Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Teachers: Love You Just the Way You Are…

“I came to the conclusion that NCLB has turned into a timetable for the destruction of American public education.  I had never imagined that the test would someday be turned into a blunt instrument to close schools – or to say whether teachers are good teachers or not – because I always knew children’s test scores are far more complicated than the way they’re being received today.” -  Diane Ravitch ( http://www.npr.org/2011/04/28/135142895/ravitch-standardized-testing-undermines-teaching)

Keeping Them in the Box (or “love you just the way you are”)

Idiom:  In Pulitzer Prize winning author Tony Morrison’s The Big Box, several “unruly” children from various backgrounds find themselves placed (incarcerated) into a Big Box complete with toys, articles of clothing, food, furniture – all of it to remind them what would be best for them if they were to conform to what society expects of them.  In fact, although not directly stated, they have been placed in the box for behaving/thinking outside of the societal norms by which they should be constrained.  If you’re a teacher or nurse or public servant, it’s worth a read.  Pull up a chair at your local Barnes and Noble’s and give it a good look.  You’ll find it in the children’s section.

Rules of Conduct for Teachers – 1915

·      You will not marry during the term of your contract.
·      You are not to keep company with men.
·      You must be home between the hours of 8 PM and 6 AM unless at a school function.
·      You may not loiter downtown in any of the ice cream stores.
·      You may not travel beyond the city limits unless you have permission of the chairman of the school board.
·      You may not ride in carriages or automobiles with any man except your father or brother.
·      You may not smoke cigarettes.
·      You may not dress in bright colors.
·      You may under no circumstances dye your hair.
·      You must wear at least two petticoats.
·      Your dresses may not be any shorter than 2 inches above the ankles.
·      To keep the classroom neat and clean you must sweep the floor once a day, scrub the floor with hot soapy water once a week, clean the blackboards once a day and start the fire at 7 AM to have the school warm by 8 AM when the scholars arrive.

Given these historical circumstances, we’d hardly expect a governess/educator to demand anything - much less a living wage.  Pity the Ichabod Crane, Mary Poppins, Miss Crabtree, Anna [The King and I] – were they to shed their timidity for a sudden temerity and request deserved respect and compensation.  That would be out of character and totally unacceptable.  They might even lose their heads?

Teachers, nurses, police, firefighters, and public servants are taught through hammering stereotypes and reiterated imagery that their professions’ nobility is derived from the following:  practiced compassion over personal reward, good works over self-interest, and graciously granted respect for the sacrifices each profession makes.  We illuminate our minds with these strobe images of the dignity of penury through self-sacrifice.   

But those once admirable stereotypes have changed recently, haven’t they, my educator friend?
Anyone familiar with the print media (in Chicago especially) is aware of the persistent vilification of the teaching profession, the new emphasis on privatization of the schools, the demand for testing as a measurement of teachers, not students.  And with those angry new caricatures we have at times come to doubt ourselves and our work – and I might emphasize – our value.  See the teacher shortages in Indiana as a direct result of years of bashing the profession.

For decades, any real threats by public servants demanding respect, seeking appropriate compensation, or calling for a voice in their respective professions have been countered with the media’s cynical rejoinder that they are coldly willing to hurt kids, or patients, or crime victims, or the populace.  The economy, destroyed by speculators; retirement savings, drained to less than half their value; foreclosures, still rising unabated – we look at our pension and feel – of all things – guilty.

“Honestly,” one teacher whispered to me at a recent gathering, “I feel scared when people ask what I do for a living.  They’ll either hate me or feel envy.  So I make up things.”  It won’t get better.

In the new world or the “new reality,” our discomfort will be enhanced with the media’s consistent call to simplify the process – teach measureable skills only, reduce the scope of class choices, or just add more time.   And be paid accordingly. 

In academics, they (public servants) are often reminded to remain in their domesticated positions as governess, tutor, nanny, baby-sitter, or hired help “in a feudal system of corporate masters and serfs” (Chris Hedges).  Our job is simple: teach to the test.  Replacing real teachers – the ones who educate children to think critically or inspire them to reach for their potential – the privateers now seek those who design curriculum that can objectify and assess basic skills at the expense of insights, gifts, or desire.  

