IF ONLY IT WAS SO SIMPLE

“Though we are politically enemies, yet with regard to Science it is presumable we shall not dissent from the practice of civilized people in promoting it”
John Hancock

“Every year, if not every day, we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

 

School districts across the country have begun releasing their re-opening plans for the upcoming school year. Plans are running the gamut from full opening with minor adjustments to opening schools in person with alternating schedules; from a complex hybrid opening to full-time distance learning. MNPS falls into the latter camp.

On Thursday afternoon, MNPS announced that starting on August 4th schools would be open, but all instruction would be delivered remotely through a curriculum developed by the Florida Virtual School. In all fairness, it’s probably the best option available at this stage in the game, considering rising infection rates across the city, but comes with some concerns that need to be further fleshed out. But I’m getting a little ahead of my self.

Throughout the ongoing pandemic, there have been cries that we just need to follow science in developing strategies. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, joined together late last week to issue a statement on the safe return of students, teachers, and staff to schools. In the statement, they reiterated the need for decisions to be driven by science and not politics,

“Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue re-opening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.

Science is indeed important and should serve as the root of policy, but we need to recognize the limitations of science as well. Science is not an all-knowing oracle capable of writing infallible policy. Science is a collection of facts based on observations conducted under strict guidelines that offer us direction based on current circumstances. It’s ever-evolving as new observations and data are collected. Sometimes the new data requires complete revisions of previous findings. That doesn’t mean science was wrong, it means that it is continually analyzing and improving, as it should.

Writing policy is an extension of what we as humans do on an everyday basis, the determining of behaviors based on risk-reward calculations. We are constantly calculating the level of comfort we need in our daily life, and the level of risk we are willing to take in order to achieve that level. Those calculations are different for each of us, thus the entrance of cognitive dissonance. A recent article in the Atlantic offers valuable insight into the process, though I’d argue the author falls prey to the phenomena they are trying to illuminate.

Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, describes the discomfort people feel when two cognitions, or a cognition and a behavior, contradict each other. I smoke is dissonant with the knowledge that Smoking can kill me. To reduce that dissonance, the smoker must either quit—or justify smoking (“It keeps me thin, and being overweight is a health risk too, you know”). At its core, Festinger’s theory is about how people strive to make sense out of contradictory ideas and lead lives that are, at least in their own minds, consistent and meaningful.

Makes sense right. But there is more.

Dissonance is most painful when evidence strikes at the heart of how we see ourselves—when it threatens our belief that we are kind, ethical, competent, or smart. The minute we make any decision—I’ll buy this car; I will vote for this candidate; I think COVID-19 is serious; no, I’m sure it is a hoax—we will begin to justify the wisdom of our choice and find reasons to dismiss the alternative. Before long, any ambivalence we might have felt at the time of the original decision will have morphed into certainty. As people justify each step taken after the original decision, they will find it harder to admit they were wrong at the outset. Especially when the end result proves self-defeating, wrongheaded, or harmful.

So even though, at its root, science is non-biased, we as humans tend to filter it through our self-bias and our beliefs. Our interpretations are based on what we perceive as important. We take data in and do a risk-reward analysis based on self inclinations. For some just staying alive is the primary driver, others are more influenced by economic factors, and others view things through the lens of politics. What I’m offering here is admittedly a simplified version in an attempt to offer insight into what is already being oversimplified – follow the science. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a silo and therefore policy has to be reflective of all potential implications.

One of the most repeated shared memes of late has been an attempt to divorce schools from economic implications. Unfortunately, until schools develop the ability to self-fund, there will be economic implications. Nashville recently raised property taxes, in part to give more money to the schools. In a year that was supposed to be a flat budget, MNPS is, in reality, getting $19.1 million more than they did last year. I realize that in comparison that is a minuscule figure, but to the taxpayer currently unemployed that is not so minuscule a number. Many of those taxpayers need schools open so that they can earn enough to pay their taxes in order to fund schools. Hence the economic pressures.

Should it be like that? No.

Do I think lives should be put at risk? No.

But that’s the reality. How we change that I don’t know, especially when so much of that value of education is focused on supplying qualified workers to businesses and so often education is touted as a driver in allowing students to raise in class stature.

Just as we don’t like economics being a part of the equation, politics enters into the conversation as well. I don’t doubt for a second that this being an election year plays a major role in the heightened emotional state we currently occupy. To many people, faced with the option of surviving the pandemic at the risk of Biden becoming president would give them cause for pause. Equally so among those that fear for the re-election of Trump.

