TELL YOU WHAT I SAY

Have you ever been at a bar or at the airport, sitting by yourself, trying to mind your own business when that guy plops downs next to you and starts talking? You know, the one who seems to have an opinion on everything and insists on sharing those insights, whether you want to hear them or not? It’s in that spirit that I offer you a glimpse of what’s on my mind today. Some of it you may agree with, while some may provoke the opposite response.

As some of you may know, I’m currently running for school board. The election is a little under 6 weeks away and it’s already been an eye-opening experience.

First off, just let me say, there is a whole lot more to this running for office thing than what initially meets the eye. There is a ton of minutiae that needs to get done before you can even get to the big things like knocking on doors and putting up signs. Palm cards and signs have to be designed. I don’t how busy your family is, but a simple thing like taking a family picture can get delayed for weeks due to the inability to coordinate everybody’s schedule. That’s just one example.

A simple job like knocking on doors requires the acquiring of a list of voters. That list must be sorted into manageable sections. Volunteers need to be coordinated. I’m certainly not complaining, but I have developed a new appreciation for those who have come before me.

Speaking of signs, I’ve learned that putting up signs is like throwing rice kernels in a coffee tin. You have no idea how many it takes to make an impact until you start getting them out there, then it gets a little daunting.

I love doing interviews for endorsements because let’s face it, one of my favorite things is sitting around talking education policy. The problem is that even though intellectually I know not everybody is going to like me, nor should they, emotionally it kind of stings when they choose to endorse someone else. Good thing for me, rejection just makes me want to work harder. It makes me want to talk to more people. It makes me want to get more signs out.

The best thing I’ve discovered during this adventure is just how many good, kind, and involved people there are out there. I can’t explain the mixture of emotions – humility, pride, fear, courage – that courses through you when someone hands you a check they’ve written for your campaign. Or when somebody just out of the blue drops you a line and says, “Hey, come put up a sign in my yard.” Or when somebody you don’t know that well calls and says, “What do you need? How can I help?”

I’ve found those types of experiences happening to me with ever-increasing frequency and I have to say, it’s pretty awesome. You can talk about democracy in a hypothetical manner all you want. You can describe community anyway you like. But run for office, and it all becomes tangible. It becomes real. You can feel it in your core. It’s an experience I recommend for everyone.

Netflix is currently airing Joseph Campbell’s documentary A Hero’s Journey. Running for office is the personification of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Keep in mind that Campbell defines a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” In running for office, one quickly realizes that this is about more than oneself. I relish this challenge. I also encourage you to watch the Campbell documentary. Better yet, read his writing.

Which brings me to my next point. Campbell is an old white guy who passed away 30 years ago. It’d be easy to dismiss his writing as archaic and irrelevant. But that would be a mistake.

The current slate of young adult fiction is at an all-time high quality-wise. This has led to a movement to make all student reading culturally relevant. I don’t disagree that if a student can see himself in a piece of literature it is easier for them to become engaged. But I would counter that if we become too focused on seeing just ourselves reflected in literature, we run the risk of missing the universal themes. The understanding of which make us all a little better as people.

I remember 18 years ago when I first started going to AA meetings. I found myself one Saturday morning at a meeting sitting across from an African-American woman who was at least 20 years my senior. She started speaking and I started to tune her out.

After all, she didn’t look like me. Her life experiences certainly weren’t the same as mine. Luckily, she was a compelling speaker, and I wasn’t able to disengage completely, because what started to emerge as she talked was a story that sounded a lot like mine. It was filled with fear, self-loathing, anger, and the questioning of God. It started to sink in to me that she and I may look nothing alike and I may not have understood her unique challenges, nor her mine, but deep down we were more alike than we were different.

That revelation was one of the most powerful moments on my road to recovery. It completely shifted the axis of my world and changed my perception. Could I have gotten the same revelations from someone who more closely resembled me and shared my experiences? Perhaps, but I would have continued to gravitate to those I was familiar with and denied myself the rich experiences that have shaped my life since that moment. I don’t believe my life would have the same depth.

In looking at Campbell’s chart above, I would argue that every time a reader starts a book, they embark on a hero’s journey. Why limit that journey? I would argue that if you are focusing on the color of Natty Bumpo’s skin and the time in which he lives, then you are missing the larger point of The Deerslayer. Just like you are missing the point if you are focused on the color of the skin and where the protagonists of The Hate U Give live.

