Sunday, June 3, 2018

Dear Betsy DeVos, I Will NEVER Report My Students to ICE by Steven Singer

Teachers fill a lot of roles in our public schools.

We’re mentors to kids in need.

We’re homework-givers, pencil-providers, idea-encouragers, lunch-buyers, scrape-bandagers, hand-holders, hug-givers, good listeners, counselors, caregivers and – yes – sometimes even butt-kickers.

It’s no wonder that we occasionally get mistaken for mothers and fathers.

But one thing we will never be is a snitch.

She’s not going to say what we should do one way or another. She’s just saying that this is something we COULD do if we wanted.

If that results in those kids and their families being deported, well we are a nation of laws, after all.

It’s a remark that sounds so reasonable to some folks.

Luckily, I speak dog whistle.

So did the U.S. Supreme Court back in 1982 when justices ruled in Plyler v. Doe that schools cannot deny children their right to a free education based on immigration status.

When kids are afraid to learn because they or their parents or extended family may be undocumented, that has a smothering affect on the classroom.

When ICE raids a local business, we see a sudden drop in class attendance.

So if students thought their teachers or principals were scrutinizing them to determine their citizenship status, we’d be discouraging many with brown skin or extra-national credentials from ever coming back.

By suggesting that educators have a choice whether to obey established law or to become self-appointed border patrol officers, DeVos actually is prescribing how we should act.

Well, not this teacher, Betsy.

Not now. Not EVER.

Teachers are not the enforcers of our broken, bent and biased immigration policy. It is not our job to oblige xenophobia and bigotry.

It is our job to teach, to protect and inspire.

Sure, I’ve made my fair share of calls to parents, healthcare professionals and Child Protective Services.

But I did that to protect my kids. And I do think of them as my kids.

When these little people come toddling into my class, I take a kind of ownership of them.

For the time they’re here, we’re family. I take interest in their lives and they take interest in mine.

They know all about my wife and daughter, my parents and grandparents. And I know about theirs.

We don’t just learn grammar, reading and writing. We share our lives with each other.

We share a mutual trust and respect.

If I reported even a single student for a suspected immigration violation, I would lose that forever.

Hispanic names have become Anglicized. Angelo has becomes Angel. Julio has become Jules. Jorge is now George.

The dulcet melody of Spanish has been silenced. You’ll only hear it in muffled voices if you wander by a few lockers, but never in class.

My kids aren’t even 13 yet, but many of them have already learned to hide.

Don’t appear different. Don’t let anyone know your roots extend beyond national borders.

Be “normal.” Be homogenized, bland American.

That’s the world we’ve built and it’s the one that DeVos is encouraging with her tin pot nationalism.

Some things don’t change when you cross municipal lines – human decency is one of them.

So I won’t be reporting any of my students to ICE.

I won’t help the Gestapo separate parents and children based on citizenship status.

White supremacy was bad enough before Trump was elected. I won’t help the unfortunately named Department of Homeland Security become the protector of a new white trash Fatherland.

I will defend my students. I will stand up for their safety and their rights.

That’s just what we do in public school. We look after our own.

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Safe Classrooms in the Age of Intruder Drills by Aaron Michael Baker

180 days a year, I go to school and bust my ass to ensure that my students feel safe inside the four walls of my classroom. I can only do so much on duty in the gym or in the hall during passing period. But in my room, our room, we literally create a family over a span of about 140 hours of time spent together. On occasion, a principal or a college student will wander in, but the vast majority of that 140 hours consists of just me and my students. There is so much autonomy built into this space. We learn together, we grow together, and we drill together.

