Sunday, December 09, 2018

Why Schools Cannot be Social Justice Incubators

Read this first

Many of the problems experienced in schools today is due to the social justice imperatives placed upon them. Schools in earlier times were strictly places of learning. There was no discussion of social issues or bending on the idea of merit over identity. Fast forward to current times and a plethora of mandated moves have muddied the waters on what is education and what is indoctrination.

Take the example of the story listed. Those who teach high school have most likely encountered a number of students who claim gender fluidity. This may or may not be with full knowledge of their parents. In one class there is a student who looks, acts and dresses as a girl, but the student's parent state they are male. In the same class are two girls who have shaved their heads, dress like boys and have to be reminded not to grope each other in class. It is very fashionable, especially among the groups that embrace animé to act out in public ways to express their individuality by dressing and acting like the opposite gender.

In terms of ethnicity, there is blissful ignorance that even within the defined by the Fed ethnic groups, there are divisions. My students from South Africa, Ghana and Haiti do not understand the angst of the BLM movement and tend to avoid the various step teams and other designated "black" groups in favor of NHS and various Asian groups. The Hispanic students whose parents are professionals don't hang out with the kids from the trailer park. The Korean kids don't hang out with the Vietnamese students. So rather than the modest list of divisions listed by the Fed, we have a puzzle of ethnic populations divided more by wealth than image. When you have the offspring of professional athletes who drive BMW's to school, I don't think they have much in common with kids whose single parent lives paycheck to paycheck in subsidized housing. And yet in all regards from college admission to discipline, the treatment is based far more on ethnicity than ability.

I am not sure where our public school system is going in coming years. Like the news media, it has allowed itself to become captive to a group of politicians far more interested in using the access to groom adherents than in actually educating the student population. This is why too often the state bureaucrats err on the side of making course less rigorous and allowing our kids to slide thanks to a slope of well meant, but misguided actions.  Years ago, when Texas mandates the Four by Four programs-where high school students would be required to take four core classes each year in order to graduate-I predicted that mandating all students take Calculus and Physics would result in watering down classes and/or the creation of innocuous easy classes because much of the student population would never graduate.

Because we have chosen to water down serious courses, we have students in remedial courses at major colleges. This should NEVER happen. I guarantee it doesn't happen in China, Russia or India. Remedial classes should be reserved for community and junior college consumption. Instead it is offered at major colleges because our students are simply not prepared for the independence and rigors of college. There are ways to break this cycle. Schools could take away screens and start insisting students read books and study from books. Schools could ban calculators until high school, requiring students to develop the logical constructs that math offers. Schools could stop shoving political dogma as fact down the throats of kids not old enough to vote.....but then again we get to the cycle wherein politicians get technology for schools and then pretend they are making things better.

In the last five years I have seen the impact of personal technology on the classroom. It's not good. Our kids are distracted and learning less than they learned a decade earlier. I have tried to use the same syllabus since 2001, improving the lessons as I go. This year my students did three fewer projects than just five years ago. I have tried pushing and pulling them across the finish line. They have no concept of deadlines or of requirements. Often on essays, they simply throw everything on the page, just hoping it answers the stated question. This is in my AP class. These our are best and brightest students. I just don't know that they can function as adult without some serious intervention going on.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Giving Thanks

There are those in our society who reject Thanksgiving because they claim it was a precursor to the disenfranchisement of the Native Americans. They are entitled to that view, although they might want to look at how the Native Americans were living beyond the Noble Savage ideal they promote. For all the hype, Native Americans were living a Neolithic lifestyle without many upsides to the story. Nevertheless, the contrarians on the Left insist on removing the key element of Thanksgiving from the holiday-and that is the THANKS.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. While other nations have similar days, none celebrate the concept of gratitude as much as the United States. That is because this nation was largely founded and organized on the Judeo-Christian concepts of gratitude among the many other desirable traits of honesty, fairness and self-reliance. Those early settlers were grateful. They invited others to join them in a celebration feast as a show of that gratitude. For all the historians who want to try to sully the reputation of the holiday, or for God's sakes, rename it, that would be a travesty and a lost chance to teach key lessons to our children.

