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

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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.

 

Seriously.

 

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.

 

Wrong.

 

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.

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Teaching is Hard Enough Without the Threat of Imminent Death

 

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I am so sick of coming to school and having an impromptu meeting to discuss why my students and I might die today.

 

Really.

 

Every time there’s a major school shooting somewhere in the nation it seems a copycat makes a threat in my own backyard, and we react.

 

The police tell us it’s not a credible threat so school stays open.

 

However, be vigilant.

 

Be aware that our students know about the threat and will be talking about it.

 

We’ll bring in bomb-sniffing dogs…

 

But try to maintain calm and order.

 

There will be a lock down drill in a few days…

 

But try to make the kids feel safe and secure.

 

An older student violently attacked a classmate last week after threatening to go on a spree…

 

But attempt to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning.

 

To which, I say: are you freaking kidding me?

 

I know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

 

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There are certain basic necessities anyone must have in order to become a fully actualized person.

 

After physiological necessities like food and water, safety is absolutely fundamental.

 

Without it, you can’t get people to focus much on anything else.

 

You can’t get children to pay attention to nouns and verbs, for instance, if they’re afraid they’re going to be shot and killed.

 

You can’t get them to care about writing a complete sentence, if they feel like they may have to duck and cover at any moment.

 

You can’t get them to bother with abstract reading comprehension if they’re afraid of imminent death!

 

Oh, and by the way, I’m not exactly at my best either!

 

My lesson plans aren’t going to win any awards when the best solution our legislators can come up with is giving me a loaded pistol to keep in my desk drawer!

 

Well, Yippee Ki Yay! I’m a teacher! Pew! Pew!

 

My 7th grade students are literally frightened that going to school on any given day may lead to the end of their lives.

 

Every couple of weeks on the news it’s another school shooting and another body count, while lawmakers do nothing to ensure it won’t happen again tomorrow.

 

Every few days, it’s a rumor about this or that troubled kid we all know snapping and throwing a gun in his backpack. Or it’s an anonymous threat scrawled on a wall or a social media page.

 

Today it was teaching classes where half the kids were missing because their parents held them out of school afraid a vague rumor of imminent violence was true.

 

And as I tried to assure those who did show up that everything was okay, law enforcement checked the lockers with K-9 police dogs looking for weapons or drugs.

 

What the heck are we coming to?

 

I work in a police state and my students are being asked to learn in a penitentiary.

 

And the teachers should get guns.

 

And the principals should get guns.

 

And the parents should get guns.

 

And the guns should get little tinier guns to protect themselves from even more guns!

 

This is madness.

 

We’re begging for a political solution but our political system is a shambles. Nothing puts that in starker contrast than the gun debate.

 

The overwhelming majority of Americans want sensible gun laws – an assault weapons ban, closing the gun show loophole, mental health screenings, etc.

 

If we lived in an authentic Democratic Republic, we’d have them. But we don’t, because we live in a plutocracy.

 

One industry has enough power and influence that the only solution our policymakers can safely suggest is one that increases that same industry’s bottom line.

 

It’s like Tony the Tiger suggesting the only cure for obesity is to eat more Frosted Flakes! They’re Ggggrrrreeeaaaattt!

 

A teacher’s job is hard enough without society crumbling all around us.

 

But that doesn’t mean the children aren’t learning.

 

They’re watching the world burn with wide eyes. They’re taking in every flame, every bullet hole, every cowardly senator, representative and chief executive.

 

They’re watching and taking names.

 

 

At the end of the year, policymakers will wag their fingers at the nation’s teachers about failing standardized test scores.

 

They’ll bemoan sinking academic standards, powerful labor unions and a lack of moral fiber as the cause of a generation of children who lost out on an education while cowering under bulletproof backpacks.

 

But this generation refuses to be lost.

 

Despite everything, they’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs back to sanity.

 

They are emotionally damaged by a country that no longer functions, but they know the truth.

 

They know who’s responsible. And they know what to do about it.

