“I think the world honestly would be a much healthier place if instead of trying to find rationalizations for our bad behavior we would just say, “I was an asshole. Sure, there were reasons behind it, but that doesn’t matter.”
Somebody forgot to give 2021 the memo. This year was supposed to be better. We were supposed to be better. This past week casts doubt on those suppositions. Instead of easing the rough waters, the week’s worked to heighten an already tumultuous time. A time that threatens to rend us from each other.
Back in the old days, when we still recognized the value of education as more than just a pathway to future earnings, there was a thing called a liberal arts education. Along with reading, writing, and arithmetic, we taught science, social studies, and civics. Students were expected to become familiar with the basics of several disciplines in order to become better citizens, and not just better earners. This loss of focus has contributed to a loss of the ability to engage in civil discourse
Maybe I’m just looking at things through the lens of nostalgia, but we used to debate ideas and policies. We would try to convince others based on the strength of our argument, not our ability to discredit our opponent. Now more effort is put into dehumanizing those we disagree with, then making the case for our argument based on its merits. This has resulted in an ever-widening breach between us. A breach that allows for those motivated by self-interest to take advantage of and exploit us for their personal gain.
Like most people, I am still struggling to reconcile what I saw this week with my belief in America as the greatest country in the world. For better, or for worse, I am a firm believer in “American Exceptionalism”. But what I’ve seen on the public stage over the last decade, has been anything but.
Those who know me, know that I’m more about solutions than I am about establishing who’s to blame. I know that runs counter to many people’s focus, but to me fixing a problem is more important than holding people accountable. The images from earlier in this week, coupled with those from the summer, serve to me as a clear indication that we have some serious problems that require solutions. For a large percentage of people in this country, it ain’t working. It is a failure firmly rooted in our inability to talk with each other. And we are all complicit.
Much of the conversations I’ve heard over the last two days have centered on who’s at fault, and yes President Trump bears culpability, and should be held accountable, but only in a manner that facilitates healing. That healing of the rift between us, so that the country survives, and thrives, should ever remain our primary goal. Forever above the need to seek vengeance. Unfortunately, the talk is remarkably similar to that of my children when their behavior is called into question, echoing from all sides,
Calls of “Dad! You are being unfair! You never treat Peter like that when he gets in trouble.” and, “If I did what Avery did you’d take away all my stuff. With her, you just yell.” are no different than, “Did they forget the violence of last summer?” or “If it was black people storming the capital they would have shot everyone.” There may be some truth in them, but are based purely on supposition and does nothing to change the situation.
Every parent has attempted to navigate these waters while applying equal treatment to their children. Sometimes the treatment is different, for many reasons, but likely not the perceived favoritism. Sometimes it is just perception. And while it shouldn’t be dismissed, it also shouldn’t become the central argument.
We all need to take a look at our own behavior, and ask ourselves, is our approach adding to a solution or just acerbating a problem? I’ve got friends on the left who are among the hardest working and most spiritual people I know. Let’s be clear when you describe liberals as being godless and looking for free stuff, you are inaccurately describing people I love, and I feel compelled to leap to their defense.
On the other hand, when you call anybody who voted for Trump racist and selfish, you are also scooping up loved ones in your net. An equally inaccurate net. That does not sit well with me. We have to stop treating people as merely a member of a sub-group and start recognizing them as humans. Humans influenced by their life experiences. When we cast wide condemnations, imagine how the aforementioned feel? On both sides. It leads to further hostility and isolation.
I’ve written before, with a critical response, about how I detested the term “Karen”. I stand by that distaste. Words matter and the inventing of new terms with the sole intent of dehumanizing a group of people should never be acceptable. Equity should never be about elevating one group while diminishing another, yet somehow that’s become an acceptable strategy.
