Tuesday, October 31, 2017

My Students Are Addicted to Screens by Steven Singer

Michael sat at his desk with ear buds inserted, an iPad balanced in front of his eyes and an old fashioned paper book open on his desk.
His head was bopping and weaving. His eyes were transfixed on a YouTube video of an animated soldier blasting away bad guys. And his book was laid out in front of him, largely ignored.
This was during our class’ sustained silent reading time – a period of 15-20 minutes where my 7th grade students were supposed to read self-selected books. Eventually, they’d have to complete a project, but today all they had to do was read.
Still, many used the time the same way as Michael did – lost in cyberspace, merely pretending their eyes gloss over the page.
“And what did the teacher do?” I hear some readers say indignantly.
“If you allow this type of behavior, you’re worse than the child doing it.”
So come with me as I redirect Michael.
“Hey, buddy,” I say.
“Huh?” he responds as if awakened from a dream.
“Are you reading?”
“Uh. Yeah.”
“You’re not just watching that video and ignoring your book?”
“Nope,” he says now fully awake. And he proceeds to give me a canned summary of the text that he memorized from the Internet.
But I’m still skeptical.
“I’m going to take your iPad away just for SSR time,” I say.
“I just want you to be able to concentrate on what you’re reading.”
And as I gently pry the iPad from his curled fists, he stands up and gives me a look of pure hatred.
This is a look from a 7th grade boy who’s considering violence.
It’s the same look you’d get trying to take away a dog’s bone, or an addict’s crack pipe.
It truly depends on the child what happens next. Some will regain control, slam down into their seats and sulk. Others will whine and cause a scene. And some will lose all control and lash out.
This is what teachers deal with every day when it comes to technology in the classroom.
In point of fact, many of our children are addicted to their devices.
iPads, laptops, Smartphones – we might as well be giving them pills, joints and syringes.
According to Merriam Webster, addiction is defined as, “compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance… [characterized] by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.”
For most students, their devices have become just that – a compulsion, the cause of a nearly irresistible impulse to check them, access them, use them to keep themselves entertained and plugged in.
With repeated use, it becomes habit forming, and separation from the device can lead to a kind of withdrawal.
From a neuro-psychological point of view, one wonders if repeated use is clinically damaging – especially to adolescent brains that have not yet fully formed.
From an educational point of view, one wonders if relying on such devices in class is pedagogically sound.
I’m not qualified to answer the first question (though it deserves much more study than it is receiving). But from my 15 plus years of experience in the classroom, I feel qualified to answer the second – and that answer is often a resounding “NO.”
In my kids’ everyday lives, this type of constant technology reliance doesn’t make them better students. It doesn’t give them access to more information. It makes them dependent on instant gratification and sensory overload.
Their minds are submerged in a soup of constant noise and conflicting demands for their attention. Stringing together thoughts and coming to reasoned opinions becomes increasingly difficult.
This isn’t to say that technology has no place in the classroom.
There are ways to use it that can enhance learning. However, in my experience these are NOT the ways it is being used most of the time. That takes, thought, planning, intention. Instead, many well-meaning administrators or school directors prescribe technology as an end in itself regardless of the goals of an individual lesson. They want to prove their buildings, schools or districts are cutting edge, and that only takes the constant use of technology – not surgical, intentional use.
It’s not that teachers don’t know how to apply it or don’t care. It’s that technology – especially the presence of a one-to-one device in the hands of every child at all (or most) times – creates more problems than it solves.
This is why the same people who invented these technologies strictly regulate them for their own children.
Gates, a Microsoft co-founder, refused to let his children have personal technological devices until they were developmentally ready for them.
“We don’t have cellphones at the table when we are having a meal,” he told the Mirror. “We didn’t give our kids cellphones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier.”
Today, most children get their own cellphones at age 10. And if their schools have one-to-one initiatives like mine, they have their own iPad as early as 5th grade with less but still substantial hours of usage as early as kindergarten.
