Posts Tagged ‘news’


I am riveted by the TV news these days. I am horrified, shocked, angered, frustrated, immobilized by the images coming out of Gaza right now.

Poor little ones! Poor children!

I had a boy in my class this past year. He was ten years old. He was a “football” fanatic. Lionel Messi was his hero. He was the one child I could always find out on the playground, because he was either wearing his bright red “Messi” jersey or his bright orange “Messi” jersey.

This morning a little boy name Mohammed, a boy the same age as my football fanatic, was killed by a bomb that was most likely paid for with my very own tax dollars.

I am sickened by this fact.

I am angry beyond speech, and I am overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.

I do not feel that I have a voice in this conflict, no matter how many of my hard earned dollars are used to carry it out.

And this is why I love to be a teacher: those 25 little ones who will greet me in the fall will be challenging, feisty, funny, amusing, angry, defiant, loving, joyful and sad. They will be thoughtful, impulsive, anxious and confident.

They will be mine, for a few short months.

They will love or hate Lionel Messi. They will admire or be bored with international soccer.  They will be young and alive and human.

They will be the embodiment of hope.

They will all make me think of little Mohammed, and the bomb that ended his tender young life. Their laughter and their struggles will help me to ease the guilt of having paid for the terrible weapon that murdered their young colleague, so far away on the Gaza strip.


Oh, the irony…..

I just watched the local news.

Education seems to be a pretty hot topic.

First there was a story about how terrible it is that parents aren’t all able to enroll their kids in Charter Schools. Oh, woe is us!  We want to be able to send our kids to schools where their education won’t be watered down by all those nonEnglish speakers and all those Sped Kids. We want the teachers to be available 24/7 without the protection of a contract or collective bargaining!  And those nasty public school types are thwarting our dreams by complaining about all of the money that is being drained away from their classrooms by the Charter School funding formula.

Then there was a commercial for a new program designed to make math learning “fun”!  We were urged, as parents, to ask for that program in our schools. We were encouraged, as teachers, to order it for our classrooms.

It’s a Raytheon product.

I was in the process of creating a Google Presentation on the multiplication of fractions when I caught the ad.  Gee, maybe I should just pay some of my hard earned money to corporate America the next time I need a good lesson. Save myself some time and creative effort.

Finally, the pretty young news lady turned to the camera with a serious face.  She had just one more education story.  I put aside my pile of corrections so that I could concentrate.  This one seemed to be really important.

It was a story about school shootings.  About the increasing threats to our classrooms every day.  This story was about a new phone app that will allow teachers to text the police department directly when the crazy man with the gun comes bursting in to shoot up the meeting area.

Um.   I’m not sure that I’ll actually be up to texting as I throw my body over my cowering students in the event of a shooting.

Thanks for the thought, though.

I turned off the TV, grabbed my pile of corrections and lesson plans and poured myself a nice glass of Shiraz.

What a flippin’ mess.

H’mmmm. Something here sounds familiar….

I am such a history geek!   Over the past several years, as I have taught American History to my fifth grade students, I have learned more and more about the social and economic history of the United States, and what has lead us to where we are today.

A couple of summers ago, I took a graduate course with a bunch of other teachers.  We learned all about the Industrial Revolution, and we got to travel to the Lowell Textile museum and to the Tenement Museum in New York City.  We read “Triangle” and “Bread and Roses”.  Man, what an eye opener!

Did you know that at the time of the Industrial Revolution, at the turn of the twentieth century, the original mill owners were actually pretty socially progressive?  They built those big mills on the rivers, then they set up housing units for the young women workers.  The pay was pretty good for the time, and it included housing and food.  The original millworkers were offered educational opportunities, music, lectures and a chance to enjoy city life.  You know, come to Lowell, earn a living and “better yourself”.  What an amazing opportunity! The textile mills could improve the lives of Americans, support and improve the economy and make money for the mill owners all at once.  What a win-win situation.

Unfortunately, as I also learned, over time the mill owners faced so much competition from other entrepreneurs that they were forced to make some changes.  For example, they started to charge the workers for their housing.  They increased the hours of work while keeping the pay the same.  H’m.  Gradually, as more and more factories popped up all over the East Coast, the workers faced more and more hardships.  Wages declined, the housing got worse and worse, the work became more demanding. The mill owners were desperate for more cheap labor.  Enter the giant wave of immigrants, the tenements of the Lower East Side, the squalor, the poverty, the disease.

