The Staggering Naivety of Those Criticizing Public Schools as Out-of-Date

naive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s examine the six main components of the video explaining why the charter operators think public schools are out of date and should be replaced:

1) Public Schools are Relics of the Industrial Age 

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

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

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

Absolutely not.

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

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

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

Absolutely not.

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

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

2) Lack of Autonomy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) Inauthentic Learning

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

Once again…

Actually this one is kind of spot on.

Or at least, it’s partially true.

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

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

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

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

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

4) No Room for Student Interests

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

Once again, there is some truth to these criticisms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) They Don’t Respect How We Learn

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

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

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

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

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

6) Too Much Lecturing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

school-shadows

 

Have you ever heard of media bias?

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

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

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

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

 
Breaking news: Pepsi says, “Coke sucks!”

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

THIS IS NOT NEWS!

THIS IS PROPAGANDA!

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

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

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

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

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

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

It isn’t.

But who’s paying your advertising revenue?

Who owns the media conglomerates that publish your articles?

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

No wonder they get so much coverage!

So here’s the deal.

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

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

So let the hand-wringing begin!

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

Won’t someone think of the children!?

WHY WON’T SOMEONE PLEEEEAAASSSEEE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!??

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

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

Biased much?

So what’s wrong with the report?

First of all, it’s not news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

teachingtime
Source: OECD

 

 

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

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

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

Some certainly are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And speaking of illness, let’s talk stress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Completely Avoidable Teacher Shortage and What To Do About It

teachers-wanted_slide-f490f6ba4043bb11d14c641c5fd6a253f638a74b-s900-c85

Hello?

Lo-lo-lo-lo…

Is anybody here?

Ere-ere-ere-ere…

Is anyone else left? Am I the only one still employed here?

Somedays it feels like it.

Somedays teaching in a public school is kind of like trying to run a resort hotel – ALL BY YOURSELF.

 
You’ve got to teach the classes and watch the lunch periods and cover the absences and monitor the halls and buy the pencils and tissues and fill out the lesson plans and conduct the staff meetings and…

Wouldn’t it be better if there were more people here?

I mean seriously. Why do we put the entire responsibility for everything – almost everything – involved in public education and put it all on the shoulders of school teachers?

And since we’re asking questions, why do we ALSO challenge their right to a fair wage, decent healthcare, benefits, reasonable hours, overtime, sick leave, training, collective bargaining… just about ANYTHING to encourage them to stay in the profession and to get the next generation interested in replacing them when they retire?

Why?

Well, that’s part of the design.

You see today’s public schools employ 250,000 fewer people than they did before the recession of 2008–09. Meanwhile enrollment has increased by 800,000 students.

So if we wanted today’s children to have the same quality of service kids received in this country only a decade ago, we’d need to hire almost 400,000 more teachers!

Instead, our children are packed into classes of 25, 30 even 40 students!

There’s no way a single teacher can give all those children her undivided attention at all times. There’s no way she can provide them with the kind of individualized instruction we know kids need in order to fulfill their potentials.

So why did we let this happen? Why do we continue to let this happen?

First, you have to understand that there are two very different kinds of public school experience. There is the kind provided by the rich schools where the local tax base has enough money to give kids everything they need including small class sizes and hiring enough teachers to get things done efficiently. And there’s the poor schools where the majority of our kids get educated by the most dedicated put upon teachers who give 110% everyday but somehow can’t manage to keep all those plates spinning in the air at the same time so the media swoops in, wags its finger and proclaims them a “failure.”

Bull.

It’s not teachers who are failing. It’s a system that stacks the deck against them and anxiously anticipates them being unable to meet unfair and impossible expectations.

Why do we let THAT happen?

Mainly because the people with money don’t care about poor and middle class children.

But also because they see the supposed failure of public schools as a business opportunity.

This is a chance to open a new market and scoop up buckets of juicy profit all for themselves and their donors.

It’s called privatized education. You know – charter schools and vouchers schools. Educational institutions not run by the public, not beholden to elected officials, but instead by bureaucrats who have the freedom to act in the shadows, cut student services and pocket the savings.

THAT’S why there’s a teacher shortage.

They want to deprofessionalize the job of teaching.

They don’t want it to be a lifelong career for highly trained, creative and caring individuals.

Why?

Those are people they have to pay a living wage. Those are people who know a thing or two and might complain about how the corporate scheme adversely affects the children in their care.

That’s why!

So these business people would rather teaching become a minimum wage stepping stone for young adults before they move on to something that pays them enough to actually support themselves and their families.

And to do that, the powers that be need to get rid of professional teachers.

