Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reflections on the Last Few Days

I. I admit it. I'm the weird one. Long before Parkland, long before Sandy Hook, long ago I began the practice of keeping my classroom door locked and closed at all times. What makes me weird is that I do not allow anyone except me to open the door.

You read that correctly. I answer the door, not students, not teenagers, not children. ME. Only me.

Teens see a classmate or friend through the window and throw the door open not stopping to realize that someone they cannot see may be ready to come through the door.

Only me.

It's routine for me. I hear a knock or a student alerts me that there's someone at the door. I go to the door, scan as much of the hallway as I can, assess the situation, and make the decision. If I make the wrong decision, I'm the one in the doorway dealing with it while my students jump out the window as fast as they can.

Weird ol' Mr. Sampson. It's the best I can do to keep my room secure.

II. Calls and plans for school walkouts have begun. Three days are mentioned: March 14, April 20 (anniversary of Columbine), and May 1. I have made no decision as to what I will do. I could be fired if I walk. At 60 years of age, it will be difficult to find another job and 60 is too early to retire. But a moment has arrived where one must make a decision whether to stand up and be counted.

Enough about me. This is a call for civil disobedience and that is what I will help students understand. There are times when rules and laws must be disobeyed, either because the laws and rules themselves are immoral or because something of tremendous importance requires action that would normally not be considered.

Students taking action, demanding change, demanding reasonable laws, insisting that their lives be protected, organizing protests in whatever form, walk-out, sit-in, or a march, these students are making the decision to engage in civil disobedience for a cause that matters: their lives.

There will be consequences and they need to understand that. That's the point of civil disobedience: authorities impose consequences until they are so shamed by the lack of resistance that they cannot ignore the issue anymore.

Remember these days: March 14, April 20, May 1.

III. You cannot enter the U.S. Capitol Building without undergoing a screening of your belongings and passing through a metal detector. Congress Protects Itself

Yet those senators and representatives won't even try to engage in writing laws to protect schoolchildren.

IV. Out of thousands of responses I've read over the past two days, I've only found two teachers saying, "Hell, yes , let me have a gun."

I'd like to say no teacher is saying that, but I have to be factual.

That almost no teacher wants a deadly weapon in their classroom should give all the self-appointed experts, who think because they once went to school they know everything about education, pause.

V. We can stop these tragedies. But it takes the will to do so. It takes the ability to find solutions and do it! It takes giving up all the divisions that our elite have devised to keep us apart and fighting when we the people should come together, give the elite the boot, and "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." (Preamble to the United States Constitution, 1788)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Hollywood Heroes

John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Samuel Jackson, Bruce Willis ... the list goes on. These are the heroes who stepped up when the world was blowing up around them, when people were dying right and left, and saved the day with their heroics. Facing enormous obstacles and can't-beat-it odds, nevertheless, they pulled their guns out and blazed their way to glory.

The music world celebrated the hero complex this way:

Now we turn to teachers: our new heroes. We want to arm them, require them to carry weapons as a police officer does, because they will save the children.

(Never mind that we were just shaming them, falsely, as being unable to teach our children to read and do math.)

Yes, the average, anonymous teacher will be the new Hollywood hero. With no training, no experience in violent situations, and no evaluation as to qualifications, we now expect teachers to leap into action if a shooter is active in their school. Rather than try to shelter children or get them out of harm's way, we want our teachers to pull their weapon and blaze away.

It is time, long past time, to stop viewing our world like a Hollywood movie. Real life is nothing like one.

Think of a police officer, someone who is authorized to carry lethal weapons. That officer has undergone training, pondered what-if situations to think in advance of the best way to respond, spent hours on a range honing skills in using a firearm, <I have asked my local police agency, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, for an idea of the training a police officer undergoes. When they respond, I will update this post. But I'm too eager to wait. Sorry.>

Teachers get none of that. Priorities, people. Should your teacher receive training in being a pseudo-soldier or SWAT officer? Or should their training be focused on your child's learning needs?

Teachers don't have enough time as it is. Go ahead and force them to spend their time preparing for a role that is not appropriate for a teacher. Then, when nothing happens at your schools, condemn your teachers for poor test scores.

If that doesn't convince you, consider this. While school shooting incidents are isolated, teacher misconduct occurs in every district every year. In my district, about a dozen out of 8,000 teachers are disciplined or fired for acting inappropriately with children every year.

That teacher (recent incident) terminated for swatting a young child on the back of the head? You really want that teacher carrying a gun when her frustration overwhelms her?

