Saturday, October 22, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust

I work at Paxon High School, a dedicated magnet school for accelerated academics. Students are in one of two programs: International Baccalaureate (IB), in which they take the prescribed curriculum and undergo IB tests in order to earn an IB diploma recognized around the world as prestigious and as an entry ticket into any college/university; AP Honors, in which students take numerous AP courses and undergo AP tests to earn college credits during their high school years.

It is a high school that routinely is ranked in the Top 25 High Schools in America.

Now for the theme of this post:

We lost our Media Specialist this week. The District insisted that the position be eliminated despite the alternate suggestions put forth by the school.

Another one bites the dust.

You would think that a dedicated magnet would be allowed to devise its program in order to attract students: that is the point of a magnet school.

You would think that a dedicated magnet would be allowed discretion to make the decisions necessary to maintain its program.

You would think that a dedicated magnet such as Paxon would need an effective, operating Media Center to maintain its program.

Apparently, you would be wrong.

Another bites the dust.

And if a school like Paxon is not allowed to maintain and operate its Media Center, what hope do you have for our neighborhood schools, where the need for literacy is even greater?

Oh yeah, we have Achieve 3000 for that. No need for a library.

If you believe that, then you believe that the purpose of school is to prepare students to pass tests, specifically one test given once a year in April.

If you believe that, then you believe that children are not human beings with lives of their own, developing according to their age-driven agenda, and worthy of our best efforts. You believe they are test-taking widgets with a job to do and they had better get on with it—like the old Victorians, who believed and treated children as if they were tiny adults.

But know this: Google will never replace a media specialist.

Another one bites the dust.

If we have to have the budget people make the academic decisions, then my District needs to stop half-going about it. Our Media Centers are closed. Sell the books, remove the shelves, and what a big space you have. Large enough to move in a hundred chairs and deliver instruction like the big colleges: large lecture halls with TAs (minimum wage paraprofessionals or even better, upper classmen who don’t need to be paid but can fulfill graduation-required community service hours) to support.

You could still claim to be meeting Constitutionally-required class size requirements.

Don’t stop with Media Specialists; think of all the high-wage teachers you could dump.

Another bites the dust.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

How Eagles Soar

If I was ever asked to give a speech to incoming freshman at orientation, this is what it would be. (Not that I don't give it in parts throughout the school year.)

OWN Your Education. It belongs to you. And it is your responsibility to see that you get it. It is not your teacher's fault if you don't learn. Nor is it your parents' fault. Or your life circumstances.  An education is an inalienable asset: once you have it, no one can ever take it away. But no one can do it for you. You must do it for yourself.

MONITOR Your Learning. Only you can know whether or not you understand the ideas you are required to master. Only you can know if you "get" it or not. Only you can determine when you need help. Your parent tries to make this determination from your grades; your teachers analyze your assessment data to try to identify what you don't know when you don't know it. But they are not the experts. You are. Only you really knows what you have learned and what you haven't. You must monitor your learning and identify what you need help with.

ASK For Help. Yes, ask for it. Your high school teacher has 150 or more students to keep track of. Your middle school teacher has about the same. There is no way a teacher can keep the individual needs of every student at the front of her mind. You must ask. Most teachers will respond with an amazing amount of time and individual attention. But you must ask. If you don't want to ask your teacher, ask another teacher. Surprise, surprise: your teachers are not competitive nor do they have ego needs when it comes to helping you. Most teachers will help another teacher's students. ASK. Or find other tutoring resources. There are lots of options, but it is on you to take the initiative. Go back to the first item: OWN your education. Take responsibility for it.

MANAGE Your Time. Yes, manage it. You are not six years old any longer with a belief in a fairy-tale world. Things don't magically happen. Deadlines are real. The only way work gets done is when you do it. Apply yourself and schedule time every single day to attend to homework, projects, and other assignments that have very real due dates. Do it early. Don't come home from school to eat cereal and watch television for three hours until dinner, then spend the time until 11 PM texting, instagramming, snapchatting, and whatever else with friends, and then turn your attention to the 3 hours of homework you have which is due tomorrow because you left it until the last day. Manage Your Time. Get ahead of the workload and every due date will become easy to meet.

TRACK Your Assignments. Use a planner, keep up on your internet grade portal, write them down. The pitiful excuse that your teacher never told you about a homework assignment is first not true, because your teachers mention them repetitively until they mumble them in their sleep, assignments are written on a board in the room, they are posted on line ...