You may feel that you are driven by moral superiority, and if so I’m envious. I don’t have that much confidence, the only superiority I strive for is to be better than I was the day before and to ask for the grace I would extend to others. Frankly, I share the earth with all of you, it behooves me to figure out how to co-exist, because I doubt most of you are going anywhere anytime soon. And life is too short to try and wait you out. Nietzsche once cautioned, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” It’s a warning we all need to heed.
Several years ago I sat down with Allison Simpson – a young black woman who was a proponent of charter schools. Before our meeting, I was convinced of the superiority of my position, a belief that was eroded after our conversation. By actually sitting and talking with Ms. Simpson it became apparent that our life experiences were dramatically different, and had led us to different conclusions. The trick wasn’t to exert the superiority of one over the other, but rather to recognize the strengths of each, and figure out where our similarities lie. I haven’t talked to Ms. Simpson for a few years, but her lesson remains.
It’s important to note here that the value of the lesson, isn’t that it was delivered by a black woman, but rather that it was an output of an interaction with someone of a different background. Over the years it’s been conversations with men from the Middle East, women from India, men from Montana, and both men and women from Asia, that have allowed me to see different perspectives. perspectives that have only widened my view never narrowed it. I like to think that Ms. Simpson came away with a different view as well.
Obviously, the issues are deeper than what can be addressed by 1000 words in a weekly blog. But I would offer this challenge. The equity initiative has come with a reading list, and while I am certainly a proponent of reading, it can’t serve as a replacement for actually talking to people. Don’t just read a book, make a conscious effort to engage with somebody who’s view may differ from yours. It doesn’t have to be around politics either, it can be about gardening, sports, or cars. What is more important than the subject, is the interaction.
It won’t always be a positive experience, but it will be an expanding one. It may make you uncomfortable, but maybe what is needed is a little bit of discomfort, because we’ve become entirely too comfortable in dehumanizing those with who we don’t agree. And that only serves to add to our discontent.
One last note, when observing a protest, please refrain from believing that all assembled are there for a common belief. Often times trouble is instigated by those present for the sole purpose of creating chaos. The show up at BLM protests, Conservative protests, and would likely show up for a Let Parent’s Choose rally. They are motivated solely by self-interest and nothing else.
We have to be better, if out future is going to be better.
THE FBI AT WORK
Last year around this time, expectations were in the air that the arrest of several legislators for their role in the passing of voucher legislation was imminent. There had long been discussions about an investigation into recently passed voucher legislation. When the month passed with no action, it was perceived that everybody was clear. This morning several folks got a rude awakening and a reminder that the FBI moves at their own pace.
Search warrants were served at the offices and homes of several Tennessee lawmakers, including former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, and Rep. Todd Warner, R-Chapel Hill. Nobody is clear of the context of these warrants, and the execution of a search warrant shouldn’t be perceived as charges, but there is enough smoke here that House Speaker Cameron Sexton placed all who were visited by the FBI on administrative leave. Before you get too excited, there may be an element of self-preservation involved here.
Reports indicate that the FBI is also interested in Holt Whitt. Whitt was the Chief of Staff for Glen Casada and now serves Sexton. Placing people on administrative leave may just be an attempt to get ahead of things to control the narrative. But what about his boss?
According to the Tennessean, Governor Lee was unaware of the pending legal action,
“I’ve spoken with Speaker Sexton this morning and I’m aware of the FBI raids,” Lee said. “It’s certainly very concerning. I know very little about that. There’s been no FBI outreach to us but I am confident that Speaker Sexton is on top of this situation as it unfolds.”
It’s a response that aligns with his positions regarding recently departed department heads and is continually becoming an indication of a pattern of behavior. Two were removed for ethical violations over the last two months, and the competency of two others remains in question. No matter, what the outcome of today’s raids, it becoming more and more clear that Tennesse is being led by a governor with questionable judgment. He may not be directly complicit in the actions of those he has empowered, but he certainly isn’t acting to discourage their behavior either.
