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9) She’s rescinded rules that protected trans students.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


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



There is something monstrously unfair about our teacher evaluation systems.


If your students fail because they were up all night playing video games, it’s your fault.




When students fail at academic tasks, there is no responsibility attributed to the students, no responsibility attributed to the parents and certainly no responsibility given to society.


It’s all just thrown on the teacher because, hey, someone’s got to be responsible. And it might as well be them.


I’ve written scores of articles about how standardized tests forced on students by the federal government are unfair.


They are developmentally inappropriate, culturally biased, and subject to a deep conflict of interest because the people making the tests get more money if test takers fail.


The tests drive the curriculum instead of the other way around. The scores needed to pass change from year-to-year invalidating annual comparisons. And many lawmakers pushing for these assessments are funded by the school privatization industry that uses failing test scores to sell its own fly-by-night brand of education.


These are real problems our education system faces every day.


But we mustn’t forget an even more fundamental one: we’re all responsible for student success or failure.


Not just teachers. EVERYONE.


Society, lawmakers, business people, parents – but those most responsible are the students, themselves.


Case and Point—


Over the last few months a word has entered my students’ vocabulary that hadn’t been there before: Fortnite.


It’s not that they’re so interested in an antiquated term for a two-week period. It’s the name of a popular multiplayer on-line shoot-em-up video game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Mac. Players build forts with teammates to defend against other players or enemies.


Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.


It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”


And then it started to manifest physically.


Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.


It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.


Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.


When I noticed it, I cleared as much of my schedule as I could to call parents. It’s hard because administration decided not to fill positions in my department for teachers who retired last year – so all our classes are larger. And they gave me a new class I haven’t taught in years so the planning load is more cumbersome.


Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.


And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.


Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.


However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.


But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.


However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.


I’m not blaming them. Most of my students live below the poverty line. That means their folks are working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Or they’re grandparents raising their sons’ or daughters’ kids. Or they’re foster parents with a full house.


They’re doing the best they can. But it doesn’t end up stopping the addiction.


And – let’s be honest – it is an addiction.


For the first time in 2018, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as a real thing. Not every video game. Not every time someone sits down to play a video game. But video games can lead to addictive behavior.


That’s what I’m seeing in my students.


So after talking with as many parents as I could, I came to a mostly dead end.


My next step was to try to use student interests to influence instruction.


We were in the middle of a poetry writing unit. So I allowed students to write their poems about Fortnite.


That perked up a few heads.


Here’s a cinquain about Fortnite. Here’s an acrostic, a narrative, a concrete poem in the shape of a soldier or his gun.


To be honest, none of them were masterpieces.


They were just the normal trash talk and braggadocio written down in verse.


So I got an idea. Use the heightened competitive urge to push artistry.


We came to limericks – a difficult but fun type of poetry with five lines, a specific rhyme scheme and meter.


We read funny examples, we sang the rhythm together in chorus – da Dum da da Dum da da Dum – and then I set them the task of writing their own limericks.


With one twist. Whoever wrote the best limerick would get a homework pass.


That got them going like a shot.


All of my Fortniters perked up.


They wrote like I’d never seen.


Each wanted to one-up the others. And no one wrote about the game.


By the end of class, we had some pretty good poems. I wouldn’t say they are the best ever written, but they were miles better than where we were before.


So what does it all mean?


When we talk about video games these days, the conversation usually strays toward violence.


Pundits caution that video games will desensitize children and make them more prone to aggression and acting out. It might even contribute to the creation of school shooters.




In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.


Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.


However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.


Some corporations want to try to harness this addiction to push learning. Hence the move to personalized or competency based education. That’s pure rubbish.


It’s a way to monetize education without paying attention to what’s best for kids. The same with gamification – using game theory to drive instruction.


And don’t think I’ve lost sight of my own use of competition in class. I haven’t.


Games and competition can be used to positive ends in moderation.


You can motivate reluctant kids to do things they wouldn’t normally do with competition. But it doesn’t work for everyone and it doesn’t work all the time.


It needs to be a novelty. Any tool can be overused.


Even video games aren’t bad in moderation. I used to be a gamer, myself.


The problem is when it becomes an addiction.


Our social structures can’t handle it.


Game corporations only care if it makes money. Parents are often stressed to the limit just to provide the basics.


The only group we require to be responsible is teachers.


And that’s just not going to work.


Video game addiction is another area where it becomes painfully clear how much work we all need to do to help our children succeed.

Gamification – The Hottest New Trend to Monetize Education

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When I was a kid, Super Mario Bros. was my jam.


After school, I couldn’t wait to take on the role of plucky plumber Mario or his brother Luigi. I’d jump on a few turtle shells, bounce over a bottomless pit and smash just the right secret brick to get my flashing star power up and wipe the floor with endless levels of Koopa Troopas.


