Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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.


Personal freedoms

I keep trying to write this post.  I start it, with my brain full and swirling with ideas and imagery, but then my emotions take over and I find that I just can’t do it.  I can’t force my fingers to move smoothly over the keys while my heart is pounding so hard and my eyes keep filling with tears.

It’s late.  I’m very tired.  I have just finished a Facebook faceoff with a relative of mine who is a staunch Republican conservative gun rights advocate.  And I am shaking from head to toe with rage and with despair.

I can’t organize my thoughts, so I am just going to pour out my jumbled ideas and hope that someone out there will hear me, and maybe have second thoughts about guns and rights and freedom and what it means to be a civilized country.

Today there was another shooting at another school.  I don’t know the details; I just know that one student brought a shotgun to school and shot and critically wounded another.  And two teachers, two teachers, unarmed and untrained and NOT carrying weapons, walked toward the shooter and talked that young person into putting down the weapon and giving himself up to the police.

My reaction? “Two more teachers as heroes; that is a job that I am terrified I will be asked to take on! I don’t want to risk my life to teach.  I am not a cop, not a soldier, not a hostage negotiator.  I am a TEACHER.”

Today I heard a radio talk show where caller after caller spoke about the impossibility of ever getting the assault weapons away from their owners. “People will refuse to give them up.”, they said.   Better to try a law that will actually be obeyed.

My reaction? “If we only want laws that everyone agrees to follow, then I guess we can do away with speed limits and stop signs and all the marijuana prohibitions everywhere, huh?”

I heard people proposing the logical step of insisting that, if we can’t confiscate the weapons of mass destruction, at least we can ask people to register them.  You have to register your car, you should have to register your guns.   And then I heard the rant from the “law abiding” gun toting military man who sent a video to Senator Feinstien, saying, “No, Ma’am, I will not register my guns. I will refuse.”

My reaction?  “Folks, isn’t anyone out there listening to this crap?!  This is mob rule!  This guy, and those who agree with him, are saying ‘ I will refuse to obey the law, and I will fight you with my murderous, deadly, legal weapons if you try to make me obey.’   This is criminal behavior at its worst.  These people are threatening to kill police and federal agents. WHERE IS THE OUTCRY FROM LAW ENFORCEMENT?  What the hell are they not getting here?”

Today I saw, on Facebook, from my relative, a sketch of Adolf Hitler and the words “To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens”.  As my blood pressure rose, I searched as many sites as I could for an attribution for this quote; it isn’t there.  He never said this.  German citizens were NEVER disarmed.  Hitler did think that inferior races and conquered nations had to give up their weapons.  But why are gun rights advocates looking to Hitler on this argument, anyway?  Is there position so weak that they have to make stuff up to try to make their opponents look like fascists?  Are they actually telling me that because I want to outlaw weapons that can annihilate a room full of children in one minute, that makes me a Nazi?

My reaction? “Some people will go to any lengths, tell any lies, insult everyone who dares to disagree with them, just so that they can play with their favorite dangerous toys.”

Worse: Here is what I really think, and this is what I really want to say to people who make up fake quotes to try to win an argument that has no merit.

“You are selfish to the point of cruelty.  You refuse to inconvenience yourself in any way even if it might save the lives of innocent children.    You are liars who can never, ever be trusted.   Your personal freedoms end at the very moment when they endanger other people, so you have no personal freedom, no inherent right to carry or own or use or buy or store or manufacture or sell or touch these weapons. You are dangerous, ignorant and unworthy of any respect from any decent human beings.”

Hitler never said that bullshit about disarming his citizens.  Know what he did say, though?  He said:

If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

It is not truth that matters, but victory.

Kind of sounds like the working motto of the NRA, doesn’t it?

Arming the schools, one more thought

Sometimes my class likes to put on a play.  Its creative, its messy and its almost always a lot of fun.  We write the script, we make the costumes, we create the sets.

At least once during each production, a student asks if he or she can use a sword, or a gun or a big stick for some reason.  The actor is always very earnest, and always has a great reason to explain why that weapon would make the play so much better.  “I’m playing the King!  It would be so funny if I chased the thief around with my sword!”

No, I always explain patiently. We don’t bring any kind of weapon into school; school is a place that has to feel safe for everyone.

“We can use a plastic sword!”   No, I’m sorry, honey. No weapons, even pretend.

