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The Alt Right Has a Friend in Common Core

  Let’s say you’re a modern-day hipster Nazi. You’re bummed out. No one wants to hang out with you because of your bald head and your red suspenders and your commitment to the ideals of a defeated and disgraced totalitarian regime. What are you to do? REBRAND, son! It’s simple. No more National Socialist German Workers Party! That sounds too pinko! Now you’re simply a member of the Alt Right! It’s not racist! You’re just committed to traditional attitudes and values — if those traditional attitudes and values come from 1945 Berlin! Heck, you don’t even have to call yourself Alt Right. You can call yourself a White Identitarian. You aren’t over-concerned with any one side of the political spectrum or other. You just strongly identify with whiteness — and by extension increasing the political power of white people at the expense of all others. That’s all. It should be obvious that this isn’t merely rebranding. It’s propaganda. In today’s fast paced information age – where every fact is merely a Google away – that can be hard to get away with – UNLESS… Unless you already have a readymade tool to protect propaganda from the kind of informed critical thought that can pop it like a bubble. Something to insolate the ignorance and keep out the enlightened analysis. I am, of course, talking about Common Core. What!? How does Common Core have anything to do with white nationalism? Common Core is just a set of academic standards for what should be taught in public schools adopted by 42 of 50 states. Academic standards aren’t political. Are they? Actually, they are. Quite political. Just take a look at how the standards came to be adopted in the first place. The Obama administration bribed and coerced the states to adopt these standards before many of them were even done being written. Hold your horses. The Obama administration!? That doesn’t sound exactly like a friend of the Third Reich. And it wasn’t. It was a friend to big business. When first created, these standards weren’t the result of a real educational need, nor were they written by classroom educators and psychologists. They were written by the standardized testing industry as a ploy to get federal, state and local governments to recommit to standardized testing through buying new tests, new text books, new software and new remediation materials. It was a bipartisan effort supported by the likes of Obama, the Clintons and Bill Gates on the left and Jeb Bush, Betsy DeVos and Bobby Jindal on the right. After Obama’s success pushing them down our collective throats, many Republicans vocally decried the standards – often while quietly supporting them. That’s why after all this time very few state legislatures have repealed them despite being controlled predominantly by Republicans. Okay, so what does this have to do with the Alt Right? People like Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are engaged in redefining the conservative movement. Instead of circulating ideas with a merely racist and...

The Lone Voice of Dissent Against Standardized Testing

Everybody wants to fight the good fight. Until the battle begins. Then many of us are all too ready to give in to what was intolerable just a moment before. To paraphrase Thomas Paine: These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in times of crisis, shrink from service, but those who stand up in time of need deserve the love and thanks of every man and woman. I see this almost every day in our schools. Ask nearly any teacher what they think about high stakes standardized testing, and they’ll complain until they’re blue in the face. They’ll give you gripes and grievances galore. The tests take too long. They’re not valid assessments. They narrow the curriculum. They’re dumbing down the teaching profession and ripping away our autonomy. To which I say – Amen, Sister! Standardized tests more accurately measure economics than academics – poor kids generally fail and rich kids pass. They’re culturally biased, poorly put together, unscientifically graded and demonstrate a gobbsmacking conflict of interest. Two conflicts of interest, actually. First, the people who make the tests, grade the tests and thus have a financial interest in failing the most students possible because that means we have to buy more remediation material which they also conveniently sell. Second, these test scores are used by the school privatization industry to unfairly label public schools failures so they can more easily sell fly-by-night charter and voucher schools. So, yeah. Almost all of us agree standardized testing sucks. But when there’s an administrator present, I too often find I’m the only one willing to speak that truth. My colleagues, who are pleased as punch to gripe in private, suddenly go quiet in the presence of their superiors. What’s worse, some of them don’t just stay quiet – they offer arguments to support whatever nonsensical test-based solution our boss has in mind today. Let’s say an administrator suggests we do something about the handful of students who opt out of standardized tests. We could just respect the rights of parents who have handed in their written intention to opt their children out under a religious exemption – the only option in Pennsylvania. Or we could do as the administrator suggests and force kids who’ve been opted out to take a standardized look-a-like assessment. I hear something like that, and I’m on my feet ready to fight. But I find myself standing there alone. “You can’t do that,” I say. “It violates state law. In particular, Pennsylvania Code Title 22 Chapter 4, section 4.4.” (Okay, I had to look up the particulars later, but I made sure the administrator got them.) Consider subsection (d) (4). And I quote: “If upon inspection of a State assessment parents or guardians find the assessment to be in conflict with their religious belief and wish their students to be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied…” Or how about...

