Monday, September 18, 2017

The Trump GIF or Should I Say Gaffe?

So a jokester makes this GIF of the president striking a golf ball, which then hits Hilary Clinton in the back (oh, the wonders of Photoshop) and causes her to fall down.

The president sees it in his Twitter feed and retweets. He must have found it hilarious.

But in his weird Trumpian way, he condemns himself at the same time.

As an avid golfer, Trump knows that such an errant golf shot that has left the golf course to strike a person at an airport who is boarding a plane is OUT OF BOUNDS.

Let the irony sink in.

The jokester forgot to edit in a speech bubble with the president shouting "Fore!" to warn persons to duck.

Yes, so what seems to be a ha-ha for Trump is actually a condemnation of his disregard for other people to the point of showing him callous to the danger he has put them into.

Why in the world did he think this was worthy of a retweet?

Donald Trump, you are out-of-bounds, sir. An honorable golfer would call a penalty on himself.

Are you game?

Friday, September 8, 2017

People of Faith and Natural Disasters

Long, long time ago: well, 25 years to be exact, I was taking a course in biblical Greek because the seminary I would enter in January demanded that students come in with expertise in the language. Although they allowed students to take a course upon matriculation for no credit, I as always worked to meet the need and enrolled in a Miami seminary, a very small outfit, to get the needed knowledge. When I arrived in Wilmore, Kentucky, I took and passed an exam to prove I could read and understand the language.

(Yawns, okay, why is this relevant?)

Because 25 years and a few weeks ago, Hurricane Andrew devasted South Florida with 165 mph winds.

That delayed the start of the course. But when it began, we had an info session with everyone in the room: students, profs, deans.

I remember to this day how one dean talked about Hurricane Andrew and how it was forecast to strike West Palm Beach directly, which would cause unimaginable death and destruction to millions of people, but he was convinced that God put his hooks into the storm and pulled it south where it would not impact as many persons.

Hooray for you, God! Thanks for sparing me, but damn, do I feel bad for the people who got it.

Later, in my class, as people shared their Andrew experience, I realized that many people in that room had to listen to that spiel knowing that their homes were destroyed, knowing the hard work they were engaged in to rebuild their lives, and knowing that they were committed to not letting a Category 5 hurricane disrupt their education. They didn't share their feelings, but we can imagine how they felt hearing that God spared me, but it sucks to be you.

I recall that memory as Irma approaches Florida. Please, Christians, however it turns out, can we not embarrass ourselves? Let's not thank God loudly if we are spared the worst of the storm when others are not. We are not better, we have not lived better lives, if you need some help, I direct you to read Ecclesiastes.

Or perhaps these words from the Gospel will help: [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous.

It happens to us all. Long after the hurricane has passed (now is not the time), we can have a discussion about sin and how the entire world fell with humanity and so everything, including climate and weather, is imperfect and potentially harmful.

I haven't prayed much about this storm. Does that surprise you?

But I'm not smart enough to know what is best. I leave that up to God. I simply trust in His goodness, and that He will make all things better according to his purposes.

In this life or the next one. That is another theological discussion we can leave till later.

For now, let's do what we can to survive and then to help others to recover. Regardless of faith or creed, let's protect human life.

It's what Jesus wants us to do.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Open House

Open House, when parents come to school to meet their children's teachers. A year ago, a BAT (Badass Teacher) created this meme to suggest questions for parents to ask teachers. I will answer them.

1.  Which Standardized Tests will be given this year?

Answer: Your child will take the state-mandated End of Course sometime in late April or May. In addition, the District requires two more tests: a 'baseline,' which they take now to see if they know what I haven't taught them yet, the results will be used to judge how good a teacher I am. In December, they will take a 'scrimmage,' so the District can figure out if they will score highly on the state test. If the District is not satisfied with the December results, they will add additional tests to 'monitor progress'. Also, the District does not mandate, but strongly leans on teachers to give unit tests developed by their specialists. These tests do not measure your child's learning; they are used to predict test scores. I refuse to give them.

2. How much class time will be used for these tests?

Answer: Too much, but let me be more specific. The Baseline test and the December test were reduced to one day this year versus two in the past. Add those two days to the two days the State requires and you get a false picture that we will only waste 4 out of 90 (block schedule) instructional days. That is ignoring the necessary review and test prep we will be forced to do--because the District believes we need to teach your child test-taking skills rather than keeping them learning mathematics. 10% of class time would not be far off as a rough estimate.

