HOW DO WE CHOOSE?

“Sometimes, because we use the same words, we assume we mean the same thing”
Ahdaf Soueif, The Map of Love

 

I continue to read extensively about America’s ongoing battle with history – the stories we tell and how we tell them. As I read these stories, I play them against the backdrop of our oft-voiced desire to teach children the ability to think critically.

As I read the arguments for what to leave in, and what to leave out, I’m struck by how both sides wrap themselves in the flags of truth. Presenting themselves as being devoid of an agenda. As if history lived in a vacuum, sans any other perspective and unhinged from time.

We act as if history is merely a collection of facts while pretending what is consider virtuous today, was always considered virtuous. We grasp Maslow’s as it relates to the individual but fail to take it into account with societies. in doing so we neglect to consider that those living in the past were subject to the rules and mores of their times, not those of the present.

The past was often brutal, and survival didn’t leave much room for reflection or error. People skills were developed in response to those times, not as means to navigate the future. We are blessed in some ways that their survival has led us to a place where we can more deeply consider the world we want to live in.

Obviously, when you are discussing past events like the Holocaust and slavery, you are discussing events and institutions rooted in evil, And as such are indefensible. But the roots and causes, are not always as clear cut. And oftentimes a virtue can be turned into sin with just a click. As a parent. I was forced to confront this early on.

Building reliance in my children was an early goal. I drilled into them the importance of when faced with a failure, trying again. When you fall off the proverbial horse, get right back upon it. I was filled with pride when they took that lesson to heart. Exhibiting a willingness to quickly get back up when falling down. Till one day I saw the flip side.

My youngest had extended himself by climbing higher than he should have. Predictably he slipped and fell. Miraculously he emerged from the fall unscathed. I breathed a sigh of relief, only to watch in horror as he proceeded to climb right back up to his previously precarious position.

“Whoa, whoa,” I cautioned, “What are you doing? You are just lucky that you didn’t get hurt a minute ago.”

Earnestly he looked back at me and said, “But you always said that if you fall, you have to get right back up again. Was that not true?”

That’s when it hit me, this parenting thing was going to be a lot more difficult than I thought.

The same holds true with history, and the narratives we create to build the myths that define our society. And yes, those narratives define our world.

Indeed, George Washington never chopped down a cherry tree, but we are a society that honors honesty, and perhaps that over simplified tale worked to reinforce that belief. Even if by nature it is contradictory because it never happened.

Many argue against the myth of Santa Claus and the fictional creation of a man who magically travels the world delivering toys to children on Christmas Day. A holiday not recognized by all. Yes, there are issues with that myth, but even bigger to me is the creation of a world devoid of any kind of magic. Where everything can be explained by science and fact, a world where nothing is left to chance or where things live just outside the realm of the known. A place where there is no room for faith. That to me is an unattractive place.

When it comes to people, who history remembers, and who it forgets, is often left to those in power and the narrative they wish to perpetuate. Thus the selection of who gets promoted and who is pushed to the side often feels arbitrary. Is Sitting Bull any greater a figure than Red Cloud? Most of us are familiar with Martin Luther King, but how many are equally versed in the works of Benjamin Hooks? How many people remember Tip O’Neil? All great Americans with virtues worthy of celebration, yet some are elevated over others.

This past weekend high school principal Ryan Jackson made a strong case for Civil War General George Henry Thomas as an American hero. Thomas, a native of Virginia, is considered by many historians as one of the premier generals of the Civil War era, second only to Sherman and Grant. He served his country at a great personal sacrifice. His family was staunch supporters of the Confederacy, they never forgave him for supporting the North. So much so that when he died, none attended his funeral.

His work during Reconstruction was every bit as memorable as that delivered on the battlefield. In 1868 he himself cautioned against efforts to rewrite history,

T]he greatest efforts made by the defeated insurgents since the close of the war have been to promulgate the idea that the cause of liberty, justice, humanity, equality, and all the calendar of the virtues of freedom, suffered violence and wrong when the effort for southern independence failed. This is, of course, intended as a species of political cant, whereby the crime of treason might be covered with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand in hand with the defenders of the government, thus wiping out with their own hands their own stains; a species of self-forgiveness amazing in its effrontery, when it is considered that life and property—justly forfeited by the laws of the country, of war, and of nations, through the magnanimity of the government and people—was not exacted from them.

I’d be willing to bet that a Vinn diagram depicting those who are aware of both the Tulsa massacre and the life of General George Henry Thomas would produce a very slim slice. I would argue that awareness of both is equally important to the narrative of defining who we want to be as a country. It shouldn’t be an either/or situation. We should be horrified by the events of Tulsa, yet inspired that there are men like Thomas capable of seeing past the present to envision a more just future.