And every Halloween, as we get ready for our little classroom party, we talk about what kind of costumes are going to be allowed. Kids are told that they can wear funny clothes, they can dress up in capes or wigs or even scary style clothes.

But I always go on to talk about the little five and six year old students who share our hallway and our playground.  I remind them that Halloween can be scary to such young children. I ask them to think back to how Trick or Treat used to feel to them at that age. We share stories of times when the whole thing was just too overwhelming and scary for them.

And they get it.

I help them to come to the conclusion that when they arrive at school on Halloween, they can wear cool outfits, but they can’t wear masks (not safe for them to walk around; scary for little kids). They can’t look bloody or injured, and they absolutely can’t bring any kind of weapon. Not a gun, not a sword, not a light saber, not a cudgel.

“This is school.”, my colleagues and I tell our students. “School has to be safe for everyone.”

And every teacher knows that little boys like to form their fingers into pretend guns and aim them at imaginary foes.  In our district, we ask them to stop when we see them take aim with their pudgy little fingers.  We know that they are only pretending, but we remind them, once again, that “School has to be safe for everyone.”

We are supposed to be teaching children to solve problems without conflict. We are supposed to prevent and end bullying.  We have been mandated by law to “teach peace”.   And we try.  Every single day, we try.

How are we supposed to do that if we are carrying guns ourselves?

How are we supposed to do that if every time we walk the kids to the music room we have to pass the armed guard in the doorway?

Bringing loaded guns into schools is just such a supremely stupid idea.  Even a ten year old can see that.

My new year’s resolution

Like all of the other teachers in the United States, I have spent the past ten days weeping, thinking, planning and shaking in anger.

Like all of my colleagues in American schools, I am shocked by the fact that we suddenly find ourselves in the crosshairs of an insane debate about “gun rights”.

I don’t know if everyone out there shares my sentiments, but here they are for better or worse.

The famous “Second Amendment”, that glorious sentence so beloved of the “shoot ’em up” crowd, was written in 1791, when every single family in the brand new United States owned at least one gun.  Those guns were muskets and fowling pieces, used to bring home game for dinner and used to protect the family at a time when the country had NO POLICE FORCE and NO STANDING ARMY. The amendment had NOTHING to do with the rights of individuals to own guns; no one was arguing that right at that time!

OK? You get it?  The whole point of the amendment was to insure that the local towns could maintain a WELL REGULATED MILITIA.  A police force.  A protective group.   You GET IT?

It wasn’t intended to allow Mr. Creepy Stalker to own and use a sniper rifle on the girl who said “no”.    It wasn’t written so that Mr. NoTeeth Paranoia Boy could carry a Bushmaster and a thousand-bullet magazine into the mall, just in case a “bad guy” tried to insult him. And it wasn’t written so that the average American citizen could shoot up the neighborhood in case the federal government tried to set some limits on his insanity.  Sorry, folks, but if you read just a tiny bit of American History you will see that I am right.

That second amendment was NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER intended to allow people to buy and sell weapons of mass destruction at road side “gun shows”. It was not meant to allow people to stockpile weapons whose only purpose is to kill as often and as quickly as possible.

James Madison was absolutely NOT thinking about 800 rounds a minute.  He was thinking about muskets, and one shot every two minutes. He was thinking about protection in a time when there were threats from Native Americans, and from the French and from the damn British Army, and when there were no organized police or armed forces.

Get a clue, America.


I have watched the NRA representatives present their views and suggestions on CNN for the past few days.  They say that it would be “useless” to register guns, to record gun sales, to limit the use of multiple shot magazines.  None of that would help, they declare, as they fondle the money from the gun manufacturers that sits in their pockets.  No, the only logical solution is to put more guns  into our schools.

More guns.

So the crazy people who are so easily able to procure those terrible weapons will know that we have one armed guard in the school office.  So that they can think of us as even more of a target. So that they can come gunning for the kids at recess.  Way to go, NRA.

More guns, so that the screaming terrified children who run from the shooters will have to contend with crossfire, too, as they desperately try to stay alive.

The NRA is an evil, self-serving, lying bunch of hypocrites, whose only aim is to increase the sale of guns and ammunition.  They care nothing for my life, or for the lives of my little innocent students.

It is way past time for the NEA, the state teachers’ unions, the locals and the individual teachers themselves to stand up and fight against this utter insanity.