3. Will these tests be given online or be paper & pencil?

Answer: Online, although research has discovered that online tests result in poorer results than paper & pencil when all other factors are accounted for. So, yeah, the State & District are focused on their needs, not your child's needs. They have never heard a child scream in frustration, "I must be stupid," because the format is too difficult.

4. What is the technology in this building?

Answer: We don't have enough computers. That's why we give the tests over four to six weeks. By the way, when we get a hard downpour, the internet goes out. I would hate for that to happen on the state exam because your child is not allowed to finish the next day. Let's not get started on the bandwidth, when it takes 30 to 40 minutes to get a room of 25 onto the internet and begin the test.

5. When will parents be given the results?

Answer: For a district test, never. For the state test, you do get a report, but it is not detailed enough for you to know what your child did and did not learn. As a teacher, I have no idea. So your child scored answered 3 out of 10 questions correct in Geometric Modeling. Which three questions? Modeling covers measurement formulas for surface area and volume, population density, estimation, and more. I don't have more of a clue than you do. I'm not allowed to review the test or see question by question the scoring results. You will get nothing useful out of it, but then, neither will teachers. If you are now questioning why these tests should be given at all, I have some great groups of people you should join: opt-out networks, parent groups, and there's also this group 56,000 strong known as BATs.

6. What is done with the data from the tests?

Answer: Districts store it on third-party servers that offer data analysis services. In my district, it is Performance Matters. The state keeps the data, the test company keeps the data, the Federal Department of Education requires some reporting ... oh let me put it this way. Have you ever blown a dandelion seedhead into the wind?

7. How will my child's data be protected?

Answer: So my dandelion metaphor didn't explain it. Okay, let me be blunt. It won't.

8. What is the procedure for parents to opt out their children and refuse the standardized test?

Answer: Parents who followed accepted opt-out procedures in Florida last year for 3rd grade reading in punitive districts found that their children were denied promotion to 4th grade. It was pure caprice on the part of the district officials for their schools. The parents sued. They lost. Google '3rd Grade Parents vs. FLDOE.' The real answer is you can't without running the risk of damaging your child's future and happiness as sucky as the actual test experience is. No, the REAL answer is regime change in your state capital. Vote out the incumbents who are destroying public education because they profit from it. Here in Florida, we have a Speaker of the House whose wife started and runs a charter school group, representatives serving on education committees whose family members own and operate charters ... do you get it? Do they get away with their corruption because they are so blatant about it? We will only solve this at the ballot box.

Friday, August 4, 2017

From Russia With Chaos

Yesterday news broke that Robert Mueller, special counsel investigating the Trump campaign's entanglement with Russian operatives, had convened a grand jury, which enables him to subpoena documents and compel testimony under oath.

So what's up with the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign that has so discombobulated the president?

1. The first issue is the meetings that took place between Trump associates and persons affiliated in some manner with the regime of Vladimir Putin. The character of these meetings and the topics of discussion range from mere contact with a presidential campaign through discussion of issues of interest (adoption, the Magnitsky act--more on that below) to a possible collusion in order to obtain damaging material on Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent. Collusion becomes an issue because if the Russian operatives are handing over damaging material that is unknown to others, two questions emerge: What did they want in return and was the Trump campaign willing to give it? If the meetings were harmless and innocent, why did the campaign, notably Trump's son and son-in-law, pretend the meetings did not happen, fail to mention them in required disclosure forms, offer different versions of the meetings until at last the truth emerged?

Yet these meetings, as unsavory as it may be for a presidential campaign to consort with a foreign power in order to win an election--to use a hostile regime to put down a domestic foe--these meetings do not constitute an ongoing problem for the president. His base of support is not swayed by the disclosures and it would seem that no obvious legal infraction has taken place.

2. A second issue is the alleged file of possible sexual escapades during visits to Russia. It is not known if such a file, including video, exists. This is another non-issue as it doesn't seem to matter to Trump's supporters. His adulterous lifestyle, including a lack of restraint over his hands that is ingrained into every child--keep them to yourself!--his infamous remark that represented the 2016 election's 'October Surprise,' and his overall misogyny have done nothing to undermine the support he receives from his base, including the Moral Majority, better known as evangelical, conservative Christians. It is a mystery as to why they excuse Trump's behavior, but they do, and these allegations that come with a murky undertone of possible blackmail have been generally dismissed by the populace.