People like me – folks with national board certification and a masters degree – they need to go.

THAT’S why class sizes are so large. That’s why so few young people are picking teaching as a major in college.

It’s exactly what the super-rich want.

And it doesn’t have to be some half mad Mr. Burns who makes the decisions. In my own district, the school board just decided to save money by cutting middle school math and language arts teachers – the core educators who teach the most important subjects on the standardized tests they pretend to value so much!

I’m under no illusions that my neighborhood school directors are in bed with the privatization industry. Some are clueless and some know the score. But the decision was prompted mostly by need. We’re losing too many kids to the local charter school despite its terrible academic track record, despite that an army of kids slowly trickle back to us each year after they get the boot from the privatizers, our district coffers are suffering because marketing is winning over common sense.

So number crunching administrators had a choice – straighten their backbones and fight, or suggest cutting flesh and bone to make the budget.

They chose the easier path.

As a result, middle school classes are noticeably larger, teachers have been moved to areas where they aren’t necessarily most prepared to teach and administrators actually have the gall to hold out their clipboards, show us the state test scores and cluck their tongues.

I actually heard an administrator this week claim that my subject, language arts, counts for double points on the state achievement rubric. I responded that this information should be presented to the school board as a reason to hire another language arts teacher, reduce class sizes and increase the chances of boosting test scores!

That went over like a lead balloon.

But it demonstrates why we’ve lost so much ground.

Everyone knows larger class sizes are bad – especially in core subjects, especially for younger students, especially for struggling students. Yet no one wants to do anything to cut class sizes.

If the state and federal government were really committed to increasing test scores, that’s the reform they would mandate when scores drop. Your kids aren’t doing as well in math and reading. Here’s some money to hire more teachers.

But NO.

Instead we’re warned that if we don’t somehow pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, they’ll close our school and give it to a private company to run – as if there were any evidence at all that this would help.

But, the school privatization cheerleader rebuts, why should we reward failing schools with more money?

The same reason you reward a starving stomach with more food. So the hungry person will survive!

Right now you’re doing the same thing with the testing corporations. They make the tests and grade the tests. So if students fail, the testing corporations get more money because then students have to take — MORE TESTS! And they are forced to take testing remediation classes that have to buy testing remediation materials produced by – wait for it – the same companies that make and grade the tests!

It’s a scam, ladies and gentlemen! And anyone who looks can see it.

But when you bring this up to administrators, they usually just nod and say that there’s nothing we can do about it. All we can do is keep trying to win the game – a game that’s rigged against us.

That’s exactly the attitude that’s gotten us where we are.

We can’t just keep doing it, keep appeasing the testing and privatization industry and their patsies in the media and government.

We must fight the system, itself, not go along with it.

We need to get on a bus and go to the state capital and Washington, DC, as a staff and protest. We need our school boards to pass resolutions against the unfair system. We need class action lawsuits. We need to tell everyone in the media what we know and repeat it again and again until it becomes a refrain.

And when we get these unfair evaluations of our under-resourced impoverished and multicultural districts, we need to cry foul. “Oh look! Pearson’s tests failed another group of mostly brown and black kids! I wonder what they have against children of color!”

Force them to change. Provide adequate, equitable and sustainable funding so we can hire the number of teachers necessary to actually get the job done. Make the profession attractive to the next generation by increasing teacher pay, autonomy, resources and respect. And stop evaluating educators with unproven, disproven and debunked evaluation schemes like value-added measures and standardized test scores. Judge them on what they do and not a trussed up series of expected outcomes designed by people who either have no idea what they’re talking about or actively work to stack the deck against students and teachers.

But most of all — No more going along.

No more taking the path most traveled.

Because we’ve seen where it leads.

It leads to our destruction.

Black Progress Does Not Come At White Expense

People of different races hold hands as they gather on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. bridge in Charleston

 

Relax, white people.

 

Take a breath.

 

It’s okay.

 

America survived its first black President.

 

You didn’t have to freak out and elect a neo-authoritarian-pseudo-populist!

 

Holy Crap!

 

Donald Fucking Trump!

 

Talk about an over-reaction!

 

But I get it.

 

You’re scared.

 

You’re used to the faces of authority being white and male. Yet for eight whole years you had to endure Barack Obama – a far from perfect neoliberal politician, who none-the-less gave the U.S. the most stable two terms in decades.

 

And then you were asked to vote for a white face (sigh!) that unfortunately was attached to breasts and a vagina! Oh the horror!

 

Seriously, white people. Sit the fuck down and listen to some sense.

 

You don’t need white supremacy.

 

You don’t need male supremacy.

