Tag Archives: education

Why Do You Think That? (Part One)

I believe myself capable of rational thought.  It is that irrational and over-emotional conclusion that leads me to write a self-reflective post full of over-blown thinking about thinking like this one.

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The little Midwestern town of Rowan, Iowa, the place where I grew up, is probably the center of my soul and biggest reason for why I am who I am.

I was a public school teacher for 31 years.  It really seems more like 131 years for all the kids I got to know and lessons I got to teach.  I have lots and lots of experience on which to draw for the drawing of conclusions about education.  Here is a conclusion I drew (literally);

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All kids are good kids.

I can hear the debate from the teachers’ lounge already.  “What kind of an idiot thinks something as stupid as that?”  “It’s true that there are a lot of good kids, but what about Psycho Melvin or Rebel Maria?”  “Some kids are stupid.  I have test data to prove it.”

But I not only believe all kids are good, I think all people are good, even the bad ones.  I have large numbers of memories filed away of times I got to the bottom of problems with kids acting out in class.  Invariably the reasons for their bad behaviors would either make me laugh, or make me cry.  Edwin rammed the drinking fountain with his head because he was socially inept and starved for attention from the other kids.  El Goofy could make his whole head turn bright purple on command because it made the girls squeal and laugh and he had learned to manipulate facial muscles to make it happen because he liked the result.  Lucy yelled at me in front of the whole class because she was thinking about committing suicide like her mother had before her, and she needed me to stop her.  (I don’t use these kids’ real names for some very good reasons, but rest assured, Lucy made it to adulthood.)  (Sorry, I had to stop at this point and cry for 15 minutes again.) My experiences as a teacher have basically taught me that all people need love, and all people are worthy of love.  Someone even loved Adolf Hitler.

There are really two kinds of teachers.  There is the kind who teaches because they love kids and will literally sacrifice anything to benefit them.  The Sandy Hook incident proved that those teachers exist in every school.  There is also the kind who hate kids with a passion and believe themselves to be experts at classroom discipline.  Don’t get me wrong, teachers like that mold young people into upstanding citizens or championship-winning football or basketball players on a regular basis.  But they do it by polishing out the flaws in kids through punishment and rigorous efforts to remove every flaw because they actually detest the flaws in themselves that they see mirrored in students.  I could never be that kind of teacher myself, but I know they are just as necessary as the other kind. After all, all people are good people, even the bad ones.

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Doctor Doom really doesn’t like to be around me.  Still, he’s a good person too, even though he’s fictional.

After more than 500 words worth of this nonsense, and I realize I still have a lot more to say about this goofy topic, I must draw to a close.  And I know I haven’t convinced anyone of anything yet.  But let me threaten you with the prospect that I will pursue this topic again sooner than you would like.  I just can’t seem to stop thinking about why I think what I think, and why I am always thinking.

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Filed under education, goofy thoughts, high school, humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching

Being a Teacher at Heart

Being a teacher at heart… I want to recommend that career…even though I know full well it is a super-hard crappy job of glorified baby-sitting that pays in literal peanuts and nobody in their  right minds recommends it to smart young up-and-comers as a glamorous choice… and it is only getting worse under a new anti-education administration.

Being a teacher at heart… I can’t help remembering how it all started for me.  The last thing in the world I imagined myself being when I was in high school was a teacher.  I wanted to be a cartoonist or a comic book artist.  I wanted to write best-selling science fiction novels and maybe direct a movie.  You know, the kind of thing millionaires line up to bestow on college grads with a degree in English  and a transcript filled with mostly A’s in my art classes.

But after my remedial master’s degree gave me a provisional teaching certificate, and my one and only interview for an illustrator’s job resulted in compliments on my portfolio and best wishes for my teaching career, I headed to Texas, one of only two states actually hiring teachers in 1981.  (The other was Florida, which it turns out it was a very lucky thing my family had already moved to Texas to help me make that decision.  Have you seen the education news coming out of Florida?  I now know where Satan gets his mail.)