That teacher disciplined for taping children's mouths shut because he doesn't know how to make them stop talking? You really want that teacher having a gun to pull out and aim at the class?

We don't need heroes and we don't need teachers packing heat.

We need to address the root causes: the availability of guns that no one needs in domestic life, the trauma of our violent, urban neighborhoods, the dysfunction of families, everything that causes a child to make a horrific decision to exit life by taking as many others with them as they can.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Thoughts and Prayers

Like the steady ticking of a clock, another school tragedy has occurred. Wednesday, February 14, the day of love, a 19 year-old former student acted on his impulse to shoot up his former school. This day, seventeen lives were taken.

We used to offer our condolences. It was a stock phrase and remains so, yet its utterance is understood: I don't know the words to say, but we know what this means, and I can say it to keep my emotions checked so I don't break down in utter despair and sob my way through the hours of awfulness while I process how horrible this is.

My condolences to the families of the victims, the other students and adults traumatized by the event.

However, the usual response of media, politicians, and others is to say, "My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends."

Let the social media nastiness begin.

And it has.

Therefore, let us dissect this carefully.

First, the thoughts. People caught in a camera used to offer their prayers, but then took second thought that this may offend atheists and those of other faiths. They added thoughts so those who don't want prayers would not object.

People calling out the 'thoughts and prayers' on the internet are correct about this. Thoughts do nothing to address underlying causes and to devise solutions that effectively work to prevent a tragedy from happening again.

But the prayers? That takes a deeper dive.

It depends upon your theology. If you have a superficial belief and give token obeisance to the prevailing Christianity, then your prayers (if you really offer them) are no better than offering a formal expression of sympathy that does nothing for anyone except you.

If you don't think a Creator God is still actively involved in the world, stop telling people you will pray for them and say it better: I'm sorry, My condolences, This isn't fair.

But there remains in this world people of faith, people who know that the God who created the world has a very real interest in its well-being. This is not the time to discuss free will. When death strikes without warning and in intensity, it is never the time to discuss free will.

It is time to remember that for whatever reason God allows evil to happen, this is the same God who joined himself to human flesh and was willing to die for humanity.

That is what Christianity means. No other faith offers that.

If you don't believe that God died 17 times Wednesday afternoon, February 14, 2018, you don't understand Christianity and you should not judge it. (But by all means, judge the fake versions; God does.)

That God is so involved in human affairs, so passionately in sympathy with human suffering, that prayers will cause God to act.

When true people of faith say they will offer prayers, that is what they mean. They will pester and bug and bother God (not that God needs it, and please forgive the awkward phrasing as I'm trying to avoid the pronoun issue) because they know God cares and will act.

Isn't that what our young people are demanding? Make them safe; enact reasonable and intelligent gun-control laws.

God works through human agency. God will find the right people. Keep praying.

My prayers are with you and for you.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Teacher of the Year: In My Dreams

My district would never dare to make me their new TOY: Teacher of the Year. But if they did, here is the speech I would deliver at the banquet.

"Thank you, thank you. This is a great honor. I'm not sure why I was chosen to be behind the podium tonight. There are far better and greater teachers than myself to honor.

"I'm not the best teacher in the district. In fact, I'm not the best teacher at my school. My saving grace is that I care deeply about the wellbeing of my students, all of it, not merely their academics, and I am the most kid-friendly teacher in the building.

"Teaching is one of the most difficult gigs a person could undertake, and if done right, most of what makes a great teacher is not only unrecognized, it is scorned.

"The teacher who notices that a child is absent too much, calls the parent, and discovers the cause, and then follows up with the guidance counselor, social services, child abuse or bullying hotline, whatever, wherever, to see that the child receives the help she or he needs, whose efforts go unrecognized because that does not translate into higher test scores, for that teacher I accept this award.

"The teacher who spends thousands of dollars of salary to provide food, clothing, and other needs because others cannot or will not, even though that will never be captured in a Value Added formula and therefore will not be appreciated, for that teacher I accept this award.

"The teacher who helps children to a better future but did not score high enough decades ago on their SAT exam, whom the political leaders of the state scorn as not being among the 'best and brightest,' yet their work qualifies them as 'best and brightest,' for that teacher I accept this award.

"The teacher who comes from another country, who is an excellent teacher, who is loved by all her students, but cannot pass an exam in English writing but wait, is teaching children how to speak and understand her language and therefore does not need to be knowledgeable in writing an essay in English, and thus loses her job, but is a great teacher nonetheless, for that teacher I accept this award.

