Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Shooting at Chardon High School

HAVE YOU HEARD THIS MORNING that Daniel Parmertor, 16, a junior at Chardon High here in Ohio was killed at school?  Have you heard that Russell King Jr.,17, badly wounded, has now succumbed? Do you know that the shooter is also 17?

No, make it worse. A third teen, Demetrius Hewlin, has now died. Two more are wounded but likely to live. And what do our leaders in education have to offer to deal with this sort of tragedy? We're going to focus on standardized tests!

It makes me sick.

From U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in 2012, stretching back to William Bennett, who held the office in 1985, none of the loudest voices in U. S. education ever address fundamental problems. The kid who did the shooting, really, who wants him in their school? What plan do we have for helping that kid? Is that plan to avert our gaze, send all the good kids to charter schools, and pretend the shooter went away?  Secretary Duncan blathers on about the need to bring better people into the teaching profession. Mean-while, back in Chicago, where he supposedly fixed city schools, you have 300 school-age kids shot in gang-related violence in a typical year.

In the United States today an estimated 400,000 juveniles are gang members. And what does Congress do?  Pass a law called No Child Left Behind, promise by 2014, that every child will be proficient in reading and math. Does that include gang members?

We have politicians and education "leaders" who sit on the sidelines and tell teachers what they should do; and they don't acknowledge one tenth of the difficulties and don't save a single child themselves. All they really do is preach.

It was a real teacher, Frank Hall, acting quickly, who dragged one wounded teen into a classroom, out of the line of fire, this week.

Public schools aren't just tasked with saving the sweet little kindergartner, the fresh-faced fifth grader from a good home and the diligent high school senior who dreams of going to Ohio State. The public schools don't just try to save Parmertor, who had hoped to become a computer repairman. They don't just teach victims, like King and Hewlin, who were minding their business in the cafeteria yesterday morning when gunfire erupted. They're  tasked with saving the shooter, too, and the gang member, and every kid with severe problems in the home.

Even if you took the guns away, we still have 1.6 million homeless children in America. So, what do our governors say? Here in Ohio, John Kasich is in favor of merit pay for educators. That ass. Maybe teachers need combat pay. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker wants to deny teachers bargaining rights. In New Jersey, Chris Christie makes teachers' unions the villains of his play.

Meanwhile, critics ignore the fact that 72% of African-American kids, 59% of Hispanic kids and 37% of white children are born out of wedlock today.

LET'S PRETEND we haven't seen recent surveys, showing that one in five public school kids has been offered, has sold, or has been given illegal drugs at school. Is that the fault of the schools? Do all problems come down to bad teachers? Can we solve our troubles with vouchers so that frightened parents can take kids away to safer private schools? The shooters, the drug dealers, the gang members? They don't go away. What plan to fix education addresses these issues?

Meanwhile, innocent kids in Ohio are gunned down. We have no plans to fix that. Kids in New Jersey are homeless. We have no plans to fix that. Kids in Wisconsin grow up without the influence of fathers. We have no plans to fix that. The experts promise to fix schools. What plan is there to fix humanity, first, to fix society, to help students with serious mental health issues, to provide homes for the homeless, to lure gang members from the path of violence?

I know what it's like to have a gun in the classroom. Twenty-five years ago a young man brought a gun to school to shoot me and to shoot one of his wrestling teammates. His teammate had been taunting him about his weight and I had caught him drawing an obscene picture during study hall and told him he had to show it to his father. Luckily, he didn't shoot me and he didn't shoot his teammate, either. But ten years later he shot himself. My god, what a tragedy.

We have to stop listening to false promises, falling for absurd schemes, and start looking for realistic ways to help the kids that most need help.

MARCH 1: NEW EVIDENCE AND NEW TRAGEDY in Chicago today, two students were stabbed at Oliver Goldsmith School. One dead, the other injured, a third in custody. This time the school is run by a private contractor, AMIKids, Inc. and the campus for the school served twenty students with behavioral and emotional needs.

Do you know that in this country we already have 17,000 school resource officers roaming the halls? That's "cops," to you. And that's not enough?

My god, my god, what is our plan?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Armstrong, Aramaic, Art and Cookies: Teaching Matters

Dave Eastman, right, visits.
EVEN THOUGH I've been retired from teaching for four years, I still hear from former students fairly often, and it's fun to keep up.  Not long ago, for example, I hung out with Ricky Armstrong, when he was visiting his mother in town. He's a graduate of Purdue and has a degree in chemical engineering and as personable now as when I first met him at age 12.  His sisters, Kia and Ashley, are also doing well; Kia has a job with the Center for Disease Control.  So I told him to tell her to look up my daughter, who works for CDC, as well.

