A RACE TO NOWHERE, WITH NO GUARANTEED WINNERS

“the city’s ills were supposed to disappear.”
Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain

 

Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I drank the elixir of the protestant work ethic by the case. I was sold on the idea that I was on a mythical race to somewhere, I didn’t know where it was or even have a clear vision of how I’d recognize it if I got there, I only knew that if I worked hard and studied my craft to the exclusion of all else, I would be led to the land of milk and honey. So I outworked everybody.

Throughout my twenties, it was not uncommon for me to work 65 – 70 hours a week. I once bragged that I worked 29 days out of 30 for the month of October. as if it was a badge of honor and not a fool’s errand.

During this time period, I certainly became very adept at my work. And I was rewarded for it, both monetarily and with social status. But I also learned some harsh lessons, as the rewards were fleeting.

As part of the coat, relationships deteriorated. When you are working those kinds of hours, the only thing you have time for is more work. Due to my commitment to the race to get ahead, I missed out on irreplaceable opportunities for trips and adventures with friends. We always argue that we’ll do it later, but life is fragile and has a way of creating its own plans while we try and exert control.

I can remember my girlfriend at the time’s father, inviting me to join him and her brother on a trip to Florida for Dodger Spring Training at Vero Beach. A trip I passed on because I didn’t have time for that, I had work to do. Work I couldn’t miss because if I did, I’d fall behind. Today I can’t even recall what my work was that week, but I can vividly tell you about my regrets in missing that trip.

When I got sober, her father inexplicably became my sponsor and saved my life. He’s since passed and with that passing the opportunity to spend more time with a man who became perhaps my biggest champion. Thirty years later, I’ve yet to make it to Spring Training, and with the increasing financial responsibilities of two school-aged children, it ain’t happening soon.

Like I said, I can’t remember the work from 3 decades ago but I can’t forget the regret at a missed opportunity.

With all of those hours working, my health suffered as well. Not only did I succumb to alcoholism and drug abuse, a disease that thrives when the body and mind are tired, but I also developed a latent case of diabetes. Currently, I weigh a healthy 215, at the time of diabetes diagnoses, I weighed an unhealthy 136. But hey, I was still working.

In fact, when Vanderbilt called me at 5pm on a Tuesday night, after running some tests, to tell me that I had A1C of 13 and that I needed to get to ER promptly, my answer was that I was working and would come in the morning. It was only after multiple calls the next morning that I made it to the ER. It was 4 days later when I finally left the hospital.

Then there was the time I woke up at 6 AM at Vanderbilt Hospital with a BAC of .43%  – I took pride in playing as hard as I worked. I walked out of that hospital at 7 AM and put in a full day of work. Who knows how efficient I was, but by god, I was there. Because if I wasn’t…somebody would pass me in the mythical race.

As I got older, it began to dawn on me that there really wasn’t a race out here and our time on earth was finite. When the end came was anybody’s guess. But a life worth living meant taking your eyes off the so-called prize, smelling the flowers, and enjoying where you are that day. In order to have meaningful relationships in your life, you had to work at them. I had to learn the hard way that sometimes the most precious moments are the smallest.

Like many parents, I spend hours every week driving my kids to their activities. Yes, it is a pain in the ass, but it also provides me some of the most enjoyable hours of my life. Just listening to them chat away about whatever is on their mind fills me with amazement. Some of it makes sense, some of it not so much, but all of it is irreplaceable. My daughter will often catch me smiling at her while she’s railing away.

“Why are you smiling at me? I’m not saying anything to smile about”, she’ll demand.

“I just love you,” I answer honestly, “listening to you fills me with joy and I feel like I’m in such a privileged spot.”

“But you often get annoyed with us, and become short.”

“I do. But that doesn’t mean that you are not my favorite people to be around. Sometimes I lose sight of priorities.”

I was blessed to be the primary adult influence in my ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s life when she navigated the ages of 15 to 22. And those times are still among my fondest memories. The conversations held while driving around forever fresh in my mind. But had I not shifted priorities, I’d never have those memories. I have enjoyed a level of success in my life, but being a part of these children’s transition to adulthood eclipses all of them.

During my days of running the race to nowhere, I made some people a lot of money. Money that allowed them to experience the things I missed out on. When I stopped being useful, I was left on the side of the road and they found another runner.

