These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman.
So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks.
But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors.
What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today.
Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests.
We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment.
I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight.
(Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.)
Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote:
“If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…”
Or how about subsection (d) (3):
“School entities shall adopt policies to assure that parents or guardians [have]… (3) The right to have their children excused from specific instruction that conflicts with their religious beliefs, upon receipt by the school entity of a written request from the parent or guardians.” (Emphasis mine)
In other words, parents have a right to excuse their children from the tests and/or instruction such as test look-a-likes.
If we tolerate the intolerant, if we give them equal time to offer their point of view and don’t aggressively counter their views, they will inevitably resort to violence and wipe our side out.
This doesn’t mean immediately punching them in the face or violently attacking them. For Popper, we should let rationality run its course, let them have their say and usually their ideas will be rejected and ignored.
However, if this doesn’t happen and these ideas start to take root as they did in Nazi Germany (or perhaps even today in Trump’s America), then Popper says we must stop them by “fists or pistols.”
“We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
Popper believed in the free expression of ideas, but when one of those ideas leads to violence, it is no longer to be tolerated. Then it is outside the law and must be destroyed.
What then do we do with our commitment to nonviolence?
Do we reluctantly agree to push this constraint to the side if push comes to shove?
No. This is the other pole we must navigate between.
In fact, up until today no one had mentioned a thing about it.
I had asked teachers if they wanted to do something and was told it was up to the students to lead.
I had asked the high school student council if they were interested in participating, but there wasn’t much of a response.
Then this morning in the middle school where I teach, there was an impromptu two minute meeting where we were told some kids might walk out and that we should just let them go.
Their right to free speech would be respected and there wouldn’t be any penalty for participating.
However, as a teacher, I was instructed not to bring up the subject, not to allow discussion and only to attend if all of my students decided to go.
That’s a hard position to be in.
It’s like being put in a metaphorical straight jacket.
But I tried.
When my 7th grade kids came in, they were all a buzz about something and I couldn’t really ask why.
The suspense was broken with a sledge hammer during second period when one of my most rambunctious students asked if he could use the restroom at 10 am. That was over an hour away.
I told him he couldn’t reserve an appointment for a bathroom break but he could go now if he wanted.
Then he explained himself. At 10 am he was walking out.
The room exploded.
They had heard about the nationwide walkout at 10 – the time of the Parkland shooting. They knew kids all across the land were leaving class for 17 minutes – 60 seconds for each life lost in the shooting.
But that was pretty much it.
They didn’t know what it was that kids were protesting. They didn’t know why they were protesting. They just knew it was something being done and they wanted to do it.
It was at this point I took off my metaphorical straight jacket.
I couldn’t simply suppress the talk and try to move on with the lesson – on propaganda, wouldn’t you believe!
We talked about the limits of gun laws – how some people wanted background checks for people wishing to purchase guns. We talked about regulating guns for people with severe mental illnesses, criminal backgrounds or suspected terrorists. We talked about how there used to be a ban on assault weapons sales and how that was the gun of choice for school shooters.
We even talked about what students might do once they walked out of the building.
They couldn’t just mill around for all that time.
Since we were in the middle of a unit on poetry, someone suggested reading poems about guns and gun violence.
Students quickly went on-line and found a site stocked with student-written poetry on the issue – many by students who had survived school shootings.
I admit I should have checked the site better – but we had literally minutes before the walkout was scheduled to take place.
Some of the poems contained inappropriate language and swear words. But they were generally well written and honest. And the kids liked them.
I let them print a few that they wanted to read aloud at the demonstration.
They were actually huddled around their desks reading poetry and practicing.
They were really excited about the prospect of standing up and being counted – of letting the world know how they felt.
One student even wrote her own poem.
She said I could publish it anonymously, so here it is:
“Pop! Pop! Pop!
Everyone crying, calling their parents, saying their last goodbyes.
Screams echo throughout the building.
Blood painting the white tiles.
Bodies laying limp on the ground
Screams of pain
Bullets piercing our skin.
Yelling and sobbing increase.
We are escorted out.
‘Is this what you wanted?’”
I barely had time to read it before the time came.
Students stood up and were confused by the lack of an announcement.
But this was not a sanctioned school event. If they took part, they were on their own.
It was my smallest class and several kids were already absent.
They all left and were immediately met by the principal and security. To their credit, the adults didn’t stop them, but they told them not to put their coats on until they were outside and to otherwise quiet down.
I made sure to emphasize that anyone who wanted was welcome to stay in class. But no one did.