Turns out the only job available in 1981 was all the way South on Interstate 35 in Cotulla, Texas.  I was there to teach English to 8th graders.  Mostly Spanish-speaking 8th graders.  And the previous year the 7th grade English teacher had run out of the classroom screaming after the little darlings exploded firecrackers under her chair and put scorpions in her coffee cup.  I was given her classroom and the same students that forced her to re-think her career choice.  El Loco Gongie, El Loco Martin, Talan, El Mouse, El Boy, El Goofy (whose one and only talent was to turn his whole head purple at will), La Chula Melinda, and the Lozano Twins  were the nicknames I had to learn because practically everyone was named Jose Garcia… even the girls.  Talan and El Mouse were the first ones to threaten my life.  They picked up a fence post on the way to lunch (we had to walk four blocks to the elementary school to get lunch because the junior high building had no cafeteria).  Talan said something threatening in Spanish that I didn’t understand and added the name “Gringo Loco” menacingly to whatever he said, and El Mouse pantomimed using the metal fence post as a sword to cut me in two.  All this because I was trying to get them to keep up with the rest of the class on our little hike in the 100 degree heat.  (I think I knew then why Satan moved to Florida.)  Fortunately they must’ve decided that murdering me wasn’t worth the hours of detention they would have to spend, and dropped the post.  Class was definitely disrupted when handsome El Boy and La Chula decided to break up, or rather, El Boy decided he like brown-eyed Alexandra better after she got blue-eyed contact lenses that made her eyes look yellow-green.  Girl fights are harder to break up than boy fights because girls fight to the death over matters of the heart, and they really don’t care who dies once the fight is started.

Now you may think my account of my first horrible year as a teacher must be exaggerated and expanded with lies because you know I am a humorist and that I went on to teach for many more years.  But I swear, only the names have been changed.  The nicknames and the incidents all are real.  (Yes, he really could contort his face in a way that turned his entire head purple.  It was freaky and made the girls scream.)    As I reached the spring of the year that year and had to decide whether or not to sign my contract for the next year, I really was planning to get out of teaching all together.  But I was standing on the playground one day that spring glaring at the vatos locos to prevent fights from breaking out again when Ruben came up to stand beside me and talk to me.  Ruben was one of the brightest and physically smallest of all my kids that year.  But he had such a charm about him that the bullies left him alone (except for the time he got in trouble for forging El Boy’s mother’s signature on a failing report card).  He said to me, “I want you to know, you are my favorite teacher.  I learned a lot from you this year.”  I had to bite my lower lip to keep from crying right there and then.  It was the moment when I decided I had to be a teacher.  They were not going to make me run away in defeat.  I was going to work at it until I knew how to do it right.  For Ruben.  And for all the other boys and girls like Ruben who liked me as a teacher… and laughed at my jokes… even the really corny ones… and needed me.  That made all the hard stuff worth it.

Being a teacher at heart… I recognize now that there was never anything else I was going to be.  It was what God chose me to be.  And my only regret about my choice is that I had to retire and can’t do it any more for health reasons.  I still miss it.

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Here Comes DeVos and Her Army of Orcs

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This is not a picture of Betsy DeVos.  This is an orc used as a metaphor, something children will no longer learn how to use in the dark new future of education.

Orcs, as depicted by Tolkien in his epic work The Lord of the Rings, are an unhappy lot, hating everyone, especially themselves and their masters whom they serve only out of fear.  Sound like modern-day Republicans?  Well, that’s probably not a fair comparison.  Shame on you for thinking like that.  Although, I must admit, looking at the Secretary of Education that Donald Trump has foisted upon us with the aid of senate Republicans, there is probably good reason you might think that.

Orcs, according to Tolkien, create no beautiful things.  They live out their lives violently destroying everything and everyone they touch.  They are greedy, corrupt, disloyal, and generally the very definition of ugliness.  And they have been the opponents of good public education for as long as I have been associated with schools and teaching.

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Here is an actual portrait of DeVos.  Sorry to spring something so foul and gut-wrenchingly horrible on you, but I thought you ought to have some idea how hideous this orcishness really is.

Orcs always tell me, “You can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at them.”   What they really mean when they say this is either, “I can afford to put my kids in a good school that will only teach them what I want them to know, and I don’t think any of my money should be taken from me by taxation to pay for the education of poor people’s kids, especially not stupid poor people’s kids.”  Or, more likely, “I am too dumb not to believe rich white people when they say the world will be better for me and mine if I let rich white people keep all the money they make and make all the money they want.”   Either way, in Texas where the orcs have ruled since the Reagan Revolution first won over the rich white orcs that carry their orcish tribal banners all over oil-rich Texas, money has never been an issue for Texas public schools.  There simply is no money for public schools in Texas.  Over the past decade the State has always chosen to cut school funding before dipping into their vaunted billion-dollar rainy day fund whenever the Republican legislatures create a huge budget shortfall.  And whenever there has been a budget surplus, education funds are not restored.  Things like the fight against evil Planned Parenthood clinics take precedence.

