Tag Archives: Education Reform

Lord Bankenstein Addresses Education Nation

Lord Bankenstein has written a stirring speech for Education Nation.

Lord Bankenstein has written a stirring speech for Education Nation.

Goldman-Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein will be a panelist at the upcoming Education Nation event on NBC. In an amazing scoop, the team here at Assailed Teacher (which consists of me and my cat) have uncovered the speech Mr. Blankfein intends to give for this occasion. It is reprinted in its entirety below:

Jesus was a teacher. He chased the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. Instead of making money, he wanted people to focus on doing good works to help poor people. Some people used to say that teachers were doing “God’s work”, maybe because they had taken up the same profession as Jesus.  Some people also used to say that banking was a sin called “usury”, maybe because Jesus had chased the usurers out of the temple.

But times have changed. Where is Jesus now? Crucified. Where are the bankers now? We run the world. What better evidence can there be that God favors us bankers? This is why I shifted the paradigm in 2009 by saying us bankers are doing God’s work. Two thousand and nine years after Jesus’ birth, the world finally came to see that he was wrong.

The money changers are still here. The meek have not inherited the earth. We have inherited the meek, as well as their money. All of this has happened without so much as a lightning bolt striking any of us dead. Me, Vikram Pandit, John Thain, Jamie Dimon, all of us are still here and still swimming in vaults of gold like Scrooge McDuck.

There is but one sliver of meekdom left for us to inherit: education. By inheriting education we would inherit the legacy of Jesus himself. Us money-changers will then have the last laugh, again.

You see, Jesus had it all backwards. He exhorted people to uplift the least among us. The beggars, the aesthetes, the prostitutes and the unwashed are all worthy of the same respect as the wealthy, the noble, the patrician and the royal. He invented a God that would reward those who lived their lives by these guidelines and punish those who did not. There was something about a camel passing through the eye of a needle or whatever. And where are we today? The least among us are as least as ever while the money-changers are passing quite easily through the eyes of solid gold needles.

For over 100 years, this country has been trying to lift up the least among us through public education. There once was a belief that all children, including the children of beggars, aesthetes, prostitutes and the unwashed, were worthy of true learning. Even worse, people believed that these children were capable of true learning. Worst of all, these children might use what they learned to create better lives for themselves. Educators once fancied themselves fishers of men, and even women.

100 years of fishing has gotten us nowhere. Our education system was created in a period of history when the money-changers dominated the meek. In 2013, the money-changers still dominate the meek. The kingdom of heaven on earth has not come to pass, despite our best efforts to heed the advice of Jesus. God in heaven has not sent down a plague of locusts upon the heads of the money-changers. Our yearly harvests are as bountiful as ever.

So it is time that this country scrap the protagonist of the New Testament in favor of the money-changers. It is time we recognize that it is not God’s will for the meek to inherit the earth. Over 2000 years of history has showed us that the wheat always separates from the chaff. We are the wheat. They are the chaff. If we are to have a system of schooling, it must recognize this reality once and for all.

I am glad to say that this reality is already recognized by many of us here today. Wendy Kopp was one of the first to understand that the wheat must teach the chaff. They must teach the chaff not in order to uplift them, but in order to prepare them for their roles as chaff. Over the past two decades, her minions of Pharisees nationwide have displaced those educators who foolishly believed they were doing God’s work. These were the educators who spent their lives in a classroom, sending a message to the community that their children were worthy of dedication. But Kopp’s minions have shown us the way. They recognize that one does not need any skill or preparation to instruct chaff in how to be chaff. They recognize that they are too good to be around chaff for more than a few years. They recognize that one of the best ways to teach chaff their true value is to leave them after two years. Any longer than that and they might start to identify with, or even believe in, the chaff they instruct. What is worse, they might start learning how to actually teach, how to be fishers of men and women, which would puff up the chests of the chaff and make them believe they are actually wheat. This would be the worst kind of wheat, the kind that is not even wheat: puffed wheat.

Also with us today is Eva Moskowitz, a woman who has given us the template for how the education of the masses should look. She deserves nothing less than our total approbation. There are many poor children in New York City. However, a portion of those poor children come from families who actually believe in them. They have good manners, a good vocabulary and might even be hard-working. Eva takes the poor children from these families and teaches them what they need to know. They need to know how to sit up straight. They need to know how to march silently. They need to know how to look like they are giving their undivided attention to the Kopp acolyte who stands in front of the room. They need to know how to jump to every command of Kopp’s acolytes. If they do not jump fast or enthusiastically enough, they will be penalized. This is exactly what these types of children need. If these children were to go to a regular public school taught by one of these fisher of men and women, they might actually learn something about the world around them. What good would that be for them? It would only succeed in giving them ideas too big for their stations. And, you guessed it, their station is to be chaff. I do not need the person who shines my socks to know why the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter. I only need them to know that I require my socks shined now, before I meet with the Secretary of the Treasury. This is what Eva Moskowitz is doing for us. She is taking the best of the chaff and preparing them to jump to our every whim without a thought. If every one of these kinds of children spent a solid 13 years in one of Eva’s schools, every money-changer in America would have an able, willing and supplicant sock-shiner. Who can argue with that?