But through it all, I never really learned anything.


With the possible exception of a few Italian stereotypes, the only knowledge I gained was where the warp zones were, which blocks to hit and the muscle memory necessary to defeat the next bad guy.


However, now-a-days that’s all changed.


Someone in marketing and accounting has decided that the same techniques I used to save Princess Toadstool would make an exceptional method of pedagogy.


They call it gamification, the process of making academic lessons, courses and objectives look more like video games.


Sure, the process has applications in the business world and advertising, but its biggest market has been education.


In fact, the Gamification industry is worth $2 billion worldwide and some estimate it to jump to $22 billion by 2022.


Want to teach grammar? Welcome to the good ship Verb sailing on the seas of Nouns and Pronouns. Interjections, A-hoy!


Wish your students knew fractions? Let them blast away the wrong numbers so only the correct numerator matches with the correct denominator.


That kind of thing.


It’s incredibly popular in some circles.


Advocates claim it increases student engagement and enthusiasm, provides instant feedback and the opportunity for social interactions.


Critics say it reduces students’ attention spans, narrows the curriculum and replaces human interaction with canned interfaces.


But when something is bringing in this kind of cash for big business, it’s kind of beside the point whether it works or not.


It’s the latest form of snake oil out of the cobra factory, and your teacher may be forced to pour it into your children’s brains.


That’s just Education 2018. Under the old model, the hucksters would have to approach each teacher one-at-a-time and convince them to try the shinny new toy in the box. But when you remove teacher autonomy, that frees all the used car salesmen to go right to the one person in your district – often the technology coordinator or academic coach – who controls the purse strings and convince him or her to buy what they’re selling.


In short, I’m not a fan.


In fact, I think gamification is one of the dumbest fads to hit public schools since standardized testing.


Don’t get me wrong.


Games can have limited use in the classroom.


My students love reviewing already mastered material in teams or competing against each other individually.


But there’s a big difference between playing Jeopardy or Kahoot with soon-to-be-tested material and plopping kids on an app or software package that pretends to teach them the concept.

There’s a world of difference between a 10-minute detour and an entire curriculum structured around game theory.


The biggest problem seems to be this.


Games are not intrinsically valuable.


They are good or bad based on the amount of fun they provide the user.


Be honest. No one really cares if Link puts together the Tri-force. No one is losing any sleep over rampaging Metroids on the loose. No one is putting out an Amber Alert the next time Princess Peach is inevitably kidnapped by Bowser. The only thing that matters is if meeting these objectives and countering these fictional bad guys is fun and exciting.


However, the same is not true for the ends of education.


People care whether you can read and write. You may lose sleep over being unable to add, subtract, multiple and divide. Co-workers will be alerted if you don’t comprehend the basics of science and history.


And the higher the skill we’re aiming for, the greater the degree of importance.


Gamification divorces these two ends. It turns education from an intrinsic activity into an extrinsic one.


This is a big deal.


Students shouldn’t struggle through a reading passage so they’ll get a score or a badge. They should actually care about what they’re reading.


My students and I just finished reading Lois Lowry’s “The Giver,” and they loved it.


After the first few chapters, they weren’t reading for a grade or to please me, their teacher. They truly wanted to know what would happen next. And to fully understand that, they had to exercise and refine their reading skills.


Look at it like this.


When I was playing Super Mario Bros., I often took a few warp zones to the last board so I could beat Bowser quickly and win the game. But that means I skipped over most of the first seven boards.


This didn’t matter because the only reason to play was to win. But if those first boards had included something important to the experience, skipping them would have greatly diminished my experience.


Gamification reduces learning until its meaningless. Why would anyone want to know something unless it carried with it a video game like reward?


And that’s merely the worst part.


In practice, most of the applications and software being pushed on kids to increase enthusiasm and motivation aren’t really very much fun at all. After a few times through, there isn’t much reason to plow through exposition heavy content with little to do. This material doesn’t connect to students’ lives, it doesn’t foster authentic competition, it doesn’t stoke their sense of wonder – it’s just a boring set of hoops to jump through to satisfy the instructor.


Admittedly, it does provide instant feedback, but that doesn’t matter if students don’t care about the matter at hand.


Social interactions are possible here but rarely have I seen this opportunity explored. A good group project will get students more engaged socially than messaging back and forth about the software challenge du jour.


Education can be so much more than this.


Students are being robbed of authentic interactions, authentic instruction and authentic learning.


Not all things should be turned into a game.


Gamification is another example of trying too hard to market something to people who won’t actually be using it in the hopes that they won’t notice it doesn’t actually work that well.


The consumer isn’t the gamer – it’s the administrator who buys the program. And the people best suited to assess the program’s success – teachers and students – aren’t even part of the equation.


