LOVE AND EDUCATION, TWO KEY INGREDIENTS

“the worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth”
Jean-Paul Sartre

“A man thinks that by mouthing hard words he understands hard things. ”
― Herman Melville

 

I hesitate to share a story because under current circumstances people aren’t listening to each other. Choosing instead to take words and twist them to suit their personal narrative. But I think it’s an important story and one that serves to illustrate the power of building relationships, so I’ll wade in knowing full well that many won’t hear and others will discount it.

Fifteen years ago I led a project created by the residents of Flatrock, a part of Nashville that stretches basically along Nolensville Pike from 440 to the Nashville Zoo. It’s long been the most diverse part of town, but also has a long history in Nashville. Initially many of the houses were built to serve employees of the railroad. We sought to create a festival that would celebrate both the history of the neighborhood and it’s growing diversity.

There was a core group of about 20 of us committed to making this vision come to life. Along with long term residents, there were representatives from the Hispanic, Kurdish, and Black communities. We met to plan in the Community Center and Our Lady of Guadalupe church.

One of the people who showed at the first meeting was a woman who had lived her whole life in the neighborhood. She was a fierce champion for the area and truth be told, she didn’t care for me very much. I was just another interloper trying to change a place she was extremely proud of. She wasn’t very reticent with voicing her opinions either, so I was well aware of her feelings. On reflection, I think she showed up at those early meetings as much in an effort to protect as to participate.

It would have been easy to pigeonhole her and dismiss her, but I recognized her commitment to the neighborhood and we were undertaking this project for 2 objectives – to celebrate and welcome. In order to accomplish that mission, we’d need a diverse set of volunteers.

For about 6 months we worked on the planning stages of the festival which we named the Hands Across Nashville Art, and Music Festival – later we adding a car show to the title and features. Looking back I think those planning meetings were every bit as rewarding as the final event. People came together, shared their individual visions, and got excited together. Neighbors that might normally never interact with each other, were suddenly thrust into working together for a common goal.

The day of the event arrived, and predictably we had a lot of problems. Permits weren’t signed off on until the last minute. Bands showed up expecting to play despite not being on the bill. A Hispanic group set up an open flame to cook food under a tree, minutes after the fire marshall left. Electric breakers got tripped leading to a mad dash to find the power to continue the show. Parking was a nightmare. But at the end of the day, none of that mattered,

Somehow we’d all come together to produce a festival for 750 people that left the neighborhood in a buoyant mood for months. People would meet in the markets and discussions would pop up about what we could possibly do next year. I got to see first hand the benefits of people from disparate backgrounds working together on a shared vision.  For the next 8 years, the Hands Together in Flatrock Festival was a staple of the Memorial Day Weekend. Eventually drawing 4000k visitors each year.

If the ongoing rallies produced such euphoric feelings among participants they should be considered a success, regardless of what social change they bring about.

Some things we never got right. Parking was always a problem, as was the heat. Not everybody liked every band that played. Art vendors never made enough money to fully justify their commitment. But there was more that we got right on those holiday Saturdays and as a result, people came together in growing numbers every year.

It was after the first event that I realized how powerful a vehicle for change the festival could be. That woman who had at first been resistant to what we were doing, had fully embraced it. Pulling me aside in the aftermath, she said to me, “You know I used to be one of those people. I hated all the newcomers in my neighborhood. I didn’t think they appreciated it as much as I did, and I resented them for it. But after working with them and getting to know them…I just love them. The neighborhood needed some change and I can’t wait to see everything unfold.”

I just hugged her and said, “Thank you for all your hard work. This couldn’t have happened without you.”

Today she continues to be a tireless advocate for the neighborhood and all of its residents. She’s a regular figure at the local high school – one of the most diverse in the state – volunteering countless hours in support of all of its students. She’s also one of my dearest friends and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for her. She inspires me and lives as a true testament to the power of the community.

In today’s environment, she could have become a victim of the “cancel culture”. Had that happen the world would have become a worse place. You can not shame people into change. It doesn’t work. Like interventions with drunks, all it does is grow resentments, make people defensive,  and cause them to retreat into their shells.

If you think corporations donating millions to BlackLives causes have suddenly recognized their ingrained racist policies and reversing course, your fooling yourself. If you think the NFL, suddenly woke up, I got news for you. Even Michael Jordan realizes the value in writing a check in order to protect the brand. That doesn’t translate to real sustainable change.

Racist behavior obviously can not be tolerated and has to be eradicated, but we have to remember that people are complex. The only levers that I’ve ever known to enact meaningful change are education and love, and they have to be supplied in equal dosages.

