TOWARDS A MORE PERFECT UNION

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

 

These days I perpetually find myself questioning which will prove more destructive to America, the pandemic, or its fast approaching aftermath – or perhaps this was the path we were on all along and the virus just provided the accelerant.

Every day seems to bring another instance of violence perpetrated on Americans by Americans. As news of each incident spreads, it seems we quickly scan available information to determine the race of both the perpetrator and the victim, even before we process circumstances. It’s clear that we are a society in pain, but one that can’t get past the symptoms to find the cure.

The pandemic provided the perfect means to identify individual camps, better than putting on blue shirts or brown shirts. Masks vs anti-maskers. Vaccines vs anti-vaccine. Us vs Them. Now more than ever we primarily self-identify with sub-groups than we do as American’s.

Yesterday I heard a conservative commentator proudly profess that all of his liberal friends had stopped talking to him as if it was something to celebrate instead of mourn. Many of my liberal friends have expressed similar sentiments on social media as if a household can coexist when mom and dad aren’t talking to each other.

It seems that politics have become our new religion. As Jon Gabriel observed in a recent op-ed for the AZ Central,

This divinization of democracy is sprouting up all over. Instead of spending Sunday at church, Republicans are flying flags in a “Trump Train.” Instead of listening to a sermon on racial tolerance, Democrats are accosting diners at sidewalk cafés. Instead of resting on the Sabbath, we waste our weekends cursing strangers on social media.

None of this is going to come without cost. Democracy only functions if all citizens believe in its institutions. Erode that belief and the republic collapses.

Sure, institutions are never permanent and are always subject to replacement. But how do you reach a consensus when nearly half the population disagrees with the other? I guarantee, either side telling the other to shut up and listen ain’t going to provide a pathway to reconnection and increased belief.

It all just makes me tremendously sad. It may be out of fashion to say it, but I am incredibly grateful and proud to be a citizen of the United States of America. There has never been another country like it. One that has provided so much opportunity for so many. In no country in the world can an individual jump socio-economic class like they can in America, despite what you may read, or people tell you. It doesn’t happen elsewhere at the rate and frequency it does here.

Why do you think so many from around the world emigrate here? It’s not because we are the land of oppression, but rather because they recognize something that many of us have forgotten, or take for granted.

Is the country perfect? Absolutely not. It’s an imperfect union devised and administered by imperfect humans. We are all works in progress, no matter what our background, education level, or political affiliation.

We all pay homage to the principles of diversity and inclusion, yet we treat our fellow American’s that think differently as if they were an invading army that must be expelled from our borders. In the process, all of us contribute to the demise of the greatest political experiment in history.

It’s ironic that I find myself in a position of defending America. Suffering as I do from an inborn suspicion of large groups that all think alike. Nothing repels me quicker than a collection of folks preaching that the one true way to do something is their way.

Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to this country. It’s a place where people with multiple views can come together and work for a common good. It’s a place where we can be recognized as individuals while also unifying in a common purpose.

In education circles, we talk about the need for continuous improvement. The America of today is closer to adhering to its founding principles than at any other time in its history. I imagine that the America of the future will get even closer to those ideals, but only if the union is preserved. If we somehow find a way to recommitting to talking to each other. At some point, we have to stop letting our differences divide us, and allow our similarities to bind us.

The pandemic has tested each and every one of us. It has altered each of us in ways that are both apparent, and in other ways less so. The world we emerge into will be different. It’s up to each of us to determine what that world will look like.

Will it be one of unity or one of further fracturing? As Gandhi used to say when he used to hang out at TGIF’s on Elliston Place, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Or maybe that was just Buster quoting Gandhi. Either way, the words ring true.

MNPS NEWS

Yesterday marked the unofficial launch of MNPS’s brand new website. It looks good.

One welcome change is that control of individual school web pages has been returned to schools. A common template provided, but the content that filled the template comes at the discretion of district principals.

Initially, I thought that the district’s COVID tracker had been discontinued, but it just has a new web address. So those of you, like myself, who have been following it daily will need to update your browser.

One thing that does seem to be missing is a direct link to watch past Board meetings. Fortunately, the YouTube page is still being regularly updated.

Speaking of COVID and school board meetings, this week’s school board meeting revealed that only 9K of MNPS’s students attending schools in person have agreed to participate in the Meharry COVID testing program. It’s a low number that doesn’t surprise me given the relatively few benefits for individuals who agree to be tested. The revelation of COVID infection means a lengthy quarantine and likely missed work for parents.

The thinking behind the plan was noble, but it’s also indicative of being another plan cooked up in the central office as opposed to school buildings. I’ve sent it before and I’ll say it again, educator advisory committees are not just for informing, but also for listening.

I suspect you’ll see a decline in COVID testing over the next couple of weeks as TCAP testing kicks in. After all, nobody wants to lose any possible assessments due to a quarantine.

At Tuesday’s meeting, MNPS’s Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ashford Hughes presented on the work of his office. It was a very aspirational presentation and represented a vision of an MNPS we would all like to see exist. Unfortunately, it was also short on detail and reflected more on Hughes’s background than it did of his current position.

Hughes has spent the last decade working politics, serving as both former mayor Megan Berry’s campaign manager and as the political director of the Tennessee Democratic Party. Over the last several years he’s served in the Metro Government. Stands to reason that he would be quite capable of putting together a presentation that would serve to spur people into action.