3. A third issue could be the sanctions, which Trump despises, and his desire to ease or end them in order to have better relations with Putin's government. Putin's behavior in the world, the annexation of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, his threats to his neighbors, and more may compel Trump's admiration, but these are political and diplomatic issues, not legal ones.

From here we now depart what is known or can be deduced from reports and enter into the world of sheer speculation. This is only a possibility. Mueller's investigation will uncover the truth.

SPECULATION: One thing really got Trump's goat in the ongoing inquiries and that was when Mueller expanded his investigation to cover Trump's financial dealings with Russian investors. That was when Trump issued a public warning to Mueller that he had better not cross a line, whatever that line marks off.

To acquire and develop his properties, Trump has utilized Russian investors. What if these same investors are the oligarchs targeted by the Magnitsky Act?

For those who don't know, the Magnitsky Act was passed in late 2012 to identify and sanction persons who were known to be involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer investigating corruption. The passage of the act enraged Vladimir Putin, who retaliated by ending adoption of sick Russian orphans by U.S. citizens.

What if Russian investments in Trump properties are tied up in the sanctions and that is at the heart of Trump's desire to ease sanctions? Or worse, what if these investments, maybe not directly by the named individuals but by associates, front men or shadow companies, are circumventing the law and allowing the oligarchs to avoid the restrictions of the Magnitsky Act? What if Trump is allowing his properties to be used to launder these assets such that the oligarchs can get them out of the country?

Only speculation, an attempt to look at all the possibilities for why the Russian investigation is driving Trump bonkers. I don't know that any of this is true, nor do I think it probable, but it would explain a lot.

That is why the Mueller investigation must be allowed to run its course. In the end, if Trump has nothing to hide, he will be exonerated.

Whatever the outcome, I believe the Magnitsky Act will be playing a significant role.

In ending, Trump dismisses the investigation and all allegations as fake news, but he has tried to shut down the investigation in many ways. Congress doesn't agree on much, but it has a bipartisan solidarity in standing up to Russia meddling in U.S. affairs, an approach Trump does not share.

He has the Clinton problem. Remember the Whitewater Affair? For two people who maintained their innocence, Bill and Hillary acted like they were guilty. Same with Trump. If he and his people are innocent, what does he fear from Mueller's investigation?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Lost At School (Plan B)

As I work to lessen my pile of professional reading, last week I picked up Ross W. Greene's book, Lost At School. What made it interesting, nay fascinating, was how Greene set aside the usual reasons for why many children struggle in school (valid reasons but beyond the control of school personnel) to focus on what adults could do to meet the needs of children and thereby reduce discipline and learning problems.

He calls it Plan B, so yes, if you must, make a birth control joke and let's get on with it.

The thesis: Most, if not almost all, misbehavior in school is the result of students not having the skills needed to communicate their concerns and needs to adults. Our job is to detect the skills deficit and identify the predictable problems that occur. Once we do, we can develop strategies with the child to avoid future misbehaviors.

For example, a child may have difficulty in handling transitions from one activity to the next. Therefore, it is predictable that the child will act up during the transition from recess back to the classroom, which teachers experience when they bring the class in.

"Challenging behavior most likely occurs when the demands placed upon a child exceed his/her capacity to respond adaptively ... Some kids have the skills to 'hold it together' when pushed to their limits and some don't."

"'Bad attitudes' tend to be the by-product of countless years of being misunderstood and overpunished by adults who didn't recognize that a kid was lacking crucial thinking skills."

In other words, figure out what skills a student is lacking to have an understanding of what gets in his way of behaving and learning. Most kids want to do what's expected, they know what's expected, but some cannot do what's expected because they lack the necessary skills.

"When you treat challenging kids as if they have a developmental delay and apply the same compassion and approach you would use with any other learning disability, they do a lot better."

I'm summarizing a whole book. I'm hoping you will be enticed to get a copy and read it for yourself.

On to Plan B.

