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.

 

YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR MY OPINION RIGHT NOW!

 

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.

Advertisements

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

1541539

 

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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.48.15 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.48.58 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.49.11 PM

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

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 12.49.35 PM

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%).

Screen Shot 2018-03-01 at 1.03.57 PM

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.

What’s the Buzz? A Crown of Gadflies! Top 10 Articles (by Me) in 2017

thumbnail_Screen shot 2017-12-26 at 3.44.17 PM

 

We made it, Readers.

 

Somehow we survived 2017 – the first year of the Trump Presidency.

 

What a monstrosity that has been so far!

 

Republicans have stolen more than $1 trillion from our pockets to give to their mega-wealthy donors in the form of tax cuts. A 3-2 GOP majority on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed Net Neutrality. And the party of Lincoln endorsed and funded a child molester for US Senate – though he thankfully lost.

 

 

We’re in new territory. Politics has always appealed to the best and worst of our natures: Good people who really want to make a difference and sniveling cowards willing to do whatever their sugar daddies tell them. But unfortunately our world has increasingly rewarded the latter and almost extinguished the former.

 

However, don’t lose heart. The cockroaches are all out in the open. They’ve become so emboldened by the words “President” and “Trump” voiced together that they no longer feel the need to hug a wall.

 

All it would take is a good boot and a series of stomps to crush them forever.

 

Someone get me my shoes.

 

In the meantime, I sit here at my kitchen table recovering from a turkey coma preparing for a nostalgic look back at everything that’s happened here at Gadfly on the Wall in the past year.

 

It was quite a 365 days! Most amazing was the publication of my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform” from Garn Press. It’s a thorough reworking and “Best Of” this blog over the last three years.

 

Sales have been strong and reviews are starting to come in. I am absolutely floored when I get messages from people I admire telling me they got the book and appreciate this or that. It’s been my lifelong dream to publish a book, and now I’ve done it. The New Year will involve lots of promotion – hopefully I can get decision makers to read it!

 

Other than that, it’s been a busy year blogging. I wrote 118 articles! That’s about one every three days!

 

And people have been reading them.

 

I’ve had more than 364,000 hits – about the same as in 2016. This puts the total views over the 1 million mark at more than 1,216,000! That’s quite a landmark for a blog that’s only been around since July, 2014. And it doesn’t count all the readers I get from articles reposted on the Badass Teachers Association Blog, Huffington Post, Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive, Alternet, BillMoyers.com or other sites.

 

I’ve also gotten 1,510 more people to follow me for a total of 12,845.

 

I’m so honored that readers still like coming to this site for news and commentary. As long as you care to enter those virtual doors, I’ll be here, hunched over my computer, pounding away at the keys.

 

So without further ado, let’s take a look back at the top 10 articles from this blog that got the Inter-webs humming:


10) Teacher Appreciation Week is a Pathetic Joke!

Published: May 10, 2017 Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 3.38.28 PM

 

 

Views: 4,320

 

 

Description: At the end of every school year we get Teacher Appreciation Week. It’s nice. Educators get free donuts and cookies, a pat on the head and then the rest of the year we get all the blame for society’s problems without any additional funding, repealing terrible policies or even acknowledgement of what the real issues are in our schools. It’s a sham. Someone had to say it, so I did. Thanks for the snack, but it takes a village, folks! Get off your butts and take some responsibility!

 

 

Fun Fact: Some people, even teachers, were really upset by this article. They thought it was ungrateful. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly appreciative for any crumb the public wants to give us, teachers, but I’m not going to let it pass as if that counts as true support. Salving your conscience isn’t enough. We need true allies to get down in the mud and fight with us. Otherwise, it’s just an empty gesture.

 

 

 


9) White Privilege, Public Schools and Ugly Christmas Sweaters

 

Published: Dec 22 Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 1.02.56 PM

 

 

Views: 4,324

 

 

Description: This one’s hot off the press! It describes a situation at one of the schools were I’ve taught over the years and how dress code policies can support white privilege. They’re the broken windows policing of academia, and we need to put much more thought into them before laying down blanket restrictions.

 

 

Fun Fact: Some readers took exception to this piece because they thought I didn’t do enough to stop a wayward administrator despite the fact that I never said what I did or didn’t do. Some even complained that it was dumb to simply acknowledge racism and racist policies and actions. I don’t know what world they’re living in. White folks voted for Donald J. Trump to be President. We’ve got a long way to go, and acknowledging everyday prejudice seems a worthy goal to me.