 

When they reject our society, we’ll know why.

 

Because the next generation will be nothing like us.

 

And on a day like today, that’s the most hopeful thought I can offer.

When Will It Happen Here?

 

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It could happen at anytime in my classroom.

 

The thing we’ve all been dreading.

 

A hasty announcement of lock down. An unexpected fire alarm. The sounds of shouting, running feet and… gunshots.

 

The lights could go out. The door could burst in.

 

There’s really very little we could do.

 

My room has no windows. No closets. Nowhere to hide.

 

These are the thoughts going through my head as my students sit at their desks during homeroom this morning.

 

Jayden is taking off his hoodie before the principal catches him out of dress code.

 

Alaina is pestering me for a pass to the library.

 

Darnell is surreptitiously munching on a pixie stick stashed in his book bag.

 

It’s all so mundane, so subdued, so quiet.

 

A few kids are on the computers in the back, others at their desks reading books, writing papers, or listening to music on their iPads.

 

But there’s very little conversation.

 

The class of middle schoolers is restrained, thoughtful – which is unusual for children of 12 or 13.

 

I sit slumped at my desk – exhausted though I haven’t even taught my first class yet.

 

The news from last night still plays in my head.

 

Seventeen people killed by an expelled student at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

 

Or was it two killed in Kentucky?

 

How long was it since the last one?

 

And now here we are – back in the line of fire.

 

I can’t help but think about my daughter somewhere across town. She’s probably just entering her third grade classroom maybe munching on the remains of a candy heart from Valentine’s Day. Just like me and my students, she’s in the cross hairs.

 

But what can we do about it?

 

I can’t hold her out of school forever. I can’t quit my job and work from home. Even if I could, there’s absolutely nothing I can do for the twenty children quietly sitting at their desks in the room with me, abiding the rules of a society too broken to protect us.

 

After last night, it feels like things have changed somehow.

 

There have been 18 school shootings so far this year. And it’s only February. Most have resulted in zero injuries.

 

Of those where people were hurt, the person most in danger was the shooter. But I can’t stop thinking about those cases where a hunter came to school to kill children and teachers.

 

As an educator, I’ve been taught how to handle just about every situation.

 

If one of my children acts out, or doesn’t hand in her homework, or even throws up – I know what to do.

 

But none of my training has prepared me to out teach a semiautomatic weapon.

 

I can’t differentiate past a bullet.

 

There is no paperwork that will invalidate the gunpowder or slow the endless rounds through whatever they come into contact.

 

If someone comes to school with a gun and a will to kill, I will be little more than a target.

 

But don’t get me wrong.

 

This doesn’t mean society should gift me a handgun to keep in my desk next to the chalk.

 

I am not a law enforcement officer or an action hero. I’m a teacher.

 

You don’t want me returning fire at every mindless bureaucratic hitch in the schedule. You want me assigning essays and chapter readings. You don’t want me keeping a gun out of reach of curious youngsters always at my desk and in my personal space. You want me safeguarding student assignments and – heck – my cell phone that kids keep trying to snatch and look through my camera roll.

 

What we need is real gun control legislation.

 

We need an assault weapons ban.

 

We need to close the gun show loophole.

 

We need buyback programs to get the mountains of firearms off the streets and out of the arsenals of a handful of paranoid “survivalists”.

 

In short, we need lawmakers willing to make laws.

 

We need legislators who will represent the overwhelming majority of the public and take sensible action to protect the people of this country.

 

What we don’t need are the trolls who hijack every conversation arguing the semantics of the term “assault rifle” or “terrorist.”

 

We don’t need weak politicians cautioning against “politicizing” mass shootings because the violence is too fresh.

 

We don’t need anyone’s thoughts and prayers.

 

We need action.

 

And we need it yesterday.

 

Some people are calling on teachers to take action to force our lawmakers to finally do something.

 

They suggest a national teachers strike on May 1st – May Day – if Congress refuses to act.