Jobs, an Apple co-founder, also limited screen time for his children.
When asked if his children liked the original iPad shortly after it was launched, Jobs said, “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
In fact, according to Walter Isaacson, who wrote a near-definitive Jobs’ biography, technological devices were only allowed at prescribed times.
“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said.
“No one ever pulled out an iPad or a computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”
According to educators Joe Clement and Matt Miles, authors of “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse is Making Our Kids Dumber,” those in the tech industry know the dangers of their own products on children.
A number of specialty Silicon Valley schools, say Clement and Miles, such as the Waldorf School, rely almost exclusively on low-tech tools to teach. This often means chalkboards and pencils. The emphasis is on learning interpersonal skills such as cooperation and respect – not the ins and outs of computer coding.
At Brightworks School, even the physical environment of the class is a tool to learning. Students attend class in treehouses and kids learn creativity by building things with their hands.
This is a far cry from the technological wonderland our kids are being sold by these kids’ parents.
No one really knows what effect it’s having on growing minds. However, psychologists are beginning to see alarming trends.
For instance, frequent use of social media makes an eighth-grader’s risk for depression 27% higher. Moreover, use of smart phones for at least three hours a day increases children’s risk of becoming suicidal. Some experts believe that increased use of technology has contributed to the teen suicide rate which for the first time eclipses the homicide rate.
We are jumping head first into an educational model that puts technological devices like a tablet at the center of learning.
Teachers assign lessons on the device. Students complete assignments on it. Projects are virtual as is research. Even conversations are conducted through a chat page, emails or messaging.
Why? Not necessarily because of any proven link to increased academic results. It’s because tech companies are marketing their devices to schools and students.
There is an unquestioned bias that doing things with technology is somehow better simply because we’re using technology. However, an article written on a computer will not necessarily be better than one written with pen and ink. There are other factors involved.
Now Gates and company are pushing personalized learning objectives. Sometimes called competency based education, these continue to place the device in the center of what should be the student-teacher relationship.
Student learning becomes a video game and the teacher becomes a virtual avatar. Kids spend their time doing infinite standardized testing as if it were authentic education, yet it’s all on-line so it appears to be cutting edge. It isn’t.
It’s just another scam.
In my own classes, I’ve put the brakes on unquestioned technology. I only use devices, programs or applications that are (1) reliable and (2) when I know why I’m using them.
Even then, I find myself unable to even talk to students without beginning every lesson telling them to at least temporarily put their devices away so they can hear the directions.
Sure, I could give them a QR code to scan and get a written copy of the directions. I could upload a video for them to watch. But that limits direct feedback. It makes it more difficult for them to ask questions. And it makes it almost impossible for me to tell if 20-30 kids are actually doing the assignment before they turn it in for grading.
These are just kids, and like kids in any age they’ll take the path of least resistance. Often they’ll try to get through the assignment as quickly as possible so they can listen to music, or watch a video, or play a video game or chat on-line.
Lessons can be engaging or thought-provoking or spark the creative impulse. But you have to get students’ attention first.
That’s hard to do when they always have the option to crack their brains open over a virtual frying pan and watch it sizzle away.
To be fair, living in the modern world, we’re probably all somewhat addicted to technology. This blog isn’t written on papyrus and it isn’t being accessed in a hefty library volume.
But there’s a difference between me and my students.
I’m an adult.
I know the concessions I’m making. I enter into this with eyes open. I have a lifetime of experience and knowledge with which to make such a decision.
Children don’t have that. They look to us to protect them.
We are their guardians. We’re only supposed to subject them to things that will help them learn, keep them healthy and happy.
But in our rush to be trendy and hip, we’re failing them miserably.
We’re letting business and industry take over.
It’s time to take a stand.
Our kids may be addicted, but we don’t have to be their pushers.