 

 

 


8) America’s Founding Fathers Were Against School Choice

Published: Feb 16 3551131_f520

 

 

Views: 4,483

 

 

Description: The entire premise of school privatization goes against the founding principles of our nation. We were born out of the Enlightenment, not the profit motive. Our founders would look on in horror at charter and voucher schools. Though they aren’t perfect, only truly public schools embody the ideals of the Revolution. True conservatives and true patriots would support that system, not strive to blow it up for personal financial gain.

 

 

Fun Fact: Some people took issue with an appeal to the founders who were not exactly perfect. It’s true. In practice many of them did not live up to their own high ideals. However, who does? It is the ideal that matters, not the clay feet of our forebears.

 

 

 


7) Middle School Suicides Double As Common Core Testing Intensifies

 

Published: July 24 Screen Shot 2017-07-24 at 10.35.30 AM

 

 

Views: 5,800

 

 

Description: Teen suicides are up – especially among middle school age children. At the same time, we’ve been testing these kids into the ground. More standardized assessments – and these are unnecessarily more difficult to pass Common Core assessments. This is exactly what happens in countries that put such emphasis on testing – they have a higher suicide rate. It’s no wonder that this is happening here, too. Policymakers want us to be more like Asian countries? Be careful what you wish for!

 

 

Fun Fact: This article infuriated the good folks at the Education Post. Peter Cunningham had his flunkies attack me on Twitter complaining that I was an angry white dude making undue correlations. Yet every other explanation for the fact of increased middle school suicides was merely a correlation, too. Proving causation is almost impossible. It is just as reasonable – even more so – to conclude that testing is having an impact on the suicide rate as to intuit the cause being increased reliance on social media. The big money folks don’t want us making the connection I made here. All the more reason to believe there is truth behind it.

 

 

 


6) School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less.

 

Published: Oct. 6 fake1

 

 

Views: 7,880

 

 

 

Description: School choice is a misnomer. It’s school privatization. It has very little to do with providing more options for parents or students. It’s about allowing big corporations to avoid public school regulations and profit off your child swiping your tax dollars. School choice is merely a marketing term.

 

 

Fun Fact: I must have really pissed someone off when I wrote this one because it caused Facebook to block me for a week. No matter. Readers liked this one so much they shared it for me all over. Why was I targeted? It could be personal since charter school cheerleader Campbell Brown is literally the arbiter of truth at Facebook. Or it could be the social media site’s attempt to bully me into spending money on advertising. Either way, their attempted censorship didn’t work.

 

 


5) Dear Teachers, Don’t Be Good Soldiers for the EdTech Industry

 

Published: Sept 3 FullSizeRender

 

 

Views: 8,358

 

 

Description: As teachers, we’re often expected to use new technology in our classrooms. However, we’re rarely involved in the decision making process. We’re rarely allowed to decide which technology to use and sometimes even how to use it. Software packages are just handed down from administration or school board. However, the EdTech Industry is not our friend. More often than not it is unscrupulous in the ways it is willing to profit off of our students through data mining, competency based learning and a variety of privacy threatening schemes. It’s up to us to be brave enough to say, “No.”

 

 

Fun Fact: I was surprised by how much the piece resonated with readers. So many other educators said they felt they were being bullied into using apps or programs that they thought were of low quality or downright harmful. Sure, there were some who called me a luddite, but the fact remains: we shouldn’t be using technology for technology’s sake. We should be doing so only to help students learn. That requires us to use our best judgment, not follow orders like good soldiers.

 

 

 


 

4) Teachers Don’t Want All This Useless Data

 

Published: June 23 26948475_l-too-much-data

 

 

Views: 12,459

 

 

Description: Administrators love to gift teachers with tons and tons of data. They bury us under reams of standardized test results and expect us to somehow use that nonsense to inform our teaching. It’s crazy. We already collect authentic data on our students for 180 days a year in the classroom in the course of our teaching. Yet they think these mass produced corporate evaluated snap shots are going to somehow change everything? That’s not how you help educators. It’s how you abdicate any responsibility yourself.

 

 

Fun Fact: This one really took off especially on the Huffington Post. Many readers seemed to be truly surprised that teachers felt this way. No authentic educator gives in to being data driven. We’re data informed but student driven. And if you want us to do something else, you don’t have the best interests of the kids at heart.

