stop gun violence except regulate firearms—


To a Bronx principal barring a black history lesson during Black History Month.


All-in-all, it’s been a crazy news cycle.


If one thing was made clear during the last seven plus days, it’s this:


Many people have no idea what a school should be.


Take West Virginia, the site of a recently resolved statewide teacher strike.


After years of watching the cost of living rise while wages remained stagnant, educators took to the streets to demand enough money that they wouldn’t have to quit their teaching jobs and look for work elsewhere.


It’s a reasonable request.


Imagine if we didn’t pay doctors enough to afford to practice medicine. Imagine if we didn’t pay lawyers enough to afford to practice law.


Teachers just wanted enough money so they could focus on educating the next generation and still get perks like food and shelter.


However, West Virginia is a self-confessed conservative state where self-identifying conservatives unashamedly explain that a full-throated expression of their conservative values includes the idea that you shouldn’t have to pay people a living wage for a hard day’s work.


Or as state Senator Lynne Arvone (R-Raleigh) put it:


“The teachers have to understand that West Virginia is a red state, and the free handouts are over.”


What, Sen. Arvone? Are you high?


A salary is not a “free handout.”


That’s redundant – there is no such thing as a free handout. Handouts are by definition free. That’s something you would have known had you paid more attention to your third grade language arts teacher. But, whatever.


Moreover, a salary is neither free nor a handout.


It is a fixed regular payment – often weekly or biweekly – made by an employer to an employee in exchange for doing a job.


West Virginia teachers are doing their job. State representatives like Arvone aren’t doing theirs.


They aren’t making teaching an attractive career and thus encouraging the best and brightest to become teachers. When you’ve already got a shortage of people willing to become educators, you have to invest. That’s economics 101! Basic supply and demand.


Admittedly, after 8 days of a state-wide strike, the legislature caved and gave teachers a 5% raise, but only moments before introducing a bill to reduce the requirements to become a West Virginia teacher in the future.




It’s like lawmakers are saying: Oh. So you want your raise? Here you go. But the next generation of teachers hired in the state will be more ignorant, less experienced, more unskilled and less professional. In short, they won’t expect to be paid a living wage because we’ve made teaching right up there with being a WalMart greeter!


So there!


If passed, the academic quality of education provided by West Virginia will drop.


But so will the cost. And that seems to be the only thing lawmakers like Arvone and her “conservative” colleagues seem to care about.


You know, I don’t think they know what conservative means, either.


It’s certainly not what a public school should be.


Want another example?


Take Dayanna Volitich, a 25-year-old Florida teacher who allegedly ran a white supremacist podcast until non-Aryans heard it, put two-and-two together and removed her from class.


On a recent episode she bragged about spreading racist and prejudiced ideas to her students.


According to an article in the Huffington Post describing her latest podcast:


Volitich also agreed with her guest’s assertion that more white supremacists need to infiltrate public schools and become teachers. “They don’t have to be vocal about their views, but get in there!” her guest said. “Be more covert and just start taking over those places.”


“Right,” Volitich said. “I’m absolutely one of them.”


Great. Just what we need. An army of undercover white supremacists being encouraged to enter the teaching profession – taking those newly minted minimum wage jobs vacated by more expensive but less biased educators.


As a more than 15-year veteran of the public school classroom, I have some advice for white supremacists thinking about becoming teachers: Don’t.


We don’t want you here.


No one has the time for your warmed over master race lullabies.


We don’t need another generation of privileged white people who think the world owes them something just because of the color of their skin.


We need an America made up of people of all colors and creeds who believe in a meritocracy. You get what you work for, what you earn.


And we need lawmakers to actually create a system that supports this ideal.


We need political parties and grassroots movements to push for such an America.


Nazi propaganda belongs in one place only – the history books. It is not part of our future.


And on a personal note, let me just say that becoming a teacher often makes you more progressive than you were when you started.


I know it did me.


Especially if you work at a high poverty, high minority district like I do.


Your job is to serve students’ needs. You push them to think, you don’t tell them what to think.


If that’s not what you’re up for, you’re not up for being an educator.


Indoctrination is not what school should be.