We occasionally leave the classroom together to jam into a locker room for tornado drills or gather outside on the tennis courts for fire drills. But several times every school year, I am expected to direct multiple students to crawl under my desk. “Everyone in this corner. Away from the small window in the door. Low to the floor. Quiet please. We don’t want ‘you know who’ to come in here and yell at us.” Wait for it… Wait for it… Heavy footsteps in the hallway, then, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Someone in the hallway pounds their fists against the classroom door. Nobody laughs. Nobody moves. The footsteps move on. We patiently wait several more minutes. Then the intercom, “This concludes our intruder drill. Please continue with class as normal.”
“Everyone in this corner. Away from the small window in the door. Low to the floor. Quiet please. We don’t want ‘you know who’ to come in here and yell at us.”
Class as normal? Armed police just impersonated an active shooter trying to gain access to my classroom! How could class possibly be normal after this traumatic event? And yet somehow it is. Students and teachers alike have been conditioned not to wince at this simulation. The National Rifle Association has manufactured a world where schools must ask “when” and not “if.” No one says or even thinks the words, “It could never happen here.” Because we all know it could.
But what kind of intruder would actually knock? Teachers are not instructed on what to do beyond the hiding and the banging door. The shots, the evacuation at gunpoint, and the unarmed acts of resistance will always go unscripted and unrehearsed. No teacher can be absolutely certain how they would respond to an armed person forcibly entering their classroom unless they have actually been in that situation. The intruder drill is a minimally effective scare tactic, a necessary evil at best.
Good teachers are adept at dealing with frequent class disruptions. An active shooter situation is the ultimate class disruption. From the teacher’s perspective, it is a sudden and complete loss of control. It is a moment when concepts like classroom management, conflict resolution, and even de-escalation are completely irrelevant. Separate from the imminent danger, such a dramatic shift in roles can be very disorienting. Social Justice minded teachers spend a lot of time protecting students from themselves, from other students in the classroom, and from them as the teacher. My implicit biases as a teacher present a very tangible danger to my students, but my microaggressions elicit an entirely different response than does the presence of a semi-automatic rifle.
An active shooter situation is the ultimate class disruption.

For good reason, first year teachers are told of the importance of creating classroom climate during the first two weeks of school. This is the time, above all else, for teachers to send the clear message to students, “You are safe in this classroom.” Keeping that promise is almost always an issue of classroom managementinclusive practices, and culturally responsive pedagogy. But making that promise to students in 2018 necessarily evokes gun violence as well. Can a teacher unequivocally promise to protect all students in a potential active shooter situation? No, of course not. What teachers can do is to create a classroom culture where the presence of outsiders; student observers, other teachers, principals, and even parents, is marked by a small healthy dose of uneasiness and maybe even a hint of suspicion. Even a principal using a key to enter a locked classroom unannounced, though it is their right, should feel like a minor intrusion. The message; “You are our guest. We have a good thing going here. Please don’t mess it up with your presence.”

If I can create that sense of family and security in my classroom, then as a class, we might be 1% more prepared for unwanted classroom “guests” like the power wielding SRO (School Resource Officer), the Betsy DeVos inspired ICE raid (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), or heaven forbid the active shooter.

School Vouchers and Runaway EdTech Pave the Way for the Destruction of the Very Concept of School by Steven Singer

School is where you learn to learn.

And, if she’s good, she imparts that lesson to you as well.

Imagine if we took that away.

No schools, no teachers, just gangs of students walking the streets, stopping along the way to thumb messages to each other on social media, play a video game or take an on-line test.

That’s the world many EdTech entrepreneurs are trying to build.

And school vouchers are helping them do it.

Take Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and other market based privatization schemes.

Normally, the federal, state and local government collect taxes to fund an individual child’s education, which is then spent at a public or charter school.

At a public school all that money must be spent on the student. At a charter school some of that money can be pocketed as profit by the private company who runs the school.

Public schools provide a better alternative because the funding must be dedicated to the student, living within a district’s coverage area guarantees enrollment, the school must be managed by an elected school board with open meetings and a plethora of other amenities you won’t find at a privatized institution. But at least the charter school is a school!