Another one of my heroes is here today as well: Ms. Michelle Rhee. Michelle showed us that we cannot separate the chaff of tomorrow from the wheat of tomorrow without thoroughly subjugating the teachers of the chaff. Michelle took over a typical urban school system where teachers had tenure and a measure of autonomy. This means they walked into their classrooms every morning as if they were the cock of the walk. Morning after morning, year after year, these tenured “professionals” sent the message to their students that there were jobs out there in which people can be happy, fulfilled and useful. Teachers like this tend to have an enthusiasm for their careers and for life in general. In turn, these traits might rub off on their students. Enthusiasm is a dangerous quality for the chaff of tomorrow to have. It gives them a false impression that their destiny is in their hands. Michelle came in on her, I mean with her, broom not to sweep up the bad teachers but to beat all teachers in the head with the bristles as one would do to a mouse in the kitchen. By tying each teacher’s career to the test scores of their students, she made them dread coming into work every morning. Instead of learning about the world, D.C.’s students would learn how to fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil. Above all else, teachers knew that the fate of their careers hinged on value added models over which they had absolutely no control. The Sword of Damocles was not hanging over their heads. It was swinging wildly at their heads. Whether or not one lost their head was a completely random affair. The fear that teachers had of not being in control over their own destinies inevitably spilled over to the kids. It taught them the implicit lesson that their destiny was not theirs. Their destiny is ours. We are the ones who swing the sword. They can duck all they want, it still will not ensure they keep their heads. Look at all of the schools she closed. Look at all of the children who were shuffled around. Look at the hyper-segregation that took place. Children learned that they are in a world where things are done to them by us. They have no choice. No free will. Ideals of goodness, fairness, stability and justice are not only antiquated, they never existed in the first place for them. Michelle was just preparing them for the roles they will play on the earth that we, the money-lenders, have inherited.

This is where Goldman-Sachs comes in. Despite the fact that it is God’s will that the money-lenders keep a firm boot on everyone else’s throat, that type of imagery does not play well in this very image-oriented society. Even the pretentions of Kopp, Moskowitz and Rhee of being some new-age group of civil rights leaders who want to help the disadvantaged rings hollow when one looks in detail at what they are actually doing. The only thing that saves them is a little Goldman-Sachs.

You see, throughout the 2000s we posted record profits and gave out record bonuses, mostly to me. We did this even though we were making rotten deals that would end up sinking the entire financial sector, and then the rest of the economy. We purchased mortgages from lenders, bundled them up and then sold them as assets. We could not sell these “assets” fast enough, so we pressured the lenders to make more and more loans. To fulfill our demand, they lowered the standards for who got mortgages. They started giving mortgages to people they knew could not afford them. Why wouldn’t they? We were buying those mortgages outright from them, so there was no risk to them. Since so many of our former or current employees also worked for rating agencies like Moody’s, it was nothing for us to get these assets backed by bad mortgages rated “Triple A”. Everyone thought it was a safe bet because of it. Everyone, that is, except for us. Deep down inside we knew we were selling garbage, so we hedged our bets by convincing insurance giants like AIG to insure these crappy assets. That way, if we were holding the bag when these assets tanked, we would not lose anything because AIG would rescue us. In effect, we were betting against the assets we were selling and laughing all the way to Scrooge McDuck’s vault. All the networks, especially CNBC, were crowing about how well we were doing and how I, along with every other money-lender, were geniuses. And when this whole house of cards finally got blown over, two presidents in a row from two different parties bailed our asses out.

Wendy Kopp, Eva Moskowitz, Michelle Rhee and the rest of you in this room today watched us and learned from us. Deep down inside you all know that you are selling poison. But you have all done bang-up jobs of skewing the numbers. We posted record profits on crap assets in the same way you post high test scores with garbage education. You fudge your numbers, skim your students and cheat on exams so you can show that you outperform public schools. The general public, all of whom are chaff who do not like to think, sees a graph with a rising line and considers all of you education geniuses. Much like nobody questioned whether or not rising stock prices and absurd executive bonuses actually reflected the underlying value of our companies, nobody questions if rising test scores actually reflects better education. They do not even stop to consider if the test scores are really rising at all. Just like us, you education reformers have your own echo chamber. You have think tanks and media outlets who will repeat everything you say without question. Organizations like Democrats for Education Reform are to you what Moody’s is to us: an incestuous group who rubber stamps everything you peddle to the public. NBC and Oprah and John Stossel are to you what CNBC is to us: a mouthpiece extolling how great everything you do is. These interlocking entities create the public perception you want. Just like we had the country and the government eating out of our hands as we were leading them off of an economic cliff, you have led people to believe you are modern-day Horace Manns and Martin Luther Kings when, in reality, you are just like me: a Pharisee.

Yes, we are all Pharisees. We all occupy a God-given place at the very tip of the societal pyramid. We have lickspittles at every level of government and media ready and willing to shine our socks. But you are the ones who are truly doing God’s work. By siphoning off education to the money-lenders, you are ensuring that the generation in school now and the generations to come will also be lickspittles. You are helping etch in eternity what God has obviously always intended: to keep us, the money-changers, in the temple. Even more than Pharisees, you are also Romans. For just like the Romans crucified Jesus the teacher for the sake of keeping the money-changers in the temple, you are hammering the nails into the flesh of everyone in this country who has chosen teaching as their life’s profession. You do this so the elite will remain elite; so the money-changers can remain in the temple.

We are well on our way to truly completing God’s work. Do not let this cup pass you by. It will not be too much longer until we realize the true kingdom of heaven here on earth. It will not be too long before all of us inherit the meek.

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The First Day of Philosophy Class

bullshit

 

As some of you might already know, I’ve been teaching an elective philosophy class at my school for the past 8 years. We meet every Wednesday afternoon for 8 weeks. After that, the students choose another elective and I get to teach a whole new group. Our first class of the year this past Wednesday reminded me why I chose to teach philosophy to high school students in the first place.