And that brings me to Betsy DeVos, our billionaire Education Secretary who bought her government position with campaign contributions and political connections.


She went to Parkland, Florida, this week to visit with students, teachers and administrators who survived a school shooting a couple weeks ago.


Or at least that’s what it probably said on the press release.


It was really just a publicity stunt to push for arming teachers instead of sensible gun control.


Parkland students have been rocking it holding demonstrations and speaking truth to power demanding that we keep them safe from future violence by banning assault rifles, mandatory background checks on all gun sales and other common sense measures favored by almost 70% of the nation.


DeVos took about five questions before walking out of her own press conference.


She didn’t meet with students – didn’t even try.


She was just there for a photo op.


Well, time’s up, Betsy.


The next generation isn’t putting up with your tone deaf water carrying. With your own family ties to mercenary soldiers for hire, it’s no surprise you’d be against gun control and in favor of firearms to chase away all the Grizzlies attacking our public schools.


It won’t stop the bloodshed but an increase in gun sales will boost your portfolio.


Arming teachers is one of the dumbest things on an agenda full of real whoppers from this absurd Presidential administration.


Teachers touting guns, shooting it out with armed terrorists – no. That’s not what a school should be, either.


So finally we get to the Bronx, where some dimwit who somehow became a principal told an English teacher not to teach a unit on the Harlem Renaissance.


You know, the Harlem Renaissance – Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Louis Armstrong, Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington… Nobodies like them.


And if that’s not bad enough, she did it in February during Black History Month.


This number crunching pedant thought it was inappropriate because the teacher wasn’t in the social studies department.


This is what happens when you try to put education in a box with things like Common Core. Don’t teach background information, just look at every text divorced from everything else around it – the author’s personal history, what was happening in the world at the time or even how the reader responds to it.


Administrators like this need to take a seat and get out of teachers ways.


This kind of subtly racist micromanaging isn’t a part of what schools should be either.


Schools should be places where dedicated professionals are prized and valued. They’re given the autonomy to teach what they know is important and they make these decisions informed by the empiricism of what their students need.


Schools should be places without prejudice or racism. They should be cultural melting pots free from segregation and preconceived notions. They should be about academic freedom and the joy of learning.


I wish more people understood it.


Maybe then we could work to make our schools and our country more like the ideals of the overwhelming majority of the people living here.


Instead of continually letting the rich and privileged set the agenda.

When Students Stay Up All Night Playing Fortnite and You’ve got to Teach Them in the Morning



There is something monstrously unfair about our teacher evaluation systems.


If your students fail because they were up all night playing video games, it’s your fault.




When students fail at academic tasks, there is no responsibility attributed to the students, no responsibility attributed to the parents and certainly no responsibility given to society.


It’s all just thrown on the teacher because, hey, someone’s got to be responsible. And it might as well be them.


I’ve written scores of articles about how standardized tests forced on students by the federal government are unfair.


They are developmentally inappropriate, culturally biased, and subject to a deep conflict of interest because the people making the tests get more money if test takers fail.


The tests drive the curriculum instead of the other way around. The scores needed to pass change from year-to-year invalidating annual comparisons. And many lawmakers pushing for these assessments are funded by the school privatization industry that uses failing test scores to sell its own fly-by-night brand of education.


These are real problems our education system faces every day.


But we mustn’t forget an even more fundamental one: we’re all responsible for student success or failure.


Not just teachers. EVERYONE.


Society, lawmakers, business people, parents – but those most responsible are the students, themselves.


Case and Point—


Over the last few months a word has entered my students’ vocabulary that hadn’t been there before: Fortnite.


It’s not that they’re so interested in an antiquated term for a two-week period. It’s the name of a popular multiplayer on-line shoot-em-up video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Players build forts with teammates to defend against other players or enemies.


Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.


It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”


And then it started to manifest physically.


Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.


It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.


Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.


When I noticed it, I cleared as much of my schedule as I could to call parents. It’s hard because administration decided not to fill positions in my department for teachers who retired last year – so all our classes are larger. And they gave me a new class I haven’t taught in years so the planning load is more cumbersome.


Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.


And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.


Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.


However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.


But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.


However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.