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Members of the Texas State Legislature

Now Betsy DeVos, who became our current Secretary of Education despite resistance from all non-orc members of the US Senate, plus two orcs, will now give the orc hordes everything they want for education.  The federal Department of Education will be dismantled from the inside.  Privatized for-profit schools will become the new normal and receive funding disproportionate to the work they actually do.  All the cream belonging to rich folks will be skimmed off the top of the educational milk vat, and the rest will be left to fester and spoil in public school vats, becoming, at best, really really stinky cheese.

And so, let me end by saying, “Thank you, orcs, for doing such a wonderful job of protecting my children and grandchildren from the horrors of education and the ability to think for themselves.  You have protected them from ever learning enough to pull themselves out of the poverty and slavish lives you have put them in.”

 

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Betsy De Vos and the Golliwogs of Education

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I have often said that I don’t really approve of insult humor.  I don’t think calling someone names really adds to the discussion in any useful way, and the real point of humor is to reveal the truth in a way that is palatable because it is surprising enough to make you laugh.  Revealed truth is much funnier than calling someone names.  So when I call Donald Trump the king of rotten cantaloupe rinds, I am really being no more clever than he is talking about Lyin’ Ted or Crooked Hillary.

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Three of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, (from left to right) Famine, Cinnamon Hitler, and the Pale Rider, Death.

So, what in the heck am I doing talking about Golliwogs in this post?

A Golliwog is a Raggedy Ann-type rag doll from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They were a common doll type for typical little white girls in typical little middle class families.  My Aunt Jean, my father’s sister, had one as a child.  A female one with a red dress with black spots.  You could flip that doll over and underneath her skirt was a different doll, a yellow-haired white girl in a blue and black dress.  The image has become poison in modern culture because the blackface-minstrel roots of the character is now deemed racist and offensive. The Golliwogs in the children’s books of Florence Upton and Grid Blyton, though, were actually quite heroic, good-hearted and kind.

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As much as we vilify people for having them nowadays, there are many people who secretly adore them and wish to collect and preserve them.  I have long been enthralled by the brilliant 1920’s newspaper cartoon, Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay.  But there are many who would lecture me sternly about that because there is at least one Golliwog character in the cartoon strip, and it is even debatable that the main character of Flip, the “bad kid”, is just another kind of Golliwog.

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Now, the point of this article is to make relentless fun of Betsy De Vos, the harpy that Donald Trump has put in charge of the implosion of the Department of Education.  There are a number of very bad things about this wicked witch and her policies.  Diane Ravitch does an excellent job of explaining what’s wrong with De Vos and her wicked witch plans in Ravitch’s education blog, linked here.  You should read all about it so you know why I am regressing into vacant-headed teacher burblings about her, and resorting to the kind of insult humor you find me committing in this blog post.

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Betsy De Vos looks at public school children and sees Golliwogs.  She is suspicious of their pedigree and basically doesn’t like them.  Remember, we are talking about public school children, not the children in upper class, rich private schools, the only kind De Vos actually touts.  She wants to give Golliwogs only the minimums absolutely necessary, the spoiled and the spilled milk.  The cream belongs to rich kids.  And she’s not prejudiced or racist, oh, no.  She sees poor white kids as just as golliwoggie as poor black kids, and she would have no problem pandering to Ben Carson’s kids.  Ben has lots of money.  He can be Sleepy McBoing-boing as much as he wants, and take off after phantom luggage whenever he wants, because money keeps you from being the detestable Golliwog.

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But the secret… the revealed truth is… Golliwogs are worth loving and educating.  Diversity and the resilience learned from hardship and poverty are priceless things, resources too rarely put to good use.  Most of the kids I truly loved as a teacher were Golliwogs.  Not just the chocolate-flavored ones, though those were very precious and precocious children, but also the vanilla-flavored ones, the caramel-flavored ones, the blueberry-flavored ones and the grape-flavored ones. (Okay, maybe they were only blue and purple in my crazy old head. And maybe I shouldn’t be making metaphors that suggest I am promoting eating school children.  That was Jonathan Swift’s thing.)  But Betsy De Vos and her boss, Donald Trump, will never understand that, and never see the true value in them.  If we are ever again going to have a fair and just system of education, we have to give value to the Golliwogs.

 

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Filed under angry rant, commentary, compassion, doll collecting, education, humor, kids, Liberal ideas, teaching

Mickey’s Red-State Blues

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I often struggle with depression.  Every member of my family has battled it at some point.  And it is a dangerous disease.  It can kill you.  I don’t like spending quaking, fearful hours in the emergency room.  I have had to do exactly that three times already.  And now Trump has attacked my most cherished issue… public schools.  I gave my life to them for 31 years.  There is not enough chocolate in the house.

