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Students enrolled in private schools often get good grades and high test scores.

And there’s a reason for that – they’re from wealthier families.

A new peer-reviewed study from Professors Richard C. Pianta and Arya Ansari of the University of Virginia found that once you take family income out of the equation, there are absolutely zero benefits of going to a private school. The majority of the advantage comes from simply having money and all that comes with it – physical, emotional, and mental well-being, living in a stable and secure environment, knowing where your next meal will come from, etc.

The study published in July 2018 attempts to correct for selection bias – the factors that contribute to a student choosing private school rather than the benefits of the school, itself.

The study’s abstract puts it this way:

“Results from this investigation revealed that in unadjusted models, children with a history of enrollment in private schools performed better on nearly all outcomes assessed in adolescence. However, by simply controlling for the sociodemographic characteristics that selected children and families into these schools, all of the advantages of private school education were eliminated. There was also no evidence to suggest that low-income children or children enrolled in urban schools benefited more from private school enrollment.”

This has major policy implications.

Corporate school reformers from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, from Arne Duncan to Betsy DeVos, from Cory Booker to Charles and David Koch, have proposed increasing privatized school options to help students struggling in public schools.

Whether it be increasing charter schools or vouchers to attend private and parochial schools, the implication is the same – such measures will not help students achieve.

We need programs aimed at poverty, itself, not at replacing public schools with private alternatives.

According to the abstract:

“By and large, the evidence on the impact of school voucher programs casts doubt on any clear conclusion that private schools are superior in producing student performance…

“In sum, we find no evidence for policies that would support widespread enrollment in private schools, as a group, as a solution for achievement gaps associated with income or race. In most discussions of such gaps and educational opportunities, it is assumed that poor children attend poor quality schools and that their families, given resources and flexibility, could choose among the existing supply of private schools to select and then enroll their children in a school that is more effective and a better match for their student’s needs. It is not at all clear that this logic holds in the real world of a limited supply of effective schools (both private and public) and the indication that once one accounts for family background, the existing supply of heterogeneous private schools (from which parents select) does not result in a superior education (even for higher income students).”

Researchers repeatedly noted that this study was not simply a snapshot of student performance. It is unique because of how long and how in depth students were observed.

The study looks at student outcomes at multiple intervals giving it a much longer time frame and much greater detail than other similar investigations. Researchers examined wide ranging family backgrounds and contextual processes to reduce selection bias.

Participants were recruited in 1991 from ten different cities: Little Rock, Arkansas; Irvine, California; Lawrence, Kansas; Boston, Massachusetts; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Charlottesville, Virginia; Seattle, Washington; Hickory and Morganton, North Carolina; and Madison, Wisconsin. They were followed for 15 years and had to complete a month long home visit. In addition, they submitted to both annual interviews and home, school, and neighborhood observations.

The final analytic sample consisted of 1,097 children – 24% of whom were children of color, 15% had single mothers, and 10% had mothers without a high school diploma.

Moreover, student academic achievement wasn’t the only factor examined.

Researchers also assessed students social adjustment, attitudes, motivation, and risky behavior. This is significant because they noted that no other study of private schools to date has examined factors beyond academics. Also, there is a general assumption that private school has a positive effect on these nonacademic factors – an assumption for which the study could find no evidence.

From the abstract:

“In short, despite the frequent and pronounced arguments in favor of the use of vouchers or other mechanisms to support enrollment in private schools as a solution for vulnerable children and families attending local or neighborhood schools, the present study found no evidence that private schools, net of family background (particularly income), are more effective for promoting student success.”

One reason behind these results may be the startling variation in “the nature and quality of private school classrooms.” There is no consistency between what you’ll get from one private school to the next.

The x-factor appears to be family income and all that comes with it.

We see this again and again in education. For instance, standardized test scores, themselves, are highly correlated with parental wealth. Kids from wealthier families get better test scores than those from poorer families regardless of whether they attend public, charter or private schools.

It’s time our policymakers stop ignoring the effect of income inequality on our nations students.

If we really want to help our children, the solution is not increased privatization. It is increased funding and support for anti-poverty programs, teachers and a robust public school system.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization has come out against high stakes standardized testing.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) distributed an issue brief yesterday at its national convention in San Antonio, Texas, titled “NAACP OPPOSES HIGH-STAKES EDUCATIONAL TESTING.”

The brief stated that the organization has concerns about using a single standardized test as a graduation requirement, as a prerequisite for advancement to the next grade or otherwise blocking students from receiving various educational opportunities. In its place, the organization favors the use of multiple measures, which may include standardized testing but should also include other assessments such as student grades and teacher evaluations.

In short, the brief concluded:

“Using a single standardized test as the sole determinant for promotion, tracking, ability grouping and graduation is not fair and does not foster equality or opportunity for students regardless of race, income, or gender.”

This is a huge policy shift from where the organization was just three years ago.

In 2015, the NAACP along with several other larger and older civil rights groups changed its position against testing to one in favor of it.

At the time, Congress was getting ready to pass a new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The civil rights organizations – many of whom had just asked Congress a year earlier to reduce standardized testing – suddenly demanded it be kept a federal accountability standard and that taking these tests was, itself, a civil right.

At the time, many education activists were shocked by the turnaround obviously coerced by the standardized testing and school privatization industry. For instance, see this email from Teach for America alum Liz King giving organizations an ultimatum to sign.

The new issue brief is more in-line with the NAACP’s history of opposition and activism against corporate education reform.

Once again we have the NAACP that advocated against standardized testing in the Debra P v. Turlington case (1981), where the Florida legislature made passing a single standardized test a graduation requirement. The NAACP supported black students who had a disproportionate failing rate on the test and claimed the Florida legislature was violating the Fourteenth Amendment. The courts eventually ruled against the plaintiffs but the issue has remained contentious to this day.

The new issue brief isn’t just a return to form. It builds on concerns that are still plaguing our schools.

Of particular note in the new issue brief is the caution that, “…when standardized tests are used by schools and school districts, that the tests be valid and reliable, measure what the student was taught and provide appropriate accommodations for disabled children.”

Many would argue that the new batch of Common Core aligned tests being used by states do not meet this requirement. They do not test what students have been taught – they test students’ ability to spit back the same kind of thinking of the person who wrote the test. Moreover, special needs students are rarely afforded the same accommodations on federally mandated standardized test day that they are allowed during every other assessment they take during the school year.

The brief continues:

“Furthermore, the NAACP is opposed to individual students being unfairly denied critical educational opportunities because of their performance on a single, standardized test.

This, itself, is a nationwide problem. Administrators are pressured to make district policies “data-driven” and thus deny students the chance to take advanced classes or go on special field trips because of performance on one multiple choice test.

The NAACP certainly could go farther in its criticism of high stakes testing.