After the last child left, I grabbed my coat and followed.
When I got to the front of the building I was surprised by the lack of high school students. There were only a handful. But there were maybe 50 middle school kids.
When the principal saw all my students had decided to participate, he asked me to stay in the lobby. He said it wasn’t necessary for me to attend.
That was hard.
I wanted to be there, but I didn’t want to be insubordinate, either.
My students were expecting me to be there. They were expecting me to help guide them.
So I stood in the doorway and watched.
Students did as I feared; they pretty much milled around.
A few of my students held their poems in hand and read them quietly together but there were no leaders, no organization.
After about 5 minutes, the adults pounced.
The resource officer criticized them since their safety was more at risk outside the building than in class. Administrators chastised the collective group for having no plan, for only wishing to get out of class, for not knowing why they were there and for not doing anything together to recognize the tragedy or the issue. They said that if the students had really wanted to show respect to those killed in Florida they would have a moment of silence.
The kids immediately got quiet, but you can’t have a 17-minute moment of silence. Not in middle school.
I saw some of my kids wanting to read their poems aloud but too afraid to call the group’s attention to themselves.
And then it was over.
The whole thing had taken about 10 minutes.
Administration herded the kids back into the building early and back through the metal detectors.
I can’t help feeling this was a missed opportunity.
I get it, being an administrator is tough. A situation like today is hard to stomach. Kids taking matters into their own hands and holding a demonstration!?
We, adults, don’t like that. We like our children to be seen and not heard.
We want them to do only things that will show us in a better light. We don’t like them taking action to fix problems that we couldn’t be bothered to fix, ourselves.
But what right do we have to curate their demonstration?
If they wanted to mill around for 17 minutes, we should have let them.
Better yet, we could have helped them organize themselves and express what many of them truly were thinking and feeling.
If I had been allowed out of the building, I could have called the assembly to order and had my kids read their poems.
But doing so would have been exceedingly dangerous for me, personally.
I can’t actively defy my boss in that way. It just didn’t seem worth it.
If we had had warning that this might happen and planned better how to handle it, that also might have been an improvement.
Imagine if the school had sanctioned it. We could have held an assembly or sent a letter home.
The teachers could have been encouraged to plan something with their students.
Obviously if the students wanted to go in another direction, they should have been allowed to do so.
But these are middle school kids. They don’t know how to organize. They barely know how to effectively express themselves.
Regardless of how we, adults, feel about the issue, isn’t it our responsibility to help our student self actualize?
Isn’t it our responsibility to help them achieve their goals?
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just a crazy hippie.
Maybe I’m some radical anarchist.
But I’m proud of my students for taking a stand.
It was unorganized and a mess.
Yet they stood up and did something we, the adults, really weren’t that keen on them doing.
14) She doesn’t care if the public doesn’t want her at their school or event. She goes anyway and then pretends to be angry that protestors showed up. She doesn’t seem to understand that as a public servant she should serve at our pleasure – not the other way around.
15) She uses tragedy as a photo-op – as she did when she visited the Parkland school to promote arming teachers. She didn’t meet significantly with students or staff. She didn’t listen to their concerns. She even bailed on her own press conference there when the queries weren’t to her liking.
However, West Virginia is a self-confessed conservative state where self-identifying conservatives unashamedly explain that a full-throated expression of their conservative values includes the idea that you shouldn’t have to pay people a living wage for a hard day’s work.
“The teachers have to understand that West Virginia is a red state, and the free handouts are over.”
What, Sen. Arvone? Are you high?
A salary is not a “free handout.”
That’s redundant – there is no such thing as a free handout. Handouts are by definition free. That’s something you would have known had you paid more attention to your third grade language arts teacher. But, whatever.
Moreover, a salary is neither free nor a handout.
It is a fixed regular payment – often weekly or biweekly – made by an employer to an employee in exchange for doing a job.
West Virginia teachers are doing their job. State representatives like Arvone aren’t doing theirs.
It’s like lawmakers are saying: Oh. So you want your raise? Here you go. But the next generation of teachers hired in the state will be more ignorant, less experienced, more unskilled and less professional. In short, they won’t expect to be paid a living wage because we’ve made teaching right up there with being a WalMart greeter!
Volitich also agreed with her guest’s assertion that more white supremacists need to infiltrate public schools and become teachers. “They don’t have to be vocal about their views, but get in there!” her guest said. “Be more covert and just start taking over those places.”
“Right,” Volitich said. “I’m absolutely one of them.”