Workers were fired or jailed for even thinking about forming unions.

The original progressive ideas of the early mill owners were beaten down by the demands of capitalism. The profit motive trumped any social motive.  Factory workers were looked upon as the lowest rung on the social ladder.  Those in power cared nothing for their lives or well being.

As a teacher of history, I am always hoping that my students will learn valuable lessons from the past.  As a student of history, I am always hoping that my fellow humans will have learned from the lessons of the past.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when I read this morning’s Boston Globe.  It featured an article titled

Some chafe at charter school’s low pay for tutors

Believe it or not, many Charter Schools around the country are hiring new college graduates to work as “tutors” for their students, to help them to raise their test scores.  The young people were hired at a low rate of pay, but were given free housing with other tutors, and offered the opportunity to train as teachers.  Unfortunately, over time the corporate owners of the Charter Mills……I mean “Schools”…..realized that it costs a lot to have a fleet of tutors available at all hours of the day and night to assist students with every possible academic question.  They kept the salaries intact, but asked for more and more hours of work.  They began to charge the tutors for housing.

Sound familiar?  It sure does to me.

So here is a newsflash for all of those “education reformers” out there who bow to the superiority of corporate Charter Schools.  When you treat teachers like factory workers, you aren’t actually improving education.  When you hire the cheapest possible laborers to provide a service, you aren’t exactly getting the most highly skilled work force.  When you claim that you are working to better the lives of teachers and students, you are full of shit.

We’ve been down this road before, folks.  Go out and research The Bread and Roses strike. Research the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  Read about the labor movement of the 1920’s.  Then read the article that I linked above.

The more things change, it seems, the more they remain the same.

Giving up the fight

When state mandated testing first appeared in our school, every single teacher on our staff was appalled.  We were a progressive, child centered school in an upper middle class Boston suburb.  Our school had been created by parents twenty years earlier because they were unhappy with the traditional schooling that had been leaving their children without a place to succeed.  We were a school where the visual arts were integrated throughout the curriculum, where children were encouraged to identify areas of interest and to investigate/create/inquire.  We were enormously popular in town; of the five elementary schools in the District, we were the most requested by parents who were looking to place their children.

We loved our school.  We were so proud of what we did every day.  We helped children to become thinkers, to ask good questions, to pursue the answers to interesting problems.  Kids loved coming to school; parents loved sending their kids to us. Our Principal was our leader, our guide, our constant supporter.

We were not “broken”.  We did not need to be “fixed” or “reformed” in any way.  As I recall, a full 98% of our students went on to four year colleges. We were awesome.

Nevertheless, when the Education Reform Act of 1993 went into effect in Massachusetts, we were caught up in the national desire to “fix our broken schools”.  For reasons which never quite made sense to us, our school was lumped in with poor urban districts where 50% of students dropped out before earning a diploma. It was bewildering at best and horrifying at worst.

We were successful by any measure, and yet they wanted us to change.

We were swept up in the testing craze, in spite of our desire to refuse.  Everyone had to be tested, it seemed, and everybody had to do well.  We had no choice, so we administered the tests.  I will never forget the first administration of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System.  I was in a fourth grade classroom where the children had been taught to always ask questions, to make sure that they fully understood all directions before proceeding with any academic task. I remember a little girl raising her hand and asking me what one word meant on her math test.  She was pretty sure that she understood the meaning, but she wanted to double check.  “I’m sorry honey”, I said, “I can’t tell you that.”  She looked at me for a moment, her blue eyes clear and direct.  “I know”, she said calmly, “I don’t want the answer. I just want to make sure that I know what this one word means.”  I shifted a bit, then shook my head. “I can’t tell you that.”

That was my introduction to the utter stupidity of the testing. It never got better. Those first few years, our district scored in the top five in the state, but we were always lagging behind the more traditional schools in town.  We joked about being “The worst of the best.”

When the “No Child Left Behind” law came into effect, and the tests gained new importance, I did my best to hold onto what I believed was in the best interests of the children in our school.  Along with many of my colleagues, I began to work toward an end to the “one size fits all” tests. I wrote to the Department of Ed in my state and in Washington. I met with educational leaders here in Massachusetts.  I attended lectures and seminars.  I served on my local School Committee and advocated for an end to the single test requirement for receiving a High School Diploma.

