A Man, and a Woman, Out Of Time

“Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”
—George Carlin
I got a confession to make. The older I get the more I struggle to find a place for myself in a world that has undergone a rapid metamorphic change. The morals and beliefs I grew up with seem to become more and more irrelevant each day. It’s no longer enough to be kind, honest, and hard-working. These days you have to be the right kind of honest and kind to the right kind of people.
Last night, as I fell asleep, I listened to a comedian on Netflix do a bit on how we used to mind our own business. That’s how far we’ve come, the simple act of respecting each other’s privacy is now viewed as archaic and fodder for a comedic bit. Yea…I’m that old guy silently screaming get off my lawn. And if you understand that reference, you are probably right there with me.
Nothing makes me more acutely aware of my slide in relevance than parenting. I’m an older parent, raising children in a world that is no longer aligned with the one I came of age in. Some of that is good, kids today are more attuned and self-aware than we ever were, or in some cases, are. They’ve been forced to deal with and adapt to situations that would have never come across my plate as a child, and do it with aplomb. Despite being constantly bombarded by social media and the promotion of instant gratification, turning things like privacy and context into relics of a past age.
An argument could be made that kids today are smarter than past generations, but I would argue that we are conflating smartness with wisdom, and that is a mistake. You can be very intelligent at a young age, but wisdom only comes with experience and there are no shortcuts to its acquisition. Experience provides context to knowledge, without that context, knowledge exists only in theory. Treating kids as if the two are interchangeable does everyone a disservice.
Since the day my children were born, I’ve struggled with the inherent hypocrisy embedded in parenthood. All of us are imperfect creatures, yet we feel completely justified in imposing standards on children that we can’t live up to ourselves. In pursuit of these standards, we often address children in a manner that if anybody ever talked to us like that, we’d pop them in the mouth. Yet, when they rebel, we seem mystified by their disrespectful and insolent behavior.
Nowhere is that hypocrisy more apparent than in the ways we treat our young men. My daughter is celebrated for her outspokenness and ability to advocate for herself. Whereas in my son, the same traits are viewed as disrespectful and disruptive.
She is encouraged to speak her mind and her feelings are regularly validated. He on the other hand is encouraged to shut his mouth and follow orders.
How as a parent do I reconcile these two opposing views?
I don’t have an answer. The other night a fellow parent told me, “Sometimes they just have to learn to shut their mouth. It’s a hard lesson, but an important one.”
While I don’t disagree with that sentiment, would I deliver the same message to my daughter?
.
These kinds of issues often leave me feeling unmoored and ill-equipped to raise children in this day and age. Maybe younger parents have a better handle on it. Sometimes they seem to, but then I’m reminded of an old AA saying, “Don’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides.”
Something that might be worth considering though, is how much my feelings are also reflected in the growing parental movement. Here’s another confession for you, I rarely feel welcome at my kid’s school, and seldom feel as if my thoughts are taken into account.  When I raise questions or concerns, I am often treated as an uninformed interloper, despite over a decade of studying and following education policy.
Maybe that’s intentional. Maybe slowly sliding the parent out of the equation is to create self-reliance. Maybe schools just don’t have time to be inclusive to those who don’t attend classes.
I am not leveling accusations, just making observations. I freely acknowledge that it could be just me. Maybe I make myself unwelcome, not out of the realm of possibility.
Whether it’s an intention or non-intentional doesn’t change the outcome. Whatever the reason, if I feel like this, think about how those who have never had a peek behind the curtain feel. Maybe instead of acting out of ill intentions, parents are acting out of fear and discomfort.
The longer I observe public education policies, the more it feels like they are designed to protect those at the top of the hierarchy and the system itself, often at the expense of teachers, students, and families.
Let’s be honest, teachers themselves often remain unseen and unrecognized by the system. So how is it that those who are themselves unseen, are expected to see others?
I’m sure that district leaders will leap to defend themselves by pointing to surveys, callouts, opportunities to volunteer, and PTOs, as evidence to the contrary. But are any of those rooted in authentic partnerships? That’s the fallacy trap many fall into, just because you are talking doesn’t mean you are communicating.
It is easier to create bogeymen, and vilify them, than it is to try to understand people and make them feel as if they are part of the process. One can be done in a couple minutes, but the latter takes extensive work.
Several years ago when Social Emotional Learning first established a toehold, I asked every educator I could, “How do you handle it when the SEL lessons taught at school conflict with those at home?”
No one could provide an answer except for Matthew Portel who was a principal in MNPS at the time. His answer was, “With lots of communication.”
Call me when we start that communication.
The Schwinning Blues
As previously noted, over the last 3 months, Tennessee resident Penny Schwinn has been largely absent from the state. Prior to her withdrawal from view, she was a fixture on social media, her presence feeling almost ubiquitous. Not so much anymore.
