Of Defining Terms and Setting Boundaries

“So great was the mass of information forced upon the student, that he had no time to think of the mutual implications of the various branches of his knowledge.”
Olaf Stapledon, Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future


This week, I read a new blog post by education blogger Nancy Flanagan. Flanagan is a teacher who’s been blogging for over twenty years, and she calls upon that experience to craft a list of eight topics education bloggers should avoid due to readers’ lack of interest.

I probably should have seen this list years ago, because it includes some of Dad Gone Wild’s most covered topics. Ironically, among these topics – Research, Racism, Religion, and the Purpose of Education – are the centerpiece of the majority of public conversations these days. This speaks to my frequent observation, we talk a whole lot without saying anything.

I don’t want to run too far down this rabbit hole, other than to say, Nancy Flanagan should be a part of any reading list, and you can expect to hear plenty about the topics on this list at Dad Gone Wild. Because that’s the way we roll around here.

– – –

As many of you know, Governor Bill Lee has gotten around to scheduling his special session on gun control. It’ll be held on August 21, 2023.

A lot of folks are excited about this, including apparently Governor Lee:

“After speaking with members of the General Assembly, I am calling for a special session on August 21 to continue our important discussion about solutions to keep Tennessee communities safe and preserve the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Gov. Lee. “There is broad agreement that action is needed, and in the weeks ahead, we’ll continue to listen to Tennesseans and pursue thoughtful, practical measures that strengthen the safety of Tennesseans, preserve Second Amendment rights, prioritize due process protections, support law enforcement and address mental health.”

Not me. I’m looking to schedule my vacation during that time. To put it bluntly, it’s going to be a clusterfuck, and I want to be as far away from Nashville as possible for its duration. Pardon my French.

That week in August, every extremist group in the country is going to pack up the traveling sideshow, gobble up some throat lozenges, and start yelling at their perceived enemies. If you think anybody is going to pursue a thoughtful, practical conversation about gun control during a late summer traditionally slow news period session, you ain’t been paying attention.

That doesn’t even take into account that all this will transpire during the opening stages of a presidential campaign.

Supposedly, we are in search of “common sense” ideas to keep children safe. I guess it is safe to assume that some folks think that nobody has ever attended a rhetoric class. You start caching your ideas with adjectives designed to limit discussion, my red flags are going up – pun intended.

When you throw “common sense”, or a like adjective, in front of a subject, you are no longer arguing the subject but whether your intended audience has any common sense or not. Use those oft-advertised critical thinking skills to reason out opposition, and you are easily dismissed as lacking of common sense. Because some magical oracle has deemed these solutions, as the only solutions, recognized by all with any hint of intelligence. Bullshit.

Life has taught me there are very few absolutes, and even fewer when designing public policy. Furthermore, there are always costs and unintended consequences.

I’ve got serious misgivings about “red flags laws”, or “extreme protection orders (EPO)” if you prefer. Notice the similarity between the strategy behind promoting “vouchers” vs “education savings accounts (ESA)” Always reminds me of the late George Carlin’s routine comparing baseball and football.

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!

I’m going to say it aloud – you can yell about it all you want – history offers plenty of evidence of support, you start putting people on lists and you ultimately lose control of how those lists are utilized. You may start with addressing gun control, but there is no guarantee that in the near future, those lists aren’t used for other unintended purposes.

I’m not convinced that extreme protection orders (EPO) don’t undermine HIPP protections. If needed, am I going to seek treatment knowing that my name is going to end up on a list? That’s debatable.

Personally, I come from a place where addressing mental health issues is paramount. I want increased access for people, and I want people to feel comfortable seeking treatment. Do EPOs facilitate that?

I’m further fascinated with the argument that if we just ban AR-15s, the threat will evaporate, just disappear into thin air. Really? Like it has with drag queens? And books?

Last I checked, both were still readily available despite recent legislation that purported to ban them. Why should I believe guns would be any different?

I know, all those other countries that got rid of guns don’t have mass shootings, but is that causation or correlation?

Those other countries have completely different cultures, histories, and national identities. In other words, banning guns in America may produce similar results but there is no guarantee.

People ain’t going to like when I say this – as the parent of a seventh grader I wrestle with it regularly –  the soundtrack of urban schools is rap music. Rap music likes its guns. Whether it reflects perceived reality or a glorified machismo, the reality is that the normalization of guns takes place daily in our city schools through the music shared by kids of all races. What do you do about that? I have no idea.

Today is markedly different from 1996 when there was an assault rifle ban. We have ghost guns. Technology has progressed to a point where the modification and manufacturing of weapons are beyond what anyone could imagine at the close of the last century. In response, we need legislation rooted in today’s challenges, not those of two decades ago.

It also needs to be said that any law is only as good as its enforcement. Are we adequately enforcing the laws that are already on the books? Passing laws and then not ensuring enforcement mitigates the effectiveness of any legislation.

None of this is presented as an argument to do nothing, but rather to point out that a much more nuanced conversation is needed. A conversation that presents equal consideration to the unintended consequences, as it does the intended. That conversation is not going to take place with a backdrop of political aspirations and noise.

The only people that will benefit from the August special session will be the fundraisers. For them, it’ll be Christmas in August.

The problem is we craft our public conversation like we are pinning on badges. In order to earn the 2nd amendment merit badge you need to believe yada yada yada…no exceptions and no additions.