And each time I was forced to administer the test, I spoke to the children about how much faith I had in them, how silly it all was, and how I knew that they were smart kids and good students without needing to put them through the testing.

But the years have gone on, and the testing has only gained in power and importance. Parents have begun to focus on test results rather than student satisfaction.  Our creative school went from being the most sought after in town to the least. We began to analyze test data every year.  We have frantically adjusted our curriculum to try to fix our areas of weakness. I remember the year when our fifth graders did poorly on the “open response” math questions.  Oh, they clearly understood the actual math concepts, but they were weak when it came to writing about those concepts.  And so as part of the fifth grade teaching team, I shifted the way I taught math, focusing more on “writing to explain” than on math calculations.

I’m sure you can predict the outcome: the scores improved on those writing questions, but the math calculation problems declined.

The years have gone by, and our school has changed right along with the educational philosophy of the nation.  We teach only what the “Curriculum Frameworks” tell us to teach.  We use the appropriate, official books and materials.  We practice test taking.  We use scoring rubrics that match the state tests.

Gone are the interesting questions, the creative projects, the asking of deep questions.

And through it all, I have remained as true as I could possibly remain to those beliefs that I once held so dear.  I have continued to work hard to encourage the children to be creative, to be inquisitive, to wonder about the world around them.  I have continued to think that it was important to make children feel comfortable in making guesses, in taking intellectual risks.  I have continued to have fun in my classroom, and I have continued to believe that one test on one day is not an adequate measure of the progress that my students make in one year with me.

But last Friday everything changed, and I am preparing to give up the fight.

Last Friday last year’s test scores came out.  Fully half of my class failed to achieve the coveted “Proficient label.”  Some of those children have learning disabilities.  Some are emotionally disturbed.  One is struggling to learn English.

But a lot of them are just happy, average American kids with no issues.  They showed me all year that they understand math, but they did poorly on the test.

What does it mean?  In reality, it means nothing.  They rushed, or they were hungry, or they got nervous or they made some mistakes.

Or they took my message to heart, and took the testing lightly.

It doesn’t matter.

I spent all day Friday in tears.

There will be repercussions for the failure of my math teaching.  I will be assigned a math coach.  I will have to answer to last year’s parents.  I will need to review each individual test item and try to identify what it was that I failed to teach.

And very soon, within a year or so, my salary will be directly linked to scores just like these.

And so I am giving up the fight.  I will give up all pretenses of trying to facilitate creativity.  I will no longer encourage children to ask me for help or clarification.  I won’t try to make math interesting or fun or intriguing.  Instead, I will drill, repeat, reteach, drill some more and make everyone correct every problem. I will use math rubrics and practice tests and I will no longer feel proud of what I do, or happy to be a part of my school, or satisfied with what it that I am able to give to children.

This is the saddest day of my 32 year career.

Thanks a boatload.

So let’s raise a glass to the wonderful Atlanta School District educators who decided that it would be a good idea to cheat on the state tests.

Thanks, guys. Seriously!  Public schools aren’t getting enough negative attention these days; we really needed to give some ammunition to those who love to call us lazy and failing and broken and useless.

And you know what? As someone who has complained long and loud about the dangers and unfairness of tying teacher pay to test scores, I still don’t want to hear your feeble excuses about why you did what you did.

Trust me, I understand the temptation to help a struggling kid when you KNOW that he really knows the answer, but that he is too anxious/impulsive/learning disabled to formulate it on paper.   I understand.

I know how it feels to stand there and refuse to help your kids understand the question that is being asked on a test that was clearly written by someone’s aging, Croatian speaking, alcoholic uncle.  I know. I do.

But none of that matters.

You are teachers.  We are all teachers.  We owe it to each other, if not to our students, to maintain our ethics and our honor and our honesty.

We are teachers.   We. Do. Not. Cheat.   Period.

So thanks so very much for refocusing the laser beam of those who want to undercut us and take away what little respect we have left.

I hope beyond all hope that there is a big, giant inquiry and that you are all found innocent of any wrong doing.  I hope that all teachers can look our detractors in the eye and say, “See?  We told you!”

But, honestly, Atlanta teachers? I am not holding my breath.

None of the above.

