DESPITE ALL THE TALKING, NOBODY IS TALKING

“There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”
Alexis de Tocqueville

 

My writing has been a little erratic this summer and for that, I apologize. As we emerge from the pandemic, work responsibilities have picked up, we’ve refinanced the house, purchased a new car, and the wife got a new hip. So things have been a little hectic.

To further compound matters, I’ve also experienced what religious folks would call a conflict of sense and faith. The huge infusion of cash and as a result, the increased influence of those who would seek to funnel that money to their private accounts, has left me a little disillusioned. It seems the more you unpeel the onion that is public education, the more you discover the countless ways that adult interests trump those of children.

I found this on the internet and it nicely sums up where I am in relation to public education these days,

The prayer of Jonah is an illustrious instance of the conflict between sense and faith. Sense prompting to despair, — faith pleading for hope and procuring victory.

Nowhere is this more true than in the ongoing battle over how we should address race in the public sphere. I’ve spent several months now reading countless articles about Critical Race Theory and its impacts on schools and ultimately society. And I continually come away with a sense of disappointment over how both sides wrap themselves in the cloak of honesty while shading facts in their favor. None are without sin, and I’m probably guilty myself at times. Still, we have to get better.

We always talk about the importance of the journey, yet almost all of the conversation around CRT has focused on the endless result – whether it be a ban or wide-scale adoption. Scant attention is paid to how the unfolding conversation will impact future conversations. It’s all about winning as if whoever is on the”losing side” will suddenly willingly adopt the winner’s postulations, or cease to exist. Neither of which is likely to happen.

It’s in the light of fleshing out the conversation that I offer thee observations. Take them how you will, they are not meant to be definitive, merely to add flavor to an essential conversation.

We can start by acknowledging that the conversation around CRT shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition. This shouldn’t be a brown shirt vs blue shirt proposition. It is perfectly acceptable to sympathize with arguments for both sides. It is possible to believe in the core tenets of CRT proponents but question the strategy. It’s perfectly acceptable to demand a wider scope in the teaching of history while rejecting elements of the 1619 project.

After all, the 1619 project is a telling of history through a certain lens. Not unlike what has transpired for decades. Both contain elements of undeniable truth, and both hold questionable suppositions. In order to select the proper lens, it is essential that we can talk in a manner that opens doors, as opposed to closing them. That’s not happening right now.

Especially unhelpful is the dismissing of public concerns by making an argument that opponents fail to understand CRT, or mistakenly attribute certain instances to falling under its umbrella. Yes, CRT started as a law school theory, but in the current lexicon, it has become the catch-all phrase for a discussion about a new social contract. As writer Ryan Girdusky sums it up,

Critical race theory is like an octopus with multiple tentacles. There are many parts of critical race theory, like its opposition and questioning of liberalism, equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and skepticism of the Constitution. Any one, or even some, of those beliefs can be dropped, and it’s still at its heart critical race theory, except for the fundamental belief that racism is a widespread everyday experience of non-Whites, it benefits Whites regardless of their socio-economic standing, and is a social construction to advance the interests of Whites.

The irony here is that those who try to put forth the argument that opponents are uninformed ultimately have the same intent as those who are passing laws preventing the discussion of CRT – to shut down conversation and facilitate unchallenged acceptance of the favored narrative. Both should be rejected. We need to talk.

One of the things that bother me the most in the ongoing lack of conversation is the lack of nuance permitted by black citizens. It’s put forth that all black people share the same life experiences, and therefore the same political positions. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing fosters inequity like the assumption that due to the color of their skin, all people share the same views as those with the same skin color.

I was recently talking to a state representative that was highly concerned about recent legislation impacting the subject of race in schools. I was urging her to dig deeper into the subject and avoid the hyperbole. Quickly losing patience with me, she asserted, “Well TC it’s upsetting our black friends and that has to be addressed!”

I don’t disagree, but also must inquire, “Which Black friends.”

