Sunday, May 17, 2015

Where This is Headed

Recently, the First Lady Michelle Obama delivered a graduation rant to the graduates of Tuskeegee Institute. Where she could have lauded them for their accomplishments and encouraged them to reach for a future better than today, she instead chose to lament her status as the unpaid captive of the gilded cage of the White House. While there are those who dismiss this as meaningless, I believe it reveals the mindset of the Obama White House at large. Despite winning elections that would require not just black votes, but votes from every other demographic of our nation, the Obama White House persists in believing they are under some sort of siege because of their race.

This attitude has been suggested for years. When a Cambridge celebrity professor tried to bully his way with a Cambridge police officer in spite of not having any identification when a break in was alleged at his house, Obama immediately saw race first and said the cop "acted stupidly". Obama ignored that in any sort of breaking and entering situation, police must operate as if the unsub is inside until proven otherwise. The black professor pulling the "Don't You Know Who I Am Card" didn't help the situation. In spite of a laughable Rose Garden Beer Summit, the evidence was there that Obama always views issues through the lens of race first.

Let's consider how this has managed to endanger police and civilians. While black males make up a minority of the population at large, they are far more represented in legal actions with police. Yet, statistics also show that police are far less likely to shoot at a black suspect than a white one for fear of the type of retaliation at large supported by the DOJ and White House in places like Ferguson and Baltimore. Eric Holder-gone but not lamented- far too often went the route of seeking out cased to create a public furor designed to stampede people into a particular mindset. That kind of action blew up on him with Fast and Furious-a program which has still not been fully investigated for criminal intent. Yet it seemed to me when Obama's numbers were lagging in the polls another of these inflammatory cases would erupt. Why are we concerned about thugs (and yes, thugs can be any color despite attempts to coopt the word) getting shot during a crime and not concerned about gangbangers killing each other in Chicago and Philly and LA? Why is this president, who seems enamored with numbers, not concerned that more cops have been shot this year than in prior years?

What does this mean for society at large? What I am seeing in my very diverse middle class school is an attitude of defiance, especially from young black males. Case one-hall duty-a table of black students start throwing trash in front of our very sweet Hispanic head custodian then shouting "Me no habla" at her. I went over and asked them to stop, where one young male immediately started yelling "It wasn't me". I told him I wasn't writing him up, I was just asking him to stop. Then he comes over to me and keeps going at the debate. I'm outnumbered-not an administrator in sight. How am I supposed to counter nine kids at a table?  Case two-just this week-two young couples (both couples were black but that doesn't matter because I would have done this with ANY couple) were sitting on the floor eating lunch (there are tables...) and then they were lying all over each other with one young man grinding against his girlfriend. I asked them to stop and again, one young man (it may be the same one) gets in my face defying me to do anything. Again-I'm outnumbered-no administrator, no other teachers.

Across the board the talk of the teachers workroom is the escalation of defiance, rudeness, lack of respect for teachers and for each other. And I'm sorry, but I'm seeing far more of this with black students than any other category. I don't go out of my way to single out individuals or groups. But when one group is repeatedly acting out and disrupting classes it appears that someone has told them it's okay. So are their role models-the president, his wife, celebrities, rappers-basically giving these kids the opinion that they can do anything and get away with it? It appears so to me. I wonder if other teachers across the nation are seeing similar issues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A New Concern

I've been told it's provocative to call anything a rant. As a result I will couch this collection of thoughts in the form of loose prose or free verse. But really.....

I teach. I am the daughter of a teacher and the mother of a teacher. I know my stuff. One of my earliest memories is setting up my stuffed toys in front of my blackboard in my room and teach them letters and numbers. I taught my kids in the ways normal parents do-through a combination of structure, repetition, extortion, threats and love. My kids grew up to be very good kids. I am proud of all of them. I think my husband and I did things right by them. There were soccer teams and ballet recitals, band concerts and plays. We supported them, we watched them, we participated. I am nearly 60 and I am deeply worried about today's youth.

