TITAN UP FOR LITERACY

“Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.”
James Joyce

“Everybody has to feel superior to somebody,” she said. “But it’s customary to present a little proof before you take the privilege.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

 

All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, the Titan’s improbable championship run did just that on Sunday. They came into Kansas City 60 minutes away from their first Super Bowl appearance in 20 years, but alas it was not to be. It sure was fun while it lasted though.

The Titans brought the city together in that unique manner that athletics often does. There may have only been 11 players on the field at a time but for a month nearly everyone in the city felt like they were one of those players.

Everywhere you looked you saw evidence of the team – bumper stickers, jerseys, and hats as far as the eye could see. Social feeds were filled with students, government workers, and city employees clad in Titan’s garb. Talk of the team was on everybody’s lips as the city united behind a common goal.

At the grocery store, I overheard an elderly White woman greet an African American cashier with a hearty, “Titan’s up!” The simple phrase saying it all to two people that outwardly appeared to have little in common.

For a brief period of time, our differences slipped away and we focused on our common goal. Rich, poor, White, Hispanic, Black, blue-collar or white color worker – there was room on the bandwagon for everyone. The only requirement was a commitment to the Titan’s and to vanquishing those who stood between the team and a trip to Miami for the Championship.

It got me thinking if we are capable of coming together to support the Titan’s why couldn’t we do the same to support literacy? What if we could bottle up the mysterious elixir that allowed us to forget our differences and unite behind an athletic quest, and do the same for literacy?

Imagine if you would, that everywhere across the city you saw jerseys labeled not with players’ names but rather with authors’ names. You’d have your Kings, your Coates, Stones, and Patchetts. Much like some Titan’s fans like to wear the jerseys of past greats, you might see a few Hemingways, Baldwins, or Hinton’s.

People would discuss the current books they were reading while in line for lunch, at the gym, or as they check out at the local Target. The merits and skills of authors talked up in the same manner as the gridiron exploits of Henry and Tannehill. Raging debates about whether the past masters were better or if the current crop were among the best produced.

Much like Titan’s fever, literacy fever would spread to the youth of the city. Imagine playground conversations that went something like this,

“Yea, my Dad says that Grisham is alright but he doesn’t hold a candle to Coates.”

“Man, come on, neither of them as half as good as Burke. Nearly eighty years old and he can still flat out write. Scary good.” 

Dude, you are nuts, Murakami puts all of them to shame. The way he uses language flat out kills.

“Yea, but I wish Vonnegut was still around. Back in his day nobody could touch him.”

I know such a coming together around something like literacy sounds far fetched, but back when the Titan’s were 2 – 4 who thought we’d be rallying around them for a Super Bowl run? If I would have remarked in September, that come January we’d be glued to our seats watching this team, people would have ridiculed me. Yet here we were.

There are some things that the Titans had that we could emulate. They had stars. Players who set the tone and inspired the city.

Literacy has local stars as well. People like Jill Speering, Vesia Hawkins, Jarred Amato, and the countless educators across the city that tirelessly push for increased literacy focus. We need to elevate and celebrate our literacy stars till like Brown, Ryan, and Lewan a first name longer becomes necessary,

Like the Titan’s back in September, we are kind of at a quandary at the Quarterback position. Will it be current Superintendent Dr. Battle who seizes the reins or will it be a new player who steps into the role of director of schools and spurs us on to greater heights? Whoever becomes the QB, they need to realize their obligation to inspire and embrace that role not just in our schools but beyond the city’s classroom. Much like Tannehill united the locker room in order to unite the city.

In building our stars much like the Titan’s built up their stars, we need to realize that critical talk about our stars ain’t necessarily a bad thing. Because when you’re discussing possible flaws around the city’s literacy stars, you are still talking literacy.  Imagine tuning in the radio and instead of hearing a breakdown of Henry’s game you heard the following.,

“I’m telling you Amato has got to get some more classics in his cannon. This over-reliance on modern writers is going to bite him.”

“I don’t know. You know the games changing. Faulkner and Twain had their day. But what Acevedo and Yoon are doing, that’s game-changing.”

“Yea, but what about Rowling? He completely discounts her which leaves an opening in his game that may be exploitable.”

“Yea but is Rowling really relevant to what he’s doing. I think sometimes things can get scattered. Let’s see what the callers say.”

It’d be pretty awesome, wouldn’t it?

The other thing the Titans had was a plan. A plan that was so clear in its simplicity that even a casual fan could grasp it – run Henry, have Tannehill pass to gifted receivers in order to keep Henry free, and play strong defense augmented by strong special teams play. It’s a game plan that is easily communicable and relatable, such that it had its own title, complementary football. We need to create the same around literacy.

Think about it, “complementary literacy”. A united goal around literacy that aligns between the classroom, the household, the community centers, and city hall. All pulling together. All working in the same direction.