One of the most important lessons learned came in my early thirties. As one of the managers of the most successful live music venue in town, I was afforded a certain social status.  Industry folks took me to lunch, showered me with CD’s, and frequently bought me drinks. There wasn’t a show in town that I paid for a ticket to get into. In my mind was a big deal.

Reality hit hard when I found myself unemployed. Lunch invitations were retracted and calls went unanswered. Instead of free entry to shows, it was minimal discounts. All that hard work didn’t add up to anything sustainable. People who I thought were friends, didn’t have time for me. To be fair, they’d gotten used to doing things without me. Why should that change just because I was now available?

Amazingly, a year later, when I started managing another club, the perks returned. Fortunately, I had learned my lesson. And I approached things with a more jaundiced view.

There is a point to these ruminations by an old man. As I watch schools and read the clarion calls around ‘Learning Loss”, There are some familiar signs. I see society setting up today’s kids for the same traps I fell into. We are snowing them and their parents into believing that there is some mythical race to success going on. It’s bullshit.

We act as if not scoring high on a standardized test that at best measures where a kid is at on a given day, can somehow pre-determine their future. It’s bullshit.

We act as if it’s necessary to make up lost instructional time by sacrificing time that would be better spent on healing and reacclimating. We are willing to steal valuable time for children under the pretense of a false promise. It’s bull shit.

Future success hinges on so many different variables, that it is impossible to isolate those that will play the heaviest. Yes, learning to read is primary. But just because you don’t learn it at age 6 doesn’t mean you won’t learn it at 7. Or even hit proficiency at 8. Again I look to my daughter for illumination.

She was 6 when we tried to teach her to ride a bike. She struggled and quickly abandoned the idea. Even the next year when her brother, a year younger, became proficient, she wanted no part of it. Over the next two years, he roamed the neighborhood on his bike while she remained content with her scooter. We lamented that she would never experience the joy of riding a bike. We fell into the trap of thinking that since she didn’t learn it young, she’d never be able to learn it.

When she was 10, for some reason unknown to us, she decided she was ready to learn. She hoped on a bike, and literally within hours, she was riding like she’d been doing it for years. These days, she’s a bike rider, we don’t even remember a time when she couldn’t ride. The point is she learned when she was ready to learn, and there is no way to measure what other influences led her to a point where she was ready to learn. So it’ll be with kids and this year of unfamiliar schooling.

Recent studies are backing up those suppositions, revealing that as the year progresses, gaps between learning this year and past years are shrinking. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, when remote education began it was new and had very little precedent. As usual, when faced with a challenge, teachers dug in and discovered what worked and what didn’t. As a result, instructional practice improved.

As a kid’s returned to traditional means of schooling they quickly picked up that which was feared lost. We know that, but it hasn’t stopped us from interrupting instruction again.

Let’s be very clear, the previously incurred interruption in instruction was beyond our control. The current interruption in schooling is a direct result of adults exerting their control.

Instead of letting recovery take place, followed by a period of assessing exactly what was learned by students during the pandemic, we’ve rushed off to get them back into the race to what. It can not be overstated – despite their strident claims – politicians, publishers, and non-profit CEOs will benefit more from produced test scores than any student.

if you think for one second that any teacher or principal is going to look at standardized test results and think, “Huh, look at that johnny is struggling in reading. I had no idea. Yea, I know the screeners that are required three times a year by state law, kinda indicated that and back up my observations, but now that I’ve got standardized test results, I can do something,” is at best ill-informed.

Now we are going to insist that children sacrifice time that should be dedicated to the enrichment of their lives, and lace up their track shoes so they can run our race again by enrolling in summer camps. Where these camps created in an effort to provide enrichment for children who lacked such opportunities, I’d be 100% on board. But when you measure at both the beginning and the end, your intentions become crystal clear and it’s not about serving the kid, as much as it is about serving adult ambition. After all, depending on teachers doesn’t preserve those six-figure salaries.

Yes, hard work is important. But so is rest. Knowing when to put down the plow and enjoy an ice tea on the porch is every bit as vital to a full life. We spend millions on SEL, then turn around and demand actions that do nothing but create more SEL problems. Oh, how we love both sides of our mouths.

What you focus on doesn’t automatically become more influential than that you don’t. We’ll never know what kids actually learned this year and how those lessons will impact future success. Life happens with influence from both the seen and unseen. The measured and the unmeasured. Teaching kids to be receptive is very bit should be an integral component of making them career and college-ready.