STOP Your Excuses. We are back to Number One: OWN YOUR EDUCATION. It is your responsibility and only yours. Your years in school are not about getting grades or worse, getting high test scores. Your years in school are about gathering knowledge about the world so that you can understand how it works, the natural world and the world of human society, and make your way successfully through all the years of your life.

I would say Good Luck, but you don't need it. We, your teachers and parents, stand ready to support you. But we cannot do it for you. However, once you decide to do it for yourself, you will find you will achieve your greatest dreams because we stand with you and behind you.

The Social Compact

One of the famous documents cited in every Civics class is the Mayflower Compact. That was the agreement drawn up to which every passenger gave consent as to how the new colony on the shores of Massachusetts would organize and govern itself.

While the wording is rather general, this is what these colonists said about their effort: “ combine ourselves together into a civil body politic; for our better ordering, and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

I have given much thought to this over the past few years, but with the corrosive presidential campaign of 2016, in which we will vote for the candidate who disgusts us the least, the idea of the social compact weighs upon my mind more heavier than ever:

What draws us together, what unites us as Americans, in our society?

What do we agree upon? What do we agree should be the fundamental experience of every American who lives within our borders? (For this essay, let us throw aside the argument over who is and is not an ‘American’. I am after something more basic.)

What should every human have a right to expect? What do we agree upon?

I am an observer. I have watched, listened, and pondered. As a society, I believe we share universally the following values:

1.    No one should go hungry.
2.    No one should be thirsty, which means a clean source of potable water should be available.
3.    No one should lack adequate protection of shelter, clothing, and other means necessary to survival because of the vagaries of weather and climate.
4.    No one should be unhealthy due to a lack of adequate medical care. (Catch the nuance: there is still much we do not know and cannot prevent or heal. But of what we do know—no one should be denied the benefit of that knowledge and care.)
5.    No child should languish because of the circumstances of its birth and/or home in which it had no choice.
6.    Everyone should have the opportunity to choose for themselves the life they will have: career, economic level, educational achievement, etc. No one should be denied the opportunity to fulfill their dream because others would not have it so.

Notice I have not mentioned how this would happen or who would pay for it. I am after something more fundamental: what do we agree is the expectation and right of every human who lives within our borders? Only after we have agreed upon that can we dive into the details of how to make it possible and who will bear the cost.

Now it is your turn. What would you add? What would you change? What is your understanding of our social compact—the rights, benefits, and responsibilities we extend and demand of all who live among us?

Fresh Eggs, October 15, 2016

Short, sometimes random and unconnected thoughts about current events.

1.       The Donald Trump imbroglio is NOT a HE said/SHE said situation. The internet needs to stop its attempts to discredit the women who are publicly acknowledging they were victims. It is not their word against his denial. We have his confession, and it is on tape.

2.       There is locker room talk in which strutting males make up wild tales to impress their locker mates, and then there is locker room talk in which males brag about what they did.

3.       God says he didn’t choose either candidate, he doesn’t approve of either, and wishes we would come to our senses. (Everyone else tries to speak for God—why shouldn’t I have a go at it?)

4.       The thing about false prophets is that they are sincere. They really believe what they say.

5.       How do you tell a false prophet from a true one? The things true prophets say come true. The problem is it takes decades, sometimes centuries to discern that.

6.       Vote your conscience. I’ve been saying that for months; let me amend it. LISTEN to your conscience.

7.       Yep. Shut your mouth, find a quiet place, and listen to the “still, small voice” that is speaking to you.

8.       A new definition for hypocrisy: Rick Scott talking about his commitment to clean, fresh water in Florida.

9.       Latest update on the Wells Fargo scandal: the low-level employees who were pushed by upper management to commit fraud, protested, reported ethics violations, and were fired are unable to find jobs in the banking industry. Seems the banking industry has a reporting system in which they file a document stating why they fired the employee. This blacklisting leaves these employees unable to find work that pays a sustainable wage.

10.   Whistleblowing comes at a cost.

11.   Although this is a situation crying out for a junkyard dog, class-action happy, ambulance chasing attorney to take on.

12.   Don’t cry about what Hurricane Matthew did to you if you don’t know that Cat-3 Hurricane Nicole struck Bermuda right at the center half a week later.