I came in that morning to find the roster for the philosophy class in my mailbox. Not surprisingly, my eyes started to scan down the list of students to get an idea of the type of class I could expect. Only students in grades 10 through 12 get electives (that is to say, no freshmen), so chances are I would know most of the names even if I never previously taught them. It was a relatively huge roster. There were exactly 30 students listed even though our electives usually top out at around 20. Out of those 30, 25 of them were students to whom I had taught history in years past. At least I would not have to spend too much time introducing myself to them and catching them up on class rules. It was a class I was looking forward to meeting.

What was especially heartening was the fact that many sophomores I taught last year as freshmen had signed up. This was the first time in their high school careers that they had the opportunity to choose an elective and they chose philosophy. What did that mean? I was probably going to start to find out once class started.

The bell rang and they started filing into the room. At this point it would be my usual practice to direct the kids to take seats towards the front. I did not even bother this time because practically every chair in the house was filled before the late bell rang. There was a thought question on the board for them to answer: “what do you think philosophy is?” There were many great answers that I listed on the blackboard. As we wound up this initial discussion, I noticed a look of disappointment on some of their faces when I informed them that the point of philosophy was to ask better questions. I told them that if they left this class thinking they know the meaning of life, then they are doing philosophy incorrectly. Instead, they should leave here knowing which questions are appropriate to ask. This bit of advice seemed like a bitter pill for some of them to swallow.

They started to perk up however when I told them that our first lesson of the year was going to be about how to make people look stupid in a debate. That is how I sold it to them anyway. This is my usual springboard into the lesson on how to construct an argument. We took a tour through the usual introduction to philosophy fare: syllogisms, premises, conclusions, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning and straw men. While all of these are powerful concepts, they seemed to really take to the discussion we had on the difference between lies and truth.

One of the syllogisms we studied was: “Paul never lies when he speaks. Paul is speaking. Therefore, Paul is speaking the truth.” I asked them whether or not this was a valid argument. Practically everyone agreed that it was. As they thought the case was closed and sought to move on to the next syllogism, they sensed that I was not totally buying their answer. I asked them why this argument might not be valid. When a senior raised her hand to say “just because Paul is not lying does not mean he is speaking the truth”, one of those “a-ha moments” on which we teachers thrive rippled through the room.

It was at this point that we started discussing truth. Can there not be a rather large space between lies and truth? What is more: is this not the space that most of us (and the rest of the world) occupy? This was their first encounter with philosophical grey area. I informed them that the philosopher Harry G. Frankfort might call this space “bullshit“, a tidbit that never fails to cause chuckles. We went through a few daily examples of bullshit that they would know well, like commercial advertising or when teenagers try to deceive adults. Many knowing grins lit up across the room once the kids heard an example of bullshit with which they were able to identify. If we had time we could have even discussed the quote from the great diplomat Talleyrand (one of my favorite historical figures) that “speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”

Towards the end of the period we started discussing hidden premises. Most arguments they will encounter in real life are not going to be cut-and-dry syllogisms. People are always injecting their biases into things, and these biases are their assumptions. They seemed to be taken with the idea that they might be able to learn how to recognize someone else’s assumptions. However, what I really believe they learned was the fact that assumptions existed. The bell rang just as we were going to go in depth on the matter. I suppose this is what next week will be for.

I believe this particular class taught me a thing or two about today’s teenagers. They seemed to genuinely appreciate the discussion on bullshit and hidden assumptions. This can probably partially be explained by the fact that they recognized themselves and their own thought patterns in these things. However, I think they also recognized that the world around them, the world of school, pop culture and Facebook, is laden with hidden biases and outright bullshit. They have a general sense that they are being lied to but have not been able to really pinpoint how. By the end of the class, I believe they started to stir with the idea that they might end up being able to expose the world around them for what it really is.

These students have spent most of their school careers in Bloomberg’s Department of Education. They have been bombarded with standardized exams and sanitized curricula for most of their lives. School to them has been a series of fill-in-the-bubble exercises. They have to fill the bubbles in on exams. They have to carry out the appropriate work units in their classes to get good grades. If their grades are lacking, they just ask for extra work units that will help them fill in the gaps until they reach a number with which they are satisfied. On their own time (and even on school time), they fill in the bubbles on their Facebook profiles, Twitter updates and text messages.

All of their time has been spent on exhibiting the appropriate outward behavior. They have learned that certain types of behaviors yield them certain rewards, like good grades or enhanced social status. The obsession with “achievement” and “success” in Bloomberg’s DOE is echoed in society at large. People only seem to care about what they do. However, philosophy reveals to them what they are.

Most importantly, philosophy is one of the only times in their school careers when they will honestly be challenged to question everything. Why are you required to do certain things? Why do you believe you have to do certain things? Why do you believe school/society wants you to do these things but not other things? It is an exercise in critical thinking. It is an exercise that is dangerous to the people in charge.

The overwhelming turnout for this first philosophy class of the year was a sign. Their general enthusiasm on the first day of philosophical discussion was a sign. How they received the ideas of bullshit and biases was a sign. Our children thirst for something higher. They thirst for it because they have never been encouraged to explore it. The school system is doing a bang-up job of extracting the curiosity, the thinking, the discovery and the fun out of learning. The reformers of the world want our children to be disengaged students because disengaged students become disengaged citizens. They are being molded into non-citizens.

