“After all, the purpose of learning isn’t to affirm our beliefs; it’s to evolve our beliefs.”
― Think again: the power of knowing what you don’t know
Since the dawn of time, society has been shaped by two opposing core tenets that have been in continual conflict. We like to think that we’ve evolved to a point of bearing little resemblance to our forefathers, but the reality is that we are still shaped by the same underlying conflict that caveman faced.
You either view man as basically flawed and incapable of doing the right thing without society’s influence, or you believe in the innate goodness of man and that given the opportunity they will almost always choose to do the right thing. That’s all human conflicts reduced to their core element.
Books have been written about it. Governments are constructed on these views, as are traditions and societal norms. We all consciously, or unconsciously, fall into one camp or the other. This isn’t like the Beatles or the Stones argument where you can claim to be a little of both. Where you sit is revealed through the things you say or do, And we are all either one or the other.
Here’s the thing about core tenets, they shape of who we are and how we navigate the world. Understand those tenets, and we understand each other a little better.
We all like those personality inventories that assign us individual charities, I’m an SMPI or an SGFE. We add them to email communication in an attempt to facilitate conversation. An effort met with varying degrees of success. The two core tenets are no different.
I’m not arguing the superiority of one over the other, though unapologetically I fall into the latter camp, Recognizing, and understanding where people fall is essential to facilitating communication and creating strategies in a manner that can benefit us all.
This week served as a prime example of what I am talking about, as the week started with Governor Lee issuing Executive Order 84, giving parents the right to opt their child out of any district enacted mask mandate. The state’s two largest urban districts responded by politely refusing to follow the executive order and standing by their original mandates. The conflicting orders promptly opened up the floodgates of rhetoric.
The Tennesseean’s Editorial Editor David Plaza – always on stand by to unfurl his flag of moral superiority – quickly put pen to paper in praise of the two superintendents. Describing them as “heroes” risking their very careers in service to their respective city’s children.
Battle and other school superintendents across the Volunteer State and in other states including Florida and Texas are being the Davids to their governors’ Goliaths by defying executive orders to loosen or eliminate mask mandates in public schools.
It didn’t take long for Tennessee’s Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge to weigh in as well,
“The Governor and the General Assembly cannot and will not allow lawful orders to be defied. If these systems persist in resisting the order, we will have no choice but to exercise other remedial options.”
Into the breach rushed a thousand other voices all carrying their own self-proclaimed moral weight.
My position is that the wearing of masks may not be a perfect defense against COVID, and you don’t have to be an anti-masker to acknowledge the inconsistencies of adherence that run across its implementation and enforcement, but they offer significant protections and work towards the goal of what should be primary for all of us, keeping kids safe and in school.
I would argue that this has been another incidence, in a long litany of instances, where we could have recognized and honored the relationships between students and their teachers, but chose not to. Compliance is a big part of modern schooling and I find it difficult to believe that the majority of students when faced with a request of, “Please put on a mask”, would have been defiant. I firmly believe all but a small number would have complied with the request. If I was putting my money anywhere, I would put it on the skills and relationships of educators as opposed to that of a central authority. But I’m just wired that way.
Arguing this point though is moot, the collective body has elected to employ a different strategy, and therefore we have to figure out how to navigate that, focusing on what is as opposed to what could have been.
I think we can all agree that that incendiary rhetoric from either side won’t be beneficial to those we are trying to protect. In other words, challenging the Governor by publically declaring the next move his, or threatening to bring a special session to punish people that are just trying to protect students and teachers, shouldn’t be viewed as legitimate behavioral options.
Luckily as the week wore on, cooler heads seemed to prevail. MNPS school board members refused to engage in any verbal jousting with the opposition, instead choosing to focus on the two most elements of the debate – children’s safety and local control. Conversations around different variations of masks, and the possible implications of long-term mask usage were taking place behind the scenes, including the potential procurement of a clear mask that would allow for a viewing of full facial features while offering protection against the virus. An essential element for elementary school teachers teaching young kids to read.
The Governor himself showed restraint when publically responding to a letter from the USDOE warning that his executive order may be in violation of federal civil rights laws. Given the popularity of President Biden in Red State Tennessee, he could have used the moment as an opportunity to score points with the base, instead, he chose to simply say, “Parents know better than the government what’s best for their children.” It was not the answer that his opposition wanted, but it was a temperate one. And for that. I’ll give him some credit.
For his part, the primary voice in calling for a special session, House leader Cameron Sexton, has simply offered that the House still stands ready to convene a Special Session if deemed necessary, leaving most of the fire and brimstone at home. Again, not the response the opposition wants to hear but welcome temperance.
Where do we go from here? In my opinion, the mask mandates in the two urban districts will remain in place and other districts will join in as necessitated by growing COVID numbers. Already we are seeing individual schools have to shutter their doors temporarily due to illness rates. There is little reason to believe these instances won’t increase. Republicans would be foolish to put children at risk at a time when the depth of that risk is unknown.