I have taught for quite awhile. I have had other jobs as well. I've been in sales. I've been a graphic designer. I even stayed home and did the volunteer thing for a few years. It isn't working that is causing parents to become meaningless entities to their children-it is the isolation of social media. Fifteen years ago, when I returned to the classroom, cell phones were rarely owned by students. Some of the older kids from wealthier families provided them for kids, but for the most part it was rare. Today kids from the age of nine have phones. And the phones they possess have all the internet access of my first PC. These kids have secret lives, habits, friends and activities that their parents do not know about. Sadly, in many cases it appear that the ego of the parents doesn't allow them to believe their children could ever EVER do anything wrong. I beg to differ.

We have students who are in serious, precarious positions and as teachers we can do little about it. This goes beyond drinking and drugs into some seriously dark areas of our culture. I have to wonder what a kid is thinking when they intentionally don the persona of alternative lifestyles for the purpose of popularity. Don't be fooled by the goofy face of anime and events like A-con-there are some very dark and dangerous places on that road. Too many parents mistake animation for childish. Ask any Japanese businessman if the comics he reads on the train ride home are fit for his five year old to enjoy.

More than this is the benign neglect of parents. Too many of the current generation of 30 somethings are so busy navel gazing they ignore their children until something happens then they attack at will. This is doubly so with special needs students. We have parents who bully ridiculous IEP's from schools under the threat of lawsuits. I've seen everything from allowing a student who was bipolar with Down's Syndrome jump up and down in a general ed classroom of 34 to release tension to allowing an emotionally disturbed six foot four male to threaten to kill a teacher every single day of a term until he was removed for threatening a school board member's daughter. While ADA was meant to provide an adequate education to students with challenges who were capable of on level work, it is now being used to force districts to provide what amounts to free daycare and medical hospice facilities in the schools for special needs students who are living in attendance zones. What is more, while teachers and counselors can currently disagree with outrageous demands made by parents in ARD's and renegotiate the agreement, starting in September anything a parents wants they can get. Anything. It's a blank check.

So while your kid sits in an overcrowded classroom with not enough computer access or enough books next year because your school can't afford those things, remember that the special needs kids down the hall may have teachers and aides on a one to one ratio and be provided with everything from special meals, facilities, equipment and transportation. While nobody wants to deprive any students who can learn, is this really the best use of our money to provide daycare for special needs students? Shouldn't we be more worried about those kids who are able to learn who are falling through the cracks? There used to be schools and training facilities to allow special needs children to learn to make the most of their lives. Those have been closed by the same parents who are bullying schools into compliance.

I look at my class of over 30 and I know at least five will be special needs or ELL. I know I will have to document everything they do every day. I know that at least one, and maybe two, should be in an AVLS or BIC room because their behavior and comprehension is way out of line. But ADA ties our hands, allowed regular classrooms to be disrupted by students who cannot handle the pressure of regular educational settings. The parents insist on this type of setting because they desperately want their kids to be normal. They want to pretend that by being in a general education classroom they are learning the same stuff. For awhile the students do try to be kind and tolerate the behavioral upsets. But by the end of the year, those same students resent that they have no time to have their questions or concerns addressed. They are tired of having their projects destroyed and being lashed out at by students who cannot control themselves. Whatever sympathy the parents that push ADA standards hoped to engender is lost when other students get stuck taking up the slack.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

