Half Rant and Come To Ravitch Meeting – Can I get a “Hail Yeah!” Edition

Before I get into today’s post, let me first thank all of you who called/emailed/texted/posted your outrage/concern/disgust/sympathy/encouragement regarding my last post. It is comforting to know that I have supportive, loving people on my team.

Second, let me clarify that I did not lose my job. I just signed a mostly meaningless contract, as the BSISD has ensured that they can nullify or amend the terms on it at any time and for almost any reason, and I think my principal (who will hereafter be referred to as Kim Jong-il) was really just trying to scare me into…well, I’m not sure what I could be scared into doing; forcing my student to do better on their tests, I guess. Maybe it was Principal Kim’s way of reminding me that I am a valuable member of an important educational team, or maybe Kim was trying to tell me that next year, The Great Leader will have his powerful eye on me, but either way, I wasn’t outright fired. So there’s that. For right now, all Kim did was add an excellent sub-plot to the After School Special they’re going to make about me some day.

http://kimjongillookingatthings.tumblr.com/about kim jong-il

Of course, it’s just a matter of time. Eventually I will be sacked (that’s British for ‘fired’. It doesn’t mean I’ll get laid. But that could happen eventually also. I’ll keep you posted.)

When I first started teaching I looked around at the older teachers and shook my head, knowing that I would never be like them. There were the ones who ranted and raved, always arguing about anything new and the impossibilities behind the implementation of innovative ideas. I called them the “Nein-Nicht” faction.There were the “Bobbleheads” who had long ago checked out, and just smiled and nodded, regardless of the topic. There were the “Fraidy-rabbits”, who always did everything to the letter and freaked out with every new task, trend or mandate.They ducked their heads and trembled a lot.  And finally, there were those who agreed to do whatever was asked of them, no matter how ridiculous, time-consuming, useless or clearly unfeasible, and then shut their doors and did exactly what they wanted to do, whenever and however they wanted to do it. You know, “What happens in the classroom stays in the classroom” folk. One of those guys used to smoke out the window of his third floor room and showed up drunk as a skunk at prom one year, where he was the late night chaperone. I’ll call this last group “Ken” in his honor.

The reason I shook my head when I looked at those old teachers so long ago was that I could not understand what happened to them to make them behave as they did, and because I knew that I would never be one of them. I firmly believed that anyone that out of step with modern, research-based and widely-endorsed best practices in education should leave the profession. They had stayed past their passion, usefulness, and welcome, and it was time for them to go.

Well, lo and behold, time passed and hot-damn it all, now you can just call me fraidy-rabbit-nein-nicht, bobble-headed Ken!  I can totally understand how teachers get so frustrated and weary with having the same tedious arguments about doing the same things that never work that they are quick to veto the same ineffective, poorly-thought out, ill-implemented solutions that never have and never will fix the same problems, even if they have exciting, inspirational new names and slogans. (Believe to Achieve! Failure is Not An Option! No Child Left Behind!) I can see how it is easier to smile and nod than to corrode your insides with the acids of resentment, fury and anxiety that is the cocktail of this business. It becomes less than a stretch to understand the fears that mount up as the workload gets heavier, the classroom gets larger, you get older, and the economy gets weaker. And, though proms suck after you graduate high school, everyone knows they are more fun when you are drunk, no matter how old you are.

So you see, even though I love teaching and I love my students (Julio just texted me from Mexico. He spelled “Miss” with three esses, and told me I was as bad as all the gangsters in Guanajuato! What’s not to love?!), I am hopelessly out of alignment with the direction of modern education, and some day, probably sooner than later, it will be my time to go, either willingly or by force.

So, to recap the popular wisdom on education:

1. The current educational trends lean towards the one-size-fits-all solution of blaming the teachers for low achieving students. If we get rid of bad teachers – and “we” are sure about who “they” are, because we base our evaluations on “facts” and “data” -we will float to the top of the universal smart pool. Someone once told me the same thing happens to your doo-doo if you are healthy, but that is totally irrelevant here.

2. In order to achieve this, (not the healthy doo doo but getting real smart), we must inform the public about the corrupt, lazy and highly over-compensated workforce we currently employ, and be constantly vigilant in reducing their ranks. This will also save on money, which may be the single most important thing in a good, strong, effective school system that produces genius students.

3. Students are low-achieving if they perform poorly on standardized tests. Again, the only conceivable reason for students to perform poorly is that they are poorly taught. Therefore, teachers should be judged, hired, retained and paid based on how their students perform.

4. All students are equal; therefore, all students can perform equally.

I said this was only going to be a half rant, so I will state my case in as few words as possible. Of course, for me, this will still be lots of words. Sorry!

1. A logical fallacy is an error in logic. Here is a list of them: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fallacies See if you can spot all of the false assumptions in the logic of the statements listed above.

2. The difference between “standards” and “standardization” is as big as the difference between “sterile” and “sterilization.” You can quote me on that. “Accountability” is much more than “blame”. Another good quote, if I do say so myself.

3. Just because it is said or written, just because numbers are presented, doesn’t mean that it is a complete truth. Nothing is ever black or white.

4. We are not all equal. We are all marvelously different. We learn differently and have different strengths and weaknesses. Duh!For further clarification, see Kurt Vonnegut’s fabulous short story, Harrison Bergeronhttp://www.tnellen.com/cybereng/harrison.html

5. Public servants are not the enemy, no matter who says that they are. We need people who want to make a career of working for others. Less and smaller is not always better. photo from Dallas Observer http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2012/04/the_10_best_signs_at_this_week.php#more

So, that’s the end of my rant. Except for this: I know some of you don’t care about public education. You don’t go to school, or your kids go to private school, or have already graduated, or are retired, or don’t have kids, or whatever. Maybe you’re just “not political”. Maybe this is all so boring to you. Maybe it’s just all so hopeless. But, still, you should care.

You should care because hordes of children are being effected by a broken, detrimental system that is actively destroying creativity and problem solving mechanisms. They are denied effectual tutelage by budget cuts, short-sightedness, lust for power, and adherence to agendas, rather than needs.

These kids will marry your kids, will be your neighbors, will be either a positive or negative factor in our economy, will become leaders or predators, and will shape the future. Our collective future. These hordes are our future, and we must set them up and provide them with the tools they need to be productive, creative assets to society, as opposed to drains or a dissatisfied group who will one day be filled with hatred and resentment for those who failed them.

We cannot afford a nation divided and divisive. We cannot sit and watch while a “haves” and “have-nots” system is created. We are all in this together, and we are responsible to pay attention to what is going on and to do what is right.

I saw this on a bumper sticker: Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes. (Susan Sarandon saw the same bumper sticker. Small world, right? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-sarandon/speak-your-truth-even-if_b_290792.html

Knowledge is power. We have to educate each other more broadly and deeper, as opposed to narrowly and in a linear manner. We need to teach the children well, and we are not doing it in today’s climate. You have to care.

For more on this from someone who is smarter, less emotional, and more eloquent than I, youtube former Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, or read her books, or articles, or check out her website http://www.dianeravitch.com/. Better yet, check out her blog. http://dianeravitch.net/ She is the bomb. She speaks the truth. Listen to her. Learn from her. Love her.

Maybe she will play me in the After School Special. Either Diane Ravitch, or Taylor Swift. Or maybe Young Jeezy. I don’t know.

To watch the shit hit the fan, click this! http://youtu.be/QJEhJklbl10