Just in case you can’t tell from looking at the image above, this is going to be a political post.  It isn’t that I have stopped obsessing about my sadly empty nest, its just that this is an election year. (You knew that, right? Even those of you raising toddlers?)   And I am hopelessly addicted to news shows, political blogs and the POTUS radio station on Sirius/XM.   While most Americans at this point are desperately trying avoid any more information about the dysfunctional circus so laughingly referred to as “The US Government”, I find myself reading and listening with increasing intensity.  I am absolutely wallowing in information, and the more I research and read, the more disgusted I become.

Why am I disgusted?  Well, I am a long time liberal.  And when I say “liberal”, I mean the old fashioned kind of progressive thinker, like those lefties from the sixties.  I have a somewhat “bleeding heart”, if that description means a person who believes that history will judge the success or failure of a society by the way that it treats its most vulnerable members. I believe that it is the duty of all of us to care for and support each other and I believe that it is the responsibility of government to protect the people; from foreign attack, from poverty, from want, from ignorance and suffering. I believe that government derives its power “from the consent of the governed” (to quote the Declaration of Independence). I don’t see anything like this kind of government in my country any more. I don’t hear any governmental leaders talking this way any more.

I am disgusted because when I teach fifth graders about American Democracy, I tell them all about those who fought a Revolution so that they might create a nation based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  I talk to them about the power of voting and the ability of citizens to shape the government, to influence the government, to be a part of the government (you know, “of the people, by the people, for the people”).  I teach them all of this, because these ideas are the way it is supposed to be. Nowhere in any textbook, reference book, children’s history web page or primary source document do I ever find a mention of the rich buying influence with the government.  There is no mention anywhere of the Founders planning for the role of lobbyists, PACs, SuperPACS or think tanks.

I am disgusted with the political situation in the United States today because what I see now are two huge political parties which spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to prevent each other from ever accomplishing one single thing. I see them both changing their minds, twisting and warping the truth, refusing to acknowledge any good idea if it wasn’t their own.  What could be more frustrating and demoralizing than watching the Republicans scream in outrage over the healthcare reform act which was conceived by the very conservative Heritage Foundation and based on the universal healthcare law that “severely conservative” Mitt Romney created in Massachusetts?  How is it even possible that anyone believes them?

I am hugely disgusted because BOTH of the major parties rake in millions of dollars from corporations and industries which then go on to shape the laws and “regulations” that are theoretically supposed to control them.  Rules that are supposed to protect us from their greed and corruption.  BOTH of the major parties are so dependent upon these dirty millions that they are literally unable to curb these corporations or the people who run them in any way.

It is no longer any exaggeration, it seem to me, to say that the US Government is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street, Madison Avenue and a handful of multinational corporations.

Worse still is the fact that I now see the entire government, all three branches of it, as a closed system, like an elite club, which is determined to keep out anyone who refuses to play this corrupt game.  If you are a candidate for public office, but you are neither a Democrat nor a Republican, you won’t get on any debate stages, no matter who you are. You won’t get interviewed by CNN, or MSNBC or FOX.  The New York Times and Washington Post will act like you are invisible. You want to join the club, get the millions and get some headlines? Join one of the big parties and play by the rules. Don’t even think about anything as outdated as the truth. Don’t even whisper the word “compromise”. Oh, and once you get elected, your main job will be to keep sucking up to the money machine so your team can keep its power (or get more). While doing this, it is also vital that you say anything you need to say to make voters think that every good idea is from your team, while anything suggested by the other team is dangerous, treasonous and/or insane.

I am disgusted because what we call a fair and open election is really an incredibly expensive battle between two groups who have only one objective: Beat down the other side and get more power for us.  Any pretense about governing in the best interests of the electorate is long gone, from what I see.

So what is a cynical patriot like me supposed to do?

I have many friends on both the left and right who vote for the party which they feel is “less corrupt” than the other.  I’ve done the same thing (my votes for Bill Clinton come to mind), but I can no longer take this path.  The ball just keeps passing back and forth from Democrats to Republicans and back again.  Neither side is standing up for the kind of liberal ideals that I so strongly believe in. Neither side is able to disentangle itself from the clutches of big business; nor is either side expressing any real desire to do that!

For me, the only choice now is whether to vote Socialist or Green Party.

Oh, and I will join as many anti-corruption marches as I can find.

Just call me one of the 99%.

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