We need to celebrate those who were able to see past their time and plant seeds for the future, whoever they may be.

We can’t move forward solely through the revulsion of the past. There have to be actions and people, that we can all embrace and recognize as being integral towards driving us towards a better place. An honest look at history shows that those people come from all races, religions, and creeds. That’s the promise of America. That’s the promise we can’t forget, yet we are in danger of doing so.

LAST ONE OUT

This month the last hire by former MNPS Director Dr. Shawn Joseph will leave the district. After five years of service, Dr. Karen DeSouza-Gallman will take her talents elsewhere, reportedly with the Center for Education Leadership.

During her tenure with MNPS, Gallman was one of the more polarizing of Dr. Joseph’s hires. Despite a lack of experience and knowledge, she was among the highest-paid employees in the district. Her hands-on style of management contributed to the departure of more than one principal she oversaw. This is ironic because her area of expertise is advertised as being in leadership management, where retention should always be a primary concern.

During his first year with MNPS, Dr. Joseph created a program with Trevecca University that allowed select members of his administration to secure a doctorate with MNPS picking up half of this tuition. There was no requirement for beneficiaries to remain with the district after securing their doctorate. Gallman utilized this program to earn her title.

Two years ago, MNPS established an initiative centered around the Inquiry Cycle. Since Gallman was already on the payroll and it was reportedly part of her dissertation, she was empowered to lead the work. That was then, and this is now, so barely a word is uttered about the fantastical plans these days. In all fairness, the process itself makes sense, but I’m not sure it needed the level of resources devoted. This initiative did provide Dr. Gallman ample opportunity to travel the country and present her work on the inquiry cycle to fellow educators.

Good news for Dr. Gallman, having lasted 5 years, she is now vested in the state’s educator retirement system. All in all, it’s been a profitable foray south for the lifelong Maryland resident.

I can’t help but take this opportunity to reflect on what I was told about the tenure of Pedro Garcia as MNPS Director of Schools and his impact on the district. Reportedly, it took nearly a decade to get all of Garcia’s hires out of the district. In the case of Joseph, it’s only taken 3 years. Draw whatever conclusion you like.

COMMENTS

Sometimes I get comments that warrant being brought forth into the main post. Such was the case last week.

It’s really preposterous that you claim W&W is Schwinn’s “favored curriculum.” It’s not. The Commissioner of Education does not have the right under current law to reject curriculum based on content, only based on standards. And if a school has a plan to address shortcomings in the standards with a certain curriculum, the commissioner approves the waiver, just as it’s been done by past commissioners. W&W is the favored curriculum for many school systems in the state who applied for waivers to use it in K-2. Some did so over financial concerns. Some just did it. But that’s the decision of the local boards of education to make as they are responsible for determining what’s appropriate for their kids. Grades 3-8 W&W curriculum met TN standards according to the Textbook Commission under the auspices of the Tennessee State Board of Education, the policy setting wing of education (not the TN Department of Ed.). You really need to understand civics before blasting someone for not doing their job to enforce a law that was passed in the summer while school was not in session.

Your suggestion that a central authority should regulate this amounts to the kind of liberalism you rail against. You want a STRONGER state government and a WEAKER local government? How about a stronger federal government and a weaker state government? Local control of local matters is a conservative principle. Odd you’re advocating for a weaker local government and a stronger state authority. I oppose CRT, but I think our LOCAL SCHOOL BOARDS ELECTED BY WE, THE PEOPLE, should make the determination about what’s “appropriate” for the kids, not an unelected state appointee.

Apparently, this is the first post that the author has read. To set the record straight, I’m a staunch supporter of local control. That’s why I’ve devoted as much time to the curriculum adoption process as I have. The way the process was manipulated for ELA materials, might have given the appearance of being in the hands of local districts, but much of that power was taken away by the actions of the TNDOE. If I tell you to choose a soda, and I limit the options to Coke and Pepsi, odds are you are choosing cola despite your desire to have a lemon-lime soda.

Let’s be clear, there were 32 LEA’s that applied for a waiver to Wit and Wisdom. Roughly 20% of the LEA’s in the state. In reading the actual waivers, it becomes apparent that a major component of these applications was based on the TNDOE creating free foundational skills supplement for districts. Had Wit and Wisdom been able to meet the requirements of the state’s approved materials list, that need arguably wouldn’t have existed.

I wonder what part of conservative core values includes government entities entering into competition with private companies. Thanks to the efforts of Commissioner Schwinn, the TNDOE entered into the curriculum and materials business. That’s unprecedented.

The author is correct when they state that it is the Board of Education and not the DOE, which is the policy-setting wing for education in Tennessee. That’s something that legislators attempted to strengthen by removing waiver powers from the DOE last year.

