Saturday, February 18, 2017

Facts? We Don't Need No Stinking Facts by Dr. Michael Flanagan

I recently read an article on the ways that teachers are trying to combat  "fake news" and it directly related to what I have been teaching in my government and economics classes. Research and cite your sources before you debate an issue. As a society our discussions on current events, controversial political issues and economic policies are all too often muddied by political talking points and agenda serving sound bites.


Politicians can say whatever they want true or not, and when fact checked they scoff it off as fake news. The current presidential administration has recently referred to the mainstream news media (except for Fox news) as the "enemy of the American people". This country is in the midst of a struggle between fake news and alternative facts on one side versus research and analysis on the other. Unfortunately, it is quite apparent which side is winning.

Far too many people base their worldview on what they hear on tv and radio talk shows. Our entire ability to verify information has withered on the vine. It is a skill that is evolving out of humans. Survival of the least informed. Instead of a journey towards enlightenment many are complacently wandering in ignorance. People have embraced being told what to think by Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Joe Scarborough. It is the collateral damage of the TV generation; limited attention spans and the reliance on spoon fed info graphics. So many people will believe what they hear at face value, as long as there is an American Flag waving in the background of the tv screen.  


Fake News, alternative facts, and corporate owned cable talk shows have circumvented critical thought. Facts are no longer verified, a talk show host makes a claim and a “panel” of experts give their opinions. Usually the loudest panelist appears the winner. That system of split screen theatrics has replaced investigative journalism. This is what happens when we as a society relinquish the responsibility to think for ourselves, and rely on the mainstream news media to do our analysis for us. Why should people waste time with pesky research, and corroborate facts from verifiable sources, when there are video’s of cats and people’s dinner streaming by our news feeds. In an age where information is at our fingertips, and the world around us is facing one crisis after another, the students in our classrooms are using their cell phones, arguably the most powerful informational tool ever created, to play video pool, angry birds or to livestream their latests arguments and fights.


I have never been the strictest person when it comes to cellphones in classrooms. I think it comes from all the years that I was a dean, and I had to confiscate electronics from students. I never felt right about taking a child’s property, especially since 9/11 showed us how truly important the ability to contact our loved ones was. I also feel that trying to restrict the use of cell phones by taking them, is like trying to sweep back the tide with a broom. Like trying to herd a bunch of cats. We must find a better way to channel our students use of technology, by showing them the power they carry with them every day. Think of what the giants of history like Einstein, Edison, or Tesla would have accomplished with a fraction of the information our students have at their fingertips.


It is by no means our students who are the only ones underutilizing the accurate information available to them. There are many, many...many of us that are not only inundated by misinformation, but pride themselves on it, with a nationalistic fervor. Those who do adhere to facts and scientific research are often derided as elitists, libtards or snowflakes when engaged in discussion. This is especially true in online forums where anonymity and lack of proximity exacerbate trolling.


Fake news doesn't mean that any news source that is not mainstream media is fake. Facts are facts whether they are in the Washington Post, Fox News, Al Jazeera or Wikileaks. All sources of information should be corroborated, verified and cited in any discussion or news article. There should also be a thoughtful analysis accompanying that information. Properly reviewing a news source, and doing a simple Google search to substantiate that source is crucial. The need for accurate information has most recently been evident as a result of the increased ICE raids on immigrants in this country. People on social media want to support immigrants and warn them to stay away from ICE raids, so they share often inaccurate information. This wrong information only perpetuates fear, and creates a ”boy who cried wolf” syndrome that will cause people to disregard valid warnings. The sharing of false online posts is the result of poor research and online posting skills.

Lastly, we should all understand that no matter how much we have researched a particular piece of information, we can still be wrong in our analysis, or the facts could be misconstrued. Therefore we should not dismiss other fact based opinions without vetting them. I am not talking about pure racism, hatred or profound stupidity, but someone who is politically opposed to everything you stand for, yet has done their research should not be summarily dismissed. Our students need to be taught sound research skills. But those skills must also be modeled by society at large. We will never be able to change the political shills that have sold out the middle class if we do not hold ourselves to a higher standard. We need to teach our students (and ourselves) to think before we post, corroborate before sharing online, and fact check what we hear. When processing any news report we should “believe only half of what you hear and nothing of what you see”. We all need to think and act as citizen journalists, check our facts and cite our sources. Knowledge is power.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Republicans Suggest Federal Role in Education Be Limited to Bribery by Steven Singer

 

Hey! Let’s repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965!