It is my New Year’s Resolution to participate in that fight, to do whatever I can to end the madness.

Before the next big media event happens in our very own classrooms.


In the wonderful world of modern education, we are absolutely awash in buzzwords.

Multisyallabic, mellifluous, alliterative and for the most part meaningless.  Sometimes when I try to insert them into my conversations at work, I kind of gag a little.

As you probably know, its the first month of school. I have been with my new crop of children for seven school days now (although two were half days, so I guess its really only six.) In my perfect educational world, I would still be getting to know the kids at this point. I’d be sitting with them while they read the books that they brought from home, so I could find out who likes fiction, who likes science books, who clings to comic books (ooops. Scuze me: “graphic novels”.)  We would take walks in the woods near the school so that I could listen to the children chat, and find out who is a natural leader and who prefers to follow.  In my warm and fuzzy perfect school, children would write me a letter filled with all of the questions that they have about life in the fifth grade, and I would encourage them to add their suggestions and wishes. That’s how I would learn who enjoys writing, who is a creative writer, who needs spelling support and who needs to relax and learn to love the written word.

Alas.  I am not in charge, and this is not a perfect educational setting. It’s a public school in the year 2012, and instead of spending time fostering a caring and safe community of kids who love to come to the classroom, I am spending precious time on “formative assessment” designed to “inform my instruction” and “gather baseline data”.

Translation? I am testing the living crap out of everybody.

I have already given a five page, 40 problem “Placement Test” in math.  It took an hour and a quarter of classroom time.  Know what I learned that was supposed to “inform my instruction”?  The kid who told me that she is scared of math did poorly.  The kid who told me that he works on calculus at home with his Dad did very well.  The two students who receive special education support for math didn’t manage to finish (but already feel bad about failing). The rest of the kids need some review and repetitions of the hard stuff.  Whoopdie freakin’ do.

I have administered a three page spelling inventory which I now need to spend roughly four hours of the weekend analyzing and scoring. What will I learn?  That the kids who misspell common words on their classroom work need to learn how to utilize sight words and the kids who omit consonants needs some work in analyzing sound patterns. Can I please have my four hours of weekend back?

And on Monday I need to start administering 24 reading “assessments”.  Individually.  Outside of the classroom. Which means leaving the other 23 little munchkins in the classroom on their own.  AHAHAHAHAHA!!  And each “assessment” takes about 15 minutes, which means six more precious hours of what could be learning time spent listening while kids  read boring little books about topics that don’t interest them.  All in the name of “informing my instruction”.  Even though it doesn’t actually inform anything!

I have 25 years of experience as a speech/language pathologist, which means that I can listen to a child read and tell you how much of his poor fluency is impacted by poor articulation, irregular breathing patterns and weak auditory processing.  Forgive me, but the boring little book passages don’t show me any of that.

Now let me be clear (as the politicians would say): I am not averse to testing when it serves a purpose.  For example, I have a student who was born in Pakistan, spent three years of school in Massachusetts, then returned to Islamabad for grade four.  I don’t know what his skills are, and I don’t know how much his first language is impacting him.  He is a student for whom the “Placement Test” was valuable; I can meet with him now to go over the topics that he missed, and that can tell me what he needs to learn and what he simply needs to review.  That, my friends, is “informing my instruction”.  And I have a student who struggles mightily with spelling, although her reading is on grade leve.  I would have gladly given her the spelling inventory so that I could do a deeper analysis of her weak areas.  If I didn’t have to spend so much time assessing the kids who we all know read at grade level, I could also give her a phonology evaluation, and that would tell me whether her weaknesses are visual or auditory.  See?  Those tests have value!

The pack of tests that I have to give to every student are only meant for one thing:

Under all of the new laws and mandates, teachers now have to prove that every single child has made progress in every single subject every single year.  Emphasis on the word “prove”.  So we test, then we test again, then we spend another 25 hours of what could have been learning time testing them all again.  In addition to the six days of state testing which are also lost to teaching.

So, “formative assessment”, “informing our instruction”, “summative assessment”, “deepening understandings” and “making adequate progress” are all a bunch of empty buzzwords.  What they mean is this:

“We don’t trust you teachers at all.  We don’t think you understand kids, and we don’t believe that you would recognize progress if it bit you in the ass.  Go give another test.”

I am one pretty sad teacher today.

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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