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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Re-Segregation & The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Ed. (Part 2)

 "... Those who love their country can change it." - President Barak Obama

In President Obama's Proclamation on the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, he confuses those of us who fully understand the fallout of this administration's decisions and actions on public education. He states, "On the 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, let us heed the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who so ably argued the case against segregation, "None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody...bent down and helped us pick up our boots." Let us march together, meet our obligations to one another, and remember that progress has never come easily -- but even in the face of impossible odds, those who love their country can change it.

It is not the great leaders of our country or the successful plutocrats who are bending down to help us pick up our boots. It is the regular man and woman next door, the sugar borrowing, lawn mowing, summer BBQ grilling, working hard on the job folks on the block.  It is the neighbor who chases down the ice cream truck for the kids, the postal worker who pets your dog, the teachers who care for your children more hours a day than you see them, the nurse who holds your hand in the emergency room, the toll booth collector who makes you smile as you pay, and the IT expert who seems to magically fix your laptop at work. 

Journalist, Bill Moyers writes about the Plutocracy issue here in his graduation speech at Boston University in 2010. He states, "Socrates said to understand a thing, you must first name it. The name for what’s happening to our political system is corruption – a deep, systemic corruption."

Moyers shares his respect for Historian, Howard Zinn, "I have in my desk at home a copy of the commencement address Howard gave at Spelman College in 2005. He was chairman of the history department there when he was fired in 1963 over his involvement in civil rights. He had not been back for 43 years, and he seemed delighted to return for commencement. He spoke poignantly of his friendship with one of his former students, Alice Walker, the daughter of tenant farmers in Georgia who made her way to Spelman and went on to become the famous writer. Howard delighted in quoting one of her first published poems that had touched his own life:
It is true
I’ve always loved
the daring ones
like the black young man
who tried to crash
all barriers
at once,
wanted to swim
at a white beach (in Alabama)
That was Howard Zinn; he loved the daring ones, and was daring himself."

It is time for all of us to be daring. And really, is it all that daring to demand that we do right by our kids?

Re-segregation & The 60th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Ed. (Part 1)

Politicians are ignoring research, allowing re-segregation, and supporting charter schools over public. As I posted here, economist, Milton Friedman developed the concept of school choice in 1955, a year after desegregation.

Friedman wrote about his desire for parents to chose if their children would attend racially desegregated schools:

" Under (a choice) system, there can develop exclusively white schools, exclusively colored schools, and mixed schools. Parents can choose which to send their children to. The appropriate activity for those who oppose segregation and racial prejudice is to try to persuade others of their views; if and as they succeed, the mixed schools will grow at the expense of the nonmixed, and a gradual transition will take place. So long as the school system is publicly operated, only drastic change is possible; one must go from one extreme to the other; it is a great virtue of the private arrangement that it permits a gradual transition."

Today we are watching politicians who are not educated in the field of education use Friedman's ideas and knowingly or unknowingly re-segregate our public schools. We live in an age where business leaders & politicians call for a "globally competitive workforce," but are literally putting up walls between students who should be sitting side-by-side in public schools breaking down barriers. In the selective charter school industry, only students who fit their mold get accepted. Those who get accepted and don't rule-follow well or test well are pushed out. Students who don't fit into molds are often students who have the very potential to be our next innovative leaders. 

Diane Ravitch reports, "Congress is about to pass new charter legislation, awarding more money to the charter sector, which will operate with minimal accountability or transparency. The bill has already passed the House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority and will now move to the Senate. Make no mistake: on the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision, Congress is set to expand a dual school system. One sector, privately managed, may choose its students, exclude those who might pull down its test scores, and kick out those it doesn’t want. The other sector–the public schools–must take in all students, even those kicked out by the charters."

She continues, "The growth of the charter sector has been driven by a strange coalition. Charters are supported by wealthy hedge fund managers who give generously to individual charters and to charter chains; they fund political candidates who support charters. Charters are supported enthusiastically by the Obama administration, which endorses the privatization of public schools. Charters are a favorite of conservative groups like ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) and rightwing governors. Charters receive millions from some of the nation’s wealthiest foundations, including the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation."

Thomas Jefferson warned, "“The end of democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations.”