Let’s hobble the Department of Education!

Let’s make the federal role just handing out bundles of cash to private and parochial schools!


And you completely eliminate any protections for students’ civil rights.

THIS is the brave new world of Trumpian education policy. It’s called HR 610 and was introduced by Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa.

You may Remember King. He introduced an amendment in the U.S. House that would have prevented Harriet Tubman from replacing President Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill. Sure she was an abolitionist, women’s suffragist and hero who rescued scores of black people from slavery in the Underground Railroad. Why would we want her to replace a former slave trader and architect of the Indian Removal Act and Trail of Tears!?

His new piece of wonderful legislation – not at all written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) – would turn the U.S. Department of Education into merely an authorizer of block grants to qualified states to participate in a nationwide voucher program.

The department would give out money to local districts to give to parents to home school or send their children to private schools.

In effect, the federal government would become a booster for private and parochial schools. Uncle Sam would be offering free cash to private interests, corporations, entrepreneurs and business people if they can just convince parents to choose them over the public school system.

Which brings up the question – what about that public school system? Would it still receive the federal help it currently does? Would the there still be Title I Grants to schools serving impoverished students? What would happen to Pell Grants? Who would make sure states are doing their jobs? Where could we go to find accurate data about how our schools are doing nationally and not just state-by-state?

These are questions that have not fully been answered. It’s possible some of these services could fall back on other governmental departments as they did before the creation of the Department of Education in 1980. However, more likely this would be a redistribution of billions of dollars that used to go to public schools now going to private hands.

Moreover, abuses against students on the grounds of civil rights, gender, special education, etc. would skyrocket with little to no recourse. And we would be in the dark about how well we were educating our nation’s children.

Oh! And the bill also would reduce nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts.

I’m not kidding.

King apparently is troubled that kids are eating too many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and drinking low-fat or fat free milk. He is against reducing salt, saturated fat, and trans fat in school meals. And he doesn’t think children’s nutritional needs should be met within their caloric requirements.

I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that these regulations were proposed by the Obama administration. It has nothing to do with undoing legislation from our first black President. It’s all about the children.

King’s bill, HR 610, is not to be confused with a similar bill by Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie that would simply dismantle the Department of Education in one year.


Massie, who introduced his one page, one sentence bill on the same day DeVos was confirmed, is a Tea Party Republican Libertarian. He supports disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and allowing guns at the nation’s schools.

He is a hardcore Trump believer. During the election cycle after revelations about the candidate’s admitted sexual molestation of women surfaced, Massie famously said, “Trump is better than 90 percent of the congressmen I serve with.”

His bill, HR 899, reads in total:

“The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.”

As crazy as it sounds, Massie’s motivations are comprehensible. He wants to return complete control of education to the states.

It must be admitted that the Department of Education has overstepped the bounds of its authority during the last two administrations. When it was formed three decades ago, it was supposed to be a tool to support public schools, ensure student’s rights weren’t being violated and giving a boost to the poor. However, President George W. Bush made it all about standardized testing and giving slush money to charter schools. Obama was supposed to right these wrongs but, being a corporate Democrat, he only increased and administered them more efficiently.

The Department of Education is a tool, and like any tool, it can be misused. That doesn’t mean it should be disbanded. Republicans wouldn’t ban all guns because of instances of gun violence. Why disband the Department of Education because administrations of both parties misused it? Put it in check with proper regulations…

Oops. I think I’ve lost them.

Anyway, despite Massie’s slavish devotion for all things Trump, the President appears to be siding with King.

Trump and his mega-donor Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, have already shown their commitment to King’s voucher legislation.


Who did they invite? One was a public school teacher. One was a public school principal for a building specializing in special education. One was a public school parent who also had children in private school.  The rest were homeschoolers, charter school parents or private school representatives.

So 70-80% of the people they invited were not associated with public schools. The Trump administration has made it clear that they are not interested in serving public school students. They are primarily concerned with children going to private and parochial schools who currently make up less than 10 percent of the country’s students.

During the meeting, Trump even praised a “Nevada charter school” that he had visited.  This school is a religious school where students pledged allegiance to the Bible for the former Reality TV star. (Don’t believe me? Watch the video by clicking here.) Like many private or parochial schools, the one Trump praised is notorious for regularly excluding students with disabilities.

