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.


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.

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.

Creating a Charter or Voucher School is Like Designing a Utopia – Biases Prevail



Create your own Utopia!


Go ahead! Don’t be shy!


What kind of government would you like? Republic, Monarchy, Dictatorship, Anarchy? Some combination or original system?


It’s all up to you.


How would you structure the economy? Capitalistic, Socialistic, Communistic? Something else?


You decide.


What would a family look like in your perfect society? How would careers be prepared for and chosen? What level of technology would you choose?


All these and more must be answered when creating the ideal community for you and I to live in.


And that’s exactly what I had my 7th grade students do this week in preparation for reading Lois Lowery’s science fiction novel, “The Giver.”


In small groups, my little ones clustered together at their tables and gave social planning a go.


It was stunning the variety of societies they created.


One group had a nominal anarchy with an inherited monarchy controlling the military. Another had an oligarchy of the smartest people who got the best grades to make all the decisions while everyone else played video games.



One of my favorites though was a group who decided to let women make all the rules except who could marry whom. That was decided only by the men, but women got to decide when to have kids and how many to have.


It was fascinating to see how their little minds worked.


But it was all a preview to Lowery’s novel of a futuristic society where utopia soon descends into dystopia.


As it often does.


So it made me wonder about the most utopian thinking we find in modern life – education policy.


The economists, think tank partisans and lobbyists love to denigrate the public school system and pine for an alternative where corporate interests and business people make all the rules.


Sure they have literally billions of dollars behind them and a gallery of famous faces to give them legitimacy.



But they’re really just engaged in a more high stakes version of the assignment my kids did this week.


After all, what is a charter school but some naïve person’s ideal of the perfect educational institution? What’s a voucher school but a theocracy elevated to the normative secular level?


In each case, these world builders do the same as my middle schoolers – they build a system that would be perfect – from their own individual point of view.


In his book, “Utopian Studies: A Guide,” Prof. Gregory Eck writes:


Because… utopia is rooted in theory, it will not always work.  In fact, more is written about the failure and impossibility of utopia than of its success, probably because the ideal has never been reached.



And why is that ideal never reached? Margaret Atwood, the author of more than a few dystopian novels, has an answer.


“Every utopia,” she says, “…faces the same problem: What do you do with the people who don’t fit in?”


One person’s paradise is another person’s Hell.


So the idea of designing one system that fits all is essentially bound to fail.


But doesn’t that support the charter and voucher school ideal? They are marketed, after all, as “school choice.” They allegedly give parents and children a choice about which schools to attend.


Unfortunately, this is just a marketing term.


Charter and voucher schools don’t actually provide more choice. They provide less.


Think about it.


Who get to choose whether you attend one of these schools? Not you.


Certainly you have to apply, but it’s totally up to the charter or voucher school operators whether they want to accept you.


It is the public school system that gives you choice. You decide to live in a certain community, you get to go to that community’s schools. Period.


Certainly some communities are more accessible than others, and they are more accessible for some people than others – whether that be for economic, social, racial or religious reasons.


But you have much more choice here than you do from a bunch of nameless bureaucrats making decisions in secret that they never have to justify and for which they will never be held accountable.


What about curriculum? Don’t charter and voucher schools offer choice of curriculum?


No. They have one way of doing things. They have one curriculum. Either accept it or get out.


This is how we do things at KIPP. This is how we do things at Success Academy. You don’t like it, there’s the door.


By contrast, public schools tailor their curriculum to meet the needs of individual students. Each teacher does something different for every child in his or her charge whether those children are in special education, regular education, Emotional Support, the English as a Second Language Program, the academic or honors track.


Charter and voucher schools are naive utopias.


They propose one ideal way to teach all children and they expect parents to jump at their cultish schemes. All students will wear these sorts of uniforms and chant these sorts of phrases in response to these orders, etc. All children will be expected to provide marketing research to corporations on competency based learning programs and let their data be mined by these advertisers.


Because at these schools the emphasis is not on the curriculum. It’s on the system, itself.


These are privatized schools. They are schools run by private industry – not the public.