Smart kids, those Armstrong's.

In any case, it's fun to see how students turn out and think you might have had some small part in helping them turn out well.  That's why teaching is so rewarding in the end. Friday, for example, I stopped by Tina Butler's place of work to pick up a few boxes of Girl Scout Cookies.  Tina was "Tina Alford" when I had her in junior high; and she has done well for herself, working in accounting for Macy's, raising a good family as a single mother, and now helping a granddaughter (wait! how old am I????) sell cookies to fat guys like me.

Then, last night, Dave Eastman, another former student stopped by my house.  He was in town and looked me up in the phone book.  So my wife and I had him over for dinner.  Dave is just starting a teaching job at Ohio Wesleyan, after a stint at Yale, where he earned a PhD.  (You kind of figure Dave was a good student even back when I had him in eighth grade.  Now he's an expert in early Christian history, and knows Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.

Yeah.  Who doesn't.  Just your average dinner guest, you see.

Art by David Butler
THE OTHER DAY, I noticed a Facebook post from David Butler, a young man I still remember as a phenomenal artist in middle school.  I used to require students to do four projects every year; and Mr. Butler always chose art as his medium of expression.  Sometimes, classmates who saw his finished work thought they were looking at pictures straight out of some history book.  But David had great talent (and since all I can draw are stick figures, I can't claim credit for helping him along.)

He does credit Mrs. Bethany Federman, however, his art teacher at Loveland Middle School, for her influence. Dave was also heavily influenced by Ms. Megan Burns and Ms. Jennifer Grant.

Some of the loudest and most obnoxious voices in education reform today insist that the only way to "save" American education is if we listen to them and, for example, institute more standardized tests.

If you're a real teacher, however, you know your critical job is to do what you can to insure that students are well equipped to follow their dreams.

More of Dave's work can be seen at WWW.SKETCHBUTLER.COM

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Home School for Homeless Kids: The Genius of Rick Santorum

Wouldn't it be great if all families
home schooled their own kids?
It depends in part on the family.
If you haven't noticed, the debate about the "school crisis" in America keeps gets dumber and dumber. And just when you think it can't get any dumber some politician or "expert" steps up to the plate and we sink to some new nadir.

Speaking recently on the correct role of government in schools, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum made clear he sees no role for the federal government in U. S. education.

Mr. Santorum might have been on decent footing had he stopped there, but comments that followed were the last link in a chain that critics of public schools never follow to an end. For years we've been told, usually by conservatives, that if we give all parents vouchers, and let all parents send their children to  schools of their choice, and to do it with tax dollars, our problems in education will go away.

People didn't buy that idea. So the push for charter schools began, instead. Now we were told that if a kid had a problem in school, the solution was obvious. Just pack the child off to a different building.

Mr. Santorum now has an even better idea. He takes the school reform movement one building farther.

The federal government is out. So, too, are the states. Taxes are reduced and government gets a long-overdue shrinking. Parents take on the role of educating children. The "school crisis" is solved by eliminating the root of all evil.

We get rid of the school buildings.

If you don't know:  Mr.Santorum and his wife prefer the home-school option, themselves. They're well-to-do and Mrs. Santorum can afford to stay home and focus on educating their seven children. The parents are good, stable individuals (as far as I can tell). So it's working for them.

The problem critics like Mr. Santorum never see, either because they're naive or because it doesn't fit their agenda to see it, is that not every family is the same or even sane. First of all, many poor and lower middle class families are in no position to have mom or dad stay home to home-school the kids. Single parents are out of luck, too. And there's an even bigger hole in Senator Santorum's logic and a gaping hole in all the arguments that fault public schools for all our problems. It would be wonderful if every parent gave a damn about their children, in school, or out, like the Santorums. But the public schools have to educate every child. So they  take children from good, stable families, and children from the families where mom and dad are useless, at best, dangerous at worst.

Consider an old example, but one of my "favorites," from the Lebanon Daily News, a small Pennsylvania paper I picked up once on vacation. Reporters noted that in May 2008, a neighbor called police after spotting Elizabeth Ann Fox’s two young sons, 4 and 2, crawling out a bedroom window. A state trooper arrived to find the “kitchen floor covered with garbage and half-eaten food. The stench of rotting food and human waste forced him back outside.”

A second trooper located mom soon after, “sitting in her car and eating a sandwich at a fast food restaurant in neighboring Union Township. State police said the children had been left alone for at least two hours.” Picture mom if you will, happily stuffing her face with a Big Mac and fries, while her children remain at home amid piles of garbage. 

Then ask yourself:  Does anyone think the problems these children will have in years to come are going to be about schools?

