Educated to Death

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

Month: April, 2012

0151: On reading and my learning #education #SOSchat #thought


I’ve noticed (not for the first time) that what I am reading affects my writing, thinking, and other readings. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s testament to the ongoing process of meaning making. As I interact with texts I am changed, and as I am changed the texts are also, at least my readings of them are. Further, it’s testament to the concept that reading and writing are reciprocal processes. Each interaction serves to change me ever so slightly. This is not to say that I topple with every new idea, rather, that I sway like a sapling, flexible, but rooted, but still changed by the power of the wind. By learning how I learn, know, and understand helps me understand why and how I teach. Equally, it’s a step in creating/allowing authentic learning experiences in my classroom practice.

0150: On Beating a Dead Horse #education #edreform #race #equality #class #SOSchat


So often the proverbial horses we beat are not all dead to all people. Equally, some of the windmills we fight are not windmills at all; some of them really are raging giants. I submit, the monster, the giant, the pulse of the horse is to be determined by those nearest to them. If you’ve beat your horse completely to death or conquer your windmill, congratulations. Move onto the next one or help me conquer mine.

0149: Questions on Equality in #Education #race #class #SOSchat #occupyedu


I am becoming aware, brutally aware, that my experiences in public education are not common. There are people who see public education as a mildly problematic institution that generally does a good job of providing children with a basic education. There are others who find public education more than satisfactory. Children are treated in a humane manner and even allowed to thrive. Some of these children are affluent. Some are not. So I stand corrected in some areas. I’m glad that public education is serving some people a “good lunch” of equality and positive experiences. No doubt teachers work hard no matter the situation. But, there is still a stone unturned. My experience of public education as a teacher, a speaker, even a student.

First, I teach, have taught, attended, and am connected with educators who work in schools that primarily serve people of color, that is, anyone other than white. I think I have arrived at a point that requires questions, rather than attempted answers. Hopefully, those answers will arrive soon. So here goes. Are there schools, districts, and systems that ensure non-white students are treated equally to their cross county/city/neighborhood/any other division counterparts who happen to be white? Perhaps there’s a better way to phrase that question. Are children of color who are poor, illegal, ostracized from mainstream society, valued as much by any institution as other children? If so, where? I hope my experiences are very narrow. I hope the experiences of my peers who share my experiences around the country are narrow as well. But, even still, I am not satisfied. If my experiences were limited only to me, and I am totally disillusioned with a system to the point of being blinded to the good it does, then why are the children I teach less important than someone else’s children? Why are the children I have taught less valuable? Why don’t they receive the resources others receive? Why are they considered criminals the moment they are born, or the moment they enter kindergarten? And this view is not necessarily perpetuated by their teachers. I’ve taught alongside many understanding and frustrated teachers. I’ve taught with deeply committed people. I cannot call this an exception or a rule. I have found groups of teachers around this country that equally see this as a problem. But, to say that all teachers or people understand this would, in fact, be a sweeping generalization. That’s a good thing I suppose. And good for those who don’t understand this. But for those of us who do, what can we do? It’s appalling to know that people are still valued over other people. And they are. It is not possible to apply full blame to any single entity, but there certainly are directions in which we could wander. I hate that I am confused on this issue, and I’m not sure the question “why?” would even begin to answer or unravel the problem. Further, the problem neither begins or ends with public education as an institution; it is a problem, the problem of race, class, and equality, that runs throughout many of our American institutions. These problems certainly aren’t new, and I don’t know how to begin solve them except through dialogues that may lead to a new and revolutionary awareness of people who aren’t treated with equality that they should be. And let me rephrase that. Transformational dialogues must be a part of any shift in power. People who are oppressed, and there are people who are deeply oppressed this United States, but begin to function democratically, they must become a part of the change that affects them. For equality, power must shift. By which means, I dare not speculate. Certainly, this is the “real world” and students must learn to function within certain frameworks. But, what if those frameworks are not actually accessible to everyone? Or maybe just less accessible? What are we to do then? Are we to stay the course of public education and offer general courses in bullshit? Or are we to offer some alternative?

Regarding Freire in PK-12 education, if there is a third world in our backyards, what means does the third world have to access a first world? If there are parallel societies* in the US that function alongside mainstream society, but mostly separate, how is that gap to be bridged? Forcefully? Through dialogue? Mutual transformation? Who knows. I think that should suffice for now, from my vantage. I’m not sure how to go about answering these questions, just as I am unsure about answering them, but they need answering. I can’t foresee answers coming easily.