Decisions are not made by duly-elected representatives of the community in the light of day. They are made behind closed doors by corporate stooges.


THAT is the great innovation behind these schools. Everything else is mere window dressing.


If one of these schools found a better way to teach, public schools could pick it up and do it even better because the teachers and principals would be accountable for doing it correctly.


Funny how that’s never happened.


These so-called lab schools have never produced a single repeatable, verifiable innovation that works for all students without cherry picking the best and brightest.


Not once.


That’s because the utopia these policy wonks are interested in building isn’t for the students or parents. It’s for the investors.


They want to maximize return on investment. They want to decrease costs and increase profits. And whatever happens to the students is purely secondary.


It may be the ideal situation for the moneymen, but it’s often pure dystopia for the students. Charter schools are closed without notice, the money stolen under cloak of night. Voucher schools fool kids into thinking creationism is science and then are no where to be found when reputable colleges want nothing to do with their graduates.


Let me be the first to say that public school is no utopia.


We have real problems.


We need adequate, equitable and sustainable funding. We need integration. We need autonomy, respect and competitive pay for teachers. We need protection from corporate vultures in the standardized testing, publishing, edtech and school privatization industries.


But at heart, public schools are a much better choice because they don’t pretend to be perfect.


They are constantly changing. Teachers are constantly innovating.


A handful of years ago, I never had students design their own utopias before reading “The Giver.” But a colleague came up with the idea, I modified it for my students and we were off.


If I teach the same course next year, I’d modify it again based on what worked and what didn’t work this year.


I’m not expecting to be perfect.


I’m just doing the best I can.


Or as Jack Carroll puts it:


Perhaps the greatest utopia would be if we could all realize that no utopia is possible; no place to run, no place to hide, just take care of business here and now.



Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Check it out!


Killing Net Neutrality Would Muzzle Many Teacher-Activists 


As a blogger, I’m a big fan of net neutrality.

If the communications giants get to favor or block particular Websites, people-powered blogs like this one probably would become isolated and irrelevant.

As it stands, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to vote Dec. 14 to undo strict regulations on Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon that stops them from slowing down or blocking any sites, apps, or otherwise deciding which content gets to users faster.

If the Republican controlled five-member committee votes as expected, it would muzzle free speech.

It would effectively stifle hundreds, thousands of grassroots activists who’ve taken to the Web to educate and protest against the plutocracy strangling our democratic freedoms.

Think about it.

Close your eyes and imagine a United States where you couldn’t access your favorite Websites without paying a fee or – as in China – maybe even at all.

Want to know why standardized testing is harming our children and their schools? Sorry. That costs extra.

Want to know why Betsy Devos’ latest plan to give your tax dollars to Roy Moore’s Christian Fundamentalist Middle School and Dating Center endangers child welfare? Sorry. That information is no longer available.

Sure, you could probably look it up in the library and find it in a book, but that requires a complete change in how we consume media.

Most of us get our news on-line. We don’t read paper newspapers or glossy photo-print magazines. Books, when we read them, are often occasional pleasures or e-texts.

Searching out such material would take a paradigm shift back to the way we used to do things 10 or 20 years ago. It wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be onerous.

Remember traveling everywhere with a pile of books weighing down your bag, or a newspaper and magazines folded under your arm? People seeking such information would really need to want it.

Moreover, articles published in this way would almost surely become out of date quickly at least in regards to particulars. You can easily write something about the evils of charter and voucher schools in general that will be true for years if not decades, but it won’t as easily apply to individual charter and voucher schools by the time it’s published and been on the shelf for a while.

Additionally, writing and publishing such articles would become increasingly more difficult. Unless individuals or groups of activists bought up archaic printing presses or somehow funded mass media campaigns at Kinko’s and there were likewise an as yet undiscovered distribution engine that could disperse such periodicals across the country and the world – unless all of that, the resistance would be relegated to mostly scholarly tomes.

Take it from me: writing a book is not easy.

I just published my first volume of some of my best blog articles for Garn Press called “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”

I am embarrassingly proud of it, but this would not work for everyday activism.