“Passing bubble tests celebrates and rewards a peculiar form of analytical intelligence.  This kind of intelligence is prized by money managers and corporations.  They don’t want employees to ask uncomfortable questions or examine existing structures and assumptions.  They want them to serve the system…They reward those who obey the rules, memorize the formulas and pay deference to authority.  Rebels, artists, independent thinkers, eccentrics and iconoclasts – those who march to the beat of their own drum – are weeded out” (http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/why_the_united_states_is_destroying_her_education_system_20110410/). 

Here’s a peek into the corporatist’s future educational model.
And No – this is NOT from The Onion. 

Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation has been throwing more than $1.4 million into a scientific plan to create a biometric wrist band (called a pedometer) that will measure the emotional engagement of students in a classroom.  In other words, the student’s response – excitement or ennui – could be demonstrably identified and graphed for a class period and thereby allows a charting of student-to-teacher response.  Voila, we have a way to measure a student’s interest/learning – or – do we have a measure of how a teacher is doing in exciting a student or all the students for that matter?  It doesn’t take much to realize the ridiculousness of this attempt to reduce and codify instruction like we would review an electro-cardiogram.  But the Gates Foundation is serious enough to drop a ton of money on this project.  In fact, additional money will be spent this year to begin testing the device in middle schools this fall (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-06-12/news/sns-rt-us-usa-education-gatesbre85c018-20120612_1_gates-foundation-veteran-english-teacher-teachers-feedback )   

The company spearheading this project, Affectiva Inc., states in all seriousness that such data could be used, for example, after watching a film in order to ask students questions about scenes in the film that aroused them.  That’s just one example.  Forget theme, symbol, holistic response, personal response – just what aroused you.  I personally spent most of 8th grade sitting next to the Susie Wettergren and would have been in a constant state of excitement, so I guess I would have been identified a great student – or my teacher would have been considered exceptional. 

One persistent problem with asking the educated to educate is that those who deliver the academic experience are not mindlessly obedient like the drones that function at basic levels of existence in third world labor shops.  And in fact, their greatest danger is in educating those in their charge to think independently, or outside of the box, if you will.  Despite the historical costume of subservience, real teachers provide or nurture a student’s further passion for learning, most especially in the intangible areas of art, music, dance, acting, etc.  Like real teaching, these qualities are not measureable test outcomes.  They are not subject to a single curve of improvement of failure; they grow in spurts of discovery and momentary drops of frustration, failure or confusion. 

On the other hand, corporate entrepreneurs and business-model-minded people like Bill and Melinda Gates, Arnie Duncan, Michael Noble, Rahm Emanuel, Penny Pritzker, etc. are trying to shift that timeless paradigm of education to a measureable, data-driven curriculum concept, one that tabulates basic improvement in a student’s achievement as easily as a good or bad business quarter, an electrocardiogram, a simple test score.   That’s placing both students and teachers in the box.  That’s wrong-headed.

Respect yourself.  Respect your good work.  Fight back. Refuse to sign the contract with Pearson PARCC this year!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Homeless Will Seek Shelter in Rauner's Brave New World.

King “Trickle Down” Rauner and the New Feudalism (Reprise)