 

That sounds like a good idea to me.

 

I’m game.

 

But we need more than that.

 

We need everyone who feels the same way to join in the fight.

 

Parents, children, grandparents, principals, police, firefighters, soldiers and nurses – the multitudinous faces of America must come together to fight this monstrosity as one.

 

I may sit in that classroom.

 

My students and my daughter may be in danger.

 

But America must be the shield.

 

America must rise up and protect our future.

 

WE must take charge.

 

Otherwise, it is not a case of can it happen here.

 

It is a case of when.

Crippled Puerto Rico Offered School Privatization as Quick Fix for Woes

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You’re Puerto Rico’s school system.

 

More than five months since a devastating hurricane hit the island’s shores, some 270 schools are still without power.

 

Roughly 25,000 students are leaving with that number expected to swell to 54,000 in four years. And that’s after an 11-year recession already sent 78,000 students  seeking refuge elsewhere.

 

So what do you do to stop the flow of refugees fleeing the island? What do you do to fix your storm damaged schools? What do you do to ensure all your precious children are safe and have the opportunity to learn?

 

If you’re Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello, you sell off your entire system of public education.

 

After an economic history of being pillaged and raped by corporate vultures from the mainland, Rossello is suggesting the U.S. Territory offer itself for another round of abuse.

 

He wants to close 300 more schools and change the majority of those remaining into charter and voucher schools.

 

That means no elected school boards.

 

That means no public meetings determining how these schools are run.

 

It means no transparency in terms of how the money is spent.

 

It means public funding can become private profit.

 

And it means fewer choices for children who will have to apply at schools all over the island and hope one accepts them. Unlike public schools, charter and voucher schools pick and choose whom to enroll.

 

Make no mistake. This has nothing to do with serving the needs of children. It is about selling off public property because it belongs to poor, brown people.

 

Something similar happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

 

A district that served mostly black and poor children was swiped by private interests and turned almost exclusively into charter schools.

 

The results have been an abysmal academic record, the loss of black teachers, black neighborhoods, cultural heritage and in its place support for a status quo that just doesn’t care to provide the proper resources to students of color.

 

If the Governor and his wealthy backers have their way, Puerto Rico will be yet another ghettoized colony gobbled up by industry.

 

However, the people aren’t going to let this happen without a fight.

 

Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teacher’s union, released the following statement:

 

“Dear comrades in the diaspora, now more than ever we need your unconditional solidarity.

 

Governor Roselló just announced his plan to shut down 307 schools, implement charter schools and vouchers. Disaster capitalism at its best. Added to the announcement of the privatization of PREPA. [Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority]

 

The way to victory is already paved, organized and militant resistance, concrete proposals to improve the public goods that we have, unity and organization. Be our voice in the states and let the world know that corporate reformers want to make PR the next New Orleans as they did after Katrina.

 

The hurricane has been the perfect storm and excuse for them to advance their plans. Today the so called “educational reform” will be sent to the legislature.

 

We will give the hardest fight of our lives, and we will triumph. Send letters and videos of support with our struggle. Teachers United, will never be defeated!

 

Lucha sí”

 

I don’t know about you, but I stand with these brave teachers, parents and their students.

 

I may live in Pennsylvania, my skin may be white, but I do not support the theft of Puerto Rico’s schools.

 

These children have just as much right as mine to a free and appropriate education. Their parents deserve the right to control their districts. They deserve transparency and self-rule.

 

They deserve the choice to guide their own destinies.

 

Teachers’ opposition to the move comes even though the Governor is proposing a $1,500 raise for all educators. Martinez says it could come to a general strike.

 

Their cause has hope on its side – especially in blocking the proposed school vouchers.

 

The Governor’s voucher proposal wouldn’t go into effect until the 2019-20 school year. However, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court struck down a similar program in 1994 when the current governor’s father, Pedro Rossello – himself a former governor – tried to push it through. The court ruled the island’s constitution forbids public money being used to fund privately run schools.

