Thursday, December 12, 2013

Children Are Immigrants

Shella Zelenz
Shella Zelenz

There is a discussion going around the progressive education movement that addresses the manner in which children are treated and looked upon. They use the term adultism to refer to the behavior of the adults in reference to their treatment of the children. This definition typically revolves around the concept that the adults, in some shape or form, look at the children as less than or lesser able than an adult in performing or understanding. I would like to address this topic in a much different manner.

The treatment of children is currently very hard-wired into our societal norms and behaviors. There are parenting books and teacher trainings that address discipline and classroom management. What isn't discussed is the vocabulary utilized and the insinuated assumption of lowered expectation or cognizant ability. On the same venue, we see reactionary disciplinary treatment based upon the child's less than desirable behavior or productivity. I have yet to see a single professional address the fact that the "dumbed down" vocabulary used when speaking with children actually contributes to their anti-authoritarian behavior. In other words, the disciplinary challenges faced by the parent or teacher are not the child's fault. The adult created it by the very means they use to be gentle or nurturing to the child.

I would like to address this viewpoint from a position where people can relate more closely. I am not advocating harsh stances with children. I am not advocating abusive language or toughen up assumptions. I AM advocating treating children as though they are immigrants new to this country. What does that mean? Well, if you were traveling abroad and came to a country where you knew the language minimally, but were not very proficient, would you want to be talked down to as though your intellectual skills were less or would you prefer the native speak to you in language that is clearer? Would the people of the other country treat you as though you were incapable of handling yourself in their country? Do  you think they might find themselves being quite helpful when you have questions or seem lost? Do they offer tips without assuming you aren't capable of solving the problem? 

Children have to be able to communicate with any member of society regardless of where they are located. If they fear speaking to others without having a mediator involved, they are not developing healthy communication skills which will impede their professional development of networking skills, presentation skills, sales skills, and leadership skills. This also hinders their ability to develop healthy relationships with others. If they are never allowed to assert their feelings in a healthy manner (defined as being respected for feeling that way and given full authority to speak their concerns with a room full of people who also will be offered the same respect for asserting their own thoughts and opinions and know they are taken seriously), which acknowledges full personal awareness of their own thoughts and contribution to the scenario, what evolves is reactionary behavior. If a child is treated as less than he is, he will live up to that expectation. If he is ordered to behave in a certain way (which insinuates he is less than he is), he will live up to that expectation (the expectation that he has to be ordered around and is incapable of functioning respectfully on his own). If he is given authority over his own voice and body, knowing full well that everyone in the room looks at him as a person new to the country who is only trying to learn the best way to navigate the city, you will find a confident and hugely respectful individual eager to take on bigger challenges as he grows in his supported confidence.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Blame all you want, but only 2 of your 5 fingers are NOT pointing at you

Shella Zelenz
Shella Zelenz
I am going to write about accountability today. This is a highly unpopular term and the hair will stand up on end and the claws will come out to play, but I stand firm in my insistence on bringing this up. You can blame all you want, but always remember that only two of the fingers are pointing away while 3 are pointing directly at you. 
I am not a fan of self-abuse. Beating oneself up for not being adequate, or good enough or not stellar enough is a game of self-defeat. I am also not a fan of jumping to the orders of outsiders who assert their authority over our minds and physical movement. I AM a fan of accountability of self. That means ALL parties must always be consciously aware of their own contributions to the scenario. 
This means that you can say that the reason the students don’t perform well is because of poverty, malnutrition, abuse, or behavioral condition. You can find a myriad of ways to excuse behavior, performance or effort. What it all boils down to at the end of the day was how did you respond to it? You can’t control the external factors of ANYTHING in the world. Absolutely nothing. So what can you do? You can be CONSCIOUS all day, every day, about every single thought and action that you offer the world. Your conscious awareness of self DOES ripple out and affect every single person you come into contact with.
Your students will be calmer. They may test your reaction to be sure that you mean it, but if you are calm and conscious in your response to a scenario, they will feel it. It has a certain human resonation that all people can relate to. Conscious words mean more than loaded lectures and highly planned corrective measures. Reactionary punishments are the exact opposite of conscious response. That is why behavior never improves. That is why resentments build. That is when more dangerous behavior is bred. 
Learn to be acutely self-aware of every emotional reaction you have, of your inner-dialogue, and of what comes out of you. Then decide if that is really what you wish to contribute to the world. You don’t need advice. You’ll know. It won’t feel good. It will feel pretty awful. What you need to decide is how to reprogram your own inner dialogue so that what comes out of you IS conscious. That one step will redefine every professional and personal relationship in your life. You can do the same with words that are spoken to you. If they don’t feel right when you hear them, feel them out. Find out why you reacted the way you did. Get to the bottom of it. It isn’t about the other person. Your reaction is YOURS. The same is true of your students. If you want to see a difference in student achievement, start with yourself. Be that example. They will grow magnificently in your example. 

Shella is the founder of Zelenz Education Consulting. She is a 17 year veteran teacher who has chosen to create an option for teachers, parents and students to ensure their highest and best outcomes are achieved and respected by honoring what works best for them rather than what they are told is best for them. More can be learned about her team at

Thursday, November 21, 2013

RA RA RA! by John O. Landon

Ok.... Here's some bad made funny! I hate Common Core so much, but I couldn't let my students feel defeated! My students took the 8th grade Science Common Core Benchmark exam yesterday. During the exam they needed to use the Periodic Table of the elements which I handed out at the beginning of the exam... To which they asked, "Mr. Landon, what is this?" Well, I couldn't tell them anything but that it was the periodic table of the elements and they may need it for the exam. Today, I put this image on my board and asked what it was... They all correctly told me, "The periodic table!!" Then I played the hook in GaGa's song, Bad Romance and waited. It took them a minute but they got it and they laughed and sang along! One student then said, "You have too much fun planning your lessons, don't you Mr. Landon!" I said, "I sure do!"

