IT TIME TO STOP BUILDING THE PLANE WHILE FLYING IT

“Her old thoughts were going to come in handy now, but new words would have to be made and said to fit them.”
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Everybody wants to save the Earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.”
P.J. O’Rourke,

 

The phrase “building the plane while flying” has many connotations. It’s used by many as a criticism of people trying to engage in an activity before they thought it out properly. They are trying to cobble together what might be a great idea, but because of their lack of foresight, they are dooming it to failure.

For others, it’s a badge of honor. They are the innovators, boldly going where others fear to tread. Never allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Any action being better than no action. To those people, I say bullshit. Stop the nonsense.

Before we go any further, let’s establish a few facts. Nobody has any idea where this is all going to end. Let me repeat that again for those who are just now walking into the room – nobody knows where this is going to end. We are only minutes into the second quarter and some people are already trying to predict the final score. That’s a losing bet.

Sure, scientists have moels that predict possible outcomes of the pandemic, but those are just models and are ever-evolving as data is collected, They are guides, not crystal balls. As ZEYNEP TUFEKCI an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, and a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society writes in a recent piece for the Atlantic,

Every time the White House releases a COVID-19 model, we will be tempted to drown ourselves in endless discussions about the error bars, the clarity around the parameters, the wide range of outcomes, and the applicability of the underlying data. And the media might be tempted to cover those discussions, as this fits their horse-race, he-said-she-said scripts. Let’s not. We should instead look at the calamitous branches of our decision tree and chop them all off, and then chop them off again.

That chopping off of branches translates to constant adjusting of strategies as data points evolve.

The second fact, that we need to establish – nobody is thriving during this pandemic. Nobody.

Sure we all have social media friends who are posting about the tight schedule they have their kids on and how they are eating free-range chicken eggs for breakfast, followed by two hours of classes via zoom while the parent continues their work schedule unencumbered. The afternoon spent collectively playing charades and reading passages from Harry Potter, evenings a time for new recipes from Bob-Appetite and family viewing of the latest documentary. They may share with you that the family got a little crazy yesterday and had french fries for breakfast – how quirky. The illusion is that they are fully coping and thriving.

Or maybe it’s your teacher friend, conducing 16 Zoom meetings in the morning followed by afternoon classes with their AP students again via Zoom and then at night they are busy writing lesson plans to stem the loss of learning for their kids.

Meanwhile, you struggle to get out of bed before nine, your kids are eating cereal and playing Roblox on their Ipad for hours. Your unemployed spouse is underfoot once again. You try to reach out to some students, successful with only 2 out of 10. The afternoon is spent listening to your kid’s fight and fretting over finances. Maybe you’ve heard of a relative or friend who has been diagnosed with COVID and you’re distracted with worry for them. All resulting in a night plagued with guilt from reading social media posts detailing how much better everybody is coping with this than you. Again, bullshit.

Here’s the secret, you are much more like them then you know, and they are much more like you then they’ll admit. Social media has long been the place for grown-ups to play dress-up and impress up. At the best of times, social media is a place to present a picture of being smarter, richer, happier than we really are. Under normal circumstances, we recognize that and accept it. But in this time of heightened insecurity and fear it’s easier to forget that established tenet and give in to our fears of inadequacy. We think that we too have to try and build normalcy amidst a crisis where normalcy is tenuous at best and ever-evolving.

Hence, the idea of building a plane while flying as the only true course of action takes root. It takes root to our detriment. We’ve already seen one potential disaster due to the rush to widespread implementation of the Zoom platform. Details are quickly emerging in regard to security flaws and privacy issues. Thousands of kids, and teachers’, personal data may have already been compromised due to our rushing off to do something. As Georgetown professor James Millward points out,

“If we had a big camera on the wall recording everything happening in our normal classrooms, we would be very alarmed by that,” he said in an interview. “And yet we’re now eagerly setting that all up in our homes, creating these recordings without having any idea what’s happening to them.”

I challenge you to think about this building-the-plane analogy literally. If you were inflight on an airplane and you looked out and saw workman adding a third wing, or maybe removing an engine, what would your reaction be? I’ll tell you what mine would be, to get the fuck off that plane as quick as possible. Common sense would tell me that eventually, that plane was going to crash into a mountain and I don’t want to be present when it does.

And that is what we need to do right now. The current situation is not dissimilar to 20 years ago when I first walked into an AA meeting. They told me I had to stop trying to build the airplane while flying and the first step was admitting I had a problem. Houston, we have a problem.

