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.


How to Oppose White Supremacists Without Becoming a Monster, Yourself



There is a danger in opposing white supremacists.


In confronting such an odious set of beliefs, you can justify suspending your own strongest held moral convictions as a necessary end to defeating their prejudices.


It’s easy to see how this might happen.


When hearing an ignorant troll like Richard Spencer arrogantly spouting warmed over Nazi propaganda, it is quite natural to wish to issue a rebuttal in the form of your fist.


You can follow the logic all the way from your heart to your knuckles.


Your thought process might go something like this:


This fool is so enamored with violence, let him suffer the consequences of it.


But that is conceding the point.


That is giving the white supremacist his due. It’s entering his world and playing by his rules.


Oh, I’m sure it’s satisfying, but it’s the wrong way to respond.


However, on the other hand one can’t simply smile and nod during Spencer’s tirade and then expect to reciprocate with an academic treatise.


No cogent, logical, professorial come back is going to counter the purely emotional arguments made by white supremacists.


They are stoking fear and hatred. Logic is useless here.


So what are anti-racist anti-facists like ourselves supposed to do when confronted with people like this?


We have to walk a razor’s edge between two poles.


On the one hand, we can’t tolerate intolerance.


I know that’s paradoxical. But it’s true.


As Vienna-born philosopher Karl Popper put it in The Open Society and Its Enemies, unlimited tolerance leads to the destruction of tolerance.


If we tolerate the intolerant, if we give them equal time to offer their point of view and don’t aggressively counter their views, they will inevitably resort to violence and wipe our side out.


This doesn’t mean immediately punching them in the face or violently attacking them. For Popper, we should let rationality run its course, let them have their say and usually their ideas will be rejected and ignored.


However, if this doesn’t happen and these ideas start to take root as they did in Nazi Germany (or perhaps even today in Trump’s America), then Popper says we must stop them by “fists or pistols.”


In short, Popper writes:


“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”


Popper believed in the free expression of ideas, but when one of those ideas leads to violence, it is no longer to be tolerated. Then it is outside the law and must be destroyed.




What then do we do with our commitment to nonviolence?


Do we reluctantly agree to push this constraint to the side if push comes to shove?


No. This is the other pole we must navigate between.


On the second to last day of his life, April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech stating his unequivocal commitment to the principal of nonviolence:


“It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.”


The next day he was shot to death. These are among the last words he spoke in public.


That King was to be martyred in the cause of justice would not have surprised him.


He had already received several death threats and attempts on his life.


He knew that his continued efforts to fight for human dignity would probably result in the premature ending of his life someday. He knew all that yet he still prescribed nonviolence.


There was simply no other way for him to exist.


Mahatma Gandhi, who influenced Dr. King and our American fight for civil rights with his own nonviolent revolution in India, went even further.


At the start of WWII, he wrote that the British should lay down their arms and let the Nazis invade the United Kingdom without offering any violent resistance. They should even let themselves be slaughtered if it came to it. He made similar remarks to Jews facing the Holocaust.


That’s pretty extreme.


But can you imagine its effect?


No one followed Gandhi’s advice. We fought the Germans in WWII and won. We crushed their pathetic thousand year Reich and threw their prejudiced ideals on the trash heap of history.


And yet here we are today. In Charlottesville. In Portland. In Washington, DC.


The scared and ignorant have rooted through the trash and recycled those same odious ideals.


The war ended, but the battle goes on.


Would that have happened had we met violence with nonviolence?


I don’t know the answer. No one does.


But it respects an important point – we can’t ultimately fight our way to peace. Not without killing everyone else. And then why would the solitary survivor wish to live?


There is an inherent flaw in humanity that continually incites us to kill each other.


We can never have true peace unless we find a way to stamp out that flaw.


Nonviolence is the closest we’ve ever come to finding a solution.


So there you have it, the Scylla and Charybdis of our current dilemma.


We must try to navigate between them.


We must not tolerate the intolerance of the white supremacists. But we must also not allow our opposition of them to change us into that which we hate.


I know it sounds impossible. And I certainly don’t have all the answers about how we do it.


To start with, when white supremacists advocate violence of any kind, we must seek legal action. We must use every tool of the law, the courts, and law enforcement to counter them.


This requires political power. We must organize and keep them politically marginalized and weak.


We must take every opportunity to speak out against white supremacy. We must continue to make their ideal socially and culturally repugnant. At the same time, we must also reach out to them in the spirit of healing and love. We can’t give up on them, because they, too, are our brothers and sisters.


Yet if they resort to violence, we can feel justified in protecting ourselves and those they wish to victimize.


But the keyword here is “protect.”


We should go no further. We should not attack.


I know that is a hard line to walk.


Maybe it’s not even possible. Still, we must try.


It might feel satisfying to punch a Nazi. Heck! I’m sure it would. But we cannot allow ourselves to become like them.


Because the real enemy is not them.


It is their fear and ignorance.


And if we’re honest, we hold the same disease deep inside our own hearts.


We cannot defeat racism and prejudice unless we overcome our own flawed humanity.

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



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


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

I’m more misunderstood than anything.



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


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


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


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


What’s wrong with schools? NOT ENOUGH CHOICE.


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Rampant Ignorance of What a School Should Be



From politicians confusing a living wage with a handout—


To a white supremacist teacher podcast.


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


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


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


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


Many people have no idea what a school should be.


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


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


It’s a reasonable request.


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


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


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


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


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


What, Sen. Arvone? Are you high?


A salary is not a “free handout.”


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


Moreover, a salary is neither free nor a handout.


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


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


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


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




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


So there!


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


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


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


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


Want another example?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


We don’t want you here.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I know it did me.


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


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


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


Indoctrination is not what school should be.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


She was just there for a photo op.


Well, time’s up, Betsy.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I wish more people understood it.


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


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

White Kids Need Black History, Too



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



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



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!