However, an ESA or other voucher would allow that money to go elsewhere. It could go to funding the tuition at a private or parochial school where organizers can use it however they like – pocketing some and using the rest to help the child as you’ll find in most charter schools.

But as bad as that is, vulture capitalists want to add another destination for that money – let it pile up in the bank where it can be used for discrete education services provided by the EdTech industry.

It’s almost like homeschooling – without the loving parent being in charge.

But it’s really a single person cyber school with little to no guiding principles, management or oversight.

Reading a book or an article gives you a badge. Answering a series of multiple-choice questions on a reading earns you more badges. And if you’ve completed a certain task satisfactorily, you can even earn a badge by teaching that same material to others.

It’s the low wage gig economy applied to education. We just transform a crappy job market where workers bounce from a few hours of minimum wage labor here to a few hours of minimum wage toil there – all without benefits or union protections – into learning. Children bouncing from a few hours of Khan Academy videos here to a software package there and Voila! “Modern” education!

And make no mistake, it’s not about improving the quality of education. It’s about providing the cheapest possible alternative and selling it to rubes as innovation.

The wealthy will still get institutions of learning. They will still be educated by the most qualified teachers in the world. They will still learn how to learn.

It is only the poor and middle class who will be released like chickens into the pasture of a learning ecosystem.

And as an added benefit, the badge structure creates a market where investors can bet and profit off of who gains badges and to what degree on the model of crypto-currencies like Bitcoin! So all the stability of the pre-crash housing market! What could possibly go wrong!?

Let me be clear – this is the ultimate goal of the school privatization movement.

Charter and voucher schools are only the tip of the iceberg. They still require real human beings to act as teachers (though they need not be as well educated or have as much experience as public school teachers). They still require buildings and grounds.

But this depersonalized learning approach allows them to do away with all of that. They can just provide students with an Internet accessible device and some dubious on-line tracking and management system.

Then they can pocket all the rest of the money taxpayers put aside to educate children and call it profit.

And they can use the programs students access to “learn” as a way to gather valuable marketing data about our kids. Everything students do on the device is free market research – every word they input, every keystroke, every site visited down to the slightest eye movement.

This is the logical conclusion of the monetization of education and an economy that only sees value in others as human capital that can be bought, sold and exploited.

This is where the privatization movement is going. And they’re laying the groundwork in legislation being proposed in our state capitals today.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Senate Bill 2 proposes the creation of just such ESAs. If approved, the immediate result would be to boost private and parochial schools.

However, given a few years to strengthen the technologies and systems needed for a full learning ecosystem, the same law would allow taxpayer money to be used in this way.

And it’s something hardly anyone is talking about.

We’re fighting the privatization systems of today as the plutocrats set up the privatization systems of tomorrow.

Even if school vouchers never take off to the degree necessary to scaffold the most robust learning ecosystems, EdTech lobbyists are trying to install as much of this garbage as they can into our existing schools.

They are using one-to-one iPad initiatives and grants to fund up-to-date computers, Wi-Fi networks and software packages to pave the way for this brave new world of digital exploitation. They are selling our test score obsessed bureaucrats software like iStation and IXL that bridge the gap between test prep and learning ecosystems lite.

You can walk into many schools today where students spend hours on-line earning digital badges for watching videos and taking stealth assessments.

Few people are sounding the alarm because few people understand what’s going on.

This is not conjecture. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is the goal the edtech entrepreneurs will gladly tell you all about hoping you’ll invest.

There are hours of videos, pages of documents, mountains of graphs, charts and graphics about how this scheme will pay off for investment bankers and venture capitalists. (See below)

The only true way to win this battle is a cultural shift away from dehumanizing runaway capitalism.

We need to stop thinking that the private sector is always better than the public good. We need to stop allowing big business and corporations to get away without paying their fair share. We need to increase the voice of citizens and decrease the megaphone of money and privilege.

Otherwise, the science fiction dystopias of books like “Ready Player One” will no longer be fiction.