Plan A is the familiar adult-imposed 'this is the way it's going to be.' Plan A ignores the child's concerns and feelings, shuts them down if the child tries to express them, and sets out consequences. If you throw chalk, you will go to in-school suspension for three days. Plan A is the 'Because I said so' approach.

Plan C is to ignore the situation. Greene makes clear that many kids have so many challenges that Plan C has to be used in some instances--temporarily--to focus on one or two problems at a time. Plan C is not a permanent, but a strategic prioritizing of what to work on.

Plan B is proactive (normally). In Plan B, the adult meets with the child to discuss a problem, a specific, unsolved problem, that is causing the child difficulty.

The meeting must be voluntary, that is, the child is given an invitation that may be refused. Many times, they do refuse the initial invitation for various reasons, including I'm in trouble, I don't care (but why doesn't the child care?), and It won't make any difference.

But once the child agrees to meet, the first step is for the adult to present an observation and to ask the child about it. "I notice you have trouble playing with Jamie during recess. What's up with that?" It is crucial not to be judgmental in this phase. The adult's concern may be bullying, but notice that the adult does not accuse the child of being a bully. The adult merely makes an observation about a problem in two children getting along.

It is important to continue in the first step until the adult believes that the child's concern is fully understood. "Ah, you make sarcastic comments about Jamie because if you do not, you think others will make bad comments about you. If you let Jamie decide a rule about your play, then you believe other children will think they can tell you what you must do."

Only when the adult has a full understanding of the child's concern does the adult place his/her concern on the table. "While you may want others to leave you alone, my concern is that you need to learn how to get along with others in your play. This will be an important skill when you are an adult and have to work with others."

The final step in Plan B is to come up with a plan that is mutually satisfactory and realistic.

This is not a magic solution, a try it once and all is well philosophy. It takes time and persistence. There will be problems and missteps along the way. But a philosophy of discipline that incorporates this approach can turn around children's lives, one by one, then a classroom, then a school.

I am going to commit to Plan B in the new school year about to start.

BTW, isn't this a major complaint of Duval teachers in regards to the recently-departed superintendent? His approach was Plan A, every day, all the way, in regards to teachers. He had no patience to listen to teachers' concerns and then to work with them to find mutually satisfactory solutions.

If we don't like being on the receiving end of Plan A, why would we put children there? No one likes a 'my way or the highway approach.'

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dear Betsy, About That Status Quo

The Honorable (sic) Betsy Devos
United States Secretary of Education
Department of Education
Washington, D.C.

Dear Betsy,

     Welcome to the second of my letters. While you give much to discuss regarding the state of public education in the United States, you really stirred the pot when you accused your detractors and dismissed the protesters in Denver as 'defenders of the status quo.'

     While you remain unaware of much that has taken place in education over the last twenty years, (I would have said ignorant but that word has taken on pejorative tones; I want this to be a respectful communication,) surely you are aware that the status quo is not the educational system of the 1950s, where parents sent their children to public schools, parochial  schools (that is, Catholic schools), or private schools to which they paid the entire tuition.

     By the way, Betsy, as we get rolling, notice that with those three options parents have always had a choice and a free market of sorts has always existed. In fact, without government vouchers, sending a child for all except the very wealthy involved a sacrifice on the parents' part and schools had to keep tuition affordable. That free market was working, including the viable option of sending children to the local public school.

     But the status quo of 1957 is not the status quo of 2017. Much has changed. None of your critics are defending the status quo because the marketplace has added government-subsidized options (emphasis mine). Indeed, as an aside, it is a surprise to me that such a free-market advocate as yourself has one policy in mind: expand government subsidies via a federal voucher program funded by a diversion of Title 1 dollars (again, emphasis mine).