Time for Action by Teddi Urriola

This is the testimony that I gave last night to the Minority Assembly Hearings for the Committee on Education. Our children do not need the rigid, inflexible, harsh, and standardized approach to education know as the Common Core. Hi. My name is Teddi Urriola and I am a teacher in the Rochester City School District. I had a very carefully crafted speech with statistics. I wanted to show you how this crisis in education is a manufactured crisis based on manipulated data and information. But I left that speech in the box outside and I really do hope you will read the statistics later. However, what I really want to do is put a human face on my classroom. So, I am going to tell you the story of 4 young girls and 4 little angels. They were in my Kindergarten and 1st grade classes 2 years in a row. Then you tell me if more rigor, harsh and inflexible instruction, higher expectations and more testing would have helped them? M came to me in Kindergarten. Quiet, she had trouble learning but didn't create any problems. She was never very clean or well dressed. She was in my class again in 1st grade. I may have met the father and the stepmother once in those 2 years. I found out that M's mother had died before she came to Kindergarten. On the last day of school I got permission to take M out to lunch at AppleBees. We then went shopping at Walmart. M never had girlie sneakers or clothes. When we went to pick out new shoes, she went to the boys area, that way her brother could wear them when she outgrew them she said. I sent her into the dressing room with a couple of cute short sets and asked the clerk to check on her. The clerk came back to tell me that she was wearing men's dirty underwear. I guess I needed to add panties to the shopping list. I gave M an angel to remember her mother and let her know that she was still watching over her and that I loved her too. T was always falling asleep in my class and never had her homework done. In fact it was usually never even removed from her backpack. I called home ready to give my teacher talk to mom and this is the story I heard. Mom got the kids up at 5 AM every day to take the bus across town to grandma's so she could go to work. The kids then took the school bus back across town to school and then back again to grandma's at the end of the school day. When Mom got out of work she would then load them all back onto the RTS bus and take them home, only to have to cook and do laundry and give baths and get them into bed to do it all over again the next day. Homework was not at the top of that to do list. 2 years later T's mom was murdered, shot on the front porch at a party. Another little angel, even though she was no longer in my room I had formed a connection because of that one phone conversation. I had learned not to be judgmental. J was lucky. She had a mom and a dad and they were educated. Dad was older and had retired from Kodak. A two parent family. He owned a cab and drove at night so that he could be with the girls in the day while mom worked. He was shot and killed one night in the cab. I think it is still listed as an unsolved homicide. Another little angel...daddy really loved you and so do I. R lived with her grandmother. Mom was in and out of trouble and in and out of her life. However, she was still mom. One of those times when she was in her life she too was murdered...I think it was over drugs. R stayed in our school and left last year for 9th grade...she came up to me one day last year and told me "I still have the angel you gave me." I told her, Mommy still loves her and so do I. Keep your nose clean and make good choices. I am here if you need me." William Bruce Cameron said, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts." I believe that I try to live this and I am not unique, so do all the other teachers in the RCSD who choose to teach in the city. This is a labor of love, not rigor. To my colleagues here who have talked about changing this or that, about implementation and roll out I say this, "This is not a reform that can be tweaked or adjusted or fixed. It is copyrighted. It is law." You gentlemen on the panel have the ability to turn back the clocks and stop Common Core in NYS, repeal Race to the Top. I would like to conclude with this quote by Winston Churchill. "All that is necessary for evil to win is for good men to do nothing." Please do something. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Battle for Public Education and "White Suburban Moms"": Unpacking Arne Duncan's Latest Insult

