Educated to Death

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

Category: personal

0173: A Quick and Dirty Guide to Saying ‘No’ #education #firstyear #SOSchat #teacher

People face many challenges throughout their career. Saying ‘no’ is one of them. While it’s a mere two letter word, it can be one of the most difficult things to say. Many people never learn because they’re afraid (for a variety of reasons) or they never knew they could. Here’s your permission. It becomes harder to say it if you don’t learn to do it early on. It’s a skill that prevent burnout, administrative abuse, feelings of powerless, and so forth. I, of course, am not advocating that anyone shirk their responsibilities; rather, I am hopefully offering you a skill that will give you an element of control, and more important prevent you from being taken complete advantage of. As always, use discretion.

How to say ‘No’

While it should be as easy as saying the word, if you’ve ever tried it’s seldom that easy. You might finding yourself running through numerous scenarios of what might happen if you do say it. Perhaps you’ll be fired, reprimanded, or forgotten. Maybe you’ll lose favor with whoever’s asking. Maybe they won’t ask again. These are all things to take into consideration. Which brings us, I believe, to the crux of the matter: saying ‘no’ without alienating the inquirer or seeming defiant. So how do you do it? A friend offered me something similar to these steps, I’ve found them useful, so I’ll pass them along.

1. Decide if you want to do what they’re asking. Ask for time to think about it.

This is the part where you weigh your options. Is what I’m being asked something I need to do, want to do, have to do, don’t want to do, don’t have time to do, etc. My struggle is often wanting to do more than I have time to do. So when asked, if you need time to think if over, ask. Ask if you can think about it over night. If they press you for an answer, reiterate that you really need some time to think it over. More often than not, the time for consideration will be granted. Of course, there are somethings that the answer is yes before you’re asked. That’s a situation that requires your own judgment, and probably can’t be handled in this limited space.

2. Delivering your answer

You’ve made up your mind. Your answer is no.

a) Empathize.

Show that you understand their predicament, if there is a predicament. This could also equate with you understanding the weight of the situation, or the need to solve the problem. The main thing is to understand.

b) Express a desire to help them, but not right now.

This is where you’re actually saying ‘no’ without saying it. “I am really interesting in helping you with _________ , but _________.” You want to help or participate, but you’re unable at this time due to whatever. Maybe you have too much on your plate. Maybe something else.

c) Share your desire to do more in the future. Reschedule if you can.

You want to help them. You’re just unable at the moment, but you want to keep the opportunity, better, future opportunities intact. Ask if the task can be rescheduled, if it’s that type of task. Ask to be considered if another opportunity arises.

All together it might sound something like this:

“I understand where your coming from, I see this is very important. I’d really like to help you, but I really have too much on my plate to give it my all. Is there anyway we could reschedule?”

Something like that. Mold it to your situation.

It’s important to remember you’re saying no because you value your time, not because you’re being defiant. It’s your mental health and relationships at stake. You won’t always get your way, but it’s worth a shot. Use your best judgment when saying ‘no’. Every situation is unique. Be wise. Be creative. Be happy.


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.

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.

0138: #Testing and the Pity of a Dehumanizing System #education #edreform #SOSchat


I am not pro-testing. I view education as a humanist activity. You know, supporting our fellow human being. Mass Testing does nothing to support our fellow human being. Testing is forcefully imposed upon us. It tears us apart, and transforms teaching and learning into terror, stress, and mind-numbing test prep. Mass testing has changed the face of education. It was not perfect before, nor will it ever be, but we should strive for something more than the mass dehumanization of everything the Education System touches. Who knew we were a part of Midas’ touch, only gold is too expensive so everything just turns to shit.

I’d just like to see light in the eyes of students and educators again.

0135: What is #Education? For my own sake, and maybe yours. #revolution #SOSchat #occupyedu

I will attempt to amaze you, dear reader, with my death defying attempt at reinventing the will. I will answer the question: what is education? I think it is important for any educator who claims to be critical in any way to attempt to define education. It is especially important for me to write in the first person in order to prevent myself from wandering into the unnecessary territory of absolute theory and generalization, though theory and generalizations may well be a part of the impending diatribe and exploration. It is important for me to do this for the sake of understanding my own practice and how my practice differs from prescriptive practice of education. I assume this venture will most likely attempt to justify my practice, and give credence to my constant straying from the prescribed curriculum, or perhaps I will find myself to be a fraud. Perhaps my meandering will be of some use to you, dear reader. If not, disregard it as the ravings of a shithouse rat. I will cut the crap and begin.

What is education?

Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand.

(Very general and somewhat useless)

A) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand his or her own experience.

B) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand the experience of someone else.

C) Education is the means by which one comes to know, learn, and understand that they are useless and nothing more than a number.

D) Education is a tool that can be used however it’s distributors choose.

I’m sure anyone of these answers could suffice, but what is it to me? I view education as a tool to be acquired and used by individuals, communities, and so forth to transform there worlds. Education is a tool for transformation. It shouldn’t free anyone; rather, it should give people the tools to free themselves. Education is awakening to the reality that power is not fixed. It belongs in the hands of those who realize they have it. Education allows people to maneuver social classes, oppression, suppression, it equally gives people the power to oppress and suppress others. Education provides choice. Choice is freedom. The more choices, the more free. So, how does my practice as an educator reflect my current definition of education (current because it’s subject to change at any moment, but hopefully with some warning)?

