“Whenever two people meet, there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him, and each man as he really is.”
“Hello”, said the voice picking up the phone after just a couple rings.
My opening salvo of, “Just calling to see what it felt like to st on the right hand of Satan”, was met with a throaty laugh.
“That might be the best opening line I’ve heard in years.”
“I was just calling to check in with you.”
Thus began a recent conversation with Moms For Liberty’s local head Robin Steenam. Some of you might be surprised that I interact regularly with Robin, but you shouldn’t be, I talk to everyone. Talking to doesn’t equal endorsing, but it does mean expanding your points of reference.
I believe that talking to people that don’t just parrot everything I say and believe, makes me a more rounded person, and strengthens the things I believe in.
It’s funny we always preach the benefits of diversity but rarely do we extend ourselves to include diversity in thought.
For the record, despite what you may read about her and her organization, Robin is a real live human being with many interesting qualities. She’s former military, has children, a devoted husband, and lives a life not dissimilar from many of us.
Steenam came to activism in a similar fashion as I, she saw issues that she felt needed addressing and has tried to address them. Was her messaging always perfect? No. Are her methods palpable to everyone? No. But what do you do when you have a concern and all other avenues to raising it are closed?
Another local activist and parent that I similarly interact with, Vesia Hawkins, has concerns and views that I don’t always agree with, and at times the organizations she affiliates with use methods to be heard that I don’t embrace. But, if you talk to Hawkins, you’ll find an extremely committed and caring individual, who works tirelessly to better the lives of children in her community. Not unlike Robin Steenam.
Now, I can hear the howls of protest now, but Steenum and Hawkins are not that different. Put together in a room, devoid of politics, I’d be surprised if they didn’t find common ground. I base that premise, on my having had lengthy conversations with the two. What I don’t factor into my supposition is social media and mass media’s portrait of the two.
It’s ridiculous to expect the two to share the exact same viewpoints, they have had completely different life experiences. There is no way that both of those experiences could lead to the same conclusions. Nor mine to theirs.
But by talking to each other, we discover why people think the way they do and we gain an understanding of how those views have been shipped. maybe we become a little less divided.
Though there are a couple large influences at play here that continue to work to keep us divided.
The first is the meme that there is a war raging across the country. One that is pitting those with a desire to destroy public education and those who wish to preserve it. Let me be frank, thats bullshit that only serves to prevent us from having real and honest conversations about how best to serve kids.
Public Education is not being “destroyed”. It’s being altered. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
The conversation around public schools is not dissimilar to that around the United States Constitution. In this case, is our public school system an ever-evolving system that changes to reflect the changing times and needs of the nation’s children, or is it a static system to only seeks to preserve the existing model?
I don’t know the answer to that one, and actually believe it could be a combination of the two. Getting the right blend should be the prevailing goal for all of us.
After nearly a decade of watching all of this unfold, let me just say there is no army poised to “destroy” public education. Killing public education would be killing the proverbial cash cow.
The argument is continually put forth that there is no money in education, but that’s not an accurate portrayal. The reality is that there is a lot of cash in the system, it’s just not going to the people in the trenches. You know…the ones doing the actual work with actual students. There is something wrong with a system that is supposedly dedicated to students, yet the further away from students you get, the greater the compensation.
The average large urban superintendent commands a salary of nearly $300k, a number that would take most of us between 5 and 10 years to earn. In MNPS, Director of Schools Adrienne Battle earns just shy of $300K, at $285, while her cabinet, at $185K per, takes in just shy of a million dollars a year. Does that paint a picture of financial lack to you?
For decades now, we’ve invested in programs over people. The current math curriculum that MNPS has adopted for the next two years comes with a $3 million price tag, and that’s just one program. Calculate that commission check.
Of late, Education Foundations have been springing up like magic mushrooms from cow turds. You might think that these organizations are led by altruistic benevolent folks who only want what is best for kids, at least that’s the picture painted by their press bios, but look at the salaries they command and you wouldn’t be remiss in voicing suspicions.
- John King, Education Trust, made $531,027 in 2018. Many of you know that Acting-US Secretary of Education Ian Rosenblum previously worked for EDuTrusrt but did you know that in 2018 he cleared a salary of $216,788?
- Elisa Villanueva Beard, Teach For America, in 2017 drew an annual salary of $493,836
- Daniel Weisberg, TNTP, in 2018 received $348,779 in compensation.