That's the blind spot in all the bold plans being floated to fix American education. What plan out there addresses the needs of the kids who most need help, when their problems aren't in the classroom, but in the bedroom at home?

If you'd like a current example, consider a story in today's New York Times. It's about a family in Dayton, Texas. Agents of the child welfare agency raided the home one recent afternoon. Inside, they found 11 children, several tied to their beds. An 11-year-old had a black eye, finger marks on his forearms, and one front tooth had been knocked out. Eight kids were confined to a single 10 x 10 bedroom, in the dark, the window boarded over with plywood, when investigators entered the home. Two infants were removed immediately for signs of "failure to thrive" and pneumonia. None of the older children were enrolled in school; and, needless to say, these weren't the kind of parents who were going to have much aptitude for home-schooling their own kids.

That's the problem with plans to fix education with vouchers and charter schools and now Mr. Santorum's call for parents to home-school their kids. The public schools take all kids from all kinds of homes. We even take kids whose families may be good, but who have no homes, who can barely put bread on a table, if they can locate a table to put bread upon.

Senator Santorum's backward thinking on education is enough to make Charles Dickens cringe. Call his new plan: “Home School for Homeless Kids.”

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Where in the World is Ohio: The Curse of the Standardized Test

I WAS WORKING OUT RECENTLY, trying to burn off a few of my candy-for-breakfast calories, when I ran into Ray Spicher, an old high school buddy. He spent a career in education and worked as principal in the Cincinnati, Princeton and Madiera schools. We talked shop and I asked what he thought about standardized testing.

His answer perfectly captured the central dilemma. He said he thought testing helped kids at the low end in school, forcing teachers to devote attention to their needs. Then he added (this is not a perfect quote, because both of us were huffing and puffing and pedaling stationary bikes), “I used to tell my staff whatever you measure, you’ll get more of it.  If you test for ‘more cars in the parking lot,’ you'll get more cars in the parking lot.”


So:  Let me give you examples from my experience. The last year I taught, 2007-2008, we were told in no uncertain terms to focus on standardized tests.  Principals really had no choice since they would also be judged according to test results.  When it came to my lesson plan on pioneers, cheap land in early America, and the roots of the “American Dream,” I had to kill that topic because it wasn’t going to be covered on the test. Instead, I had to worry about a question or two on Shay’s Rebellion or a query about Songhai trade.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think we need more cars in the parking lot with bumper stickers that read, “Shay’s Rebellion.”

I taught a long time and got to see what happened when states first started using standardized tests, and when that didn’t help, got to see what federal pressure might achieve. When I was teaching American history, and free to do what I thought best, I used to ask seventh graders to take a test and identify the fifty states. I’m sure some of my former students will remember fondly how, if they failed a test, I called parents, ratted them out, and required them to stay after school and retake the test. 

(There’s a lesson, there, too, but not one you can measure on a standardized test.)

Now, let’s say, in an average year, I have 140 students. By the time I’m done all but two or three know at least 35 states, the minimum required; 138 know where California is; 137 can identify Florida, 120 know Wisconsin is next to Michigan. Maybe 34 know all fifty states.

I’m not going to deny that a dozen still mix up Kansas and Nebraska. I’m not going to say that one boy still doesn't mark “Tennessee” as “Hawaii.”  I'm only going to say, if you’re a teacher you do the best you can.

In the early 90s, however, the State of Ohio came up with a brilliant plan—a Ninth Grade Proficiency Test. On that test, under the social studies section, the only state you had to find was....OHIO! 

So, my 34 students who can find all fifty states, suddenly their knowledge means nothing. It’s not tested.

If my average student can find 44 states, which is roughly the case, that too means nothing. I need to focus on that one kid who thinks Hawaii is south of Kentucky and make sure he knows where Ohio is found. It doesn’t matter if he still believes Hawaii is south of Kentucky.

Ohio is the only car in the parking lot that counts. 

Since passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 we know in the lower grades that testing has been limited to reading and math. So what you get are fewer cars in the elementary lot. Music is not tested and probably can’t be. So children spend less time on music. Art can’t be tested. No art necessary in second grade. Gym class? You could test for physical fitness but Americans aren’t ready for that. So schools cut back on physical education. 

Just what we need.

Even science can be cut if necessary. It’s not covered by testing in the lower grades. That means you can cut time spent on plant growth and focus on math instead.

If you’re a third grade teacher in Ohio, under proposed new laws, your pay and job security will soon depend on test results. And if you have thirty students, and they all get one more question right in math, you’re going to get a bonus, even if they still believe the earth is flat, that dinosaurs roam the earth in 2012, and the moon is made of cheese. 