Organizations like the Journey for Justice Alliance (JJA), a group made up of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, have never wavered in their opposition to high stakes standardized testing. In 2015 while the NAACP and other well established groups defended testing, JJA was joined by 175 other national and local grassroots community, youth and civil rights organizations asking Congress to stop requiring standardized tests at all.

Standardized testing violates students civil rights – especially the poor and students of color.

It is nice to see the NAACP returning to the activism on which it built its justly deserved reputation.

What follows is the full text of the new NAACP issue brief:

“ISSUE BRIEF

Date: Summer, 2018

To: Concerned Parties

From: Hilary O. Shelton, Director, Washington Bureau

NAACP OPPOSES HIGH-STAKES EDUCATIONAL TESTING

THE ISSUE

Many states are relying on a single examination to determine decisions (such as graduating from high school or promoting students to the next grade), despite the fact that leading education experts nationwide recommend multiple measures of student performance for such decisions. While these “high-stakes” tests serve an important role in education settings, they are not perfect and when used improperly can create real barriers to educational opportunity and progress. Furthermore, one-time, standardized tests may have a disparate impact on students of color, many of whom have not had the benefit of high quality teaching staff (urban school districts have the greatest challenge in attracting and keeping high qualified teachers), adequate classroom resources, or instruction on the content and skills being tested by the standardized tests. Considering additional measures of student achievement, such as grades and teacher evaluations, adds not only to the fairness of a decision with major consequences for students but also increases the validity of such high stakes decisions.

Due to our concerns about the fairness of such testing, as well as the potential impact these tests have on the lives of our children, the NAACP has supported legislation in the past that would require that States follow the recommendation of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. Specifically, the bills require that High Stakes decisions be based upon multiple measures of student performance and, when standardized tests are used by schools and school districts, that the tests be valid and reliable, measure what the student was taught and provide appropriate accommodations for disabled children. Furthermore, the NAACP is opposed to individual students being unfairly denied critical educational opportunities because of their performance on a single, standardized test.

The NAACP will continue to promote the initiatives that ensure equal opportunity, fairness, and accuracy in education by coupling standardized tests with other measures of academic achievement. Using a single standardized test as the sole determinant for promotion, tracking, ability grouping and graduation is not fair and does not foster equality or opportunity for students regardless of race, income, or gender.”

Special thanks to Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig who first released the issue brief on his education blog.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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I don’t mean to brag, but I just beat “Zelda: Breath of the Wild.”

This summer I sat down with my 9-year-old daughter and together we played the most popular Nintendo Switch game for hours, days, weeks.

And at the end of all that time, I came away victorious – something I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do when I started.

There are so many buttons to learn, two joy sticks, various info screens and menus.

But when it was all over, I had cleared all four divine beasts. I got all 18 captured memories. I completed about 80 shrines. I mastered about 45 side quests. I shredded guardians, lynols and bokoblins. And, yes, I opened a major can of whoop ass on Calamity Gannon.

As the kids say, I’m jelly.

My video game skills are lit.

You can’t handle me, bro.

And so on.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017 Trailer - YouTube

But I’m not a kid. I’m a grown man.

Didn’t I have anything better to do?

Couldn’t I have found a more productive use for all that time?

Maybe. Maybe not. However, beyond the sheer fun, I did learn something from the whole experience.

As a public school teacher, I learned about my students by following in their footsteps.

That’s really why I started playing in the first place – my middle school kids this year loved that game.

I got more Zelda doodles, more Hyrule poetry, more Link fan fiction than you might at first believe.

The world of the game was really important to my children and having even a passing knowledge of that world helped me relate to them.

I even asked for a few tips after class.

One of my best students took her Switch out of her backpack and showed me a prime location to pick hot peppers so I could withstand the cold of Mount Hyrule (Don’t ask).

It was worth doing just for that – I showed my willingness to be the student and for them to be the teachers. I showed them we were all a community of learners.

At least, that’s my hope.

But now that the dog days of summer are here and my video game victory is complete, I keep thinking of the implications of my experience in Hyrule on the world of education.

Specifically, I’m thinking about education technology or Ed Tech.

I’m thinking about how we use various software packages to try to teach students and how they invariably fail at the task.

Well-meaning administrators hear about this program or that classroom management system or an assessment app and they spend beaucoup bucks on it.

We’re instructed to give up valuable instruction time so our kids can sit in front of a computer while a digital avatar attempts to do our job.

Kids listen to a cartoon person instruct them in the rudiments of grammar or literacy, play loose skills exercises and earn digital badges.

It may sound like fun to us, but they hate it.

The reason: nine times out of ten it’s little more than a standardized test given on a computer.

Sure, there are lots of bells and whistles, but the kids catch on mighty quickly. There is no student as bored as a student forced to play an educational video game.

I have real concerns with issues of student privacy and how the data being collected by these apps is used. I have real problems with how this technology facilitates dumbing down the curriculum – narrowing it to only that which can be measured on a multiple choice assessment. I take umbrage that these programs are used by some as “evidence” that human educators and brick and mortar schools are unnecessary. And I shed real tears at the massive amounts of funding being funneled to corporations that could be better spent in our own districts.

But playing this game has given me hope.

In seeing how “Zelda” succeeds with kids – because it succeeded with me – I think we can illuminate some ways ed tech goes awry.

I found five distinct lessons from the game, five areas where “Zelda” succeeds where ed tech fails.

Perhaps these could be used to improve the quality of ed tech devices to make them better at teaching students.

Or they could show why ed tech will never be as affective at teaching as flesh and blood instructors.

In any case, here is what I learned.

1) Focus on Fun

One of the biggest differences between ed tech and “Zelda” was the focus.

The games we make children play at school are designed to teach them something. That is their purpose. It is their raison d’être. The point behind the entire activity is to instruct, test and reward.

By contrast, the purpose of “Zelda” is fun.

Don’t get me wrong. “Zelda” can be very educational.

There are points where the game is actively trying to teach you how to do things usually associated with game play.

You have to learn how to make your character (Link) do what you want him to do. You have to learn how to manipulate him through the world. How to run, how to climb, how to heal, how to use weapons, how to cook and make elixirs, etc.

However, the point behind the entire game is not instructional. It’s fun – pure and simple.

If you have to learn something, it is all in service to that larger goal.

In the world of the game, learning is explicitly extrinsic. It helps you have more fun playing. Only the pursuit of winning is intrinsic or even conceptualized as being so.

In real life, this may not be the right approach to education, but it seems to be a rule of virtual experience. If it is superseded, the game becomes just another class assignment – lifeless, dead, boring.

If educational software is going to be effective in the classroom, it must find a way to bridge this divide. It must either put fun before pedagogy or trick the user into thinking it has done so.

I’m not sure this is possible or desirable. But there it is.

2) Logic and Problem Solving Work but not Curriculum

There are many aspects of “Zelda” one could consider educational.

However, when it comes to things that have importance outside of the game, the biggest would be problem solving and logic games.