 

 


 

3) PA Legislature Plans Taking Away Teachers’ Sick Days

 

Published: Feb 2 thumbnail_teachers-sick-719435

 

 

Views: 17,702

 

 

Description: This was another tone deaf proclamation from the Republican majority in Harrisburg. It was pure meat for the regressive base in gerrymandered districts that if passed they knew would never be signed by our Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. It turns out the backlash was such that they didn’t even have the courage to put it to a vote.

 

 

Fun Fact: I never expected this one to be nearly as popular as it was. Usually articles about Pennsylvania get a few hundred local readers and that’s it. But this one infuriated everyone. How dare lawmakers propose this! Don’t they know how many bacteria teachers are exposed to!? Do they want us to come to school sick and spread the disease to our students!? I’d like to think that the article had something to do with this terrible piece of legislation disappearing, but I have no evidence to support it. However, I can say that it will probably be back when they think no one is looking, and it will still make me sick.

 

 

 


 

2) U.S. Public Schools Are NOT Failing. They’re Among the Best in the World

 

 

Published: Jan 29 surprised-kid-investor-050213

 

 

Views: 23,841

 

 

Description: Everyone says public schools are failing. I call bullshit. It depends on how you’re evaluating them, and – frankly – we’re not being fair to our American education system. Sure. There are plenty of ways we can improve, but there’s a lot we’re doing right, too. In fact, many of the things we get right, few other systems do around the world. We excel in our ideals. If we just had the courage of our convictions, our system would be beyond the moon! Even as it is, we have much to celebrate. And other nations would do well to emulate us in these ways.

 

 

Fun Fact: I’m quite proud of this one. It’s the only article in the Top 10 here that was included in my book. For the definitive version, you’ll have to go there. Some sections received major rewrites and clarifications. I think the published version is much better. But no matter which version you choose, I’m proud to have an answer for all those out there spreading the myth that our education system is an irredeemable mess. They want us to get rid of the good and replace it with more bad. I say we keep the good and build on it.

 

 


 

1) Ignorance and Arrogance – the Defining Characteristics of the Betsy DeVos Hearing

 

Published: Jan 18 betsydevos-png-crop-cq5dam_web_1280_1280_png

 

 

Views: 28,670

 

 

Description: Betsy DeVos’ confirmation hearing was an absolute horror show. It’s even worse when you consider she was confirmed by the Republican majority in a tie vote that was broken by Vice President Mike Pence (that still sends shivers down my spine). Here was someone who knows next to nothing about public education except that she wants to destroy it. She wouldn’t commit to protecting students rights even those under the umbrella of special education. There’s more I could say but I just threw up in my mouth a little bit. Excuse me.

 

 

Fun Fact: I’m honored that so many readers turned to my blog for commentary about this. It was a moment of shared horror that hasn’t weakened much in the subsequent months. We’re all just waiting for sanity to return but at least we can do so together. We’re all in this side-by-side and hand-in-hand. We can defeat the Betsy DeVos’ and the Donald Trump’s of the world if we stay strong. It could happen any day now.

 

 


 

Gadfly’s Other Year End Round Ups

This wasn’t the first year I’ve done a countdown of the year’s greatest hits. I usually write one counting down my most popular articles (like the one you just read from 2017) and one listing articles that I thought deserved a second look. Here are all my end of the year articles since I began this crazy journey in 2014:

 

2016

Worse Than Fake News – Ignored News. Top 5 Education Stories You May Have Missed in 2016

ignoring-wisdom

 

Goodbye, 2016, and Good Riddance – Top 10 Blog Post by Me From a Crappy Year

screen-shot-2016-12-27-at-3-29-49-am


 2015

Gadfly’s Choice – Top 5 Blogs (By Me) You May Have Missed from 2015

 

Screen shot 2016-01-02 at 11.01.09 PM

 

Who’s Your Favorite Gadfly? Top 10 Blog Posts (By Me) That Enlightened, Entertained and Enraged in 2015

Screen shot 2015-12-30 at 12.57.49 AM


2014

Off the Beaten Gadfly – the Best Education Blog Pieces You Never Read in 2014

Wonderfull illusion art painting

 

Top 10 Education Blog Posts (By Me) You Should Be Reading Right Now!

computer-people-png-300x202


Still can’t get enough Gadfly? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

book-2

I Wrote a Book! Yeah. I Can’t Believe It Either.

book-4

 

How did this happen?

It was only three and a half years ago that I sat down at my computer and decided to write my first blog.

And now I’ve got a book coming out from Garn Press “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

Like the title says, I’m just a public school teacher. I’m not important enough to write a book.

A blog? Sure. That could disappear any day now.