We need to get them clean and show them how to use this brave new tool with moderation and restraint.

The Great American Witch Hunt by Laura D. Brown

The story of Mrs. G, a modern witch in sensible shoes.

Mrs. G rises from her desk, crosses the room, and forcefully grabs a tissue from the box, part of the bulk pack she purchased with her own funds before that first September paycheck arrived.
She hates herself for getting upset. She should be nonplussed. She is a veteran teacher after all. She has handled aggressive parents many times. There was that executive who asked her and her colleagues which colleges they had attended, smugly stating: “Probably you all went to SUNY.” Or that other parent who told her she was squashing her son’s spirit because Mrs. G had the audacity to ask him not to save his loud, smelly farts for her class. The same boy who refused to raise his hand and constantly interrupted her well-planned lessons. Or that dad who pecked at her every time that her online grade-book was not updated.
This accusation is different, however. It is not about an overindulged child or an arrogant adult. This parental/student complaint is about her teaching. Her integrity is questioned. Her core beliefs as a historian, social scientist, educator, and as a woman are challenged.
She is guilty until she proves her innocence. And, then, even then, this incident will leave a mark, a stain on her solid reputation. She cannot win. She will never be perceived by this parent as anything else but one of those “teachers” no matter what she says. She will teach all year wondering if her words are offensive. She will doubt herself. She will lose her power, her voice, her excellence.
The administrator, who must be at least ten years her junior, explains the parental complaint. The issue is that the student feels uncomfortable in her class. Why? Because, according to the student she is talking about gender, women, and feminism too much. Also, when she teaches about political issues she is only showing one side.
Really? She had a male neo-Nazi in her class last year who proudly wore his MAGA gear and she gave him a platform in her class to discuss issues. She had a female student in her class last year who had the comfort to discuss her intense support for Trump and her happiness on his inauguration day. She had a former student discuss with her how he felt isolated by his support of President Trump among his more liberal-leaning classmates.
But, that was last school year. Now is the time that matters. What have you done lately, Mrs. G? How have you shown both sides of feminism this school year? (As if there are two sides to human rights?) How have you been objective? Which universal truths have you dismissed? How dare you indoctrinate my son or daughter in your elitist, feminist, witchy ways?
She has had a career of positivity. The negative interactions with students and parents minimum, the praise high. Is this the new brave world? Is this new, unfounded accusation part of a trend to discredit certain teachers?
This is a form of torture. She will not be told who the student’s identity. The parent will not meet with her. The complaints are vague. This family wants her to consider both sides in her teaching. The student feels uncomfortable.
What is uncomfortable about learning about a maximum number of six women in world history during the entire year? The remainder of the year focuses on men, mostly white men. What is uncomfortable about a teacher talking about political and current topics as they relate to history? Does the student know both sides of every issue discussed, and if not, how can this adolescent determine if multiple perspectives have been integrated?
The claim of discomfort is extremely important to this teacher. But, she is also confused by the generic description. The word discomfort smacks of intimidation and fear. Mrs. G does not recall any discussion of controversial issues in the first six weeks of school. Again, this isn’t last year. Last year brought uncomfortable issues daily, many of which Mrs. G tried to either navigate or pushed aside when students brought up topics, with the line: “Unfortunately, we don’t have time for current events today.”
This year had seemed more like an acceptance of disagreement. A consensus that these are difficult times. An agreement that the unpredictable is the new norm.
So, the complaint against Mrs. G, with such vague and inaccurate claims, seems out of left field, even to a veteran teacher such as herself. What exactly is she to do with this knowledge, and the lack of pertinent information? She can guess who the child is, but she might be wrong. She can continue teaching the curriculum as she has always done but she runs the risks of being accused again. There is no solution.

She has been accused, labeled, and now she is suspect.

Ironically, her senior level history class is discussing the European witch hunts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Mrs. G finds herself relating to those convicted women — women who were powerless, lacking male protection, and holding ideas about the uses of medicinal plants. The documents that her senior-level students read include quotes from a court-appointed executioner in Eiger, Germany in 1607:
“There was no doubt she was a witch. She wore her hair short like a man, show wore the clothes of a man…”
That famous religious reformer, Martin Luther, writes about witches in another document dated 1522:
“Witches are the Devil’s whore, who suck his staff, steal milk, raise storms, bring illness and plagues and kill children in their cradles.”
As Mrs. G reads the college-level essays, she makes comparisons to trending issues. She thinks of the #MeToo, the nevertheless she persisted quote, and the “I am with her” line of support. She reflects on the Women’s March and the recent Women’s Convention in Detroit, Michigan. She analyzes how women’s access to contraception medicine is in jeopardy and how she may never see a female president in her lifetime. She wonders if she is one of those ‘nasty’ women?
76% of teachers are women.