Great. Just what we need. An army of undercover white supremacists being encouraged to enter the teaching profession – taking those newly minted minimum wage jobs vacated by more expensive but less biased educators.
As a more than 15-year veteran of the public school classroom, I have some advice for white supremacists thinking about becoming teachers: Don’t.
Or at least that’s what it probably said on the press release.
It was really just a publicity stunt to push for arming teachers instead of sensible gun control.
Parkland students have been rocking it holding demonstrations and speaking truth to power demanding that we keep them safe from future violence by banning assault rifles, mandatory background checks on all gun sales and other common sense measures favored by almost 70% of the nation.
This is what happens when you try to put education in a box with things like Common Core. Don’t teach background information, just look at every text divorced from everything else around it – the author’s personal history, what was happening in the world at the time or even how the reader responds to it.
Administrators like this need to take a seat and get out of teachers ways.
Apparently, many of my students got it for Christmas. Or since there’s a free on-line version, they were turned on to it by others who had gotten the deluxe version as a present.
It started as an undercurrent of trash talk. “You suck at Fortnite.” “You can’t beat me on Fortnite.” “You just wish you could take me on Fortnite.”
And then it started to manifest physically.
Those same kids would come in to school with Fortnite Face – glassy red eyes, heads slumped on the table and the inability to stay awake for more than 10 minutes at a time.
It’s not all of my students, but it’s a significant percentage. Almost all boys. And almost all at a distinct learning disadvantage.
Teaching them is like teaching someone in a deep sea diver suit. They can’t really see or hear you very well. And any message you get back from them sounds like it’s coming from the bottom of the ocean.
Plus I have as many special education students as legally allowed in every class, which requires mountains of extra paperwork and monitoring for each child.
And of course the phone in my room doesn’t call out and the cell reception is terrible, so I have to move to one of the few phones that will actually allow me to contact parents and try to communicate my concerns.
Most parents I talked to noticed the same things I had. Fortnite was taking over their children’s lives. Their kids were playing the game at every opportunity and ignoring most everything else.
However, most parents I couldn’t reach. Those cricket burner phones get disconnected quick. Others go straight to a voicemail box that’s so full it won’t accept new messages. Others allow me to leave a message that will never be returned.
But sometimes I did get through. And sometimes parents didn’t simply throw up their hands and say they don’t know what to do. Sometimes a parent actually laid down ground rules or took the game away.
However, if I’m being honest, contacting parents did not solve my problem.
In general, video games don’t make children more violent. Fortnite is a game where students shoot each other with guns all night long and it hasn’t made my students any more aggressive or violent than they already were.
Many cultures like the Japanese are much more into video games than ours and they have fewer violent incidents or school shootings.
However, video game addiction is a real thing and it impacts learning.
The reasons? Adoption of new initiatives without proper training or professional development (71%), negative portrayal of teachers and school employees in the media (55%), uncertain job expectations (47%) and salary (46%) were the most common responses.
The survey identified the following as most common everyday stressors in the workplace – time pressures, disciplinary issues and even a lack of opportunity to use the bathroom.
Focusing just on the classroom, top stressors were mandated curriculum, large class sizes and standardized testing.
Many teachers claimed to be the victims of violence at school.
A total 18% of all respondents said they had been threatened with physical violence – though the percentage jumped to 27% when looking solely at special education teachers.
A total of 9% of all respondents claimed to have been physically assaulted at school. Again the percentage jumped to 18% of all special education teachers.
But it’s not just physical assault.
A total of 30% claim to have been bullied by administrators (58%), co-workers (38%), students (34%) and student’s parents (30%).
This is the situation where policymakers want to throw firearms.
Most gun violence doesn’t involve a shooter doing harm to others. The great majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted.
Even without adding guns to the mix, several high profile teachers and administrators already have committed suicide.
In October of 2010, for example, a California elementary school teacher named Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. took his own life after the Los Angeles Times published a report labeling him a “less effective teacher.” Despite the fact that students and parents praised Ruelas, who taught in one of poorest schools in his district and who also was born, raised and continued to live in area where his school was located, the Times targeted him among other so-called “less effective” teachers as part of a major propaganda campaign.
And this isn’t an isolated incident. In July of 2015, a New York City principal under investigation for altering Common Core test scores, killed herself by jumping in front of a subway car.
Adding guns to this situation will just mean more teachers taking their own lives with a bullet.
That may have been the intent of the Georgia teacher in yesterday’s shooting.