All it would take is WordPress deleting the site or maybe the power goes out and never comes back or a zombie apocalypse or who knows…

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.

 

front-cover

 

That won’t just poof out of existence if someone unplugs the wrong server.

It would take some sort of conscious effort for a book to go away. People would have to actively work to destroy it. They’d have to pile those rectangular paper bundles in a fire pit, douse them in gasoline and light a match.

Otherwise, they’d just maybe sit in a basement somewhere in boxes, unopened and collecting dust.

Or could it really be that people might actually crack the spine and read the things?

It’s a strange sort of birth this transition from cyberspace to 3-dimensional reality.

And it’s about to transpire with selected bits of my writing.

I am flabbergasted. Shocked. Almost in denial that this is really happening.

 

ebook-1

 

Did I mention that I’m a public school teacher? No one is supposed to listen to us.

School policy is made without us. Decisions impacting our kids and our careers are made by people who haven’t seen the classroom in years – if ever. And when we politely raise our hands to let people know that something isn’t working, the best we can hope for is to be ignored; the worst is to be bullied into silence.

Yet my blog has 1,184,000 hits. I’ve got 12,545 followers on Twitter and via email. And now – a book.

So, let me propose a theory: the people at Garn Press are just incredibly nice.

Denny, David and Benjamin Taylor are just fulfilling one of those Make a Wish thingies for a downtrodden soul like me.

Maybe I’ve got some sort of debilitating disease and no one’s told me yet.

 

book-2

 

The book officially comes out on Nov. 28. So when I’m handed my first actual copy, I’d say it’s even money that the next thing I’ll be handed is some medical document showing I only have moments left to live.

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

It reminds me of a few lines from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:

Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

In my 40-some years, I’ve tried to do that. I’ve tried to make some lasting mark on the world. Tried to leave it a better place than I found it.

 

book-1

 

I started as a journalist.

It was great! I could shake up a whole community just by writing something, uncovering some hidden truth, asking a tough question.

But I needed to eat, too, and you can’t do that when you’re on call 24-hours a day for nearly minimum wage under the constant threat of downsizing and meddling by the publisher and advertisers.

So I got my masters degree and became a school teacher.

And it’s been great! I can alter the course of a child’s entire life by helping her learn to read, encouraging her to write and getting her to think and ask questions.

But I’m under constant threat by bureaucrats who know nothing about pedagogy and child psychology trying to force me to do things in ways I know are wrong, detrimental or prejudicial.

So I became an activist, too.

And it’s been great. I joined groups of likeminded individuals and we took to the streets and the legislature and lawmakers offices and parent meetings and teachers conferences and just about anywhere you could stir things up and get people to start asking the right questions.

That led directly to the blog and now the book.

 

book-3

 

So what’s in it?

In short, it’s my hand-selected favorite articles. These are the ones that either got the most readers or that have a special place in my heart or both.

And this summer I sat at my kitchen table and intensively revised almost all of them. Even if you’ve read them before, these are definitive versions. In some cases, they’re considerably different than the versions you might still find up on-line.

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

But, if I’m honest, the people I most had in mind reading it were my daughter and my students.

One day my little girl will grow up and she may wonder what her old man thought about X, Y and Z.

What did Daddy think about racism? What did he think a good teacher did? What were his thoughts about politics, prejudice and reform?

I can see some of my students doing the same.

Perhaps I flatter myself that they may dimly remember me – their crazy 7th or 8th grade Language Arts teacher. I wonder what Mr. Singer would have said about… whatever.

I guess this is my way of telling them.

It’s a time capsule of my present day thoughts. And a guide for how to get to a better future.

You’re cordially invited to read it.

If you’re a longtime follower of this blog, let me just say – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I never would have had the courage to continue without you.

If you’re new to my writing, welcome aboard. I hope I’ve given you reason to keep reading.

And I hope that one or two of you will be inspired to seek out a certain oblong bundle of papers wrapped in a blue and white cover proclaiming my undying, self-chosen, provocative descriptor:

Gadfly on the Wall.

ebook-2 (1)

(Oh! And a special shout out to Denisha Jones and Yohuru Williams for writing incredible introductions to the book! I am beyond honored!)


UPDATE:

The book is now available for purchase at Amazon.com. Just click here!

I am also donating 10% of all proceeds to the Badass Teachers Association. 

I Was Blocked From Facebook for Criticizing School Privatization

facebook

 

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
-George Orwell

 

I have had many strange experiences as an education blogger.

People have adapted my writing into a play.