Originally published by emPower Magazine on November 20, 2013

Social media is in frenzy over the insulting remarks made by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As reported in the Washington Post Answer Sheet by Valarie Strauss.
“U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it ‘fascinating’ that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
These words have sparked an outrage by many women who classify themselves as “white suburban moms” and feel directly insulted by Duncan’s choice of words. We should all be outraged at the utter lack of respect Duncan has for the people he was hired to serve…public school students, their parents, and their teachers. But a closer examination of those words reveals the nuances between the attacks on public education that Duncan has shaped by labeling the movement as “white suburban moms”. Below are five things to consider when making sense of the latest controversy in the battle to stop the privatization of public education.
1. The fight against the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is part of a movement to stop the privatization of public education.
Since the invention of our public education system there have been attempts to change the purpose and focus of public schools. Ideological movements have shifted the thinking of what should comprise the curriculum and how best to teach young people. Infused in this debate is the notion of what is the purpose of education. From a classical education for all to an education that sorts and prepares students for their probably destinations in the workforce to an education that helps each child learn to think critically and develop their potential; the purpose of education has been debated and influenced by those who have the power to shape the educational experiences of other people’s children. The recent push to “reform” public education is rooted in a set of false beliefs that include: public education is broken; American children are falling behind academically compared to their global peers as evidenced on international test scores; teachers are lazy and protected by a union that does not care if all children succeed; high stakes standardized testing will make children do better in school; evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students will raise test scores; and allowing for-profit corporations to run schools and train teachers will help poor and minority children do better on standardized tests. When educational historian Diane Ravitch examined the research supporting each of these beliefs she concluded that these claims have no evidence to support them. In her latest book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to Public Schools Ravtich breaks down each of the myths used by those who seek to shift public funding of education into the hands of private corporations. The truth is our public schools are not failing. Wealthy children in the U.S. outscore children in many high achieving countries. In the U.S. 24 percent of children live in poverty, the highest of any developing country in the world. Our public schools are plagued by the realities of poverty that make it hard for children to learn and for families to invest in their child’s education. The “reformers” are quick to argue that poverty is not destiny and we should not use poverty as an excuse. Acknowledging poverty is not an excuse but ignoring the effects of poverty does more harm than good. Poverty determines what school children attend, how many resources they have access to, and how well they are prepared to learn and thrive. If poverty did not matter we would not have disparities in school funding, all schools would get the same amount of funding regardless of the property values within each district. If you really wanted to improve public education for all children you would acknowledge that the current levels of poverty in the US is the greatest obstacle to successful public schools for all.
2. The CCSS will impede real teaching and learning for all children.
Standards are not new to education. States have developed standards that identify the knowledge and skills children should gain and be able to do at each grade level in public education. Standards should assist teachers in making sure their lessons are not only developmentally appropriate but cover a wide range of skills and knowledge that children should acquire. The CCSS are the first time in U.S. history that we have attempted to impose national standards on each state. The implementation of public education has always been in the control of each state and school district. Federal government involvement in education has centered on civil rights issues like equitable funding in athletics, protecting children with special needs, and making sure poor children receive additional funding through Title I initiatives. The move to implement the CCSS has altered the separation between state and federal control of public education. The current administration has encouraged states to adopt the CCSS and Duncan continues to be a vocal supporter of this push. He argues against the idea that the CCSS are national standards and insists that they were developed by Governors but he fails to recognize the role the federal government has had in pushing CCSS onto to schools. If the U.S. Department of Education and the Obama Administration were opposed to the CCSS or at least were willing to slow down the implementation of CCSS until teachers had enough time to prepare and evaluate the standards, most of the opposition would be satisfied. But the federal government is not only a supporter of the CCSS but a driving force behind the decision for 45 states and the District of Columbia to implement the standards with no research that supports whether or not the new standards will improve real teaching or learning.
3. Urban parents and parents of color have been fighting many components of the privatization efforts for some time including the CCSS.
When social movements begin to grow one of the early challenges involves welcoming those who are new to the fight to work with those who have been involved for a longer period of time. Newcomers typically were not aware of the challenges others were facing but now have the motivation to fight back and support the movement. Sometimes those newcomers are in a position of power based on their race or wealth to shed light on the movement. As this happens those who have been immersed in the struggle since the beginning continue to be silenced and marginalized as the fight shifts to focus on the newcomers and their influence. This phenomenon was evidenced within the Occupy Wall Street Movement. People who had been disenfranchised by corporate greed for some time were suddenly watching those who have recently lost their job or been employed for more than six months display their outrage at the 1% for hoarding the American Dream. And these newcomers to the cause were able to yield their power and privilege to bring awareness to the movement while those seasoned veterans in the cause were subject to more silencing and became more invisible as the movement gained steam. This issue is complex and must be addressed if social movements are to grow and be successful. The CCSS is the first attack on public education that directly affects most parents. Unlike vouchers, for-profit corporate charter schools, and fast-track teacher preparation programs, CCSS is affecting all children who reside in a state that have agreed to implement the new standards.
