Educated to Death

An educator's attempt at keeping sanity in a system that pushes children through an assembly line in little boxes.

Month: February, 2012

0113: What Happened to the Learning? #SOSchat #testingisnotteaching #edreform @arneduncan

I heard a veteran teacher, principal, and school board member (all the same person) speak yesterday. She entered public schools before segregation. She spoke passionately about her love of public schools. She, like many, expressed how she learned to read, write, think, speak, problem solve, cooperate, and collaborate in public schools. Her children did too. I did. I know many others who did too. What has happened? Why were we different? None of us were from the wealthy elite. I finished school just before testing became the end all be all. The school was large, mostly free lunch, and had problems, but people learned, left, became employed, went to college. This was in Mississippi by the way. The veteran educator who spoke was from an inner city district in Tennessee. Learning has happened for years. It seems to have suddenly ceased.

Did the learning stop because testing, that is the great high stakes standardized test? I couldn’t say, but then again maybe I could. Perhaps the test itself didn’t destroy the minds of a generation, but it required that it happen. Testing, as many know, has taken and continues to take every resource— mental, physical, and monetary— and put it toward some type of test preparation. Basic skills are neglected for the sake of a pacing guide. Kids aren’t able to fully learn to read or fully figure out multiplication because there is no time. Testing keeps the ball moving. Rarely can we go back and reteach. In fact, reteaching has been replaced with reviewing (the quick and shallow sibling of reteaching). The damage done from shallow, incomplete teaching is cumulative. Please be aware teachers don’t set out to teach shallowly. They/we are essentially tied to the pacing guide, or else. If a kid doesn’t fully develop as a reader in K-4, which isn’t the only focus of K-4, then other skills won’t develop. The foundation will not be there. K-4 has all sorts of testing rigors as well. Kids and teachers are stressed, learning is not allowed to be complete, and kids have to move forward without ever having built a proper foundation for learning. This lack of foundation snowballs into myriad other problems from academic deficiency, to behavior problems leading to in school arrests, and the school-to-prison pipeline continues.

The effects of testing are broad and can be summed up through the stories of those teachers, students, communities, and a nation affected by the attention deflected from actual education in the name of a test.

0112: Good Morning World. Who Turned Off the Fiction? #education #NDAA #occupy #panopticon

I have always read dystopian fiction with great fervor. The stories always seemed just beyond reality. It could happen, but it wasn’t happening. It was a nice escape that came with a warning. I’ve returned to these books and stories throughout my life with increasing alarm. 1984, Brave New World, A Clockwork Orange, numerous comics, games, and other dystopian landscapes have all been, or seemed to have been, a disturbing release from the day to day. A release with a warning. I was bouncing back and forth between Warren Ellis’ ‘Transmetropolitan’ and Cory Doctorow’s ‘Little Brother’ the other night and became a little more uneasy than usual. My beloved dystopian fiction genre no longer seems to fit in the realm of fiction at all. Huxley was considered a futurist. The future seems to have arrived, ____________ (insert your own observations). Every institution from public schools to the military to our beloved government is waxing strangely Orwellian. I am not shocked. This has been a long time coming, I know, but it certainly hurts as the light grows brighter, as the fiction grows dimmer.

Good morning world. Who turned off the fiction?

0111: What can be done to empower teachers? More Rules for Radical Teachers #education #revolution @educatoral

I’ve heard a lot of talk from the “higher ups” and some media outlets that “we need to make teaching a respected profession again”. There are several problems here. First, teachers have always had to fight for their dignity. We’re constantly fighting the image of “coddler”, “babysitter”, replacement parent ( in loco parentis ), “bad teacher, whatever. The teaching profession has struggled for any bit of dignity it has been given. Second, any dignity it has been “given” has been earned by teachers who have stood up and demanded changes be made.

For there to be any solution, we have to create it. Waiting for Mr. Duncan or anyone else to make the teaching profession respected again will result in nothing more than twiddling thumbs and more of the let down that has accompanied our profession for so long. The solution must begin with teachers becoming educated for creating change. Teachers must become activists, agitators, and advocates. This will not and cannot happen all at once, of course, it will require patience and commitment to becoming empowered, and then empowering those around you.