By the end of this philosophy course, I hope the kids are able to discover why questioning is much more valuable than answering. Perhaps instilling within them a knack for questioning now will keep a fire burning within them that no amount of bubble-in exams can extinguish.

What Might This Mayoral Election Mean?

Is Bill de Blasio a symbol of an age of political transition?

Is Bill de Blasio a symbol of an age of political transition or is he something else?

The post-mortems on the New York City Democratic mayoral primary have been pouring in, despite the fact that the election is not over yet. Democratic voters had choices from Christine Quinn (Bloomberg’s 4th term), Bill de Blasio (a city liberal of the old mold), Bill Thompson (who staked out a third way between Quinn and de Blasio) and Anthony Weiner (who might have had a chance if not for his personal foibles, which are many). A de Blasio victory in these primaries might presage a new era in American politics.

In 1977, a Democrat named Ed Koch won his party’s nomination and then the general election running a campaign promising law and order and fiscal responsibility. Three years later, Ronald Reagan was elected president after running a campaign that touched upon similar themes. The late 1970s up until today has been an era defined by Reagan’s program, a program ratified by Clinton and the New Democrats of the 1990s and continued by Bush and Obama in the new millennium.  Both Koch and Reagan appealed to young voters. Teenagers and 20-somethings of that era had come of age at the moment when America’s great experiment in liberalism, the New Deal, was falling apart. The era of Vietnam, urban riots and dishonest government was ripe soil for a new generation of voters receptive to something different, something that repudiated the programs that gave birth to the rotting world in which they had been raised. In 1977, it was the voters of New York City who were the bellwethers of a changing national mood bent towards conservatism. In 2013, many on the left are hoping the same scenario is playing out conversely here in NYC. (This article is a compelling read of this prospect.)

The general election will, presumably, feature the Democrat Bill de Blasio against Republican Joe Lhota. Lhota will be a tough candidate, especially if Bill Thompson is able to secure a runoff election. A Democratic runoff is already conjuring up memories of 2001, when Bloomberg won his first term as Pharaoh partially due to the internal wars of city Democrats. But runoff or not, Lhota’s strategy against de Blasio will be predictable: paint him as an irresponsible liberal who will return the city to the bad old days of the 1970s and 1980s. The message will certainly resonate with older New Yorkers, not to mention the younger business-minded voters on Wall Street.

But political futures are not made on old voters, a lesson the Republican Party nationwide has been slow to learn. De Blasio has tapped into the same vein of young voters as Obama did in both of his elections. The late teen and early 20-something of today is more likely to be part of a minority group and tolerant on social issues like gay marriage and marijuana than the young voter of 35 years ago. They also have been coming of age in the world of the conservative revolution and that world is just as rotten as the liberal world of the Koch and Reagan ascendancies. Their overall liberal views on issues of class and culture make them less susceptible to the fear of class and culture warfare preyed upon by conservative candidates. In short, the past 10-15 years have been ripe soil for future voters who reject the Reagan Revolution.

Perhaps a Bill de Blasio mayoralty will be a laboratory for a new national political program, a role New York City has played many times in its history. A good way to discern how much of a laboratory the city might be with de Blasio is to look at what he does on education. Many educated people are hoping and predicting that the de Blasio victory means that Democrats at least reject Bloomberg’s corporatization of public schools that has erroneously been dubbed “education reform”. Their hopes have some foundation considering de Blasio’s generally friendly history towards labor in the city, not to mention his out-and-out rejection of most of Bloomberg’s legacy as the “education mayor”. He consistently took the most anti-Bloomberg stance whenever he was asked about education policy, famously saying that “there is no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent” when asked about charter school co-locations. Those types of quotes were probably good enough to pry many teachers away from Thompson and give heart to the defenders of public education, me included.

However, promises in the primaries and promises in the general election are two different things. And promises in general compared to action while in office is something else entirely. Education reform has been a sharpening stone on which politicians of both parties, but especially Democrats, have honed their credentials for national office. Cory Booker and Andrew Cuomo have become up-and-comers largely owing to their school reforms, which included taking on unions and injecting the private sector into education. In order for Bill de Blasio to truly set himself apart from the rising New Democrats (who are not so new anymore) in the Clinton/Obama mold, he must keep singing his current tune on education throughout the general elections and then in office. As mayor of New York, de Blasio would be in the national eye. Bold leadership on his part might point the way to a new path in American politics. Will he sacrifice a bold education policy that respects schools as public institutions to bold reforms in other areas on which he might make more headway? If he does this, the new road he paves will make corporate school reform a reality for at least another generation. This is why Democrats can be much more dangerous to the American left than Republicans.

Just as instructive as keeping an eye on de Blasio’s education policy in the coming weeks and months is keeping an eye on how the UFT reacts to him. The union endorsed Bill Thompson early in the campaign season, mostly because he seemed like the only potentially successful alternative to Christine Quinn. This was back when de Blasio was polling in the single digits and Quinn was presumed to be the nominee. As usual, the UFT backed the person who did not win, although all of the money and resources they poured into Thompson’s campaign surely helped in smacking Quinn down to the three spot, where a runoff is out of reach for her. However, they continue to back Thompson even when it is clear that he would not win in a runoff, a runoff that would do nothing but allow Joe Lhota to consolidate his resources for the general election. Perhaps Mulgrew is pressuring Thompson behind the scenes to concede. The sooner the Democrats get behind Bill de Blasio, the better it will be for them come the general election.