A great deal of game play can be characterized under this umbrella.

The ostensible mission is to defeat the bad guy, Calamity Gannon. However, to do so you often have to solve various puzzles in order to have the strength and skills to take him down.

The most obvious of these puzzles are shrines. There are 120 special areas throughout Hyrule that Link needs to find and solve.

Each one involves a special skill and asks the gamer to decipher problems using that skill. For example, one asks you to manipulate fans so that the air flow makes windmills turn in a pattern. Another asks you to get a ball through an obstacle course.

In each case, the emphasis is on logic and critical thinking.

That has tremendous educational value. And it’s something I’ve seen done easily and well in many educational video games.

The problem is it doesn’t teach any particular curriculum. It doesn’t teach math, science, English or social studies – though it does help contribute to all of these pursuits.

Ed tech games are not nearly so coy. They often try to go right for the curriculum with disastrous results. Ed tech software, for instance, will have you find the grammatical error in a sentence or solve an equation in order to move on in the game.

That just doesn’t work. It feels false, extraneous and forced. It’s doesn’t seem like an organic part of the experience. It’s something contrived onto it from outside and reminds the gamer exactly why you’re playing – to learn.

3) Option to Seek Help

One of the most surprising things to me about playing “Zelda” on the Switch was how much of an on-line gaming community has formed around the whole experience.

If you get stuck in a particular area, you can find numerous sites on-line that will help you get passed it. You can even find gamer videos where YouTubers will show you exactly how they solved this or that problem. And they don’t all have the same solution. Some provide elegant, well-detailed advice, and others seem to stumble on it and offer you their videos as proof they could actually get the job done somehow.

It’s a lot different from when I was a kid playing video games. Back then (30 years ago) you had your friends but there were few other places to go for help. There were fan magazines and a few video game companies had tip hotlines. But other than that, you were on your own.

One of my favorite YouTubers this summer was Hyrule Dude. His videos were clear, informative and helpful. However, I didn’t always agree with his solutions. But they invariably helped me find things that would work for me.

It reminded me a bit of Khan Academy and other learning sites.

If kids really want to grasp something today, they have so many places they can go on-line. As educators, it’s hard to incorporate them into a classroom environment because there are certain things we want kids to find out for themselves.

For instance, as a language arts teacher, I want my students to do the assigned readings on their own. Yet I know some of them try to skip to the on-line summaries they can find and use that instead of reading the text. I have no problem if they access good summaries and analysis but I don’t want them to take the place of trying to comprehend the text on their own first.

I think there are ways to use this larger social media community to help support learning without spoiling the hard work kids need to put in on their own. But it’s something we need to think about more and find better ways to incorporate.

4) Open Ended

One of the most striking things about this new “Zelda” is how much choice the gamer has. In most games you have to complete the first board and then the second and so on until you win.

On the Switch, the world you’re thrust into is incredibly open ended. You can do pretty much what you want, when you want. Or at least you can try.

At first, your character is limited to one area of the world – a plateau. But once you complete a certain number of the challenges there, you get the paraglider which allows you to access most of the rest of the world.

It’s a huge area to explore – impossible to travel the entire length of it without spending hours of game play. And it’s entirely up to you where to go and what to do next.

The central mission of the game is to defeat Calamity Gannon in Hyrule Castle. However, that would be incredibly difficult early on. You’re advised to get the four Divine Beasts first. And you can do them in any order you want.

Moreover, I mentioned shrines earlier. When you complete four shrines, you can either increase your hearts (the amount you can be hurt without dying) or your stamina (how long your character can do something hard like climbing or swimming without having to rest). Technically, you don’t have to complete more than a few shrines, but doing so makes your character stronger and better able to get the Divine Beasts and defeat Gannon.

There are also side-quests (totally optional) that reward your character with money, items, etc.

I think this is the secret to the game’s success. It’s why game play is so immersive and addictive.

Ed tech software is exactly the opposite. You must do section A before section B before section C. It’s little more than a multiple choice test with only limited possible answers of which only one is correct.

In “Zelda” there are often multiple ways to achieve the same end. For instance, I would assume the programmers wanted me to fight my way through every room of Hyrule Castle to get to Calamity Gannon. However, I simply climbed over the walls and swan through the moats – a much quicker and efficient method.

If we could recreate this freedom of movement and multifarious solutions within educational software, we might really be onto something. But, frankly, it’s something that even traditional video games have difficulty being able to recreate.

5) Choice to Play or Not

And speaking of choice, there is the choice whether to play or not.

Video games are one of the things kids choose for leisure. When we force kids to play them in school, that choice is gone.

They become a task, a trial, an assignment.

Moreover, not every child enjoys video games.

We can’t mandate kids learn from games – even the best of ed tech games. At best, they should be an option. They could be one tool in the toolbox.

In summary, I think the goal of the ed tech industry is deeply flawed.

Ed tech will never adequately replace brick-and-mortar schools and flesh and blood teachers.

At best, it could provide a tool to help kids learn.

To do so, games would have to primarily be focused on fun – not learning. They would have to be organized around critical thinking and logic – not curriculum. They would need to utilize the on-line community for help but not cheating. They would need to be open ended worlds and not simply repackaged standardized testing. And finally, students would need the choice whether to play them or not.

Unfortunately, I am skeptical that the ed tech industry would even attempt to incorporate these ideas in its products.

They are market driven and not student driven. The corporate creatures behind these products don’t care how well they work. They only want to increase profitability and boost market share.

Cheaper commodities are better – especially when the consumer isn’t the student forced to play the game but the politician or administrator in charge of school policy.

Ed tech’s potential as a positive tool in a school’s toolbox has been smothered by the needs of business and industry. Until we recognize the harm corporations do in the school, we will be doomed to dehumanizing students, devaluing teachers and wasting our limited resources on already wealthy big business.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Every neighborhood has one.

A yellow flag showing a coiled spring of a snake above the motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.”

In my usually well-manicured suburb, you’ll find it waving bravely over the garbage house.

There’s three broken down RVs sitting on the lawn, a busted sofa in the back yard, a rotten picnic bench and several rusted out vehicles in various states of disrepair.

I’m not sure why the owners think anyone would want to tread on them. We’d much rather walk quickly on by without being seen or commented on.

Because in my experience that’s the thing about most of the people who fly this flag.

They’re indignant about anyone stepping on their rights but all too ready to step all over yours.

I remember it wasn’t really too long ago that this flag had no such connotations.

It was simply the Gadsen flag, a relic of the American Revolution. It was nothing more than a reminder of a time when we cherished our national independence from Great Britain and wanted to make sure they knew we didn’t want the King to come back and start ordering us around.

In fact, it was designed by American general and politician Christopher Gadsden in 1775. This “Sam Adams of South Carolina” modeled his patriotic statement first used by the Continental Marines on an earlier famous cartoon from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette.