*Parallel society- those groups and subgroups who live within a society who are not represented by the lawmaking body, but subject to its imposed illegalities and punishment (Foucualt, ‘Discipline and Punish’); an underculture. What is to come of these groups of people?

0148: In their element #education #occupyedu #SOSchat #testing


Originally Posted Friday, 13 April

Today I saw students with their eyes as bright as they can only be when the souls they house are doing exactly what they’ve been prepared to do. They were perky, focused, and engaged. They were in their element. But, should testing really be their element?

0147: The intoxicating power of the Test #satire #SOSchat #education #Race2Equity #edreform


Today, I’m drunk with power. I am a test administrator, I mean a Test Administrator (proper nouns are better for powerful people). I am the tip of a finger on the hand of an arm of the State that swears on Holy things that it is just. I command students to focus on their tests, not to talk, not to sleep, to fill in bubbles and prove their worth or I am not worthy as a teacher, and the State will sever me from its hand and I will then have to beg the hand from which I was severed for food, money, an dignity. I am drunk with power and filled with despair. I am powerful but weak. I know that I am doing good while doing harm. I work for the greater good of the children. I am a master of doublethink, doublespeak, and self-preservation. I know what I believe. I believe what I am told. I injure humanity while doing “good”. If I allow even a drop of the above thought into my mind I will become an enemy of the body of which I am a part. I will no longer function properly. I will become infected and hopefully fall off. But, again, I am gifted with a masterful doublethink— an outright genius. Fitzgerald said in The Crackup that, “the mark of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts in the mind at the same time without cracking up”— something to that effect. I’ve not cracked yet. I’m still harming for the good and doing good for the harm. I am a
Test Administrator. I honor the Test. I will not speak ill of the Test. I will honor security measures and will never throw the Test in the dump on the way from point A to B. I will keep students focused and remind them they are not human, but numeric. I will love the proficient and remediate the minimal. I will feed my family and remain a tip on the finger of the hand of the most just arm that keeps me as a liar, criminal, and at war with myself. God bless the Test.

0146: #Education, Big Words, and a Concerted Effort #occupyedu #SOSchat #inequality

I have, perhaps, sullied our interaction by not offering you a window into my classroom. I’ve offered the impression of looking into other windows and unfairly describing the experiences of others. I do not wish to ever make light of the successful and hopeful experiences of others.

Unfortunately, some points cannot be made, in order to be clarified, without making some generalizations and accusations, at least at my skill level. While there are places that offer children who live well below the poverty line an equitable education, there is a plethora of others that do not. This is not to say that there aren’t teachers giving their all and busting their asses to maneuver around and through multiple impasses. Teachers, principals, and communities often do incredible things with meager resources. Many are able to do these amazing things despite punitive and restrictive top-down measures. Schools are people not buildings. I’ve taught in schools where I could see the dirt through holes in the floor, with no heat or A/C. The teachers were dedicated and gave less than a rats ass about just appeasing auditors. However, changes had to be made to ensure the school remained open, jobs were maintained, etc. Some tightening of the belt was needed, and the school began to more closely resemble a test factory. Teachers and students were dealt with more harshly. This is not an uncommon practice—not just in schools where I’ve been, but anywhere schools are in trouble. Perhaps, I digress.

I will make the commitment to you, dear reader, to open my window a little wider. And, I will commit to sharing the things I see, hear, and begin to understand. A system cannot change if we worry too much with niceties. Education, in many places for many people, is inequitable. Equally society is inequitable. We have a third world hiding in our backyards. Many do not see it. We continue to live in a place that has a significantly fossilized system of segregation. Education systems are a part of this and will continue to be until _______. Continue to offer your scrutiny and your experiences— they’re far more conducive to generating thought and change than peer review and higher institutions. It is only through authentic human interaction that we change. I, in turn, will continue to grow and learn. We must tell our stories, the story, a story. We must push, complain, fight, agree…until we find a place for all our children, people, neighbors, and anyone else seen or not. It’s up to us. Cheers.

