Educated to Death

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

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

@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath
educatedtodeath.com

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

educatedtodeath.com
@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath

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

@educatedtodeath
educatedtodeath.com

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.

0140: #Classroom Management, General Mayhem, and Evil Sundries Pt. 2 #education #SOSchat #k12chat

@educatedtodeath

Last time we discussed some of the theory behind classroom management. It was discussed with the understanding that it has come to mean various things to multiple people, but is best understood, for our purposes, as a way of fostering a generally organized environment, free of confusion, so learning can take place. In this second installment of ‘…Mayhem…’ we’ll look at some specific elements of classroom management: rules, procedures, directives, and my favorite, discourse. As always, if you feel the need to skip ahead, disagree, or deconstruct anything please feel free to do so. This is about conversation.

Rules

Rules state the behavioral expectation of the class, school, etc. Rules are often predetermined by administration, an individual teacher, Harry Wong, and sometimes the students themselves. Ultimately, the teacher determines the rules, and how they are enforced. Regardless of which rules are posted, you determine how the class is runs, at least on a behavioral level. Rules succeed and fail for many reasons. There success and failure has a great effect on classroom and school-wide outcomes, behaviorally and academically. Rules often fail because there are too many, they’re arbitrary, they’re stated in such a way that they guarantee failure, or they’re unenforceable (this is not meant to be exhaustive). Rules should be a general list of do’s, rather than an exhaustive list of don’t’s. When rules can be combined, they should. When they can be left more open for interpretation and/or discussion, they should. Clearly this will not suffice for a highly authoritarian classroom. Open rules require constant dialogue between teacher and student. The law will not be maintained by the posterboard labeled rules; rather, they will maintained through open discussion. Of course, there must be rules, so here’s an example. Instead of the faithful, “Don’t fight”, “Don’t cuss”, “Don’t spit”, “Don’t litter”, etc., try “Respect all people in classroom (school, etc.), and respect the classroom environment.” It’s positively stated; that is, it tells students what to do, rather than what not to do, and it’s easy to remember. Such a rule will require discussion, which should probably be ongoing. But, the rule will stand. It makes sense, it’s not arbitrary, and the students can see how it applies to them in multiple places— in and out of the classroom.

If you have to dictate a student’s every move and behavior, then there is a deeper problem. So rules shouldn’t dictate every behavior. Maybe they should set the mood.

Procedures

Procedures, as many of us know, dictate the way things are run. These differ from rules because they deal with the day to day operating of a classroom. They cover things such as, turning in papers, entering and exiting the room, whether or not students must raise their hands to speak, and so forth. Procedures should be clear and they should be consistently enforced; that is, of you want a consistently run classroom. The enforcement can be as simple as requiring the students to comply with said procedure before continuing. If you want hands raised, do not answer a question if the student has not raised his or her hand. If you don’t give in, they’ll eventually get the point, or be ignored. Procedures need to be set at the beginning. They need to be clear. They need to be consistently enforced. Quality procedures can eliminate wasted time, confusion, and potential disruptions. They can pave the way to a smoothly run classroom.

Procedures fail when they’re not consistently followed. They are the guidelines for how a class operates. They also should be simple, and very clear. Students can take part in their development if you so choose. And, they can be amended. If they are ineffective, fix it. There only purpose is to make the class run smoothly. Like rules, the power is not in the posterboard, but in their constant use.

Directives, Discourse, and other Communication

Finally, directives. Directives and communication are the most important of all the classroom management tools, or whatever they’re called. We’ll tackle directives first. Directives are the explicit directions you, the teacher, gives a student. They should be clear, and let the learner know exactly what you mean. For instance, if you want a student to sit in their desk, tell him, “Sit in your desk”. Be direct and clear. Don’t continue with more directives until the first one is met with compliance. This goes back to the old concept of mean what you say. It builds trust through consistency. If you don’t care if the student sits or not, don’t give the directive. A clear message prevents confusion. Confusion equals chaos, and from there the dominoes tumble.

Directives should only be used for non-negotiables. They deliver your clear expectations as a teacher and set the groundwork for learners’ success. So, they’re important. Directives can be given verbally or in written form, like directions on a test. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being clear and non-ambiguous. What directives don’t deal with should be left to discourse.

Discourse is the lifeblood of any non-authoritarian classroom. It’s a requirement for successful democracy on small and large scales. So, it should go without saying that we should concern ourselves with developing opportunities to participate actively in democratically functioning organizations, institutions, and activities. This does not mean that we just vote on rules at the beginning of the year, or vote on homework or none; rather, it should be a commitment to engaging learners constantly in dialogue that leads to the formation of knowledge and understanding. It means they’re generating questions and answers, rather than having them deposited by an all knowing teacher. Discourse should not be limited to the academic realms. It should extend through every aspect of the the learning experience—academic, social, behavioral, etc. Discourse is a generalizeable skill that, when integrated into our daily lives, will affect the way we reason, behave, and interact with the world around us. It is an invaluable tool for empowerment for teachers and students. As we are looking at classroom management, discourse seeks to eliminate the need for external enforcers of behavior and rules. Discourse involves the entire group in a living discussion. The class becomes theirs. With an active action oriented discourse learners and teachers alike will witness the transformation of rhetoric and dialogue into action and culture. There is much, much more to say about discourse, but this should suffice for now.

Rules, Procedures, Directives and Discourse— the greatest of these being discourse— all shape the way a class functions and to what extent learning takes place. The educator has the choice to what extent any of these elements are implemented. These elements can be as rigid or flexible as you decide. I submit, the way these factors are implemented has the power to deeply affect a learners’ understanding of democracy and their consciousness as a whole. Choose wisely. Be reflective. Be critical. I implore you to teach and learn with human beings, rather than control and train robots. Cheers.

0139: “Liberty and Justice for Some?” she asked. #education #TrayvonMartin #SOSchat #RaceintheUS

educatedtodeath.com
@educatedtodeath

A 7th grader asked me: “Why do we have to say the Pledge of Allegiance everyday?”

“Why do you ask?” I said.

“I don’t know what it means really. I don’t think anybody does. And, the part I kind of understand doesn’t really seem true for everyone.”

“Which part is that?”

“You know ‘Liberty and Justice for all’, it should be ‘Liberty and Justice for most’, or even ‘Liberty and Justice for some’. Trayvon Martin doesn’t have justice. And he doesn’t have any liberty anymore.”

“My friend got shot by a cop in front of my house a few years ago. He just had a bag of chips and it was dark. He didn’t have justice either.” another student added.

“So what should we do about it?” I said.

“We should protest or do something. Show solidarity. Or I could write a book. Or we could call Congress again like we did for SOPA. We should make people think.”

The discussion went on for a while longer. Then we had to discuss prefixes for the fast approaching test.

A student remarked, “It seems kind of dumb talking about prefixes after talking about liberty and justice and people’s lives and rights.”

“I agree,” I said, “We’ll get through the grammar quickly.” We did, and we returned to our conversation. Myles wanted to sing a protest song and wear his hoodie. We sang. I wish this was the focus of our schools. Grammar matters, but only if it helps communicate big ideas, or small ones. We had an important class session. Humanity took the cake today, not the test.

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

@educatedtodeath
educatedtodeath.com

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.