 

You can function just fine in a world where people of color and women have the same rights as you and yours.

 

I know. Sounds crazy! But it’s true.

 

Think about it.

 

Let’s say unarmed black people were no longer killed by police at a higher rate than white people.

 

Would that hurt you?

 

I don’t think so. In fact, it might actually help, because then we could focus on the fact that police in this country kill far too many unarmed people – of any race – than they should. In most countries, they make lots of arrests but kill almost no one. Here, they kill hundreds – thousands!

 

We need to demilitarize law enforcement. We need new training programs that emphasize de-escalation of violence – not a shoot-first-ask questions-later mentality.

 

And it’s hard to focus on that when racism and prejudice get in the way. We need to fix racism first. Only then can we address the root issue.

 

Here’s another example.

 

Let’s say we had truly integrated public schools.

 

No run down under-resourced schools that just happen to serve mostly students of color and yet across town we’ve got the Taj Mahal with marble columns and a broad curriculum that just happens to serve the best and whitest.

 

Instead we’d have schools that serve everyone – a broad mix of cultures, races and ethnicities all properly resourced and offering a broad range of curriculum and extra-curricular activities.

 

Would that hurt you?

 

I don’t think so. In fact, it would actually help because every child would get what he or she needs to succeed. Crime would drop, and even prejudiced and racist attitudes would begin to disappear because it’s harder to hold xenophobic views about people who you actually know because you’ve learned everything with them since you were in kindergarten.

 

There’s one thing you have to understand. Racism isn’t an ideology. It’s a sickness. It’s a virus that blinds people to real truths about the world and makes them more prone to holding views that are just plain wrong.

 

The same with sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and a plethora of modern day maladies that should have gone the way of small pox and polio.

 

Inoculating yourself against prejudice will not hurt you. Living in a society where everyone has the same rights doesn’t impinge on those you already have.

 

Yes, it will mean dismantling white supremacy. But that’s a good thing. You don’t really want the world to prize you just because of the color of your skin.

 

Do you?

 

Do you want to get into college just because you’re white?

 

Do you want to get a job just because of the hue of your epidermis?

 

Do you want the sum total of your value as a human being to be dependent on the way light reflects off your skin?

 

I don’t.

 

I’m white, and I don’t want that for me or my posterity.

 

I want people to judge me for me – not some preconceived notion of who I am based on culturally received generalities and the amount of melanin in my outermost cells.

 

Fuck that shit.

 

I’m me. And if that’s not good enough for anyone they can just go and jump in the river.

 

I don’t need white supremacy. And I don’t want it.

 

I refuse to sit back and accept things I don’t deserve while others are denied what they do deserve just so I can get some free stuff.

 

I refuse to let my society continue to be built on a foundation of prejudice and cruelty.

 

We’re all human beings. It’s time we treated everyone as such.

 

That means everyone gets the same human rights.

 

To paraphrase Oprah – YOU get human rights, and YOU get human rights and EVERYONE gets human rights!

 

For white people that means losing a certain sense of normativity.

 

White will no longer be considered normal. Neither will male.

 

It’s just another way to be – no better or worse than any other.

 

That doesn’t mean being ashamed of your whiteness. Hell. We can revel in it.

 

Imagine reconnecting with all the messy ethnicities we’ve plastered over to claim this homogenous white overclass! Imagine being Polish again, and Czech and German and Scandinavian and so many other nationalities that we barely connect with because we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves as anything other than white — That’s me. Just white. Plain white. Nothing to see here. White.

 

We’ve had to sacrifice a whole lot to get that status. But we don’t have to keep sacrificing. We can be who we are, too.

 

The Alt-Right Nazis are out there in the streets chanting, “You will not replace us.”

 

How about we replace ourselves.

 

Why don’t we redefine who we are as – who we are.

 

Not homogenous. Not white. But specific human beings belonging to various cultural, ethnic and religious groups and societies.

 

Human beings all taking part in the symphony of homo sapia, engaged in a robust love of all things people and a recognition that all people are human.

 

Think for a moment what that truly means.

 

Take a deep breath.

 

Let it in. Let it out.

 

It means letting go of this irrational fear that anti-racism is anti-white.

 

So, let me say it again – no. Black progress will not come at white expense. Nor will female progress or anyone’s progress.

 

Because we go through this life together.

 

We are one race. We are one people – though we are also many – and we will survive or perish together.

 

Take my hand and let’s build a better world for all of us.

 

Let us all benefit.

 

Let us all progress.

 

Together.

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

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How did this happen?

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

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

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

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

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

But a book. That’s kinda’ permanent.

It has mass and takes up space.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

But whatever.