(September 13, 2015) On October 1st, in the South Suburbs, a coalition of local churches will open their doors to the many homeless individuals and families that need housing, sustenance and assistance with job opportunities, substance abuse, spousal battering, etc.  They will have the next seven months in which to take advantage of some safety, some well-meaning concern, and some humanity. 
According to Rich Miller in Capitol Fax, “Illinois has no state budget, but it does have more homeless people - and the two are connected according to a scathing report set for release on Thursday.
“As Springfield fiddles with a state budget two months after the last one expired, the number of homeless across the state has spiked, according to data the I-Team obtained Wednesday night. The report, authored by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, chides Gov. Bruce Rauner and state leaders for using children and families as bargaining chips in a political fight.”   http://abc7chicago.com/politics/report-state-budget-impasse-causing-homelessness-in-illinois/976286/                                                          
Our own social service organization located in Chicago Heights is working frantically to prepare for what may be an increased population coming to shelters this winter, frustrated by the dwindling financial support from a state bound up in a political brinksmanship between a Speaker who refuses to give up any control and a Governor obsessed flipping the concept of serving for the people to people serving him.  
The Governor, who remains steadfastly committed to his Turnaround Agenda, argues that his political plan to undermine the labor unions will provide jobs for everyone.  The Speaker, who refuses to accept political conditions prior to any agreement on fiscal numbers, argues that he is battling for the Middle Class.

Meanwhile, the marginalized, the destitute, and the suddenly unprepared find themselves caught between these two impervious powers.  Bless your stars if you have not fallen under an unexpected illness, an abusive spouse, an addiction, an unexpected job loss, a mental breakdown, or many cruel surprises all mortal.

Here is an earlier post still dreadfully poignant today.

“Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all”

My mother used to sing lullabies to me when I was just a wee lad, but she never really took much time to explain them.  After all, I was drowsy, in all likelihood she was busy, and neither of us actually understood the sinister political messages of these little back yard commercials of the post-medieval period.  No Television, no Twitter, no Facebook.  Why not send innocent children out into the world with ditties composed to undermine the wealthy and the powerful?  Or record the horrors of a world controlled by the elite?

One of Governor Rauner’s chief demands before he will begin to entertain the current budget offered up by the Democratically-controlled General Assembly in Springfield is that they (the General Assembly) sign on to his Turnaround Agenda, showing fealty by passing some laws which indicate an unswerving acceptance of at least a few of his priorities:  right to work, reduced workers’ compensation, local controls, a freeze on property taxes.

In other words – no, in Rauner’s words – “if you accept my demands, I might deal with your oversized budget which will cost us a bit less than what was lost when we rescinded the last tax on income.” 

Madigan’s argument:  Rauner’s agenda has nothing to do with a budget.  He is trying to force a personal agenda which has nothing to do with making numbers work.  He stresses the need to undercut the middle class before he will accept a budget that will provide support for the marginalized and the middle class. 

Rauner’s argument:  I am for the middle class, but I need these requests for anti-union, anti-workers’ compensation, and property tax relief to be done first to provide a business-friendly climate for growing the middle class. 

Hauntingly, Rauner’s argument is another version, one presented in the midst of fiscal crisis for Illinois, that trickle-down economics works…and although Rauner has nothing to back that up in any substantive or empirical research, he is hoping that we will all swallow, just as we did when he ran the idea during his successful purchase of the governorship. 

None of us who worked for the state of Illinois are friends of Speaker Michael Madigan or his Attorney-General daughter Lisa Madigan.  We have seen and suffered the anxieties and anger of their illegal attempts to take our promised and paid for pensions from all of us.  Yet, in the most outrageous of absurdities, here is this same Speaker, arguing that he is trying to respect the rights of the middle class to be safe from persecution.

Only in Illinois, my friends. 

And if Rauner were to get his way before the budget could be entertained by his new governorship?  Premier would be local control, along with local property tax freezes.  Each local village or city enjoying their own specific processes on union contracting, educational funding, workers compensation, educational mandating, etc. , like smaller individual governments acting sovereignly within their own areas. 

During Medieval periods, individuals walking from one small town to another faced a surrounding wall and doorway though which they needed ask permission to enter, after declaring allegiance to all the laws within that particular village/city. 

“Who knocks there?”

“A carpenter, Joshua Jordenson.”

“Are you a trained union carpenter?”


“Move on...”

Now that Springfield is in a budget stalemate, Rauner is taking his argument  once again on the road (instead of sitting down to hammer out the fiscal issues).  He will be the advance guy for the nearly $20 million he has to spend on commercials decrying the evils of those in Springfield who have some concerns accepting what he would do to the mentally ill, the homeless, the educationally needy, etc. 