People have written to express a sincere desire for my death.

I’ve had a teacher send me pictures of essays his composition students wrote in response to one of my articles.

 
And I’ve had people email my workplace demanding I be fired.

I guess Internet fame is a mixed bag.

But after more than three years of blogging about education and social justice issues while teaching in the public school system, there’s one thing I’ve never experienced before: censorship.

This is social media, after all.

I’ve got no advertisers to please, no editor breathing down my neck. I can write whatever I want.

That’s the benefit of being a blogger. No one can stop you from telling the truth.

Well, no one except Facebook, apparently.

For the first time in my blogging career, I was blocked from Mark Zuckerberg’s social networking platform because I had the audacity to post my blog to it.

Now keep in mind I’ve been doing just that every week since July, 2014.

Moreover, the article I posted was in no way different from my previous work.

The article is called “School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less.” You can read it HERE

But almost as soon as I posted it to the Facebook page I keep for my blog, Gadfly on the Wall, I got a message saying I was blocked for a week for “violating community standards.”

What community, exactly, is that?

My article contains no hate speech. For once I even managed to control my own potty mouth.

This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.

It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.

I don’t understand how that “violates community standards.”

A blogger friend of mine tells me that someone probably saw my article and reported it to Facebook as spam. That’s happened to him multiple times, he says, especially when he criticizes groups like Teach for America.

Perhaps that’s what’s happened here.

Some folks get so furious when I criticize their charter and voucher schools.

Maybe they saw my latest piece and just wanted to silence me.

I don’t know.

I suppose another option is that it came from Zuckerberg, himself.

He’s a big fan of school privatization. Perhaps he changed Facebook guidelines to crack down on people like me who throw shade on his pet school reforms.
Or maybe my work was targeted because I’m critical of President Donald Trump. I did, after all, write an article this week called “Donald Trump is a Pathetic Excuse For a Human Being” that includes a picture of the chief executive as a poop emoji.

 

Or maybe it was the National Rifle Association (NRA). The article before the school privatization piece was called “Guns and Profit – Why We’ll Do Absolutely Nothing New After This Las Vegas Shooting.” It was picked up by Commondreams.org, the LA Progressive and other left-leaning sites. Perhaps the firearms lobby had had enough.

Who knows? I’ve pissed off a lot of people in three years.

But I find it hard to believe I was actively targeted. I mean, this is still America, right?

Right?

Another option might be a rogue algorithm.

Facebook is known to use various processes or sets of rules to govern calculations about what should and should not be allowed on the site. After all, they can’t leave all these decisions to living, breathing, human beings. That would cost too much money. Better to leave it to bots and computers.

Perhaps something in my article tripped their robotic alarm bells. (ROBOT VOICE: He’s against Competency Based Education! EXTERMINATE!)

I guess I’ll probably never know.

In the meantime, Twitter is still open for my business. I can still share links in 140 characters or less – with hastags. And, the best part is that Trump might see it!

But what about friends not on the Twitterverse?

How do I even let people know what happened to me? Send a million separate emails!? Pick up the phone and – yuck – talk to people!?

I sent a note to friends through Facebook Messenger about what happened, but that soon stopped working on me. I can’t message anyone else now. Still, the story seems to have leaked.

People who know what’s happened have been kind enough to share the article. It’s being read and appreciated.

I don’t know if my Facebook imprisonment has had a major effect on its distribution. But it’s probably had some dampening effect.

I have to admit, it’s kind of frustrating.

After all this time, many of us rely on Facebook for so much. I’m a member of the Badass Teachers Association, a group of more than 64,000 members who use the social media platform to discuss, plan and engage in various actions against corporate school reform. I’m also in United Opt Out National. It’s increasingly difficult for me to help plan our protest in Washington, DC, without Facebook.

It never really hit me before how much of our lives flow through this one network.

If someone wanted to disrupt political organizations dedicated to reforming the status quo, censoring people and posts on Facebook could be very effective.

I haven’t been silenced, but I’ve been effectively muted. Most of my readers see my work through Facebook. Without it, my writing is out there, but much fewer people probably are in contact with it.

So I suppose that brings me to you, intrepid reader.

Somehow you found this article.

Assuming Zuckerberg and his bots don’t change their minds, I probably won’t be able to post this article to Facebook. So if you saw it, you found it somewhere else. Or perhaps a friendly radical took a chance and posted it on Facebook, themselves, defiant in the possibility that the social media gestapo might crash down on them.

Will you please do the same?

Share my story.