I know it’s probably a fantasy, but if nothing else, the last month has shown that fantasy can spring to life and the improbable can become the probable if we dare to dream. Thank you Titan’s for delivering that reminder. And what better day than MLK day to remind our selves of those possibilities?

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME

So lately you’ve probably heard a lot about the recently created National Parents Union. Sounds like a fantastic creation huh? Sounds great huh? A couple of mom’s coming together and organizing to parents to improve educational outcomes for kids. It’s important though to remember that education disruptors are adept at the name game and defining terms like “improvement”, is critical.

So let’s take a quick look under the hood of this shiny new car. Ah…looky there…it may be a new vehicle but the Parent Union is made up of a whole bunch of recycled parts.

Well, one document from the group includes a list of founding council members. It’s called “information” so it may be aspirational rather than real, but it still gives an idea where their aim is. The list includes Sarah Carpenter of Memphis Lift (the Walton-funded group of charter parents that tried to disrupt a Elizabeth Warren speech), Chris Stewart of Education Post and vocal charter advocate, Charles Cole III, Vesia Hawkins of Volume and Light in Nashville, Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Charter School in Philly, and Seth Saavedra. Most of these folks are connected to Education Post, and many of them are Teach for America grads.

The actual board listed on the website includes Rodrigues and Marquez. There’s also Peter Cunningham, edu-flack for Arne Duncan and founding father of Education Post; Gerard Robinson, executive director of the Center for Advancing Opportunity, a Koch-funded think tank; Dan Weisberg, CEO of TNTP; and Bibb Hubbard of Learning Heroes.

Advisors for the group include John King, currently of The Education Trust, and Shavar Jeffries of DFER. Their email address is aimed at MercuryLLC, a PR “high stakes public strategy” firm that helps with strategic media relations and has “a proven ability to counsel leaders of Fortune 500 companies.”.

It’s why we must always remain hyper-vigilant about these new entities. Over the last decade, it’s been one astroturf group after another. There existence short-lived as the public quickly catch on to the disconnect between their names and their objectives.

Unfortunately, their demise is equally short-lived, as they continuously rebrand and reemerge. Like Golems, they continue to rise from the dead ignoring the actual outcomes of their initiatives.

In an effort to push back against the revealing of the new organization’s financiers, Education Post CEO Chris Stewart demanded to know more about “dark money” behind groups exposing the National Parent Union. Louisiana education writer Mercedes Schneider took up the challenge.

She started by shining a brief but bright light on Edu Post,

Started in 2014, Education Post is an ed-reform blog and the brainchild of California billionaire, Eli Broad. Right out of the starting gate, EdPost (actual nonprofit name, Results in Education Foundation) had $5.5M to play within its first year.

EdPost’s first CEO, Peter Cunningham, was paid $1M for 2 1/2 years of blogging. Moreover, in his position as a founding member of EdPost’s board, Stewart has compensated a total of $422,925 for 40 hrs/wk across 30 months as “outreach and external affairs director.” (To dig into that EdPost history, click here and follow the links.)

Schneider then proceeded to break down the finances for the opposition, National Public Education Foundation. It seems that defending public education doesn’t pay nearly as well as trying to disrupt it does.

Schneider points out,

Ed reformers are fine with those outside of public education– like the Waltons, and Gateses, and Broads– tossing their cash into the ring, and they are fine with taking that cash to provide themselves with salaries the size of which no classroom teacher will ever see. But when those with careers inside of the classroom form a union, it must be for selfish, self-serving ends (like a living wage, or the right to uninterrupted planning time, or sufficient supplies and auxiliary supports, and safe, clean, physical spaces).

Teachers’ unions are chiefly funded by teachers. By extension, then, any organization financially supported by teachers who belong to a teachers union is an organization “indirectly funded” by a teachers union.

That’s right, unions are simply taking teacher’s money and funneling it back into where they work. Whereas the Waltons, Gates, and Broads, are funneling money into places they’ll never go. Purportedly to benefit students they’ll never interact with. It’s up to you to decide who really has the interest of the nation’s kids at heart.

Listen to the rhetoric and realize it’s not rooted in fact. Schools are not failing. Schools are nothing but buildings housed by members of the community. What happens in those communities influence what’s happening in those buildings. Show me a supposed failing school and I’ll show you a community that is being equally failed. That is the reality we continually fail to face.

On an interesting local side note.

If you are on social media you might have noticed congratulatory notes to MNPS School Board Member Gini Pupo-Walker on her new position as Tennessee Director for Education Trust. On a personal level, this is a nice accomplishment for Pupo-Walker and she deserves those congrats, but I’d argue the opposite for Metro Schools.

Go to the organization’s web site and under how they accomplish their mission it clearly says,

Although many organizations speak up for the adults employed by schools and colleges, we speak up for students, especially those whose needs and potential are often overlooked. We evaluate every policy, every practice, and every dollar spent through a single lens: what is right for students. 