"The teacher who is now spending thousands of dollars to pass qualifying exams because a for-profit company, whose name is now a swear word among professional teachers, is in charge of the exams and has set the passing rates at a level which does not serve to identify competent teachers but does serve to maximize said company's profits, for that teacher I accept this award.

"For teachers of color, and I hope the term is not offensive as it is the current linguistic coin of the day, who are pushed out of their jobs because they teach where they are needed most, in our most challenging schools ... they are great teachers and are the best hope our students of color have, for those teachers, I accept this award.

"For the teacher who forgoes the easy way, that of test prep, and tries to expose children to new ideas and experiences, who wants them to think deeply about what they are learning, and therefore will never have the best scores in the building, suffer the approbation of administrators who are only driven to achieve high scores and a school grade, and are under threat of termination although they are doing the real job of teaching, for that teacher, I accept this award.

"For the teacher who knows how unprepared a Teach for America colleague is, helps them become a qualified teacher who is effective in the classroom, and then has to listen to criticism about how bad they are and what a great teacher the TFA colleague is, for that teacher who grins and bears it, I accept this award.

"For every teacher who is told that their union, their only protection and help against the daily assault that they face, is the enemy of the people, for that teacher I accept this award.

"For every teacher, and this is all of us, who have to fight off the stupid ideas of self-designated experts who have never spent a day in the classroom, but think because they made some money in a tech industry that they know better than anyone else, but every idea they have ever had has failed, but they don't stop with their destructive efforts, for all those still fighting, I accept this award.

"For every teacher who can't help but give the 'teacher look' to the wealthy and powerful elite in their city as said wealthy and powerful elite explain why they would never send their children to a public school to suffer under the conditions imposed by the policies they push, for those teachers I accept this award.

"Public education is facing a crisis of extinction. The uber-wealthy have come out of the shadows and taken over government. They seek to establish an American Feudalism. We are in their way. They seek to destroy us.

"We must fight. We must fight them on the beaches; we must fight them in our towns. We must fight them in the countryside and in every city. We must yield no inch of soil uncontested. There are millions of us but few of them.

"The time is upon us. These next years are critical if we are to preserve our democracy and our freedom. We must use our vote, while we still have it, and remove from power every enemy of our freedom and our right to self-government, for this is what the destruction of public schools is really about.

"I see many scowling faces in my audience. Good, because you are not educators. You are the ones who hijacked this process to name a Teacher of the Year. You don't want to be called out, not yet, because we can still make a difference.

"And we will."

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Knowledge Is Profit, People

Oops, it's supposed to be KIPP: Knowledge Is Power Program.

The Florida Times-Union, having fired up its gaffe machine, can't help itself. After the disastrous Wednesday editorial demanding the sale of the school board building to private developers, it followed up with this:

Florida Times-Union KIPP editorial

Where to begin? Maybe with this: Kids in Prison Program

Or this: KIPP for Miami? “My expectation for KIPP Miami is one that needs to be wildly different from what we have seen in Jacksonville,” [Superintendent Alberto] Carvalho said.

He's referring to KIPP's uneven performance by even the most flawed of measures, Florida's school grades, which must give anyone pause ... well, anyone but the Florida Times-Union editorial board.

I have already established that they are sell-outs to corporate privatizers:

Let's start where the T-U does: that impressive campus you see if you drive by on 5th Street that turns into MacDuff Avenue. That old run-down dog track with a KIPP banner hanging off the roof is long gone. New buildings, great athletic facilities--they even have covered their outdoor basketball courts with shelters so KIPP students can still be outside in the rain.

Amazing what a school can do when it's receiving a million-dollar-a-year, specially earmarked subsidy from the state.

And now they will get capital dollars from taxpayers because they don't have enough money already. Meanwhile, at my school, we are finally getting the peeling paint scraped off the walls and a new paint job. We have waited years for this.

Give my school a million dollars a year and see what we can do with it. Give every school in Jacksonville an extra million dollars a year and then compare. Without that comparison, the Times-Union's editorial board's point is disqualified as there is no valid basis for comparison.

The proof is not 1000 people on a waiting list; it's in the attrition that KIPP experiences like many charter chains. There are many issues involved in the operations of charter schools and many on all sides of the issues have informed opinions. Sadly, it seems that the Times-Union's editorial board doesn't do its homework (pun intended.)

KIPP is good at drill and kill instruction. That produces good test scores at times. But drill and kill will never lead to student understanding and true learning. Teach for a couple years and you will know how to game the system: test prep the students and reap the praise from good test scores. But that teacher who has to teach those students a few years later? They know that the students have little understanding and will struggle to succeed and proceed to more advanced courses.