Even though most of the articles were already written, it took a team of us months to revise them, insert end notes, edit, format, design a cover, market and all the other multidinous things that go into the process.

Whereas, with a blog, I can just write it and press “publish.”

The result isn’t as neat. It isn’t as error-proof. There’s bound to be spelling and grammar problems. It doesn’t pack nearly the authoritative punch. —But it’s so topical and subversive that it can slice through steel.

Campbell Brown can’t publish a billionaire-funded diatribe against those greedy teachers and their damn unions and their precious tenure without an army of teachers taking to the Web and showing her the error of her ways.

Bill Gates can’t send his well-paid trolls off to write op-eds praising Common Core without a grassroots tsunami of educators, parents and students responding with scores of counternarratives throughout the blogosphere.

And it’s net neutrality that allows us to do it.

The democratization of information made possible by the free Internet has greatly empowered the voices of the wise but penurious.

You no longer need a printing press or a think tank or a media empire to get information before the public.

Sure this means that even the lunatic fringe gets a voice in the conversation that is American culture, but it also allows ideas to win or lose based more on merit than money.

If enough people share an article on-line, it gets read. People see it. They know it.

False information is eventually found out, disproven and neutralized. But a factually-based critique of bad policy? That can move mountains. It can change the world.

And it has!

Think of how even neoliberal policymakers have rushed to claim they’re in favor of reducing standardized testing. Longtime standardization supporters like former President Barack Obama had to distance themselves from their own policies or face the torches and pitchforks of moms and dads everywhere.

Think of how Democratic and Republican partisans clamored over each other to denounce Common Core. Heck! The movement was so successful President Donald Trump even jumped on the bandwagon and used it as a rallying cry to help install himself in office.

And think of how the reaction to Trump’s dismal and dimwitted Education Secretary, Devos, caused a stampede away from school vouchers and even to some extent charter schools. Even longtime champions of privatization like Jeb Bush and Cory Booker are afraid to offer even a tentative thumbs up for fear of the Web’s blitzkrieg of Tweets, Facebook posts, blogs and other shade.

None of this would be possible without the Internet and the blogosphere.

None of this would be possible without net neutrality.

It’s no wonder Trump and his cronies want to destroy it. The open communication and debate on the Internet is a clear and present danger to his policies.

It is dangerous to the neoliberals and conservative fascists alike.

Though the movement fighting against corporate education reform has been rightly critical of unlimited technology for technology’s sake in our classrooms, that same confederation owes a great debt to technology for its current power.

We meet on Facebook and plan actions to be conducted IRL – In Real Life. Groups like the Badass Teachers Association, the Network for Public Education and United Opt Out use the technology to spread truth and question authority.

If the life line of net neutrality is severed, so will much of our activist networks.

I know we’re all concerned about competency based education, Teach for America and toxic testing, but we have to make room for net neutrality, too.

The 99% rely on it for the free exchange of ideas and the unhindered expression of our speech.

If the Trump administration crushes that venue, it will seriously weaken our ability to resist.

So before that day comes, exercise your rights.

Raise your voice for net neutrality – before it’s too late.


Please go to and urge the FCC to keep Net Neutrality.

The Staggering Naivety of Those Criticizing Public Schools as Out-of-Date


There is a popular idea going around that public schools need to change because they’re outmoded, obsolete and passé.

While public schools certainly could do with a great deal of change to improve, this criticism is incredibly naïve.

It’s the intellectual equivalent of displaying a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses prominently on your bookshelf without actually having read it.

It’s like demanding everything you eat be gluten free without actually having celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

It’s the conceptual analogue to learning a trendy “word of the day” and trying desperately to fit it into your every conversation regardless of need or propriety.

America’s public school system is incredibly complex. And like most complex things, any criticism of it is at least partially correct.

There are ways in which the system is antiquated and could use updating. But to claim that the entire system should be scrapped in favor of a largely untested, disproven and – frankly – profit-driven model is supremely stupid.

The criticism seems to be well encapsulated in a flashy animated video from Big Picture Learning, a Rhode Island-based charter school network operating 165 schools in 25 states and nine countries. The organization has been heavily praised by the likes of former President Barack Obama and philanthrocapitalist Bill Gates.