Obviously, I can’t speak to anyone else’s social network, but mine is comprised of black people whose views fall from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some voted for Trump, while others swing all the way in the other direction. Most fall somewhere in between the opposing poles.  All deserve equal representation. I’d never say White people are upset about the Tampa Buccaneers retaining Tom Brady as quarterback – recognizing the inherent difference of opinion. So why would I propose that all my Black friends are of one opinion?

If you think all Black people share the same view on everything, then you haven’t interacted with enough Black people. The same holds true for Hispanic people. And Gay people. And Asian people. And people with disabilities. And people who play Dungeons and dragons. And people who like sports. I know that’s a little flippant, but holds true. As does one of my guiding principles of life – meet more people of more diverse backgrounds and you’ll be less likely to fall for stereotypes and less willing to accept limitations placed on people because of them.

Both sides like to accuse the other of creating strawmen and gaslighting, but the reality is that both do it all too frequently. It behooves all of us to do a little of our own research, For example, this weekend there was extensive pearl-clutching over a story out of Gardiner, Maine.

Seems that a high school English class was given a summer reading list and told to choose one book from it. The 33 books are all non-fiction and heavily tilted towards the Black experience in America.  Some parents and community members got upset, raised a fuss, and now students are allowed to self-select any non-fiction book.

This story is being held up by critics as a prime example of the narrow-mindedness of the general public. And proof that critics of CRT, don’t know what they are talking about. But…let’s dig a little deeper.

First off, when did students self-selecting their summer reading become a bad thing?

Secondly, how many people live in Gardiner, Maine? It’s 5,653, an 8% drop since 2000. The town is fairly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with a slight tilt towards the former. Interestingly enough, the town was virtually split right down the middle in the last presidential election.

Of the 5,653 people who live in the town, the vast majority are White. The racial makeup of the city is roughly 95.4% White, 0.3% African American, 0.7% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.4% from other races, and 2.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.0% of the population. Now go back and look at that reading list and ask yourself, was it generated out of a sense of community need, or rather a product of an outside agenda?

MSAD 11 Curriculum Coordinator Angela Hardy put forth the argument that “In developmentally appropriate ways, our students will engage in learning experiences where contentious topics may be raised,” Hardy said. “In these instances, the educator’s role is to ensure students will examine the varied perspectives, have skills to discuss the topic with others using evidence, learn to listen to opposing views, and develop their own opinions.”

Adding that, “A common goal of our educators is to equip the students with the skills and tools to move through that process effectively while facilitating respectful dialogue,”

All noble ideas and lofty goals. But in a town overwhelmingly White, with a larger, or equally sized population of Native American and Hispanic students, is this list truly reflective of the community? I would argue that half the list could have been replaced with News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Marquez, The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, or any Steven Pinker book, and lost none of its effectiveness, and been more inclusive. Do local demographics play no role in the ongoing discussions about race?

This is just one example of how issues are conflated. It happens on both sides, because, let’s face it, nobody wants you to be a critical thinker. They want you to pick a team and sign a contract swearing fidelity. Thus the use of emotional language and stories in order to invoke a visceral response. Nobody wants a nuanced look, it’s all about getting as many folks as possible to put on a brown shirt or blue shirt and swear fidelity.

Out of all of this, a cottage industry has been born. Ever notice that no matter what the subject – charter schools, funding, race – we never arrive at solutions? Solutions don’t pay the bills. Red meat pays the bills. Look at social media, everybody on either side of any issue, wants you to believe that everybody whose opinion is different than yours is a flaming asshole. Odds are, you won’t work with the flaming assholes, but you will devour the paid-for content that reaffirms you’re the good guy and they are the flaming assholes.

Think about your neighbors. I doubt you see eye to eye on every issue, or that they always act in accordance with your wishes, but you know you have to cohabitate. I doubt you are running around the rest of the neighborhood referring to them as flaming assholes. Instead, you do that thing called finding common ground. You overlook here. They overlook there. And you create a better neighborhood. You comprise and you work on the constant betterment of each other that allows you to coexist.