You’ve probably seen it. A snake is cut into several pieces – each representing one of the colonies – with the motto, “Join or Die.”

So originally it was a call for unity, perhaps even federalism. It was a way of framing the argument that we’d be stronger as one nation than as a group of separate states.

Gadsen’s version was really a continuation of that same thought. It was as if he were saying, “Here we are, one unified nation ready to strike to protect itself from tyranny.”

It wasn’t until 2009 that Gadsen’s flag became associated with the radical right.

Like so many hitherto nonpartisan symbols, it was appropriated by the Tea Party movement, which tried to cast their libertarian extremism as somehow harkening back to the American Revolution.

Even the name Tea Party is a misnomer. The original Boston members of the Sons of Liberty who threw British tea into the harbor in 1773 were protesting taxation without representation. Modern day Tea Partiers were protesting the taxes levied by their own duly elected representatives.

They were poor people duped into thinking the rich paid too much despite the fact of gross income inequality and the wealthy not paying their fair share.

It’s this willful ignorance that typifies the contemporary right.

The truth doesn’t matter. It only matters what can be spun into a pithy sound bite that can be broadcast on Fox News or some other propaganda source and then repeated ad infinitum in place of any real debate or conversation.

To be fair, the left does it, too, but not nearly to the same degree.

When a topic makes the rounds of the 24-hour news cycle, you can hear the same canned responses from right and left on just about every channel regardless of who is speaking. The only difference is that the left usually makes at least passing reference to reality while the right closes its eyes and says whatever it believes to be true with perfect conviction.

The Gadsen flag is a perfect example of this hypocrisy.

The motto “Don’t Tread on Me” has come to mean radical individual freedom.

I can do whatever I like and there’s nothing you can do about it.

I can own as many guns as I like. I can teach my kids whatever facts I like. I can discriminate against anyone I like.

But there’s never a mention about other people except to limit what they can do in relation to the speaker.

In short, there’s nothing explicit about making this rule universal – I won’t tread on you if you won’t tread on me.

It’s just don’t tread on me and I’ll do whatever I like in relation to you.

After all, many of these personal freedoms the radical right cherishes actually do impact the rest of us.

Unregulated gun ownership means more shootings, more suicides, more deadly instances of domestic violence, more kids coming to school with semi-automatic guns in their book bags and more malls and theaters slick with bystander blood.

Moreover, if you teach your kids whatever facts you like, that means you indoctrinate them into your worldview. You don’t give them the chance to see the real world for what it is in case they may have different views on it than you do. This impacts both your children and the country, itself, which will have to somehow run with a greater portion of ignorant and close-minded citizens.

And don’t get me started on discrimination! You think you should be able to say whatever you like to whomever you like whenever you like. It’s fine to wear a t-shirt calling Hillary Clinton a “cunt” but when late night comedian Samantha Bee does the same to Ivanka Trump, you’re up in arms!

You think you can support laws that allow bakers to refuse to make wedding cakes for gay couples but are raving mad when a restaurateur refuses service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders!

This kind of sanctimonious duplicity has real world consequences.

Unarmed black people are shot and killed by police at a much higher rate than white people. Yet you won’t tolerate any protest, condemnation or protest. People can’t assemble in the streets, athletes can’t kneel during the national anthem, you won’t even allow the slogan “Black Lives Matter,” because you say, “All Lives Matter,” while in reality you mean “All Lives Except Black Ones.”

You oppose abortion but no one is forcing anyone to have abortions. In your headlong crusade for individual freedom you want to ensure that others don’t have this choice because they might choose differently than you. Or at least they might choose differently than you SAY you do, because when the light of day is cast upon you, we find an alarming number of hypocrites here, too.

There are too many far right politicians who campaign on overturning Roe v. Wade who pressure their mistresses to abort the unwanted issue of their indiscretion.

The underlying cause of such myopia is a perverse focus only on the self.

You look at what you want for you and pay no attention at all to what others should likewise be allowed.

It is the underlying selfishness of post Enlightenment Western thought come back to haunt us.

Hobbes and Locke and Smith told us that greed was good.

It’s what makes the world go round.

You look to your self-interest, and I’ll look to mine, and that’s what’s best for everyone.

However, they forgot that everyone doesn’t have the same power – physical, social, financial or political. Some people are strong and some are weak. Some are rich and some are poor. If you pull the shortest straw at the lottery of birth, you won’t be able to get the same things for yourself as those who won it as soon as the doctor slapped their newborn bums.

So we have layers and layers of class and economics. We have social structures designed to keep black people here and Hispanics there and white people at the top. We have a society that worships the rich and bedevils the poor. We have belief systems that praise one kind of sexuality only and demonizes anything that diverges from that norm. And the most defining thing of any newborn baby is what you’ll find between its legs.

“Don’t Tread on Me” has become a farce.

It’s a maxim hoisted on those with very little individual power to convince them to join together and become powerful while guarding the door for the wealthy.

They sit atop their mountains of trash as if they were dragons on piles of gold.

And they point their pitchforks at the rest of us as if we wanted a piece of it.

In this way, they make themselves the willing patsies of the ruling class.

It’s a sad thing to behold.

Because if we all just stopped for a second and recognized our common humanity, we’d agree that the status quo is unacceptable.

If we were more concerned about the rights of all than just our own rights, we’d agree that the wealth of this great nation has not been fairly distributed.

The snake is coiled and ready to strike but it is pointed in the wrong direction.

It shouldn’t be pointed at 99% of us. And it shouldn’t be so solitary.

It should be a sea of snakes, a great slithering mass of humanity, hissing and spitting with venom, our reptilian eyes focused on the elites.

Don’t tread on me?

Don’t tread on USSSSSSSSSSS!

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Let’s say you have a starving child.

You take out a knife, a fork and a spoon. You hand her a cup.

This isn’t what she needs.

She needs food. She needs water.

But the utensils seem a precursor to meeting those needs.

That’s what the Department of Education has always been – a tool and a promise.

But now the Trump administration wants to do away with even that polite fiction.

Two weeks ago, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced the plan to merge the Education and Labor departments.

The reason you may not have heard much about it – beside the fact that bigger stories have overshadowed it like the forced separation of undocumented children and parents at the border, coercing kids into immigration court without parents or even legal counsel and then locking them up in cages in detention centers – is that the plan has about zero chance of coming to fruition.

Democrats oppose it and there don’t even seem to be enough Republicans in favor to get it through Congress. It may not even have enough support to get a vote.

Unless it’s a huge tax cut for the rich, no one seems able to get any actual laws through this GOP controlled legislature.

Moreover, the proposal is a definite step backward. The Department of Education was created in 1980 by splitting the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.

At that time, its purpose was clear. It was a tool to increase funding equity and transparency while protecting students.

After all, the department was an extension of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which tried to bring equity to America’s public schools.