First, I am inconsistent. As a classroom teacher I naturally war between my understanding of education and the prescribed method. I think this is a natural symptom of institutional function. While it may not completely dictate my actions, it forces me to at least maintain a level of compliance. I still must function within the institutional framework or else, I cannot say if this is good or bad. My reflection must become more complex, I suppose.

How do I temper my understanding of education with what is prescribed? What does this do to my view of myself as a teacher?

Foremost, I come to view myself as a rebellious individual. I position myself against the system of which I am a part. This is, at times beneficial to the students in my care, especially when I choose to allow them to take the lead in class. When we let curiosity take the reigns in the class we (students and me) learn, discover, understand far more than if we stuck to any narrow curriculum or even my narrow wishes as the “leader” of the class. I find this as true as a music teacher as I did as an algebra teacher. This is true also when I “teach” teachers. All learning settings are improved by the freedom to explore problems as they arise. While this allowance for freedom may be deemed rebellious by me or an onlooker it seems to be the only way for meaningful learning occur. There are problems that occur as a result of my dualistic view of myself in the classroom. It can be a Jekyll and Hyde sort of reaction. It certainly was more of this at the start of my career. I’ve become more efficient at doing what I deem best as I’ve advanced as a teacher; nonetheless the required doublethink can result in the emergence of a very ugly creature from time to time. Temperance is the key.

There is more to write on this topic, but I will stop here. Education, as I understand it is the means by which an individual acquires choice. It involves personal power. Education is not given; rather, education enables one to acquire. Thanks to Freire et al. for all the thoughts I’ve borrowed and am attempting to process. I hope to continue this process with the aide of colleagues and tempering dialogue.

0129: So I’ve arrived at a personal tipping point, where do I go? #education #teaching #revolution #occupyedu

Through writing, meditation, soul searching, dialogue, dialectic, and debate, I have arrived at a point of tension that requires some form of release. The crisis is that of my questioning and understanding of my role in public education. This moment is no new moment to me, nor is it original to me. It is a crisis that befalls, though it seems I have pulled it down upon myself very intentionally, anyone who participates within any institution; further, anyone who has any naïve belief in an institution and is gradually awakened to the reality of their chosen institution or institutions. I say this with the understanding that I have never doubted or been blind to the fact that public education has functioned in a sinister manner to divide and suppress people, at least this is my claim. I do, however, believe in the intention of many educators to work toward the liberation and enlightenment of the people with and/for whom they work (I would hope to be considered among this class of educators). Therein lies the crisis, educators want to aid in enlightenment and liberation; the system functions to divide and suppress. The system as it is functions to eliminate any possibility of a critical and literate populace through bland and numbing test prep from kindergarten forward. Mass standardization and narrowing curriculums do not lay the ground work for an open democratic society; rather, the road is paved for any form of rule by few without dissent or question. These ideas do not belong to me alone, but would be realized by anyone with a critical eye toward the practice of education— perhaps more saliently, the results of education as it is. Education, standardized education, has not closed any achievement gap, has not changed communities for the better, has not put more or better food on a table for the recipients of education. People have made money, but not the People. So, I arrive at my personal crisis. Where do I go? Do I continue working in an institution that seems to do more harm than good, especially in this climate? Do I fight from within? Do I seek more education? Do I seek more influence? Do I keep chopping away with many others in the blogosphere? What
can I do to amplify my voice, my struggle, and that of others? I’m not sure. I know the answers to my questions aren’t simple. I know I keep asking these questions. I do know that I need to continue seeking answers and asking questions. I need to keep connecting to other educators, rabble-rousers, and revolutionaries. There is a great beast enveloping and facing us. We must stand in solidarity to deliver ourselves, the beast, and help those being crushed deliver themselves. Scrutiny is important. Language is important. It is important that we remain humanistic and not humanitarian. It’s important that we listen. It’s important that we act. What next?

0128: Thank you for listening and helping me learn. Time for a respite. #education #SOSchat

Writing has been a mind altering venture and adventure. I set out to be reflective, and attempt to maintain sanity in what seemed, and still seems, to be be a corrupt system with other things at play besides the well being of children. As a result, I have become a part of a larger conversation and community of educators, critics, grassroots reformers, and so forth. I have learned far more from you than I have from any formal education I have received to date. It has been invaluable to me as a teacher to be a part of such a vast conversation that leads to action and future action. I am far less isolated as a teacher, as a critic, as a human. I am far more aware of who I am as a teacher, as a critic, as a human. Writing, chatting, thinking, and quarreling here has urged me think, rethink, and think again about my practice and my contribution to education and the education debacle. I have asked myself myriad questions: Am I a part of the problem or the solution? Is it so simple? What to I need to do as a teacher to help end alter or end the standards movement? What can I do in my classroom/school/district to disrupt some of the harm being done by standardized and massifying education? I’ve asked if I should be asking these questions? Are these questions answerable? I am currently seeking some answers and questions dealing with eugenics and education? I, along with others, am asking simple questions and learning to ask and generate more difficult questions. I am arriving at a point where I think I need to take a few days to ask questions and seek answers before I write much more. I need to spend more time listening than talking. I need a break. This need for respite luckily coincides with Spring Break. Surely, as a I say I need a break I will be overwhelmed with the urge to write. Perhaps I need to write this blurb to keep myself moving forward.

At any rate, I thank you for reading and helping me learn. I am reticent to post this, but I think it’s necessary for me. And, I must always return to my original purpose for writing this— to maintain a level of sanity and reflect. I will return to my original thesis and see where it leads. Cheers.