For a self-avowed Christian, he sure does have a whole lot of unchristian-like behavior going on around him. Brings some clarity to a story about addressing a department meeting thus, ‘I was at the cabinet meeting yesterday, and the governor really wants you to know that he is a conservative outsider businessman.’ She just started laughing. It’s getting less and less funny all the time.
MORE UPCOMING SESSION NEWS
The FBI raid comes just days before the opening of this year’s General Assembly. A session where education policy steps to the forefront. Details of which are starting to trickle out.
Months ago, it was considered a foregone conclusion that this was going to be a “hold-harmless year” for school funding. Recognizing the effects of the pandemic, the governor and legislators were committed to maintaining school funding despite a decline in enrollments. Unfortunately, Speaker Sexton didn’t get that memo and he is now proposing to use funding as a means to reopen school buildings, perhaps prematurely.
Despite residing in Crossville, Speaker Sexton is reportedly very upset that Memphis school buildings are remaining closed to keep students safe. In his estimation, Memphis’s teachers are on an extended holiday, and that he would be remiss in rewarding them for not working if he pushed hold-harmless legislation.
The reality is, Tennessee teachers are working harder than they ever have. Students across the state are in class, every day, and learning. Now whether they are learning at the same pace is subject to debate, but the fact remains, they are learning.
In an effort to push their narrative, re-opening proponents have evoked the specter of learning loss, a purely political term that is not rooted in actual data. It may be a term born out of actual concern, but there is no assessment administered that measures learning loss. Current tests measure performance and growth, not a loss. It is natural for some knowledge to recede as it is not accessed for a while, but it still readily available for recall.
Let’s be clear, if Sexton is allowed to have his way, the result would be devastating for schools. In large metropolitan areas, the decrease in enrollment has been substantial, but is it permanent? Loss of funding could require a loss of teachers. What would be a district’s recourse in the event of a sudden influx of students mid-year? Where would schools find the needed teachers? What Sexton proposes is short-sided and detrimental to students.
I doubt that Speaker Sexton would welcome Memphis Superintendent Joris Ray making pronouncements about Crossville schools, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Ray doesn’t welcome Sexton’s opinions. Ray has vowed that he will continue to do what he feels is best for students and teachers and that nobody will force him to open schools. Per ChalkbeatTN, he reminds people that after the pandemic devices will not disappear,
Ray anticipates students who have discovered that they are “thriving” in online learning can continue. Students could complete internet-based assignments at home designed to help them catch up academically rather than use classroom time. It’s also possible that students with long-term illnesses or who are expelled could remain connected to their home school with a device rather than start over with different teachers. Ray said the district’s chief academic officer, Antonio Burt, will present specifics in a few weeks.
In light of today’s news, it seems the Speaker has enough on his plate without provoking additional fights. The Governor has already voiced his support of hold-harmless legislation, so the continued pursuit of this doesn’t seem like a prudent strategy.
Earlier in the week, it was announced that Tennessee was one of 13 states that would be receiving 1.1 billion dollars from the Federal Government as part of CARES 2. Forgive me if this doesn’t give me cause for celebration.
In the hands of the wrong people, $1.1 billion can do a lot of damage. The amount is double what the state received from Race to the Top. While that funding was certainly welcome, nearly every one of the education issues Tennessee currently faces – charter school, teacher attrition, ASD, testing, teacher evaluations – can be traced back to that financial windfall.
Personally, I’d like to see a significant part of the financing invested in improving facilities for students across the state. The repair and upkeep of schools have long been the responsibility of individual LEA’s, as a result, due to a lack of funding, many schools have fallen into disrepair and are in desperate need of upgrades, A billion dollars would go a long way to rectifying those issue, but it is doubtful that legislators will embrace the opportunity.
However, when it comes to charter schools, I doubt that reticence will hold. Last year’s budget proposed by Governor Lee included $25 million designated for charter facilities. Will he make CARES act money available to charter school operators as a means to do what he couldn’t do last year?