As President Jimmy Carter said upon signing the bill into law:

“First, [the Department of Education] will increase the Nation’s attention to education. Instead of being buried in a $200 billion-a-year bureaucracy, educational issues will receive the top-level priority they deserve. For the first time, there will be a Cabinet-level leader in education, someone with the status and the resources to stir national discussion of critical education concerns.”

Unfortunately, those principles were never fully realized.

The Department did increase funding to public schools, but it didn’t end up dramatically increasing opportunities for the underprivileged.

Sure, it provided targeted grants like Pell Grants that did offer opportunities to select groups of students. But it didn’t radically alter our outdated (even then) funding system.

Our schools are segregated by race and class – worse now than they were then. Since they’re funded primarily by local property taxes, that means the poor and minorities get less funding than richer whiter kids.

And unless you’re willing to let your kids go to a school that receives less funding than others, don’t tell me it doesn’t matter. Rich white people have long complained about the money we spend on other people’s children while doing everything in their power to protect funding for their own.

In the late 1970’s, it was hoped the creation of the Department would be the first step to increasing federal funding of schools to one third of the total cost, thereby leveling the playing field somewhat.

But that never happened.

Now as then, the federal government only funds less than 10 percent of the cost.

To return to the metaphor with which this piece began, the creation of the department was like handing a starving child utensils without much actual food.

As the years have passed, we’ve used those tools for everything except nourishing students.

We’ve fed the child by guiding an empty fork into her cheek. We’ve poked and prodded her mouth with a knife.

The result hasn’t been for her benefit. Instead we’ve let special interests feed off of HERcharter schools, voucher schools, high stakes standardized testing corporations, the ed tech industry and even book and software publishers through the boondoggle of Common Core.

Many have insisted this misuse of the Department means we should do away with it entirely.

I disagree.

The child is still starving. It is still our responsibility to feed her.

You don’t do that by taking away her utensils.

Oh, you can feed her without them, but not very effectively. She can drink from the sink, but not as well as from a cup. She can eat with her hands, but not as easily as with utensils.

This latest proposed merger wouldn’t really satisfy anyone.

It wouldn’t do away with the department – it would hide it behind closed doors.

It would simply make it harder to see what was happening to it.

Moreover, it betrays an ideological bias against education for its own sake. Making the Department of Education part of the Department of Labor implies that the only reason one goes to school to learn job skills.

One can imagine a newly reorganized federal effort to cut anything from our schools that couldn’t be immediately connected with becoming a worker drone. And I don’t mean to imply this would be a new effort, because it’s already what President’s George W. Bush and Barack Obama were using the Department to achieve. But now it would be in the shadows and who knows what monstrosity could grow without the cleansing light of day?

This would help no one. It would be a continuation of the status quo (or possibly a doubling down on it) under a different name.

No one needs that.

What we need is to roll up our sleeves and meet students’ needs.

The child is hungry.

She has been sitting before us starving for decades and all we’ve done is give her the means to eat without the food.

Isn’t it time someone open the cupboard and get this kid something to eat!?

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Wow! I now have a real choice when it comes to my union!

At least, that’s what the email I got from the Mackinac Center says!

Now that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in the Janus vs. AFSCME case, I don’t have to pay any of my hard earned cash to my union!

I can be a free rider! I can get all the advantages of belonging to a union – higher salary, better benefits, better safety precautions – and I can leave it to the rest of the membership to pay for me!

That’s amazing!

And what’s even more amazing is who is sending this email to me!

I mean the Mackinac Center is funded by Betsy DeVos and her family, the Koch Brothers, Eli Broad, the Scaifes, and the Walton family!

Who would have ever thought some of the richest people in the world would take an interest in my union membership!?

How nice of them!

I’m merely a public school teacher! In my more than a decade in the classroom, they’ve spent billions of dollars to weaken my profession!

They lobbied for education funding nationwide to be gutted so they could get another tax cut!

They invested in charter and voucher schools and then demanded we build more of these privatized institutions with little to no accountability so they could rake in record profits!

They’ve weakened education at schools serving the highest populations of students of color and then benefited when those same kids turned to crime and were incarcerated in their private prisons!

Instead of holding politicians accountable for inequitable funding and instead of supporting teacher autonomy, they forced high stakes standardized testing and Common Core on me and my students!

They demanded my administrators undervalue what I actually do in the classroom but instead evaluate me based on my student test scores – so being given struggling students means I’m somehow a worse teacher than the person across the hall with the honors class!

They did all that but suddenly they’re concerned about my freedom to withhold union dues!?

Well Golly!

Jeepers!

 

Gee Willikers!

 

Goodness gracious and bless my soul!

I must have been wrong about these fellers and these ladies all along!

They really DO care about little people like me!

Did you know that a 2011 study by researchers at Harvard and the University of Washington concluded that higher union membership encourages higher pay across the economy!?

It’s true!

They said the decline of unions accounts for as much as one-third of the increase in wage inequality since the 1970s!

According to the Economic Policy Institute, when union membership goes down, the wealthy make more money! Conversely, the more union membership goes up, the less money goes to the wealthy!

And despite all that, the rich are concerned that I have the right to stop paying union dues!

I mean if I stop paying my dues and my fellow working stiffs stop paying their dues, then my union might just have to close up shop!

And that would mean my wages would go down!

But these same rich people who just sent me an email would see their investments go up!

They’d take home sacks of cash! So much money that they’d probably drop some and maybe I might be able to pick up a few pennies they leave on the curb!

Isn’t that great!?

You know public sector employees including firefighters and police, and teachers like me are the largest sector left of the workforce still represented by unions!

According to BLS statistics, 38 percent of public sector employees are represented by unions!

It’s true!

Back in 1945, union membership nationwide was at its highest rate of 33.4%! That means back then about a third of all American workers belonged to a union!

Last year it was down to 10.7 percent!

In the intervening years, manufacturing jobs have declined, blue collar jobs have been outsourced and both political parties have passed laws making it harder to unionize and collectively bargain!

But thank goodness I now have the right to get something for nothing from my union!

That’s going to perk things right up!

Sure, numerous studies have shown that declining union membership is one of the major causes why middle class wages have remained basically flat! But I get to keep a hundred bucks in my pocket so everything’s square!

One thing worries me, though!

I’m not sure many union workers are going to take advantage of this new freedom!

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t agree with everything my union does! No one could say that!

I don’t agree with everything my government does, either, but I still pay taxes!

And I wouldn’t stop paying taxes even if I could! I like being an American citizen, and I like much of what my government provides by way of our military, infrastructure and social programs!

It’s the same with my union!

I mean I LIKE earning higher wages! I LIKE getting better benefits! I LIKE knowing I work in a safe environment!

And when I have a better working environment, my students have a better learning environment!

I doubt many of my co-workers are going to stop paying their dues just because they can!