Vouchers and charter schools have been unleashed on urban areas which typically comprise of people of color and low income families. Teach for America, and other fast track teacher education programs, specifically recruit recent college graduates or anyone who wants to be a teacher, to work in low-income schools with high minority populations. These programs do not exist in suburban and wealthy public school districts but yet they are justified as being necessary for other people’s children. Since NCLB, many parents have been critical of the privatization movement. They saw how setting impossible goals, evaluating schools on meaningless unreliable data, and blaming teachers for not being able to stop the effects of poverty only widens the achievement gap between their children and children who attend better funded public schools. Parents know that their children no longer enjoy going to school and worry obsessively about passing standardized tests. Parents understand that 3+ hours of homework each night is not only unrealistic but counterproductive in helping their child succeed in school. Parents know that for-profit charter chains that selectively exclude children who are English language learners or have disabilities siphon funds from struggling public schools that educate all children. Typically these parents do not have the power to influence education policy. They know something is wrong but they cannot get anyone to listen to them or take them seriously. Arne Duncan does not listen to them and his comments servers to further silence them from the movement to save public education.
4. The anti-CCSS movement is comprised of a diverse group of people who have different reasons for opposing the push for national standards.
Issues affecting public education have the ability to cross racial boundaries, class lines, religious beliefs, and political affiliations. Only parents who can opt out of public education and buy into private schools or home schooling can escape the day to day work of improving public education. But as taxpayers they are still part of a public system that affects every aspect of our society. Because the CCSS is the first attempt at national standards embraced by most states the effects are far reaching. Within the anti-CCSS movement there is a large group of diverse individuals who believe that we need to abandon the CCSS or at least slow down the implementation. Some proponents are focused on what they see as an over reach of the federal government. Others equate the CCSS with the Affordable Care Act and allow their disdain for President Obama to frame the argument against the standards as being opposed to Obamacore. And some see the CCSS as another tool of the privatization movement that will lead to an increase in testing and data mining of our students. The anti-CCSS movement does not have a single leader and groups who engage in fighting the CCSS do so in different ways. The Badass Teacher’s Association has made fighting the CCSS a focus of their group’s mission but they do not endorse a local action to keep children home from school to protest the standards. Within the anti-CCSS movement you will find a plethora of beliefs and efforts to stop the standards from being forced onto public schools.
Teachers disagree on the merits of the CCSS as well. Some high school teachers tend to like the standards and see many possibilities to improving teaching while many early childhood educators find the standards to be developmentally inappropriate for young learners. The fact is the standards are the same for everyone but will be implemented in 46 different ways but only measured using one of two assessments, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessments. One aspect in the fight against the CCSS is why national standards are a bad idea…how do we determine what every child needs to know and when they should learn it? The United States of America is made of 50 diverse states. Is there really a common set of knowledge and skills that all children need to learn in the same way and at the same time? If there is who decides what knowledge counts, who’s voices are heard, and what skills are the most important? The very nature of learning disputes the idea that we can all learn in the same way and at the same time. Learning varies by the individual. Environmental factors combined with biological maturation will affect how a child learns and how much they learn. The reason why the opposition to the CCSS is varied is because children are varied. They cannot be standardized and made to learn exactly like everyone else. Children need an education that takes their differences into account and teaches them how to think so they can learn the knowledge and acquire the skills that are useful in helping them reach their full potential. Standards should be a guide not a rigid script.
5. Duncan’s remarks are not only racist and sexist but they are insulting to all parents who care about the education of their children.
I wonder how different the reaction to Duncan’s words would be if he said “suburban moms” instead of “white suburban moms”. This was not a slip of the tongue by the Secretary of Education. He is aware that much of the anti-CCSS push back is coming from women who he classifies as “white suburban moms”. He is also aware that many men are fighting against the CCSS along with people of color, mothers and fathers, who are concerned about the new standards. He knows that some urban parents are concerned about the increased in testing that can lead to more of their neighborhood schools being closed. He knows that the movement is varied but he chose to focus his remarks towards a particular group within the movement, “white suburban moms”. In a sense he is legitimatizing their concerns by addressing them directly and then he insults their intelligence by claiming that they only care because the standards make their child appear not as brilliant and their school not as good as they thought. Not only did Duncan insult all parents and supporters of public education everywhere he did it using racist and sexist comments.
His remarks illustrate two examples of how he utilized a divide and conquer strategy that is often used to undermine collective resistance to the privatization of public education. Education “reformers” like Duncan often frame their support of privatization ventures like the CCSS as a tool for improving the civil rights of children of color and low income children. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teacher unions in the country, confirmed this belief in the following tweet, 
  1. @rweingarten @penasplace @Linda1746 @GetUpStandUp2 @mcpssuper @symphily We aren't hearing that! CCSS hurting poor kids BAT tchrs reporting
@BadassTeachersA @penasplace @Linda1746 @GetUpStandUp2 @mcpssuper @symphily- EVERY Civ Rts grp sees as a tool to help poor kids
So because Civil Rights group believe the CCCS will help poor children then these “white suburban moms” who oppose the CCSS are part of the problem. Do you see how Duncan has pitted these groups against each other with 3 simple words?
By framing his argument to “white suburban moms” he silences the voices of all the nonwhite non-suburban men and women who are opposed to the CCSS. He does not want to listen to the voices of opposition surrounding the CCSS so he attacks the movement by using racist and sexist language that can further divide the group as the “white suburban moms” use their anger and privilege to bring this insult to the public’s attention. As a divide and conquer strategy, his words can cause those fighting to save public education to fight among themselves as one groups response is privileged over others (will the outrage of “white suburban moms” be taken more seriously than the outrage at his equating Hurricane Katrina to be the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans?). Make no mistake, Duncan knew exactly what he was doing when he said “white suburban moms”. What he did not know is that the movement would not be fooled by his efforts to undermine our efforts. We will acknowledge the way privilege and power highlights voices within the movement and silences others. We will continue to work together to make sure the dangers of the privatization movement are known to all. And we will never stop working to make sure every child receives a quality public education regardless of their race or parent’s income level. We cannot be limited to “white suburban moms”. We are supporters of public education and we are outraged at Duncan’s insult on behalf of every child, parent, and teacher who refuses to buy into the myth of privatization.
To learn more about the Badass Teacher’s Association position on the Common Core State Standards click here
To learn how you can opt out of high stakes standardized testing click here