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It is ironic.  I was already attempting to commit suicide by not taking my daily medication any more because of high drug prices that health insurance does not help with.  But that suicide attempt has actually failed already.  After two years of not taking blood pressure medication, a thing the doctor feared would kill me, I am now detoxified and actually feeling quite a lot better.  My blood pressure has not been high since 2001.

So, if I am compelled to end it all over the rise of Education Czar Betsy DeVos, I will have to use some of that creative problem-solving that we have not really been allowed to teach since the George W. Bush administration.  Something involving massive amounts of sugar water and thousands of man-eating butterflies would be appropriate, I think.

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If I had to teach this class, I would be tempted to flunk the orange-skinned kid in the middle just on principle, but that would be discriminating against a rich guy, which is against everything this new administration stands for.

Privatizing schools, another way of saying the “school choice” thing that Republicans love to promote, will mean you get exactly what you pay for in education.  Unfortunately, that means you have to be rich to get proper schooling.  Since governmental entities will be shedding the burdens of paying for schools, the good schools will only be able to pay for their resources by charging high tuition and fees, something that limited school vouchers will never be able to fund.  A majority of kids whose families cannot afford anything more than the vouchers will pay for will end up in underfunded discipline mills that will be far worse than the public schools we have now.  Those schools will be set up to prepare students for their future employment making license plates in State prisons even more so than public schools are now.

My Republican friends in Texas (and my birth State of Iowa too, for that matter) like to tell me that, “You can’t solve education’s problems by throwing money at them.”  But I would like to know what studies they base that conclusion on.  When in American history have we thrown money at schools?  Other nations that get better education results do spend more, especially on paying teachers better.  And they are not forced to teach Creationism in Science class to get those funds.

So, managing depression has not been easy since the recent election.  Recount efforts and rumors that the Electoral College may do what they were designed for and vote for the candidate that actually won the popular vote are just pipe dreams, and won’t actually amount to anything.  Betsy DeVos will be the next Secretary of Education.  Maybe I will try bucket-loads of stinky, sharp cheddar cheese and a lighter for setting off explosive cheese farts.  It would be a painful way to go, but the results might also be colorfully amazing.

P.S. – I would never actually commit suicide, and as someone who has spent time in the ER fretting for someone else, I would never really advocate that.  But I am certainly not above using it as a bit of hyperbole to discuss important issues that I really do see as life-or-death.

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Filed under angry rant, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, humor, politics, red States, teaching

Why School Should Be Cool

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I was a school teacher for thirty-one years, and in spite of the immense amount of brain damage that builds up over time, especially as a middle-school teacher, I think I know what we’ve been doing wrong.

We need to take a look at an education system where things are working better than they are here.

Now, I know you probably didn’t click on the boring video about school.  Heck, you probably aren’t even reading this sentence.  But I can summarize it and put it in easy-to-understand words.  Finland does not have to educate as many poor and disadvantaged kids as this country does.  The video gives five ways that Finland does it better, but all of them boil down to the basic notion that the country is more homogeneous and uniformly middle-class than ours is.  Still, we can learn things from them.

The first of the five ways that Finland does it better is a difference in government.  While U.S. governmental safety-net programs blame people who need food stamps for being lazy (even though some of them work 40-hour work weeks in minimum-wage jobs), Finland gives a huge package to parents of everything they might need as soon as their child is born.  As long as the child is in school, the government does many things to support the family’s efforts to educate them.  Imagine what we could accomplish here if we invested some of the vast fortune we give to corporations in subsidies into educating poor black and Hispanic children instead.  Children have a hard time learning in school when they come to school hungry.  If we could only feed them better, the way the Fins do, we would revolutionize our classrooms.

The second point the video makes is the biggest suds-maker every time I get on my teacher’s soap box.  They don’t give kids homework and they only give them one standardized test when they leave high school.  I have recently covered this topic more thoroughly in a post in which I was able to ridicule Florida governor Rick “Skeletor” Scott.  (Boy, did I enjoy doing that.)  But I won’t go into all of that again here.

The third thing is respecting teachers.  In Finland they treat teachers with the kind of respect that they give to doctors and lawyers.  How cool is that?  In Texas, calling someone a teacher is an epithet.  If a teacher is liked or even loved by their students, administrators are encouraged to keep a closer eye on them to figure out what’s wrong.  Students are supposed to hate their teachers and sit all day filling out mind-numbing test-preparation worksheets.  Imagine what it could be like if teachers weren’t the scum of the earth.  They might actually have students convinced that learning goes on in their classrooms.