I’m not blaming them. Most of my students live below the poverty line. That means their folks are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or they’re grandparents raising their sons’ or daughters’ kids. Or they’re foster parents with a full house.


They’re doing the best they can. But it doesn’t end up stopping the addiction.


And – let’s be honest – it is an addiction.


For the first time in 2018, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as a real thing. Not every video game. Not every time someone sits down to play a video game. But video games can lead to addictive behavior.


That’s what I’m seeing in my students.


So after talking with as many parents as I could, I came to a mostly dead end.


My next step was to try to use student interests to influence instruction.


We were in the middle of a poetry writing unit. So I allowed students to write their poems about Fortnite.


That perked up a few heads.


Here’s a cinquain about Fortnite. Here’s an acrostic, a narrative, a concrete poem in the shape of a soldier or his gun.


To be honest, none of them were masterpieces.


They were just the normal trash talk and braggadocio written down in verse.


So I got an idea. Use the heightened competitive urge to push artistry.


We came to limericks – a difficult but fun type of poetry with five lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter.


We read funny examples, we sang the rhythm together in chorus – da Dum da da Dum da da Dum – and then I set them the task of writing their own limericks.


With one twist. Whoever wrote the best limerick would get a homework pass.


That got them going like a shot.


All of my Fortniters perked up.


They wrote like I’d never seen.


Each wanted to one-up the others. And no one wrote about the game.


By the end of class, we had some pretty good poems. I wouldn’t say they are the best ever written, but they were miles better than where we were before.


So what does it all mean?


When we talk about video games these days, the conversation usually strays toward violence.


Pundits caution that video games will desensitize children and make them more prone to aggression and acting out. It might even contribute to the creation of school shooters.




In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.


Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.


However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.


Some corporations want to try to harness this addiction to push learning. Hence the move to personalized or competency based education. That’s pure rubbish.


It’s a way to monetize education without paying attention to what’s best for kids. The same with gamification – using game theory to drive instruction.


And don’t think I’ve lost sight of my own use of competition in class. I haven’t.


Games and competition can be used to positive ends in moderation.


You can motivate reluctant kids to do things they wouldn’t normally do with competition. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work all the time.


It needs to be a novelty. Any tool can be overused.


Even video games aren’t bad in moderation. I used to be a gamer, myself.


The problem is when it becomes an addiction.


Our social structures can’t handle it.


Game corporations only care if it makes money. Parents are often stressed to the limit just to provide the basics.


The only group we require to be responsible is teachers.


And that’s just not going to work.


Video game addiction is another area where it becomes painfully clear how much work we all need to do to help our children succeed.

Arming Already Stressed Out Teachers Will Only Increase the Chance of School Shootings



It happened in Georgia yesterday.


A beloved social studies teacher locked himself in his classroom while his students stood outside the door.


When the principal came with the key, the teacher fired a handgun through an exterior window.


Students ran, one even twisting her ankle in the escape.


Thankfully, no one else appears to have been injured.


However, the incident brings into focus a vital component of the gun debate.


Teachers are already under tremendous stress.


Arming them won’t stop gun violence. All it does is add another potential shooter.


It’s only been about two weeks since a shooting at Stonemason Douglas High School in Florida left 17 dead.


That’s at least 19 school shootings so far in 2018 – and it’s only the beginning of March!


In that time, the national media and the Trump administration have focused on one specific solution to stopping such violence from happening again: giving teachers guns.


The latest incident in Georgia underlines why this is such a terrible idea.


Teachers are not super heroes.


Take it from me. I’m an almost 15 year veteran of the middle school classroom in western Pennsylvania.


We’re just human beings.


My colleagues and I have all the same human failings and weaknesses as everybody else.


We get tired and overworked and put upon and stressed and sometimes…


…Sometimes we don’t handle it well.


I know some people don’t want to hear it.


Society has piled all kinds of responsibilities and unreasonable expectations on our shoulders.


We’re no longer allowed to be just educators.


We’re parents, counselors, disciplinarians, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, nutritionists…. The list goes on-and-on.


And now politicians actually want us to add law enforcement to the job description?


We’re already under colossal pressure, and some folks want to add a gun to that situation?


