REFLECTIONS AND ANOTHER LOOK AT HB 2229

“If all my possessions were taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would soon regain all the rest”
Daniel Webster

“Like so many other pathological personalities in positions of power a million years ago, he might do almost anything on impulse, feeling nothing much. The logical explanations for his actions, invented at leisure, always came afterwards”
Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos

 

Back in 2001, I was running the Exit-In. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a rock and roll club, that holds about 500 people with live shows nightly. This was my second go-around as manager, The first was in the late ’90s, and overall constitutes a colossal flameout. I was kinda distracted during that time because I was also engaged in pursuing the discovery of how many chemicals one could ingest before one ends up in the ER. An answer I, unfortunately, discovered on more than one occasion.

I toss around the depiction of this time period a little cavalierly, using humor as a shield. The truth is, I bare a great deal of shame over it. Some very good people placed a great deal of faith in me and I squandered their trust, belief, and investment through my selfish pursuits. Did I feel a sense of entitlement at that time? I did, I was young and full of hubris. But it wasn’t only hubris, but fear that drove me. Fear that I was just ordinary – that was an awful description to me at the time but a welcome one these days – and the world would never see me.

You see I was an adopted child. Luckily I was one of those blessed with a family that loved me and cared for me deeply. My parents were exceptional people and I was fortunate to have them choose me. But the fact remained, I was rejected at birth and as a result, fear was instilled in me – fear that if I would be left again if I didn’t put forth the perfect face. I don’t offer this a, “woe-is-me offering” but rather as insight for you to do with what you will.

It was fear that drove me to work 60 hour weeks. It drove me to hide the fact that during my last year at my previous job I had no reliable transportation so on more than one occasion I slept at Riverfront Park so I wouldn’t be late for work. It was fear that drove me to frequent the free buffet at local clubs in order to eat. It drove me to accept every responsibility offered whether it came with compensation or not. My story may not be unique, but it is unique to me, as is its impact.

When the offer to return to the Exit-In came in 2001, it was sold as a shot at redemption. A year sober, this was a chance to prove what I’d failed to prove my first go-around. Ownership had changed but it was still the same place and the same circumstances. A part of me looked at this as an opportunity to erase the stain of failure and perhaps ease some of the guilt I still felt.

Things started off well, but unfortunately, on September 11, 2001, all that changed. The next four months cratered the business. No matter what I did, no matter how hard I worked, no matter how hard I sacrificed, every show lost money. Meeting payroll became a struggle. Hell, keeping people employed was a struggle.

Maintaining inventory so those bartenders that worked for me could make a little money became a daily problem to be solved. It was common practice for me to cash my own paycheck and immediately put the money back into buying inventory hoping to recoup money in the next couple of days. Often though those days became weeks.

Upon reflection, my actions were foolish. I didn’t own the business, only ran it. But the fear of failure, and the responsibility I felt towards those who had put their faith in me, clouded my judgment. And so I just continued forward with my foot on the gas. Again, perhaps not unique.

In the middle of December, we finally made money on a show. Nikka Costa was the artist. Over the next several months we started to turn the corner, but the hole from the previous 4 months was so deep that getting out was a virtual impossibility. All I could do was try and work harder. It was not uncommon to work 12-13 hours a day,  16-17 days in a row without a break – something that too many people in this country are forced to do with some regularity, as a result, their quality of life suffers.

That spring, after months of stress over keeping the doors open and meeting obligations, we had the chance to do a show with comedian David Cross. I was unfamiliar with him at the time but was excited about a Sunday show that could pack the house.

That Sunday I arrived simultaneously to Cross. It was early afternoon and I had shown up to change the marquee and prep the club. He showed up and saw that his name wasn’t yet on the marquee. It should have been. Obviously, that didn’t sit well with him and he expressed his displeasure to me. How it was expressed, I have no idea, but he could have been the nicest person on earth and I probably would have snapped. In my eyes, I was doing so much to keep the doors open and nobody was cutting me any slack. Needless to say I didn’t respond well to his reasonable request.

The rest of the day proceeded to be a nightmare. Cross and I interacted with each other like water and vinegar. Why? who’s to know. I have no idea what his experiences were like leading up to our show, perhaps he’d had just come from a series of under promoted shows. Whatever the cause, we couldn’t get on the same page.

The house was packed. Midshow he decided to use the stage as a platform to belittle me. Earlier in the day we’d argued over seat placement. He wanted the room’s tables removed, to his financial benefit – pack more people in – I was adamant that tables be left up for my financial benefit -sell more drinks. During our argument, I made a statement comparing Nashville to New York or LA, which taken out of context sounds ridiculous.

At the end of the night, getting him to leave was torturous. The night stretched on until only a few remaining staff were left and we were all ready to go home. Cross and his cameraman had broken out a video camera and every effort to get them to depart was filmed while they made comments like, “We are just doing cocaine back here.” I grew continually frustrated because I was tired, worn down, and worried about the responsibilities of the week ahead. Finally after an hour of these games, Cross left.