- David Mansouri, SCORE CEO, and Sharon Roberts, Chief Impact Officer, pulled in $313,295 and 272,808 respectively.
- Brent Easly, TNCAN, the year before he went to work for Governor Lee cleared roughly $170K.
- Candace McQueen, NIET, didn’t take over as Executive Director until last year but in 2018 her predecessor drew a salary of $402K
- Emily Freitag, Instruction Partners, in 2018 cleared $225K, willing to bet it’s a lot higher these days.
Again, salaries are way beyond those commanded by most of us. The difference between these salaries, and those of people who actually earn their paycheck, is deliverables. Earn this money in the private sector and you have something concrete to point to as a deliverable. Can you say the same about the aforementioned salaries?
Meanwhile, the majority of teachers are making less than 50K a year.
These are just a few examples of the money flowing around education. If public education was truly in danger of being “destroyed” you can bet there would be a mass mobilization.
What there is, are people looking to get in on the cash. There are publishers looking to push their products. Consultants looking to justify their services. Administrators who see the benefits in creating schools outside the established system.
There are also groups that seek to shape public education in a way that they see fit, usually in a manner that benefits their constituency. That’s not intrinsically wrong per se, save that it usually comes at the expense of someone else. Call me jaded, but it’s been my experience that nobody cares about the whole until theirs is stabilized. That’s human nature.
Here’s where we get into the other unspoken truism, parent involvement is welcome as long as it is limited to – parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings, and volunteering. Step outside those areas and watch the push back.
We continually hear about the importance of advocating for your child, yet try being that advocate and watch how quickly you get dismissed and then vilified. Never is it a pleasant experience.
The problem here is that America has never been a “leave it to the experts” kind of country. Both to our benefit and detriment, our country’s history is littered with instances where we didn’t leave it to the experts.
As Robin and I talked, we discussed our similar experiences with the public narrative and the disconnect between reality and perception. She told of spending over an hour with a TV news crew in a conversation that both felt was revealing and engaging, only to have them air a clip that made her appear to have loved heels and a tail. (My words, not hers)
Anybody who has ever dealt with the media can attest to this experience. In an age where journalism is losing ground to activism and the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality becomes even more prevalent, this is an all-familiar story.
We are all guilty of seeing a brief video clipper reading a social media post, and making a presumptive judgment about the subject. In an age where we pay increased homage to facts, we spend considerably less time searching them out. Content to let others decide the truth for us.
It’s funny, 5 years ago, all we wanted was to raise critical thinkers, now you hear nary mention of that commitment.
Here’s the thing, critical thinkers are a pain in the ass. They make you think, and at a time of hyper-uncertainty, we want to cling to perceived certainties like Meryl Streep to an Oscar. Critical thinkers make that tough because everything becomes fair game, and that is never comfortable.
Robin and I talked about reports of Moms For Liberty being flush with cash from the Koch Brothers. I laughed and told her about when we started TREE and everybody was convinced that we were receiving cash windfalls from the teacher’s union. Meanwhile, we had like $37 in the bank account. Not all that glitters is gold.
We wrapped up the conversation with some talk about the actions of the TNDOE, an area in which we mostly agree, and wished each other’s families a wonderful holiday.
My point in relaying this is not to garner sympathies for Robin and her organization, but rather to illustrate the need to talk to people.
That’s my Thanksgiving message. Never lose sight that people are both simple and complex. We all want the basic necessities for ourselves and our offspring, how we get there is a more complex process. One that is only abetted by talking to each other.
As we enter this holiday season, let’s try to find the common humanity in each of us instead of trying to dehumanize those whose ideas we stand in opposition of.
There is not a single problem that has ever been solved by two people just yelling at each other. Think about your convictions, can you imagine a scenario where you would completely abandon your beliefs in favor of the opposition? I doubt it, but we expect our opponents do so.
I’m willing to bet though, that through the years through conversation and experience, you’ve modified your beliefs and suppositions.
People often tell me, “I enjoy reading you. I don’t always agree with you, but I do enjoy.”
Little do they realize that they have just paid me the biggest compliment. I’m not here to deliver universal truths, but rather to facilitate a conversation in order to produce deeper and broader universal truths.