So how does that align with her role on the school board which as a governing body requires board members to have a little broader focus? What does she do when a conflict arises? Does the private organization’s belief in what’s best for students align with the community beliefs? What assurance does the electorate have that she will represent their interests over her employers?

A lot of questions if you ask me?

SHORTCUTS

Now that Tennessee State legislators are back in action Tennessean’s Reclaiming Educational Education (TREE) is also back to give you updated information on what’s happening on the hill. Make sure you keep abreast of what’s going on as I expect there will be some calls to action coming soon.

Nashville is not the only city in search of a superintendent, Atlanta is searching as well. Ed Johnson, who is often referred to as the conscience of education in Atlanta has some suggestions on improving the process that I hope those in Nashville pay heed to as well. The suggestions come via Dr. Cita Cook, an educator retired from teaching at the levels of high school, community college, and university. Among those suggestions,

Do not make “transformative innovation” a priority or use the term “transformation” or “turnaround” because they are too categorical.  Since change can have negative, as well as positive, impacts, do not call for “change” or “innovation” just for the sake of change.  Raise, as well, the possibility that effective changes from the current practices might require undoing previous changes, including the possibility of returning to a version of what worked in the past or was not allowed to last long enough to show if it could work.

I encourage you to read all of her suggestions and then call your school board rep to pass them on.

MLK Day is a great day to unite and reflect upon the great man’s words, but it’s also a great day to learn more about “the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth.” Ella Josephine Baker, a black North Carolina native who migrated to New York in the 1920s, was a major part of that ground crew for over 50 years, and her legacy lives on in today’s social movements. Today we salute her and the countless others whose efforts have made the world a little more equitable.

Andy Spears at TNEd comments on a recent Channel 17 report on the secrets lurking below the surface in the “IT” city. It ain’t pretty and should serve as a reality check for all of us.

John Cooper has now been Mayor for 100 days and the Tennessee Tribune takes a look at what’s been done and what’s still pending. Among those things is more money for schools and teachers pending a comprehensive compensation study from the Nashville Public Education Foundation.

“I don’t know how much money that is exactly until the Education Foundation report comes back to me in the second week of February. It’ll be there in a minute and I’ll use it because I’m going to say ‘that’s what they say. It’s not me making it up. It’s a very careful study that has been done’,” Cooper said.

POLL QUESTIONS

Some interesting results from this week’s poll questions. Let’s dive into results.

The first question asked, How troubling do you find the Channel 5 report concerning Dr. Majors? Based on your responses, you find it pretty troubling, 41% found it extremely troubling with 24% wondering how much more focus could have been put on HR instead of RBI. Here are the write-in answers, The question of why he is not on administrative leave pending an investigation is a valid one as the district in the past has been very quick to place educators on leave.

He needs to go 1
So he’s a bully AND a crook? 1
I agree it doesn’t look good. But take a look at RBI. They do gr8 work for kids. 1
Any teacher would be fired. Total abuse of power. He’s got to go! 1
He’ should be investigated. He’s troubling. 1
He’s a bully and a liar 1
Paychecks are messed up and so is sick leave but we’re bringing back baseball 1
He needs to go. Knows he’s double dipping. 1
Why is he not on admin leave? 1
going the joseph cha-cha

Question 2 asks for your level of optimism surrounding this year’s legislative session. About 86% of you were feeling less than optimistic. None of you expressed optimism.

Here are write-ins,

They could care less about poor black and brown kids. 1
The Lege should not meet more than once every 5 years for about an hour. Toxic. 1
Too complex for me 1
whatever

The last question asked for your level of confidence in the district finally addressing the issues of teacher attrition and discipline. Once again you weren’t feeling very optimistic. Interestingly enough it was a dead heat between those that felt confident in Dr. Battle and those who felt a need for a new director.

Here are the write-ins,

Not happening. I’m finally leaving in May. Can’t do it anymore. 1
Depends on city council and how high they will raise taxes to fund schools 1
It’s clear that Dr. Battle is not equipped to be Director. 1
When teachers/admin. start leaving “good” schools (Meigs, MLK, Hume-Fogg)…. 1
I’m not optimistic at all. 1
Fully fund MNPS. Then clean house at Central Office. 1
New discipline policy should have been address before school started in the fall

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we try to accentuate the positive.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Any wisdom or criticism you’d like to share is always welcome.

A huge shout out to all of you who’ve lent your financial support throughout the year. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do.

You can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. Or you can hit up my Venmo account which is Thomas-Weber-10. I don’t need much – even $5 would help – but if you think what I do has value, a little help is always greatly appreciated.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.

 



Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. As far as the Director search goes, I completely agree with Cici. Beware of anyone who touts themself as a transformational leader. I’d add two additional caveats to her list:

    Do not be overly impressed by candidates who tell a big story about how hard their childhood was; and do not be snowed by recitations of poetry.

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