Monday, December 8, 2014

Teachable Moment (MORE Blog repost)

This is what a real teacher is. So good I had to share it. 

By Mr. S (Brooklyn high school teacher)
After the grand jury decision was released on the Mike Brown case and following the protests that have taken place in New York, a few of the teachers decided we have to do something. Actually the decision to do something about racism began a few years ago when teaching my criminal law class a young lady broke down and began crying about how she was stopped and frisked on a regular basis. From that moment until now we have been struggling with what we can do to try to bring some racial justice to our school, our city, our world.
This past Thursday, the day after the grand jury decision in the Garner case was announced, we decided to have an after-school discussion where our students were welcome to express their feeling on recent events in Staten Island, Ferguson, and their thoughts on race relations. I sent my principal an email Wednesday night asking to have this after-school discussion. He promptly answered back “let’s have a meeting in the morning.” The meeting went well, we set norms and created some questions we would use in facilitation. I did sense some hesitancy to have this after school from my administration, understandably so. They wanted to make sure it was handled in manner that would make all our children representing various view points feel safe. Carmen Farina had written a letter on Wednesday night to principals encouraging schools to have events like the one we were planning. That letter helped tremendously in allowing this event to take place as I was able to refer to it several times in our planning session. 
The principal asked me to make the announcement over the loudspeaker. We wanted to let our students know that teachers were having an open forum addressing this situation. I think the announcement  was really critical. It let the entire school community, from students to school aides to other teachers, know that we were doing something to address the great injustice that had just occurred. In fact one teacher said when the words “Mike Brown and Eric Garner” came over the loudspeakers, many students look puzzled. After my announcement was over, the students in Ms. C’s class asked what this was all about. She stopped her class and began to explain what had happened. She later told me it was the perfect teachable moment and could care less if she finished her lesson on Byzantine. This was much more important. A few English and Social Studies teachers preempted their lessons through-out the day to discuss the Brown and Garner decisions....

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yet Another Joel Klein Lie?

I'm not surprised that no one else caught this. One of the results of this slow death of the social studies in American schools is that hardly anyone has a strong sense of history. Without that sense, no one thinks to measure new information against a simple historical fact. Because of this, not many people were able to see the utter bologna in former New York City Schools' Chancellor Joel Klein's piece in the Atlantic earlier in the month. 

Oh, that's the piece where Uncle Joel claimed that all he wanted to do as he began serving as chancellor was to just directly talk with the teachers of New York City. The one where he said he had wanted to send an email straight to us all and have discussion. The email that would have had started out by saying "Look, folks, let’s be honest with each other." Here was his great idea:

 I’d write e-mails to them all as a group. What was to stop me? After all, I was their boss. Shouldn’t we be able to communicate?
Yep. Then he blamed my union for not allowing him to do it. "... the UFT", he wrote, "did not allow me to approach teachers directly on any matter that touched on their actual work."

Poor Uncle Joel.
Bad, bad UFT ;(

There is just one small thing wrong with the chancellor's assertion. City teachers had no official email until a year or two after the chancellor took over in '02.

Here's a bit of history: The first email system the teachers and other staff of New York were issued was in early 2003. The software was written by Apple. Teachers were given a whopping 25 MB of storage and it was hosted on a server that was so slow that many of us would log in, then go make a pot of coffee or something as we waited for it to bring us to our inbox. It was intended to hold us all over until a larger, permanent email system, by Microsoft (the system we have today), could be rolled out to us all.

It's kind of hard to send emails to us "as a group" when there was no email to be had, don't you think?

Such is the case with the Klein way of making a point. It's mostly comprised with an assertion or two that is so filled to the brim with crap that you can't quite tell where the stink is coming from. Of course, the fact that sending an email to teachers in New York City in 2002 is a lot like boarding a 747 in 1902 didn't stop him (or the whoever he hired write it for him) from trying to make the point. According to that 'private sector' approach, everyone listening has got to be more dumb than the person who is talking could ever be (in a sense, he's kind of right. After all, no one else caught the lie, did they?). Therefore, it's ok to be full of crap on a point you make and still expect to be taken seriously as you continue talking.

Does all this matter? Well, you tell me. One school of thought is that it is a minor point among a larger piece that attacks an all powerful union. Of course, another thought is that if he was full of crap on this one point about email, then how much of what else he asserts in his piece should reasonably be believed? Might he have been lying when he said he wanted to have talks with us or brown bag lunches or engage teachers in meaningful discussion?

Or about my union being bad? hmm ...

Hmm... Uncle Joel lying to make my union look bad. Hmm ...