In a recent article for the New York Times writer Taylor Lorentz addresses America’s ever-present need to be productive, and cautions against investing in the propagating of the myth. She quotes writer Nick Martin, who writes that “this mindset is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement.” We have to let that go.

The central theme of Lorentz’s article for me is when she quotes Anne Helen Petersen, a journalist and the author of the forthcoming book “Can’t Even: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation,”. Petersen offers that having compassion during these times is key. “I think that everyone is coping with this differently, and there’s a real tendency to shame people who aren’t coping with it the way you are or have different circumstances,” she says.

Ironically, MNPS, and now the state of Tennessee, has invested millions in SEL programs, yet here we are in a crisis and all of that goes out the window. All we can focus on is academic solutions. Solutions developed without an iota of understanding of teachers’ capabilities, technology’s capabilities, and more importantly – the social and emotional state of students.

The TNDOE is currently conducting surveys in the hope of possibly holding summer school classes – despite the general assembly waiving the required 180 day school year. Does Commissioner Schwinn and her minions really think they can plan and adequately implement something that would start in 2 months while we have yet to reach the apex of the current crisis? It’s lunacy.

Private schools – Christian schools no less – are currently trying to recruit families to participate in a voucher program scheduled to start in August. Really? You have no idea what the economic or social cost is going to be due to this pandemic, yet you are willing to peal students off for your own personal game. It doesn’t sound very Christian to me.

Other private schools, schools, and some charter schools are humble bragging about creating formalized distance learning practices and in some cases even including grading. I hope every parent is exercising caution towards grading at this juncture, if not they are risking creating a permanent record for their child that won’t always be viewed through the lens of today’s circumstances. As far as those digital classes go, they look fancy and sound impressive, but there is very little research that backs up their effectiveness for all kids. Once again, just because you are doing something, doesn’t mean you are actually doing something.

The first thing we need to do is stop. Call the year off, let administrators sort through the details of what that looks like. I find it ironic that we are willing to possibly sacrifice the obligations presented by IDEA for special education students, yet fret because some students may or not pass undeservingly. It should be an easy decision, error on the side of children.

While administrators wrap up this year, they could begin turning their collective thoughts to what next August looks like. Identify 3-5 of the most likely scenarios and then start planning accordingly. What resources will be available? What kind of training for educators will be required? How do we adequately communicate each of the potential scenarios to stakeholders? In other words, come August the airplane is ready to take off and fly and all we are doing is making minor adjustments in the cockpit.

Everybody else should be doing the single most important thing, making sure that we are keeping student/teacher relationships intact in order to support kids and supply them what they need. That is going to look very different for each school, and that is why it is essential to lean upon those student/teacher relationships. This is one time we must let students lead, listen to what students say they need, not what we think they need. There will be plenty of time for the latter after this pandemic subsides.

Anything less than focusing on kids requires expansion of teachers’ capacity. Expanding that capacity requires the sacrifice of time that teachers could better utilize by focusing on kids.

Early in the week, my wife had a come to Jesus talk with me.

“I love you and I support what you do. I recognize it’s importance. I really do. But your focus is on the overarching effects of education policy and I just can’t do that right now. To me, all of this is really, really, real and manifests itself in each and every one of those kids I teach and that’s all I can think about. I miss those kids – every one of them – and I hurt for them all in a very different way. Some are in good places, some not so much, but I have to figure out how to help each and every one of them based on their individual needs. So I can’t at this juncture, entertain any ideas of education policy and philosophy or what the current circumstances mean for next year, I have to focus on my kids and what they need…today. So again, I recognize the value of what you do, but for now, I have to tighten the focus of my energies on where they are needed today…on my kids. ”

They were words echoed several nights later by a respected MNPS principal.

This morning the TNEd Report shared similar findings through a survey given to members by TEA. As professional educator Peter Green so eloquently states,

There are so many things many teachers still don’t know. How will all this be counted? How will students be determined as passing or failing? Has anybody figured out how we’re going to take care of those students with exceptionally special needs? Will school open again, and if so, for how long? Contractually, what is going to count as a day of work, and does anybody have the faintest idea of how we’ll decide if teachers have fulfilled contractual obligations to the district?

These are not small questions, and yet I’ve not heard tales of teachers who have sat down stubbornly refusing to lift a finger until they get some answers.

It is up to us to follow their lead and create an environment that makes it possible for them to focus on the needs of our kids. We’ve spent years preaching the value of SEL, now it’s time to put it into practice.