After a little research, it’s become safe to say, if it felt like Commissioner Schwinn wasn’t around, it was because she wasn’t around. A look at her travel expenses reveals that if you were a resident of Austin, Arlington, Boston, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, or Washington D.C.. you had better odds of seeing her than if you lived in Tennessee.
I know, there were the odd sightings of her driving around Green Hills mid-day, or in attendance at a cocktail party this past week, but for the most part, she’s been MIA.
This past week, the Governor came to visit the Tennessee Department of Education. Pictures posted to social media show nothing but the back of Dr. Schwinn’s head and a cast of TDOE employees who are unfamiliar to me.
It seems a visit from the Governor would be a prime opportunity to post a picture of the Governor and the Commissioner of Education addressing the troops side by side. Maybe even include a picture of the newly elevated Deputy Commissioner Eve Carney.
What? You didn’t know there was a new Deputy Commissioner? Clearly, you don’t read the Chiefs for Change press releases, because it is right there in the newest missive announcing Carney and Hamilton County’s Deputy Superintendent Sonia Stewart as newly minted Future Chiefs. Which in itself is a big deal, since the last 3 Tennessee Education Commissions have been Chiefs for Change members.
But I digress,
If this picture comes from a gathering of literacy experts, like captioned, where is Chief of Academics Lisa Coons? I bet that there is more than one district superintendent capable of answering that questions. After all, in the midst of a math materials adoption period, someone has to be out there twisting arms and…I mean offering adoption guidance to district leaders.
All of this is fueling further speculation on the future employment of Penny Schwinn. Word on the street is that she is actively beating the bushes seeking a new gig. Literally spinning the Rolodex in search of someone willing to help with the search. The problem is, there are few takers and time is running out. It might be time to switch to plan B.
Plan B entails Governor Lee announcing that she is leaving in the coming months and expressing the state’s eternal debt and gratitude for her services. That would officially put the word out and may spark some interest. Or, she may have to resign herself to going back to Cali – cue the LL Cool J – and resuming a leadership role at her charter school.
Now, this week Governor Lee announced that In-and-Out Burgers are coming to Tennessee. As a native Californian already living here, Schwinn might be a great regional manager. Just an idea. Or maybe that was the deal made with In-and-Out to get her here – we’ll give you one education disruptor in exchange for a sack of burgers, fries, and a 6-pack of shakes.
Here’s another facet of this, when you become a Future Chief, the organization appoints you a mentor. That mentor guides you into making the right decisions while serving as a gatekeeper for access. Access that comes at a cost to those wishing to meet with the Future Chief. So the question becomes, now that I’ve bought a 2023 Porsche, do I really need to keep the 2017 model in the garage?
With Carney and Stewart on the payroll, do they really need Schwinn and former HCS head Bryan Johnson?
I do think it’s worth noting the tremendous amount of success that Sonia Stewart has experienced since leaving MNPS. After spending the last year of her tenure in Nashville stuck in Dr. Battle’s dog house, she’s since eclipsed her former boss in just a couple years. I may not be a fan of the Chiefs for Change, but Stewart obviously has some skills that were underappreciated and underutilized by MNPS. I have little doubt that she’ll be taking up the mantle of leadership with a school district very soon.
School Board Blues
MNPS had a board meeting this past week and with it came a new interpretation of public participation rules. As shared by the Nashville Scene, “Board Chair Rachael Elrod hasn’t changed the policy itself, she is enforcing it differently than the last chair and will allow folks to speak only about agenda items — though they will be able to comment at both of each month’s two meetings, unlike before.”
Considering that over the last 2 years, most board business has been shuffled to committee meetings and only brought back to the floor for a vote of approval, this is a pretty big deal.
The interpretation puts further restrictions on those wishing to avail themselves of the option for public commentary. The agenda for an upcoming board meeting is released the Friday before the upcoming meeting. Those willing to participate must peruse the agenda waiting for an opportunity to voice their concern. Meetings only take place twice a month, so they face an extended wait.
Once they verify that their concern is on the agenda, they only have 4 days to resolve potential work, childcare, or other scheduling conflicts in order to speak. For an entity that likes to spend a whole lot of time talking about barriers, they seem to have no problem erecting a few of their own.
As pointed out by commenter, Jeremiah Wooten, “I think when you restrict people’s public comments at meetings to only items on the agenda and direct them to email you instead, you’re really limiting the ‘public’ part of public participation.”
Public participation is one of the few ways in which constituents can hold public officials accountable. Preserving it should be a non-sequitur.
This move once again makes me think of the old adage, this would be a great place to work f it wasn’t for the customers.
Quick Hits
This week MNPS unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to Tennessee’s third-grade retention law. I’m told by legislators that the two most discussed topics in the early going of 2023’s General Assembly is the third-grade retention law and toll roads. Expect both to continue to be the center of the conversation.