Both Starr and Bumpo are wrestling with how do you fit into two different worlds when you are not sure you fit into one? They are both wrestling with issues of morality and violence. To truly explore these issues, you have to go deeper and strip away the outer essence and come to the realization that in the end, we are all human and all facing the same challenge.

Historically, one of the ways racism justified itself was in the dehumanization of people of color. Black people were described in terms that painted them as being less than human, and therefore subhuman treatment was justified. It was abhorrent behavior, and fortunately we are making strides to rectify those actions. Literature is a powerful tool in that fight.

It has the power to break down the myth, deny it, and cement the realization that underneath it all, we are a lot more similar than different. I get that reading books that have protagonists that appear to be disconnected from the reader presents a challenge, but would you argue the counter? That a farm boy from Iowa can find no relevance in The Hate U Give? It’s a pendulum that needs to swing both ways.

I read a great deal of culturally relevant books to my children. Especially my son. This spring we read Long Walk To Water and Refugee. We also have read My Side of The Mountain and are now reading Mike Lupica’s Shoot-Out – which I’m pretty sure will never be considered a classic or culturally relevant. Through reading he is getting to experience whole swaths of the world that may never hold relevance to his life at all. But should he need to call upon those experiences, they will be available.

Like education itself, the purpose of reading is seldom agreed upon. Some will argue that reading is an important tool for upward mobility. Others would argue that avid readers make better citizens. I would tend to argue towards the latter. To me, it’s not enough to just get kids reading today. It has to be a life-long trajectory. In order for that to happen, there has to be a realization that there is power in all literature.

I would argue against an overemphasis on the classics as much as I would a complete dismissal of them. Both should hold pace in every reader’s book bag. To reject a book merely because of when it was written, or by whom it was written, serves as a closure of the mind. I don’t believe in being a servant to history anymore than I would advocate that we ignore the past. It’s subject to context and complexity.

Literature is like the classic Superman. Not only does Superman have super human strength, but he also has X-ray vision, the ability to fly, and super tough skin. You wouldn’t expect Superman to let any of his other powers remain untapped while he just focused on his super human strength, would you? He wouldn’t be Superman if he did. The same holds true for literature. Set free, it can change the world.

The best things about these conversations is that we are bringing the same passion to a conversation about literature as we would in regard to who was a better baller, Steph or LeBron? That, to me, is what’s most important. Publicly engaging in passionate conversations about literature can only make us all better and produces no losers. It’s a demonstration that words and ideas aren’t just encased in tombs sitting on dusty shelves. They are living breathing entities. Just another reminder that ProjectLit doesn’t just educate kids, but also communities.

NO, WE WEREN’T ATTACKED BY ALIENS

June has been quite the month for revelations in the state of Tennessee. Last week it was revealed what we all already knew, the Achievement School District sucked. Harsh words, I know, but words I’ve been saying for 5 years. Now finally, it’s being publicly admitted. In a classic understatement, State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen said, “We have not seen the success in the ASD that we want, and that is something we’re addressing.”

The truth is, according to research done by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, or TERA, the ASD is producing results on par with schools that receive no interventions. Furthermore, according to ChalkbeatTN, locally controlled low-achieving districts called Innovation Zones have not only improved performance — as shown in other studies —  but have sustained those improvements over five years.  Hmmm… where have I heard that before?

Mid-week brought the admission from the TNDOE that aliens did not interfere with the administration of this year’s TN Ready tests. It was just good old fashioned administrative error. I’m just shocked. Who would have known?

By the end of the week, everybody had gotten in the spirit of things as it was revealed that the Bill Gates initiative on teacher evaluation was just another shortfall. Rooted in research that showed the value of a quality teacher, the Gates initiative was intended to keep good teachers in the classroom and root out bad ones. The re-tooled evaluation system was supposed to ensure that all kids benefited from a quality teacher.

Unfortunately, that’s not what the data showed. According to the report,

“Central-office staff in [Hillsborough County] reported that teachers were reluctant to transfer to high-need schools despite the cash incentive and extra support because they believed that obtaining a good VAM score would be difficult at a high-need school.”

The initiative also proved to be costly both in time and in money. Once again, I’m left wondering, who could have known? Maybe now we can focus on things that do work – smaller classes, fully funding schools, providing kids time in school to read, less testing, treating teachers like professionals.

