A LITTLE SMOKE OFTEN MEANS A FIRE

“No man chooses evil because it is evil; he just mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks.”
Mary Wollstonecraft

 

Hope y’all had a fantastic holiday. Here in Tennessee, the weather couldn’t have been better and it was a welcome opportunity to recharge rapidly dwindling batteries.

Like most of you, as of late, I’ve been reading a great deal about Critical Race Theory. As a result, my level of disillusionment has risen in direct portion to the number of articles I’ve read. Once again instead of deconstructing the subject and having a thoughtful conversation around an essential topic, we are just heading to the closet pulling out our brown or blue shirt and proceeding to toss red meat to our respective bases. Both sides are complicit.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time regurgitating arguments, either for or against – Lord knows there are enough of those out clogging up the internet. Rather, I’d like to share a few cautionary items. Some things I’d like you to consider when doing your research.

First of all, anytime you see anybody using words like, “always”, or “never’ run. Same goes for “everyone”, or “no one”. These are terms that are not grounded in reality. Think about your own district, the number of teachers, and the number of individual classrooms, then tell me that you can promise that either “everyone” or “no one” is doing something. Can’t guarantee it, either way.

It’s one of the reasons why the banning of the teaching of CRT is an exercise in futility. It’s impossible to police. That’s why you have people like Tucker Carlson proposing stupid ideas like video cameras in the classroom. As someone who has experience with video monitoring, I would like to remind you that no matter how sophisticated the camera system, somebody still has to watch the tapes, talk about excruciating.

Parents are already naturally suspect of the “everyone” and “no one” arguments. As kids have been coming to them since the beginning of time claiming either/or. Think about your response when your kid says, “Can I go to the rock quarry to swim? Everyone is going.”

Or better yet, when they ask to go to a friend’s house for a party and they swear up and down that no one would dare drink. Yea…we all know how that turns out all too often.

Probably a good idea to avoid that kinda language.

The second thing, when people start claiming a level of honesty or truthfulness, or any other moralistic trait, that always sets my radar off. Especially if it comes to history. History consists of facts. Facts that are used to create a narrative somewhat based on assumptions about people we’ve never met, one that is ultimately woven to support our own suppositions and biases. That’s for everybody, if you are human you are not immune.

When somebody tells you how ‘honest” they are, it’s usually an attempt to lead you down a desired path, or they believe you are incapable of listening to them and discerning their level of honesty. Neither constitutes a compelling argument and in fact, I tend to put those who make such claims in the same category as those who proudly boast how they “don’t suffer fools”. Neither is a reliable source of information and should be quickly dismissed.

This brings me to my next point, it is perfectly acceptable to be committed to equity and not support the current strategies to achieve that status. It is perfectly acceptable to question what messages are being delivered to your children in the classroom while also supporting more inclusion. It is possible to be concerned about conversations about race and still oppose legislation that bans the teaching of CRT. You don’t have to buy the whole party line on either side. It’s okay, to look for reconciliation between the two positions.

Politics tend to be all about winning. We strategize endlessly on how to win the argument, sometimes going as far as to call it a war. How we win the elections. How our ideas triumph over those who disagree with us. While all our energy goes into how we are going to win the war, scant attention is paid to winning the peace. This does us all a disservice because eventually, peace has to come, and we need to have a vision for that, or else it’s an endless return to the battlefield.

History is filled with brave warriors that never learned to navigate the peace. For many, war was truthfully more lucrative than peace. In this context, think about your favorite writer or media personality, it doesn’t matter which side they fall on, what would they be communicating about if they weren’t transcribing the sins of the opposition? Would their readership be as large if they suddenly started relating some of the successes of the other side? I don’t think so, Thus a cottage industry is born, and a need to keep the war raging.

One last thing, dismissing people’s concerns with a rebuke that they just don’t understand something, is not an effective strategy. Try it with your kids, let them come to you with an issue, and then you dismiss it by saying, “You don’t know what you are talking about.” or “You are too young and ill-informed to understand the subject.” Let me know how that works for you.

Yes, Critical Race Theory in its purest form is an academic exploration based on government and societal constructs taught at the university level. As such, it is probably unlikely that any fourth-grade teacher is instructing her class to turn to page 14 of their CRT handbook. In that light, making such an assertion is a bit disingenuous.

But by the same token, it is equally disingenuous to suggest that tendrils of a theory that has been taught at the university level for several decades have not crept into teachings at the lower level. School superintendents will recommend staff read the writing of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X Kendi, while not acknowledging the influence that CRT has had on their thinking. Thus we are left with both sides trying to ban important elements from an essential conversation.

When it comes to conversations around schools this is nothing new. It has long been a practice to ignore criticism raised by charter proponents about public schools as if not talking about them will translate to parents not knowing about them. News flash…parents know. And failure to openly discuss does not mean concerns just evaporate. What evaporates is parental support and as a result, student enrollment.

Yesterday the Tennessean reported that Metro Nashville Public Schools saw enrollment drop from 85,237 students in January 2020 to 80,952 students in January 2021 — a more than 5% decrease. How much of that drop do you surmise came from parents feeling their concerns, legitimate or illegitimate, were adequately addressed?

I know last year was an outlier, but if you look at trends, it is not an optimistic picture. Despite the best efforts of public school advocates, the number of families exploring alternatives to traditional offerings is only growing. Public school advocates may be winning battles, but arguably we are losing the war and definitely are lacking plans for winning the peace.