 

From this day forward, let us always remember what they did to New Orleans. Let us remember what they are trying to do to Puerto Rico.

 

Corporate school reform is not about making better schools. If it was, you would see plans like this being proposed in Beverly Hills and rich white neighborhoods across the country.

 

But somehow that never happens.

 

These schemes only show up in poor communities populated predominantly by people of color.

 

While the rest of our public schools are celebrating Black History Month, the children of Puerto Rico are reliving the struggle for their civil rights.

 

They are still the victims of colonization and brutality.

 

But they are not alone.

 

I stand with the people of Puerto Rico.

 

Will you stand, too?

 

Will you speak out for Puerto Rico?


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. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The Further You Get From Public Schools, the Greater the Chance of Child Abuse

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A California home-school where parents shackled, starved and abused their children is a symptom of a larger disease.

 

 

And that disease is privatization.

 

 

David Allen Turpin and his wife, Louise Anna Turpin, were arrested after police found the couple’s 13 children living in deplorable conditions in their Perris, California, home.

 

 

Some of the children were actually young adults but were so malnourished investigators at first mistook them for minors.

 

 

It is a situation that just could not have happened had those children been in the public school system.

 

 

Someone would have seen something and reported it to Child Protective Services. But school privatization shields child predators from the light and enables a system where minors become the means to every adult end imaginable.

 

 

Let me be clear. Privatization is defined as the transfer of a service from public to private ownership and control.

 

 

In education circles, that means home-schools, charter schools and voucher schools – all educational providers that operate without adequate accountability.

 

 

We are taking our most precious population – our children – and allowing them to be educated behind closed doors, out of sight from those tasked with ensuring they are getting the best opportunities to learn and are free from abuse.

 

 

And since home-schooling operates with almost zero oversight, it is the most susceptible to child neglect and mistreatment.

 

 

Children who in traditional public schools would have a whole plethora of people from teachers to counselors to principals to cafeteria workers who can observe the danger signs of abuse are completely removed from the home-school environment.

 

 

Home-schooled children receive their educations almost exclusively from parents.

 

 

While most moms and dads would never dream of abusing their kids, home-schooling provides the perfect cover for abusers like the Turpins to isolate children and mistreat them with impunity.

 

 

It is a situation that at least demands additional oversight. And at most it requires we rethink the entire enterprise as dangerous and wrongheaded.

 

 

Charter and voucher schools at least utilize whole staffs of people to educate children. The chances of something like this happening at these institutions is much smaller. However, both types of school also are much less accountable for their actions than traditional public schools.

 

 

And that is the common factor – responsibility. Who is being held answerable when things go wrong? At traditional public schools, there is a whole chain of adults who are culpable for children. At these other institutions, the number of people in the hot seat shrinks to zero.

 

 

Much of that has to do with the regulations each state puts on privatized schools.

 

 

Just look at the regulations governing home-schooling.

 

 

In 14 states including Delaware, California and Wisconsin, parents don’t have to do anything but let the school district know they’re home-schooling. That’s it! And in 10 states including Texas, Illinois and New Jersey, you don’t even have to do that!

 

 

Kids just disappear without a trace. If no one reports them missing, we assume they’re being home-schooled.

 

 

But even in states that appear to be more exacting on paper, the reality is a virtual free-for-all.

 

 

Take my home state of Pennsylvania. To begin home-schooling, parents must notify the superintendent, have obtained a high school degree themselves, provide at least 180 days of instruction in certain subjects and maintain a portfolio of their child’s test results and academic records.

 

 

That sounds impressive. However, this doesn’t really amount to much in practice because these regulations have few teeth. Hardly anyone ever checks up to make sure these regulations are being met – and they’re only allowed to check up under certain circumstances and only in certain ways and at certain times!

 

 

Even when it comes to charter and voucher schools, most states, including Pennsylvania, go little further than that.  

 

 

Frankly, most of the time we don’t know what happens in charter and voucher schools, because few state governments insist on audits, unscheduled visits or reports.