He also stated, “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” 

It is time for the public to stand up and say that this is unacceptable. This is unethical. Because what may be legal may also be unjust.  It is time for us to remember that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

Ravitch writes, "Once there was a dream that American children could live and learn together. That was Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream. The charter movement says that dream is over, if it ever existed, and that the democratic dream of equal educational opportunity for all in common schools controlled by local communities is history, a relic of the past, replaced by the 21st century reality of a dual school system, separate and unequal."

If we really want our public school students to be prepared for the 21st century, we cannot allow the agendas of the billionaires and the ignorance of politicians to march us back in time. It is time for a little rebellion.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Trusting teachers to do what they have been hired to do

As a teacher, I am so busy and immersed in working with my students that I often forget that teacher appreciation week is the perfect time to send a note to the teachers of my own children. So to the creative & intuitive 5th grade teacher of my youngest, and her patient & kind math teacher, this is for you. For the 8th grade teachers of my middle child, you make science matter, math understandable, and social studies, reading and writing relevant and important. To the high school teachers who help my oldest develop the perseverance to stick with books that challenge her, make her passionate about biology, make geometry sink in, make social studies matter enough that she is going on a  trip to Spain with you & her peers this summer - thank you! Thank you to their teachers of the arts. For without art and music, life would be empty and bland. Thank you to the foreign language teachers, the cooking teachers, the tech ed and computers teachers, the physical education teachers, and thank you for the hilarious health class stories that the kids bring  home after they learn about their bodies. And yes, in our school district we are still lucky enough, at this moment, to have all of these classes for our kids. Every student should.

In the Connecticut Post, Bryan Ripley Crandell, Ph.D., the director of the Connecticut Writing Project, based at Fairfield University wrote a post honoring the teachers of Connecticut. He calls teachers artists. I happen to agree.

He asks us to "...celebrate every educator who has dedicated their lives to the intellectual, social, physical and spiritual well-being of others." In case you don't know, teachers in our area are now suffering from a number of the same demoralizing experiences that our urban teachers have been dealing with for years. There is a point to this state-led teacher bullying. It is to make parents want to pull their children out of public schools. It is to try to trick us that school "choice" and charter schools would be better for our kids. The thing is, our schools were great before the state started mandating and micromanaging.
We aren't buying it.

"Kids today are the smartest generation yet."
Watch this 5 minute video clip of Jon Stewart interviewing Diane Ravitch.

Crandell continues: "Teaching is a unique profession that requires an expertise in history, research, lived experiences, language, culture, sociology, psychology, mathematics and the humanities.
Those who spend time in the classroom quickly learn to be the greatest proponents of American democracy. Every classroom, even the homogenous one, is a heterogeneous pastiche of individuality and personalities. Teachers are listeners, mentors, experts, coaches, entertainers, wizards and scientists."

Most importantly, he writes this, "Our nation's recent test-crazed anarchy provides better data for political avarice and shortsighted hubris than it does for what educators accomplish in their classrooms when they are given time to actually teach. We know that the best work occurs when teachers are provided resources, when they are treated as professionals, and when they are trusted to do what they've been hired to do."

Great teaching may look easy, as if anyone can walk into a classroom and do it. However, having been a good student doesn't mean one will be a good teacher. It truly is an art. I know it when my children come home from school excited to learn, fascinated by the content and conversations in their classroom. I know it when my children want to go to school, to be a part of a community of learners. I know it when my children (who are sometimes reluctant readers) sink into the sofa with a good book. I know it when they are assigned a challenging & creative project that draws them in and makes them debate a topic at the dinner table.

So thank you to each of my children's teachers over all of these years. And thank you to the future teachers who are sure to face the pressures of state mandates and struggle to figure out how to "teach right" in a culture that claims the data of invalid and extremely controversial standardized tests is all that matters. I am telling you here, publicly, that I trust you with my children. Do what the state mandates, then teach from your heart. Because it is the non-measurable, poorly named, but very important "soft skills" of education that will make our children's education equal to that of their private school friends and peers.

On this Mother's Day, I remind our politicians that my children are not data points.
Our children know this. Parents know this. Teachers know this.
Listen and learn.