In my class we used to read a fourteen page assignment on George Washington, one I created on my own, and spent a day-and-a-half discussing his life and leadership during the American Revolution. I liked to focus on what made him a great leader; but you can’t test for an understanding of leadership.  I also liked to focus on a list of 110 rules of behavior he memorized when he was a youth. I liked to point out that he wanted to make himself a better person. Then I asked students, for homework, to draw up a list of their own rules to follow. Unfortunately, you can’t measure self-improvement with a standardized test. So there’s no “sense” talking to teens about how to be better people. 

No car in that parking lot.

MOST OF WHAT MAKES EDUCATION MEANINGFUL can never be measured in the end. In the school where I taught we had an outstanding band director. Mr. Maegly had middle school kids sounding like high school bands and dozens of his charges went on to careers in music. And for what? The loudest-talking “experts” in education today insist that teachers in every subject will have to be measured if we want to “fix” America's schools. What we’re going to have in the end is an I.R.S. model in education. We’re going to bog down an entire system in abstruse rules and complex codification and giant piles of paperwork. We’re going to kill the best teaching and focus on a few simple tests.

What are we going to have in the end, what do we gain for all the billions spent? We’re going to get more cars in the parking lot.

What we actually want, of course, are better drivers. Standardized tests don’t measure learning any more than your ability to pass a license test at sixteen guarantees ten years later that you won’t tailgate the car in front of you, or forget to put on your seatbelt, or flip your left turn signal at the appropriate time.

It doesn’t mean, twenty years later, that you won’t drive drunk. 

It’s just a test of the basics. It doesn’t prove for one moment that once you get behind the wheel you will really know how to drive.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

If Only Vouchers Worked Like Magic Cloaks

My wife's father died when she was eight;
but she was raised by a great mother.
So she turned out great.
It works like that a lot in life
and it can work the other way.
My blog has been picking up a little traffic lately.  I figure it probably has something to do with my fluid writing style, or perhaps it boils down to my good looks.

It can't be because of brains. To hear critics speak, America's public school teachers are a bunch of Neanderthals and every problem in our education system today is a direct result of their all-encompassing stupidity.

So, to recap: I'm a retired teacher and my blog is designed, in part, to speak in defense of all good teachers.

For that reason, I try to make clear that teachers are not the only problem in our schools, nor, in my opinion, the biggest problem by far.

I'm not like U. S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

I don't believe, like he does, that we can test ourselves to education success. Nor do I believe in vouchers and charter schools, as keys to our salvation. In my opinion there are plenty of bad parents out there and they are the very ones most likely to send children to school who have severe problems and who are, of course, least likely to have support or love or decent living conditions in the home.

If you're a fan of vouchers, however, I have a perfect voucher plan--which is probably going to make me the next U. S. Secretary of Education if Mitt or Newt or Rick or Ron or Michelle or The Donald or the Herminator or "None of the Above" can oust President Obama from his comfy seat in the Oval Office in November.

My wife was great with
raising kids.
Sadly, not all parents are alike.
Yesterday, a "fan" of my blog complained because I was using "scare tactics," citing examples of terrible parents, and chastized me for arguing that vouchers will never solve the problems of children in the very greatest need of help.

I don't believe I'm resorting to "scare tactics" when I try to point out the obvious. Take, for instance, the recent tragedy in Washington state. There, Josh Powell, already a suspect in the disappearance and likely murder of his wife, set fire to his home, killing himself and two young sons, Charlie, 7, and Braden, 5.

Maybe I am another stupid teacher. Maybe I've been getting along all these years on nothing but my looks. But had those two poor boys survived, I don't see how a voucher or a seat in a charter school was ever going to make their father a decent parent or even a decent human being. 

You can bury your head in the scholastic sand if you want to and try to make the case that more and more charter schools will fix U. S. education. But that is tatamount to saying if we built Mr. Powell a better home he'd be a better father.

I want to hear the experts outline a plan that helps kids like Charlie and Braden--who are never going to get the help at home. Just because you took your voucher and took your child away to a different school, that doesn't mean you did a damn thing to save the Powell brothers.

It's sad, really (and again, I admit, there are bad teachers out there and we need to do more to get them out of the schools). But when I "Googled" "father sets fire," intending to add "to sons," to find the story about the Powell's, I got multiple stories before I could finish. One was an old report, from 1986, about a boy named David Rothenberg, whose father dumped three gallons of kerosene in a motel room while his 6-year-old was sleeping, and set it on fire, burning the child over 90% of his body. A more recent example, from West Palm Beach, Florida, would be Jorge Barahona, found with the body of his adopted daughter, Nubia, in the back of his pickup truck and a badly battered son, Victor, 10, her twin brother, slumped across the front seat. Dad told police he was distraught over the girl's death and planned to set fire to himself and his son, but couldn't do it in the end. Remorse came much too late for the poor girl or for Victor's sake. The boy showed evidence of all kinds of prior injuries: broken collarbone, broken arm, burn scars on buttocks and abdomen, and rope marks on wrists.