 

 

For instance, though few charter or voucher schools starve, lock up or torture students, many have zero tolerance discipline policies. Few would claim even these controversial behavior management systems sink to the level of some home-school parents who have allegedly withheld food and bound children’s hands with zip ties. But adolescents being forced to sit silently with their eyes looking forward, hands on the table or else receive loud rebukes – as they are in many charter or voucher schools – may qualify as another kind of abuse.

 

 

Moreover, all privatized schools can withhold providing a proper education. Home-school parents can refuse to teach their children not just truths about science and history but the basics of reading, writing and math. Likewise, charter and voucher schools can cut student services and pocket the savings as profit. And no one is the wiser because the state has abrogated its responsibility to check up on students or even require they be taught much of anything at all.

 

 

Meanwhile, none of this is possible in the traditional public school setting because it must operate in the light of day. It is fully accountable to the public. Its documents are public record. Decisions about how it should be run and how tax dollars are spent are made at open meetings by duly-elected members of the community.

 

 

Some, including myself, would argue that the regulations required of public schools by the state and federal government are sometimes too onerous, unnecessary or even just plain dumb. But that doesn’t change the fact that regulations are necessary. It just leaves open the question of which ones.

 

 

The bottom line is this: Public school is the equivalent of teaching children in an open room with qualified educators that have proven and continue to prove they have no criminal record and are able and ready to educate.

 

 

Privatized schools are the equivalent of teaching children in a closed room with educators who may not deserve the name and may or may not have deplorable criminal pasts.

 

 

Looked at in the abstract, no one in their right mind would conceivably suggest the latter is a better educational environment than the former. However, we have been subjected to an expensive propaganda campaign to make us think otherwise.

 

 

Look. I’m not saying public schools are perfect. Certainly students can be abused there, too. The media salaciously reports every doe-eyed teacher who stupidly has a sexual relationship with a student – whether it be at a public or privatized school. But in comparison with the worst that can and often does happen at privatized schools, these incidents at public schools are extremely rare (1 in 800,000) and of much less severity.

 

 

Though both are bad, there is a world of difference between the infinitesimal chance of being propositioned by your high school teacher and the much more likely outcome of being treated like a prison inmate at 13 by the charter school corporation or being starved, shackled and beaten by your parents!

 

 

Human beings aren’t going to stop being human anytime soon. Wouldn’t it be better to entrust our children to an environment with regulations and accountability than letting them go off in some locked room and just trusting that everything will be alright?

 

 

Our posterity deserves better than privatization.

 

 

They deserve the best we can give them – and that means fully responsible, fully regulated, fully accountable public schools.

Men, Too, Need No Longer Suffer in Silence the Pain of Sexual Harassment

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This is one of the hardest articles I’ve ever written.

 

I’ve started it several times. And each time I deleted it.

 

After all, what right do I have to talk about sexual harassment?

 

I wasn’t raped.

 

I wasn’t drugged, beaten or blackmailed.

 

No one physically abused me in any way that did lasting physical harm.

 

But I was misused.

 

I was harassed.

 

And I shouldn’t have been.

 

I was made a victim, and my victimizer was a woman.

 

That, alone, shames me to my core.

 

I’m a grown man.

 

We’re not supposed to care about things like this.

 

We’re supposed to be unfeeling, undisturbed, stoic cowboys with our eyes ever fixed on the horizon.

 

If anything, I should be the one accused, not the accuser.

 

Some would deny that you even CAN sexually harass a man.

 

They’d look at the cultural ideal of manhood as an emotionally stunted beast of burden, and say men are too callous and shallow to be susceptible to this sort of pain. After all, men are always ready for the next sexual encounter. Or we should be, because that’s what it means to be a man.

 

But they’re wrong.

 

Men have feelings, too. We hurt. We cry. And we can be scarred by unwelcome advances.

 

So what happened?

 

It was almost thirty years ago.