I’ll die with a smile on my face.

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

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

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

 

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I started as a journalist.

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

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

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

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

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

So I became an activist, too.

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

That led directly to the blog and now the book.

 

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So what’s in it?

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

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

Who did I write it for?

You, I hope.

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

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

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

I can see some of my students doing the same.

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

I guess this is my way of telling them.

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

You’re cordially invited to read it.

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

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

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

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

Gadfly on the Wall.

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


UPDATE:

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

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

Making Puerto Rico the New New Orleans – Steal the Schools and Give Them to Big Business to Run For Profit

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Charter school backers can’t help it.

 

They see a bunch of black or brown kids displaced by a natural disaster and they have to swoop in to help…

 

Help themselves, that is.

 

They did it in 2005 to New Orleans schools after Hurricane Katrina. Now they want to do it again in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

 

“This is a real opportunity to press the reset button,” said Puerto Rican Secretary of Education Julia Keleher.

 

“…this [is a] transformational opportunity for us to start to think fundamentally differently about what it is to be in school, and how one goes about getting an education.”

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A dozen years ago in Louisiana, that meant stealing almost the entire New Orleans public school system in the aftermath of Katrina. About 90 percent of the city’s 126 schools were given to the Louisiana Recovery School District, which turned them all into charter schools.

 

In effect, Louisiana state officials elected by the white majority stole control from local school boards elected by the city’s black majority. More than 7,000 teachers most of whom were people of color and had been displaced by the hurricane found themselves replaced by mostly white teachers brought in from other parts of the country.

 

Now, more than 10 years later, the New Orleans experiment has been shown to be a failure. Scores on standardized tests have improved (kinda), but the curriculum has narrowed, teacher turnover has doubled, disadvantaged and special education students have even fewer resources while schools fight over high achieving children, students spend hours being bused to schools far from their homes, communities have been erased, and parents have less control over how their own tax dollars are spent.

 

That is what Keleher and others want to repeat in Puerto Rico – wrest control away from the public and give it to big business all wrapped up in a bow.

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Why?

 

 

Public schools come with expensive perks like local control, transparent budgets and regulations to ensure all the money is being spent on students. It’s much cheaper to run these districts with unelected bureaucrats, closed-door budgets and the ability to grab as much of the cash as possible and stuff it into their own pockets.

 

It ’s not like anyone’s going to complain. These schools aren’t for rich white kids. They’re for poor brown ones.

 

It’s just colonialism, 2017 style!

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Jeanne Allen thinks that’s a great idea.

The founder and CEO of school privatization lobbying group, the Center For Education Reform, said that charterization is the best thing that could happen to Puerto Rican schools.

 

After dealing with the immediate effects of the hurricane, reformers “should be thinking about how to recreate the public education system in Puerto Rico.” And she should know. Allen was also involved in the New Orleans fiasco turning that system over to big business.

 

She added that charter school operators across the nation, including cyber charter school managers (whose schools often have even more wretched academic results), should be thinking about how to get involved in Puerto Rico post-Maria.

 

Keleher has already begun laying the groundwork.

 

Even though many Puerto Rican schools are only operational because of the work of teachers who have cleaned them up and have opened them despite being told not to by Keleher’s administration, the Education Secretary has pledged to lay off massive amounts of teachers and permanently close more schools – even schools that are structurally sound.

 

“Consolidating schools makes sense,” Keleher said in October. “They can go out and protest in the streets, but that doesn’t change the fact that we can’t go back to life being the same as it was before the hurricane.”

 

Puerto Rican teachers aren’t letting the vultures swoop in without protest.

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Just this week twenty-one teachers in the capitol of San Juan were arrested during a rally at the Education Department headquarters. They were demanding all structurally sound schools be opened immediately.

 

“Our schools have served students well and although we recognize that it can be expensive to repair some schools, what we are asking is that schools that are ready be opened,” said social worker Alba Toro just before the arrests.

 

Administration officials are claiming the teachers were taken into custody because they physically attacked the civil servants, but witnesses say the protest was entirely peaceful.

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According to Education Safety Commissioner César González, the protesters assaulted at least three security employees and a public relations employee while inside the building.
However, protestors dispute this version of events. Eulalia Centeno, who was part of the group that went inside the building, but left before the arrests began, said that no violent acts were committed and that the protesters only demanded to see the secretary to request the opening of public schools.

 

Seven weeks after the hurricane, less than half of the island’s nearly 1,200 public schools are open in any capacity. Though many schools endured severe storm and flood damage, others were repaired and cleaned to shelter hurricane victims and are ready to take in students.