It may sound jaded, but I don’t expect any resolution to the current crisis until after the November election. That means we have to live in this state for at least the next 3 months, so a desirable position to find ourselves in.

The stark reality is that Trump has to get the economy open and running on high in order to stand any chance at re-election. He can’t do that without schools fully opened. The democrats know that if he does get the economy running, he has a pretty good shot at re-election. Opening schools, makes that feasible. This is what happens when we as a culture put ideology over people and we are all guilty of it to some extent.

Do you think for one second that if Donald Trump announced tomorrow we have a vaccine, all this would be over? Nah..headlines would scream that we don’t have enough evidence, rushing to release, can’t trust anything he says. And the same would hold true as it relates to Biden. That’s just where we live today.

Sometimes even making the right decision means defying science. Science says not sending kids to school translates to keeping people alive. Science also says that distance learning does not allow kids to fully interact with classmates, and thus impacts peer-to-peer learning, potentially negatively impacting cognitive development. That’s where that risk/reward evaluation comes into play again. How much of one are we willing to sacrifice in order to sustain the other?

Furthermore, the unintended consequences of policy decisions made while in crisis mode that doesn’t consider future implications can’t be ignored. In perusing social media pages, I see that those parents with the means possible are starting to form “pods” of three to five families that will share child care duties and allow for greater employment flexibility for the pod’s participants. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And in the short term it probably is, but what about the contribution to a society that is increasingly stratified?

Public education is often touted as a means to expose all kids to all races, classes, and ideologies. Pods are an opportunity for like-minded families to climb even deeper into all ready existing silos. I want to join the pod that has a black family, a liberal family, a conservative family, and a Muslim family. I may be wrong, but I suspect there won’t be many of those.

Secondly, vouchers are on life support right now, but what if my pod enables my family to successfully navigate on-line learning through the Florida Virtual School. When schools open up full time, I’ll have a dilemma on my hands. Do I return to brick and mortar schools, filled with bullies and distractions, or do I remain within the safe cocoon that I’ve created? FVS allows me to continue using their services as long as I pay the tuition. Now if the state offers me enough money to cover that tuition and put a little money in my pocket…

Teachers need to be careful utilizing the resources of Florida Virtual School cuuriculum as well. Dr. Battle has fully encouraged teachers to modify the curriculum to specifically to meet the needs of their individual classrooms. Unfortunately, that’s a difficult task when you don’t have access to the lessons until two weeks before school starts. Modifying on top of preparing for school, as well as navigating childcare and home needs, may prove unfeasible, and as a result, lessons are adopted with little modification. This is a practice that could become habit and a result alter the role of a local educator.  Not a reality yet, but offering a caution.

Is the FVS curriculum any good, you might ask. It’s got a history of producing high test scores on standardized tests, so to many that will equate to being considered high quality instructional material. Where does that leave the current conversation about the over-reliance on standardized test scores?

These are some of the questions that need to be asked before fully going forth? Opening schools remotely is the right decision based on science and preserving people’s health. That doesn’t mean future implications should be ignored. After 911 we experienced a cultural shift. Too many policies were implemented under the guise of keeping us safe that ended up negatively impacting our lives.

I know that it’s a lot to expect a leader to navigate the present while keeping an eye on the future, but it is what separates the good from the great. I can tell you about principals that while they led a school were beloved. Parents thought they wonderful. Teachers felt they were incredible to work for. It wasn’t until after they left that it was revealed that a major portion of their success hinged on telling people what they wanted to hear and allowing them to operate as they pleased.

Their successors faced a culture that was resistant to change and oversight. The job became untenable and the school suffered because it was impossible to establish new leadership. Was the previous principal really a great leader?

Starting school remotely was the absolute best choice for MNPS, but we must never fall into the trap of thinking any course of action is a clear cut one devoid of any potentially negative impacts. We cannot embark on a strategy without considering future implications. As I repeatedly say, we must not just survive the pandemic, but also the period after the virus has receded as well.

To do so is going to require us all to be cognizant of our dissonance. We must also realize to question is not a form of negativity. Sometimes that which is done can not be undone. The only defense against negative unintended consequences is full transparency and constant communications. Hopefully, we are up for the task.