We’re not stupid! We know that if you want union benefits, you have to pay union dues! The Supreme Court can say whatever it likes! It can’t legislate passed reality!

Moreover, who would want to associate with a co-worker who refuses to pull his or her own weight!?

If I found out one of my colleagues was leaving it to me to pay for both of us, I’d throw a fit! I wouldn’t associate with that person!

If he or she came to my room asking for advice, I’d tell them to get lost! I wouldn’t eat with them at lunch, I wouldn’t chat about their day, I’d give them their walking papers, myself!

Frankly, the social cost would be higher than just paying your union dues!

So thanks anyway, Mackinac Center! Thanks anyway, Charles and David Koch! Thanks anyway, Betsy DeVos!

I’m sticking with my union.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Are teachers necessary?

That’s the question big business is asking.

Well, “asking” isn’t really the right word. They’re implying an answer.

Hedge fund mangers and ed tech soothsayers are betting hundreds of millions of dollars that educators aren’t really all that important.

They’re planning a future where real live people play a much smaller role in student learning.

They’re mapping out a world where kids don’t even have to go to school to grasp the basics, where learning can be accomplished anywhere but instigated, tracked, and assessed on-line through various computer platforms.

It’s called a learning ecosystem, personalized learning, competency based or individualized education. With little to no guiding principles, management or oversight, kids would engage in educational tasks on various devices in order to earn digital badges.

Children would bounce from a few hours of Khan Academy videos here to a software package there and Voila! “Modern” education!

It’s a brave new world where investors hope to make a bundle by reducing the cost and pocketing the savings.

Since teachers are the biggest cost, they’re the first things to go.

Since their rights as workers and human beings are a roadblock on this learning superhighway, they’re the first to go.

And since they’re in a prime position to see exactly what’s going on and to object when this ed tech paradise exploits the students it ostensibly is being built for, they MUST go – now, as soon as possible.

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v AFSCME is part of that process. It’s another way to weaken labor and clear the path for business – the collusion of politics and corporations to steamroll the rest of us and swipe more of our money regardless of the children in the steamrollers way.

So when I ask “Are teachers necessary?” it’s not a purely philosophical question.

The answer will have a major impact on both the education of today and where we go in the future.

If teachers are not necessary, that removes one of the biggest obstacles to this frightening and uncertain future.

Unfortunately, no matter how much I want to answer in the affirmative that teachers are necessary, I can’t do so.

Even after thousands of years of recorded history, learning remains a mysterious process. Yet it doesn’t take much reflection to realize that it can take place without the presence of a teacher.

Some things can be figured out solely by the learner in the right circumstances.

In fact, many academic studies have shown that teachers are not even the most important factor in the process.

Roughly 60% of academic achievement can be explained by family background – things like income and poverty level. School factors only account for 20% – and of that, teachers account for 15%. (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).

Estimates vary somewhat from study to study, but the basic structure holds. The vast majority of impact on learning comes from the home and out-of-school factors. Teachers are a small part of the picture. They are the largest single factor in the school building, but the school, itself, is only one of many components.

In short, teachers are not necessary to student learning.

But neither are doctors necessary to healing or lawyers necessary to acquittals.

Necessity is a very high bar.

To survive, you need food, shelter and clothing. However, having all three does not mean you have a good life. Slaves had all three – no free person would choose to trade places with someone in generational servitude simply because they had everything they needed to survive.

The same with medicine. If shot in the arm, you could provide me with all the medical equipment necessary to remove the bullet, but I would still have a difficult time doing it by myself. I COULD. A doctor is not NECESSARY for that operation. But without a doctor present, my chances of getting the best medical care drop dramatically.

Moreover, you could pop me in a courtroom without the benefit of legal counsel and it’s not impossible that I could argue my way to the dismissal of all charges against me. But the likelihood of doing so is infinitesimal – as undocumented youngsters are discovering when forced into the courtroom to defend against deportation without an attorney or even their parents present.

The same is true of education.

Though teachers are not necessary to learning, they are vital to it.

Having a teacher dramatically boosts a student’s chances, and the more disadvantaged that student is, the more he or she benefits from an educator.

The academic schemes of the corporate class amount to changing the field into the equivalent of an automated teller or a business robocall.

You can purchase your groceries through the self-checkout line. You can get your customer service from an automated list. But neither of these are the highest quality service.

They are cheap alternatives.

They are ways for the business to cut costs and boost profits. Neither have anything to do with making things better for the customer.

And when it comes to education, eliminating (or even drastically reducing access to) the teacher will decrease the quality of the service beyond recognition.

A 2009 report, Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success, released by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice outlined several real world solutions to increase academic outcomes. None of them involve the elimination of teachers.

They are:

1. Reduce the rate of low birth weight children among African Americans

2. Reduce drug and alcohol abuse

3. Reduce pollutants in U.S. cites and move people away from toxic sites

4. Provide universal and free medical care for all citizens

5. Insure that no one suffers from food insecurity

6. Reduce the rates of family violence in low-income households

7. Improve mental health services among the poor

8. More equitably distribute low-income housing throughout communities

9. Reduce both the mobility and absenteeism rates of children

10. Provide high-quality preschools for all children

11. Provide summer programs for students from low-income homes to reduce summer losses in their academic achievement.

These are ways you improve education FOR CHILDREN.

This is how you make things better FOR THE LEARNER and not necessarily for the investor class.

And when it comes to teachers, there are numerous ways you can help them provide support for students.

First of all, hire more of them!

Today’s public schools employ 250,000 fewer people than they did before the recession of 2008–09. Meanwhile enrollment has increased by 800,000 students.

So if we wanted our kids to have the same quality of service children received in this country only a decade ago, we’d need to hire almost 400,000 more teachers!

That’s how you cut class size down from the 20, 30, even 40 students packed into a room that you can routinely find in some districts today.

And if you want to improve the quality of the teachers in those classrooms, here’s an easy fix – pay them.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers in the United States make 14 percent less than people from professions that require similar levels of education.

Sadly, it only gets worse as time goes on.

Teacher salary starts low, and grows even more slowly.

According to a report by the Center for American Progress, on average teachers with 10 years experience only get a roughly $800 raise per year. No wonder more than 16 percent of teachers have a second or third job outside of the school system. They simply can’t survive on the salary.

They can’t buy a home or even rent an apartment in most metropolitan areas. They can’t afford to marry, raise children, or eke out a middle class existence.

If you want to attract the best candidates to the profession, you need to make it more attractive. One way to do that is to increase the salary.

And finally, stop micromanaging everything teachers do and stomping on their rights. To do their job effectively teachers need autonomy. They need the ability to make decisions on the ground based on the empirical evidence gathered in the classroom.

Moreover, they need the freedom to speak out when something is going wrong in their buildings or districts. When software packages are purchased that spy on students for corporations, they need the ability to sound the alarm. When high stakes standardized testing is out of control, they need to be able to voice their objections. When shoddy, second-rate academic standards are forced onto them by politicians and business people, they need to be able to blow the whistle.