NASHVILLE”S EDUCATION REPORTER

Over the weekend, Nashville’s self-proclaimed education reporter was hard at work once again sowing his seeds of discontent. This time his ire is directed at Dr. Battle’s failure to move fast enough for him in planning for the opening of schools next year. In his Twitter thread, he lists districts across the country and their proposed strategies as support for his argument that Dr. Battle is a failed leader.

Normally I would ignore his screeching, but in this instance, it actually serves to address several issues that deserve addressing.

Dr. Battle has been Director of Schools for MNPS a little over a year now. During that time, one thing that should have become clear to everyone is that she is going to move at her own pace. She won’t allow her pace of reaction to be dictated by anyone. Some may describe her pace as deliberate, while others may label it slow to act. However, you perceive it is immaterial because the pace ain’t going to change. She is going to move at her pace no matter how much praise or criticism she receives. In other words, it is what it is.

Some may chalk it up as an unwillingness to tackle the hard stuff – a camp I sometimes fall into – but that’s not reality either as evidenced by her willingness to take up school consolidations, something her predecessors were all too willing to kick down the road.

She’s also taken a stand for teachers, by revising the district’s discipline policy in an effort to give them more tools for dealing with chronic student disruptions. She’s done the latter while getting hammered by community activists, choosing to break once again from her predecessors and place teacher input above the agenda of those who don’t work in the classroom.

To reiterate, we may not like the pace she works at but we can’t deny that when she gets to it, it’s usually a move in the right direction and one that shows the courage that previous directors lacked. Now the ongoing Central Office reorganization is proving to be a different story, but that’s a much lengthier argument for another day.

The second part of Pinkston’s argument that deserves scrutiny, is the idea that making the first move means making the right move. Sure all these other districts have announced “plans” for the future, but mark my words, the majority of those will be scrapped by the time schools are actually opened. Left in their wake will be squandered resources at a time when resources are in short supply.

Take the mask idea for example. Anybody who has worked with kids knows the idea is not practical. If you can get kids to keep a mask on for one day, you deserve rock-star status. Imagine a week into school or a month, compliance will be greatly reduced unless teachers spend more time policing policy as opposed to teaching.

It’s been argued that the alternating schedules in order to create smaller classrooms won’t work for parents due to work schedules. I’d counter that schools can’t be the only ones to be forced to evolve. Businesses and what we recognize as the modern work schedule is going to also have to evolve in an effort to meet everyone’s needs.

Those are all areas that I would argue need our immediate attention. Too many of the currently proposed solutions are rooted in recreating schools in a way we are already familiar with. I’m not sure we have that luxury and believe that one we scrap the current proposal we return to the table and open our minds wider.

The one area element that is likely to be a sure thing in the future is the use of technology to supply instruction. But how does that look? How does the modernization of the curriculum look to engage students learning from home? How much input will be required from parents? How will we prepare students to learn from remote locations? How will we prepare teachers to instruct from a remote location?

Trevecca University is currently offering a free class for teachers on remote instruction. While the TDOE is encouraging teachers to statewide to enroll, what is MNPS doing to amplify that recommendation? Teachers are being paid a daily stipend to sign up for training in the new literacy materials training despite a lack of funds to adequately purchase new materials. As far as I know, teachers who sign up for training in distance education supplied by Trevecca are not eligible for a stipend. Come Fall, which training is going to be more useful?

Equal access to the internet remains an issue for too many students, both urban and rural. How do you successfully scale remote learning without making the internet a public utility?

Today Mayor Cooper announced that he is committing a substantial part of the cities federally allocated money to combat the COVID-19 crisis – $24M of the $121M of CARES ACT to be precise – to purchase laptops and internet access for all students. A noble gesture but one that doesn’t seem to come with a plan for utilization as we continue our mad rush for a simple solution to a complex challenge. It’s not enough to buy a hammer for a person and then tell them to go build a house.

In announcing all these strategies, one thing that is being continually overlooked is the liability risk teachers potentially face when school opens up. What if Mr. Weber is teaching a class and Johnny refuses to wear his mask, he coughs on Suzy and she is later diagnosed with the coronavirus. Johnny also tests positive. Is Mr. Weber now responsible for not ensuring the safety of Suzy? In other words, is qualified immunity extended to Mr. Weber?

I don’t know the answer to that. Some may argue yes, but in these unprecedented times would you risk your financial health on an implied policy? Word on the street is that Senator Bell recognizes the need to ensure that teachers are protected as they return back to the classroom and will introduce legislation to codify qualified immunity for teachers in regard to Covid-19. If he does, I urge all of you to support it and contact your legislators to follow suit.