Emily Rodriguez, Victor's first grade teacher, told reporters she remembers how Nubia used to visit her class at the end of every day to see how her brother had been doing.

Now:  Think about this whole story for a moment. Think like any good teacher. Is the solution to such problems really more layers of standardized tests? A school voucher for Nubia? What good would that do in the end? Stupid teachers? Really?  That's our biggest worry?

Worst of all, it doesn't take any effort to find these kinds of stories. The same paper that reported on the Barahona case included an article about Marsee Strong, 34 and Edward Bailey, 40, now in jail after their nine-year-old son was found wandering the streets, naked, bruised and starving, one recent Saturday night. He informed police he had jumped out a bedroom window to "escape his abusers." Rushed to the hospital, he begged for food, said he hadn't eaten in three days, and was found to have "permanent marks of abuse" all over his body.

A shocked judge in the case said the boy looked "like he just came out of Auschwitz."

You see, no "scare tactics" are necessary at all. Every good teacher I ever knew wanted to save every kid they ever had in school.  That doesn't mean, no matter how much they tried, or how much they cried (or cursed in my case) when they failed, that the task of saving the most needy children was ever easy.

People who believe vouchers and charter schools will save all our children must be a collection of blind, deaf and dumb people.

Or they must be fools.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Witch-Burning Mentality and Miramonte Elementary School

We don't hang witches today. 
We don't act on the basis of hysteria.
We don't judge entire groups
based on the actions of individuals.
Or, at least, we shouldn't.
This probably isn't a big news story if you're not from Los Angeles.  But it's a story I think that has ramifications, for all of us who have been or are now public school teachers, and for Americans, in general.

We start with accusations of sexual abuse against two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in the City of the Angels. 

In response to what might be a "culture of silence" at the school, Superintendent, John Deasy, suspended ALL 150 staff members.

I find this hard to fathom, not just because I'm a former teacher, not because I don't love my own children, and not because I don't want sexual abusers to face the full weight of the laws.  I find it sickening because this is mob mentality, at least partially unleashed. 

It is a reaction in the face of fear, when human beings are most prone to lose sight of subtle truths, if not obvious ones. 

I have four children and love them all very dearly.  If I thought any of them had been abused at school, by, say the sixth grade music teacher, I would want to hurt that individual. 

That doesn't mean that I'd want to see the first grade teacher suspended.  It doesn't mean I'd believe the fourth grade language arts teacher, who never had my child in class, had never spoken a word to my child, who rarely had time to look up from her work with other people's children during her incredibly busy days, who had no idea what the sixth grade music teacher was doing, because molesters are notoriously secretive, should be suspended.

I would be furious at the "individual," you see.  Yet, even in my fury, I would hesitate to act violently against the accused, because I also realize some accused individuals turn out to be innocent, too. 

Parents were concerned for their children in
1692, too.
I'm an old, retired history teacher and I'm not a fan of witch burning, no matter the century.  I still believe in the Bill of Rights, as well.  There are two teachers accused of criminal acts at this school.  And from what I read one sounds to be guilty.  I wonder if the other might not be the victim of spreading hysteria; but in both cases, the courts will have to act.  The other 148 individuals are accused of nothing.  They "might" have known something.  That's true.  Hypothethically, they might have known. Yet, since I am ready to bet they are good human beings, like myself, or Mr. Deasy, or any of the parents now so much afraid, I highly doubt they did.

It's an insult to all good teachers to act on the assumption that they did and still failed to act. 

If almost anyone I have ever known thought someone was abusing a child, they'd tell the police at once.  If they did not know, I would not expect anyone to demand that they be suspended from work because they lacked telepathic powers.

Read the Ox Bow Incident and consider what happens when angry people react in the heat of the moment.  Go back to 1942, when fear blinded most Americans, and 110,000 Japanese-Americans were locked up, because people who looked like them had bombed Pearl Harbor.  Remember that for a century, an accusation of rape against an African-American male by any white woman was tatamount to a sentence of death, no trial required, and in fact, "rape" was not a prerequisite.  Emmett Till, in 1955, was murdered after whistling at a white woman down South.  Keep in mind that our ancestors had no doubt witches existed--and once hysteria took hold at Salem in 1692 it did not abate till 300 innocent people had been jailed, one witness had been crushed with rocks for refusal to testify and 19 people were hanged. 