About a year later, video from that night surfaced. Cross used it at the tail end of one of his comedy DVDs – yea that used to be a thing – to promote an upcoming DVD which would include more of the footage. The footage was not very flattering and painted me as an overweight, red-faced, obtuse club manager. Some may argue that as a true picture, but I didn’t ask to be filmed and in fact, had asked him to stop repeatedly.

Over the next year, I repeatedly would run into strangers in public who had seen the video, invariably they would point, laugh, and mock. Initially, I chose to ignore it. Until I was on an early date with my future wife and the waiter started giggling every time he came to the table. Finally, I asked for an explanation. in response, he quoted the LA/NY line from the video. It was humiliating and at that point, I decided to pursue legal action.

What followed was a long protracted legal battle, one that included upwards of 70 legal filings in just months. Some preliminary rulings we won, some we lost. At that time, filming rights and the reasonable expectation of privacy were very much a debatable issue. In the end, I didn’t have the resources to pursue a protracted legal battle or the ability to mitigate the potential risk of losing and owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The case was settled. But the videos are still available, and the entry is still on Wikipedia,

In October 2005, Cross was sued by Nashville club manager Thomas Weber, who accused Cross of taping him without permission for Shut Up You Fucking Baby and Let America Laugh in violation of Weber’s privacy rights. In April 2006, the case against Cross himself was dismissed and the case proceeded with Warner Music, Subpop Records, WEA Corporation, and the Alternative Distribution Alliance.

Why am I sharing this now? I don’t know. It’s not to equate my experience with current events, though recent events certainly bring those past feelings of shame to the forefront. I am not naive enough to think that sharing my story will actually change anyone’s opinion. To some extent, I’m sure my narrative will just serve as red meat to those who will quickly dismiss it and point out all the ways I’m abusing my privilege. So be it, maybe this is just to say that I know what it means to have your life reduced to a video snippet, one used to judge you out of context at your worse moment. Whatever the motivation, at the roots is another attempt at voicing the need to exercise more compassion in our daily lives.

Black lives do matter. Saying that, and believing it, signifies that all lives matter. Systematic racism does exist and needs to be eradicated. But we need to exercise care that we don’t destroy our nation in the process. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know its not what I see unfolding this week across our country and I know that it doesn’t involve dehumanizing and reducing our fellow man. What I see unfolding scares the hell out of me and I fear will only lead to the loss of even more lives. True equity can never be achieved through the sacrifice of our humanity and compassion for one another. It will also not arrive by us lining up on opposite sides of the aisle and continually shouting at each other.

There are many versions of a quote that declares the true measure of a society does not lie in how it treats its best members, but rather in how it treats its worst. Right now, we aren’t treating anyone very well. We gotta do better.

THE TERRIBLY BAD HORRIBLE READING BILL MOVES ON

Yesterday evening HB 2229 (20200527101207647) was brought before the Tennessee House Education Committee for review. Before we talk about what’s in the bill, let’s talk about what was absent from yesterday’s hearing – Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

Pre-pandemic appearances by Schwinn in support of HB 2229 have been the stuff of legend, with legislators openly expressing a lack of faith in her leadership. The weeks of lockdown have not been beneficial to Schwinn. It’s been week after week of controversy surrounding her and the department of education, each more egregious than the last. Perhaps in an effort to avoid a repeat performance and to prevent any further damage, Schwinn and posse where nowhere near yesterday’s proceedings. I suspect she’ll be absent as well next week when the Senate Education Committee takes up the Senate version of HB 2229

Instead explanation of the chronically amended bill was the assigned soon to be retiring Knoxville Representative Bill Dunn. Within minutes of the bill’s introduction by Dunn, it was clear that he lacked understanding of the legislation he was presenting and was merely sharing talking points. During that introduction, and in the questioning that followed, he frequently referred to Representative Cepicky, noting that he’d worked hard on this bill – which he has – and presented him as now being somewhat of a literacy expert. A move akin to me presenting myself as a literacy expert over Representative Gloria Johnson, who spent decades in the classroom.

This dismissal of classroom teachers and true literacy experts was further in evidence when Chairman Mark White attempted to counter Johnson when she spoke out against basing policy on the so-called Mississippi Miricle. Much of this bill is based on the legislation recently passed by the Mississippi General Assembly and they have seen some gains since. Though the source of those gains, and to what degree, are still open for debate. But I digress.

When initially introduced back at the beginning of the legislative session, HB 2229 was quickly recognized as a power grab by the Tennessee Department of Education using the so-called “science of reading” as a tool to introduce a common curriculum. Interestingly enough, Cerpicky verified the goal of a common curriculum when he defended the bill provides for training teachers as a benefit because it would give them greater career flexibility, allowing them to change districts secure in the knowledge that all districts taught the same. That’s the definition of a common curriculum.