I'll admit, I'm tired of the creeping of Black Friday. I don't like that some people have forgotten that Thanksgiving is beyond football and food. I'd love everyone to have a Norman Rockwellian Thanksgiving, but in reality, few do. Some folks have to work and God bless those doctors, nurses, first responders and others who sign up to do that. Some folks have no family and I would hope others would reach out and make them a part of their celebration. Some folks will run in Turkey Trots, like the one in Dallas. Others will join families in front yard football games. Others still will meet with friends to dine on turkey while they watch football. However people celebrate, I hope they are GRATEFUL because no truly successful society exists without some appreciation for what they have achieved.

For those on the progressive Left who want to make this about politics and soy turkey, they are free to do that. But I think they indulge in negatives at the risk of their soul. Sometimes it's better just to take things at face value.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The End

As a teacher who will be leaving the education realm this year for the second time (the first time was 30 years ago....) I have to add this caveat: Don't stay too long at the dance. Many times, humans seek to adapt and put up with situations for far too long under the hope things will get better. Barring an act of God or a complete change in the personnel, they usually won't. I have stayed far longer at this job than I had planned and while the money did help keep us out of the poorhouse during the eight years our economy was in failure mode, for which I am grateful, I feel that much of the last five years has been more about paperwork, corralling special needs students and being volun-told to take on more responsibilities than I could reasonably handle.
I hate to sound bitter-I was the teacher who tried to make things better by decorating the workroom, bringing holiday treats and remembering birthdays. But in the end, it simply didn't matter because whatever small measures I took were overwhelmed by the general culture infesting my school. After 20 years, I am leaving. Retiring from teaching, but not from work, because who can afford that? What is more, while our school likes to make a big production out of the teachers who are leaving, I don't want to even be there for that stuff, because honestly for all the years I've been there, all the kids I've taught, all the sacrifices I've made, I honestly don't think anyone will care.
The drumbeat message from my administration is "This is JUST ART" and Just Art is a class for the kids who fight with band directors, who have failed other classes or who simply need a placeholder class until something better comes along. I've tried very hard for a long time to change that and I wish I could have had some impact, but frankly when you stay too long, you get taken for granted. I wish art jobs were easier to come by because I truly am good at my job and have kids who have graduated from top level art schools like RISD and SAIC who began in my class. But I'm exhausted and I've simply run out of ways to capture the attention. The straw that broke my heart not my back, was last week when two teenaged boys squared off to fight in my class. I marched them to the office and asked they be dealt with. Twenty minutes later, an AP shows up with the boys, saying they had received restorative measures and were really really sorry. This has become the norm in my so-called "good" suburban school. So heed my warning and avoid ending up like me.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Mindfulness

I am tired of the push for "mindfulness." I
I hear it at work, in the media, in the news I read and hear.
My sisters in law live by this invisible mode and some of my children adhere to it as well.
They believe they are being thoughtful-a sort of spiritual worship of all the hands that have touch every single product they encounter.  I honestly don't know how they make it through the day, much less a meal.

I am appreciative of farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, packers, butchers, cooks and people who give us the ability to live such abundant lives. That being said, I do not want to spend my life contemplating the meaningfulness of every single aspect of my life. I don't want to make choices based on agendas. And if I should choose to wear mismatched sock, dowdy sweaters or a silly hat, that is MY choice.

Frankly all this mindfulness strikes me as a rebranding of narcissism. "Ooh look at me, I'm choosing my gluten free cruelty free organic soap" So what? Does it work? If it doesn't, it's a waste of time AND money. And if we are really "mindful" shouldn't wasting energy and materials to produce a substandard product count as NOT being mindful?

Let's apply this to cars. Environmentalists have pushed for measures to make car more fuel efficient. To do so, manufacturers have to make cars more streamlined as well as lighter. This means less metal, more thin metal and plastic. It also means making cars smaller. This wouldn't be a problem if we all had these cars, but we don't. Many of the larger SUV's are so raised off the ground that their bumper level is at the head level of new smaller cars. That means what in earlier generations would have been a mere fender bender will now be an accident with serious, perhaps fatal, injuries. People rant over possibilities of medication and procedures which are far rarer than the fatalities causes by the disparity in size of vehicles. Shouldn't this require mindfulness to either stop insisting new cars be smaller or at least all cars should have bumpers the same height?