Mrs. G wonders if she is a modern day witch?

And then she smiles, because if she is, she is in very good company.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Teachers You Think You Were Stressed 3 Years Ago? We Have Scientific Evidence Your Career is Detrimental to Your Health.

By Jamy A. Brice-Hyde M.Ed. Director BATs Quality of Worklife Steering Committee

In October of  2014 a group of teachers were brought together by the news of tragic deaths of teachers they knew who were working in such stressful work environments it literally helped to drive them to take their own lives.  The group of teachers participated in a town hall with Randi Weingarten sharing the many stories of abusive work environments riddled with bullying, sexual discrimination, racism, ageism and profound stress incurred due to policymakers agenda.  Their profession had become the scapegoat for a generation of politicians and vulture capitalists attempting to raid a “500 billion dollar untapped market” known as the United States public schools.   The teaching profession was under siege in 2014. Today we learned not much has changed in 2017..

Out of that call in 2014 a partnership emerged between the Badass Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers creating the Quality of Worklife Committee. The Team created a survey and administered it in April of 2015. In May  the AFT/BAT Quality of worklife results were shared here. https://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/worklifesurveyresults2015.pdf  The results captured the attention of millions and soon inspired  A Section of ESSA Under Title II SEC. 2103. LOCAL USES OF FUNDS: N) developing feedback mechanisms to improve school working conditions, including through periodically and publicly reporting results of educator support and working conditions feedback. Our team called upon the federal government to commission a scientific study on working conditions of in our public schools. After several meetings with the USDOE and in 2016  a Meeting with National Institute of Occupational  Safety and Health (NIOSH).  The BATs joint partnership with AFT  entered 2017 creating a ground breaking scientific survey and study of working conditions of public educators. We focused on those things that impact our health and well-being.  The Data has been collected and preliminary results are in!  American teachers are part of one of the most stressful professions in the country. Allow  me share a few highlights.

For starters 69% of our scientific random sample reported feeling stressed “always or/and often” compared to the NIOSH Quality of Worklife survey of all other careers about 30% report being stressed often/always. You read that right teachers are reporting over double the percentage of the national average for feeling stressed at work always or often. Let that sink in. There is enormous medical research that indicates that stress a precursor to numerous diseases as seen here https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/stress.aspx

   Teachers are much more likely to be bullied, harassed and threatened at work than other workers. Our scientific sample reveal 1 in 4 teachers experience workplace bullying.       Educators and school staff reported being bullied, harassed or threatened at work almost 4 times a higher rate than workers in the general population. In 2017 who is bullying our public school teachers?         35 percent identified a principal, administrator or supervisor. 23 percent identified a co-worker 50% percent identified a student.  31 percent identified a student’s parent. Most teachers reported their district having a workplace harassment and bullying policy however few reported any district training.

A shocking statistic in the 2017 report was that 1 in 5 teachers  (21%)report their mental well being not being good 11 or more days in the past 30 days this is double the national average of 10 to 11% in other careers.  Wow! We must address this health crisis in our profession.

In our survey 61%report that their enthusiasm for their profession is not what it was when they began, over 40% report that the stress and disappointments are really not worth it anymore.  Can anyone say teacher shortage? All across the country communities are unable to fill positions with qualified educators for our next generation. They continue to assault our profession while corporate philanthropists seek to convince the public computers will replace teachers. Perhaps this shortage is intentional. Perhaps the systemic stress is designed to make our profession toxic to make way for profits for the big tech corporations on the back of our nation's children.  