Foreseeable problems: Many teachers (in certain situations most teachers) have either never been in a position to advocate for themselves

Many teachers have existed in passivity throughout their careers. Their passivity has been either forced or allowed. Teachers who’ve advocated for themselves have often been forced back into passivity through threats, reprimands, or worse. These teachers are reluctant to bother with anything that might expose them to trouble.

Other teachers, similar to the first type, have been rendered subservient through years of subtle conditioning. If you do this, then this will come. Retirement being the carrot.

Some teachers follow the “don’t make no waves” policy. In many cases education is a field of self preservation. The survivalist mentality that is promoted through high stakes tests, evals, and other fear-mongering strategies keeps teachers separated, isolated, and passive. So what can be done?

Possible solutions: Foremost, the silence must be broken. Teachers have to come out of isolation. They have to be able to articulate their issues— publicly. Many teachers are quite skilled at venting their problems, but will not stand behind what they say behind closed doors. There is a lot of talk with little action. So, maybe stating the “problem” is not the answer. Maybe it lies in discussing pedagogy. I submit that if you get
teacher talking about teaching they (we) can’t shut up. Teachers want to teach, and they want to arrive at solutions. If you’re the catalyst for change that is on its way, it might behoove you and your cohorts to engage any teacher, especially the reluctant ones, in conversation about solutions to the problems they’re having— behavior, academic, etc. This builds an atmosphere of collegiality that is non-conspiratorial. It’s less threatening. Talking about teaching is not a coup; it’s a productive activity. The revolution, if you will, must develop slowly as the teacher/person/student becomes actively involved in reflection of their own practice and
begins to feel mildly in control.

How do these conversations begin? Carefully. No teacher wants some pompous activist, consultant, or hoodlum coming into their classroom and telling them what to do. Teachers need people who listen first. So, if you’re involved in change, remember to listen. Help neighbors arrive at their own solution. Help them realize their own power. Revelation happens quite easily once one begins to reflect. Revelations bring about internal revolutions.

So, take your planning period, lunch period, chat in the parking lot, whenever, and ask a fellow teacher for help. Get them to help
you solve a problem. You need their help. By engaging them in solution building you are gaining a colleague and acting as a catalyst for your neighbor’s transformation. Be a listener and a learner. Engage everyone. As many as you can.

Change takes time, humility, and a
willingness to engage everyone. If you can engage even the most treacherous administrator you’re taking a right step toward sustainable change.

Original Rules for Radical Teachers

0110: I have a proposal. Teacher-Researcher-Policy Maker Hybrid? #SOSchat #education #edreform

For more visit

The course of education is charted in a strange way. Teachers teach and implement decisions made my some distant policy maker or maybe a demigod. The policy makers make decisions based on research someone did somewhere other than a classroom. The researchers are likely to be professors of maybe education, or maybe a part of some miraculously funded think-tank, or, and I had a chance to do this, by some meagerly paid ghost writer who probably needs a little money and will accept a couple of grand to do some hurried research, turn it in for review, and then have to alter the research to “better fit the needs of the organization” (won’t be doing that again— I have debt what can I say). And the cycle continues. Either way, the process is diluted, dishonest, and disconnected.

So, my proposal:

First, we alter the roles of all parties involved— researcher, policy maker, and teacher. We create a hybrid profession. Teachers will act as researchers, using their own research based practice to further develop solutions to the problem that is education. Then, they work on policy. Teachers who are researcher could go an write the policies that affect them and their students. But, what about the researchers and policy makers. They get to do the same thing. Each party works on all of it.

But, how could we do this? Teachers are underpaid, and many researchers and policy makers aren’t teachers. Exactly. We’ll deal with the pay later. Teachers become empowered when they control their own destiny. People are no different. Teachers need to be a part of making the decisions that affect them and their students. By participating in research they will undoubtedly become more reflective and analytical. The goal is to end the passivity and victimhood that often accompanies the profession. Policy makers and researchers would benefit from working in the field they are affecting. “Having worked in a field” and “working in a field” are different things. It’s easy to throw daggers if you know you’ll never be hit. And yes, I understand that there are experts. “Experts” and third parties can be helpful. It helps to have a critical eye, but the idea here is that we turn every eye critical, equally active, reflective, and productive. No longer would we have teachers, researchers, and policy makers (or reformers); rather, we would have Teacher-Researcher-Policy Makers, a brilliant hybrid of empowered and powerful educator-reformers. It would be true democracy. Now there would be many details to iron out, and much more chaff, but it’s a start. It’s a step toward democratic function.