The Trump administration is apparently not very concerned with special education students. DeVos refused to commit herself to defending these students during her confirmation hearing (and still was confirmed by Republican legislators!). Moreover, one of the first things the Department did after DeVos took over was to shut down its Webpage for students with disabilities and direct users to another page with fewer resources.

Currently, Republicans control both houses of Congress. They could easily ram through this legislation and Trump would almost certainly sign it. Moreover, there are numerous corporate Democrats like Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey who may be overjoyed that the ideology they have pushed for their entire careers have finally been proposed by Trump.

The only thing standing in the way of this wrecking ball bill is parents and teachers.

We flooded our lawmakers phones, emails and town halls during the DeVos confirmation. We demanded a qualified candidate with a commitment to public education. But because she and her family have paid more than $200 million to these same GOP lawmakers, they voted for her anyway.

Will they continue to override their constituents? Only time will tell.

As the Trump administration continues to unravel and public support plummets for him and his corporate agenda, resistance will become more politically possible.

All we can do is keep up the pressure. Keep calling. Keep emailing. Keep showing up at lawmakers offices. Keep marching in the streets.

Eventually, these people will have to listen to us – or else we’ll stop them at the voting booth.

But will public schools last that long?

4 Things CMS Should Do Right Now to Help Immigrant Students by Justin Parmenter

Originally published at: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article133116839.html

These remarks were delivered at the Charlotte Mecklenberg  school board 2-14-17:

I am a 7th grade language arts teacher at Waddell Language Academy. I’m also the proud husband of an immigrant.

Our school system serves students from all walks of life, and almost 30 percent of our students have a home language other than English. This rich multicultural tapestry offers a daily opportunity for us to learn from each other and experience a variety of perspectives. I welcome every single student who walks through my door with no questions asked because that’s my job and, more importantly, that’s what they need from me. In addition to teaching children how to read and write, I try to instill in them positive character traits such as compassion and empathy. I’ve learned the best way to do that is not by lecturing them about compassion and empathy but by treating them that way myself.

In the last month I’ve heard the level of fear on the part of many of my students increase, have seen it in their writing as they react to news of changes in immigration policy and arrests of undocumented immigrants in our community. Across the state my colleagues report rising absenteeism along with impacts on the mental and physical health of our students.


Our district is obligated under federal law to educate all children who come to us. I believe that it’s implicit in that mandate that we must consider their overall well-being and do everything we can to support them.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that we take some additional steps at this time. I’d like to see our school district:

▪ Provide additional counseling for students who have been negatively affected by recent ICE activity in our county;

▪ Work in concert with local advocacy groups to educate our families on what their rights are as they relate to immigration policy;

▪ Strive to be open and transparent about what’s happening in our community and whether our schools and bus stops are safe from ICE raids.

▪ Finally, we need to keep in mind that not sending their children to school can result in our parents entering the criminal system and becoming a priority for deportation. I would ask that, as a district, we ensure that our schools and bus stops are safe harbors and communicate that clearly to parents so they are not keeping their children home out of fear. Along those lines, I would like to thank Superintendent Ann Clark for seeking to verify with local law enforcement and federal immigration officials that our students are safe in our schools.

Taking these steps to mitigate the stress and anxiety many of our students are living under right now will help us to carry out our vision of preparing every child to lead a rich and productive life. In so doing, as a district, we can model the compassion and empathy that we want our students to learn.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