Let’s examine the six main components of the video explaining why the charter operators think public schools are out of date and should be replaced:

1) Public Schools are Relics of the Industrial Age 

The criticism goes like this. The public school model was created in the Industrial Age and thus prepares students to be factory workers. All day long in public schools students follow orders and do exactly what they’re told. Today’s workers need different skills. They need creativity, the ability to communicate ideas and collaborate.

First, while it is true that the American public school system was created during the Industrial Revolution, the same thing can be said for the United States, itself. Beginning in 1760 and going until 1840, manufacturing began to dominate the western economy. Does that mean the U.S. Constitution should be scrapped? Clearly our form of government could do with a few renovations, but not by appeal to its temporal genesis, to when it was created.

Second, IS it true that America’s public schools expect students to do nothing but listen to orders and follow them to the letter?

Absolutely not.

In fact, this is exactly what teachers across the country DON’T want their students to do. We work very hard to make sure students have as much choice and ownership of lessons as possible.

We often begin by assessing what they know and what they’d like to know on a given subject. We try to connect it to their lives and experiences. We try to bring it alive and show them how vital and important it is.

Do we exclude creativity, communication and collaboration from our lessons?

Absolutely not.

In my class, creativity is a must. Students are required to write journals, creative fiction, and poetry. They draw pictures, maps, posters, advertisements. They make Keynote presentations, iMovies, audio recordings using Garage Band, create quizzes on Kahoot, etc. And they often do so in small groups where they are required to collaborate.

The idea that students are somehow all sitting in rigid rows while the teacher blabs on and on is pure fantasy. It betrays a complete ignorance of what really goes on in public schools.

2) Lack of Autonomy

The criticism goes that students in public school have no choices. Every minute of the day is controlled by the teacher, principals or other adults. However, in today’s world we need workers who can manage their own time and make their own decisions about what to do and when to do it.

Once again we see a complete ignorance of what goes on in public schools.

Today’s students are not only expected to make decisions and manage their time, they could not pass their classes without doing so.

Teachers often go to great lengths to give students choices. Would you like to read this story or that one? Would you like to demonstrate your learning through a test, a paper, an art project or through a digital medium?

For instance, my students are required to read silently for 15-minutes every other day. But they get to select which books to read. Eventually, they have to complete a project using their self-selected book, but they are in charge of ensuring the book they pick meets the requirements, how much they read each day in class and outside of class, and whether they should complete a given book or pick a new one.

Even when it comes to something as mundane as homework, students have to develop time management. I give my students the homework for the entire week on Monday, and it’s due on Friday. This means they have to decide how much to do each night and make sure it gets done on time.

Today’s students have much more ownership of their learning then I did when I went to school. Those throwing stones at our public school system would know that, if they actually talked to someone in it.

3) Inauthentic Learning

Critics say most of the learning in public schools is inauthentic because it relies on memorization and/or rote learning. It relies on a generic set of knowledge that all children must know and then we measure it with standardized tests. Learning should be deeper and its subjects should be something students intrinsically care about.

Once again…

Actually this one is kind of spot on.

Or at least, it’s partially true.

It accurately represents one kind of curriculum being mandated on public schools from the state and federal government. It’s called corporate education reform, and as pervasive as it is, you’ll also find the overwhelming majority of school teachers and community members against it.

This is why Common Core is so unpopular – especially among teachers. This is why almost everyone wants to reduce standardized testing and the kind of narrowing of the curriculum and teach-to-the-test practices it brings.

However, there’s something incredibly disingenuous about this criticism coming from a charter network chain. The educational practices these critics of public schools often propose replacing this standardization with are often just a rehash of that same standardization using more modern technology.

Business interests, like Big Picture Learning, often propose using competency based education or personalized education programs on computers or devices. These are extremely standardized. They follow the same Common Core standards and use computerized stealth assessments to determine whether students have learned the prescribed standard or not.

