It’s the end of the summer as I know it…

… and I feel fine.  My summer officially ended last Friday with my first day back at school.  Still two more pre-service days, and then students show up on Wednesday.

I teach eighth grade US history (pre-history through Reconstruction) in a relatively high poverty, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, rural/bedroom community district.  I absolutely love what I do and where I do it.

I had thought that I would be heading back to work with more reticence as I got to enjoy the summer at home with my now 14 month old daughter.  That coupled with some great short trips with the family made for the best summer I could imagine.  But ten weeks off is plenty, and I’m ready to be back in the classroom.

I am updating a presidential endorsement project that I created and taught four years ago to start the year off with.  The editor of the local paper printed three as letters to the editor in ’08, and I’m hoping for the same this year.

As I go back, I have to yet again set a goal that I wish I didn’t have to:

  • I will let neither the national/state attacks on teachers and teaching nor the drama and difficulties within my district distract from the learning environment I foster and create in my classroom.

Wish me luck!


A Daily Disgust Hero: 5th Grader Kameron Slade

Kameron Slade is a 5th grade student in Queens, New York, who wrote a well thought out, articulate, and cogent speech in support of same-sex marriage.  With this speech, Kameron won his classroom speech competition, earning him the right to present his speech to the whole school.  The school’s principal, fearful of controversy, let young Kameron know that he would have to write a new speech about a new topic in order to speak in front of the school.

As an teacher, I must admit that at times it seems easier to avoid controversial issues in the classroom.  I am amazed, however, at the maturity and thoughtfulness of my students when classroom discussion does lead to difficult topics.  As Kameron points out, kids will certainly be exposed to these “difficult” topics in their lives, we do them a disservice if we try to hide them:

I think adults must realize that as children get older, they become aware of these mature issues that are going on in the world. If children read or watch the news, they can learn about things like same-gender marriage, so what’s the point in trying to hide it?

I am reminded of a passage from my studies of social studies education that has stuck with me like no other.  It comes from a piece written by Alan F. Griffin in 1942 comparing education within democratic and authoritarian societies.

In the United States, we tend to concern ourselves much less about the specific content of a child’s initial belief than about his ability to modify these beliefs appropriately later on.

In other words, we should not be interested in telling students what to think, but rather giving them the tools to think for themselves.  If we teach them that there are topics that we really just shouldn’t talk about in school, how will they ever learn the critical thinking skills that our country so desperately need right now?

Thank you, Kameron, for your insights and for reminding us that as educators we need to treat you and your peers with intellectual honesty.

Video via ThinkProgress and NY1.  I found it through Gawker.


A Daily Disgust Hero: The “You’re not special” speech guy

There has been lots of coverage in the last few weeks about the graduation speech given at Wellsley High School by David McCullough  telling graduates that they’re not special.  I can’t agree enough–this is the message that all of Americans need to hear.

We are not special.  We do not deserve to use an exorbitant amount of the earths resources while shitting on the environment that we all share.  We do not “deserve” a piece a cake.  We are no better than the poor schmucks who had the poor foresight to be born into third world poverty.  Our “freedoms” are not justification for the killing of thousands around the globe.

McCullough did end his speech with a message of hope:

“Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion – and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special. Because everyone is.”

I’ve long talked about making a “You’re not special” bumper sticker.  Now I wish I had and that I had them for sale!  Off to CafePress, I guess.


Anti teacher chicanery in the run up to Wisconsin’s recall election

Supporters of Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker in Janesville  have distributed fliers anonymously listing the salaries of that city’s highest paid teachers along with information on how to search to see if those teachers signed the petition to recall the governor.  The flier had a tear-off portion for parents to send in to the school district to request their child be moved to the classroom of a “non-radical” teacher.  Nice work guys–way to inform the public about those teachers with the radical desire to have a voice at the bargaining table and protection from abuses by school administrations.

Video report from NBC15 here.


The Opposite of Disgust: Iowa Sen. Rob Hogg on education

I am a public school teacher in Iowa.  This is my calling and my passion as well as my profession.  Given how much that simple statement means to me, it is VERY hard not to take the anti-teacher/anti-union/anti-education rhetoric personally. I freely acknowledge that there are ways that I as an educator can improve and ways that education in both Iowa and America can be improved.  But the reality of what I see in my classroom, in my school, in my district, and in my state in no ways reflects the dire situation that is described by so-called education reformers.

It was a rare pleasure and honor to hear what I see every day articulated by a member of the Iowa Senate.  Thank you, Sen. Hogg for your comments about education in Iowa.

Iowa Senate passed education reform; hurdles ahead by Jason Clayworth in the Des Moines Register, Apr. 9, 2012

Republicans, specifically Branstad, have said Iowa’s educational system is being passed by other states with more rigorous standards.

“I’m listening to the conversation, especially some of the things coming from the other side of the aisle, and they’re saying ‘Oh, we’ve got bad students and bad teachers and bad principals and bad schools. Bad.’ And I’m wondering to myself. What Iowa are you looking at? Where’s the reality?” asked Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, during the first day of debate on the bill last week.

 


If Coralville were a state, it would be New Jersey

Great article in the New York Times today on the $1.5 billion dollars in tax giveaways that Governor Chris Christie has passed out like baller in a strip club to various corporations in exchange for dubious promises of adding or simply maintaining jobs in New Jersey.  What make this particularly disgusting is that it is all happening while Gov. Christie is slashing state funding for important services like education and public safety.