Remember, too, that after the attacks of 9/11 hysteria swept this great nation.  In one case a man walked into a gas station/quick market and shot down a clerk in a turban, shouting that all Muslims had it coming for the attacks by a few.  Too bad the clerk was a Sikh, a different religion.  Too bad Muslim Americans (citizens like ourselves) died in the 9/11 attacks.  Too bad other Muslim Americans serve in the U. S. military today, defending the freedoms we say we hold dear, defending us from radicals who happen to share the same name, if not the same spirit, of the Islamic faith.

Read the comments people left on the Facebook page for the movie, Waiting for Superman (a movie which vilifies teachers as a group--and that tells you something about the current status of America's teachers), and what you hear might be the distant growl of the approaching mob.

No one who abuses children should escape punishment.  That would be sick. 

Judging people as members of groups--giving way to fear and hysteria--forgetting why courts exist--this is also sick.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Absurd Question Posted on "Waiting for Superman" Facebook Page

There was no greater expert on witches.
Cotton Mather said witches existed.
In the end, he was wrong;
but it was too late to help the victims.
Okay, I get it.  Most people who go to the Facebook page for Davis Guggenheim's movie already believe public school teachers are scum.  They've seen Waiting for Superman, which focuses on five kids, desperate to flee to charter schools--to get away from bad teachers and failing regular public schools. 

And they think:  Now I've SEEN the truth.

Now the Superman page drops the veil and carries a link to a story in the Los Angeles Times.  In case you missed it, two teachers at Miramonte Elementary School (see the link itself) have been accused of sexual abuse and very correctly removed from the classrooms, and I hope will face the full power of the law if guilty.  That's hardly the end, however, as the district has removed all 150 teachers in the building from their duties, at least temporarily. 

So the page poses this question:  "Was it right for Miramonte Elementary School to remove all staff during investigations of sexual abuse?"

Let me see if I can parse an answer.  First, if a teacher down one floor, around the corner, and at the end of a long hall, is taking lewd pictures of students, I almost certainly don't know anything about it, because:

A) I am too busy working with my own students.
B) I do not have the same kids in class.
C) I cannot see through floors.
D) I cannot see through walls.
E) Children being abused often remain silent about any abuse.  And I, your humble teacher, cannot read minds. 

I'm sorry.  I apologize.

L. A. School District Superintendent John Deasy explains to reporters that he wants to find out how a "culture of silence...where someone could have known something and then chose not to act," could possibly exist.

The most likely answer:  because it DID NOT exist.

If ever you wondered why teachers prefer to be protected by unions, this story offers perfect insight.  My god, if your neighbor, Josh Powell, ten houses down, is arrested on child pornography and voyeurism charges, are you responsible for his crimes, if they happened in your neighborhood?  No, of course not.  You don't know anything about it, because those who commit crimes rarely broadcast the fact that they do so.  If your co-worker abuses his own son or daughter at home, should you be in trouble?

Again, of course not.

It's sad too look at most of the comments, offered by those who visit the Superman page.  Almost without exception, they agree, yes, get rid of everyone. 

It's the spirit of lynching you see in their words--no matter how well those words might be intended.  It's the Salem Witch Trials, before calmer, more rational heads prevailed.  By then it was too late and twenty innocent victims dangled from scaffolds.

Protect our children by all means. Absolutely.

Remember, also, that the our legal system also exists to protect the rights of the innocent, including those 148 teachers. (Click link, right, to see additional post on same topic.)

A fairly typical comment, from a woman named Jackie Schneider, captures the flavor of the current line of thinking:  "Agreed [they should all be suspended], I'm sure the parents are just shaken up. I would NOT be sending my child back, even though the staff has been changed. Another pedophile could be in the new group. After all the lemon dance just keeps on happening."

Martha A. Sanchez-Maldonado agreed--except that she didn't think the lemons had been squeezed hard enough:  "No, because this is still not addressing the real problem. These teachers are not all being terminated, from what I hear, they are all being shuffled around to other schools. Yes, I agree that the safety of the students is the most important thing, but passing the buck or doing the "dance of the lemons" does not solve the issue at heart...which is that there needs to be accountability and transparency in the educational system. Otherwise, this will be a never-ending problem!"

Yep, all teachers are lemons.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Liberal Comes Out of the Closet: Will Mitt and Newt Follow?

Okay, Edwards tuned out to be a slime ball.
I admit.
It's probably not accurate to say I'm a liberal coming out of the closet.  Here, in conservative Cincinnati, I'm more a "flaming liberal" than anything else. I still have my Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on my Honda Civic, because I want people to know I didn't vote for George W. in 2004.
So:  If I'm liberal, does that make me a bad person?  Many of my friends are conservatives and I still like them. 

I guess I'm confused.