0109: Our Schools Have Been Hijacked: Let’s Talk About It #education #SOSchat #revolution #edreform

Contact me at

Contact me at

What would it take to provide a “world class” education? Is it possible in the U.S. public schools system as it is? I venture to say no. If the answer is ‘no’, then what needs to be done? Is the answer in democratizing our schools? Eliminating bureaucracy? Liberating the education system from corporate control? Putting decision making power in the hands of educators?

How could some of these things be accomplished? Are they feasible goals? Would it be possible to create an alternative? Could educators create a sustainable alternative to the education system we have today? Could we have grassroots schools that taught children what they needed to know? We don’t want or need more charter schools. We don’t want corporate fingers dictating the every move of educators. We want, I believe, to provide an equitable education that creates the possibility for an open society or democracy in the future. We want an educated citizenry. We need that if we are not to fall into the clutches of some not so distant corporate totalitarian regime. Our public schools have been hijacked. It is becoming increasingly impossible to provide the education we know should be provided. What can we do? How can we take back our system or create an feasible alternative? Do we need to teach outside of school? We, the teachers, need to change this, but how. I’d like to start collecting ideas and collaborating. Let’s have a conversation. Please contact me at . Let’s figure something out.

0108: #Creativity Awareness = Motivation, Humanization, and Success #education #SOSchat #artsed

I currently teach music, choral and music appreciation, to grades 7-9. It can be a joy and/or a great struggle. Music is an interesting subject matter alone, but can easily cross over into other subject matter not pertaining directly to music. Of course, there is poetry that accompanies the melodies. Songs and styles of music are situated in a certain area, culture, situation, social movement, what have you. Music embodies or at least reflects the historical situation that caused the piece to spring forth out of someone’s consciousness. Music involves acousti-physics and all forms of mathematics. Best of all there is no test. It can be a hiding place for revolutionaries in schools who want to teach beyond the curriculum and allow their students freedom to learn. It’s a place that builds or can build tremendous self-discipline and allow for intellectual and spiritual exploration. Critical thought can be allowed to thrive in a classroom that is free from the oppression that is testing. I taught algebra prior to teaching music. I’m able to be much more human without the test, and still remain sympathetic to my friends and colleagues who remain steadfast in their dual challenge to prepare their students for the test and still strive to teach and build critical learners. It’s difficult, I know. My heart is with you as you struggle.

I have begun the process of teaching music composition to one of my music appreciation classes. This is not a part of the state curriculum; the State seemingly does not concern itself, even in a music classroom, with nurturing creativity. Regardless of prescribed curriculum, it is beyond important that humans discover their ability to create. This is, after all, one of the greatest parts of being human. We possess a tremendous intellect that permits us to create and transform culture. We often need reminding of our ability to create culture. I cannot express the light I saw in Anthony’s face when he brought his staff paper to the piano with some scribbled chords he had written and heard me play what he had written. Anthony is not an average student academically, he struggles in every subject, and spends most of his time in ISS or the principal’s office. He’s beat down and discouraged, he acts out. I got to witness and great moment of humanity and awakening when I saw him arrive at the understanding that he created culture. This goes far beyond behavioral success and efficacy. This enters the realm of metaphysical transformation in a seventh grader with a bad attitude.

All teachers don’t get the privilege or have the desire to teach in the arts. It’s a difficult field. It, like algebra, takes persistence and great persuasion. It’s frustrating. It does allow for creation though on a regular basis. We all know that moment of genesis though, in any course, when a student become more than a passive recipient and enters the realm of creator. It can be as simple as the moment a learn formulates a question based on their own synthesis and analysis of a topic. It can be the designing of a complex or simple equation. Writing a story. A poem. Whatever. Regardless of our subject matter, we must help our students realize that they are creators and transformers of culture. This is how we make them participate more. This is how we help them realize their potential. We have to let them see their own power. They are cultural creators. We have to make that understanding a priority, tests be damned. Teachers are on the front lines of a strange war for the consciousness of a people. We have to give those in our care the tools to be masters of themselves and their worlds. Teachers teach for awakening.