“Keleher is using the crisis as an opportunity to close hundreds of public schools, lay off senior teachers and privatize public education,” says Mercedes Martinez, President of the Federacion de Maestros of Puerto Rico, an island teachers union.

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Martinez was one of the teachers arrested during the protest.

 

When she was taken out of the building in handcuffs, her son was photographed leaning over a railing and patting his mother on the shoulder.

 

This is what real heroes do.

 

They refuse to back down despite the forces of prejudice and commerce stacked against them.

 

Will we let the charter school vampires suck Puerto Rico dry?

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Do We Still Have a Functioning Democracy?

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Do we still have a functioning democracy?

Really.

Do we?

Because when I look around at the mess we’ve got here today, I honestly don’t know.

I went to my polling place to vote, and it was nearly deserted.

The candidates’ signs were still there, stuck in the ground like some kind of seasonal weed in need of a gardener.

But there were no people.

Well there was one nice lady sitting on a bench who smiled and handed me a flier from the county Democratic committee.

When I got inside, the poll workers were as cheerful and friendly as ever. I’ve known these ladies since I was a little kid. They remember when I worked at the local newspaper and could probably recite some elements of my resume better than I can.

They made polite conversation asking about my parents and grandparents as they looked up my information and geared up the machine to take my ballot.

There was something almost frightening about the whole thing. It was both familiar and tainted – kind of like returning to the scene of some grisly murder.

Just a year ago, this was where we knowingly voted for Donald J. Trump to be President of the United States.

When I say “we” I don’t mean me.

I didn’t vote for that tiny-handed racist asshole. But I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, either.

And when the whole thing was done last year, I had terrible chest pains that sent me to my doctor and then the hospital with my first-ever heart attack.

That election literally sent me to the ICU.

And yet today here I was standing on my own two feet getting ready to do it all over again.

I stood there staring at the choices on the machine, looking at my helpful Democratic flier and even referring to an email on my phone from my union.

“Why is the union recommending a bunch of Republicans?” I thought.

“Their chosen candidates want to dismantle the very institution recommending I vote for them!”

And then I looked at the list of Democrats. I didn’t know any of them.

Some of their names were familiar from hastily aired campaign ads that told me a folksy story about their families or education or how they’d never called off a day in their lives – but nothing about their beliefs, their values, even their politics.

How am I supposed to choose between these people?

I thought about just voting for the Green candidates but there was a whole one to choose from in only one race.

So I ended up voting for the Democrats. At least I have some nominal idea where they stand.

And I have to admit when it was all over and I pressed “VOTE,” I felt really good.

The machine made that metallic buzz like it was tabulating my ballot, and I felt like I had really accomplished something.

Then I went out into the nearly deserted parking lot and got hit by a wave of depression.

“What the fuck just happened?” I asked myself.

And I answered, “You got played, son.”

“Again.”

Trump is still President. And he’ll be President tomorrow and probably tomorrow and tomorrow.

And even if he was magically ushered from the scene, there’s another nearly identical Republican ideologue waiting to take his place. And another to take his. And another…

Meanwhile, the Democrats are little more than a steaming crater in the ground. They hold fewer political offices than they have at any point in my lifetime. And it doesn’t appear like that will change anytime soon.

We just had a grassroots, people-powered revolution demanding American politics move back to the left. We had a popular progressive candidate overflowing huge stadiums, an influx of young people committed to fighting against intersectional issues like racism, sexism and class warfare. And it was crushed by the Democratic nominee who coopted the process and the party with big money.

Maybe we were all just incredibly naive. I mean how can you get money out of politics when the system is already corrupted by money?

Laws aren’t made by consensus anymore. They’re made because lawmakers get paid.

And lawmakers aren’t elected because people vote for them. They’re elected because they have big money behind them – because these are the people the donors want to offer the rest of us as a choice. And no one else. Republicans and Democrats picked by the same oligarchs to make it look like us, plebeians, have a choice.

Occasionally an outlier sneaks in, but that’s rare, and the plutocrats – the real owners of this country – spend hundreds of millions of dollars to stop them.

So what do we do? Strengthen a weak and disorganized third party? Even under the best of circumstances, that would take decades. In the meantime, the environment would be destroyed, millions would have died in unnecessary wars and what little majority rule we have would have inevitably been repealed long ago.

I wish I had some more optimistic note on which to end. But I don’t.

All I have is this question: Do we still have a functioning Democracy?

And I put it out there in the real hope that readers will consider it deeply.

No kneejerk reactions. No received wisdom from this pundit or that anchor or that party hack.

It’s a question we all have to answer – and soon.

Because if the answer is “no,” what the heck can we even do about it?