That’s lighting a fuse.


But don’t just take my word for it.


Back in 2015, tens of thousands of educators filled out the Quality of Worklife Survey conducted by the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association.


After responses from 91,000 school employees and 31,000 who completed the entire 80-question survey, a picture of the emotional landscape became clear.


A total 73% of respondents said they often feel stressed at work.

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The reasons? Adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development (71%), negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media (55%), uncertain job expectations (47%) and salary (46%) were the most common responses.

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The survey identified the following as most common everyday stressors in the workplace – time pressures, disciplinary issues and even a lack of opportunity to use the bathroom.

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Focusing just on the classroom, top stressors were mandated curriculum, large class sizes and standardized testing.

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Many teachers claimed to be the victims of violence at school.


A total 18% of all respondents said they had been threatened with physical violence – though the percentage jumped to 27% when looking solely at special education teachers.


A total of 9% of all respondents claimed to have been physically assaulted at school. Again the percentage jumped to 18% of all special education teachers.


But it’s not just physical assault.


A total of 30% claim to have been bullied by administrators (58%), co-workers (38%), students (34%) and student’s parents (30%).

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This is the situation where policymakers want to throw firearms.


Most gun violence doesn’t involve a shooter doing harm to others. The great majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted.


Even without adding guns to the mix, several high profile teachers and administrators already have committed suicide.


In October of 2010, for example, a California elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. took his own life after the Los Angeles Times published a report labeling him a “less effective teacher.” Despite the fact that students and parents praised Ruelas, who taught in one of poorest schools in his district and who also was born, raised and continued to live in area where his school was located, the Times targeted him among other so-called “less effective” teachers as part of a major propaganda campaign.


And this isn’t an isolated incident. In July of 2015, a New York City principal under investigation for altering Common Core test scores, killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car.


Adding guns to this situation will just mean more teachers taking their own lives with a bullet.


That may have been the intent of the Georgia teacher in yesterday’s shooting.


Local police said they didn’t think he was trying to injure anyone else. When he shot his gun out of the window, he appeared to be trying to get others to leave him alone.


Arming teachers is a terrible solution to school violence. It’s taking an already stifling room and turning up the heat.


We need sensible gun regulations to reduce the pressure, not increase it.


We need sensible school policies that treat teachers and students like human beings and not just cogs in the system.


But this requires us to break out of a dangerous pattern in how we deal with social problems.


When we see a problem, we generally just shrug and leave it up to public schools and teachers to solve.


Inadequate resources – leave it to teachers to buy school supplies out of pocket.


Inequitable funding – increase class size and leave it to teachers to somehow make up the difference.


We can’t do the same with gun violence. We can’t just toss teachers a gun and tell them to sort it out.


Teachers can’t solve all of society’s problems alone.


That’s going to take all of us.


And we’ll need more than disingenuous proposals like answering gun violence with more guns.

Gamification – The Hottest New Trend to Monetize Education

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When I was a kid, Super Mario Bros. was my jam.


After school, I couldn’t wait to take on the role of plucky plumber Mario or his brother Luigi. I’d jump on a few turtle shells, bounce over a bottomless pit and smash just the right secret brick to get my flashing star power up and wipe the floor with endless levels of Koopa Troopas.


But through it all, I never really learned anything.


With the possible exception of a few Italian stereotypes, the only knowledge I gained was where the warp zones were, which blocks to hit and the muscle memory necessary to defeat the next bad guy.


However, now-a-days that’s all changed.


Someone in marketing and accounting has decided that the same techniques I used to save Princess Toadstool would make an exceptional method of pedagogy.


They call it gamification, the process of making academic lessons, courses and objectives look more like video games.


Sure, the process has applications in the business world and advertising, but its biggest market has been education.


In fact, the Gamification industry is worth $2 billion worldwide and some estimate it to jump to $22 billion by 2022.


Want to teach grammar? Welcome to the good ship Verb sailing on the seas of Nouns and Pronouns. Interjections, A-hoy!


Wish your students knew fractions? Let them blast away the wrong numbers so only the correct numerator matches with the correct denominator.


That kind of thing.


It’s incredibly popular in some circles.