Mindfulness goes far beyond this. There is a book out there talking about how you should get rid of all the things in your life that you do not love. So how's that going to work for married couples or large families? Can Mom simply throw away all the laundry? Can Dad donate his lawn mower? Can the kids jettison all the old records and yearbooks from their parents previous lives? I personally believe having to deal with things you may not love builds character. Nobody was promised a perfect life and I don't think individuals should be forced by the nature of "mindfulness" and then false doctrine of perfection to avoid those irregular things in our lives.

I will admit I am more absent minded than mindful. I may have, at times, worn mismatched socks and possibly I've worn some sweater backward. Does that change me as a person because I am less than perfect? Indeed this is the crux of mindfulness, helicopter parenting, cooped up bored kids sentenced to a lifetime of computer screens over the outdoor is an unreasonable fear of being less than perfect. We have to let our children learn to fail in small ways or we risk as adults seeing them fail epically with no possibility of a rebound.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Friendships

I envy people who have lifelong friendships. I've never experienced that situation. We moved a great deal when I was a kid and as a result making friends was a frustrating experience. I remember when I was in fourth grade we moved from Metarie LA to Dallas, TX. I had been a long time Girl Scout and my mother had been a scout leader. The troop at my school wouldn't even let me in. I moved in the middle of the school year and when I tried to have a birthday party in the spring, only two girls came. Nobody called, nobody let us know. That pretty much set the tone for my teen years.

I tried to make friends. I wasn't as willing to risk getting in trouble as others, so I was often left out as the goody goody girl. Every girl I knew either made up gossip or stabbed me in the back. One girl I knew from seventh grade would wait until she knew I liked a boy and then deliberately go after him. She even tried that our senior year with my boyfriend, who is now my husband of nearly 40 years. But I tried. I did the things they did, wore the things they wore, went to the parties and dances, although not my prom. But I was always on the outside of things-wallpaper in the room.

College came and due to my family's financial situation, I had to stay in town and go to community college. Sure, I wrote to my friends who went to Austin and Lubbock and other far away schools, but nobody wrote back. They would come to town and never call me. I would run into them by accident listening to their feeble excuses. They were more than willing to ask me for a favor, but not so much to treat me like a person.

As an adult it was more of the same. I don't play those games so many women use to tear down others. I never did. Yet more than once because I was trying so hard to be a team player, I was the one who ended up losing out in the end. Even as a young mother, I would try to socialize with the other Mom's, but I didn't go to the "right" church or attend the "right" meetings. As a result I've gone through most of my life without a real friend other than my husband.

I've tried, but frankly people are mean. I would be a good friend. I would back up other people. I would go out to lunch. I would watch your house when you were gone and visit you at the hospital when you were sick. I would back brownies for your bake sale when your oven was broken. All I ever wanted was a friend. Somewhere deep inside this crusty 62 year old body is a little girl who just wanted someone to play with. It's really kind of sad that so many adults seemed to see my flaws first.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Conspicuous Technology Consumption

I've taught for over 20 years and I think I've nailed down how school districts make money. You will notice several prominent urban districts are once again pleading and demanding money even though they seem to regularly pass bond issues and get more money for facilities that have little to do with learning. I know it's not getting in teachers' pockets.

Several of my peers with similar credentials and years are barely midrange on our districts salary levels although most of us are retiring within months. How does that work out? It is because the district uses a skewed method of comparing teaching fields to "real world" compensation. By that reasoning anyone in humanities is paid less than anyone in the desirable STEM subjects. That may sound favorable, but I'm not really sure even those teachers are being as highly compensated as the usual folks: coaches, administrators and the mid level bureaucrats that school boards deem "necessary" for the districts to achieve accolades.