Now that session has started, lawmakers are lining up to file bills that will amend or repeal the retention law. Representative David Hawk (R-Greenville) has filed a bill (HB0093) that would make a student’s local education agency (LEA) – commonly known as public school districts – the responsible entity for decisions on retention. Ron Travis (R-Dayton) has introduced a bill (HB0107) that offers even more modification to the law. Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) has indicated that she is preparing repeal legislation and is currently working on the final language of her bill. The deadline to file is January 31.

On January 30th the Tennessee State Board of Education will hold a rule making hearing on the transition from BEP to TISA. One of the proposed rules about Education Savings Accounts read as follows:

The maximum annual amount to which a participating student is entitled under the Program shall be equal to the amount representing the per-pupil state and local funds generated and required through the state’s K-12 education funding formula Basic Education Program (“BEP”) for the LEA in which the participating student resides, or the statewide per pupil average of required state and local funds as determined through the state’s K-12 education funding formula BEP funds, whichever amount is less.

That to me sounds like the value of ESAs is about to increase. If so, lawmakers are going to need to add some more money to the ESA pot. I wonder who saw this one coming, and how it’ll affect State Senator Gardenheir’s (R – Chattanooga) efforts to bring Hamilton County into the game.
Critical Race Theory is out, and “Implicit Bias” is in. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga, who is co-sponsoring the bill with fellow Republican Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville, that would prohibit districts and universities from mandating training focusing on “implicit bias”.  This should lead to some fun-filled conversations, especially since Brother Jones now sits on the House Education Committee.
Tennessee State Senator Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) is fast becoming the Bruce Springsteen of Tennessee politics.
There are few things less popular than the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD). Long recognized as an unmitigated failure that has cost Tennessee taxpayers roughly a billion dollars, it has inexplicably avoided being shuttered. Maybe this year will be different, Representative Tom Leatherwood (R-Arlington) has submitted a bill, HB0179, that may finally put everybody out of their misery.
A new year doesn’t equate to greater financial stability. Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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 sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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, Christmas is right around the corner.



Categories: Education

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