I Love To Win

I don't win often because I tend to try to be a team player. So when my department was getting stonewalled on trying to buy art supplies at a significant discount by purchasing them over the summer, I do a little happy dance. We had been offered a chance to buy supplies at a 35% discount and would not be billed until the next school year. Yet, She Who Shall Not Be Named repeatedly told us no. No we couldn't do it because we would have to charge tax. No we couldn't do it because that wasn't the way we had always done it. Nevermind that the building principal thought it was a great way to manage around without having to dive into his rainy day fund. She Who Shall Not Be Named would not consider that other schools in my district are using this program. She wouldn't consider it even when the Shiningn  Example high schools were named. In one last attempt, a middle school teacher explained how she managed to work the program and which accounts to use. I sent it to her saying that I wish she would consider. Instead she demanded all my documentation and warned she was "taking it to the Finance Dept." Later that day I got a terse "come see me" email. Fearing the worst, I waiting until later in the day only to find that Finance thought it was a GREAT IDEA and wondered why OTHER SCHOOLS WEREN"T USING IT. I don't want the accolades, but honestly this has been a tough year and to get one win.....well that may just help me make it through the next seven weeks.

Onto AP testing.........

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Most Personal Memorial

Today is a day of sorrow. Twenty years ago today, a conspiracy using common elements such as fertilizer, gasoline and a truck led to untold grief and devastation. The bombing of the Murrah Federal Building occurred right up I35 from where I write this. Twenty years ago sounds like a lifetime, but it also seems like the blink of an eye. One hundred thirty six souls were given up to heaven that day, many of them children in a ground level daycare center. I can't fathom the type of selfish, deranged evil that perpetrates this kind of crime. We've seen worse since this date, but normal people no matter what their politics are all baffled by what drives someone into seeing humans as points on a scorecard.

That being said, the Oklahoma City Memorial in terms of its setting, its scope locally, nationally and historically, is probably one of the most well defined and poignant memorials in our nation. We have countless memorials that encompass large Neo-Classical structures that might speak in terms of history, but that do not touch us emotionally. Who doesn't understand the story of an empty chair? The 168 empty chairs are chairs left vacant at Thanksgiving dinners, weddings, graduations and all the other family celebrations that get little national acclaim but which resonate on a ground level with the majority of us.

As I understand it, every year the families return to leave flowers, photos and toys for fathers who will never come home from work, children who will never grow up, wives that will never hug their children again. While no such absence ever truly heals, the memorial has created a type of community where their memories transcend the limitations that seem to so divide us these days. Why is it that we can only pull together in a crisis? When I watch these now grown children lay wreaths for fathers who have gone away and babies that will always be young I hope they can find a way to change this toxicity in our society. I'm not sure what it will take, but for the moment watching these families share their moments provides a bittersweet backdrop to what we have become.

Oklahoma City 20 Years Later

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Inmates Run Asylum, Film at 11

I am not sure how things got this disjointed or why things got this disjointed or who is responsible. All I know is that Thursday morning I'm supposed to facilitate a meeting of all the art teachers in our high school cluster from K through high school. Because our former superintendent, Mr. All Apple All The Time, resigned/retired at midyear, suddenly all the "we will use all Apple products even if it breaks the bank" mantra has gone away. Now we're in a time warp (insert Rocky Horror imagery here)and going back to the LAST trend which was "Understanding By Design." This is what preceded the glorified, overpriced Venn diagrammography of the last trend before we began as a district to worship at the altar of Apple.

We have a coordinator whose authority covers Dance, Theater and Art. She claims to have knowledge of all of them, but in reality we only see her maybe twice a year for fleeting seconds of time as she dashes in our classrooms while classes are in session, throws some bauble at us and then scuttles a hasty retreat to the more friendly theater environs. I didn't start out disliking her. I was overjoyed to have someone to intercede for us, to champion our causes or at least to make us less invisible to the powers that be. I was naive.

This year has been what less elegant people would calls a cl*st*rf*ck. I don't use that kind of language, but it doesn't mean I'm not thinking it. From the earliest part of the year, every action demanded of us as a discipline was scheduled on days when we were doing semester exams or standardized testing. I realize the folks in administration don't have enough to do, but when I'm stuck proctoring exams for three days, asking me for an inventory of my equipment does not endear me to anyone. Even such a banal thing as our district art show collapsed under the weight of competing causes such as our State competition, Scholastic Arts and Writing Nationals, and all the hoopla that goes with sending in college admissions forms. It was too much in a short period. Plus it is ridiculous to have an annual district high school show in the middle of the year when half of ours students haven't even been in an art class yet.