Let the world know what happened to me today.

It’s not the most important thing that’s happened this week. And hopefully it will all be settled in seven interminable days. 168 hours. 10,080 minutes. But who’s counting?

Or – who knows – perhaps I’ll be cleared of all charges, write a new article and the same thing will happen when I try to post it.

I don’t know.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend some time off the computer.

Maybe I’ll open the doors and windows, let in some natural light and see what this “outside world” is like that people used to talk about.

See you in a week.

Live from Facebook Jail,

The Gadfly on the Wall

#FreeGadfly

What Diane Ravitch Means To Me

img_6050

Am I crazy?

That’s what many of us had been wondering before we read Diane Ravitch.

As teachers, parents and students, we noticed there was something terribly wrong with our national education policy. The Emperor has no clothes, but no one dared speak up.

Until Diane Ravitch.

We were told our public schools are failing – yet we could see they had never done better than they were doing now.

We were told we should individualize our lessons – but standardize our tests!? We were told teachers are the most important factor in a child’s education – so we need to fire more of them!? We were told the best way to save a struggling school – was to close it!? We were told every child has a right to a quality education – yet we should run our schools like businesses with winners and losers!?

It was absurd, and the first person to question it was Diane Ravitch.

In doing so, she saved many people’s sanity, she saved a generation of students and educators, gave parents clarity and direction, and she started a social movement fighting against the preposterous policies being handed down from clueless businessmen and bureaucrats.

This weekend the Network for Public Education will honor Dr. Ravitch at a dinner on Long Island for her tireless work fighting against this corporate school reform.

I wish I could be there in person to tell her what she means to me and others like me. Instead I offer this modest tribute to a person who changed my life and the lives of so many others.

I was a different person when I read “Life and Death of the American School System” back in 2010.

I had been in the classroom for about seven years, but I was just starting to feel like a real teacher.

I had just completed my National Boards Certification and felt like I wasn’t just surviving with my students anymore but could actually make intelligent decisions about how best to educate them.

And a big part of that was Dr. Ravitch’s book.

For a long time I had noticed that things weren’t as they should be in public schools.

I had put in a great deal of work to get my masters in teaching, to engage in hundreds of hours of professional development, not to mention three to four extra hours every day at the school passed dismissal time doing tutoring, leading extracurricular activities, grading and planning for the next day. I spent hundreds of dollars every month buying books, pencils, erasers, even snacks and meals for my students. Yet the school still treated me – it treated all of us – like greeters at WalMart.

We were highly educated, highly dedicated professionals but our opinions were rarely sought on policy matters. We were the experts in our fields and in our students who we saw everyday more than many of their own parents. Yet we were told where to be and when, what to teach and how long to teach it. We were told how to assess the success of our students and ourselves. And we were told how to best remediate and what else we should be doing that we never had time to do.

Was I really such a failure, I remember thinking. I work hard with my students everyday, see them make tremendous strides and still the standardized tests say it isn’t enough. What was I doing wrong?

Then I read Diane’s book and saw the whole thing from a different perspective.

It wasn’t me that was wrong. It was the system.

It wasn’t the students that were failing. It was the tests that didn’t assess fairly.

It wasn’t the schools that were deficient. It was the way they were resourced, valued and set up to fail by government and industry.

That book and its 2013 sequel, “Reign of Error,” really opened my eyes. They did for many people. Without them, I’m not sure I would still be a teacher today. I’m not sure I could have kept at it thinking that my best efforts could never be enough, that my exhaustion, my fire, my skills would never bridge the gap.

Diane Ravitch put it all in context of the social and historical struggle I had learned about, myself, in high school. I was engaged in the good fight for the civil rights of my students. Brown vs. Board wasn’t just a story in some textbook. I could see how the outmoded excuse of “separate but equal” was still being given today in my own increasingly segregated school and segregated workplace. Why was it that most of my academic students were poor and black? Why was it that the honors kids were mostly upper middle class and white? Why was it that my school situated in a poorer neighborhood was crumbling and the school a few blocks over in the richer neighborhood looked like the Taj Mahal by comparison? And why was it that teachers in my district got $10-20,000 less in their paychecks with the same experience than those in the wealthier community?

Dr. Ravitch made sense of all of that for me. And it made me very angry.

When colleagues came to me to discuss how they wished we had merit pay, I could turn to her books and see how it was a trap. When students came into my classroom after being kicked out of the local charter school, I had an explanation for why they were so academically behind their peers. And when contrarians complained about our union dues and wondered what they were getting in return for their money, I could give them an intelligent answer.