By the same token, it’s imperative that district leaders act in a manner that keeps the focus on child safety and doesn’t stray into the realm of being viewed as political. Admittedly a task akin to threading a camel through the eye of a needle, but one that is essential if any future retribution is to be mitigated.
Missing from the entire conversation this week, despite the USDOE letter being co-addressed to her, is the voice of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. Likely because there is no clear way to spin current events to her benefit.
Over the last year if you were playing dink-local control – taking a shot every time she avowed commitment to local control – you’d be hammered most days. Yet at a time when her voice might prove valuable to the conversation, she is strangely silent. If she were to speak out in defense of the Superintendents she so often offers praise of…now that would be something worth Plaza proclaiming as heroic.
On a related point, if you are posting social media arguments that attempt to shame or embarrass Governor Lee into behavior that you endorse, you are pissing in the proverbial wind. Your advice did not get him elected and thus, you’re just adding to the noise. In fact, depending on who you are, you run the risk of acerbating an already delicate situation. Knowing when to fight, and who to fight, is every bit as important as engaging in the fight. It’s important that in fighting for something, you don’t inadvertently worsen the situation.
I always preach, beware the well-intentioned man.
While I’m fairly certain that mask mandates will remain in place, I doubt battle lines between the two camps will fade anytime soon. That is to the detriment of all of us. While pandemic survival is certainly essential, it shouldn’t be the sole consideration. If we are hamstringing the world that kids will inherit through our blind quest for survival, will we truly have done right by them?
Again, we need to meet short-term goals while keeping an eye on long-term implications.
The start of this school year comes with a historic pay raise for MNPS teachers, though there seem to be some questions around just when it kicked in. The latest paychecks have seen PD days, room set-ups, and varying insurance deductibles affect the net amount, leading to some confusion.
In this light, I would advise that Metro teachers log into Kronos and verify that their compensation is correct. While the vast majority of paychecks are right, there are several instances that have required correction. Some stretching over a time period going back several years. While MNPS is very willing to correct these errors, they don’t have the capacity to search them all out.
Any time you have an organization as large as MNPS. you are going to have administration challenges. So do yourself a favor and double-check Kronos.
HIGHLIGHTING INDIVIDUAL SCHOOLS
The MNPS communications department has unveiled a new campaign aimed at promoting individual schools throughout the district. As part of the Celebration of Schools initiative MNPS will be telling the story of a different district school every day. In their words,
They’re the places where superstars got their start. They’ve taught and trained and cared for hundreds of thousands of young people, building foundations for success year after year. And they’ve brought neighborhoods and communities together from one generation to another.
The celebration kicked off Monday with Chadwell Elementary, and continues through the 2021-22 school year, celebrating MNPS’s schools on mnps.org and across the MNPS social media channels with history, fun facts, and photos. You’ll find the stories on the Celebration page. I anticipate these stories as a much-needed counter to the dire news we all have been continually confronted with.
SO WHAT”S THE BENEFIT?
Last year’s Special Session by the Tennessee General Assembly codified several proposed remedies to counteract the effects of the pandemic on the state’s children. These remedies include summer school, high dosage tutoring, and after-school camps. In an effort to ensure that these were the right strategies, legislators included a requirement that all students be assessed at the being of any program and at the end in order to evaluate program effectiveness.
This summer, a record number of summer schools were held across the state to offer students the first shot at remediation and acceleration – their words, not mine. So what was the impact of these summer school sessions? Did students make meaningful progress? Did we utilize the right instructional models?
It would seem that these are important questions that require timely answers as we head into offering after-school options and high-dosage tutoring. The federal money won’t be here in two years so I would argue that it’s imperative that we ensure that we are applying resources in a prudent manner. So I sent a request to MNPS to see the results of the assessment administrated in association with summer school.
Here’s the response I received,
MNPS has not received their results for these assessments and we do not have a timetable of when they might be available.
This warrants asking the question, was it the intent of the General Assembly to create another assessment whose results arrive too late to actually shape instruction?
A BITTERSWEET DEPARTURE
This week marks the final days of National Superintendent of Schools finalist Brian Johnson as head of Hamilton County Schools. Under his leadership, HCS has made impressive strides. His departure is not just a loss for Chattanooga’s children, but for the education world as well. Nakia Townes steps into his role on an interim basis. It’ll be interesting to see where the district goes from here. In the years prior to Johnson, HCS was, as one state education leader describes, a hot mess. Hopefully, history doesn’t repeat itself. Thanks for the leadership, Dr. Johnson.
August is the month in which I engage in my annual fundraising pitch. While undertaking this blog was my choice, it’s grown past expectations. It takes a lot of work and resources in order to keep up with it. That’s where I need your help.
This year I began sharing posts via email through Substack. It has been a new foray for me and has helped to increase coverage. I offer both free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Still a work in progress.
If you don’t wish to subscribe but would like to join the rank of donors, you can 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.
Leave a Reply