    Let's examine the status quo in Florida, whereby parents can access the following education options:

  1. One of over 652 charter schools according to the Florida Department of Education ( That was the 2015 - 2016 school year and the number grows annually.
  2. Florida Virtual School, an online option for students, including 62 district franchises associated with FLVS.
  3. Other virtual schools that are allowed by Florida law to begin operating in the state. (BTW, as an assist to virtual models of education, the legislature requires high school students to take at least one credit-bearing course via an online option.)
  4. John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities. This is a voucher program that gives parents up to $20,000 to enroll their child in a private school that meets their child's needs.
  5. Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for low-income families. These are the ones you tout, the children you claim deserve the same option as children from wealthy families to attend quality schools. In the school year 2014 -2015, parents could get a voucher worth $5,272. For comparison, one such quality private school in my city (Bolles School) has annual tuition of $24,000 for a middle-school aged child. Providence School for the same age is $11, 782. Episcopal High School charges a tuition of $22,500 for a middle-school child.
  6. Personal Learning Scholarship Account Program for children with specified, severe disabilities. An educational savings account-type program, it's worth $10,000 a year and parents can use the money for diagnostic and support services.
  7. Opportunity Scholarship Program. Students in public schools labeled as 'failing' may transfer to another public school.
  8. Private schools.
  9. Home Schooling.
  10. Traditional Public Schools, including magnet programs, choice programs, vocational programs, and in high school, AICE (Cambridge) diploma, IB diploma, and dual enrollment programs.

    This is the status quo, Betsy, and no defender/advocate for public education, including your critics, is defending it.

     There isn't sufficient space in this post to critique the many options on this list and explain why they should not be subsidized with taxpayer dollars. However, the list is sufficient to demonstrate that your dismissal of public school advocates is wrong, dead wrong. They criticize and work to eliminate this status quo.

     You don't like this status quo, either. You really don't like charter schools and they have figured that out. It really isn't a problem for them; eventually, they will convert to voucher schools. You want to eliminate #10, traditional public schools and for the most unknowing of reasons: you entertain a stereotype of teachers that is false. Like the Israelites of old, though, you worship this golden calf in the desert because you believe it will bring investors the meager gold that poor and middle-class families have left after 25 years of a diverging economy that is eliminating the middle-class.

     You are Aaron, asking for the gold to build this idol of a privatized school system funded by vouchers.

      You cry that poor children deserve the same quality schools that wealthy children can afford.

      You push taxpayer-funded subsidies to give those children that opportunity because their parents cannot afford it.

      You weep in front of your idol and call upon others to do as you say.

      Because low-income parents cannot afford the tuition. Because they are low-income.

     Has it never occurred to you, wealthy Amway billionaire, investor and owner of many business, that you could solve that problem yourself without needing the government? The solution is simple.

     Pay your workers a living wage, one that will sustain their families, without the need for government subsidies. Then support laws that force all employers to do the same.

     Really, Betsy, it's the least you could do ... if you really care about the children.

Very truly yours,

Gregory Sampson

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Last week the Florida Department of Education decided to issue guidance to district superintendents about the section of the omnibus HB 7069 that recently took effect that mandated at least 20 minutes of unstructured, free play for elementary age children in traditional public schools.

Context is everything, as even the Department would acknowledge since it puts emphasis on testing, every year, the ability of Florida's school children to decipher context clues on the FSA reading exam.

It is context that guides my reaction.

Here is the salient paragraph: The logistics of implementing the recess requirement will be determined by each local school district. This includes, but is not limited to, the development of master schedules, designation of spaces that will be utilized for recess and establishing weather guidelines to ensure student safety. This law does not specify the location where recess must be provided. The recess minutes could be provided indoors or outdoors as determined by local school district and/or individual school leadership

The memo also specifies that recess is "supervised, safe, and unstructured free play." Notice in the above paragraph how it suggests (encourages? requires?) districts to develop policies and rules for recess.

My initial reaction to reading the Herald Tribune posting was a wondering why we don't take the common sense route that the adults running elementary schools have the common sense to know when it would not be appropriate to take children outside for recess. Why doesn't the Florida Department of Education trust the judgment of principals and teachers?

Why do rules and procedures have to be established? Take the children outside and let them play unless it is raining or too hot.

Duh ...

That led to wondering why the Department made the statement that recess does not have to be outside. Most elementary schools are not set up with play areas to allow children to exercise that unstructured component of the law's requirement. What would supervised, safe, and unstructured play look like inside a classroom?

On to the suspicion that what the Department was doing was to tell superintendents to ignore the law if they wanted. Context is everything. Under what context is the Department issuing this memo?

But a second reading and a scrutiny of the source document suggests I was overreacting.

I await your thoughts (although I'll stick by my statement that we really don't need advice from the department about when it is inappropriate to go outside. Our teachers and principals are smart enough to figure that out without guidance, policies, and rules.)