It’s about monetization, not education.


Mario may grab a bunch of coins on his way to save the princess, but it is the corporations who are getting rich off this sad fad.


All that glitters is not gold, just as all that is new and technological is not cutting edge.



Can we stop letting big business drive the field and let education be determined by educators?



Otherwise, it will be game over for an entire generation of kids duped into accepting crap for curriculum.


Gadfly on the Road – Reflections on My First Book Signing



So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.


Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.


Cough drop – check.


Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!


Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.


I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.


But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.


I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.


I had a 15-20 minute speech ready to go – a distillation of the main themes in my book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.”


Would people hear what I had to say?



I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.


And there in the second row was my daughter.


For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.


In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.


I began.


It was surreal.


I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.


Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.


At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.


I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.


It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.


I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.


And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?



I finished my remarks, getting a few laughs here and there. Anger and mirth in equal measure.


I thanked everyone for coming and took questions.


There were quite a bit.


Which aspect of corporate education reform was the worst?


Is there any way for parents to protect their children from standardized testing?


How has the gun debate impacted the move to privatization?


My mother even asked what alternative methods of assessment were preferable to standardized testing.


It went back and forth for a while.


When it seemed to die down, I thanked everyone for coming and said I would be there for as long as anyone would like to talk one-on-one and sign any books if people would like.


I had a line.


Thankfully, my wife brought me the nicest sharpie marker just before I got up there.


I tried to personalize as much as I could but everything seemed to be a variation on “Thanks for Coming.”


Students came up to me with huge grins. Parents asked more questions about their children. Lots of handshaking and hugs.


Teachers came up to tell me I had done a great job. Many introduced me to their kids – most itty bitty toddlers.


A former student who had already graduated got really serious and said, “It was about time someone said that.”



And it was over.


The store manager told me how many books we sold. I had no idea if that was good or bad, but he seemed well satisfied.


I packed everything up in my car and then went looking for my family.


I found them in the children’s section.


They had picked out a few books Mommy was purchasing. A really nice one about Harriet Tubman among them.


My daughter was sitting alone by a toy train set. She was worn out. It had been a long day.


“Daddy!” she said when she saw me. “You were amazing!”


And that was it.


That was all I’d needed.


She asked me about this or that from the speech. Obviously she didn’t understand the ins and outs of what I had said, but some of it had penetrated.


We talked about racism and why that was bad. We talked about what we could do to help stop it.


The rest of the time she held my hand and took me on a tour of the store.


I have hope for a better world, but if I’m honest, I’m not sure if writing this book or my activism or any of it will ever actually achieve its goal.


As ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.”


But I’ve shown my daughter where I stand.


I’ve shown her where I think it’s appropriate to stand.


I’ve shown the same to my students, my family, my community.


They’ll do with that what they will.


I just hope that one day when I’m gone, my daughter will remember what I taught her.


She’ll remember and feel my presence though I’m long gone.




Videos of the majority of my speech:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:



Teaching is Hard Enough Without the Threat of Imminent Death




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




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


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


However, be vigilant.


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


We’ll bring in bomb-sniffing dogs…


But try to maintain calm and order.


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


But try to make the kids feel safe and secure.


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


But attempt to establish an atmosphere conducive to learning.


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


I know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


What the heck are we coming to?


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


And the teachers should get guns.


And the principals should get guns.


And the parents should get guns.


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


This is madness.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


They’re watching and taking names.



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


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


But this generation refuses to be lost.


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


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


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


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


Because the next generation will be nothing like us.


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


Economists Don’t Know Crap About Education



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



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



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



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



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



Take education.



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



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



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



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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


But that’s only the half of it.


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


Students are engaged in the activity of becoming themselves.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


It is a symptom of our sick society.


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


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


That’s why standardized tests are inadequate.


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


Use the right tool for the right job.


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


If you want to understand education, call a teacher.


When Will It Happen Here?




It could happen at anytime in my classroom.


The thing we’ve all been dreading.


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


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


There’s really very little we could do.


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


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


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


Alaina is pestering me for a pass to the library.


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


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


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


But there’s very little conversation.


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


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


The news from last night still plays in my head.


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


Or was it two killed in Kentucky?


How long was it since the last one?


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


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


But what can we do about it?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I can’t differentiate past a bullet.


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


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


But don’t get me wrong.


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


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


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


What we need is real gun control legislation.


We need an assault weapons ban.


We need to close the gun show loophole.


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


In short, we need lawmakers willing to make laws.


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


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


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


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


We need action.


And we need it yesterday.


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


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


That sounds like a good idea to me.


I’m game.


But we need more than that.


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


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


I may sit in that classroom.


My students and my daughter may be in danger.


But America must be the shield.


America must rise up and protect our future.


WE must take charge.


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


It is a case of when.