In short, yes, corporate education reform should be challenged and defeated. However, as in this instance, often the same people criticizing public schools for these practices don’t want to undo them – they just want to expand them so they can be more effectively monetized by big businesses like them!

4) No Room for Student Interests

Critics say the standardized public school system requires each child to learn the same things in the same ways at the same times. However, each of us are different and have individual interests and passions. The current system has no room for self-discovery, finding out what children enjoy doing, what they’re good at and where they fit in.

Once again, there is some truth to these criticisms.

The corporate education model is guilty of exactly these things. However, teachers have been pushing to include an increasing amount of individualization in lessons.

This struggle is inherent in the essential dichotomy of what it means to be an educator today. We’re told we must individualize our lessons for each student but standardize our assessments. This is fundamentally impossible and betrays a lack of vision from those making policy.

If the lawmakers and policy wonks who made the rules only listened to teachers, child psychologists and other experts, we would not be in this predicament.

As it is, many teachers do what they can to ensure students interests are part of the lesson. They gauge student interest before beginning a lesson and let it guide their instruction. For instance, if students want to know more about the weaponry used by the two sides in the Trojan War, that can become part of the unit. If, instead, they wonder about the role of women in both societies, that can also become part of the curriculum. Just because the higher ups demand students learn about the Trojan War doesn’t mean student interest must be ignored. In fact, it is vital that it be a component.

Moreover, creative writing, journaling and class discussion can help students grow as learners and engage in authentic self-discovery. Two weeks don’t go by in my class without a Socratic Seminar group discussion where students debate thematic and textual questions about literature that often spark dialogues on life issues. When students hear what their peers have to say about a given subject, it often results in them changing their own opinions and rethinking unquestioned beliefs and values.

In short, less corporate education reform means room for more student passion, interest and self-discovery.

But these critics don’t want less. They want more!

5) They Don’t Respect How We Learn

Critics say that each student is different in terms of how they learn best and in how much time it takes to learn. As a result, students who comprehend something at a slower rate than others are considered failures by the current system.

In the corporate model, this is true. However, most districts take great pains to give students multiple chances to learn a given concept or skill.

The fact that not all students will know the same things at the same times is built in to the curriculum. Teachers are familiar with their students and know which children need more help with which skills. Concepts are reviewed and retaught – sometimes through copious mini-lessons, sometimes with one-on-one instruction, sometimes with exercises for the whole class.

The further one gets from standardized tests and Common Core, the more individual student needs are respected and met.

But again that’s not the goal of these critics. They blame public schools for what they only wish to continue at higher intensity.

6) Too Much Lecturing

Critics say that under the current system, students are lectured to for more than 5 hours a day. However, this requires students to be unable to interact with each other for long periods of time. Students are at different levels of understanding and nothing can be done to help them until the lecture is over. Wouldn’t it be better to let students pursue their own education through computers and the internet so they could proceed at their own pace like at the Khan Academy?

And here we have the real pitch at the heart of the criticism.

People who wish to tear down public schools are not agnostic about what should replace them. They often prefer privatized and computerized alternatives – like the Big Picture charter chain model!

However, these are not entirely novel and new approaches. We’ve tried them, though on a smaller scale than the traditional public school model, and unlike that traditional system, they’re an abject failure.

Giving students a computer and letting them explore to their hearts content is the core of cyber charter schools – perhaps the most ineffective academic system in existence today. In my state of Pennsylvania, it was actually determined that students would learn more having no formal schooling at all than to go to cyber charter schools.

The reason? It is beyond naïve to expect children to be mature enough to control every aspect of their learning. Yes, they should have choice. Yes, they should be able to explore and develop as individuals at their own pace. But if you just let children go, most will choose something more immediately gratifying than learning. Most children would rather sit around all day playing Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty than watch even the most interesting educational video about math or science.

Adolescents need structure. They need motivation. In short, they need a teacher – a human authority figure in the same room with them who can help guide their learning and hold them accountable for their actions.

The mere presence of information on the Internet will not make children smarter just as the mere presence of a book won’t increase their knowledge. Certainly some children are self-motivated enough and may benefit from this approach, but the overwhelming majority will not and do not.