Friday, November 8, 2013

A BAT Teacher of the Year Speaks Out: Cristi Lackey Julsrud

Hi BATs! As my school's teacher of the year, I was invited to speak at our local Rotary Club for their monthly luncheon. The people there were representatives from the business community. I was supposed to talk about my school, and myself , and my teaching, and how everything is all hunky-dory, but when it came right down to it I just couldn't lead those people to believe that everything is great. So I wrote this. A few of my badass teacher friends told me I should share it with you all. The speech was very well-received, and I was given an invitation by one of the members to publish it in our town's literary magazine! I hope you enjoy, because I never would have had the guts to deliver it if it weren't for this amazing group.

As I considered what to say about my school, and myself, and education in general, I kept returning to one thing. Politicians, you know, would have us believe that education is a “race to the top,” and that schools benefit from competition with one another in a free market system. If there is one thing that I can say with certainty about education, it is this: if we are in a race, fully half of the participants never knew they were in a race to begin with, most of them never intended to enter, and some of them walked over the starting line, laid down, and were never heard from again. “Race to the top” is a TERRIBLE analogy for education. I believe a much more apt analogy is a boat.

Education is like a boat. Some of us start out on it. The boat is leaky. It is understaffed. It smells. BAD. The food is horrible. Some of the crew members keep jumping overboard. From this boat, we cast out lines to the hundreds of fish around us in the water. Some of the fish bite readily; others are more cautious. As for me, I like to bait my hook with something meaty: To Kill a Mockingbird, Shakespeare, traditional English grammar, the Constitution, Patrick Henry’s speeches, Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail.

Some of the fish think the bait is too big to swallow. Some think the bait is dry, or old, or just not the kind of food they want. Some bite at first, but are convinced by other fish that the bait is “uncool.” Some have the bait yanked away from them by well-meaning adult fish. Some are eaten by sharks, dragged down by seaweed, snared by other nets (because this ocean is full of poachers, and they have much nicer nets than we can afford). However, we keep on fishing through it all-- storms, sharks, poachers. Sometimes, you catch a fish, and I wish I could say that makes it all worth it. And it does, sort of. But it’s hard to ignore the fact that every year the boat gets leakier, the smell gets worse, and the bites get fewer and farther between.

You see, the ocean is where our students live. They are literally surrounded by circumstances which we cannot control. Poverty, apathy, unemployment, hunger-- all these are sharks which circle them. Self-doubt, fear, and bullying threaten to pull down others. And the ocean itself is ignorance. The lines we throw are not just to catch them, they are life-lines. We must make them see that the boat that we are on may not look like much, but the land we are going to will not only allow them to escape the ocean, but will also give them wings to fly.

I wish I could stand here and tell you all of the wonderful things my school is doing. I wish I could tell you the incredible outpouring of love, support, and FIRE that has been poured out just this week from our staff. I wish I had time to tell you every story of a student who found his wings, just like I promised he would. I have the stories. They happen all the time.

But the truth of the matter is that education right now is a battlefield. Politicians are seeking to demoralize and destroy public education, corporations are circling to pick us apart and sell off the pieces, many parents are apathetic, and society offers a multitude of cures for the ills of an education. Know that I, and all of the staff at my school, and countless others like us across the country, put on our combat boots every day, board the boat amidst the gunfire, and we cast our lines to the fish in the water, and we TEACH. Because we believe in this boat. We believe in its power. We believe in our kids, and most of all we believe that if we allow the war on education to continue, we will all lose, every one of us. Because we are all in this together, whether we are in the water, on the boat, or whether we have already arrived at a place where we have wings. We desire your support, we covet your prayers, and we need YOU to believe in us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Choosing our Paths Wisely By Jennifer Clarke

“Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood”  We all know this quote from Robert Frost. I never liked this poem. I always imagined two paths: one pristinely cultivated by man, and one overgrown and unruly—wild and untamed by nature. It didn’t resonate with me. Ever. I am a literature person, and I listened to this poem, and I studied this poem, but I never chose to teach it, and now I know why.

The paths we face, as educators, as parents, as citizens in this country, are not the choices of paths followed and cultivated by man or paths uncharted. The ugly truth is, we face a path cultivated and allowed by man and one forbidden. That is the ugly truth, and that is why this poem never resonated with me. It lacked a truth I so readily saw.

I have watched the battles over Common Core, high stakes testing, privatization of education, and dismantling of public schools. I have heard how this reform is negatively impacting our kids, and I have read the research, the articles, and I have studied. I have listened to Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, President Obama, and all of the other power players, and their empty promises. I have also supported Mark Naison, and supported Diane Ravitch, and shared blogs and information from the Jersey Jazzman and Love Light and BATs, and Gopublicschools, and Lace to the Top, and every other voice trying to be heard for the actual benefit of our kids. And I am deeply saddened.

You see, these people chose the path that is not cultivated by the powers that be. But that path is not just overgrown and unruly because no one has walked the path. The truth is, there are a great number of us walking that path. It is worn, and it is full of people. But the path is blocked, and the power players have provided society with beautifully cultivated distractions to lead them to the more financially lucrative path for them. But the ills that plague education do not end at Common Core and high stakes testing. It is much, much uglier.

Our kids, our teachers are subject to abuses that should shock the national conscience. Students have been subjected to crimes that are violent and indecent, and these crimes are routinely covered up by administrators and community leaders in attempts to avoid scandals. Teachers who have spoken up to protect these students are alienated, isolated, ostracized, and terminated. Teachers have been victims of abuses and suffered the same fate. Silence is the order of the day. This culture of crime is pervasive in our nation and is ratified and perpetuated by hand-holding of the powerful. Is it any surprise then, that now we face a complete and utter destruction of the very nature of education, and seem powerless to stop it?

Until the national conscience is woken up, sheds it cognitive dissonance, stands along side the teachers, students, and parents, and raises its voice loud enough so that the side of the right becomes louder than the side of the wrong, no one will see the other path. Money can make things look pretty, but so can lies. We have a responsibility to face the truth for the sake of our kids. We have a responsibility to stand with educators who stand up for our kids. We have a responsibility to make our leaders aware that we will no longer blindly follow the path they have laid. We will, in fact, follow the path they cover up, or we will make our own.

There can be more than two paths. There can be more than one right way. But we must choose to leave the wrong one.