If de Blasio does become mayor, will he cap charter schools? There are billions of reformy dollars coursing through this city and they could launch a massive propaganda campaign against education policy that threatens their share of the increasing education “market”. If it really does come down to a case of the reformers vs. de Blasio, I am not at all sure where the UFT would stand on most issues. If the UFT feels that de Blasio might lose in a propaganda war for the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, they might cast their lot with the Rhee crowd just so they avoid the “obstructionist” label that unjustifiably dogs them. In short, the question might come down to: will the teachers’ unions be on the front lines of a new leftist direction in American politics or will they try to temper any such development? This will not be the first time this question is asked in NYC, the 1968 strike especially being a moment when the UFT actively stood against a leftward turn in education policy.

But the teachers I know and read on the internet are hopeful that a de Blasio mayoralty will mean a new contract and a renegotiation of the evaluation system. The real dreamers have hopes for retroactive pay and an opting out of New York City from the state’s inclusion in the Race to the Top program. These are the issues by which teachers will largely judge Bill de Blasio. We hope that he is able to recognize how deep the Bloomberg school reforms go. It is not just about charter schools. It is also about the deskilling of the profession and the autocratic line of command that runs through the system. A complete dismantling of the Bloomberg Way in public schooling in favor of a more democratic approach would certainly be a major blow to the nationwide school deform movement.

We cannot be sure if the left here and around the world is resurging or if this is just a tempest in a teapot. We can only be hopeful. In that hope, we have to be mindful that we are living in exciting times where things are shifting and do what we can in our own lives to help shift it in the right direction.

What’s Been Going On (?)

gaye 

This is as good a time as any to make a comeback. There are too many things happening in the world of education, both here in New York City and around the nation, to remain on the sidelines much longer. Doubtless there will be time enough in the coming months and years to discuss all of these developments. For now, it might be worth it for me to get somewhat personal to let you know why I have been away for so long and what has been happening on my end. I did not say goodbye the last time, so maybe now I can give a proper hello, again.

You might recall that I moved out of Manhattan into Astoria in Queens over the past year. This was due to the passing of my mother and the fact that the real estate managers did not allow me to inherit her apartment. They were none too polite about it either. While I figured that I had grounds to fight them on this issue, I did not have the stomach to do so. Instead, I cut and run in hopes of making a fresh start of things. I love the neighborhood here in Astoria for its diversity, affordability and proximity to Manhattan (and, therefore, to work). Getting this place in this neighborhood for this price helped me bounce back after my mother’s passing, although I do not think anyone fully recovers from losing a beloved parent.

In the tribute I wrote to my mother last year, you might recall that I mentioned an older brother I had never met named Tommy. He was my mother’s first born and he was taken away from her at an early age. She would spend the rest of her life talking about him and missing him. Well, this past spring I received a message on Facebook from one of those accounts with a fake name, no picture and no personal information, the type that is usually used as a secondary account. This person said that they knew I had an older brother named Tommy and knew how to get in contact with him. I wasted no time in asking this person for Tommy’s contact info. I called Tommy on a Sunday and we spoke for a few hours. A month later he came up here from Florida for a weekend visit. This past summer I went down to the Tampa area to see Tommy, my sister-in-law, my niece and my nephew. We spent a week and a half trying to make up for a lifetime.

If only I had received that Facebook message two years earlier, perhaps meeting her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren would have given our mother more reason to hold on just a little longer. Every day I was down there I imagined our mother was there with us, happy to be with her two sons and big family in the warm Florida sun. While I have shed many tears over what could have been, I am happy that fate saw fit to provide me with a family when I thought I had none left. The fact that I have somewhere to go during the holidays and a niece and a nephew to spoil has given me a newfound happiness. If Florida was not such a red state with awful teacher salaries and no job security, I would have moved down there months ago.

All of this is to say that I did not realize how unhappy I truly was until I spoke to my brother for the first time. This was around the time I disappeared from blogging. I realized I was using this website as a way to throw myself into something so as to forget my depression. While that is not necessarily a bad thing in most cases, it is not the ideal situation for a blog that purports to touch on vital public issues which need a rational and dispassionate (as much as possible anyway) treatment. Also, my own obsession with the written word was keeping me up until 2 am on most nights, which left me a four hour of window for sleep. It was getting tougher to get up in the morning, to get into work on time and to be on top of my game when I was there. Fueled by black coffee and cigarettes, I became overly testy and wound as tightly as a modern baseball. Something needed to give and this blog, which I love because of the people who come here to read and comment, was collateral damage.

On the bright side, stepping away from this site followed by an agreeable summer vacation helped me gain my footing again. I feel self-possessed enough to jump back into the fray, which means maintaining this blog and returning to union activism.

Anyway, I hope everyone is having a good start to the school year. For those of us in New York City, this entails reckoning with the new evaluation system. For educators around the country, it means another year dealing with the forces of education deform who show no signs of abating. Common Core is on the horizon for New York and other states as well. All of this combined with the prospect of a new mayor here in New York City makes this an interesting, if not a happy, time to be associated with public education.

A GENERAL STRATEGY?

Perhaps this might help with surviving the school apocalypse.

Perhaps this might help with surviving the school apocalypse.

Two of the keys to victory in this amorphous war over public education are being religiously practiced by the progressive Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.

The first key to victory lies in their website. Every paragraph is festooned with reformy language. Their aims seem to be indistinguishable from those of Students First or any other privatizer-friendly “research council”. By speaking in glittering generalities in order to hide their agendas, the reformy crowd has thrown out the rope by which they will eventually hang.