Diane Ravitch gave me the light that made sense of my whole professional world. I had been living and working in it for years, but I never really understood it before. And that gave me the courage to act.

When my state legislature cut almost $1 billion from K-12 education, armed with her books and blogs, I volunteered to lead educators in social actions against them. I sat down with legislators asking them to help. And when they refused, I knew we could protest outside their offices, make noise and the story would get to the media.

Ultimately it didn’t convince the legislature to heal all the cuts, but it helped minimize them, and when the next election cycle came around, we sent the governor packing.

I read Diane’s blog religiously and through her found so many other teachers, professors, parents, and students whose stories weren’t being told by the mainstream media. In fact, whenever so-called journalists deigned to talk about education at all, they rarely even included us in the conversation. So I started my own blog to give voice to what I was seeing.

Through Diane I found a community of likeminded people. I found other teachers on social media who were standing up for their students and communities. I found the Badass Teachers Association and joined and acted and was invited into leadership. We all loved Diane Ravitch and apparently she loved us, too. She became a member, herself, and encouraged us to keep fighting.

Then with Anthony Cody she started the Network for Public Education where even more educators from around the country joined forces. I went to the second annual conference in Chicago and got to meet her in person.

I’ll never forget it. There were hundreds of people gathered together, and she was just standing in the hall talking with a small group. I said to myself, “Oh my God! That’s Diane Ravitch! She’s right there! I could go up and talk to her!”

I looked around and everyone else standing with me had the same look like we’d all been thinking the same thing. Somehow I mustered the courage to walk up to her.

They say you should never meet your idols, but I’m infinitely thankful I didn’t listen to that advice. Diane was eminently approachable. Here I found that same voice I had read so many times, but also a generosity and a goodwill you couldn’t get from the page alone.

She knew who I was, had read my blog and asked me to send her more of my writing. I couldn’t believe it. I thought she was just being polite, but she gave me her email address. I sent her a few articles and she published them on her own site.

Since that day I’ve talked with Diane a few times and she’s always the same. Her intelligence is combined with a boundless empathy and insatiable curiosity about people and ideas. She really cares to know you, to hear your story and to help if she can.

When I had a heart attack about a month ago, she sent me an email telling me to take care of myself. She suggested I change my diet and exercise before confiding that she was having trouble doing this, herself.

Who does that? I’ve never experienced anything like it. I’ve read authors before and maybe written to them, maybe even had them write back. But I’ve never met someone like her who’s actually cared enough to relate to me as an equal, as someone who is important enough to be taken seriously.

In the media, talking heads will sometimes criticize her for changing her mind, because she did do an about face. She had once been Assistance Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush where she advocated for standardized testing and the corporate model in education. But when she saw what that really meant, she changed her mind.

To the media, that’s a defect, but to me, it’s a strength. It’s how we learn. We come up with a theory, we test it and if it doesn’t work, we come up with another one. Her philosophy of education is a response to the real world.

That’s what teachers do everyday. We try to reach our students one way and if that doesn’t work, we try something else.

Perhaps that’s really why so many educators have embraced her. She’s like us – a passionate, compassionate empiricist.

I can’t say enough good things about her. I can’t put into words how important Diane Ravitch is to my life. Her ideas changed me. Her ethics invigorated me. Her friendship humbles me.

I’d love to be there this weekend to say all this to her, but I really don’t need to make the trip. Diane Ravitch is always with me. She is in my heart every day.

I love you, Diane.

How Far We Have Come Fighting Against the Testocracy: Network for Public Education Conference Ramblings

GetAttachmentThumbnail

Kelly Ann Braun said it best.

 

“Do you remember three years ago when I said this would all be over in 6 months?”

 

And we all laughed. Me the loudest, because back then I had thought the same darn thing.

 

Corporate education reform is on its last legs. Once we tell people about the terrible mistakes of standardized testing and Common Core, it will all be over in an election cycle or two.

 

Kelly, that incredibly dedicated member of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) from Ohio, hadn’t been the only one.

 

It seemed so reasonable back then. Once it became common knowledge, our leaders couldn’t keep perpetuating policies that harm our children, we thought.

 

No one would actually continue to stomp on the futures of our little kids once we’d pointed out that that was what they were actually doing! Right?

 

Now the Network for Public Education is having its third annual conference – this one in troubled Raleigh, North Carolina. And far from being on its last legs, the testocracy is mightier than ever with a new federal education policy, the Every Student Succeeds Act, rebranding and refreshing its same horrific disdain for the young.