Part of the problem with being a liberal in 2012, is that liberals lost a grip on the discussion when we let far-right types start to define us.  You can't use the "N" word in polite company these dasy; but you can vilify opponents by sneering, "He's a liberal."  Too often, that epithet means, even to people who ought to know better:  unpatriotic, advocating socialism/communism, and big, big fans of more government.  Our foes see us not as honest doubters, but in an evil light, as "union thugs," "libertards," "zombies" and the like.  In the mind of Sarah Palin, I'm afraid, we're not even really Americans

Oh yeah, and God is on the conservative side, too.

I've got nothing against God, if He's listening, by the way.  But I'm a liberal in part because of my roots as an American history teacher.  I love the U. S. Constitution as much as any conservative, maybe even more than Michelle Bachmann.  A liberal, defined in the proper sense, I believe, is a person "favoring individual liberty and political and social reform."  Or, as I used to explain to students, a liberal looked at the world, saw problems, and "wanted to make the world better."  You could make a rather tidy argument that the Founding Fathers were "liberals" themselves. (And yet:  conservatives love to claim a lineal descent from Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and Hamilton.)

Let me stress then, that I am both a liberal and a huge, huge fan of Founding Fathers Gunning Bedford Jr., Richard Dobbs Spaight and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, too.

In fact, I believe the Bill of Rights, alone, assures the Founding Fathers a glorious place in history.  It's the devil in the details of what those rights mean, that divides us today.

We live in perhaps the freest society in human history and conservatives want to insure that it remains that way.  So, for example, they fear any kind of gun control. They believe our nation is rooted in Judeo-Christian teachings.  In both positions they are likely half right, at least.

So why am I a liberal?  Well, liberals are full of doubts and prone to question accepted social and religious thinking. I know Massachusetts required tax support of an established church long after the U. S. Constitution was approved.  I know that when the Irish began pouring into this country in the 1840s they were seen as a threat to the American way of life, with their funny religious ideas.  I know Mormons were driven out of New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois by conservatives who despised their faith, that their founder, Joseph Smith was murdered.  It wasn't liberals--who have honest doubts about religion--who did it, by the way.

I remember, more recently, when conservatives said John F. Kennedy couldn't be president because of his Catholicism and his insidious ties to the pope.  That very thought ought to make Mitt and Newt and Rick Santorum sit bolt upright in their beds at night.  I mean:  are those three boys actually liberals, believing as they do, that any person of any faith can run for president?  Do they just not know what liberal ground they stand on?

Are they liberals, still hiding in the closet?  My god, what's next? 

A Muslim president? 

I'm old enough to remember the U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1965, overturning Connecticut law, rooted in religious thinking, which held that sending birth control information through the mail was the equivalent of sending pornography through the mails.  I remember the Loving decision, too, which overturned laws in several states, banning interracial marriage.  I remember conservatives standing in college doors and vowing that no Negro would ever enroll at the University of Alabama, except maybe over a few conservative dead bodies.  So, I'm a liberal.  I think if Trent Richardson wants to tote the pigskin for the Crimson Tide, well, then, he's entitled.

In other words, liberals have often stood against big government and conservatives have often stood for it.  I know Newt and some of the folks on the conservative end of the spectrum believe gay-rights activism is going to undermine the American way of life.  But I'm a liberal and tempted to call that paranoia.  I'd like to point out that in the Old Testament both sodomy and adultery were equally offenses in God's eyes and adultery was meant to be punished with stoning.

Newt, be thankful, Man on the Moon GOP presidential candidate (and, yes, Perfect Hair John Edwards, too), that liberals triumphed on that issue long ago.

We might also consider Ms. Michele Bachmann, the rightest of the right candidates in this primary season.  I seem to remember that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were liberals when they launched the fight for womens' rights in 1848.

In fact, if you believe women should be assertive, and that they can work for a living, and that they don't have to get married, yep, Ann Coulter, you, too, are a flaming liberal.

It's funny, actually, because Representative Bachmann is probably the biggest fan of the Founding Fathers now alive.  Yet, in 1789, even those god-like men could not determine how far liberty truly extended.  Unlike Representative Bachmann, I might point out the Three-Fifth's Compromise, which said five slaves equaled three whites in determining state population for purposes--oh, the irony--of state representation in Congress.  I also note the absence of the word, "women" in the document; conservative thinking at the time having no doubt that, like gay people in conservative thinking today, females were second-class citizens.  
Some people serve heroically.
Others serve in their own fashion.
The blogger in "action."

Actually, you don't have to go that far back to argue that liberals are Americans in good standing.  Liberals, again, are full of doubt--even when it comes down to the matter of "patriotism."  A good liberal might argue that if "patriotism" is always right, then Hitler's followers were right and those flaming liberals, Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis were traitors and probably flag-burners outright.  That concept ought to make a few heads in conservative South Carolina spin.