One thing that he failed to take into account was the fact that his presentation bore very little difference from that of previous superintendents. Equity has been a goal of the school district for decades. Dr. Battle’s predecessor, Dr. Joseph was an equity champion, as well as Dr. Register before him. Nobody is more committed to equity issues than individual teachers and principals. Hughes’s presentation did little to recognize past efforts and successes or to adequately highlight what this administration’s effort would differ from those of the past.

In his presentation, Dr. Hughes describes MNPS’s pending curriculum adoption as an example of promoting equity. Since his degree is in political science and not education, he likely doesn’t recognize this inaccuracy. Teaching kids to read is indeed an equity issue and needs to be a prime focus. However, a curriculum itself is in itself not an example of equity.

Framing the conversation in a manner that suggests teachers have been deliberately not teaching certain kids not to read for decades is not an accurate statement. Nor is presenting the pending curriculum adoption as a sudden cure-all. At the end of the day, any curriculum is only as good as the teacher utilizing it. In that light, nothing would further the goal of achieving equity, like THAT OF investing in teachers. That starts with recognizing past and present contributions.

As aspirational as Hughes’s presentation was, in the long run, it came off as more of a presentation on “how to preserve a 6 figure salary” than an actual roadmap to anywhere. Based on his presentation, we once again find ourselves in the listening stage. A worthy stage but one that MNPS has been stuck in for neigh on a half-decade. We seem to be doing a lot of “listening” while hearing little. At this point, there should be more than enough input in order to craft plans.

Say what you will about Dr. Register, his plans always included action steps. maybe not always the right actions, but action nonetheless. 

Hopefully, at some point Hughes presented vision will bear fruit. But without action steps, that fruit will whither. Without involving those that do the daily work, the task will be much more difficult. I look forward to Dr. Hughes’s next presentation and a continuance of the work done by his department.

OF WIT AND WISDOM

Is it really a conspiracy theory when they tell you what their plans are? Over the past year, I’ve told you about the financial windfalls that curriculum companies favored by Dr. Schwinn and Dr. Coons stand to gain in the wake of the pandemic. Now those companies are telling you about it themselves.

This morning I received an email from Great Minds, the company that produces the TNDOE’s frequently touted Wit and Wisdom ELA curriculum. The purpose of the email was to alert me that, in case I was unaware, “fortunately, federal funding (CARES Act, CRRSA Act, and Title Funding) can help cover the cost of adopting such curricula for your students this fall—as well as the cost of professional development that will prepare your teachers to implement them.”

My question here, of course, would be, how exactly does implementing WIT and Wisdom counter an effect of the pandemic? Remember that old saying, “Never let a crisis pass without taking advantage of it”? or as country singer Chris Jansen says,

Yeah and I know what they say
money can’t buy everything.
Well maybe so.
But it could buy me a boat.
Yeah and I know what they say
Money can’t buy everything.
Well maybe so
But it could buy me a boat.

QUICK HITS

Just one day after Gov. Bill Lee introduced his budget amendment that included no new funds for K-12 education, a coalition of education advocates from across the state called on Lee and the General Assembly to improve the amendment and boost funding for public schools. Andy Spears has the report over at the TNEd Report, complete with quotes from coalition members.

So I got to thinking, all these Executive Directors that are earning 6 figures leading education non-profits that are exerting undue influence over policy, what is their educational background? You won’t be surprised when I tell you.

  • David Mansouri, SCORE – Business and Political Science
  • Emily Freitag, Instruction Partners – Bachelor degree in History
  • Shaka Mitchell, American Federation of Children, Political Science and Law
  • Adam Lister, Tennesseans for Student Success – Political Science and Business
  • Tara Scarlett, Scarlett Foundation – A bachelor in photography though she has been through the Harvard Business School for Education leadership. (A big red flag)

Now they can argue that I have no degree, the difference is that I don’t command a 6 figure salary dictating policy to people who’ve devoted their lives to the subject. A small, but meaningful distinction. Perhaps we would be better off creating education policies as advised by those with degrees in education, instead of political science or business? I know, crazy talk.

This year’s General assembly is mercifully beginning to wrap up. Though there are a few things left to keep an eye on. Last year, in response to Dr. Schwinn and Dr. Coon’s interference in the ELA textbook adoption process, the General Assembly stripped the TNDOE of the ability to grant waivers. This year several bills were submitted in order to keep the textbook adoption process independent, including SB 1036. A bill headed to the Senate floor on Monday, albeit with a sneaky little amendment.

The Senate Education Committee has adjourned for the year, but that didn’t stop its chair, Senator Kelsey, from adding an amendment that provides the Commissioner of Education with greater latitude when it comes to the textbook adoption process. Just in time for the upcoming math adoption process. While the bill will still likely pass in the Senate, I suspect it will face some opposition in the House.

Yesterday MNPS celebrated the officially named district Teachers of the Year, Principals of the Year, and Support Employees of the Year from 2019-20 and 2020-21 with a joyous drive-through event. Today I name every teacher, principal, and support employee who is still showing up, an official Dad Gone Wild Teacher of the Year. Y’all rock and thank you for everything you’ve done this year.

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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

If you wish 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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