Everyone is for “improved outcomes” and “bridging the achievement gap”. The incessant need for reformers to assure us of their genuine desire to accomplish these things have made these terms tropes with no real meaning. Any group, organization or movement can slip snugly under the covers of this rhetoric to hide their own respective agendas.

The public has become so accustomed to these terms that no organization who hopes to truly affect education policy can afford to not use them. “Closing the achievement gap”, for example, is an idea that a deft rhetorician can use to mean equalizing resources among all schools around the country, just like the reformers usually use it to mean boosting test scores.

In the end, all it really takes is for us to repeat and aver the purity of our intentions  using these terms as frequently as the reformy crowd.

Of course, this rhetorical approach should be coupled by truly progressive action. Annenberg recently kicked off an initiative called A+ NYC aimed at lobbying the mayoral candidates in the name of what parents want for public schools. They recently sent a battered school bus around the city to reach parents who wanted to share their voices.

Not surprisingly, the biggest concerns turned out to be the disappearance of extracurricular activities and over-reliance on testing. This is a far cry from the manufactured clamoring of parents for more charter schools. It goes a long way towards explaining why Eva Moskowitz and her ilk have to get signatures of out-of-district parents to petition for charter schools.

What really needs to be done, and what Annenberg seems on the verge of suggesting, is the creation of the idea of parents as voting blocs. Parents are used to having their names invoked whenever one group or another wants to push some sort of privatization or censorship. Yet, they have never truly been framed as a voting bloc.

A voting bloc needs to be united behind at least one common idea. For parents, “great schools” are not enough, since that is a trope and not an idea. This is where the reformers fail and from whence the next great school movement has to start. Parents as a voting bloc must be connected to the idea of a “better school day”. An idea like this, on which the Chicago teachers put their fingers during their strike, is general enough to unite a wide swath of parents while having enough specific connotations to mean something.

And these specific connotations would be decidedly at odds with the reformy agenda. Instead of equalizing “outcomes”, the focus needs to shift towards equalizing resources. What will be important is what we as a society put into the schools, not what we can get out of the schools in terms of trained labor, higher test scores and no-bid contracts.

Who would be able to argue against an idea that wants great schools for all children?

Discarding the vapid terminology utilized by the reformies is a mistake. Instead, true public school advocates have to flay the reformer beast and walk around wearing its skin.

SEVEN SIGNS OF THE APOCALYPSE FOR NYC PUBLIC SCHOOLS

New York City teachers come back to work tomorrow after an early Spring Break. Just in time too because rumblings of change are everywhere here in the city. The nation should have its eye on what happens in the New York City school system over the next year or two.

Together, the 7 Seals of the Apocalypse are on the horizon for our education system. This doesn’t mean that I think NYC public schools will disappear. It means that, if they were to disappear, these would be the things that will do us in.

First Seal – False Prophets 

“I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.”

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Elections for new leadership in the union will take place shortly after we return to work tomorrow. The Unity Caucus, who has had a stranglehold on power from its inception, is facing a challenge from MORE this year. Don’t be surprised if MORE has some measure of success in this election.

The Unity Caucus has been running a non-campaign: not engaging with or acknowledging MORE in any way and not taking any public actions or stances recently so they don’t risk alienating more teachers. If we hear anything, it will be about how Unity brings us “experienced” and “competent” leadership.

Michael Mulgrew and the rest of Unity are the false prophets upon our land. They will speak about how they did not cave to Pharaoh Bloomberg’s impossible teacher evaluations, then they will cave soon after the elections are over. Unity will play nice with teachers over the next month, then will do a whole bunch of selling out once elections are over. Seeing as how they have three years before they face another election, they will try to get all of their selling out done over the next two years in order to give us a chance to forget before the 2016 elections.

Second Seal – War 

“Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword.”

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New Yorkers will be voting for a new mayor this year after 12 years of the Reign of Pharaoh Mike I. The Democratic Party in NYC is locked in a battle over who will win the nomination and, thereby, the Mayoralty. Presumably, the favorite is City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the woman responsible for allowing Bloomberg’s illegal third term to sail through the City Council. She is the person who many New Yorkers just assume to be a BloomClone.

The Red Horse of the apocalypse is supposed to be a good guy, but the red warrior in this election is most definitely fighting for the dark side. Quinn is the quintessential political operator who believes in nothing and stands for nothing. Her plan for the schools is Bloomberg Lite. She went out of her way to block the paid sick leave bill and then reversed herself when some of her biggest endorsers threatened to retract.

If Quinn ends up winning the war, our schools will not have proper leadership for the foreseeable future. This is the woman for whom the UFT wants us to wait because she would give us a “fair” contract, unlike Bloomberg. Unity’s entire “wait for the next mayor” approach to contract negotiations under the guise that the next mayor is going to be our Great White Hope is laughable.

Third Seal – Famine

“Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!’”

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The “economic crisis” is a term that hangs over us with a sense of permanence. Despite the fact that the federal government and private industry are throwing more money into the education world than ever, the poor state of the economy will continually be used as an excuse as to why less and less money finds its way into our classrooms.

We have seen the deterioration of most after school programs outside of bare sports funded by the Public Schools Athletic League. Art and music have been nixed, foreign languages are starting to feel the pinch and the handwriting is on the wall for Global History. Our curriculum will be streamlined based upon what is tested and the only subjects tested are the subjects that will keep us “competitive” in the 21st century. Everything will be cut away except testing and STEM subjects. The specter of “budget cuts” will be the handmaiden facilitating this bare-bones education.