If we want children to develop those 21st century thinking skills we keep hearing are important, then programs like KIPP are misguided.

KIPP is a zero-tolerance school. They demand compliant children at all times. Every educator knows that compliance does not equate to engagement. KIPP punishes children who do not SLANT at all times: Sit up, Listen, Ask questions, Nod, Track (which means your eyes should be on the teacher at all times.)

That's unrealistic. Children fidget, they scratch where they itch, they laugh when a classmate farts, they turn their heads and look at one another because of the intense social focus of their developmental age, and more important, they are still listening to their teachers even if they look away for a moment.

I wonder how KIPP would handle one of my students. He's extremely intelligent, scores well on tests, but doesn't sit normally at his desk. He likes to curl his legs under his body so he more kneels than sits in his seat. Does that qualify as sitting up? He doesn't track my movement with his eyes. But he's listening. Once I've said it, he knows it. Would KIPP tolerate his non-tracking because he's learning?

As I implement his IEP* strategies, he is showing more success--coming out of his shell to contribute to the class discussion, which is the stated goal of the IEP. Would KIPP consider that successful? Or would they see him as someone not fitting their rigid model and needs to go?

What say you, Times-Union?

Let's move on to the militaristic culture that the editorial celebrated. Veteran serviceman and officers bring a wide, varied, and excellent skill set to new careers when they re-enter civilian life. That makes them well qualified for many positions of leadership with manufacturers, logistical firms, and others.

However, the military culture, necessary for success on the battlefield, does not translate to the schoolhouse. Following orders without question is necessary for a military force to execute a battle plan, operate a large and sophisticated warship in crowded shipping channels, or coordinate a tight formation of jets in the air.

But education ... education is all about questioning and challenging. The question why is one of the greatest questions a child can pose for learning. Yet we are told that KIPP is a no-excuses school. "Because I said so," is the only answer a child will get for questioning as the child heads out of the classroom for a suspension.

The Times-Union editorial board names two leaders: Zach Rossley and Jennifer Brown. They say that "both have had distinguished careers in education after first serving in the military." Yet they don't bother to say what these two have done or why it is distinguished. We have to take their word for it--don't question! No wonder they are in love with KIPP.

Lastly, the T-U cites the support services KIPP students receive as if the traditional school system hasn't been crying for the same services to be provided for their schools. KIPP is only now catching up to what the rest of us know about children in poverty experiencing trauma. But KIPP is superman and the Duval school system is crap.

Shame on you, Times-Union. Shame on you for ignoring and belittling our schools, which have been doing an excellent job under trying circumstances. Shame on you for not studying the evidence that the traditional public school outperforms all others: The Public School Advantage.

You don't do your homework. Wait, you don't do your journalism work; you parrot the line you are handed by your corporate masters.

We're not forgetting your infamous endorsement of Donald Trump. Combined with Wednesday's editorial and a previous one in which you backed the wealthy elite's demand to choose the next Superintendent, this is your third strike.

You are not an independent voice. You are a shill and a once-proud newspaper becomes a rag.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Florida Times-Union + Education Editorial = Major Gaffe

Once again, this equation holds true:

Florida Times-Union + Education Editorial = Major Gaffe

In a recent editorial, the newspaper for Jacksonville, Florida opined that the first and top priority for the new superintendent of schools, yet to be hired, should be to sell the building on Prudential Drive and move its headquarters somewhere else.

Here is the key quote: "But here’s why neither of those two problems should be an obstacle for the School Board anymore:

• Because the building is paid off, it can be marketed without the burden of having to slap an unrealistic price tag on it to cover existing debt.

• The economy is now doing well —and the Southbank area in particular is a hot spot.

In fact, the proposed $433 million development for The District is right next door."

The sale of the school board building, with the required relocation of district personnel, has arisen periodically across the years. Each time the idea has been rejected for one reason: Study after study shows that it would cost the school board AND therefore Duval County taxpayers more money to sell and move than the school board would receive for the property.
The Times-Union offers no evidence or analysis to support its opinion. But hey, private development, why not? Don't wait to count the cost. In fact, they say the sale is the "next logical step" but offer no logic to support the assertion.

They reason "The school district already owns plenty of property and buildings in Duval County that could be used for administration."

C'mon, Times-Union Editorial Board, you can't be that dense. That's like saying you can produce the newspaper at my house because I have an internet connection. Can you squeeze what's left of your writers and editors into 900 square feet? Didn't think so.