It didn't have to be like this. We have means of communicating. But instead of directly telling us what's going on, the coordinator relied on a committee she formed. If it was a group of like minded folks, it would be a great thing, but we have a couple of long time teachers in wealthy, mostly white schools (one on national TV for showing racist signs at a basketball game) and they don't play nice. Because of our different demographics and wealth levels, we can't magically pull funding out of our hats. In a similar fashion, we can't demand students show up because most of their parents work weekends. Our kids work just as hard and deserve better. Heck, I have four kids heading to RISD, two to Parsons, one to Pratt, one to Memphis and one to Carnegie Mellon. Yet for all the praise these kids get, you would think they had learned to tie their shoes by themselves. But when the other schools win even slight honors, the world, and district, must stop and admire. It's not right. Due to this attitude, nobody tells anyone, anything until the last minute.

This leads me to cycle back to the first graph. On Friday, while I was grading finals, logging in grades, I get an email at 3:30 in the afternoon demanding to know what I was presenting at the In-Service. I had only gotten word an hour earlier that middle school teachers as well as teachers from the tech center would be coming. I didn't have time to banter and told her that I would figure it out over the weekend. She got upset, demanded a meeting, claimed I was disrespectful. Perhaps so. But I tend not to respect people who get paid more than I do, but DO NOT DO THEIR JOBS. What's even more laughable is that when I asked my Assistant Principal what WE were doing in the morning before the presentation, she said "I don't know. I don't think anybody knows. It's like administration suddenly realized they had an In-Service on the calendar and they didn't plan anything so they're shoving it on us and now we seem to be passing the buck to you guys." She really said that. I appreciate the honesty.

So I will do this presentation along with our new hire (who is awesome) and we will discuss Understanding By Design and we will figure out goals for fifth grade art and high school art one and we will submit our ideas on implementing change. Not that anything will change. But at least they can't say I didn't do my job.

It just makes me kind of sick to think that even if I do an amazing job (and frankly my lesson plan on this sounds lightyears better than anything we've had the last five years!) I will only be perpetuating the job life of this really unfortunate leader.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What In the World Are They Thinking?

Two stories from our local news:
Teen Threatens to Blow Up Graduation
Middle Schooler Writes Graphic Story Describing How He would Attack and Kill Classmates

In the first story, a 17 year old Hispanic honor student is immediately, and I think correctly, arrested when three classmates came forward and told authorities of his threats on social media to plant IED's at the graduation ceremony. In this case, either because his family wasn't affluent, or because he wasn't a student who had special education dispensation, he was arrested. End of story.

The second story is more problematic. A middle school student posted online a graphic, detailed and specific ELEVEN CHAPTER story on how he would attack, kill and molest other students. He had been removed from the school in the Fall term for undisclosed reasons but re-enrolled in January. The story was discovered and the specific students were alerted, but the general population, including parents, didn't know of the situation until after Spring Break. 

Stop for a minute. How would you feel if your son or daughter was on this kid's "kill list?' I know that my kid wouldn't be attending school until the student in question was removed, but the authorities are saying it's a free speech issue.

Then come the other excuses:
He's been bullied because of a physical disability.
He's a special education student.
The tacit message is that because of ADA and the wealth of the parents, this kid can do just about anything he wants. This is a message saying that the needs of one student should outweigh the peace of mind of every other student and staff member. This is what ADA has wrought.