Fourth Seal – Pestilence 

“I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”

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The plague of standardized testing promises to grow and deepen over the next few years. A vast amount of resources have already been spent on reorienting the entire education system coast-to-coast around standardized exams. The richies who have plunged billions of dollars into the emerging testing economy will not abandon their precious investment without a protracted fight.

For high school teachers here in NYC, the new scoring policy for the Regents Exams will ensure chaos. Most importantly, it will lead to an across-the-board dip in all test scores. In his final year as the “Education Mayor”, Pharaoh Bloomberg will once again be embarrassed when the test scores by which he used to measure his own “progress” end up showing exactly the opposite. It will be a fitting kick in the pants for Bloomberg on his way out of the door.

On the other hand, it will be a sad development for the teachers who remain in the system because the Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse is:

Fifth Seal – Martyrdom 

“When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of The Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until You judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’”

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Once UFT elections are over, you can be assured that a deal for a new evaluation system for teachers will be squared away. Although we can’t know the details, we do know for sure that it will cause an unspeakable amount of suffering everywhere in the city.

Teachers will be judged by their students’ test scores or, more accurately, by how much “value” they “add” to the learning of their students. We will also be forced to conform to the “Danielson” rubric, named for its inventor who has a questionable education background and questionable motives for pushing her rubric. Combined with the dictate that two “ineffective” ratings in a row is grounds for termination, many good and dedicated teachers in New York City will lose their jobs.

These are not even the things that concern me the most about the evaluation system to which our union leaders agreed. The most disturbing part is how it weakens an already anemic system of due process for teachers. Restoring the integrity of due process (making it harder for principals to trump up charges against teachers, making teacher investigations open and fair and having a rational standard for handing out penalties as decided by fair labor arbitrators) should be among the highest priorities of our union leadership. Instead, they have proven willing to allow due process to rot away until we are as protected as teachers in “right to work” states.

Sixth Seal – Signs from Heaven

“There was a great Earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as late figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The sky receded like a scroll, rolling up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains.”

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It looms on the horizon like a conquering army. Every teacher in New York City knows that “Common Core” is coming in 2014. Everyone inside of every school building in the vast majority of the country will have felt Common Core’s presence by then, if they have not done so already. We did not ask for it. Parents were not necessarily clamoring for it. But, like every seal of the apocalypse, it came despite our wishes.

Some people like the Common Core and others believe it is a tolerable system. No matter what you think of the content of the Common Core, the intention is obvious: to institutionalize the standardized testing regime on a nationwide basis. Imagine a uniform standardized exam that every child in the country has to take every year? Can you imagine the windfall for companies like Pearson and Wireless Generation (whatever it is called now)?

The idea of national standards for public schools has traditionally been a goal of progressives. It was a policy originally devised to motivate states to uplift their worst schools to the level of their best schools. Despite the long-time progressive pressure for national standards, it only became a reality when businessmen realized there was money to be made and a working and consuming population to be dumbed down as a result.

Seventh Seal – Trumpets of the Apocalypse 

First Woe – “And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.”

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Michelle Rhee recently invaded New York with her lobbying firm, “Students First”. Their machinations can be found behind the law empowering the State Education Commissioner to impose a new teacher evaluation system on NYC. They will continue to ravage our land no matter who the mayor or governor happen to be.

Second Woe – “It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, ‘Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.’ And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was two hundred million. I heard their number. The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breast plates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulfur.”

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The troops with the multicolored breast plates are obviously a metaphor for computers. 200 million is the amount of computers that stand to be manufactured if the idea of “e-learning” gains any more currency. The horses who blow fire and sulfur are the online classes that purport to “educate” students.

Learning is at risk of being perceived as something that can be done on the fly, at a distance and on the cheap just like “e-shopping” and “e-mailing”. Education is being commodified like cosmetics and fast food. First it was the boutique charter school with the hyperbolic name. Now, it is the online learning program marketed as a replacement for flesh-and-blood teachers.

In NYC, e-learning is the serpent that lays close to the heart. Programs like I-Learn are increasingly being used by schools as a cheap way to give quick credits to students who need to graduate on time. Very soon people will start to say, “if computers can help make up credits, maybe they can do everything else.” The destruction of public schools as a physical place will not be far behind.

Third Woe – “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East. Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (see articles in our Prophecy section). They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day.”

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By the time all of the seals of the Apocalypse have set in, New York City schools will be ripe for the taking. The culprits will be “the Kings from the east… performing miraculous signs…” They will be the richmen who will reduce education to a series of prompts from the internet, a model which stands to make them a lot of money.

Online learning will be said to “perform miracles” with graduation rates and test scores. We will be told that the best way to get bang for our tax bucks is to shut down all brick and mortar schools in favor of online academies. We will also be assured that private firms will run these academies for less cost than the government can run them.

And then the destruction of New York City’s public education system will be complete.

While it is unlikely that all of these things will happen as I say it will, what is not arguable is that all of these forces will greatly reshape our schools over the next two years.

By the end of 2014, our children and our teachers will be operating under a whole new different set of rules than the ones in place today. It is up to us to make these rules as unobjectionable as possible.

CAREER DAY 2013: WHY TEACH?

The next generation of teachers must be warrior who defend the pass at Thermopylae.

The next generation of teachers must be warriors who defend the pass at Thermopylae.

Today was career day at my school. There used to be a time when I delivered a spiel to my students about the teaching profession. This year, however, I thought it best to keep my mouth closed lest my foot find its way in. If I were to give a spiel, it would probably go something like this:

“Good morning. As many of you might know, I am a high school history teacher. How many of you have ever considered being a teacher? That is what I thought.