To suggest that a headquarters could be plopped anywhere into a surplus school building is ridiculous. Schools are designed to be schools, not office buildings and meeting space. In fact, if it's not a high school, there won't even be an auditorium sufficient for school board meetings.

Also, the school board needs to be centrally located in the county. Did the T-U board bother to look at a map of actual property owned by the school system before sitting in front of a keyboard and blithely type away?

But the best is yet to come. They close with this eye-popper: "A diligent effort ought to be made to sell the building and move elsewhere. In fact, it should be one of the first jobs of the next superintendent."

With all of the challenges facing our school district, the loss of capital funds to charters when DCPS has a large backlog of maintenance needs, the possible closure of three schools in a few months and more to follow next year, the continuing lag in closing the achievement gap, the Times-Union asserts that the first and top priority of a new superintendent should be to sell public assets to private developers.

I'm going to leave a lot of space here. This is the written equivalent of a teacher employing wait time--to give everyone time to think over what was said before responding.

It's not the first time the T-U editorial board has committed a major gaffe. The Trump endorsement comes to mind. They cried they didn't agree, but the owner forced them into it. Well, people of integrity would resign in protest. Hmm, is this why Littlepage retired?

Sorry, Times-Union, but you're not getting away with this. It's not your first gaffe, so it's time someone called you out. True journalists don't dance to the tune of their corporate owners. True journalists are not marionettes jerking according to how the wealthy elite pull their strings. True journalists would never serve the interests of Wall Street and hedge fund managers.

But here we are. A major city newspaper backs the sale of public assets, bought by taxpayers with tax dollars, to serve the needs of private developers.

(BTW, I'm not canceling my subscription. You (T-U) people need to be watched.)

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Person of the Year

On my way home from my weekly trek to the grocery store, I wondered who Time had named as its Person of the Year. I couldn't think of a single personality who had dominated the news cycle for a full twelve months that would be a slam-dunk, 'yes, that's it,' choice.

Then I thought of what I believed had dominated the news and I'm about to share my pick. Time did not concur and I have already shared on my Facebook page their choice and article about Time's Person of the Year. Although they chose a worthy selection and I won't quarrel with the #metoo and their analysis of how an outing of the sexual abuse women have suffered since forever has finally received its due condemnation, building over the course of a year, I want to offer something different.

For the 2017 Person of the Year, I offer you ... Robert E.Lee.

Remember that Person of the Year is not someone admirable or execrable or somewhere in between. It is not an honor, but a recognition of that which had the most impact on events during the year.

The long pall of the Confederacy and its shadow dominated news events during 2017 and there is no one person who represents that era and place more than Lee. Indeed, it is rather unusual that a man who has been dead for almost 150 years dominates the present era. But there we go.

The election of Donald J. Trump, under the auspices of Steve Bannon, self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right, has given the neo-Nazis, KKK knights, angry young white men, and in general, the long-festering, hidden racism of too many people, the permission they craved to emerge into the light of day.

Robert E. Lee. Propose to remove a statue and all hell breaks loose.

In scenes reminiscent of Kristallnacht, men march through a college town, bearing Tiki torches from a local big box store (thus ruining forever anyone else's party theme of Polynesia), scream out their hate. Later, in clashes with counter-protesters, one will lose his mind and drive his automobile at high speed into the crowd, killing a woman.

The protest of Colin Kaepernik grew throughout the year as NFL and NBA players increased the numbers taking a knee. It grew to gargantuan proportions when the president deemed himself possessed of the authority to dictate personnel policies to NFL owners, who are private business owners, after all. Oops, he kind of forgot that, didn't he.

Black men protesting the systemic racism black men experience every day of their lives, every moment, they cannot escape it.

The horror!

The ghost of Robert E. Lee hovers over the landscape. As he was told at the end of the war, when he dithered whether he had the authority to surrender and thus effectively end the war without the concurrence of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government, "You, sir, are the South."

It is the battle flag, not the national flag, of the Confederacy that the neo-Nazis and re-energized knights of the Klan wave.

The battle flag.

The protests will grow. Not only was 2017 dominated by the protest, but it will grow in the years to come.

Everyone will have to take a stand. Do you protest and condemn the killing of innocent black men, some of whom laid on a sidewalk with hands in the air or were retreating?

Do police departments continue in their systemic racism because the fear of a cop that his life is in danger excuses all?

Do we notice that the infant mortality rate of black women exceeds that of all others because of the racism that still carves itself into their flesh, their genes?

Will we say enough?

This news dominated not only 2017, but it will continue to drive events in America far into the future.

For that reason, I nominate Robert E. Lee as Person of the Year for 2017.