And we must be noisy when we do it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Efficiency and Deep Learning Means Taking Time

Shella Zelenz
Shella Zelenz

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I have been interviewed and the moment I discuss the time I take to get to the root of the concerns of my students to ensure the highest outcomes and performance from them, the interviewer or current teacher (who is looking for a replacement) would immediately say “well there just isn’t time for that.” I wonder how their school year was any shorter than mine. They saw the videos of my students performing, which is why they were so interested in hiring me to begin with. They raved about me as I walked in the door. I couldn’t even believe the manner in which I was greeted in many of these interviews after seeing my CV and my videos (proof of work). Then the interview somehow made them really uncomfortable with my beliefs on how to achieve such results. It seems to me that the results aren’t sufficient. The means have to match their own beliefs in order for the results to be acceptable for them. I believe that if I reduced my methods to fit their beliefs, the results would not have been what they were so excited about when they met me. It is completely illogical.
In the corporate world, results are all that matter. There is no expected norm on how (although many follow similar paths). There are seminars that make thousands and thousands of dollars teaching people how to do things differently and people run in hoards to attend all excited and willing to spend every dime to learn more and improve their results. Why is that not the case in education? Why is there resistance when it comes to children? There is a huge disconnect here and no manner of interviewing could help the interviewers understand that because in my explaining it, they felt self-conscious of their choices and did not want to be put in a position to make themselves feel less than capable. Now THAT is the real issue and it is exactly the issue that the students have. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy which will never end and no manner of curriculum changes, gadgets or gimmicks will change this until the root of the issue is addressed. Guess what, that takes time.
You have to take the time or you may as well admit up front that you are wasting your time. Nothing worth doing is worth rushing. The entire purpose of education is to prepare a nation for the next societal management. If that isn’t important, I don’t know what is. This is why I am an avid supporter of democracy in the classroom. Democracy requires students to self-reflect on their own desires, their own experiences and how they impact one another. Self-reflection is how they uncover their own issues and can self-remedy, which creates a beautiful learning experience in self-control and self-motivation as well as responsibility to group.
Bad behavior ALWAYS comes from self-thoughts. Where do those thoughts come from?
I’ve spent a great deal of time researching and most importantly soul searching to discover the origination of our behaviors and reactions. What has been most amazing to me is that in discovering where the negative thoughts in my head came from, I am able to walk away from them completely. What I’ve learned is that once you realize that the thought that just beat you up in your head was never yours to begin with, there is no need to coddle or protect yourself because you aren’t injured in the first place. Once you recognize that and you see the way you respond to those thoughts, you can process why on earth you would feel that way and feel frustrated about it. In fact, that frustration is the KEY to the truth. Listen to it. It is telling you that the thought isn’t yours. Letting go of that thing that wasn’t yours in the first place includes letting go of all of the trained reactions to please that voice that wasn’t yours in the first place. What’s left – unbelievable happiness and peace, which puts you in a place to only do things that take the best care of you. In taking care of yourself, you choose things that will benefit you. I would certainly think that education would be considered a form of self-care. It’s in our instinct to learn. When we aren’t being self-punished (programmed from external influence) we crave learning. It does not have to be motivated externally.
The key to getting students to succeed is helping them find themselves again. Helping them to isolate where those negative feelings are coming from and why they are feeling that frustration. Once they know they have control over their own feelings, and that you are not another person there to put more harmful feelings into their heads, they bend over backwards to make the classroom experience absolute heaven for everyone. When that happens, amazing learning takes place and it takes a fraction of the time that most people spend “classroom managing.” Imagine if classroom management were no longer a desired skill. It doesn’t have to be. The only reason it is needed is because no one is willing to take the time to clean out their self-thought closets or help their students do the same.
~Shella Zelenz is the founder of Zelenz Education Consulting - a different kind of consulting.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mental Health Ramifications of the Common Core

Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC
1239 Route 25A, Suite 6B
Stony Brook, New York 11790
(631) 835-1824

***For Immediate Release***

October 18, 2013
Mental Health Ramifications of the Common Core
Contact: Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC,, 631-835-1824

On October 10th, I testified at the New York State Assembly Education Forum on the mental health ramifications of the Common Core. The full text of my testimony can be viewed at:

My oral testimony may be viewed at:, beginning at 5:30.

I am a licensed clinical social worker in private practice on Long Island. I work with students, parents and teachers representing more than 20 different school districts. Last year, the New York State Education Department fully implemented the Common Core State Standards in our schools. Since its implementation, I have observed:

a 2-300% increase in new referrals of adolescents who are self-mutilating. The majority of these newly referred youngsters are honors students with no prior history of self-mutilation. They cite the pressures of the increased workload, standardized testing, and feelings of failure as the top reasons for this behavior,
a 2-300% increase in new referrals of elementary school children due to school refusal and anxiety. The majority of these children say they feel “stupid” and “hate school.” These are children with no prior history of anxiety or school refusal. They are throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and are upset even to the point of vomiting,
a marked increase in self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, depressed mood, school refusal, and suicidal thoughts during the state exam cycle last spring,
children are being exposed to age-inappropriate lessons geared to adult learning patterns, not childhood ones. Children are not capable of engaging in the critical thinking the Common Core requires. Critical thinking requires achieving a developmental milestone that does not occur until early adulthood,
parents complaining that the educational system is driving a wedge between them and their children. They are the ones who have to enforce homework completion and make their distressed children go to school. Also, there are no textbooks to clarify what their children are learning. They cannot help their struggling children with their studies,
a strain on the teachers that is causing a palpable level of distress in the schools.

I will be happy to answer any questions or interview on this issue.


Mary Calamia, LCSW, CASAC

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Sound of Silence

by Dave Greene

I’ve been sitting relatively silently for a few weeks for a couple of reasons. I was out of the country for three weeks. Upon return I began new job. I was growing frustrated with the barking and lack of movement. I have been completing a book soon to be published. Other voices were more important to be heard.