Wilma DeSoto of Pennsylvania an original member of the BATs Quality of Worklife Team reflected, “Teachers are battle-worn with combat fatigue. We have been targeted by the neoliberal, corporate culture for more than 20 years and nobody seemed to care. In fact, many segments of our society such as the media, politicians, the education establishment, the business community, and even the general public seemed to engage in schadenfreude at our situation.While they have been dancing around the bonfire, an unfortunate crisis has been simmering and has now been brought to the boiling point. There is a teacher shortage in this country. Those who do stay in teaching wish to leave it, and there are very few people willing to replace them. Teaching has become fraught with physical and mental health issues primarily because teachers are not permitted to teach.They must toe the line drawn in chalk by people who have never taught a day in their lives, or who have never attended a public school. The pressure and the shame of being forced to do what one knows is wrong for children has taken its toll. Not only on teachers but also their students.The country will suffer as a result if there are no people willing to take on this profession in order to prepare our children to take their rightful places in life as member of society. Teachers and their students must have support from the society-at-large. They need the tools and the help to endure this anti-educational onslaught in the name of the almighty dollar. We can no longer afford to sweep this crisis under the rug. Our future survival depends upon it.”

The Survey revealed so much more and in the coming weeks and months our team and the AFT will be reporting on our in depth review of our findings. There is hope!  The American Federation of Teachers and the Badass teachers Association are committed to addressing issues of a healthy workplace as we push to impact policy makers to end the assault on public education and the teaching profession. Recently Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio proposed legislation calling for a study of stress and teachers in  Teacher Health and Wellness Act https://timryan.house.gov/press-release/representatives-tim-ryan-and-susan-davis-introduce-teacher-health-and-wellness-act  

Keitha Bryson of Washington, an original member of the BATs Quality of Worklife Team believes, “ The silent epidemic exposed in the 2017 QWL survey will enable communities, school districts, and unions to build tool kits for assisting educators and students in crisis. The State of Washington has the highest youth suicide rate in the nation. Representative Tina Orwall has written existing youth suicide prevention legislation. Three goals: 1) immediate support for peers and students in crisis, 2) develop tool kits to train the community in supporting educators and students in crisis, 3) impact public policy.”

Kathy Beery of Virginia, an original member of the BATs Quality of Worklife Team stated,  "I wish  I could  say I was surprised  by the results  of the  survey, but I'm not.   It's a terrible predicament  for our profession  and we  must  continue to  work  for  change."

We must do more! We must all advocate for Healthy Workplaces in our public schools. A teacher's work environment is a student's learning environment ….and the children are watching.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage by Steven Singer

America’s public schools are in crisis.

And who sits atop this mountain of bribery and malfeasance?

Who gives the money that buys the politicians who make the laws that hurt the kids and profits the donors?

It’s none other than Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage!

Systemic underfunding, laissez-faire segregation and privileging privatization – this is what our children face every day.

It’s time we as a nation stop, take a moment – and offer our hearty congratulations to this years most pernicious saboteurs.

And what a year it was for disrupting education!

Charter schools, voucher schools – no one has benefited more from chucking the public school model in the trash in favor of control by corporations and bureaucrats than Betsy DeVos.

Because she’s both a dark money influence peddler AND a government flunky!

A two-for!

She turned complete ignorance and animosity toward public schools into the highest federal government job overseeing education! Her only qualification? CA-CHING!

But coming up right behind Ms. DeVos is this year’s crowned king.

He certainly knows a thing or two about CA-CHING!

It’s Bill Gates!

Progressive philanthropist by day, by night he transforms into the largest single purveyor of palm grease in the nation. No one has turned tax avoidance into influence more than Gates, the money behind the Common Core, evaluating teachers on student test scores and a plethora of irrational, untested ideas that are only considered mainstream because they have literally trillions of dollars behind them.

So there you have it, America! Your Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage!

Let’s take a closer look at these… winners.


As U.S. Secretary of Education, she’s proposed cutting $10 billion in public school funding, announced changes to make it harder for college students to report sexual assaults, and put struggling university students at risk of higher debt payments with changes to student loans.

But that’s child’s play for the billionaire heiress who married into even more money.

That’s right – Jason Vorhees, Michael Myer, Freddy Kruger, they all went after those pesky post-graduate teenagers. But none of them had the audacity to go after kids with learning disabilities!