0145: A Part of the #Education Conversation #learning #SOSchat #communication


If one school is a testing factory, it’s one too many. If one student is trained instead of supported as a learner, it’s one student too many. I’ve not visited many places where shadows of the third world, or even the third world itself, did not loom silently a few blocks or miles away. The educational response to a growing third world, class divisions, achievement gaps, etc. can either be along the lines of external sanctions, remediation, paternalistic interventionism, and coerced assimilation, or it can be through the development of programs that are internally sustainable, critical, transformative, and cooperative.*

The severity of educational, institutional, societal, and cultural problems vary according to myriad criteria ranging from region, to exposure, to personal bias, and so forth. Unfortunately, crises only exist when the powerful, whoever they may be, determine they exist. Crises exist where we choose to look.

We have the opportunity as educators and people to at least enter into meaningful discussion. We certainly stand a better chance of engaging in meaningful action if we seek agreements and deeper understanding over absolute differences. We are all different, with unique and valuable experiences, backgrounds, beliefs, expertise, and on and on. This is a strength.

Some may be smarter than some of us, but none are smarter than all of us. Happy moving and shaking.

*Note: definitions should not be provided by an individual with a monopoly on knowledge/ language/ action/ power; rather, they should be arrived at collectively through discussion, debate, dialectic, argument, whatever.

0143: About my practice, radicalism, and strong rhetoric. #education #revolution #SOSchat


Alinsky teaches that generalizations are dangerous. One who speaks in generalizations is often distant from the practice of which they speak. I agree. For my own sake I will write in specifics as best I can, and I will forego editing for flow today. Let’s keep the thoughts raw.

I teach and have taught in what would be considered the third world of the United States. In these places violence, rape, drug abuse, gang activity, incest, illiteracy, etc. are the norm.

Communities suffer. Kids suffer and are hopeless. It is transforming to teach in these places. The fight against cynicism requires strong language and ideology.

Their general attitude is “fuck the test”. Mine has become quiete similar. Paying lip service to doing what is “best for children” by supporting “best practices” that get the “best results”, but still leave children illiterate, hopeless, and suffering is not acceptable. If the communities were changing as a result of our “best practices” I could get behind it.

I taught algebra in these communities. Lived within earshot of the gunshots. Helicopters for drug raids. Raids of migrant camps and immigrant housing. Been threatened, intimidated, frightened, triumphant, etc. I see systems that simply do not acknowledge the people I know, love, and trust. I did not bother teaching entirely to the test, even though that consumed some of my time. Rather, we worked on connecting mathematical concepts. Making them accessible and applicable. We investigate together using any tools we could find. We did word puzzles, riddles, brain teasers, textbook work, used wikis, YouTube, cellphones, anything to learn algebra, but more important to learn to access information— to become powerful. We also wrote programs, created art, literature, music. We cried, laughed and argued. We became and become family. Of these kids, “poor”, “hopeless”, “abused”, “forgotten”, “invisible”, many outperformed themselves, their peers in better settings on standardized tests (blah, blah). They’ve gone on to colleges, first generation to college. Some of the younger ones have entered schools of math and science. Others entered the military. Some have chosen non-violence as a means of participating in violent communities. Others have been murdered. Some are in prison. Some will be. Some will never be. The impact, however, is not because of me, though maybe some of my practices made their successes more likely. If anything, I let them be, we worked together. We learned together. I did not teach.

Some of these students arrived at the understanding that they were being paddled too frequently, and with too much force. They were. It was daily and disgusting. They opted without my knowledge to steal and destroy said paddle. They arrived at this power shift through their own discussions, perhaps having stemmed through what was learned in a few classes. A moment of individual transforming power can alter the course of a life.

I left algebra to get away from the testing. I still help with it, but more as a consultant to other teachers and academic coaches. I teach music for my soul, and the opportunity to engage more freely in open discussion and creative action with my students. We create culture together. It’s similar to my practice in maths, just with fewer constraints. We have the option to discuss at length when someone saw someone get shot the night before. When someone dies or goes to prison. We get to interact more naturally. We get to create for the sake of creating. We can even focus on remediating lost skills—math, literacy, content literacy— with no pacing guide, and through arts integration methods. All students should be able to arrive at new understandings and build language for expression and transformation through learning. I get to be a part of this and I am grateful.

I am a radical teacher. I fail. Persevere. Agitate. Teach. I will continue doing these things.

Until people are equal, I suggest we continue fighting. We’ll rock the boat until it tips over.

My practice is not unique. It is not the norm in many cases, but is neither original nor unique. It’s modeled after admirable practices of other teachers, mentors, philosophers, and is dictated by the needs of the learners in my care.