They will become the reality for every school child in this country.

A reality where school, itself, is a thing of the past.

And education is reduced to the mercenary collection of discrete skills that add up to nothing of value for the students except their own enslavement.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is the learning ecosystems model from the EdTech industry, itself, in corporate officers own words and graphics:

LEARNING IS EARNING – the scariest 6:58 video you’ll ever see.

KNOWLEDGEWORKS Vision for the Future of Education:

More on KnowledgeWorks

Listing for PARENTS AS CONSUMERS Symposium


Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

Teachers Should March in Every State: Michigan, Let’s Go Next! by Renegade Teacher

Lecture at the University of Bologna, Italy, 1400s.

Remember when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie loved yelling at teachers? Long before he orchestrated traffic jams on bridges and became Donald Trump’s lapdog, Chris Christie was a darling of the conservative movement because he loved talking down public school (and largely female) teachers. One clip in particular always stuck out to me.
Rita Wilson (Teacher): You’re not compensating me for my education and you’re not compensating me for my experience.
Chris Christie: Well you know what? Then you don’t have to do it.
In the clip, Christie offered no defense for abysmal teacher salaries- instead, he actually blamed the teachers themselves for signing up for the poor pay and inadequate benefits. In Christie’s world, if you want to complain, step away and someone else will take your job.
In fact, this is the Republican process on destroying government services.
  1. Decimate funding for a public service
  2. Watch the crumbling of that public service
  3. Blame workers of that public service for that failing public service
  4. Work with corporations/special interests to privatize or eliminate that public service.
With his unceremonious fall from public life (now, he’s reduced to confronting fans at sports games), Christie’s posturing looks ridiculous in hindsight. Yet, it reveals something deep about America’s view about teachers. There is this myth of the virtuous and self-sacrificing teacher who cares nothing of personal gain nor money; this is reinforced by films that show teachers experiencing school-related traumagetting divorced and getting fired in pursuit of their love for teaching. However, when we teachers ask questions about our own livelihood and needs, suddenly society does not love us so much.
Teachers in 2018 say that enough is enough. We see an upward economy that has record corporate profits and sky-high stock market gains, yet the wages of teachers seem stuck in 1980. Teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and North Carolina have yelled “Enough is enough” with marches, protests, and social media campaigns. These protests have worked because they have stripped away the romantic notion of the self-sacrificing teacher and replaced it with a professional vision for what teachers are worth. If this strategy can work in “red-state America,” it can work anywhere.
There are a few statistics that explain what is going on with teachers in America:
  1. In 2015, American public school teachers were paid 17 percent lower than similarly educated workers. In 1994, this gap was just 1.8 percent[1].
  2. Most industrialized countries pay public school teachers more than the United States . As of 2013, 26 of those countries pay teachers more (when compared to similarly educated workers); just 5 pay less[2].
  3. In 35 of 50 states, teacher salaries have dropped over the last 15 years(when adjusted for inflation) [3].
It is clear that teachers have a raw deal. As a young public school teacher myself, this is obvious to me. There is, however, a question that I cannot seem to answer: why are teachers in America paid so poorly?