Our public schools do need a reformation, but this edtech-biased criticism only hits part of the mark.

The major problems are corporate education reform and standardization. And unfortunately edtech plans like privatization and competency based schemes only seek to increase these pedagogies.

Public schools are not outdated. They have changed and evolved to meet the needs of the students attending them. The fact that they serve every student in a given community without weeding out the less motivated or those with special needs as charter chains like Big Picture do, demonstrates this very flexibility and daily innovation.

They can be robust systems fostering self-discovery, autonomy and deep student learning. We just need to have the courage to support them, strengthen their autonomy and avoid trendy, shallow and self-centered criticisms from charter chains hoping we’ll buy what they’re selling.

Public School Teachers Are Absent Too Much, Says Charter School Think Tank



Have you ever heard of media bias?

I don’t think many so-called journalists have.

At least their editors haven’t or perhaps they just don’t care.

Otherwise, why would self-respecting hard news purveyors publish the results of a study by charter school cheerleaders that pretends to “prove” how public school teachers are worse than charter school teachers?

That’s like publishing a study denigrating apples written by the national pear council.

Breaking news: Pepsi says, “Coke sucks!”

In a related story McDonalds has startling evidence against the Burger King!



I know it’s become trendy to defend the media when our lame-ass President attacks every factually-based report that puts him in a bad light as “fake news.” But the giant media conglomerates aren’t doing themselves any favors with lazy reporting like this.

And I know what many journalists are thinking when they do it, because I used to be one:

I’ll publish the report and include dissenting opinions and that will be okay because I will have shown both sides and readers can make up their own minds.

But what’s the headline? What’s the spin? Who is David in this story and who is Goliath? When multiple stories like this appear all over the news cycle, what impression is made on your readers?

It’s the same thing with climate science. Ninety seven percent of climate scientists say global climate change is man-made and happening. Yet the news gives us one scientist and one crank climate denier and pretends like that’s fair and balanced.

And here we get one biased neoliberal think tank vs. millions of public school teachers all across the country and since you’ve given us an equal number to represent each side, you pretend THAT’S fair and balanced.

It isn’t.

But who’s paying your advertising revenue?

Who owns the media conglomerates that publish your articles?

Often the same people publishing bullshit reports like this one. That’s who.

No wonder they get so much coverage!

So here’s the deal.

The Fordham Institute wrote a report called “Teacher Absenteeism in Charter and Traditional Public Schools.” They concluded that 28.3 percent of teachers in traditional public schools miss eleven or more days of school versus 10.3 percent of teachers at charter schools.

To come up with these figures they used data from Betsy Devos’ Department of Education.

So let the hand-wringing begin!

Look how bad public school teachers are and how much more dedicated is the charter school variety! Look at how much money is being lost! Look at the damage to student academic outcomes!

Won’t someone think of the children!?


This report brought to you by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the College Board, Education Reform Now, the Walton Family Foundation and a host of other idle rich philanthrocapitalists who are drooling over the prospect of privatizing public schools and hoovering up public money as private profit.

Oh. If that’s not enough, Fordham actually runs a series of charter schools in Ohio.

Biased much?

So what’s wrong with the report?

First of all, it’s not news.

Neoliberal think tanks have been publishing propaganda like this for at least a decade. Play with the numbers here, look only at this data and we can paint a picture of “failing” schools, “failing” teachers and therefore justify the “need” for school privatization.

Second, look at all the important data Fordham conveniently leaves out.

Look at the number of hours public school teachers work in the United States vs. those in other comparable countries, say those included in The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In fact, the OECD (which is not biased one way or another about American school privatization) released a mountain of statistics about how many hours teachers work in various countries.

The result: in the United States teachers on average spend more time teaching and receive less pay than those in other countries.

American teachers spend on average 1,080 hours teaching each year. Across the O.E.C.D., the average for most countries is 794 hours on primary education, 709 hours on lower secondary education, and 653 hours on upper secondary education general programs.


Source: OECD



Yet American teachers start at lower salaries and even after 15 years in the profession, earn less money than their international counterparts.