To do that, they need their union protections. They need collective bargaining rights to give them the power to counterbalance the forces of greed and corruption that have always been at the schoolhouse door.

As a country we have taken our attention away from what’s really important. We’ve stopped focusing on how to make education better and instead equated it with how to make it more profitable for those who are already wealthy.

Teachers are vital to education. They are lifelines to struggling students. We should find ways to support them and not constantly undercutting their social standing, autonomy and rights.

The importance of teachers is beyond doubt. As is the importance of society in supporting them.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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We’ve all heard the story by now.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders went to the Red Hen restaurant and was refused service because she works for the Trump administration.

But while many far right and mainstream media outlets are decrying the restaurateur’s decision as discourteous, they seem to have missed the point.

Discourteous?

It was exactly the opposite.

There was no greater way to show Sanders respect than to deny her service.

After all, she defended the Supreme Court’s recent ruling for a conservative baker’s right to refuse to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.

If Sanders thinks it’s a good thing for this baker to be able to deny service to someone because this potential customer’s lifestyle violates his moral convictions, then she should also support the owner of the Red Hen denying her service because her lifestyle violates the owner’s moral convictions.

And make no mistake – this isn’t a rebuke of Sanders. It’s a celebration.

Twice in the New Testament Jesus, himself, is quoted prescribing what has come to be called The Golden Rule.

In Matthew 7:12:

“Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

In Luke 6:31:

“Do to others what you would want them to do to you.”

Sanders and other Trump Republicans have done onto others in just this manner. Therefore, that is how they must also want to be treated.

Isn’t that exactly what the owner of the Red Hen did?

She knew Sanders was in favor of business owners refusing service based on their own personal religious convictions.

Sanders life violates the owner’s religious convictions.

Therefore, she should deny Sanders service.

What has Sanders done to violate the owner’s ethical beliefs?

Easy.

No matter what immoral and repulsive position Donald Trump takes, Sanders defends it.

Separating undocumented children from their parents in detention centers – she defended it.

Using a racial slur to describe Sen. Elizabeth Warren – Defended it.

Spreading lies that diversity immigrants are not vetted – backed it up.

Assuring us that Trump has never encouraged or promoted violence – she said it.

Backing up Trump’s absurd assertion that President Obama wiretapped him – she backed it up.

Heck! Covfefe!!!!! COVFEFE! She actually told a roomful of adults that a typo on her boss’s Twitter was a hidden message to supporters!

Lies, racism, blood libel, and outright fascism!

What Sanders does everyday in the White House violates just about everyone’s moral code.

So how should we treat her?

I say, with the utmost respect and dignity.

And if we truly want to give Sander’s beliefs the reverence they deserve, we should deny her service. Reporters should stop attending her press conferences. Cable news programs should stop inviting her on the air. And, yes, no more food at chicken restaurants!

But we shouldn’t stop with her.

We should do the same for every member of the Trump administration. THEY believe this stuff. We should honor their convictions and treat them how they apparently want to be treated.

And why stop there? Every MAGA hat wearing Trumpster you see in your everyday life should likewise be denied service.

When they come into our places of business, our houses of worship, our homes, we should ask them politely to leave.

This isn’t punishment.

It’s the most deferential treatment imaginable.

We are showing them that we honor their moral code of reciprocity and individual freedom.

Those who are calling for “civility” don’t seem to understand that patronizing Trumpsters would be the true mark of disrespect.

If they think it is right to treat others like this, then we should treat them the same way.

That is how you show respect for someone’s beliefs – not by denying their code and treating them by your own.

Now I know what some of you are thinking – Didn’t Jesus also say, “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39)?

Yes, he did. And many of US may believe that sentiment, but Trumpsters obviously don’t or else they wouldn’t support the policies they do. Should we really force our beliefs on them? Would that be fair?

I say no. We should treat them by their own code – and refuse them service.

Ah, but I can hear this objection, too – what if treating Trumpsters like this changes their beliefs?

Might attaching social consequences to repugnant political views dissuade people from holding those views?

Perhaps.

But don’t we owe it to these far rightsters to give them that choice?

If being ostracized from society makes them recant their views, then at that point we should stop excluding them. However, this may be exactly the test Trump-servatives are hoping for. Perhaps they want to see which they care more about – being part of a civil society or supporting neo-fascist politics.

The best course is to treat their conviction as serious and to give it the seriousness it deserves.

Doing so treats them as ends in themselves and not merely as a means to social lubrication.

No one wants to rock the boat, but we must.

This is the only truly polite course of action.

You’re welcome, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

You’re welcome, Donald Trump.

Now get outta here.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Antwon Rose could have been my student.

I teach 7th and 8th grade language arts in a district located minutes away from where the 17-year-old was shot and killed by police.

East Pittsburgh, the neighborhood where his car was stopped and where he ran from officers before being shot three times in the back, is minutes from my house.

He went to Woodland Hills School District, minutes from my house.

Michael Rosfeld, the officer who just started working at East Pittsburgh less than two hours before he shot and killed Antwon, had been fired with cause from his previous job as a security officer at the University of Pittsburgh, where I got both my graduate and undergraduate degrees and where my wife works.

The poem Antwon wrote about not wanting to become another statistic that was read aloud at a protest was the product of an assignment I give my own classes.

So I say again – he could have been my student.

I have had many children like him.

Most of my kids are like him.

Promising, smart, burdened by fears no teenager should have to face.

When I look at the smiling picture of Antwon released to the media, he looks like so many others I have known and loved.

How many kids have passed before me worried that they’ll be the victims of police violence?

How many kids have sat in those seats trying to concentrate on my work while anxious about the reality of the streets they have to walk just to get home?

How many kids have been afraid that if the worst happens, the rest of us will forget their humanity?

I am a white teacher. I don’t know what it’s like to live as a black person in America except by extension of what my kids and others tell me.

When my daughter goes to school or plays in the yard, I don’t have to worry the police will consider her a threat simply because of the amount of melanin in her skin.

But I do see how white people like me blame a 17-year-old kid for his own death.

If he hadn’t been in that car, he’d still be alive. If he hadn’t run from police, they wouldn’t have shot.

Maybe. Maybe not.

But being in the wrong place at the wrong time shouldn’t bring with it a death sentence. Running away shouldn’t bring with it the finality of the grave.

Yesterday Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide. That’s a good start.

But plenty of questions remain.

Rosfeld is still on unpaid leave. Why hasn’t he been arrested?

Civil rights writer Shaun King reports that when Rosfeld worked at the University of Pittsburgh, he had a history of harassing black students and was only let go after he harassed one of the chancellor’s own children. If true, was that reported to East Pittsburgh before they hired him?

Why is it police can apprehend white shooters with no violence, but when a suspect is black the rules of engagement start and end with bloodshed?