The elite defend a sui generis #democracy, in which people are “unwell” and require “medicine”— whereas in fact their “ailment” is the wish to speak up and participate. Each time the people try to express themselves freely and to act, it is a sign that they continue to be ill and thus need medicine. In this strange interpretation of democracy, health is synonymous with popular silence and inaction.

—Paulo Freire from Education for Critical Consciousness

0107: That which renders us powerless, and what to do about it* #education #revolution #SOSchat #occupy

I am an educator, and a staunch supporter of public education and teachers. However, I find it increasingly difficult to support a system(s) that, from the moment it accepts a child, seeks to disable any critical spirit of humanity and replace it with an eternal need that can only be sated by some an institution. Our systems do not create participatory individuals. They create passive recipients of services needed. This does not seem to be a new phenomenon. Schools along with other social services have supplied the needs and thoughts of America’s underclass for quite sometime now. The middle class has equally been rendered just as passive, only having been allowed the illusion that they work for their own benefit, when in actuality, the middle class is no more free to participate than the poor. The poor are assistance and/or wage-slaves. The middle class are slaves to their debts and ideologies of security. Neither class works to benefit or affect themselves.

The poor have been rendered silent by being made dependent. They schools work to tame their spirits and limit their thoughts. They are allowed only basic literacy skills and never allowed to create. Testing has helped to narrow the curriculum and keep teachers and students focused on curriculum rather than problems. This strata is kept entertained and barely comfortable. If they step out of line they are beaten into submission, ushered into prisons, or other institutions. Individuals who escape the grasp of poverty are encouraged to continue the upward climb, abandoning the problems from which they were delivered. The version of success given them was that of the oppressor, and by eliminating critical consciousness there is no need to stop an reflect on one’s actions.

The rapidly diminishing middle class has been ushered through existence with a focus on maintenance of that which has been acquired. Their social structure has allowed for an illusion of social mobility through petty promotions and similar reinforcements. Some have been able to attain varying degrees of power through higher education and business, but the middle class, with a few exceptions has remained just as powerless as the poor, they’ve just had more choices of distraction. The institutions of the middle class very much allow the illusion of participation in democracy, but their choices are often small, and predetermined, for many, by sectarian or party affiliation. Churches and other similar social institutions among the middle class help dictate beliefs of the middle class.

Many people escape into the realms of academia which equally has its own fixed ideologies and requirements for advancement.

The ruling elite are incomprehensible beyond the fact that they have no choice but to fight to maintain their own power at any cost. For the ruling body to remain the ruling body it must either forcefully or insidiously keep the masses occupied with internal conflict and struggle, along with copious distraction. The people are divided by class, race, political affiliation, misinformation, prejudice, and so forth. I do not intend to say that these are completely manufactured, but the structures in which we survive allow for the development of such fears and divisions. People who fear one another can be easily controlled.

All that said, the problem is a lack of critical consciousness among the people. People do not participate, because their participation has been meaningless in the past. We learn as school children that we are incapable of really making any decision. We are nurtured to be consumers. Information is deposited in us by teachers. Teachers simply deliver the curriculum. We are passive within our communities. We wait for things to be changed. Some of us call our congressmen and speak with their aides, but we are only one vote. Everything is provided for us. If it isn’t, we don’t know what to do.

How is this solved?

We begin by eliminating the distance between ourselves and our neighbors. Nothing will change as long as we are a nation of others. As long as I am on the side of right and everyone else is wrong, I am nothing more than a puppet of my chosen or ‘chosen for me’ ideology. We cannot continue as a divided people. As we grow closer we must become more involved. We will become more open. As we become more open, our society must, as a direct result, become more open.

The answer to this debacle is not simple or solitary. Just as the problem itself can not be isolated, neither can the solution. However, entering into dialogue, or the dialectic sort, can only serve to bring us closer together as human beings. By becoming more interconnected we must become more involved. As be become more involved we are no longer just a mass of sheep, but a force. We will become an open or a more open society.