Over the past few days however a number of events stirred the silence within me. First, I read Joe Nocera’s October 14th NY Times column, “A World Without Privacy”. That was followed by a one-two punch of articles in The Local Gannett paper, The Journal News. The first, on October 16th validated what I am currently reading in Diane Ravitch’s brilliant new book, Reign of Error. The second article that moved me entitled “Study faults N.Y.’s teacher evaluations, was written by Gary Stern, a reporter who seems to be figuring out what is really happening in the privatization process of public schools. The third followed a day later also in The Journal News by Gary Stern was entitled, “Local parents seek ouster of N.Y. education commissioner”. Finally, the one that moved me to this keyboard was in the October 20th edition of The NY Times Magazine entitled,“No diagnosis left behind”.

The fact that these articles came out within a week shows me the turn around in mainstream media we have been searching for may be coming sooner than I had thought. It inspired me to speak out again, to end my “sound of silence”.

One of my favorite songs of all time is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”. It is haunting and timeless. It speaks to the horrors in societies that are perpetuated when,

“ And in the naked light I saw ten thousand people, maybe more. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. People writing songs that voices never share. And no one dared disturb the sound of silence.”

Nocera’s column tells us how close to Orwell’s 1984 we have become as he compares Dave Egger’s new novel, The Circle to Orwell’s prophecies. Orwell’s, Big Brother government’s Ministry of Truth uses the big lie, repetitious slogans (ominously similar to chapters in Mein Kampf): WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. Egger’s private technology corporate world power (ALA Google, Facebook and Twitter) uses similar phrases: SHARING IS CARING. SECRETS ARE LIES. PRIVACY IS THEFT.

My God…. Is that not the strategy used by corporate education reformers and their governmental allies in stealing public education form the public and it’s employees?

“Fools,” said I, “you do not know. Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.” But my words, like silent raindrops fell; and echoed in the wells of silence.”

Have the “Emperor With New Clothes” actions of NY Commissioner John King awakened us from our sounds of Silence? Has Gary Stern and Lo-Hud inadvertently become a leader in this new voice calling for his resignation by finally voicing the concerns of thousands of parents, students, and teachers in this article that finally doesn’t attack those voices as King does. Has their expose regarding the improper use of invalid testing to evaluate teachers finally allowed other mass media publications and networks to come out of their sounds of silence and become:

“The sign [that] flashed out its warning in the words that it was forming. And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls?”

Finally, the NY TIMES reports, in “No diagnosis left behind” that:

“High-stakes standardized testing, increased competition for slots in top colleges, a less-and-less accommodating economy for those who don’t get into colleges but can no longer depend on the existence of blue-collar jobs — all of these are expressed through policy changes and cultural expectations, but they may also manifest themselves in more troubling ways — in the rising number of kids whose behavior has become pathologized.”


“The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush, was the first federal effort to link school financing to standardized-test performance. But various states had been slowly rolling out similar policies for the last three decades. North Carolina was one of the first to adopt such a program; California was one of the last. The correlations between the implementation of these laws and the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis matched on a regional scale as well. When Hinshaw compared the rollout of these school policies with incidences of A.D.H.D., he found that when a state passed laws punishing or rewarding schools for their standardized-test scores, A.D.H.D. diagnoses in that state would increase not long afterward. Nationwide, the rates of A.D.H.D. diagnosis increased by 22 percent in the first four years after No Child Left Behind was implemented.”

“To be clear: Those are correlations, not causal links. But A.D.H.D., education policies, disability protections and advertising freedoms all appear to wink suggestively at one another. From parents’ and teachers’ perspectives, the diagnosis is considered a success if the medication improves kids’ ability to perform on tests and calms them down enough so that they’re not a distraction to others. (In some school districts, an A.D.H.D. diagnosis also results in that child’s test score being removed from the school’s official average.) Writ large, Hinshaw says, these incentives conspire to boost the diagnosis of the disorder, regardless of its biological prevalence.”

Times have changed. The words are now on Facebook and Twitter and the Blogosphere. They are increasingly in the streets, in the “public forums”, and in legislative, not tenement, halls.

“Hello darkness, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again because a vision softly creeping left its seeds while I was sleeping, and the vision that was planted in my brain still remains within the sound of silence.”

And needed to get out! Let’s all of us, let out our sound of silence and change what is happening to us and to our children.

Dave Greene taught high school Social Studies for 38 years, coached football, and presently works for a non-profit, WISE Services (, helping high schools establish and sustain experiential learning programs for credit. He is coordinator of school partnerships for Pace University School of Education, Pleasantville. NY. His book Doing the Right Things: A Teacher Speaks is due out soon. WISE Services

A Social Worker Speaks Out Against the Common Core

Testimony on Common Core from Mary Calamia, a social worker from Brentwood, New York and member at Badass Teachers Association:

October 7, 2013 at 10:14pm
Statement for New York State Assembly Education Forum
Brentwood, New York
October 10, 2013

I am a licensed clinical social worker in New York State and have been providing psychotherapy services since 1995. I work with parents, teachers, and students from all socioeconomic backgrounds representing more than 20 different school districts in Suffolk County. Almost half of my caseload consists of teachers.

In the summer of 2012, my elementary school teachers began to report increased anxiety over having to learn two entirely new curricula for Math and ELA. I soon learned that school districts across the board were completely dismantling the current curricula and replacing them with something more scripted, emphasizing “one size fits all” and taking any imagination and innovation out of the hands of the teachers.