Respecting Student Free Speech Was Hard for Adults During Today’s School Walkout

The kids are all right. It’s the adults you have to watch. The walkout planned nationwide to protest gun violence today on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting came to my western Pennsylvania school – and we weren’t ready for it. In fact, up until today no one had mentioned a thing about it. I had asked teachers if they wanted to do something and was told it was up to the students to lead. I had asked the high school student council if they were interested in participating, but there wasn’t much of a response. Then this morning in the middle school where I teach, there was an impromptu two minute meeting where we were told some kids might walk out and that we should just let them go. Their right to free speech would be respected and there wouldn’t be any penalty for participating. However, as a teacher, I was instructed not to bring up the subject, not to allow discussion and only to attend if all of my students decided to go. That’s a hard position to be in. It’s like being put in a metaphorical straight jacket. But I tried. When my 7th grade kids came in, they were all a buzz about something and I couldn’t really ask why. The suspense was broken with a sledge hammer during second period when one of my most rambunctious students asked if he could use the restroom at 10 am. That was over an hour away. I told him he couldn’t reserve an appointment for a bathroom break but he could go now if he wanted. Then he explained himself. At 10 am he was walking out. The room exploded. They had heard about the nationwide walkout at 10 – the time of the Parkland shooting. They knew kids all across the land were leaving class for 17 minutes – 60 seconds for each life lost in the shooting. But that was pretty much it. They didn’t know what it was that kids were protesting. They didn’t know why they were protesting. They just knew it was something being done and they wanted to do it. It was at this point I took off my metaphorical straight jacket. I couldn’t simply suppress the talk and try to move on with the lesson – on propaganda, wouldn’t you believe! We talked about the limits of gun laws – how some people wanted background checks for people wishing to purchase guns. We talked about regulating guns for people with severe mental illnesses, criminal backgrounds or suspected terrorists. We talked about how there used to be a ban on assault weapons sales and how that was the gun of choice for school shooters. We even talked about what students might do once they walked out of the building. They couldn’t just mill around for all that time. Since we were in the middle of a unit on poetry, someone suggested reading poems about guns and gun violence. Students quickly...

Teacher

Should All Teachers Be Education Majors?

There is a school system in Savannah, GA that offers a non-traditional path for people to become teachers (you can read about it in an article here).  Leaders there are questioning whether or not all teachers should be education majors. In a district with over 400 teaching positions to fill, the process basically allows for a larger application pool from which to select the most qualified teachers, including some who didn’t start out in the field; for example, having a retired army veteran who worked in aerospace engineering to teach math. The program has been around for a while, but is getting more publicity recently due to the teacher shortages in the district and the state. I’ve mentioned before how public education today suffers from being a system stuck in the past, disproportionately adapting to how the world works today.  So I think this school district’s method for selecting new educators holds some merit.  Not to say that those who pursue a career in teaching from the get-go are any more or less qualified to teach, but that there is something to be said for those who can relate their actual life experiences to the classrooms they lead.  They tell writers to “write what you know” in order to make a good story, so why not apply that thinking here?  Teach what you know. In this instance these “new teachers” are mostly coming out of necessity to fill positions, so it could seem like more of a desperate attempt rather than a way to facilitate new (better?) learning methods.  But it’s not as though these educators are randomly plucked out of their office buildings and told to teach - I would hope that they at least have some desire to pass on their knowledge.  Plus, as the article points out, they are required to pass a teacher preparatory program and pass educator exams and background checks.  The only thing they’re missing is a title on their diploma.  I know of a few people who majored in completely different subjects in college, and ended up becoming teachers in public and charter schools, only getting certified in teaching after the fact, so again, it’s not this is a particularly new practice. But I think one of the biggest benefits to having alternate career professionals come into schools to teach is having a more direct way to relate subject matter to lesson plans, and to showcase exactly where and how those lessons can be used in an actual job. Teaching in general gets a pretty bad rap since people are less likely to take a job that comes off as being thankless, underpaying, and stressful.  This means there fewer people actually pursuing a degree in education, which is what is has led to the situation many places across the country now face – not enough qualified teachers.  By openly and proudly offering an alternative path for those who may want a career change (into the world of education), it could lead to a revolution in the way many...

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Taking a break from the negatives and criticisms in my usual posts, I’d like to take this time to talk about teachers. Since it is Teacher Appreciation Day/Week, it’s nice to think back on all the influences I’ve had in my life that helped shape me into who I am today. [caption id="attachment_506" align="alignleft" width="300"] Steve Perkins - Indiana Teacher of the Year 2014[/caption] I don’t think enough people realize that being a teacher is such a huge responsibility. they have to form and follow a lesson plan that may not always be their choice material, teach their students from those lessons, adapt each lesson pertaining to the individual students, administer assessments, correct, inspire further learning, discipline, and be a support system to hundreds of students, every year. It’s the teachers that are a major part of the team that helps shape future generations by not only providing them with the knowledge they need to move up in life, but a way to understand and apply that knowledge. Now, not every single teacher may be the best at what they do; I can remember a few I’ve had over the years that simply didn’t connect. Most people have those stories about a teacher they hated because of how they treated certain students, or a class they wanted to drop because the teacher made it seem so difficult for them. [caption id="attachment_508" align="alignright" width="300"] Sue Creekmore - Florida[/caption] But most people also have those stories about those amazing teachers that seemed to breathe life into their subjects, or cultivated the best and most creative side of a person, or went the extra mile to help you understand a lesson, or simply made you feel like you weren’t alone. So to my 2nd grade teacher who felt like everyone’s mom, and made the new girl feel welcome (and also contacted me when I was about to graduate college to congratulate me), to my 7th grade science teacher who was weird and funny in all the best ways and made science classes seem like a field trip (and made me realize that I actually really liked learning), to the high school English teacher (who wasn’t actually my English teacher, but my acting/drama teacher) who helped me hone my love of the arts, and to my 12th grade math teacher who was tough but fair, understanding, and garnered the respect of every student he had (and even got me, the English nerd, to understand calculus), I say the biggest thank you. Even to all those teachers I had in between that may not have been my favorites, thank you for doing what you did (and some of you still do), to help cultivate my education experience. Even though you chose a profession that sometimes leaves you underpaid, overworked, underappreciated, underrepresented, hated, feared, pranked, and makes you work with the youth of America, thank you for doing it anyway. You are a special type of individual for being able to handle this job, and I salute you for doing it. So, what are some...

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