 

I was just a kid in middle or high school – 8th or 9th grade.

 

It was in pottery class.

 

I’ve always loved the arts. I used to draw every spare second. My notebooks were covered with doodles and sketches. Cartoon dinosaurs and skulls. Sometimes an alien or dragon.

 

And I loved working with clay, too.

 

For years my mother had a vase I made in that pottery class. It was fat on the bottom with a slender neck. Purple glaze on the outside with a blue interior. Mom displayed it proudly in her dinning room, sometimes with a few flowers inside, until one day it accidentally fell from a shelf and shattered.

 

I might have been working on that same vase when it happened. I really can’t remember.

 

I think it was a pinch pot.

 

I was standing at a table I shared with three or four other students, wrapping tubes of hand rolled clay around and around into the shape of a container, when someone came up behind me, grabbed my butt and squeezed.

 

I jumped in surprise, and said “Ohh!” or something.

 

Then I heard, “Hey, sweet cheeks!”

 

And laughter. All coming from the other side of the room.

 

I turned my head to see who it had been.

 

It was a girl I hardly knew though she had been in my classes since first grade.

 

Let’s call her Nancy.

 

She was a chunky but not unattractive girl from the other side of the room.

 

She walked back to her friends, both boys and girls, at her table, and they were all losing it over what had happened.

 

I blushed and turned back to my work, feeling like the clay my fingers molded.

 

I couldn’t even process what had happened.

 

Why had Nancy just walked over to me and pinched my butt?

 

It wasn’t even a playful pinch. It wasn’t grabbing someone with the palm of your hand and giving a squeeze. She had clawed into my flesh, secured a good hunk and pulled.

 

It was angry and mean.

 

I didn’t understand. What had I ever done to her?

 

I barely knew her. I hadn’t said more than ten words to her in eight years.

 

“You like that?” she asked from across the room.

 

I just kept working on my pot, looking at it as if it were the only thing left in the universe.

 

The others at my table were giggling, too.

 

I remember it like a scene in slow motion. Me rolling out and unwinding the clay. Everyone else laughing. Nancy smirking.

 

And then she came back and did it again!

 

I jumped and squealed.

 

But I did nothing. I said nothing.

 

She pinched me at least three or four more times. Maybe more.

 

And she said something each time.

 

And like it was on a script, always the laughter and guffaws.

 

Eventually I think I started to quietly cry.

 

That’s when it stopped mostly.

 

 

The others at my table were as silent as I was. When they saw my reaction, I think they got embarrassed.

 

We were all working with incredible concentration trying not to acknowledge what was happening.

 

I made sure not to turn and look behind me. But I could hear the snickers.

 

Where was the teacher?

 

The room had a strange L-shape. At the foot of the L was a kiln where she was diligently firing last week’s pottery. From where she was, she probably couldn’t see the rest of us working at our tables.

 

I don’t think she saw anything. She never said anything if she did.

 

When she returned to our side of the art room, she may have asked if I was okay. I’m not sure. I probably just shrugged it off. Maybe asked to go to the bathroom.

 

Why did this bother me so much?

 

Because I wasn’t asking for anyone to come over and touch me like that.

 

I just wanted to make my stupid pot. I just wanted to be left alone.

 

I didn’t want to be treated like anyone’s joke. I didn’t want my physicality to be the cause of anyone’s laughter.

 

It’s not that Nancy was a pariah or a terrible person or anything. If things had been different, I might have responded differently.

 

But when you’re a guy in high school, you aren’t allowed to be upset when a girl comes and pinches you.

 

You’re supposed to respond a certain way.

 

I couldn’t ask her to stop. I’m supposed to love it.

 

Even if it’s a joke.

 

Even if it’s a way to denigrate me in front of the whole class. Even if it’s a way to proclaim me the most undesirable boy in the whole room.

 

It felt like someone pointing at a banana peel in the trash and mockingly saying, “Yum! Yum!”

 

But I was the garbage.

 

It certainly made me feel that way.