Advocates claim it increases student engagement and enthusiasm, provides instant feedback and the opportunity for social interactions.


Critics say it reduces students’ attention spans, narrows the curriculum and replaces human interaction with canned interfaces.


But when something is bringing in this kind of cash for big business, it’s kind of beside the point whether it works or not.


It’s the latest form of snake oil out of the cobra factory, and your teacher may be forced to pour it into your children’s brains.


That’s just Education 2018. Under the old model, the hucksters would have to approach each teacher one-at-a-time and convince them to try the shinny new toy in the box. But when you remove teacher autonomy, that frees all the used car salesmen to go right to the one person in your district – often the technology coordinator or academic coach – who controls the purse strings and convince him or her to buy what they’re selling.


In short, I’m not a fan.


In fact, I think gamification is one of the dumbest fads to hit public schools since standardized testing.


Don’t get me wrong.


Games can have limited use in the classroom.


My students love reviewing already mastered material in teams or competing against each other individually.


But there’s a big difference between playing Jeopardy or Kahoot with soon-to-be-tested material and plopping kids on an app or software package that pretends to teach them the concept.

There’s a world of difference between a 10-minute detour and an entire curriculum structured around game theory.


The biggest problem seems to be this.


Games are not intrinsically valuable.


They are good or bad based on the amount of fun they provide the user.


Be honest. No one really cares if Link puts together the Tri-force. No one is losing any sleep over rampaging Metroids on the loose. No one is putting out an Amber Alert the next time Princess Peach is inevitably kidnapped by Bowser. The only thing that matters is if meeting these objectives and countering these fictional bad guys is fun and exciting.


However, the same is not true for the ends of education.


People care whether you can read and write. You may lose sleep over being unable to add, subtract, multiple and divide. Co-workers will be alerted if you don’t comprehend the basics of science and history.


And the higher the skill we’re aiming for, the greater the degree of importance.


Gamification divorces these two ends. It turns education from an intrinsic activity into an extrinsic one.


This is a big deal.


Students shouldn’t struggle through a reading passage so they’ll get a score or a badge. They should actually care about what they’re reading.


My students and I just finished reading Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” and they loved it.


After the first few chapters, they weren’t reading for a grade or to please me, their teacher. They truly wanted to know what would happen next. And to fully understand that, they had to exercise and refine their reading skills.


Look at it like this.


When I was playing Super Mario Bros., I often took a few warp zones to the last board so I could beat Bowser quickly and win the game. But that means I skipped over most of the first seven boards.


This didn’t matter because the only reason to play was to win. But if those first boards had included something important to the experience, skipping them would have greatly diminished my experience.


Gamification reduces learning until its meaningless. Why would anyone want to know something unless it carried with it a video game like reward?


And that’s merely the worst part.


In practice, most of the applications and software being pushed on kids to increase enthusiasm and motivation aren’t really very much fun at all. After a few times through, there isn’t much reason to plow through exposition heavy content with little to do. This material doesn’t connect to students’ lives, it doesn’t foster authentic competition, it doesn’t stoke their sense of wonder – it’s just a boring set of hoops to jump through to satisfy the instructor.


Admittedly, it does provide instant feedback, but that doesn’t matter if students don’t care about the matter at hand.


Social interactions are possible here but rarely have I seen this opportunity explored. A good group project will get students more engaged socially than messaging back and forth about the software challenge du jour.


Education can be so much more than this.


Students are being robbed of authentic interactions, authentic instruction and authentic learning.


Not all things should be turned into a game.


Gamification is another example of trying too hard to market something to people who won’t actually be using it in the hopes that they won’t notice it doesn’t actually work that well.


The consumer isn’t the gamer – it’s the administrator who buys the program. And the people best suited to assess the program’s success – teachers and students – aren’t even part of the equation.


It’s about monetization, not education.


Mario may grab a bunch of coins on his way to save the princess, but it is the corporations who are getting rich off this sad fad.


All that glitters is not gold, just as all that is new and technological is not cutting edge.



Can we stop letting big business drive the field and let education be determined by educators?



Otherwise, it will be game over for an entire generation of kids duped into accepting crap for curriculum.