Want your “I care about kids badge”? There is a separate list of requirements and the same rules apply.

Here’s where it gets really dicey. You only get one badge. You can’t honor the 2nd amendment and recognize the need to limit some gun ownership.

No, no, no…that earns you the dreaded “both sides” badge, and results in you immediately getting removed from the conversation.

I don’t suspect you’ll see a lot of those badges at this summer’s shindig. But then again, I don’t think they’ll be a lot of conversation either.

You don’t think folks on the National level will be paying attention? Ever since the three amigos had their TMZ moment at the White House, President Biden has been looking for ways to add their success to his resume. Anything positive that comes out of Bill’s summer soiree just adds to that resume, so I am sure conversations to ensure that never takes place are underway.

Why Lee is insistent in holding this Special Session is anyone’s guess. But chalk up to future political aspirations. Something he denies.

This week he told folks at the Nashville Business Breakfast, “We have a lot of work to do in this state. This is an enormous task and the challenges are tremendous,” he said during the event at Lipscomb University. “I’m honored to do what it is that I do. My plan is to work as hard as I can to make life better for every single Tennessean in the next three and a half years — and then to go back to the farm.”

If making Tennessean’s lives better is truly the goal, I’ve got a way he can speed that process up and get back to the farm in time for this year’s Fourth of July picnic.

But until then…you can expect politics as usual.

– – –

So last week we were all a titter over the announcement of the imminent departure of Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. After four years of disruption, she was ready to take her act on the road – pun intended. Most of us were pleased to see her go, and if she needs help packing up her office, I sense there will be no shortage of volunteers.

But once we get past the euphoria, what does it all really mean? Schwinn doesn’t officially split until June 1 and the new boss, Lizzette Gonzales Reynolds, doesn’t come on board until July 1. Hell, Schwinn’s replacement doesn’t even meet with Tennesseans until mid-June.

So for the Commissioner. last week provided yet another opportunity for a public conversation about her favorite subject – Penny Schwinn. Interestingly enough, a perusal of social media showed all the accolades coming from outside of the state, while the “don’t let the door hit you in the ass” remarks came from the locals. By week’s end, she was back on the road selling her wares.

Next up, is a virtual summit where she’ll be part of a panel discussion focusing on teacher pay and education policy.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, local districts are waiting on a few components that will drastically affect student outcomes in the coming year.

Results from this year’s TNReady are supposed to be available to districts next Friday, May 19th. Will they be?

Keep in mind, there is one person left from last year’s state accountability team. Everybody else in that department is new to the TDOE. That’s kinda a big deal. Those results are the first domino on a string of dominos, so it’s important that everything fall in accordance lest the whole process runs afoul.

At stake are the educational opportunities of Tennessee’s third-graders, who may or may not be required to repeat the grade.

Perhaps, and maybe this is just me, but the Commissioner might want to focus on ensuring that those results are computed and communicated in a timely and accurate fashion before she spends time padding her PR portfolio.

I compare this to when my son wants to go roller skating on the night before a baseball tournament. Sure, it’s doable, but probably not the best idea.

If that’s not enough, Tennessee is switching to a new school funding formula this year. One that completely changes calculations. Even though it is mid-May, and local budgets have already been crafted, districts are still waiting for final calculations.

Maybe, since the Commissioner regularly puts the changing of the funding formula in her win column, she might want to focus on ensuring that the rollout is seamless. But apparently not. She is a disruptor, not a builder. Fixing a mess falls under someone else’s job description. But who’s?

Now that’s a good question.

Most of the shit is going to hit the fan during June.

Convenient, because Schwinn is out June 1 and the new boss doesn’t start until July 1. One leaves before the full ramifications are felt, with one arriving after most issues have been hopefully dealt with. in other words, its “don’t blame me, I don’t work there”, vs “I just got here give a minute to send out a survey, hold a listening tour, and put together an advisory committee”.

For the sake of argument, say things really go off the rail, an entirely likely possibility, who do you hold accountable?

Acting Commissioner Sam Pearcy? Some other scapegoat that happens to be laying around waiting for an opportunity to be thrown under the bus?

That might explain why things are rumored to be so tense around the Tennessee Department of Education as of late.

But I do find it ironic, that two supposed accountability experts have once again found a way to skirt accountability for themselves.

For these two, that’s not just a skill, it is an art.

– – –

Speaking of testing, an opinion piece written by Ronan Shah draws a line from state testing to the behavioral issue among students. His answer is, “I keep coming back to our state tests and what we must teach so students will pass. Too many students are disengaged and unhappy at school because the day is structured around assessments instead of what is relevant to their lives and futures.’ I’m not sure that I disagree. At any rate, his postulate merits discussion.

– – –

Word on the street is that the number of Hispanic principals in Metro Nashville Public Schools is about to be halved. And, Antioch HS goes back to the less than stellar past for its next instructional leader. McGavock HS is supposedly getting a leader who has displayed questionable judgment in the past, while Stratford HS makes a temporary hire permanent. That means roughly a quarter of the city’s HS are in play. That is unusual for Nashville, where leadership at the high school level tends to be rather stable.

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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.

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If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.




Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Hi,

    Sorry for the unrelated comment (not sure who else to ask) —do you know what became of the lobbying to start the school day later for high schoolers? Last I read Dr. Battle’s office had some intern “looking into” it. Do you think they would be receptive to another proposal?

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