It all sounds so simple, but only if it was.

QUICK HITS

The pandemic is creating all kinds of different opportunities and one of my favorite opportunities seized happens to be the new initiative for former Maury County Superintendent Chris Marczak. Per his own words,

Schools will reopen this fall and people will be upset either way at the decisions being made. School leaders; Are YOU ready for the pressure that will definitely follow? Join us on July 22nd at 10am cst for a FREE webinar! rb.gy/3mst0p

Brilliant, I tell you.

Important update: Tennessee just extended the deadline to apply for Pandemic EBT assistance until July 27. The program is available to families with children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program and provides assistance to buy food. Details here tn.gov/humanservices/

Came across this blog post by a parent outlining what has gone into their decision about schooling this year. Strongly recommend – ONE PARENT OUTLINES HIS (AND HIS FRIENDS’) CHOICES FOR CHILDREN THIS FALL.

We are getting down to the wire for school board elections. Next week, Metro Council decides who they will choose to fill the vacant seat of recently deceased board member Anna Shepherd. On Friday, the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA), the Service Employees International (SEIU) Union Local 205, and the Central Labor Council (CLC) of Nashville and Middle Tennessee all announced they are supporting former MNPS teacher Stephanie Bradford for the appointment to the vacant School Board seat in District 4 to succeed Anna Shepard. Congratulations to Stephanie. Well done. In the words of Vonda McDaniel, President for the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee,

“Union families across Davidson County are parents of students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. They want Board members who understand that every occupation has value and that will focus on creating opportunities for every student to see their pathway to a good life, whether that be as a construction worker, a doctor, or on a factory floor. Our members believe Stephanie Bradford is the best choice for this appointment.”

POLL RESULTS

This week’s question received a good number of respondents, 135 on average. Let’s look at the results.

The first question asked for your opinion on MNPS’s recently announced decision to start school remotely. 47% of you indicated that the decision brought a feeling of relief, though 25% still signaled that you were anxious. 19% felt that it should have been announced 3 weeks ago. Can’t say that I disagree, but that’s water under the bridge and it’s important that we turn our eyes forward. Here are the write-in votes,

Thank God I retired 1
Kids need to be in school 1
Safest choice; Difficult for working parents 1
With what MNPS is working with, seems smart. 1
Will it be any safer on Labor Day? How many will die? 1
Dr Battle is far ahead of other states in terms of communicating opening plans. 1
Best choice out of several bad options 1
Unbelievable 1
It’s going to be longer when surrounding counties have teacher deaths 1
It is what it is

Question two asked for your comment on rumors that Tennessee Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn was next in line for the federal gig. 34% of you wouldn’t hire her for the position of dog catcher, while 27% put little stock in the rumors. Only 2 of you felt that Tennessee couldn’t afford to lose her. David Donaldson, I appreciate you and Mrs. Schwinn’s continued participation. Here are the write-ins,

😬 1
Bye gurl 1
If Trump is re-elected, we are all screwed so it won’t matter. 1
They are both horrible 1
Who cares 1
If it means 45 is reelected, God save us 1
Does it matter? 1
Get her out of here. PLEASE

The last question asked for your thoughts on MNPS’s 5 years, $5 million, proposed contract with the Florida Virtual School. 44% of you saw it as a necessary evil. 6% hoped that it wouldn’t be passed. Here are the write-ins,

What’s the long-term plan for curriculum? Is this it?!?! 1
Wasted money. Trust your teachers. 1
Another unprepared plan for Teachers 1
More planning would result in a better tool 1
Sad. 1
Only if MNPS is clear about what their own role 1
Year to year approval only 1
Waste of money. Let teachers teach. Joke. 1
the beginning of the end for in-person teaching 1
Why 5 years? Is this the plan to solve teacher retention issues?

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

1 reply

  1. “Science is a collection of facts based on observations conducted under strict guidelines that offer us direction based on current circumstances”

    No.

    Science is a collection of well-reasoned and ever improving theories which simply have not yet been disproven by either observations, or experiments engineered to challenge those theories.

    It is so upsetting (a pet peeve) when our teachers stand by our kids at science fairs and say “See, the experiment proved the hypothesis.” No!, experiments only _dis-prove_ hypotheses, or in not disproving, can results be said to “support a hypothesis”.

    But sure, to your point, the ever-emerging understanding around COVID-19, is saving millions of lives, when heeded.

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