Christie Leaning on Tax Subsidies in Hunt for Jobs by Charles V. Bagli in the New York Times, Apr. 5, 2012

Since taking office in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie has approved a record $1.57 billion in state tax breaks for dozens of New Jersey’s largest companies after they pledged to add jobs.

[…]

Mr. Christie, who has portrayed himself as a fiscal conservative, has in particular used a new program, the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program, for the subsidies. The program, which is intended to encourage development around nine cities, offers tax credits equal to 100 percent of some capital investments.

[…]

Under the program, the Christie administration has granted more than $900 million in state tax credits over 10 years to 15 companies, including Panasonic, Goya, Prudential and Campbell’s Soup. The companies have promised to add 2,364 jobs, or $387,537 in tax credits per job, over the next decade.  (Emphasis added)

You know what else you could get for $38,753/year?  A teacher.  Or a cop.  Or a firefighter.  Yet Mr. Christie is cutting state funds to education and public safety at the same time that he is passing out tax cuts like Halloween candy.

Across America, public-sector job cuts take a heavy toll by Tony Pugh for McClatchy, Apr. 4, 2012

(This is a great article looking at the effects of cutting public-sector jobs throughout the country.  I am just pulling out the New Jersey examples, but it  is well worth a read.)

When city leaders in cash-strapped Camden, N.J., laid off more than 60 firefighters just over a year ago, many felt it created a public-safety nightmare waiting to happen. The loss of nearly one-third of the city’s firefighting capacity was a calculated risk, but a necessary sacrifice in order to close a $26 million budget deficit.

More than a year later, the cracks in the city’s public safety armor are growing wider. Seven, sometimes eight fire companies are doing the work of eleven. Volunteer departments in neighboring towns routinely must provide backup. Firefighter injuries are up. So are response times. And during one “brownout week” each month, no Camden firefighter can take vacation or holiday time off.

[…]

Camden, a city of 77,000 _which also cut 168 police officers in 2011 — is the extreme example of that national trend toward leaner, cheaper and ultimately less able state and local governments in the wake of the Great Recession. The 2010 elections, which brought in a wave of conservative policymakers who believe less government is best, exacerbated the situation in many places.

Republicans generally don’t consider tax cuts/giveaways as spending, but of course the reality is that it means less money in government coffers to spend on the things that governments need to do.  Like educate children and protect people.  The fact that Christie considers himself a fiscal conservative is a disgusting joke.

 


Scooped by Paul Krugman!

Well, I guess that’s why he has a Nobel and all I have is a bitter memory of coming in second in the 4th grade spelling bee.

Krugman had an excellent piece in yesterday’s New York Times on the insidious and nefarious threat to our various states that is the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Lobbyists, Guns and Money by Paul Krugman in the New York Times Mar. 25, 2012

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism. (Emphasis added.)

I’ve been thinking about writing about ALEC for a while now–sparked by an email from my father just over a month ago with a link to the following article:

Campus Connection: UW profs shed light on ALEC’s threat to public education by Todd Finkelmeyer from the Capital Times, Feb. 20, 2012

University of Wisconsin-Madison professors Julie Underwood and Julie Mead are expressing concern over the growing corporate influence on public education in an article published Monday.

In particular, they are highly critical of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which connects conservative state legislators with like-minded think tanks, corporations and foundations to develop “model legislation” that can be enacted at the state level.

[…]

Citing past research and articles, Underwood and Mead write that model legislation from ALEC seeks to “influence teacher certification, teacher evaluation, collective bargaining, curriculum, funding, special education, student assessment, and numerous other education and education-related issues. Common throughout the bills are proposals to decrease local control of schools by democratically elected school boards while increasing access to all facets of education by private entities and corporations.”

I am a public school teacher who believes that government on the whole is a good thing so, not surprisingly, I am wholly opposed to efforts to privatize any aspects of our public school system.  (Read my piece on the push to allow online-only schools that are only nominally administered through Iowa school districts while 97% of the state education dollars for the students enrolled are funneled to out of state corporations.)  (Come to think of it, I need to look into if Iowa’s online-only schools are something that ALEC has advocated for.)  Fortunately work by Professors Underwood and Mead and others has helped to bring the pro-business, ultra (severely?) conservative out-sized influence that ALEC has wielded to light in Wisconsin.

This was not the first time I’d heard of ALEC, however.  I was first alerted to this group that seeks to bring power to the powerful by a letter in my home town paper from David Johnson, a candidate for 73rd district seat in the Iowa House.

Letter: Kaufmann should pull ALEC membership by David Johnson in the West Branch Times, Aug. 3, 2011.

In 1973, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was formed. ALEC brings together state legislators and big business for the purpose of creating template legislation.

[…]

Per information obtained from Charles Smithson, chief clerk of the Iowa House, every member of the Republican delegation is a member of ALEC by virtue of not opting out of such membership. Membership dues are paid by the state; that is, by taxpayer money.

I, for one, have no desire to have my tax dollars used as a means for big business to gain privileged access to our state representatives.

I would ask Mr. Kaufmann and other representatives to terminate their membership in ALEC and reimburse the taxpayers for the dues incurred during their time in office.

Mr. Kaufmann is Jeff Kaufmann, our moderate-talking, conservative-voting current district 79 Iowa House member.  His district was made a part of the new 73rd district, and he has subsequently opted to run for Cedar County Supervisor instead of for reelection.

So the moral of this story, friends, is don’t procrastinate writing about something important, or Paul Krugman will steal your thunder much like a certain redheaded girl did back in 1985 in Wingra’s 4th grade spelling bee!