There was a time when becoming a history teacher seemed like a good idea. My mother raised me by herself. She was a firm believer in the notion of education as the great equalizer. Everything she did was for the sake of getting me an education. This was certainly the most fundamental factor steering me towards a career in teaching, although I did not know it at the time.

For someone from my background, teaching was a step up. It was a way to move from the poor class to the middle class. When I got my first teaching job, I felt I had achieved a dream. It is strange for me to see these kids from middle-class and privileged backgrounds today who treat teaching as some sort of temporary charity work. I had always seen it as a career, a vocation and something to be cherished.

But money was the furthest thing from my mind. I grew up with exclusively black and Hispanic friends. Like many urban children coming of age in the early 1990s, I embraced the hip-hop culture. Groups like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions were our heroes. We looked up to them not because they were “gangsta” but because they were conscious. They spoke about history and gave us a sense that knowing the past was important. I was always drawn to the respect that groups like them received for their intelligence.

As a junior in Brooklyn Technical High School, I learned about other forms of respect as well. One day, me and my three best friends went to a Wendy’s in downtown Brooklyn to take advantage of some bargain hamburgers. As we were feasting, a group of at least 10 street toughs surrounded us brandishing box cutters. For whatever reason, they took a bad shine to our crew and let it be known that we were toast as soon as we stood up to leave. Suddenly, one of them recognized one of my friends. They smiled and gave each other a pound (a dap or handshake, if you will), at which point the menacing crew exited the establishment. It turns out that my friend’s father was the kid’s math teacher, a man who was respected by some real tough hombres.

This type of respect impressed me. A man did not have to be violent or aggressive to be respected. Respect can be earned from being a part of the community.

Boys like myself who grew up without fathers usually have to scrape the meaning of manhood together from bits and pieces they pick up from the outside: the media, the streets and our friends. I suppose my image of manhood consisted of conscious rappers and upstanding members of the community. While I was fortunate enough to internalize the right lessons, I realized that youth like the ones who almost hurt us that day might be internalizing the wrong ones.

Being a history teacher, therefore, would be the culmination of everything I knew about manhood. If I could gain the respect of my students, perhaps I could use history as a way to help the next generation unlock the meaning of the world around them. Perhaps I could help set some wayward youth on the right path. Perhaps, above all, I could be a role model myself. I could be Chuck D, KRS-1 and my friend’s father all rolled up into one.

These were the things going through my mind when I decided to be a teacher.

As I started my career, I began to become obsessed with history. Not only did I appreciate it for its own sake, I appreciated it for how I could make it relevant to the lives of my students. Public Enemy was constrained by verses, beats and rhyme schemes. I, on other hand, could let the history fly freely through lesson planning. Not even the silly Regents Exam could hold me back from being the best history teacher in the city.

Teaching started out as a personal mission for me. Thirteen years later, I can safely say that it remains so. I still wake up in the morning excited to share the secrets of the past with my students. Every day is different. Every day has its own dynamic. Every day is another brushstroke helping paint a picture of the world for my students that they will never encounter anywhere else. You might understand why, at this point, I do not use the textbook.

Everything used in my class comes out of my own brain. All of the lessons, notes, handouts, questions, exams and projects are my creations. The job does not end when I leave the building. Once I go home, I might relax for a half hour before I start grading homework assignments. The weekend is nothing more than an opportunity for me to write the next unit, the next homework sheet and the next batch of lessons for one of my preps. If I am lucky I might have the time to read a book, always history or philosophy or a literary novel. All of the girlfriends I have had, the ones who were not teachers anyway, questioned why I was working so much when off the clock. I am 34 years old and have never been married. I am married to my work.

In those moments when I am not planning or grading or reading I am on the internet reading and writing. Part of being a teacher, the part of my career that developed too late, is keeping abreast of what is happening in the world of public schooling. If we do not like what is happening, and we never do, it is our duty to speak against it.

There is too much not to like. Teachers are under attack everywhere. There are people who believe we get paid too much, work too little and are not being held “accountable”. They say schools are “failing” and we are to blame for it. Can you imagine that? Their solutions to these so-called “problems” are the scary part: closing public schools, more testing and no job security.

None of this would be too bad if these people who wish to reform the school system actually believed the stuff they say. Unfortunately, their cures for what ails the system are merely fronts for another agenda. In the end, these people do not want you to get an education at all. They are corporate types that would much rather go back to the days when children worked.  Barring that, they want to turn education into a series of barks and bubbles. They want to train you, train all of us, to bark on command. They want you to spend every waking hour training to fill in bubbles, the “correct” bubbles as determined by them, your corporate masters.

Is it not obvious at this point? Good barkers and bubblers are good workers and consumers. If left up to them, none of us would have the capacity to think. They wish to disarm our intellect. A thoroughly vegetated population is a population easily controlled.

The stakes have certainly risen since the days when I thought that my only job was to be a role model. You want to teach? Be prepared to wake up early, sleep late, get paid less, do more, have control over nothing and be blamed for everything. Don’t get me wrong, we need teachers but we need teachers who are warriors. It is not enough any longer to love a subject or an age group, carve out a nice little career for yourself and then retire secure in the thought that you made a difference. There will be none of that any longer. Everything you do, whether you are at school, at home or in the grocery store, must revolve around the preservation of this institution we call “education”.

If, after hearing all of this, you still want to be a teacher, then you might be what we need. If not just remember that, one day, you will have children of your own who need a school in which to learn.