Back to my Mom’s sweet poem.  I am reminded once again of the wealthy and elite – royalty actually – visiting the various villages during Medieval times, especially when the needed servants for their castles.  They’d send their lackeys out into the various peasant hovels to find babies to take for use as servants in their own castles.  The peasant, in order to save their children from being taken into a life of servitude, would tie the babies into the tree boughs in the evenings, hoping that the winds would rock the kids to sleep, and the strong-armed visitors at the doors would never find them.

If that worked, thank God, and the Lord’s desperate servants left.  But if the wind blew too hard and the bough broke?  Neither Madigan nor Rauner would be any safety in the darkness. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

State of WA Says Charters Unconstitutional? Not Really...

A very quick and legally illiterate look at the recent State of Washington’s Supreme Court decision to declare Charter Schools Unconstitutional.

In a 6-3 decision, Justices of the Washington Supreme Court found that Charter Schools failed to meet the definition of “common schools” and therefore did not qualify for any of the state’s established educational funding sources. 

A recent (2012) voter initiative provided for the introduction of nearly 40 Charter Schools throughout the state within five years, but implementation and construction of the schools was first held up by an earlier King County Superior Court decision which found specific parts of the new law were unconstitutional, while others (funding for construction) were not.

Unlike many other states, Washington’s Education Article within its State Constitution provides for all state funding to public or “common schools” under direct voter control.

The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools” (Article IX, Section 2).

Those three funding reserves are state’s (1) the permanent common school fund, (2)the state tax for common schools, and (3) the common school construction fund. 

The 2012 state Charter School initiative provided for the construction and development of the nearly 40 schools, but it did not include methods for funding; instead, relying on the realization of Charter Schools to be fiscally accomplished by monies derived from the three existing educational resources. 

After a request for summary judgment at the Superior Court level, the plaintiffs – including the Washington Education Association - sought judicial intervention for the perceived unconstitutional draining of protected resources reserved for their public school systems.

The Justices on both sides in the case early recognized the potential for political misrepresentation in their decisions, both sides quickly identifying the fiscal argument as foremost in their arguments.  Chief Justice Madsen begins her majority finding with “We begin by noting what this case is not about.  Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools.  Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings…” 

Chief Justice Madsen’s analysis runs twenty pages of careful explication of antedated cases supporting the protection of funding for the common schools from the siphoning or political grafting by any other sources. 

“This includes the Act’s funding provisions, which attempt to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act.”

In fact, past court cases in Washington have determined that parochial students waiting for buses along the same route as public schools students are prevented by the Constitution from receiving transportation using state funds to ride along with public school students to their respective religious schools. 

Even in her dissent of twenty pages, Justice J. Fairhurst concurs, “I agree charter schools are not common schools.” 

On the other hand, Justice Fairhurst does endorse the voters’ option to seek new and possibly better educational opportunities for their children, and she argues that voters often endorse concepts and ideas without providing funding.  Therefore, she argues, it would be up to the state legislature to determine how funding for such activities would be supported.  Their General Assembly might consider the general revenue fund if not the usual (and constitutionally protected) educational resources.

As you might have suspected, the Education Article of the Illinois Constitution is not quite so well-defined about funding.

“The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education” (Article X, Section 1).

Neither the General Assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money, or other personal property ever be made by the State, or any such public corporation, to any church, or for any sectarian purpose” (Article X, Section 3).

Finally, it is interesting to note the majority opinion’s identification of a non-elected school board as another significant factor in the failure of charter schools to meet any resemblance to the accepted definition of a common public school.  

“As for daily operation charter schools are not governed by elected local school boards.  Instead…appointed or selected under the terms of a charter application to manage and operate the charter school…The board is responsible for functions typically handled by an elected school board, including hiring, managing and discharging employees; receiving and disbursing funds; entering contracts; and determining enrollment numbers.”

One wonders what they might consider the Chicago school board.