The fourth point is that Finland does not try to cram more and more memorized details into young brains so they can spit it all back out on a test.  They take students thoroughly into the subject of study, and at a slower, easier pace.  They dive deep into the river of learning instead of wade through the wide and shallow parts.  All questions get answered.  And by that, I mean, student questions, not teacher questions.  The learning is student-centered.

Finally, the video states that Finland simply has fewer social ills in their country to get in the way of good quality education.  But even though the work is harder in this country, the potential is really there to go far beyond what Finland is capable of.  We have a natural resource that is totally untapped in this nation.  We don’t develop the minds of a majority of our children in any meaningful way.  And I can tell you from having done it, you can teach a poor or disadvantaged child to think.  You can give them the tools for academic, economic, and personal success.  You can make them into valuable human beings.  But you should never forget, they are already precious beyond measure.  We just ignore and trash that inherent value.  So, the information is out there about how to do a better job of educating our children.  We need to follow through.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

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Getting Schooled on Testing

Florida Parents Sue Over State Testing

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The war has started.  The first shots have been fired in Florida by an irate group of parents in seven different school districts.  Their children were a part of the growing wave of “test-day opt-outs” that are occurring in every State that uses a high-stakes State test to determine students’ fitness for being promoted to the next grade, consideration for accelerated programs, and evaluating teachers for competence, ability, and possible execution.  State tests have developed such power over our learning lives that students and teachers obsess about them to the point of making themselves ill with stress.

The districts being sued have all decided that since the students who opted out did not take the tests, they have therefore not passed the tests, and have no right to be promoted to the next grade level.  So, a whole lot of sweet, pig-tailed little honors students that avoided super-stressful testing are now weeping over the prospects of still being in the third grade as their BFF’s now advance to fourth grade.  180+ days of instruction with a teacher does not apparently count at all towards advancement.  State tests are sacred.

You can tell by Florida Governor Skeletor Scott’s evil grin that he is quite satisfied with how State tests are working out.  After all, State tests provide aggregate data that public schools are failing in Florida.  Emperor Perry and the Crowned Prince Gregg Abbott of Texas have used them for the same purposes in the State where I spent my career teaching.  Low performing schools are taken over and run by a State agency.  Funds are cut to public schools.  Art and band and music programs are dropped in favor of remedial teaching and repetitive basic courses.  More money is given to private schools, magnet schools, and charter schools whose test scores prove they are more worthy of spending it (especially since the wealthier kids with fewer handicaps from their background are the ones going there, while kids from lower-income groups, minorities, special-needs students, and English language learners are generally kept out).

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And, of course, State tests can weed out the teachers that the State deems incompetent, unworthy, and, well… goofy because those teachers who don’t mindlessly engage in test preparation, don’t have students who score well on tests.  The State can use this means to get rid of teachers who are too innovative, popular among their students, creative, engaging and nice.  It can promote teachers who have “good discipline” because students constantly fill out test-preparation worksheets mindlessly in their classes all day.

But the numbers are there to prove the State is right about education.  Test data exists in black and white.  How can anyone argue that numbers don’t tell us which kids are stupid and which kids are acceptable?  How can I argue it?

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Well, it helps to be able to understand the endlessly boring hours of test analysis that teachers are subjected to by school administrators panicking about how poorly they are soon to do on the high-stakes test.  I happen to be smart enough to hear and understand how the tests measure what they measure, and what they actually mean.  For example, the reading portion of the State test emphasizes certain skills over other skills.  Inference, the ability to draw conclusions from the evidence given in the text and determine what is true by logic, is given more weight in the scoring than simpler abilities like factual recall or simple spelling ability.  Scores are not a matter of the percent of questions the student answer correctly.  They are based on which skills and sub-skills the student shows mastery (80% or higher success).  A student can get 80% of all questions correct and still fail the test.  And for some students with learning difficulties, developmental delays, or English-as-a-second-language difficulties, those more valued portions of the test are still beyond their current level of functioning.  I have worked for schools that received commendations for their tests scores.  I led a middle school writing program that topped expectations on writing scores through middle school and high school. I have also worked at schools who were punished for low test scores, and worked for good principals who lost their jobs because the scores were beyond their control.

I pray that the judge in Florida will support the parents and censure both the heartless school districts and the State testing program of Florida itself.  Darth Vader’s education system should not be winning.  We need to go back to the source and learn from Jedi Master Kenobi…. or even Yoda again.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, education, humor, marching band, Paffooney, pessimism, rants, teaching, Texas