True planning cannot take place without adequate input from teachers. I would ask Mayor Cooper, how many teachers did he appoint to his COVID-19 re-entry plan? How many teachers has Dr. Battle given a seat at the planning table? How many principals were consulted about their individual building before plans formulated? In rushing to create plans we have to guard against not consulting enough stakeholders.

I know that few of us are comfortable with the unknown. Teachers by nature are planners. They like to know what to expect so they can make plans in preparation. Unfortunately, there is still too much we don’t know and can’t predict. This is where it is important to exercise patience, collect information, and commit to getting it right as opposed to getting it done quick. That means more discomfort, but at this point, we should be comfortable with continuous discomfort.

QUICK HITS

Some of you this week may have noticed social memes popping up that equated the use of balanced literacy with racism. Yes, too many kids are not learning to read but to reduce that fact to a case of racism is reductionist at best. As outlined recently by education writer Russ Walsh through a series of articles on literacy rates, the reasons for low test scores are varied. Racism is a factor, but there are several others as well. I will continue to argue that our assessments are not true measures of reading ability because they consist of elements other than just reading – spelling, grammar, and writing. For example, I am a poor speller, and regular readers will point out that my grammar knowledge probably needs remediation. Neither of those two elements should be considered accurate reflections on my reading ability, but my TNReady score may paint me as a poor reader.

In welcome news, Mayor Cooper has announced that MNPD will begin the full implementation of body cameras. While this is good news, I would like to draw your attention to a couple statements in today’s Tennessean article accompanying the announcement, “As part of this process, Motorola, previously WatchGuard. Inc., the vendor selected by the Metro Nashville Police Department in August 2019 to provide the department with in-car and body-worn cameras has agreed to delay payment for Nashville’s camera system for two years.” and “A report released in fall predicted that implementing body cameras would cost Nashville taxpayers approximately $40 million dollars a year and require the DA’s office and the Public Defender’s Office to hire more than 200 new full-time employees.” The Nashville way. I suspect a return to the negotiation table in 2 years.

Here’s another subject that needs further discussion, how will a hybrid version of schooling affect BEP funding? In order to collect full allocation will districts have to have kids in school 80% of the time? 60%? Or will 40% suffice? In order for schools to begin fully planning, they are going to require more direction from the General Assembly and the Tennessee Department of Education.

Metro Council’s Budget Chair Bob Mendes has finalized his substitute budget submission. It calls for a tax increase of 1.06 and in his words,

The biggest changes in the proposed substitute are in the category of community building. Using suggestions from the Council’s Minority Caucus, the proposed substitute adds full department-wide body camera implementation, a Chief Diversity Officer position, a Workforce Diversity Manager position, community centers being open on Saturday mornings, and a needed IT position to help the Clerk’s office for Judge Sheila Calloway’s important Juvenile Court work. The final substitute also holds the MNPD budget to FY 20 levels (where the Mayor’s budget calls for a $2.6 million increase over FY 20).

The proposed substitute also invests more in education. The substitute would offer MNPS approximately $12.5 million more, including $4.9 million to raise the minimum wage for over 1,500 employees to $15 per hour. The final substitute also does not require any “targeted savings” from MNPS.

Mendes’s budget sets up an interesting fight this month. If people were adamant that $1 was too high, will they accept $1.06? We’ll find out.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at the results from this week’s poll question. The first question asked, how confident were you that MNPS had a plan for the Fall? 37% of you felt that they might not have a plan, but they had an idea. While 28% indicated that if they did have a plan, you wished they would share it. None of you expressed full confidence. Here are the write-in votes,

Is Jill Petty gone yet?! 1
planning on keeping my second job 1
I hope they are working on various plans. This is uncharted territory. 1
Not a chance.

Question 2 asked whether you felt that Nashville should continue with their staged opening despite the regular occurrence of large rallies over the last week. 36% of you indicated that we should because the two issues were sperate. 26% of you indicated that you become more confused every day and 21% said we should go ahead and open because the horse is already out of the barn. It’s worth noting that last week saw the largest weekly new COVID cases since the pandemic began. Here are the write-in votes.

He made a mistake by not emphasizing soc, dist. Must do better/virus still here 1
Yes. 1
Wait 14 days after the rally and see 1
Depends on data in 2 weeks 1
We will probably be forced to roll back due to rallies, opening too soon. 1
Pause where we are for 2 weeks to see if cases increase 1
Wait and see what the positive numbers are. 1
Maybe? We need to see how the cards fall first.

The last question asked, whether Police Chief Anderson should resign or not? 36% of you felt he’s doing the best he can in an untenable situation. 24% said you need more information. 15% answered absolutely. Here are the write-ins,

Absolutely not! 1
Maybe 1
should have been fired years ago

 

That’s it for today 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

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