MNPS SCHOOL BOARD RACE

Yesterday was the final today to file to run for one of the open positions on the MNPS School Board. It came with news that incumbents Amy Frogge and Jill Speering would not be seeking re-election, while former chair Sharon Gentry would be. Neither incumbents Frieda Player nor Christiane Buggs face challengers.

One has to speculate how many people were dissuaded from entering due to the current pandemic. As involved as I am, the date still managed to slip up on me and as of late as yesterday morning, I thought we still had another week.

Both Frogge and Speering endorsed candidates for their respective seats. Frogge threw her considerable weight behind Abigail Tylor, Nashville School Board District 9, a former teacher and long time Bellevue resident. Speering has urged supporters to shift their support to Mrs. Emily Booth Masters. Emily is the mother of two MNPS students who live in Goodlettsville. Both of her children attended Dan Mills Elementary where Emily served as President of the PTO for seven years.

Intellectually I understand why the ladies are stepping away from the fray. Having worked side by side with them for nearly a decade. I’ve seen first hand the toll that the attacks have taken on both their mental and physical health. Speering was particularly subjected to vitriolic attacks during the last year of Dr. Joseph’s tenure.

Attacks that have since proven baseless. Shawn Joseph may have been Nashville’s first black Director of School, but he was also an incompetent administrator who ended up costing the district millions of dollars and himself his teaching license in Tennessee. It’s the later he should be judged on and not the former. To her credit, despite the vicious attacks, Speering never wavered from that focus and as result was viciously smeared, even by fellow board members.

Emotionally, I would argue that the two are needed now more than ever. Dr. Battle is a capable hire but she’s going to need experienced board members to lean on. Bush and Shepherd are a good start, but it’s no secret that I have little faith in the remainder of the board. Walker is too often guided by personal ambition and the agenda of her employers. Buggs regularly fails to do her homework and often speaks without a firm grasp of the facts. The same holds true for Elrod. There is no doubt that Speering and Frogge will be missed.

Both deserve our deep gratitude. The future in some aspects is very bright for MNPS due to their tireless and couragous work. But the next several years are going to be very difficult. On a national and state level, we are currently experiencing the consequences of not taking elections seriously. It’s in this light that I offer the following observation, very rarely have Frogge or Speering led us astray. If you live in their district, please take a good look at their recommendations. It is imperative that at this juncture we get the right people on the board.

MORE VIRTUAL SCHOOL CONSIDERATIONS

More people are starting to pay attention to the sudden push towards virtual schools. Here are a few more things for you to consider. Yesterday the Florida Board of Education approved a massive expansion of the state’s online school.

Current license subscriptions of $2.5 million will be expanded to $6.3 million, while funds available for servers and equipment will grow from $170,538 to $340,000. Money earmarked for data storage hardware will increase from $72,000 to $340,000, and the allotment for data collection services will grow from $341,760 to $495,000.

Florida Virtual School CEO Louis Algaze said 147 K-12 teachers already have completed training through the organization and an additional 3,417 are signed up for training. Additional resources are housed on a web page that serves as a “one-stop” shop for online education resources.

This expansion comes on the heels of a massive voucher program expansion that will go into effect on July 1 of this year.

Currently, in Florida, private schools have the ability to become affiliates of the Florida Virtual School. Depending on the type of voucher, Florida has 4 different types, you can apply monies towards enrollment in FVS. Some vouchers require that a student enrolls in an affiliated private school in order to enroll fully in FVS. The reason I bring this up, is to ask, how hard would it be to expand the affiliation program past the Florida border?

One of the prime arguments against Tennessee’s voucher program was the lack of established quality schools. The expansion of FVS makes the building out of schools to house students a much quicker process.

Still, think I’m just a conspiracy nut? Last night the Rutherford County School Board approved the creation of a 100 seat virtual school pilot. Wonder where that programming is coming from?

I urge you to educate yourself on virtual schools and employ the same level of vigilance towards them as currently employed towards charter schools.

That’s it for today. I hope everyone is keeping themselves and others safe.

Don’t forget to answer the poll questions at the end here. Your voice matters.

If you’ve got time and are looking for a smile, check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page, where we work 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. I am eternally grateful for your generosity. It allows me to keep doing what I do and without you, I would have been forced to quit long ago. It is truly appreciated and keeps the bill collectors happy.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, 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, especially this time of year when my contracted work is a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

 

 



Categories: Education

2 replies

  1. So much truth in your post, and your wife really stuck the landing.

    -Suzanne Myers

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