School Choice: Philanthropy or Predatory Capitalism by Cheryl Binkley


Betsy DeVos, Bill and Melinda Gates, Alice Walton, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers and other billionaires each have the money to endow Many schools. Yet, they have been spending vast sums of money to dictate the structure of public schools and how communities run them.
If what they wanted was to provide educational opportunities, they could have created their own string of free schools in key locations -- based on their own fortunes, not tax dollars. Their endowed schools could have been the laboratories for innovation they claim to want. Their endowments could have offered free education to those students they claim to want to save. Their added money could have improved the economies of the poor communities they claim to want to help.
None of them have done so. Instead they have spent billions of dollars creating thinly veiled PR firms to malign public schools and purchasing public officials, all in an attempt to lay claim to tax dollars others have paid. Instead of paying tax dollars that could fund those public schools they so viciously criticize, they have tried to take the tax dollars working people pay to educate the community's children.
This latest push for "School Choice" is just another round in their ongoing fight to access other people's money for their global empires. Even more damning is that if billionaire "investors" pulled their dollars from non-profit astroturf groups, one issue think tanks, and legislator purchases-- the entire "School Choice" movement would collapse. There would be No huge push for deconstructing our local school systems. There would be some individual districts trying to provide better opportunities for their own children. (Another place our billionaire philanthropic community could have helped and hasn't).
At some point it becomes impossible to credit any of these individuals with ethical motivations. Their behavior tells us they are only interested in having access to opening a new market for profit, and long-term profits for businesses they already own. (Something Bill Gates actually said on PBS, that he started his public school interventions for long-term profits).
Worse, their choices tell us that they want to dominate other people's choices. Rather than offering real options to neighborhoods, families, or children, they attempt to force whole communities, districts, and states into pouring hard-earned money into the billionaires' coffers.
It's time to say to profiteers-- IF you want your own schools, go fund them. Leave ours alone. And it's time the philanthropic community reigned in their own. It's not philanthropy if it's just tax sheltered R&D or thinly veiled market takeover. We give the wealthy class tax breaks to give back to the community, not to ravage and pillage our best and greatest community services.

America’s Founding Fathers Were Against School Choice by Steven Singer

 
One of the founding principles of the United States is public education.

We fought a bloody revolution against England for many reasons, but chief among them was to create a society where all people could be educated.

Certainly we had disagreements about who counted as a person. Women? Probably not. Black people? Doubtful. But the ideal of providing a quality education for all was a central part of our fledgling Democracy regardless of how well we actually lived up to it.

In fact, without it, our system of self-government just wouldn’t work. A functioning Democracy, it was thought, couldn’t exist in a nation where the common person was ignorant. We needed everyone to be knowledgeable and enlightened.

That’s why we have public schools – so that an educated citizenry will lead to a good government.

Our founders didn’t want a system of private schools each teaching students various things about the world coloring their minds with religious dogma. They didn’t want a system of schools run like businesses that were only concerned with pumping out students to be good cogs in the machinery of the marketplace.

No. They wanted one public system created for the good of all, paid for at public expense, and democratically governed by the taxpayers, themselves.

Don’t believe me?


More than any other fathers of the Revolution, Thomas Jefferson preached the Gospel of education and its necessity for free governance.

As he wrote in a letter to Dr. Price (1789), “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

He expanded on it in a letter to C. Yancy (1816), “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

James Madison agreed. As the author of the Second Amendment, he is often credited with giving gun rights primary importance. However, he clearly thought education similarly indispensable. In a letter to W. T. Barry (1822), he wrote:
“A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

Our first President, George Washington, saw this to mean that the goal of education should be knowledge of good government. He wrote in Maxims (1854):
“And a primary object of such an Institution [Public Education], should be the education of our youth in the SCIENCE OF GOVERNMENT. In a Republic what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty is more pressing on its legislature, than to patronize a plan, for communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”

For his part, Jefferson had even more egalitarian ends in mind. For him, the most important aspect of public schooling was that it should be open to all social strata of society.

He wrote in his response to the American Philosophical Society, (1808), “I feel … an ardent desire to see knowledge so disseminated through the mass of mankind that it may, at length, reach even the extremes of society: beggars and kings.”

In short, Jefferson envisioned a public school system that educated everyone regardless of social class or wealth.

This is very different from 18th Century education in the United Kingdom. Rich children went to grammar schools with vastly different curriculums for boys and girls. But the poor were left to their own devices. Though many English towns had established charity schools – sometimes called Blue Coat Schools because of the color of children’s uniforms – there was no general law guaranteeing an education to the poor. Moreover, most schools included religious instruction, usually that of the Church of England. Children who belonged to other denominations often went to their own academies. In many cases, a formal education was eschewed altogether in favor of a 7-year apprenticeship for a trade or working at home.

So what Jefferson and others were proposing – free, secular education for all – was revolutionary.

Moreover, it would be essentially public, not private. Jefferson’s immediate predecessor as President, John Adams, famously said in Defense of Constitutions (1787):

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.”


The result of such a national commitment to public education was immediately felt. Schools were built quickly throughout the country but especially in the more urban North. By 1800, the literacy rate exceeded 90 percent in some regions – extraordinary for the time period.