*I must acknowledge that my ideas could never be called entirely my own. They are a culmination of my experiences with my own world, and my readings of the experience of others. I write this to acknowledge my understanding of my development as a part of a collective consciousness that is not entirely my own. My experiences have served to force me to open certain books at certain times that have either shaped me, or more likely, shaped my understanding of my own experience.

0106: Teachers, new and seasoned, remember you’re a person first, then a #teacher #education #revolution #EtherSec #humanity

Friends who give your lives to the education of others please don’t neglect your own humanity. You are a human first, and then a teacher. We live in a society that so often ties who we are to our careers. Teaching is a commitment, a very deep one. It requires all of your love and humanity if you are to be successful, that is, if you are going to reach your students (testing aside). Teachers have many expectations to meet, and many more stresses that go along with those expectation. It’s easy to watch your humanity—friends, family, hobbies, identity, etc.—slip away as your focus on teaching increases. For new teachers this is a trap. You want to do a good job. You want to measure up. You want to change the world. You’re not achieving your goals or meeting expectations. You want to keep your job. The truth is, these are thoughts that fill the minds of all teachers, veterans an new, but as a new teacher you haven’t always learned to cope with the stresses. New teachers burnout quickly in many cases. Veteran teachers are focused on keeping their jobs, and have weathered many storms. Some have maintained their humanity some have had it stripped from them little by little. For any and all teachers, if you feel like you had no life, you must do anything and everything to begin one or maintain the one you have. It’s not just a matter of social and psychological health, or even a matter of effectiveness (you are in fact more effective if you’re psychologically, socially, and physically healthy). Rather, it’s a matter of dignity and pride. Humanity is the most valuable thing we possess. It’s how we value ourselves. If you have pride and dignity, you will by nature resist oppression. You will have no choice but to advocate for yourself. You will refuse to be a victim. If you value your own humanity, you will be better able to value the humanity of others. You will be better able to connect with the people around you and in your care. You will understand the need to advocate for yourself and others. When you lose your humanity and job becomes just a job. You revert to mantra “one day at a time”. Life becomes drudgery. Regardless of your level of humanity and self-awareness, do something, anything, to move in that direction. Read a book. Write one. Seek beauty and truth. Seek to know thyself. “Treat yo’self.”
Find a friend. Go dancing. Do whatever it is (or was) that makes you feel alive. Don’t fall prey to a dehumanizing system in a dehumanizing world. Arise and celebrate your humanity. Rage for your humanity.

0105: It’s getting a little 1984 up in here

#education #revolution #totalitarianism #occupy #anonymous

As I watch and listen to the news, scroll through twitter feeds, read blogs, look at laws being passed, and noticing bits of education reform I can’t help noticing that it’s beginning to look a little like 1984, with a sprinkle of Huxley’s Brave New World. I don’t like to be an alarmist, but it seems as though alarms are being sounded, and then muted. I’m struggling to remain rational and calm. Reality is rather quickly morphing into dystopian fiction. Schools are massive training institutions that manage to insidiously undereducate the growing lower class. Teachers are kept busy and overwhelmed by testing and the fear of losing their jobs. Teachers have no choice but to numb their students with useless, disconnected knowledge. The middle class, what’s left of it anyway, has been kept entertained, comfortable, and apathetic for years. Just enough pay to get by and stay distracted. If that doesn’t work, the Doc can prescribe some pills. Kids are drugged too. If they won’t get in line, give ’em a pill. Books are being banned in schools in AZ. This is at least overt. Texts and concepts are overlooked by textbook companies, curriculum makers, and overwhelmed teachers. Omission is useful to avoid alarm. Arizona is just getting ballsy. There’s a move there to censor teacher’s language in and out of school I hear. Beyond the classroom, censorship, surveillance, and indefinite detention are popping up in the laws and the public. The world is abuzz with revolution and the powers at be trying to squash them before a tipping point is reached. I wrote with an awareness that there may be Hell to pay for my words an criticisms at some point. Of course, there’s no turning back now. Surely I’ve gone mad. I’ve read too much dystopian fiction. I’ve read too much about totalitarian regimes. Perhaps I’m becoming a real life Dale Gribble. But, I’m not confident in my perceived madness. I’m more doubtful everyday.

I’ve been told many a time: “If it looks like shit. Smells like shit. Then…”

With that in mind looks and smells are quite telling, and it seems that we’re all knee deep in shit.