 

But that’s not really news, is it?

 

The powerful have always tried to find ways to keep the poor and minorities under heel. It’s a struggle as old as civilization, itself.

 

What’s new is us.

 

Yes, us – the ragtag band of rebels and revolutionaries who gather together every year to celebrate our victories, lament our losses and plan for the future.

 

This is a real community – stronger than anything I’ve ever experienced. During the year we all have our separate support systems, be they Badass Teachers, United Opt Out, our teachers unions, our communities or – for many of us – some unique combination.

 

But once a year we all come together from our separate corners of the country (and in some cases beyond) to commune, to gather strength from each other so we can carry on the fight.

 

I cannot express to you the power and the glory I got this morning listening to Chicago parent activist Rousemary Vega talking about the pain of losing her children’s community school. This is still a raw wound for her, gushing blood. One moment she was heartbreaking sorrow; the next she was frightening strength and determination.

 

She told us how to learn from her example, how to put up a fight, how to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to ever do this again. And when she was done and I had dried the tears that she had somehow cried with my eyes, I found that I had a tiny Rousemary inside my heart. I will never forget her story. I hope I can call on even a fraction of her strength.

 

Later I sat in on a conference about Competency Based Education. Two of the founders of United Opt Out, Denisha Jones and Morna Mcdermott, gave the best presentation on the topic I have yet heard.

 

This is the future of standardized testing. It goes something like this: you don’t want a big high stakes test at the end of the school year? Okay. How about we sit your kids in front of a computer all day, everyday, and they can take endless high stakes mini-tests?

 

Morna would keep apologizing that what she was saying sounded too far-fetched to be true, but then she’d prove its veracity. Subsequently, Denisha explained how proponents of this new educational scheme had slipped this all under our noses by redefining and co-opting language we all thought we knew. You want “individualized” education? Fine! Kids can sit by themselves as individuals and take these standardized test snippets – in perpetuity.

 

I left them with a much clearer understanding of how this was happening and exactly what kind of push back is necessary.

 

Perhaps most inspiring so far though was the keynote address by the Rev. William Barber, president of North Carolina’s NAACP and organizer of Moral Mondays. He put the whole fight in perspective.

 

History, philosophy, economics, religion all mixed together into a picture that would have been grim if he hadn’t made it so beautiful. Our children are being harmed by the standardization and privatization of public education. The ones hurt the most are those who are poor and minorities, but that doesn’t make them any less “our” children.

 

This fight can’t just be about your school and your child. We have to love and care about all children and all schools. Only then can we really have a public school system worthy of the next generation.

 

Finally, the moment came when I couldn’t just sit in the audience and passively take all this in. I was actually on the program – I was part of a bloggers panel!

 

It was called “Blogging and Other Tools to Educate, Persuade and Mobilize Targeted Audiences.” It featured the amazing talents of Julian Vasquez Heilig, Susan DeFresne, Dora Taylor, Anthony Cody, Jonathan Pelto and – somehow – me!

 

It was the first time I had presented anything at one of these conferences. Sure I’m in front of my students every day, but this was a room full of adults, many with PhDs or more, who really know what they are talking about.

 

I had agonized over what I was going to say, wrote out a few remarks and then was told by fellow BAT and activist Gus Morales that I shouldn’t read it. I should just go with the moment. That’s what he says he did during his TWO TED Talks!

 

I practiced. I tried it his way, but I just couldn’t make it work. So when my time came, I compromised. I talked off the cuff when I could and then returned to the script when I couldn’t.

 

It seemed to work. I got laughs. I got applause. It looks like no one noticed how utterly terrified I was. (Sh! Our secret.)

 

And so another year’s worth of inspiration has ended – all stuffed into that first day.

 

We’re a different group than we were last year. We’re more somber, perhaps. Maybe a bit more seasoned, more knowledgeable.

 

There’s a sadness that society hasn’t joined us to crush those who would harm our children. But there’s also a renewed commitment to the struggle. A feeling of our place in history.

 

We hear the marching feet of those who came before. We see their pale upturned faces, their sad smiles. And somewhere in the distance that may be the sound of our own children marching in our footsteps continuing this same fight.

 

We will have victories. We may end high stakes testing. We may abolish Common Core. But we may never see the promised land.

 

One day perhaps our children will get there. And the only thing we have to propel them to that place is our love and activism.

 

At the Network for Public Education, you begin to realize these are really the same thing.