I enlisted in the Marines, myself, in 1968 and volunteered to go to Vietnam, twice.  (I wasn't sent, though, and maybe this actually proves conservative thinking that all liberals are dumb). 

In fact, I love America for what it stands for:  freedom for all.  I didn't cry liberal  tears when we were attacked on 9/11, I cried red, white and blue.  And I thought, in 2003, that conservatives idealogues were wrong to drag us into war in Iraq, when Osama bin Laden was hiding farther east. 

I hated to see good American boys, of any religion or political persuasion, die, when I thought our government had made a mistake.  See:  I don't trust big government, either. 

Hell, I remember Watergate.

I'm not saying I was right about everything, of course.  I'm a liberal; and liberals always have those doubts.  But I didn't like the idea that some conservatives blamed all Muslims for the 9/11 attack by 19 followers of that faith, either.  I taught history, you see; and I remember that we locked up 110,000 Japanese-Americans, including 77,000 U. S. citizens, after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941.  Call me a "libertard," I guess, but when I hear people say that all Muslims are terrorists, I think it's like saying Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich bear guilt for the Irish Republican Army bombings in Belfast in the 80s.

The way I see it, you don't have to be a conservative to be a very good American.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Can Teachers Save Every Child: Even Dylan Klebold?

Some children come from healthy homes.
and they're easy to teach.
Others come to class loaded
with problems and even loaded weapons.
Saving them is much tougher business,
Teachers can only do their best.

That's not always enough.
THERE'S NOTHING REMOTELY FUNNY about school shootings. I know, very nearly, from experience. A quarter century ago a young man brought a gun to school to shoot me and to shoot one of his wrestling teammates. His teammate had been taunting him about his weight and I had caught him drawing an obscene picture during class and said he had to show it to his father.

Luckily, he didn't shoot either of us, or anyone else that day. Years later, however, he shot himself.  Nothing funny about this in any way.

Still, when I hear the cascading criticism leveled at public school teachers and hear experts insist we have to save every kid, I think, who was ever going to save Dylan Klebold? Who was ever going to save Eric Harris? Those two were the shooters at Columbine High in April 1999.

It's ironic, when teachers hear their job is to save every child, because the people who say they know how to do the saving are never the ones who do the saving. Congress passes No Child Left Behind and promises....promises, mind you....that every child in America is going to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. 

Of course, teachers have to be committed to working toward that noble goal. It's absolutely true:  We don't want to give up on any child.

That doesn't mean we should take leave of our five senses and ignore harsh realities. The New York Times reported this week that Salinas, California has a serious gang problem and police are struggling to control 3,500 young men and women involved in various criminal enterprises. 

I see that, and I want to tell the fools in the U. S. Department of Education, or our pompous Governor John Kasich here in Ohio, or assorted newspaper critics, "You want to save a sixteen-year-old gang member with a violent criminal record, you save him yourself."

FRANKLY, IT GETS TIRESOME LISTENING to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan preach. He says fixing American education is "all about the talent," meaning all about teachers. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City, Harvard grad, and billionaire, a man who never spent a day in a classroom in his life, unless he got lost on the way to making another deposit at his bank, insists that his efforts to reform NYC schools have been thwarted because too many teachers come from the bottom ranks of their college classes, and "not of the best schools."

Davis Guggenheim, producer of Waiting for Superman, put together an entire film focusing on five great kids and their families and how badly they wanted to win the lottery and get into the local charter schools. The moral of his fable was simple. The typical public school teacher was lazy or incompetent, or both, and all parents and all children would live happily ever after if we had more vouchers and more charter schools. Then he sent his own kids to an elite private school, lest they might rub shoulders--or noses--with actual poor kids--or gang members. 

Steven Brill, non-teaching expert on teaching, and a well-healed lawyer, insisted in his own book, Class Warfare, that the main problems in schools were teachers' unions and tenure laws. So, sure. I guess you could argue if I hadn't had tenure that poor boy wouldn't have brought that gun. And if it weren't for teachers unions, those two terrible young men who shot up Columbine would have been fine.

Try teaching in the public schools. You're going to be dealing with a lot of great, great kids and parents. That doesn't mean the worst human beings in the world can't produce egg and sperm and be moms or dads. That doesn't mean you won't see kids who are being abused by mom, won't see kids who have to deal with drug-addled dad, that you won't run into unfortunate young men and women with profound emotional problems. 

THEN, SAVING EVERY CHILD ISN'T AS EASY as the fools who write books and the knuckle-heads who pass legislation promising miracles make the job of working those miracles sound.

It's a daunting challenge, even for the greatest teachers in America.