Dismissing parental concerns as being rooted in ignorance or selfish concerns, isn’t going to reverse that trend. Anybody who has read a single edition of this blog is likely to be aware of my love and admiration for author Peter Greene. Despite my fanboy status, I’ve strongly disagreed with much of his positions of late. However, his latest post today. lays the challenge we currently face bare.

Privatization? Profiteering? Vouchers? Charters? Teacher-proof classrooms? High-stakes testing?

No, these issues, in their worst forms, all have their roots in the same soil, the same fertile ground from which all rotten education fruit grows.

Amateurs.

The current flap flying under the banner of critical race theory panic is just the freshest example of people who really, truly don’t understand how schools actually work.

And he’s 100% right. Parents, legislators, and non-profits, all suffer to varying degrees from the same malady. They don’t understand how schools work, nor do they have the capacity to figure it out on their own. Therein lies the challenge, how do you help them understand how schools work? How do you elucidate and get them to reinvest?

I laugh because as the spouse of an educator, I’ve often had my theories laid to waste. Either things I thought were good, were explained in the opposite light. Or the other way around.

We can dismiss that lack of knowledge, or we can work to help them understand. Nearly a decade ago I chose the latter, and that continues to be my guiding principle despite the constant allure of the former. That’s why I constantly talk with people in the education field, from the classroom to the statehouse. All in an attempt to help those invested gain a better understanding, and to recruit other voices.

It is why I continue to produce columns. It is not out of a desire to convince but, rather one for a deeper conversation. To disagree is fine, to not engage shouldn’t be acceptable. But that’s just me.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION WHEN IT COMES TO THE COMMISSIONER AND WIT AND WISDOM

Today’s Tennessean also contains a story on the challenges that Commissioner Schwinn is facing in regard to her favored curriculum. The article gives considerable room for Schwinn to stake out an innocent bystander role when it comes to the Great Mind’s curriculum, Wit and Wisdom by leaving out several relevant facts.

There is no mention in the article of the fact that Schwinn served as the Executive Director of a California Charter School she founded – Capitol Collegiate Academy – up until her appointment as Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education. A school that she still serves as a member of the governing board.

In 2017, while Schwinn was drawing a salary as ED, CCA adopted Wit and Wisdom(Great Minds Contract copy). So as Executive Director, and board member, we are supposed to believe that Schwinn approved of the adoption sans a deep dive into the curriculum? Seems to me she’d be pretty familiar with what’s in the curriculum, no?

What about husband Paul? He currently works for and has a long history with, TNTP, the self-proclaimed experts on implementing “High-Quality Instructional Materials” with a heavy focus on Wit and Wisdom. TNTP just received an $8.5 million contract to help districts implement new materials, including Wit and Wisdom.

Also in June of 2017, Mr. Schwinn was hired as an instructional coach for CCA(Schwinn_Paul_IC role_17-18 copy), despite living in Texas at the time. I would assume that an instructional coach hired at the same time as the adoption of a new curriculum would be well versed in said curriculum, no?

To discuss the increased concerns around Wit and Wisdom, without discussing the financial relationship between the Schwinn’s and Great Minds over the years does not make for a complete conversation. Especially when you consider that without Schwinn’s direct involvement this would not be a conversation.

Wit and Wisdom did not make the original list of approved materials. It was only after, the Commissioner got involved did it become a viable option. Despite not being able to get Wit and Wisdom approved for K-2, districts were enticed to make the selection when the district took the unprecedented action of creating a supplemental foundational curriculum free for district use. Thirty-two districts took advantage of that option and applied for a waiver.

It is also worth noting, that due to the department’s over-involvement in the textbook adoption process, the waiver power was removed from the DOE and placed in the hands of the State Board of Education.

Now I’m not making any accusations, I just think that there is a whole lot more that needs to be discussed when it comes to Wit and Wisdom and the Schwinns. Will legislators take up the conversation, or will they continue to turn a deaf ear?

Time will tell.

BTW…congratulations to Capital Collegiate Academy for being the proud recipient of the California Charter School Association’s 2021 Charter School of the Year Award. Maybe there is something to that Wit and Wisdom curriculum. Maybe that should be part of the commissioners’ defense.

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

1 reply

  1. Wow – Wit and Wisdom. That’s hilarious.

    https://greatminds.org/faq

    Regarding public school flight, we won’t know for a year or two what the COVID influence was. Many families around me felt they had to jump ahead to private school to get their kids back in the classroom, and I’ve heard over and over “We were going private in 9th/7th/etc” anyway….

    What we know for absolute sure is that our district’s insistence on a “you lose in the lottery again” model is not a great way to give parents confidence.

    Until this district stops playing games with test-score screens for some public schools, auto-pathways to test-segregated schools, this district will be sending home 1000s of “you lose” letters. And families are going to head to private and charter schools where that is not the prevailing message.

    And until this district cools it with segregation itself, it will never be able to mount an effective defense to charter schools. I’ve had it with the hypocrisy of public school “advocates” who lament Great Hearts, who lament privatization, but cannot see how their own choice schemes, and long lines of losers, are alienating families.

    As case in point, I am was so saddened to read this in Gary Rubinstein’s blog:

    https://garyrubinstein.wordpress.com/2021/07/06/questions-about-the-specialized-high-school-admissions-process-from-a-specialized-high-school-teacher-part-4-is-stuyvesant-too-rigorous/

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