I can hear it now, “I’m not overlooking racism”. Nobody is asking you to. Just perhaps broaden your definition of what’s being racist, and what’s being a flaming asshole. Unfortunately, even in today’s America, people are allowed to be flaming assholes. You just have to figure out a way to mitigate it.

All of this fighting puts public schools in an even more precarious position. We all assume that every dissatisfied parent will voice their displeasure. But it doesn’t work that way. Most won’t. Many will just leave. Not saying a word, but packing up their kids and either homeschooling, going to a charter school or enrolling in a private option.

The true danger doesn’t lie in the conversation we have, but rather in those we don’t.

But it all starts with a conversation. One we as a country desperately need, unfortunately, we are all too preoccupied out in the street hurling lit bottles of gasoline at each other. The real risk is that once those bottles land, it’s impossible to control what gets ignited and thus destroyed. So maybe, just maybe, we should flick the Zippo closed and engage. Before it becomes too late for all of us.

SHORTCUTS

Hey, hey, hey, look who’s got a new gig. Long-time education advocate Shaka Mitchell is the new Director of State Strategy and Advocacy at the American Federation for Children. You guessed it, he’s Betsy DeVos’s, new right-hand man. Congratulations…I guess.

Has Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn landed a new gig yet? Lord knows she’s trying extra hard to attract somebody’s attention. Can someone please tell her she doesn’t have to be in every picture during the DOE’s summer bus tour?

So Governor Lee has stomped out the last vestiges of Common Core in Tennessee. Well except for that guy who wrote Common Core for Dummies that is now the Director of Literacy for the TNDOE. Well, and TNTP who was integral in the adoption of Common Core and just received an $8 million contract to train teachers in the new curriculum in Tennessee, which was designed by architects of Common Core. Oh and the repeated use of that Steiner fella who helped craft Common Core standards to review our textbook adoption process. And now…a million-dollar grant is awarded to a company, Education Strategy Group, that is crawling with Common Core ex-patriates. Governor Lee’s freeing sure feels a lot like doubling down.

Belated congratulations are due to former MNPS Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse and his wife Maritza Gonzalez on the birth of their daughter 11 months ago. Everybody is doing well and thriving in Baton Rouge, Louisianna where Narcisse is the Superintendent.

MNPS will be continuing its Navigator program this Fall, but with a new wrinkle. If you are unfamiliar, this is the program whereas teachers or school support staff would check in with individual students around the student’s mental and physical conditions. Previously parents could opt out over the phone, going forth, per the proposed updates to the student handbook, parents will have to sign and submit a form.

Only sign if you DO NOT want your student to participate in the Navigator support program check-ins outside of the school day.

I wish to exclude my student from Navigator check-ins outside of the school day. Failure to sign the Navigator Opt-Out form will serve as an indication that your student has permission to receive Navigator check- ins outside of the school day through a phone or Microsoft Teams call from your student’s assigned Navigator.

POLL RESULTS

Time for a quick look at the weekend poll results. First question, if you are a teacher, have you participated in the state’s mandatory literacy training. While the sample size was admittedly small, 37% of you indicated that it had kinda slipped your mind. 175 of you planned to do it in the coming weeks. Here are the write-in responses,

  • Not required
  • I’ve heard more about it from your blog than I’ve heard from my district.
  • Absolutely not

The next question asked how you would rate this year’s summer school so far. 24% gave it a “needs improvement” rating. 22% gave it a “C”. Only 5% rated it an ‘A”. Here are those write-ins,

  • Idk? It’s SUMMER.
  • F, and I’m supposed to teach it.
  • Most expensive childcare ever. Wish I made $40/hr.
  • Glorified babysitting
  • Best in years. Needs to be annual.

The last question asked, “Do you think masks should be required in the Fall”? 35% said, no way. While 28% answered that it depends upon the prevalence of the Delta strain. Another 12% of you said it depends on vaccination rates. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Absolutely for children under 12 until they are vaccine eligible.
  • Yes, COVID Delta does too!

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. Not begging, just saying.

 

 



Categories: Education

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