After a year that has presented unprecedented challenges, and has impacted us in ways yet to be unidentified, I would argue that a day spent at the pool with friends that haven’t been seen of late is every bit as important as time spent chasing data points. A day on the playground shooting hoops with long missed peers, every bit as important as time spent on catching up to an arbitrary goal.

The pandemic has already robbed children of a year of life experiences, let’s not allow adults to steal another one.

QUICK HITS

Props go out to the MNPS school board who last night passed a resolution affirming their support of all students and teachers regardless of gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. The resolution brought forth by board member Emily Masters is non-binding, but it sends an important message to LGBTQ teachers and students in the wake of a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation passed by the Tennessee General assembly. A message that confirms that they are seen, respected, and loved. We could use a whole lot more of these kinds of messages.

Science of Reading proponents would have you believe that reading is settled science. It’s not, despite the championing of its tenets by both the former Tennessee Commissioner of Education and the current occupant of the office. Who knew they had so much in common? This week professional educator Russ Walsh dives a little deeper into the “science”. he starts with a drop the mic opening paragraph that sure to make some heads explode,

Call me crazy, but when I learned I had cancer a few years ago, I did not immediately consult a journalist. Instead I chose to see an oncologist. When COVID broke out, I threw in my lot with Dr. Fauci and other infectious disease scientists, instead of a former reality TV star who suggested I inject bleach. And so, when I want advice on reading instruction, I avoid the journalists, the parent lobbying groups, the reading program sales reps, and the agenda driven pseudo-education organizations, and I look to the experts.

After that opener, he proceeds to share a report written for the Literacy Research Association, An Examination of Dyslexia Research and Instruction, with Policy Implications. One that presents research that pokes some holes in the “science”.

This morning the TNDOE announced that the Tennessee-based Niswonger Foundation has been selected to develop and support the new Advanced Placement (AP) Access for All program designed to help more students earn college credit while in high school. The flowery press release goes on to cite the many reasons why the Niswonger Foundation is the best choice for this award. You know what is not mentioned? Niswonger founder and CEO Scott M Niswonger sits on the board of Tennessee’s defacto Department of Education, the State Collaboration ON Education Reform. Should come as no surprise either that in 2010 the Niswonger Foundation received a million and a half dollars from the Gates Foundation.

To their credit, executive salaries at the Niswonger Foundation are much more modest than at the other of the state’s education non-profits. CEO Dr. Nancy Dishner earns a modest, by comparison, salary of $130K annually.

Fellow SCORE board member Alan Levine also serves on the Niswonger Foundation Board. Levine might qualify as a professional board member, as he serves on the board of governors of the State University System of Florida, the governing body of Florida’s 12 state universities. He serves as chair of research and academic excellence and has served as chair of Audit and Compliance. He serves as an appointee of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on the Tennessee Charter School Commission, the body overseeing the approval and governance of public charter schools statewide. Alan has also served as the Chair of the Florida Higher Education Coordinating Council, a policy-setting body for public and private education in Florida.

The lesson here is that it pays to be a member of the friends and family circle.

A list of beneficiaries in the Governor’s budget amendment started circulating last night. Look who stands to make a million, Teach for America. So let us do the math here. The state’s teachers, who have tirelessly worked extended hours over the last year, get a token raise and the organization, who touts the current commissioner of education as an alumnus, pulls in a million taxpayer dollars. The message once again, is that it pays to be in that friends and family circle.

The Achievement School District continues to be problematic for legislators. Yesterday a bill governing the ASD’s future was slated to be heard in the State Senate Finance Committee but was instead rolled to the heel of the calendar. A sure indicator that nobody is sure exactly how things should proceed.

Rumors continue to swirl that TNDOE Hr head David Donaldson is itching to take up his next professional challenge. Donaldson was once ubiquitous on social media but has maintained a muted presence for several months now. To be fair, he may just be covered up with the department’s ever-growing list of open positions. But we’ll keep watching.

If this column was one of those sports columns that created a “hot seat” list, it’s a safe bet that Donaldson along with Government relations specialist Charlie Bufalino and Data Specialist Mike Hardy would be featured prominently. For some reason, Assistant Commissioner Lisa Coons and friend of Schwinn Katie Houghtlin retain favored status. Not to mention that Governor Lee still loves his Schwinn. Bit Summer is almost upon us, a time when away from the spotlight when options wax and wane, so who knows.

That’s it.

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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