The science of reading is brought forth and promoted by the same folks that promoted Common Core. Legislators quickly recognized such and as a result, have stripped the current bill of the science of reading language. They also recognized the danger of putting too much power in the hands of the department of education, especially in light of recent actions by the current commissioner, and transferred most of the power into the hands of the state board of education. While the current version is certainly an improvement, it is still problematic.

HB 2229 places blame on stubbornly low state literacy scores at the feet of a lack of adequate phonics instruction. Though ironically, nowhere in this bill is it indicated what adequate phonics instruction would look like in practice, only that a reading strategy be rooted in it. The bill portrays phonics as a simple solution. But as reading specialist Russ Walsh points out in a series of blogs focusing on why children struggle to read, simple solutions aren’t always the correct ones.

Simple solutions have great appeal. People can understand them. They are easily communicated. They don’t cost a lot of money. They give us easy scapegoats, in this case teachers and colleges of education, so we don’t need to look closely at ourselves and our society.

As Rep Johson pointed out from the floor focusing solely on phonetics and foundational skills only serve to limit the tools in a teacher’s toolbox. Referring back again to Walsh,

What is lacking is not the right reading program, but an orientation toward responsive teaching. Responsive teaching meets the child where they are and flexibly provides the instruction that is needed. For this to be effective, of course, a deep understanding of reading processes is necessary. As a profession, an orientation toward responsive, rather than reactive, teaching can make all the difference for children. Obeisance to one size fits all teaching, or to any single methodology, will lead to continued failure to meet the needs of all students and continued failure to break the cycle of children who fail to thrive in reading.

That is the intrinsic problem with this proposed legislation – it further removes power from the hands of the professional and places it in the hands of the amateur. In his conclusion yesterday, Dunn complimented the assembly on how intelligent they were and how essential it was for them to control the conversation. I’m pretty clear on who I would prefer designing teaching strategies if asked to decide between a licensed teacher or an unlicensed legislator.

Hmmm….that might be a potential revenue stream. Every seated member of the State General Assembly would be required to enroll in a class, pass a test, and acquire a license before being eligible for election. we license hairstylists and bartenders, why not politicians. I can see the benefit, but again I digress.

No one denies the importance of phonics, and I suspect that should this bill pass, it will prove problematic to enforce because every reading strategy utilizes a degree of phonics and foundational skills in practice. I don’t believe anybody is out there teaching reading without the inclusion of phonics, but this bill takes away a teachers’ ability to determine to what extent based on the needs of the child.

In an effort to bring LEAs into compliance, the bill includes a literacy grant that districts can apply for in order to offset costs. The application comes with list of requirements that must be complied with for LEAs to even be considered eligible. What the bill doesn’t spell out is the level of funding or how grants will be awarded. Will every LEA who applies for them get one? How much will they be for? Will the amounts all be the same for all or will they be based on the number of students enrolled? If districts apply for a grant and are denied, will they be forced to comply with state requirements?

Too much is left unexplained. Both Cerpicky and Dunn attempted to wash voiced concerns away by sharing the belief that if LEAs wanted the state’s money, then they better be prepared to expect the state’s rules. Cerpicky went as far as to say wealthier districts who didn’t want the state money, were free to establish their practice as they saw fit. Not sure how that subscribes to equity. It’s interesting that poorer district are viewed as needing state guidence, while wealthier districts are trusted to know what’s best for their families.

Representative Love tried to nail down more details, while raising several salient points, but failed to extract more information. Credit must be given to Love throughout this whole process as he has truly been an admirable champion. It seems as if yesterday he inspired his fellow Democrats on the committee, because they were equally impressive. All bringing legitimate challenges on a bill that is just not a good or needed bill.

On Monday, I’ll talk more about the 3rd-grade retention portion of the bill and the desire to use money from the COVID-19 Federal Stimulus Fund to pay for teacher training – a proposal that Representative Clemmons rightfully labeled irresponsible. But before closing, I have to offer a rebuttal to the offered root cause of this legislation – student test scores.

In addressing the education committee, Dunn repeatedly cited student performance on TCAP scores as impetus for legislators to take the reins. Cerpicky went as far as to envision change as being one that could possibly lead to 60 -70% of kids being proficient on TCAP – ignoring the reality that if that ever transpired, politicians would instantly declare the test too easy and call for making it stricter.

What both of these gentlemen and others continually ignore is that TNReady is not a reading test. It is based on the Tennessee State Standards and as such measures student proficiency on those standards, not their capacity to read. There is insufficient evidence to show that kids’ failure to master the state standards is due to an inability to read them. It is disingenuous to continually cite scores on TNReady as evidence of widespread reading deficiencies and that a sudden focus on phonics will lead to miraculous growth.

We’ll pick this back up on Monday, but till then, if you’re 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 deliver 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 non-existent. Not begging, just saying.

Make sure you don’t leave before answering this week’s poll questions.



Categories: Education

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