Local police said they didn’t think he was trying to injure anyone else. When he shot his gun out of the window, he appeared to be trying to get others to leave him alone.
Arming teachers is a terrible solution to school violence. It’s taking an already stifling room and turning up the heat.
We need sensible gun regulations to reduce the pressure, not increase it.
We need sensible school policies that treat teachers and students like human beings and not just cogs in the system.
But this requires us to break out of a dangerous pattern in how we deal with social problems.
When we see a problem, we generally just shrug and leave it up to public schools and teachers to solve.
Inadequate resources – leave it to teachers to buy school supplies out of pocket.
Inequitable funding – increase class size and leave it to teachers to somehow make up the difference.
We can’t do the same with gun violence. We can’t just toss teachers a gun and tell them to sort it out.
Teachers can’t solve all of society’s problems alone.
That’s going to take all of us.
And we’ll need more than disingenuous proposals like answering gun violence with more guns.
After school, I couldn’t wait to take on the role of plucky plumber Mario or his brother Luigi. I’d jump on a few turtle shells, bounce over a bottomless pit and smash just the right secret brick to get my flashing star power up and wipe the floor with endless levels of Koopa Troopas.
But through it all, I never really learned anything.
With the possible exception of a few Italian stereotypes, the only knowledge I gained was where the warp zones were, which blocks to hit and the muscle memory necessary to defeat the next bad guy.
However, now-a-days that’s all changed.
Someone in marketing and accounting has decided that the same techniques I used to save Princess Toadstool would make an exceptional method of pedagogy.
They call it gamification, the process of making academic lessons, courses and objectives look more like video games.
Sure, the process has applications in the business world and advertising, but its biggest market has been education.
It’s the latest form of snake oil out of the cobra factory, and your teacher may be forced to pour it into your children’s brains.
That’s just Education 2018. Under the old model, the hucksters would have to approach each teacher one-at-a-time and convince them to try the shinny new toy in the box. But when you remove teacher autonomy, that frees all the used car salesmen to go right to the one person in your district – often the technology coordinator or academic coach – who controls the purse strings and convince him or her to buy what they’re selling.
They are good or bad based on the amount of fun they provide the user.
Be honest. No one really cares if Link puts together the Tri-force. No one is losing any sleep over rampaging Metroids on the loose. No one is putting out an Amber Alert the next time Princess Peach is inevitably kidnapped by Bowser. The only thing that matters is if meeting these objectives and countering these fictional bad guys is fun and exciting.
People care whether you can read and write. You may lose sleep over being unable to add, subtract, multiple and divide. Co-workers will be alerted if you don’t comprehend the basics of science and history.
And the higher the skill we’re aiming for, the greater the degree of importance.
After the first few chapters, they weren’t reading for a grade or to please me, their teacher. They truly wanted to know what would happen next. And to fully understand that, they had to exercise and refine their reading skills.
Look at it like this.
When I was playing Super Mario Bros., I often took a few warp zones to the last board so I could beat Bowser quickly and win the game. But that means I skipped over most of the first seven boards.
This didn’t matter because the only reason to play was to win. But if those first boards had included something important to the experience, skipping them would have greatly diminished my experience.
Gamification reduces learning until its meaningless. Why would anyone want to know something unless it carried with it a video game like reward?
And that’s merely the worst part.
In practice, most of the applications and software being pushed on kids to increase enthusiasm and motivation aren’t really very much fun at all. After a few times through, there isn’t much reason to plow through exposition heavy content with little to do. This material doesn’t connect to students’ lives, it doesn’t foster authentic competition, it doesn’t stoke their sense of wonder – it’s just a boring set of hoops to jump through to satisfy the instructor.
Admittedly, it does provide instant feedback, but that doesn’t matter if students don’t care about the matter at hand.
So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.
Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.
Cough drop – check.
Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!
Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.
I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.
But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.
I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.
I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.
And there in the second row was my daughter.
For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.
In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.
It was surreal.
I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.
Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.
At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.
I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.
It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.
I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.
And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?
They’ll bemoan sinking academic standards, powerful labor unions and a lack of moral fiber as the cause of a generation of children who lost out on an education while cowering under bulletproof backpacks.
But this generation refuses to be lost.
Despite everything, they’ve left a trail of breadcrumbs back to sanity.
They are emotionally damaged by a country that no longer functions, but they know the truth.
They know who’s responsible. And they know what to do about it.
When they reject our society, we’ll know why.
Because the next generation will be nothing like us.
And on a day like today, that’s the most hopeful thought I can offer.
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