Unfortunately, it’s a role that the Board of Education has loathed to embrace. Too often, instead of creating or interpreting policy independently, they choose to parrot the DOE. Partially it’s out of being under-resourced, but it’s also partially out of…quite frankly… laziness.

Furthermore, it’s worth pointing out that their Director of Legislative and External Affairs Nathan James has a history of cozy relations with the state’s non-profits asserting undue influence on Tennessee’s education policy. When he’s not deferring to the DOE, he’s deferring to them. The Board’s Executive Director, Sara Morrison, is well-liked and respected, but behind the scenes, legislators have expressed a desire for a more independent state board of education.

If you are looking for an example of the board deferring to others, look no further than Commissioner Schwinn’s recent inclusion of mental health testing as a requirement for the state’s required universal screener. Nowhere in legislation, nor board policy is that requirement laid out, yet the state is awarding a potential $12 million sole-sourced contract based on its inclusion.

Tell me again who needs a civics lesson and who’s writing policy?

QUICK HITS

Buckle up, this week’s MNPS School Board meeting promises to be a doozy. On the agenda is the re-application by two Nashville charter schools. The one for Nashville Classical should prove interesting. Board member Abigail Tylor has already voiced her opinion.

The agenda for our Tuesday meeting was just updated to include the information from the Charter Review Team about Nashville Classical’s application. The Review Team clearly states that none of the concerns from their original application have changed. However, they changed their rating because the team “acknowledges that NCCS II reported that they engaged with a variety of stakeholders to address the enrollment concerns and provided letters of support from stakeholders including council members, business leaders, and nonprofit leaders to support their new location.”
Several things are immediately clear: All of the original concerns from the review team still exist – nowhere in the amended application could NCCS II convince the team those concerns aren’t valid. But because of letters from powerful people, the review team decided to change its rating. Additionally, and tellingly, nowhere in their ‘engagement of a variety of stakeholders’ do they show any interest from the *actual families* who live in District 9.
Why is Nashville Classical so insistent on opening a location in an area of town that cannot support it and whose families have not asked for it? Who is Nashville Classical really trying to help?
If they want to help families who are economically disadvantaged/at risk, then opening in the district with the lowest economically disadvantaged percentage of students in all of MNPS should not be the location they choose. If they want to help families who are unhappy with the performance of their zoned elementary school, then District 9 should not be the location they choose. Additionally, District 9 serves the second smallest number of students in MNPS. None of our elementary schools are at capacity; NCCS II would not alleviate overcrowding issues because there aren’t any. The Reimagined Plan that moves 5th grade to elementary addresses any potential overcrowding issues in the future, so NCCS II wouldn’t help with future overcrowding issues, either.
I’m struggling to see how District 9 will benefit from adding a charter school when it doesn’t have the need or interest from families.
Nashville Classical is one of the city’s more successful and politically connected charter schools, so they’ll bring some muscle to the table. The school has indicated a desire to recruit out of the West Nashville area, one that is home to arguably some of the district’s most successful schools, so the argument against necessity is a valid one. This will definitely bear watching.
To avoid talking about anything that actually transpires in schools, this week’s school board agenda offers no insight into whether or not there will be any discussion on the MNPS’s mask protocol for the upcoming school year. Kind of important don’t you think?
Some community members have advocated for the decision to be a school-based one, left to the discretion of the principal. An absolutely horrible idea, and one rife with potential problems, in my estimation. That said, I wouldn’t be shocked if it’s the strategy chosen by Dr. Battle and her team.
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.

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Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. When is MNPS Board member John Little going to resign? He cannot live in two places and he has clearly lived with his family in his new house in North Nashville since March. This is a violation of the Metro Charter and opens up a potential can of worms for any future elected official. He has done nothing for the McGavock Cluster. His passion is clearly for students from North Nashville and always has been. That leave the McGavock cluster unrepresented.

    I love his story of success and congratulate him on his new marriage, new baby, and new house, but he has clearly chosen to live outside the boundaries of area he was elected to represent. The city should not have to pay legal fees to get him to follow the Charter. Time for Metro Council to appoint someone who lives in that school board district.

  2. http://www.nashvilleclassical.org/our-model

    Tuesday will be a good juncture to see if our Board finally embraces the idea of teaching every child.

    Hopefully they will close all the charters and magnets with one stroke of the pen Tuesday, and we can then Wednesday finally get behind all our kids, at all our integrated schools.

  3. an investigation into the meharry contract – finally some questions being asked:
    https://fox17.com/news/local/metro-nashville-public-schools-18-million-no-bid-contract-taxes-politics-economy-meharry-medical-college

    speaking of joseph – his last hire is thankfully out the door, but is he still hanging around town while the Tribune writes puff pieces?

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