So where is the money coming from and where does it go? It's no secret that Technology is one of the buzzword topics politicians find so attractive. They like Technology because it's something they can quantify in number and dollars for votes. So politicians sign off on billions of dollars in programs and hardward intended for nebulous STEM programs. Here's where the fun part comes in. Administrators will often be sought by producers of hardware and programs so that those providers can become preferred vendors. Now I'd like to believe no money changes hands, but seriously do you believe that?

Listen to this timeline:
2007-When I first began working my district we had PC's. When I tried to write a grant for Apples I was told by our school and district IT departments that they would not support any maintenance.
2009-A new superintendent takes a job and almost immediately he moves to have EVERY STUDENT from K-12 issues an Apple IPad-that's issuing 50K+ IPads plus every teacher was issued a Power Macbook and IPad. So we had to shift all our programs to a new paradigm. What was ironic is while we made this costly move, when we had problems with our browsers (although we had Apple products we were using Google Apps so we had to use Chrome) we were told to download free virus scans. Suddenly we saw staffing for IT being cut in half. Hmmm
So we dithered about for seven years-kids gradually stopped paying the meagre $35 insurance fee because they could do as much on their phones plus many of the devices ended up broken or hacked thanks to the downloads of movies, games and such which were played during class all the time.
2016-We're using Apple devices, Chrome browsers, Google apps and Microsoft Office. This situation with multiple platforms would continue until.....

.....2018...we were issues new Apple Airs-good thing since my down button had stopped working and my e and r keys had become unidentifiable. The Air's didn't work like the Power Mac's and the procedure to save 19 years of documents, presentations and lesson plans didn't fully work for anyone. So most of us are starting nearly from scratch to rebuild some very complex programs. But that's not all-not content to gift us with a new learning curve for devices, our Fearless Technology Leaders also decided we need to learn an entirely new method of presenting classes with their work. So now we have to learn Canvas from scratch. It is bulky and not at all intuitive. I have nine shells-some for multiple classes and multiple shells for others. There is no easy fix to align them meaning that rather than uploading material once, I will have to do it NINE TIMES. This is not efficient and there was no reason for it since most of us had finally settled into Google Classroom last year.

In this story is the answer to how districts make money so they can pay ridiculously high salaries to star players-coaches, administrators, band directors. They get grants from politicians for the sake of votes, then the administrators cozy up to potential vendors to get sweetheart deals and possibly kickbacks and to perpetuate the "need" for new software, the leads of Technology ALWAYS advocate for changing the software, because that means someone will have to install, introduce, teach and remediate for those programs UNTIL THE NEXT ONE COMES ALONG. So all that money for "Education" never gets to classrooms or Teachers. Instead it creates a new ruling class of highly paid administrators who can retire early on lucrative buy outs while the rest of us are lucky if we see $2000 a month after we retire. Read it through, look at your district--you know I'm right.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Butterflies and Moths

When I was young I used to classify the bubbles of anxiety as either butterflies or moths. Butterflies came before something exciting, such as Christmas or a birthday. Moths were caused by concern or fears. Right now I am not sure if I am harboring butterflies or moths or perhaps a mix of both.

I had major surgery earlier this summer. My recovery was supposed to take eight weeks, but my school year officially starts August 6th with a week of In-Service. I talked my doctor back to seven weeks and will return August 13th, giving me two prep days before students arrive. Any teacher knows prep time is precious.

But even though I have prepared and am continuing to populate the Yet Another New Platform for my classes, I am very uneasy. I can't sleep. I found myself in tears the other day. This is not excitement, it is fear. I'm not a fearful person normally, but honestly the increasing hostility of students and some peers is created a pit in my stomach that can't be explained away by surgery.

To be fair, even as a small fry, I was always nervous in anticipation of school. But now, as a teacher, knowing how our administration likes to change things on a whim for what largely seems the sake of change, I'm concerned that they will take this year to work me to death. Also, in full disclosure, I am tired-very tired. Teacher is not a job for low energy or the timid-and right now I feel like the poster child for both.

My closest friends have retired. They left early and there are few teachers that seem to relate to the concerns I have. I'm at the point that even most of the administrators are younger and it doesn't help that the AP in charge of my department seems especially manipulated by younger teachers. I am hoping to retire this year-I hope this year doesn't do me in.