What was meant as a means of making sure that kids capable of learning with assistance to overcome physical disabilities has become a catchall bullyclub for providing outrageous and expensive education in the same public schools struggling to pass average kids in regular subjects. When I walk down the hall and see one teacher with one student all day I honestly wonder what is the purpose? When I witness special education students dropped into regular education classrooms without aides, without help and without consideration of the needs of the rest of the class I have to wonder at what point the parents of other kids say enough. I've witnessed how a lawyered up special ed student's parents can bully and cajole, and yes bribe, officials to do whatever they want in regards to their child's education whether it is appropriate or not. I've seen how a six foot four bipolar out of control can bully a teacher and peers. Is being a special education student an excuse?

I hear far too many people making excuses for outrageous and potentially dangerous behavior. Does anyone remember that they tried to justify both Columbine and Newtown on bullying? Isn't it possible that emotionally disturbed students may view anyone who doesn't suffer as they do as a bully-thereby justifying their own unchecked rage? 

Let's say that the school let's this kid fester in his self-created rage. Let's say he gets hold of instructions for an explosive or poison or brings a weapon? Would the school be willing to take the blame for failing to stop this student when they could? Would the parents? I'm sorry, I want all kids to feel safe and all kids to get the education they need. But what has happened in order to serve very few is hurting many students in many ways. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

This Article Confirms Everything I've Said About Education for the Last 5 Years.

Fortune Magazine published this story and it doesn't strike me as surprising. Over the last five years, since the imposition and increase of technology by our administration and by the country at large, I have seen a reduction in work ethic, retention, writing and reading abilities. We no longer teach cursive so there is no motor memory of writing. The assumption by the powers that be is there will always be a calculator or a computer accessible to do the mundane tasks of basic math or spelling. This erosion of basic skills is resonating through the workforce. Parents who pushed computers at early ages over reading kids bedtime stories are now faced with young adults who do not read for pleasure or enrichment and possibly cannot read on a literate level at all.

Yet what is the drumbeat we hear? TECHnology TECHnology many vocational programs were gutted to buy into the rarified coursework of Animation or Graphic Design? How many kids fully capable of hands on skills in a variety of trades such as electrical repair, plumbing, auto repair, cosmetology, cabinetry and more have found themselves instead in classes they do not need and do not want? The myth that every kid is going to college is a fallacy. Every kid doesn't belong in college. Many kids go to college only to fail and end up in dead end jobs with a large student loan in tow. This is no way to improve an economy.

I guarantee that in China or Japan or Korea or India or Russia they are not teaching their children to do math using computers. I promise you that these nations also celebrate their complex language structure by requiring students learn to write and communicate. These are skills that are vanishing from a large part of the population. Ironically we are removing the very exercises that would instill deeper retention. Cursive writing is used to help dyslexic students internalize the shapes of letters. Rote memorization of multiplication tables affects a different part of the brain than using a calculator and allows for deeper understanding of the PROCESS of multiplication.

As I have said before, technology is a good servant, but a bad master. Every sci fi movie alludes to this fear of technology actually countermanding the desires of humans. Perhaps we are on the threshold of that becoming reality. When you go to the doctor, the younger ones often spend more time looking at the computer than the patient. For that reason Johns Hopkins has medical students taking art history classes to teach them to OBSERVE THE PATIENT. How many medical mistakes have occurred because of the failure to note the reaction of the patient over the steps of protocol?
We have young mothers sitting at playgrounds enthralled with Angry Birds while their children are out of control. We have students watching movies during class. What is more the overlay of social media on a population that has not been taught basic social skills has led to most of the angst we've witnesses in society over the last few years. Can you name one incident-political, social, legal or economic-that wasn't in some way by social media?

It's time to stop this nonsense. I'm not saying to forbid media, but it's time to stop just giving in to trends. Frankly I think Apple and Google and Facebook and all the other manufacturers and websites share the blame for the sick dissolution of social discourse. And make no mistake, for all you liberals out there, none of these companies do it for any other reason beyond making a buck. So while hipsters walk around talking on IPhones about how high their student loans are and complaining about how they don't have any money, step back and think about all the things we have now that are branded and promoted and therefore deemed popular. Is Starbucks really better than a cup of coffee you make yourself? 