Teachers are Paid like S*** Because of Sexism

In the excellent book “The Teacher Wars,” Dana Goldstein recounts the history of the teaching profession in America. In the mid-19th century, just 10 percent of American women worked jobs outside their homes [4]. When Catherine Beecher first pitched the idea of women teaching in American schools, she argued that schools could save money by paying female teachers less, saying,
“A woman needs support only for herself” while a man “requires support for himself and a family” [5].
This idea played into the assumption that women deserve less money for equal labor, and set forth a path for teachers to be underpaid.
Horace Mann, the father of the American public school system, noted that replacing male teachers with female teachers saved the state of Massachusetts $11,000 in one year alone [6]. In 1842, a manual for creating local schools said female teachers were an essential part of a “cheap system” of education and that women would be willing to work for half of what men of the “poorest capacity” would require [7].
In New York, by 1850, 4/5 of teachers were women, and by 1873, a majority of teachers in nearly all northern states were women [8]. As America increasingly turned to women to teach its children, it simultaneously ‘saved money’ by lowering the pay of teachers. The foundation for horrendous teacher salaries was set.
Goldstein admits in her book that during this era of American history, “teaching became understood less as a career than as a philanthropic vocation or romantic calling” [9].
This is why Chris Christie told Rita Wilson that she could either accept abysmal teacher pay or give up her job to someone else. Chris Christie did not show Rita Wilson the respect of a worker who was trying to get by on a meager salary in a time of increased cost of living. He treated her as someone who should unflinchingly accept awful conditions because that’s what teachers should do.
We teachers are sacred and romanticized until we ask for reasonable livelihoods and job security. Financial prosperity is not part of the romanticized notion of the selfless teacher. In 2018, teachers must fight together against this notion.

A Nation at Risk…of Having Inadequate Educators

The famous “A Nation at Risk” report released in the 1980s told America that it needed to get its act together on education or else trouble was ahead. Some of the recommendations for getting more professional teachers included “higher base salaries, merit pay to reward effective teachers, and stricter teacher evaluation systems that made it more difficult to earn and keep tenure” [10].
The “higher base salaries” part was conveniently ignored as evidenced by the fact that average teacher salaries have barely budged since the 1980s. What has proliferated instead has been intensive evaluation systems that tie student test scores to teacher evaluations as well as foolish merit pay experiments. Without higher base salaries, however, the other solutions fall apart.
Things have largely gotten worse for teachers since the 1980s.
Teach for America and other “quick-to-certify” programs de-professionalize the teaching profession and treat teaching as a stop in life towards more important work (Wall Street/law school/corporate ed reform). Many schools and corporations have dedicated themselves to “blended learning” schemes and overuse of technology that intentionally seek to lower the importance of teachers. Flipped lessons occur where students learn on their own at home and do self-guided homework in class…teachers in many American classroom are sadly no more than babysitters/disciplinarians. With decreasing pay and benefits as well as decreasing prestige, is it any wonder that America has a teacher shortage?
And yet, there is so much hope right now because of courageous teachers in Arizona, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, North Carolina, and Kentucky. Finally, educators are clinging together and fighting back against years of mistreatment and disrespect. There are Facebook groups and Unions and teacher friend groups that are talking. Now is the time for us to unite together- 50 states- and assert ourselves as a force that will not sit back as corporate reformers, big-tech peddlers, and government stooges further de-legitimize our noble profession into a charitable calling stripped of all humanity and dignity.
We must rise up in Michigan, where we teachers sacrificed when times were hard in the mid-2000s. But now that the economy is humming along again and Governor Rick Snyder has made sure to keep taxes on the rich nice and low, it is time to fight for our livelihood so that we can do what we love: teach kids (and cut down on our side-hustles). We will use this time as an opportunity to have an honest conversation about the sexism and disrespect that has led to the de-professionalization of teaching, we will use this time to reclaim our 12.1% pay cut over 15 years, and we will fight the idea that worthless test scores be tied to 40% of teacher evaluations starting in 2018-2019. It is our time in Michigan to take to the streets, to tell our stories and of our hardships, and to march on Lansing and tell Rick Snyder and the legislature to hear our cries for school funding and personal livelihood. As much as Donald Trump, Chris Christie, or believers of the sexist ‘charitable calling’ conception of teachers would disagree, we have earned our right to be respected professionals. Now, we must band together to claim that right.

[4] Goldstein, Dana. The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014. Pp. 20.
[5] Ibid, pp 21.
[6] Ibid, pp 26.
[7] Ibid, pp 27.
[8] Ibid, pp 36-40.
[9] Ibid, pp 31.
[10] Ibid, pp 170.