 

I’m not sure why this has bothered me for so long.

 

Maybe it’s the feeling of powerlessness – that there was nothing I could do. Maybe it was a feeling that I should be reacting differently. I should be more assertive either telling her to leave me alone or maybe actually liking the physical contact.

 

I’m not sure how to explain it.

 

I was made to feel inferior and degraded.

 

Perhaps that’s why I’ve remained silent about it all these years. The only solution had seemed to be to forget about it and move on.

 

Yet doing so leaves a cold lump in your chest. Oh, it won’t kill you. But it’s always there. You just learn to live with it.

 

I suppose in writing about it, I’m trying to rid myself of that lump.

 

I don’t know if it will work. But I’m tired of carrying it around with me anymore.

 

We’re living in a remarkable moment. Women everywhere feel empowered to share their stories of abuse at the hands of men. Shouldn’t I feel empowered to share my story of abuse at the hands of a woman?

 

But there does seem to be a disconnect here. A disanalogy.

 

No matter who you are, everyone has been the victim at one point or another.

 

Whether you’re male or female, rich or poor, black or white – everyone has been on the losing side.

 

However, some people use that truth as an excuse to pretend that all groups have been equally targeted. They use it as a way to justify the marginalization and minimalization of women and people of color, for instance, groups that have been most often earmarked for abuse.

 

 

Let me be clear – I firmly reject that. I am not All Lives Mattering sexual harassment and abuse. Clearly, women have born the brunt of this burden and men have more often been the cause.

 

But that doesn’t mean that men are immune to being victimized or that women are incapable of being aggressors.

 

Perhaps that’s my point in writing this – to caution against easy expectations and easy labels.

 

Toxic masculinity exists because we have toxic expectations for men and boys. Our society molds them into the shape of our collective expectations.

 

It’s about time we expect more from men.

 

And it’s time we allow them the space to be hurt so that they, too, need no longer suffer in silence.

Funny How School Closings Are Merely Accidental Racism. Never Intentional.

Students Protest School Closings At Chicago Public Schools Headquarters

 

It’s funny. When you close schools serving minority students, they tend to move away.

 

That’s what’s happening in Chicago.

 

In the last seven years, Mayor Rahm Emanuel closed 49 schools serving mostly students of color. And from 2015 to 2016, alone, the city lost 12,000 black residents.

 

Huh.

 

Who would have ever thought that cutting funding to services for minorities might make them get up and leave?

 

But God forbid you suggest this is intentional!

 

These are just disparate facts. There is no conceivable causal link between making life intolerable for people and their leaving.

 

When has that ever happened before?

 

The Great Migration (1919-1950) when hundreds of thousands of blacks moved from the deep south to the shores of Lake Michigan looking for better opportunities?

 

Well, sure, but when else has that ever happened?

 

You can’t connect one dot to another.

 

That would just be rude.

 

Yet that’s just what Chris Kennedy, a candidate vying to run against Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on the Democratic ticket, did this week.

 

He said that Emanuel is running a “strategic gentrification plan” to intentionally push black residents out of the city.

 

“My belief is they’re being pushed out. This is involuntary. That we’re cutting off funding for schools, cutting off funding for police, allowing people to be forced to live in food deserts, closing hospitals, closing access to mental health facilities. What choice do people have but to move, to leave?” Kennedy said at a press conference.

 

“And I think that’s part of a strategic gentrification plan being implemented by the city of Chicago to push people of color out of the city. The city is becoming smaller and as it becomes smaller, it’s become whiter.”

 

 

The establishment immediately pushed back against him.

 

The Chicago Sun-Times couldn’t find any fault with Kennedy’s facts, but they called his interpretation “irresponsible.”

 

Emanuel’s office likewise issued a press release likening Kennedy’s claims with those of Republicans like Rauner and President Donald Trump, even though both of those individuals would be more likely to champion a plan to kick blacks out of Chicago than criticize it.

 

Kennedy’s remarks simply echo what black Chicagoans have been saying for years.

 

FACT: Since 2001, 72 Chicago schools have been closed or phased out. Ninety percent of the students affected are black.

 

And now Emanuel is suggesting closing four additional schools – all from the predominantly African American Englewood community.

 

Sure, eventually they’ll be replaced by one new school, but only after at least a year without any high school in the area.

 

When the new school finally opens, the neighborhood will be less black and better suited to what? Gentrification!

 

Jitu Brown, National Director for a broad based collective of civil rights organizations called Journey 4 Justice, estimates that more than 30,000 people of color have fled Chicago since Emanuel took office.

 

Brown led a group of community members to sit in at the Chicago Board of Education today to protest the proposed closings.

 

“Rahm wants to close successful black grammar school to make room for upper income families! We have proof! That’s why we sit-in,” he tweeted.

 

Back in 2013, Brown broke down his argument at a hearing before the US Department of Education:

 

“To deny us the right to improve our schools as community institutions is a violation of our human rights. To destabilize schools in our community is a violation of our human rights. To have communities with no neighborhood schools is a violation of our human rights.  . . . We are America’s mirror. Do you have the courage to accept what you see?”

 

Kennedy really isn’t saying anything different. He’s just echoing the concerns of the community he wants to represent.

 

“I don’t know what you can say when the strategic plan for Chicago Public Schools suggest that the entire community of Englewood can go an entire year without access to a high school,” Kennedy said this week.

 

“What are you saying to the people there? No one’s going to move there who’s got a high school kid. And anybody with a high school kid has to think about what they’re going to do. It’s just a device to empty out the community.”

 

The problem is not limited to Chicago. It’s emblematic of public school policy nationwide.

 

From 2003-2012, in New York City, 117 schools were closed. Sixty-three percent of the students affected were black.

 

In 2008, 23 schools were closed in Washington, DC. Ninety-nine percent of the students affected were black, Latino or Hispanic.

 

Since 2005, in Detroit, 130 schools have been closed. Ninety-three percent of the students affected were children of color.

 

And one and on.

 

We intentionally segregate students based on race and class, then allocate funds accordingly. Richer whiter students get all the resources they need. Poorer blacker students get crumbling schools, narrowed curriculum until their schools are shuttered and they’re forced to either move away or put up with fly by night charter schools.

 

Look at what happened in New Orleans.

 

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state took over 107 of the city’s then-128 public schools, removing them from local control of the residents. The majority of these schools were turned into charters, closed or simply never reopened – a move affecting 90 percent of black students and only 1 percent of white students.

 

Karran Harper-Royal, a New Orleans parent and cofounder of the national group Parents Across America, argued at the same hearing in 2013 before the US Department of Education that the result was racist.

 

They call it school choice, but parents don’t have choice when 80 percent attend charter schools – some of which run a lottery enrollment process, she said. As a result, parents are forced to apply to multiple charter schools to ensure their children have somewhere to go to learn.

 

Your choice is between charter schools – 79 percent of which are rated “D” or “F” – and 15 state run public schools that are all rated “D” or “F,” she said.

 

“African-American students are more likely than their white counterparts to experience schools that are at risk of being closed down, phased-out, turned around or co-located,” Harper-Royal said. “To guarantee me a seat in a failing school system is not ‘choice.’ It’s racist is what it is.”

 

This is the reality for poor and minority students across the country.

 

It’s refreshing to hear a Democrat brave enough to actually speak the truth about it – especially since Democrats have been as apt to preside over these corporate education reform policies as Republicans.

 

Closing black schools and keeping white ones open is not an accident.

 

Neither is continuing school segregation, the proliferation of charter and voucher schools and the continued insistence that the only way to hold educators accountable for actually educating is high stakes standardized testing.

 

These are all choices that result in winners and losers.

 

It’s time we recognized that. If we really want to champion civil rights and equity for all, we need to stop promoting racism as school policy and pretending to be surprised at the results.