The governor’s BEP carnival created to purportedly revise the state’s school funding formula continues to roll forward. The Northwest Region Public Town Hall at Gibson County High School will be held tonight at 5:30 p.m.The latest in a series being staged throughout the state.
You can watch the town halls through links provided by the TNDOE. As I watch them, I come away with two main takeaways – people are more concerned about the level of funding than they are with the model of delivery and the huge disparity of student needs and experiences across the state.
One thing that concerns me about the push towards a student-based budgeting process is that we will be assigning a dollar figure to individual students. As we employ a relentless pursuit of equity we will be sending a message that certain students are worth more than other students. We need to be careful there.
The most honest assessment of the move to change the BEP formula was delivered by Rep. Scott Cepicky at a recent TSBA forum. Cepicky told the state’s school board members that one of two things were going to happen, either the bill was already written and the Governor was going to force-feed it to the public, or it wasn’t and nothing would get passed.
That’s a remarkably candid assessment from the state representative, and I for one am appreciative of his candor. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
DOES HE EVEN CARE
I have become more and more convinced that Governor Lee has no interest in governing in a manner that is constitutionally and legally sound. As evidence, I offer his continued introduction of orders and legislation that are pre-destined to be settled in court.
Case in point, his recent signing of COVID legislation that his own advisors advised was illegal. Yet, he signed it and the bill’s fate is now in the hands of the courts.
The latest round comes from Friday’s announcement of penalties related to recent legislation passed to control the teaching of race and sex in the classroom. The penalties by all accounts are substantial and surely headed to litigation, where I doubt they’ll stand up.
This is troublesome to the average citizen, but what’s the downside for Lee? None that I see. He doesn’t have to enact legislation he disagrees with, and he has a scapegoat in the form of the courts to blame for this legislation his constituents favor not being enforced. It’s basically a win/win for the Governor.
An expensive strategy for the Tennessee taxpayer, but it’s not like the state doesn’t have the money.
There is a bit of delicious irony in all of this as evidenced by a paragraph in ChalkbeatTN,
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn signed off recently on emergency rules for regulating the teaching of prohibited topics under a law enacted this spring amid national fury from conservatives about critical race theory, an academic framework that examines how policies and laws may perpetuate systemic racism.
Here you have alumni of Teach for America signing off and endorsing penalties for a law that runs counter to the purported values of said organization. Hmmm…one of them is being a little disingenuous.
I told you I’d be sharing actual writings from MNPS teachers, and here’s the latest, but hopefully, not the last installment,
Each teacher on my team has generously signed up for 16-17 days of late duty. This is just for my team.Nobody asked us to create a rotation or chart, but this helps us to prepare for how many days we will be late. Also, many people on my team teach EL Club after school or tutoring. So, it’s unfair for others to do all the late days when other teachers are actually getting compensated for other things.Every single grade level looks similar. And, I would say this is common and necessary for all Elementary Schools. This is not something new this year or at this school. But, this year the “late” duty has been extended because the car rider line is longer, and the buses are running later.We *may* have 3-4 office staff at dismissal duty. One is manning the phones, and one is watching the doors and helping people (parents) that may be coming in. One is calling buses or car riders via the intercom, etc. So, it’s not as if they are not “working” through dismissal. It seems impossible for any of them to leave those duties at 3:15 to cover all of ours.I just think we have to be compensated for this time or executive directors need to logistically help all principals make a plan for all teaching staff to actually leave their duty at 3:15.
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.
Two recollections from my experiences as the president of a striking local teachers union almost twenty years ago.
Sometimes locals let the state coms guy handle interviews, but our state guy let me do them because I was a local face and I gave good sound bites. The secrets of giving good sound bites are 1) understand that the reporter, no matter how kind and sincere and engaged they may be, is there to get a sound bite, not a deeper understanding of what you’re doing and 2) figure out how to boil your message down to a sound bite, say that, and then shut up. It’s hard to master.
Our strike was pretty cantankerous (at one point the board’s chief negotiator said “Sure we have the money. We just don’t want to give it to them.), but throughout the board president and I met for breakfast once a week or so, mostly to remind ourselves that there were real humans on the other side of the negotiations. On more than one occasion we shared our struggles with the fact that you can choose your enemies, but you can’t choose your friends. There have been several times when some M4L foot soldier offers some whackadoo complaint and I imagine one of the leaders mentally smacking her forehead thinking “Oh, for crying out loud.”
I love this