Don’t think for one minute though that Gates is done helping. Nope. The Gates Foundation is now shifting its focus to curriculum. At some point, someone is going to put their arm around Bill and quietly explain to him, as they walk him out of the room, it might be time for a break. It’s not you, Bill, it’s us, and of course we can still be friends.

BROTHER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?

This week, the Nashville budget season came to an end. It hasn’t been a pretty one and has produced few “winners.”

Tuesday’s council meeting lasted until well past midnight before producing a budget that awarded MNPS just $7 million more than last year, significantly shorter than the $44.7 million initially requested. According to MNPS senior leadership, that puts them in the hole for $22 million.

Unless you are counting the $3.5 million they needed to reconcile this year’s expenditures. Earlier during Tuesday’s council meeting, MNPS was granted permission to take that money from reserves. Quick questions I have here are when were these shortfalls discovered, and were adjustments placed in the coming year’s budget to account for them? Why is the need just being expressed now?

In the case of benefit shortfalls cited, open enrollment ended in November. By February, reconciliation should have taken place and district leaders should have been aware of the shortfall. What accommodations were made at that time? Once again, the loss in enrollment is being cited as a contributor to the shortfall. I fail to understand how such a minuscule amount, $7.5 million, can continue to have such a devastating effect.

There was a plan on the floor to raise property taxes by 50 cents that would have provided full funding for the schools as well as raises for city employees. That initiative failed by a vote of 20-19, with acting Vice-Mayor Sheri Weiner casting the tie-breaking vote. Don’t think that initiative ends there, though.

MNPS School Board member Christiane Buggs has begun pushing for the board to use its power to call for a referendum on raising property taxes to fund schools. According to Buggs, she wants to explore the possibility of having the School Board propose a referendum for voters to decide the question of a property tax increase as early as August. Per Channel 5 News, Buggs is not trying to circumvent the processes already in place with the Metro Council and the Mayor, but says she just wants to explore all possible options.

I’m not sure this is the right move for a number of reasons. Mainly because we have a school board that barely has an understanding of their own budget initiating an action that will impact the city’s future ability to raise revenue through a tax increase. Where would such an action leave raises for other city employees going forward? What if another financial crisis arrived in the near future for the city, would the board’s action potentially hinder the city’s options?

I 100% believe that public education is underfunded. The increase in funding, though, needs to come first from the state. One thing that board member Will Pinkston gets right is the need for the state to meet their financial obligation, something they’ve continually failed to do.

It would also behoove us to take a closer look at how Denver Public Schools is now doing their budget book. It shows a true commitment to transparency and public understanding. “We rely, in Colorado, on voters’ trust and voters’ support for our work in education,” Superintendent Boasberg says. “And we know that at the heart of that trust lies a high degree of transparency.”

Elections are right around the corner. Nothing sends a message to an elected official like an election. Everybody needs to register to vote, and then actually vote. Vote for people you know will enact policy that will provide increased resources to public education. It’s past time to mobilize and make sure your voice is heard.

QUICK HITS

Many of you have been asking, where is the MNPS Director of Schools evaluation? Some of you have even noted that it was scheduled for January but hasn’t yet been executed. Rumor has it that board members are working on it right now. Hopefully, their evaluations will be shorter than the 48 pages Dr. Joseph utilized for his self-evaluation.

There is a new blogger in town. Those of you who are familiar with David Jones via Facebook know he has some strong opinions on education and other subjects. Check it out. You won’t be disappointed. And he’s a senior editor at a publishing firm, so you know the writing will be better than mine.

There is always a Nashville connection. Most of you, by now, are familiar with the abhorrent actions being taken down on our southern border. Now, raise your hand if you knew that CoreCivic is operating 8 immigrant detention centers down there? In all fairness, CoreCivic released a statement last week that says, “None of our facilities provides housing for children who aren’t under the supervision of a parent.”

Keep in mind, CoreCivic used to be CCA until they decided a rebranding was in order. Did you know that the head of CoreCivic sits on the board for the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF)? Just putting it out there.

Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to be hotbed of action. Supposedly they are in the process of getting a new superintendent, but the way things are unfurling, who knows when that’ll happen. Watching events transpire in PGCPS certainly gives insight into events here in Nashville. We are all a product of where we come from.

Word out of Robertson County is that former MNEA head and MNPS teacher Stephen Henry is taking very positive steps on his road to recovery. Our prayers here at DGW continue to be with him as he progresses in his journey. Addiction is a horrible master.

That’s another blog post in the bag. Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer poll questions. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can.
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