It’s not that DeVos is undoing any laws. She’s erasing decades of government guidance about how the laws are to be interpreted. And though she claims these 72 directives are simply “outdated unnecessary or ineffective,” she’s not replacing them with anything else. They’re just – gone.

Of the 72 guidelines, 63 affect special education and 9 affect student rehabilitation. And these aren’t simply undoing the work of the Obama administration. Some of these regulations have been in place since the 1980s.

The rescinded policies include “Satellite Centers for Independent Living,” “Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Handicap in Programs and Activities Receiving or Benefiting From Federal Financial Assistance,” and “Information on the Provision of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to Individuals With Hearing Loss (Deaf and Hard of Hearing).”

Bah! Who needs all this paperwork?

Parents and students. That’s who.

These guidelines have helped parents of disabled and special education children advocate for their young ones’ rights. Without them, it may be more difficult for parents and teachers to ensure all children are receiving a free and appropriate education.

That’s some seriously stone cold sabotage, Ms. DeVos!

But at least her motivation is obvious to anyone with eyes.

She’s not purposefully making the lives of K-12, special education and college kids more difficult. Well, she is, but she’s not doing it out of spite. She’s doing it because it helps her investment portfolio.

How can she continue to promote charter and voucher schools that don’t provide the same kinds of quality services for special education and disable students as public schools do? She needs to degrade what the public schools provide, thereby making the privatized alternatives more marketable.

How can she keep making money off predatory lenders unless she loosens the rules to allow them more freedom to gorge on student debt? And how can she keep her lucrative job bending the rules in her favor unless she throws some red meat to the racists, misogynists and anti-Semites who helped elect her boss into the Oval Office?

And if kids get hurt, well those aren’t the people she’s looking out for, are they?

She’s only out for the other rich elites like herself making a mint off of our public tax dollars!

It’s almost enough to make you miss Arne Duncan.


(Nah. Not really.)


Bill Gates, on the other hand, is more contrite.

No one likes it. NO ONE.

In fact, it was one of the key talking points President Trump used to garner support. The public’s hatred of Democratic plutocracy made them suckers for the Republican variety.

It’s rich people who think they can do whatever they want with the rest of us and our children.

More than anyone else, Gates is guilty of that kind of unexamined, unrepentant hubris.

Yet to hear him talk, after a string of education policy disasters, he’s learned his lesson.

He’s sorry – like a crack addict is after hitting rock bottom. But he’ll somehow find the courage to light up again.

Gates now admits that the approximate $2 billion he spent pushing us to break up large high schools into smaller schools was a bust.

Then he spent $100 million on inBloom, a corporation he financed that would quietly steal student data and sell it to the corporate world. However, that blew up when parents found out and demanded their children be protected.

Oops. His bad?

He also quietly admits that the $80 million he spent pushing for teachers to be evaluated on student test scores was a mistake. However, state, federal and local governments often still insist on enacting it despite all the evidence against it. Teachers have literally committed suicide over these unfair evaluations, but whatever. Bill learned a lesson.

When it comes to Common Core, though, Bill refuses to take his medicine – even to mouth the words.

By any metric, these poor quality uniform academic standards are an abject failure. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars for development and promotion. He influenced trillions of taxpayer dollars to be poured down the drain on it. All to no avail.

Instead, he’s quietly backing away. No explanation. No apology. Just on to something new.

Kind of like: “That didn’t work. Let’s try something else!”

His new plan – spend $1.7 billion over five years to develop new curriculums and networks of schools, use data to drive continuous improvement, and give out grants to high needs schools to do whatever he says.

What’s so frustrating is that Gates shows glimmers of self-awareness.

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade,” he said during a speech at Harvard in 2014.

But then when he sees it isn’t working, he just doubles down on the same crap.

While he may not be committed to any one policy, Gates is committed to the idea that he knows best. Whatever nonsense bull crap that floats through his mind deserves to be tried out on a national scale.

No asking experts. No asking teachers, parents or students. Just listen to me, Bill Gates, because I’m rich and that makes me better than you.

No, it doesn’t Bill. It makes you just like Betsy DeVos.

So there they are. Mr. and Mrs. Public School Sabotage.

Short may their reign be.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby