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.

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Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education

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I hate to be blunt here, but economists need to shut the heck up.

 

 

Never has there been a group more concerned about the value of everything that was more incapable of determining anything’s true worth.

 

 

They boil everything down to numbers and data and never realize that the essence has evaporated away.

 

 

I’m sorry but every human interaction isn’t reducible to a monetary transaction. Every relationship isn’t an equation.

 

 

Some things are just intrinsically valuable. And that’s not some mystical statement of faith – it’s just what it means to be human.

 

 

Take education.

 

 

Economists love to pontificate on every aspect of the student experience – what’s most effective – what kinds of schools, which methods of assessment, teaching, curriculum, technology, etc. Seen through that lens, every tiny aspect of schooling becomes a cost analysis.

 

 

And, stupid us, we listen to them as if they had some monopoly on truth.

 

 

But what do you expect from a society that worships wealth? Just as money is our god, the economists are our clergy.

 

 

How else can you explain something as monumentally stupid as Bryan Caplan’s article published in the LA Times “What Students Know That Experts Don’t: School is All About Signaling, Not Skill-Building”?

 

 

In it, Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University, theorizes why schooling is pointless and thus education spending is a waste of money.

 

It would be far better in Caplan’s view to use that money to buy things like… oh… his new book “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money.”

 

His argument goes something like this: the only value of an education is getting a job after graduation.

 

Businesses only care about school because they think it signifies whether prospective employees will be good or bad at their jobs. And students don’t care about learning – they only care about appearing to have learned something to lure prospective employers. Once you’re hired, if you don’t have the skills, employers have an incentive to give you on the job training. Getting an education is just about getting a foot in the door. It’s all just a charade.

 

Therefore, we should cut education funding and put kids to work in high school where they can learn how to do the jobs they’ll need to survive.

 

No wonder economics is sometimes called “The Dismal Science.” Can you imagine having such a dim view of the world where THAT load of crap makes sense?

 

We’re all just worker drones and education is the human equivalent of a mating dance or brilliant plumage – but instead of attracting the opposite sex, we’re attracting a new boss.

 

Bleh! I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.

 

This is what comes of listening to economists on a subject they know nothing about.

 

I’m a public school teacher. I am engaged in the act of learning on a daily basis. And let me tell you something – it’s not about merely signifying.

 

I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts. My students aren’t simply working to appear literate. They’re actually attempting to express themselves in words and language. Likewise, my students aren’t just working to appear as if they can comprehend written language. They’re actually trying to read and understand what the author is saying.

 

But that’s only the half of it.

 

Education isn’t even just the accumulation of skills. Students aren’t hard drives and we’re not simply downloading information and subroutines into their impressionable brains.

 

Students are engaged in the activity of becoming themselves.

 

Education isn’t a transaction – it’s a transformation.

 

When my students read “The Diary of Anne Frank” or To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, they become fundamentally different people. They gain deep understandings about what it means to be human, celebrating social differences and respecting human dignity.

 

When my students write poetry, short fiction and essays, they aren’t merely communicating. They’re compelled to think, to have an informed opinion, to become conscious citizens and fellow people.

 

They get grades – sure – but what we’re doing is about so much more than A-E, advanced, proficient, basic or below basic.

 

When the year is over, they KNOW they can read and understand complex novels, plays, essays and poems. The maelstrom of emotions swirling round in their heads has an outlet, can be shared, examined and changed.

 

Caplan is selling all of that short because he sees no value in it. He argues from the lowest common denominator – no, he argues from the lowest actions of the lowest common denominator to extrapolate a world where everything is neatly quantifiable.

 

It’s not hard to imagine why an economist would be seduced by such a vision. He’s turned the multi-color world into black and white hues that best suit his profession.

 

In a way, I can’t blame him for that. For a carpenter, I’m sure most problems look like a hammer and a nail. For a surgeon, everything looks like a scalpel and sutures.

 

But shame on us for letting one field’s myopia dominate the conversation.

 

No one seems all that interested in my economic theories about how to maximize gross domestic product. And why would they? I’m not an economist.

 

However, it’s just as absurd to privilege the ramblings of economists on education. They are just as ignorant – perhaps more so.

 

It is a symptom of our sick society.

 

We turn everything into numbers and pretend they can capture the reality around us.

 

This works great for measuring angles or determining the speed of a rocket. But it is laughably unequipped to measure interior states and statements of real human value.

 

That’s why standardized tests are inadequate.

 

It’s why value added teacher evaluations are absurd. It’s why Common Core is poppycock.

 

Use the right tool for the right job.

 

If you want to measure production and consumption or the transfer of wealth, call an economist.

 

If you want to understand education, call a teacher.

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.

Go Ahead, SCOTUS. Rule Against Unions in Janus Case. You’ll Only Make Us Stronger

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Bwa-hahahaha!

 

The corporate owned far right has been trying to destroy labor unions for decades.

 

But this time they may have finally overplayed their hand.

 

The upcoming Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 case set for a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on Feb 26 has been billed as the final nail in the coffin for public sector unions.

 

With the pitifully weak Democrats giving up President Obama’s pick for the bench in favor of Trump’s absurd choice, Neil Gorsuch, the court has a decidedly conservative bias.

 

So court watchers expect the latest challenge to collective bargaining rights to come out in favor of the corporations and billionaires who have spent truckloads of money to ensure the little guy has less of a say in the workplace.

 

BUT! They aren’t taking into account how stupid these far right shills truly are!

 

The case comes down to this: some people working in a union job don’t think they should have to pay union dues even though they benefit from the contract negotiated by their union. They affirm that being part of a union is political speech and thus they cannot be compelled to pay – yet somehow they should be able to keep all the benefits of being in a union, anyway.

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So the union gets me a raise and better healthcare, but – even though none of my dues go to pay for political campaigns (that money is donated separately and voluntarily) – just being in a union is a political act.

 

If the court rules in favor of this position, unions would no longer be able to compel members to pay dues.

 

Pay them, don’t pay them – there’s nothing the union could do.

 

Conservatives are betting that if dues become voluntary on a person-by-person basis, at least a few members will opt out and thus weaken union finances and ability to collectively bargain for everyone.

 

But what they don’t seem to understand is that a decision like this would overturn decades of established law.

 

It would overturn mountains of legal decisions that provide the foundation for how our government works.

 

In short, how many times are we compelled to pay for things we don’t necessarily believe in?

 

Answer: every freakin’ day!

 

How much of my tax dollars go to the military? What if I don’t want my taxes used to pay for a bloated war machine?

 

How much of my hard earned money is wasted on corporate subsidies? What if I don’t want to prop up huge multinational businesses already making record profits?

 

How much of my money go to privatized schools? What if I’m against charter and voucher schools and want my taxes instead to fund fully public schools with elected boards, transparency and who have to accept all students regardless of ability?

 

If the court rules against unions, then I guess I won’t have to pay my taxes anymore – or at very least, I will have to be given the option of where my tax dollars go.

 

Not just SOME of my tax dollars – every single penny on a line-by-line basis for every single tax payer in the United States!

 

An Illinois based engineering union wrote in detail about exactly how such a ruling would change the landscape. Operating Engineers Local 150, wrote on their blog titled, “Union Busters Set Themselves Up for Janus Backfire”:

 

 

“If not bargaining is protected free speech, then bargaining will conversely be protected free speech, giving union workers new protections that we’ve never enjoyed before.  For example:

  1. Governor Scott Walker’s now infamous Act 10, the law that destroyed public sector collective bargaining in Wisconsin, will be declared an unconstitutional, content-based restriction on speech and association.

 

  1. Every state in America will now be subject to bargaining with their public sector employees, even if they didn’t previously.

 

 

  1. Local municipalities will be subject to numerous taxpayer lawsuits based upon forced contributions to lobbying groups.

 

  1. The municipal lobbying industry, currently an extremely large source of revenue for lobbyists, will be decimated as taxpayers now have a First Amendment right to demand their tax dollars are not used for lobbying or political advocacy.

 

 

  1. Public Sector pensions will be adversely affected as participants demand that their forced pension contributions are not used for corporate speech.

 

  1. Municipal advertising, tax increment financing, and all other types of tax breaks (think Foxxcon in Wisconsin) will be subject to litigation based upon taxpayers’ First Amendment rights to opt-out of this type of speech. The same burdensome calculations that are currently leveled only upon unions would become widespread.”

 

Shaun Richman, a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers, agrees.

 

In an article for In These Times called “How A Supreme Court Decision to Gut Public Sector Unions Could Backfire,” he writes:

 

 

“The ruling could both wildly increase workers’ bargaining power and clog the lower courts with First Amendment challenges to routine uses of taxpayer money. At a minimum, it has the potential to turn every public sector workplace dispute into a constitutional controversy…”

 

 

Frankly, this is kind of exciting.

 

In trying to stifle workers’ free speech, conservatives may unravel the statutes that have muzzled us for years.

 

A decision against unions by the Supreme Court would open the way for thousands of cases throughout the court system – challenge after challenge. Certainly conservative justices would try to staunch the tide, but they simply couldn’t stop every case – especially after such a dangerous precedent has been set!

 

The SCOTUS would be unleashing chaos on the justice system, and I, for one, hope that every workers union takes advantage of it.

 

Every individual across the political spectrum should file suit against whichever political peccadillo they want. Evangelicals can file against public schools using their tax dollars to teach evolution. Libertarians could file against having a standing army. Liberals could file against oil pipelines.

 

And on and on and on.

 

Meanwhile, those workers unions that conservatives are hoping will be destroyed will be just fine.

 

You think workers won’t pay their union dues? Some might try, but doing so will have immense personal ramifications. At very least, it will make those individuals social pariahs. Who wants to associate with someone who thinks they should get all the benefits without paying like everyone else?

 

Moreover, I don’t advocate violence against anyone, but stiffing your co-workers on your union dues is a sure fire way to get slashed tires. Do you put your lunch in a communal fridge? I wouldn’t eat that after word gets out you’re a free rider. Not unless you like to share your co-worker’s saliva.

 

Again, I’m not advocating for any of that, but it’s just the way humans behave. We don’t like paying for any other able-bodied person whose “political” decision puts our lives and livelihoods in jeopardy.

 

The end result of a ruling against unions would forever put collective bargaining rights firmly under the protection of the First Amendment.

 

It would protect all speech – including union rights.

 

So I say, go ahead, SCOTUS, make our day!

White Kids Need Black History, Too

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It’s Black History Month.

 

That means your local public school is pulling out all the stops.

 

We’re making murals of artists from the Harlem Renaissance. We’re jamming to jazz, blues, R&B and hip hop. We’re reading excerpts from the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” We’re writing journals about what it means to be the people we are and to come from wherever we come from.

 

In short, we’re having a lot of fun.

 

But each child responds differently to the siren call of Black History – especially when the person making the call is a white teacher, like me.

 

Today I asked my classes of 7th grade students – most of whom are impoverished and/or minorities – “Would you like to talk about some Black History?”

 

And the responses I got were all over the place.

 

Some of the children enthusiastically took to their feet with a robust “Yeah!”

 

Others nodded. Some were merely quiet as if they didn’t think I were asking a real question. And some honestly ventured “No.”

 

In one class, a white student got so upset at the suggestion we spend valuable class time on Black History that he fell to the floor and almost hide under the table.

 

I’ll admit I was somewhat shocked by that.

 

What was he so reticent about? I mean I know the kid. He loves black culture. We all do. What does he have against learning about black people?

 

He’s a big heavy metal fan. What’s heavy metal without Jimi Hendrix?

 

He loves standup comedy. What’s standup comedy without Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy or – heck – even Steve Harvey?

 

And didn’t I see him the other day watching the preview to Marvel’s “Black Panther” with baited breath?

 

“What’s wrong?” I asked him on the floor.

 

“Mr. Singer, I really don’t want to learn about Black History.”

 

And it was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn’t say it – “Dude, if anyone needs to learn Black History, it’s you.”

 

I patted him on the back and told him he’d survive. But I let him stay on the floor.

 

Then we moved on.

 

We watched the video for the song “Glory” by Common and John Legend just to set the mood.

 

The kids were almost hypnotized. I’m not sure if it was the images from the movie “Selma,” the gorgeous singing and piano playing or the unexpected joy of hearing someone rapping in class.

 

When it was over, most of them couldn’t wait to talk about a few well-chosen people of color.

 

We started with the black power fist from the 1968 Olympics, talked about Tommie Smith and John Carlos, why they did what they did and even how it related to modern day protests like those initiated by Colin Kaepernick.

 

This got kids asking all kinds of questions. We talked about the origin of the slave trade, the science behind melanin and skin color, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and (in one class) we even took a deep dive into the lyrics of the National Anthem to discover why some people find it to be racist.

 

In short, it would be difficult to find a more productive 20-30 minutes. Kids were engaged and thoughtful, many looking up further details on their iPads as the bell rang and they left the room.

 

All except the white child on the floor.

 

He had participated in the discussion – reluctantly. But he hadn’t moved from his cave.

 

“Can I talk to you, Mr. Singer?” he said.

 

I told him, “Sure.” And he went on to tell me the kinds of things his grandparents say about black people.

 

He told me about their virulent opposition to Kaepernick, how they though black people were just whining about nothing and that racism had been over for fifty years.

 

It’s a hard position to be put in by a student.

 

You don’t want to contradict their folks, but you can’t let untruths pass by either.

 

I asked him what he thought about it. He wasn’t so sure.

 

So I told him just to think about what we had said. I asked him to keep an open mind.

 

For instance, I said, if Kaepernick shouldn’t take a knee during the National Anthem, when should he protest?

 

“How about with a sign in the street?” he said.

 

To which I responded that black people have done that and been told that was just as unacceptable.

 

By this time another student came back into the room and walked up to us. She was a white girl who’s usually very quiet.

 

“Mr. Singer, thank you for talking with us about all that stuff today,” she said.

 

I told her she was welcome and asked her what she thought about it.

 

“I just wish all this stuff wasn’t happening,” she said.

 

I asked her to elaborate.

 

“I mean that black power fist thing you showed us, that was like a hundred years ago.”

 

“Fifty years,” I corrected and she repeated me.

 

“And it’s still happening,” she said. “I just don’t understand why. Why can’t we all just live in peace?”

 

I smiled at her and the boy who had been quietly listening.

 

We spoke a bit further and they walked off together in deep conversation.

 

There are many great reasons to talk about Black History.

 

For children of color, it shows them that this nation wasn’t built entirely by white people, that they too are a part of America, that they have much to be proud of and to aspire to.

 

But that’s not the only reason to teach it.

 

Black History is important for white kids, too.

 

It teaches them that the world isn’t just about them, that we’re stronger together, that our differences aren’t something to be ashamed of but something to be celebrated.

 

But especially white children need to learn about their responsibilities as white people.

 

They didn’t start racism. Neither did I. But it has been practiced in our names and we have benefited from it.

 

If we don’t want to be a part of it, we need to recognize that and take a stand against it.

 

I acknowledge that’s an uncomfortable truth for middle school students. And it’s something I can’t simply sit my kids down and discursively tell them.

 

But in generating these conversations between children of different backgrounds, ethnicities and upbringings, I think it provides the chance for them to come to their own conclusions.

 

It’s a dangerous place to be.

 

Allowing kids to think for themselves means allowing them to come to conclusions you might not agree with.

 

The boy from my class might come in next week further convinced of his grandparents’ prejudice. Or he might not. But I suspect he will have thought about it some.

 

That’s all I can do.

 

As a group, white people could use more of that honest reflection. As adults, we become fixed in our thinking and rarely have the bravery of giving something a second thought.

 

But children’s characters are still being formed.

 

Conversations like this one give me hope for the future.

 

Black History is not just about the past. It’s about where we’ll go in the future.

 

Moreover, it’s not just important for black people. White people need exposure to it, too.

 

I know I do.

Study Suggests Bringing “No Excuses” Discipline Policies from Charter to Public Schools

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The teacher begins class by taking out her Glock.

 

She casually walks to the front of the room and shoots a misbehaving student in the head.

 

All the others immediately begin working on their assignment.

 

It sounds like something from a horror movie. But it’s actually not all that far away from what real researchers at the Brookings Institution and Princeton University are suggesting we do.

 

Sarah Cohodes has written a new report called “Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap” that praises “No Excuses” discipline policies at urban charter schools and suggests they be more widely implemented at traditional public schools serving the poor and students of color.

 

I wish I were kidding.

 

Let’s return to the hyperbolic situation with which I began this article.

 

The noise of a gunshot brings the principal racing to the classroom.

 

She notices the slumped bleeding body of the shot child and walks up to the teacher ready to physically disarm and arrest her. But then she notices all the rows of neatly placed desks and the children diligently doing their work.

 

She glances down at a paper here and there and notices that the children are getting most of their work correct.

 

So she turns to the teacher and says, “Carry on, Ms. C. You seem to have everything under control here.”

 

That’s perhaps the most immediate concern brought by Cohodes research – it proposes to evaluate a discipline model based solely on its academic results and completely ignores other aspects of the student experience. For instance, how does the model affect students’ social and emotional development? Is it harmful to students’ curiosity, self-motivation and psychological well-being?

 

Pardon me, but these are important issues.

 

I don’t care if my fictional teacher’s shoot first discipline policy gets students to do exceptional classwork. My daughter will not be enrolled in that class – nor do I expect anyone would want their child to learn in such an environment regardless of how well it maximized test scores.

 

Let me be clear. This is hyperbole, but with a point.

 

“No Excuses” discipline policies don’t result in any gunshot wounds or deaths (to my knowledge), but they do create environments that are not conducive to the flourishing of children.

 

 

For instance, at a New Orleans charter school, students were punished for not standing straight, not sitting up straight, for putting their heads down, for closing their eyes for too long, for not tracking speakers correctly with their eyes! Between classes students had to walk single file between the wall and a line marked with orange tape. And they had strict dress codes.

 

This is not school. It is prison.

 

And it’s unsurprising that these sorts of discipline policies are found at urban charter schools like the KIPP network serving mostly poor and minority students.

 

Cohodes champions them because – in her view – they get results.

 

I say that she is missing the point.

 

Her view of what is important in school is far too narrow.

 

Moreover, it’s based on a misconception of what constitutes academic success.

 

Cohodes concludes “No Excuses” policies work solely because schools with such policies tend to have students who get higher test scores.

 

This is to make a few assumptions.

 

First, it assumes that the number of students weeded out by such discipline policies isn’t significant enough to wipe out the apparent increase in scores. The punishment for breaking the rules at these schools is often detention, suspension or expulsion. Every child who is enrolled at the beginning of the year isn’t there by testing time. How do we know that the school hasn’t lost so many students who couldn’t obey the rules that they wipe out any gains in testing?

 

Second, she is assuming standardized testing provide accurate assessments of knowledge and skills. This is far from an accepted premise. These tests have repeatedly been shown to be both economically and racially biased. Cohodes is assuming that since the students scoring better on the assessments are still poor and predominantly black, what they’re being tested on is fair.

 

Standardized tests are poor assessments. Multiple choice exams do not possess the flexibility to allow for creativity and depth of knowledge. They simply expect a “standard” student to think a certain way and reward dissimilar students for conforming to that standard.

 

“No Excuses” charter schools may be better at getting different children to act and think alike, but that is not necessarily an endorsement.

 

Cohodes concludes that these gains in test scores are ultimately beneficial because they will lead to success at college. However, numerous studies have shown that charter school students end up dropping out of college at higher rates than traditional public school students. They simply haven’t learned how to motivate themselves to learn without the rigid, military structures of the charter school environment. One can imagine similar outcomes for charter students (successful charter students) who immediately enter the workforce.

 

None of these considerations make it into Cohodes research.

 

She jumps from the brilliant standardized success of “No Excuses” charter schools to the need to include these policies in traditional public schools.

 

Cohodes worries that the charter school sector can never fully compete with traditional public schools, so we need to make traditional public schools more like charter schools.

 

However, I cannot imagine many parents would jump at the chance to have their children treated like prison inmates for the chance of higher test scores.

 

Unlike charter schools, public schools have school boards. They have to make their decisions in public and are accountable to voters who can come to the public meeting, protest and even run for a seat on the board themselves.

 

In short, this is a terrible idea.

 

It is somewhat staggering that a grown adult could look exclusively at the data and come to such a conclusion without considering what it means for flesh-and-blood students.

 

Not only that, but we’re talking about predominantly black and brown students. Is it somehow more acceptable because we’re talking about turning schools serving darker skinned students into Guantanamo Bay? Would it be as acceptable for rosy cheeked affluent white kids?

 

This is what happens when you let economists set public policy.

 

It is essential that we include parents, teachers, psychologist and even students in the processes. Otherwise, we’ll continue to get heartless number crunching offered as sincere solutions to our problems.

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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