In the fall of 2012, I started to receive an inordinate number of student referrals from several different school districts. I was being referred a large number of honors students—mostly 8th graders.The kids were self-mutilating—cutting themselves with sharp objects and burning themselves with cigarettes. My phone never stopped ringing.

What was prompting this increase in self-mutilating behavior? Why now?

The answer I received from every single teenager was the same. “I can’t handle the pressure. It’s too much work.”

I also started to receive more calls referring elementary school students who were refusing to go to school. They said they felt “stupid” and school was “too hard.” They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home, and upset even to the point of vomiting.

I was also hearing from parents about kids bringing home homework that the parents didn’t understand and they couldn’t help their children to complete. I was alarmed to hear that in some cases there were no textbooks for the parents to peruse and they had no idea what their children were learning.

My teachers were reporting a startling level of anxiety and depression. For the first time, I heard the term “Common Core” and I became awakened to a new set of standards that all schools were to adhere to—standards that we now say “set the bar so high, anyone can walk right under them.”

Everyone was talking about “The Tests.” As the school year progressed and “The Tests” loomed, my patients began to report increased self-mutilating behaviors, insomnia, panic attacks, loss of appetite, depressed mood, and in one case, suicidal thoughts that resulted in a 2-week hospital stay for an adolescent.

I do not know of any formal studies that connect these symptoms directly to the Common Core, but I do not think we need to sacrifice an entire generation of children just so we can find a correlation.

The Common Core and high stakes testing create a hostile working environment for teachers, thus becoming a hostile learning environment for students. The level of anxiety I am seeing in teachers can only trickle down to the students. Everyone I see is describing a palpable level of tension in the schools.

The Common Core standards do not account for societal problems. When I first learned about APPR and high stakes testing, my first thought was, “Who is going to rate the parents?”

I see children and teenagers who are exhausted, running from activity to activity, living on fast food, then texting, using social media, and playing games well into the wee hours of the morning on school nights.

We also have children taking cell phones right into the classrooms, “tweeting” and texting each other throughout the day. We have parents—yes PARENTS—who are sending their children text messages during school hours. 

Let’s add in the bullying and cyberbullying that torments and preoccupies millions of school children even to the point of suicide. Add to that an interminable drug problem.

These are only some of the variables affecting student performance that are outside of the teachers’ control. Yet the SED holds them accountable, substituting innovation and individualism with cookie-cutter standards, believing this will fix our schools.

We cannot regulate biology. Young children are simply not wired to engage in the type of critical thinking that the Common Core calls for. That would require a fully developed prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that is not fully functional until early adulthood. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for critical thinking, rational decision-making, and abstract thinking—all things the Common Core demands prematurely.

We teach children to succeed then give them pre-assessments on material they have never seen and tell them it’s okay to fail. Children are not equipped to resolve the mixed message this presents.

Last spring, a 6-year-old who encountered a multiplication sign on the NWEA first grade math exam asked the teacher what it was. The teacher was not allowed to help him and told him to just do his best to answer.From that point on, the student’s test performance went downhill. Not only couldn’t the student shake off the unfamiliar symbol, he also couldn’t believe his teacher wouldn’t help him.

Common Core requires children to read informational texts that are owned by a handful of corporations. Lacking any filter to distinguish good information from bad, children will readily absorb whatever text is put in front of them as gospel. So, for example, when we give children a textbook that explains the second amendment in these terms: "The people have a right to keep and bear arms in a state militia," they will look no further for clarification.

We are asking children to write critically, using emotionally charged language to “persuade” rather than inform. Lacking a functional prefrontal cortex, a child will tap into their limbic system, a set of primitive brain structures involved in basic human emotions, fear and anger being foremost. So when we are asking young children to use emotionally charged language, we are actually asking them to fuel their persuasiveness with fear and anger. They are not capable of the judgment required to temper this with reason and logic.

So we have abandoned innovative teaching and instead “teach to the tests,” the dreaded exams that had students, parents and teachers in a complete anxiety state last spring. These tests do not measure learning—what they really measure is endurance and resilience. Only a child who can sit and focus for 90 minutes can succeed. The child who can bounce back after one grueling day of testing and do it all over again the next day has an even better chance.

A recent Cornell University study revealed that students who were overly stressed while preparing for high stakes exams performed worse than students who experienced less stress during the test preparation period. Their prefrontal cortexes—the same parts of the brain that we are prematurely trying to engage in our youngsters—were under-performing.

We are dealing with real people’s lives here. Allow me introduce you to some of them:

…an entire third grade class that spent the rest of the day sobbing after just one testing session,

…a 2nd grader who witnessed this and is now refusing to attend the 3rd grade—this 7-year-old is now being evaluated for psychotropic medication just to go to school,

…two 8-year-olds who opted out of the ELA exam and were publicly denied cookies when the teacher gave them to the rest of her third grade class,

…the teacher who, under duress, felt compelled to do such a thing,

…a sixth grader who once aspired to be a writer but now hates it because they “do it all day long—even in math,”

…a mother who has to leave work because her child is hysterical over his math homework and his CPA grandfather doesn’t even understand it,

…and countless other children who dread going to school, feel “stupid" and "like failures," and are now completely turned off to education.

I will conclude by adding this thought. Our country became a superpower on the backs of men and women who studied in one-room schoolhouses.I do not think it takes a great deal of technology or corporate and government involvement for kids to succeed. We need to rethink the Common Core and the associated high stakes testing and get back to the business of educating our children in a safe, healthy, and productive manner.