Such weakminded behavior leads to some of the mob/gang/group atrocities we've witnessed online. How are the SAE's any different than wilding mobs attacking innocent people at a midwestern fair? How desperate are these kids to find some magic pill that can insure their success the way Mommy and Daddy did when they were in public school? While both are vile and nasty and racist and violent, this doesn't spring full born from their own heads. Have you listened to the lyrics of popular music? I ban those songs in my classroom and yet I have had heated discussions with students who think the n-word is allowed simply because they themselves are black. I think bad, rude, insensitive language goes across the boards. You cannot permit some people to use the words with impunity and then get outraged when someone uses them. NOBODY SHOULD BE USING THESE WORDS. Stop trying to be hip and cool by joining into activities that are mean, dangerous and simply unnecessary. And the kids on the bus using the n-word in Oklahoma are every much as vile as the gangs who assault innocent people on the street for the sake of "fun." 

By the way, lest you think I am out of touch, much of this is fueled by things my own kids-ranging from 25 to 30-have told me about their peers. Every week it's a new complaint about coworkers that are hunted down by bill collectors or people who run up credit card bills at restaurants leaving friends to cover the bill. These dime a day millionaires have bought into the Oprahization of America believing that their mere existence qualifies them for the best of everything. Nobody deserves the best of everything, especially if they can't pay for it. 

Here's the column and link. Read it. Share it. This is important.

Millenial Fail

Surprised? So were the researchers who tested and compared workers in 23 countries.

We hear about the superior tech savvy of people born after 1980 so often that we tend to assume it must be true. But is it?
Researchers at Princeton-based Educational Testing Service (ETS) expected it to be when they administered a test called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC). Sponsored by the OECD, the test was designed to measure the job skills of adults, aged 16 to 65, in 23 countries.
When the results were analyzed by age group and nationality, ETS got a shock. It turns out, says a newreport, that Millennials in the U.S. fall short when it comes to the skills employers want most: literacy (including the ability to follow simple instructions), practical math, and — hold on to your hat — a category called “problem-solving in technology-rich environments.”
Not only do Gen Y Americans lag far behind their overseas peers by every measure, but they even score lower than other age groups of Americans.
Take literacy, for instance. American Millennials scored lower than their counterparts in every country that participated except Spain and Italy. (Japan is No. 1.) In numeracy, meaning the ability to apply basic math to everyday situations, Gen Yers in the U.S. ranked dead last.
Okay, but what about making smart use of technology, where Millennials are said to shine? Again, America scored at the bottom of the heap, in a four-way tie for last place with the Slovak Republic, Ireland, and Poland.
Even the best-educated Millennials stateside couldn’t compete with their counterparts in Japan, Finland, South Korea, Belgium, Sweden, or elsewhere. With a master’s degree, for example, Americans scored higher in numeracy than peers in just three countries: Ireland, Poland, and Spain. Altogether, the top U.S. Gen Yers, in the 90thpercentile, “scored lower than their counterparts in 15 countries,” the report notes, “and only scored higher than their peers in Spain.”
“We really thought [U.S.] Millennials would do better than the general adult population, either compared to older coworkers in the U.S. or to the same age group in other countries,” says Madeline Goodman, an ETS researcher who worked on the study. “But they didn’t. In fact, their scores were abysmal.”
What does that mean for U.S. employers hiring people born since 1980? Goodman notes that hiring managers shouldn’t overestimate the practical value of a four-year degree. True, U.S. Millennials with college credentials did score higher on the PIAAC than Americans with only a high school diploma (albeit less well than college grads in most other countries).
“But a degree may not be enough,” Goodman says, to prove that someone is adept with basic English, can do what she calls “workaday math,” or has the ability to use technology in a job. Curious about how the PIAAC measures those skills, or how you’d score yourself? Check out a few sample math questions, or take the whole test.