Data from indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania show that the number of children receiving an education increased from 33.3% in 1771–1773 to 69% in 1787–1804.


By 1900, there were 34 states with compulsory schooling laws; four of which were in the South. Thirty of those states even required attendance until age 14 or higher. As a result, by 1910, a full 72 percent of American children attended school. By 1918, every state required students to complete at least elementary school.


And these schools became increasingly public. Though the Colonial period was marked by more private schools than public, by the close of the 19th century, public secondary schools began to outnumber private ones. This was just as Jefferson had foreseen.

He believed there was a place for private enterprise, but education wasn’t it. In his sixth Annual Message (1806) as President, Jefferson wrote:

“Education is here placed among the articles of public care, not that it would be proposed to take its ordinary branches out of the hands of private enterprise, which manages so much better all the concerns to which it is equal; but a public institution can alone supply those sciences which, though rarely called for, are yet necessary to complete the circle, all the parts of which contribute to the improvement of the country, and some of them to its preservation.”

In other words, Jefferson saw room for some aspects of schooling to be private such as selling books, supplies, etc. Some things are accomplished better by private enterprise, but not all. Only the “ordinary branches” of schooling can be best served by “private enterprise.” The roots of the tree, however, must be public. It just makes sense, after all. You wouldn’t run a business like a school. Why would you want to run a school like a business?

He stressed that only an institution focused on the public good, only a public school system, can provide the best education. And he again stressed its necessity for the health of the entire country.

In Notes on Virginia (1782), Jefferson wrote:

“An amendment of our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all the people. If every individual which composes their mass participates of the ultimate authority, the government will be safe; because the corrupting the whole mass will exceed any private resources of wealth: and public ones cannot be provided but by levies on the people. In this case every man would have to pay his own price. The government of Great-Britain has been corrupted, because but one man in ten has a right to vote for members of parliament. The sellers of the government therefore get nine-tenths of their price clear. It has been thought that corruption is restrained by confining the right of suffrage to a few of the wealthier of the people: but it would be more effectually restrained by an extension of that right to such numbers as would bid defiance to the means of corruption.”

Truly, the founders saw public education as a way of stopping their new nation from becoming as corrupt as England. By spreading the vote to more people, it was necessary to increase the education of the citizenry. That way, it would be difficult for special interests to sway the government unless what they were proposing was for the good of all.

Chief among the corrupting influences of English education was religion. It wasn’t that our founders were irreligious. They were skeptical of dogma, of the close relationship between church and state in the United Kingdom and how the one was used to enforce the other.

As Madison wrote in a letter to Edward Livingston (1822), “Religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Jefferson made this clear in his letter to Thomas Cooper (1822):

“After stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences… And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality.”

In other words, Jefferson desired those interested in religious matters to broaden their knowledge beyond their own belief system. It was essential that American minds were not closed by strict canonical religious instruction. He saw this as necessary to the exercise of free government.

One can only imagine at what horror he would regard the modern voucher system, where tax dollars are used to fund parochial schools teaching just this same primacy of doctrine in the formation of students’ worldviews. He wanted Americans with open minds full of competing ideas, not mentalities instructed in the one “right” way to act and think.

And the cost of providing such an education – though considerable – was worth it.

“If a man empties his purse into his head no man can take it from him. An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Adams concurred in his 1776 Papers:

“Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

And Jefferson in a letter to Joseph C. Cabell (1816) wrote, “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

Moreover, as a man of wealth, himself, Jefferson had no problem bearing the burden of the cost of a robust public school system. In his Autobiography (1821), he wrote, “The expenses of [the elementary] schools should be borne by the inhabitants of the county, every one in proportion to his general tax-rate. This would throw on wealth the education of the poor.”

How far we have strayed from these ideals.

Our current policymakers are doing just the opposite of the founders. They skimp on education, slashing budgets especially for the poor. They seem to champion both private schools and ignorance. Education is not a necessary public good – it is something to be hidden and kept away from the masses.

Today’s policymakers and politicians seem to actually want voters to be uninformed so they’ll vote for ignorant lawmakers and bad policies. They’ll vote against their own interests.

This goes against everything our founders stood for. It is counter to the ideals of the American Revolution. It is un-American.

There is nothing more representative of the ideals of our nation than the public school system. And anyone who attacks it attacks the heart of the nation.