Protests have rocked this city for two days and will continue today.

And I’m glad.

We need answers to those and more questions. We need justice for Antwon.

But more than anything we need to recognize that he was a human being.

He was a little boy with his whole life ahead of him.

His life matters.

I don’t say “mattered” because even though he’s gone, his life still matters.

We can’t bring him back, but we can honor who he was.

We can recognize his common humanity is the same as anyone else’s.

We can give him and his family justice.

And we must – we MUST – make sure that things like this don’t happen again.

I’ve had far too many students die at the end of a gun.

At absolute minimum, the hand holding it shouldn’t belong to someone tasked with the job to serve and protect.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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On November 8, 2016, I had a heart attack.

That’s not a metaphor.

I went to vote. I went to the doctor. I was sent to the hospital.

How much of that was a result of the Presidential election? I will never know.

But whenever I think back on that day, I am filled with a sense of bone-deep sadness.

After only a little more than a year in office, Donald Trump is already the worst President of my lifetime – and that’s saying something after the disaster that was George W. Bush.

Yet today our country is separating parents and children seeking asylum on the border and locking them away in detention centers. Nearly every cabinet secretary is an incompetent plutocrat put in office to dismantle the department in which they’re in charge. Meanwhile, Trump insults traditional allies and consorts with dictators all over the globe. And nationwide white supremacists of all stripes are emboldened, on the rise, and openly running for office.

I wish there is something I could do to go back in time and change the results of that day. I wish there was something I could do to stop Donald Trump from being elected President. And though I did not vote for her, I would do anything to have Hillary Clinton defeat him.

On that day, though, I voted for Jill Stein.

There’s nothing I can do about that now.

I imagine going back in time and telling myself not to do it. “Go vote for Hillary,” I imagine Future Me telling an ailing younger version.

Yet even now, I’m not sure if I’d say that to myself.

Go vote for Hillary? Would it have made a difference?

Factually, no. One more vote wouldn’t have put her over the top in my home state of Pennsylvania.

But I wrote articles advising readers to do like me and vote Jill Stein. Does that mean I’m responsible for every Stein vote cast in the Keystone state?

No, not really. I may have influenced some people. But I certainly didn’t influence them all.

I suppose the bigger question is this: did Stein spoil the 2016 election for Clinton?

Let’s look at some numbers.

In Pennsylvania, the results went like this:

Source: New York Times.

Trump got 2,970,733 votes.

Clinton got 2,926,441 votes.

So he won the state by 44,292 votes.

Stein got 49,941 votes – 5,649 more than Trump’s margin of victory.

So if every Stein voter had cast a ballot for Clinton, she would have won the state – though she’d still lose the Presidency by 10 electoral votes.

But if the same process were repeated even in a few other swing states Clinton lost, the result would change. Clinton would have won and be sitting in the Oval Office right now.

Those are just facts. Or at least they’re facts manipulated in a game with counterfactuals.

If this had happened, then this other thing would have happened, too.

However, it is rarely so clear even with numbers.

For instance, Stein ran in 2012, too. She ran against Obama and Romney. She got 20,710 votes in Pennsylvania.

Source: New York Times

That’s tens of thousands of Green voters who didn’t cast a ballot for centrist Obama. I don’t think it’s fair to assume they would have voted for centrist Clinton, either.

So if we subtract that 20,000 from Stein’s 2016 totals, (49,941 – 20,710) you get 29,231 new people who voted Green who didn’t do so in 2012.

That’s less than Trump’s margin of victory (44,292).

So even if every NEW Stein voter cast a ballot for Clinton, Trump still would have won the state.

The point?

I don’t think it’s factual or fair to assume Stein or Stein voters gave Trump the election.

If I had voted for Clinton, even if I had advised my readers to vote for her, the end result probably would have been the same.

These are the things I think about in the middle of the night when sleep won’t come.

Is there anything I could have done to change things? In trying to make things better, did I make things worse?

I don’t assume I have that much power – either way.

I’m just a school teacher with a blog.

And that’s why I voted for Stein.

Hillary Clinton made her name politically going against teachers unions. She and her husband have done quite a lot to weaken my profession and the school my daughter attends.

The national teachers unions may have supported her run for President, but they did so without fairly polling members. Her entire nomination process was marred by unfair and undemocratic practices by the Democratic Party that left many progressive voters who favored Bernie Sanders feeling left out and silenced.

I still think THAT more than any scribbling on my blog contributed to her loss.

Compared to Trump, Barack Obama was one of the best Presidents we’ve ever had. But compared to Trump, so was George W. Bush. So would be an inanimate carbon rod!

However, Obama was not particularly good for education. He and the corporate Democrats favored every anti-union, pro-privatization scheme they could. What a missed opportunity!

You’d think our first African American President might do something about school segregation – which has been on the rise in the last few decades. Instead, he helped make it worse by promoting charter schools. You’d think he might do something to stop the school-to-prison pipeline. Instead he helped lubricate it by championing high stakes standardized tests.

I think that’s another reason Clinton lost. Many of us were fed up with Obama’s neoliberal policies and wanted a candidate who might change course. Clinton promised only more of the same.

Don’t get me wrong. In retrospect, more of the same sounds lovely. Give me that old time Obama neoliberalism over Trump’s neo-fascism, any day!

But back in 2016 I thought we had a chance for something more – real hope and change. Was I wrong to vote for a candidate who promised to end high stakes testing and school privatization? Was I wrong to vote for a candidate who promised to fairly fund public schools, provide free college for all and end all student debt?

Maybe.

I suppose I should have been more frightened of Trump back then. But my anger at the Democrats who continually stabbed me and other progressives in the back outweighed my fear of this buffoon.

Perhaps I was wrong in that.

I don’t think it’s too much of an assumption to say we all underestimated Trump. We all underestimated how many people in this country would vote for him.

So was I wrong to vote for Jill Stein?

I still don’t know.

I’m sure many people will criticize me for this article. They’ll blame me for every horrible thing Trump does. If I have any point here, it’s that there’s plenty of blame to go around.

Perhaps we’d do better fighting against Trump than fighting amongst ourselves.

I still believe there is a silent majority of Americans for whom the status quo is unacceptable. Most of us don’t want a wall on our border – we want healthcare for all. Most of us don’t want families separated and undocumented immigrants scapegoated and rounded up – we want a path toward citizenship. Most of us don’t want our democracy subverted and the wealthy to have a greater say in our policies – we want freedom and justice for all.

We just need a way to find each other again. We need to find a way to look past any political, social, racial, gender or cultural differences and find a common humanity.

What better way to do that than in a common cause?

I hope you’ll join me by stopping the recriminations and take on the fight.

We may never fully solve the riddle that was the 2016 election.

There are political and social lessons to be had. But the most important thing is to remember the value of unity and to hold on to each other tight.

We’re all we’ve got.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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