0142: #Teaching for #Revolution #education #SOSchat #occupyedu #occupy


Why teach critical thinking if not for revolution? Revolution is change, transformation, innovation. It’s a concept that is inevitable if people learn to think, learn to learn, learn that they are the creators of culture. Critical thinking embraces the individual power to create, collaborate, question, reinvent, and so forth. When we teach or help learners develop their critical thinking, we are not teaching revolution in the political or economic sense, though either of those may come; rather, we helping learners revolutionize their own consciousnesses. Revolution of consciousness is far more threatening than political or economic revolution because it is permanent, sustainable, decentralized, humanizing, and is multifactorial. As teachers, as humans we must strive for this sort of revolution. The world belongs to those who own their own minds.

0141: A Critique of #Classroom Management #education #SOSchat #occupyedu #discipline


I will not attempt bore you with a classical critique of classroom management as if it were some brilliantly constructed concept, nor will I try to awaken you to any revolutionary idea— though I can only rejoice if you awaken even more than you already are. I will, however, discuss the concept and language of “classroom management” as we have come to know it. The heavy focus is a symptom of our terribly mis-focused educational system. Rather than providing learners with interesting and stimulating activities through which they cal learn, we are being forced to coercively deposit information that has no purpose beyond a test. Naturally, our unstimulated and bored, but curious students rebel and resist the forced “education”. From this rebellion is born a new focus on keeping kids in line, quiet, and automatic. With recess, break, and talking at lunch gone, the students need an outlet—the classroom. To combat this we can implement a subtly churched-up form of brainwashing called classroom management. I will focus on two points for this discussion. First, forms of classroom management goes beyond discipline by seeking to alter or suppress certain cognitions and behaviors that result from certain thoughts. And second, the term ‘classroom management’ has no standard definition and can be used to demonize a teacher with language alone.

Classroom management is an updated version of classroom discipline. It’s classroom discipline 2.0 with an expansion packet. Where discipline punished “bad” behavior, and even overt attempts to rebel, classroom management attempts to eliminate the possibility for said “bad” behavior. Theoretically rebellion is not possible with classroom management, because it squashes the thought before it can enter the child’s head. I do not intend to say an orderly classroom is not a good thing. It allows for learning to take place and things run better; but, there’s a fine line between orderly and completely automatic. Many elements of classroom management resemble classical conditioning. If we want critically thinking people, IF we want them, conditioning them to thoughtlessly respond to stimuli only counters and complicates our goal. As teachers, we must be careful to distinguish conditioning from better practices, such as constant, high quality discourse, that encourage critical thought.

Second, classroom management has no real definition— at least, not in standard terms for practitioners. When a teacher doesn’t deliver the perfect product, administration takes a look at “classroom management”. At interviews potential candidates are asked about “classroom management”. People provide answers that include keeping students on task, engaged, and focused on the task. All good things, but the how can be a different story. Classroom management can mean myriad things. One principal may look for a quiet classroom; another may expect minimal discipline referrals. Seldom is there a clear expectation. The answers teachers are taught to provide in interviews are rarely the real desired outcome or what is supported; however, they are the unmet expectations used to put teachers on improvement plans, and put dismissal procedures into action. The point is, there is no standard definition. Classroom management can have different styles, but if someone is to be disciplined according to their “poor classroom management” ability, they should know how and why they are being put on the chopping block. This is not to say that there aren’t principals who provide a wonderfully clear definition and expectation for classroom management. These principal’s support teachers to maintain a healthy classroom that fosters learning.

*It seems the more harmful versions of “classroom management” are more present in high poverty schools. However, there are ample exceptions either way. The schools that serve the lower SES populations are often in “trouble” because of testing, and are subject to more punitive top-down measures. This makes the climate perfect for harsh classroom management practices.*

Classroom management as an idea is not such a bad thing. Some of the practices aren’t too bad either. It just takes a critical eye when it comes to implementation. Our learning environment, that of test, test, test, lays the foundation for our hollow practices. “Get it done or your job is gone,” makes taking a stand difficult. It pressures us to do some things that we wouldn’t otherwise do. But, this isn’t acceptable. We have to stand against anything that interrupts real learning. We’ve all ventured down dark educational paths from time to time. We just can’t continue that way. Keep harmful classroom management practices away. Fight the Testocracy.