So – assuming Fordham’s absenteeism statistics are accurate – why do public school teachers miss so much school? They’re exhausted from the hours we demand they keep!

But what about charter school teachers? Aren’t they exhausted, too?

Some certainly are.

Working in a charter school often requires grueling hours and fewer benefits. That’s why charters have a higher turnover than public schools.

Since they’re often not unionized, charter schools usually have younger, less experienced staff who don’t stay in the profession long. In fact, they rely on a constant turnover of staff. At many of the largest charter chains such as Success Academy and the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), teachers average only 4 years before moving on to another career, according to the New York Times. And this is typical of most charter chains.

So why don’t charter school teachers take as many sick days as traditional public school teachers? Maybe because when they check out, they often don’t check back in.

Moreover, there is a significant difference in the student population at both kinds of school – privatized vs. public.

As their marketing departments will tell you, the students in a charter school choose to be there. The charter schools often weed out the students with behavior problems, special needs or those who are otherwise more difficult to teach. As a result, the strain on teachers may not be as severe. When you’re only serving kids who want to be there and who are easy to teach, maybe you don’t need as much downtime.

Public school teachers, on the other hand, face real dangers from burnout.

According to a study by Scholastic (that actually goes counter to its pro-privatization bias), we work 53 hours a week on average. That comes out to 7.5 hours a day in the classroom teaching. In addition, we spend 90 minutes before and/or after school mentoring, tutoring, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Plus 95 additional minutes at home grading papers, preparing classroom activities and other job-related tasks.

And for teachers who oversee extracurricular clubs, that’s even more work – 11-20 additional hours a week, on average.

Add to that the additional trauma public school children have experienced over the last decade. More than half of public school students now live below the poverty line. That means increased behavior issues, increased emotional disturbances, increased special needs, increased malnutrition, increased drug use – you name it.

Public school teachers deal with that every day. And you seriously wonder that some of us need some downtime during the year to deal with it.

Moreover, let’s not forget the issue of disease.

Working in a public school is to immerse yourself in a petri dish of bacteria and viruses. My first year teaching, I got so sick I was out for weeks until I developed immunities to strains of illnesses I had never been exposed to before.

Kids are constantly asking for tissues and blowing their noses and sometimes not even washing their hands. This is why teachers often purchase the tissues and hand sanitizers that school districts can’t or won’t – we’re trying to stop the spread of infection.

When teachers get sick (and often bring these delightful little maladies home to their spouses, children and families) what do you expect them to do? Continue going to work and further spreading the sickness around to healthy children?

And speaking of illness, let’s talk stress.

Stress is a killer. Do you think pushing the responsibility for the entire school system on to teachers while cutting their autonomy has an effect on teachers individual stress levels?

I can tell you from my own personal experience I had two heart attacks last year. And in the 15 years I’ve been a teacher, my health has suffered in innumerable ways. I’m actually on medication for one malady that makes me immunosuppressed and more susceptible to other illnesses.

So, yeah, sometimes I need to take a sick day. But if you ask most teachers, they’d rather stay in the class and work through it.

Having the day off is often more trouble than it’s worth. You have to plan an entire lesson that can be conducted in your absence, you have to give the students an assignment to do and you have to grade it. Even with the day off, you have a mountain of work waiting for you when you return.

So as a practicing public school teacher, I dispute the findings of the Fordham Institute.

They don’t know what they’re talking about.

They have focused in on data to make their chosen targets, public school teachers, look bad while extolling the virtues of those who work in privatized systems.

There is a manufactured shortage of teachers across the country. We’ve got 250,000 fewer teachers in the classroom than we did before the great recession of 08-09. Yet class enrollment has increased by 800,000 students.

So if we wanted today’s students to have the same experience as those of only a decade ago, we’d need to hire at least 400,000 more teachers.

I wonder why college undergraduates aren’t racing to become education majors. I wonder why there aren’t more incentives to get more teachers in the classroom and why there isn’t a boom of more teaching jobs.

And I wonder why reports like this are talked about as if they were anything but what they are – school privatization propaganda.