Per the Tennessean, “Of the $1.1 billion, at least $997 million is required to be directly distributed to local school districts, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Individual state education agencies can keep only a limited amount for administrative funding — in Tennessee’s case, $5.5 million is the maximum the state can use for the education department itself. ” But remember the money that is going to local districts must also be distributed to charter schools within that district.
Just going to have to keep an eye on things. All CARES 2 monies have to be spent after all CARES act money is spent and before September 2022.
Speaking of financial prudence, don’t you think that before releasing a 100 million dollar literacy initiative, with a focus on early childhood, you should have a senior director of early childhood in place? I would also think that if your proposal was as progressive as advertised, you’d have a line out the door of quality applicants ready to lead the initiative. Apparently, I’m mistaken, because despite advertising the position back in the fall, the TDOE still does not have a senior director in place. That hasn’t stopped the department from moving forward.
In announcing the Read 360 initiative, Commissioner Schwinn delivered a promise of increasing the number of third-graders reading on grade level by 25% by 2015. An achievement that would border on the miraculous, as scores have only increased by 3% in 15 years and that nothing in Schwinn’s past paints her as “reading whisperer”. Now a look at her past does show her as a fan of the so-called ‘Mississippi Miracle”. Mississippi recently raised their scores in part by increasing retention rates of third-graders not reading on grade level.
It stands to reason that if you hold back 25% of students, and then give fourth-graders a third-grade reading test, you’ll increase scores by 25%.
Nobody has yet seen the literacy bill being forth this year. Rumor says that it is very similar to the bill that was on the table in June. If that’s the case, there is a provision for increased student retention. Perhaps then the promise of 25% by 25, isn’t so outlandish.
I had intended to write about the MNPS COVID-19 tracker today, but to honest, I’m still trying to understand it. On Wednesday I talked with MNPS and got some clarity that the number is based on 3 primary measurements weighted as follows – 60% for the 7-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents, 20% for the 7-day positive test rate, and 20% for the transmission rate. But in using the chart shared by MNPS, I can’t calculate a score that matches that delivered by the district. It’s a problem I’m not alone in.
The recent drop in score from 10 to 8.3 over the last 10 days can be attributed to reduced testing numbers, but despite those numbers going up, and the other metrics increasing as well, the score has remained at 8.3 for three days now. There may be a lag in the time between data being delivered and calculations being made, but despite the best efforts of MNPS, I’m still at a loss to explain. I will leave you with this formula I saw posted. It seems to make as much sense as anything else.
Each metric is given a score with a maximum of 3. Since new cases/100,000 is weighted, the total possible is 15=(3+3+(3*3). Then, you have to divide by 1.5 to get it back to the 0-10 scale. (0.5+3.0+(3*3.0)/1.5 = 8.33
Sad news to close the week, Dodger great Tommy Lasorda has passed away at age 93. Lasorda is recognized by many as the greatest ambassador of the game ever. I had the privilege of meeting him at Sounds stadium back in the ’90s. It was an honor.
MNPS hasn’t wasted any time jumping on the bandwagon for Commissioner Schwinn’s READ360 initiative. Though the plan was announced just last Monday, the district is already offering families access to one component, Ready4K, Per their website, “Starting January 11, 2021, Ready4K will deliver three texts per week in English or Spanish with fun facts and tips to provide families with simple, engaging activities to help your child continue to learn and grow. The resource is available through a partnership with the Tennessee Department of Education and the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation.”
This aligns with past collaboration between the district and TDOE. Several months ago state lawmakers raised objections to the department’s “whole child” initiatives. In response, the department agreed to pull and re-evaluate the initiate. MNPS did nither, continuing with the program under the “Navigators” title. It begs the question of just how much else MNPS is adopting from Read360. An initiative that favors the so-called “Science of Reading” over the district’s chosen approach of “balanced literacy”.
There ya have it.
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