Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Gun Control: You May Not See How We're Divided. The Russians Do.

From Sheera Frenkel  and Daisuke AKABAYASHI in this morning's New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — One hour after news broke about the school shooting in Florida last week, Twitter accounts suspected of having links to Russia released hundreds of posts taking up the gun control debate.
The accounts addressed the news with the speed of a cable news network. Some adopted the hashtag #guncontrolnow. Others used #gunreformnow and #Parklandshooting....
“This is pretty typical for them, to hop on breaking news like this,” said Jonathon Morgan, chief executive of New Knowledge, a company that tracks online disinformation campaigns. “The bots focus on anything that is divisive for Americans. Almost systematically.”
One of the most divisive issues in the nation is how to handle guns, pitting Second Amendment advocates against proponents of gun control. And the messages from these automated accounts, or bots, were designed to widen the divide and make compromise even more difficult.
The bots are “going to find any contentious issue, and instead of making it an opportunity for compromise and negotiation, they turn it into an unsolvable issue bubbling with frustration,” said Karen North, a social media professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. “It just heightens that frustration and anger.”
When the Russian bots jumped on the hashtag #Parklandshooting — initially created to spread news of the shooting — they quickly stoked tensions. Exploiting the issue of mental illness in the gun control debate, they propagated the notion that Nikolas Cruz, the suspected gunman, was a mentally ill “lone killer.

Most importantly:

The bots target a contentious issue like race relations or guns. They stir the pot, often animating both sides and creating public doubt in institutions like the police or media. Any issue associated with extremist views is a ripe target.
The goal is to push fringe ideas into the “slightly more mainstream,”

After my post on Sunday calling Education Reform out as the root cause for these shootings, I realized -and was politely reminded- that literally no one else was making this same claim.  I have to agree. I am the only person I know who feels that our collective response should not be to do something that is deeply opposed by one third of the nation (that's the amount of people who own or like guns).  These are people who teach and who send their kids to public schools as well.

But I think the reason that I'm the only person here making this claim starts with the realization that we, at least we progressives on the left, have stopped noticing the things that divide us a city or a state or even a country. So that when "we" "take a stand", we are invariably taking a stand against 120 million Americans.

It's not that we don't pay attention to what divides us. It's that we have stopped noticing. Or maybe we have just stopped caring to pay attention.

Well, the Russians haven't.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Gun Control Will Not Stop School Shootings. Better Schools Will.

Last week's school shooting in Florida, leaving 17 dead and many wounded, was, a horrible, horrible tragedy. Again.

The incident has saddened an entire nation. Again.

And it has rocked teachers and schools all over the country to our core. Again.

Of course, it did not have to happen. These shootings can be avoided as easily as anything.

But I will not be participating in any school walk out which tries to force politicians to enact gun control. I don't think you should either.

The answer to this violence is not another push at gun control, as the former president, and numerous others, have suggested.

The answer is to rebuild schools that ensure the emotional safety of all students.

We once had that in this nation. We no longer do.

I am not claiming schools and teachers don't do these things now.  Quite the contrary. They -despite the many attempts to destroy the local public school- do. My claim is a bit less  simple:

An emotional healthy school community, filled with emotionally healthy students, used to be prioritized in US schools. They are now not. And this, not gun access, is the root cause for school shootings.

Things that were once held sacrosanct in schools -the things that were once prioritized-  are no longer priorities for one reason and one reason alone: The Education Reform Movement.

It placed testing and other achievement results for groups of students ahead of the overall health of the individual student and of the school community. We saw the results of that last week.

There. I said it.

We currently have schools with test prep programs where extra curricular activities used to be. We have children who cry during test times where laughter used to be and we have one counselor for every 2000 students where 6 or 7 used to be. All of this was done beginning in the late 1990s to support "higher achieving" schools. By the early oughts, the mantra was that no child should be left behind.

But by 2010, when it became clear we were leaving many children behind, we switched gears and raced to the top. We put even more pressure on teachers and on schools to reach these new metrics and we prioritized even less what our priority used to be.

We spent oodles of money (money that used to be spent on programs that made our schools healthy places of learning) on new curriculum to support new standards.

And we brought the teacher wars into the American vocabulary.

We spent money on Frameworks that told us what good teaching was, as though none of us in America had ever known. In New York, we spent tens of millions on 5 different frameworks. We researched and selected. We commented and amended.  When the new evaluation laws didn't work, we changed them. Then changed them again (and again).

During all of this, as we paid more attention to "data" and "metrics", we paid less, and eventually stopped, paying attention to the student and to the school community.

We sent teachers on year long quests for two letters -H.E.- in order to justify their jobs to themselves, to friends and family and to society.  School dances and after school clubs contribute far less to achieving these two letters. So teachers held less dances and advised fewer clubs.

Before I go any further, stop reading this and watch this video, produced after the Sandy Hook Shooting. If you have seen it. Please watch it again.

Are you back? Did you watch it?

Did you really watch it ;)?

If you did, then you probably noticed the school shooter lurking in the background of what was otherwise a cute teenager story. Now many teachers are trained to see certain things contained in the video. Typically, these would be things like:

  • Experiences of torment (in this case it was bullying at the lockers)
  • Demonstration that he is more comfortable in his own isolation (in the library)
  • Exhibits of the warning signs of social media posts and, in this instance, publicly obsessing over guns (again, the library and on Instagram)

And where was the teacher as the school shooter in this video was developing? Where was that teacher when the person was in the library researching guns, or shunning a "hello" from a fellow classmate, or being bullied in the hallways?

If you're a teacher, then you know the answer. He/she was was at a teacher team meeting looking at testing data and deciding what the next academic intervention/action plan would be. He/she was at a PD to understand how to implement the new (new (new)) Common Core. Or how to understand the new (new (new (new))) teacher evaluation as it pertained to their teaching practices.

Where was the support staff while the student from the video was in the library? Were they in a meeting looking to see which 20 or 25 students they could get to pass the next test or earn that next high school credit?

Was everybody completing a parental contact log?

Maybe they were all at a Danielson PD?

They weren't showing a movie in class because their students had worked hard on a project and needed time to relieve some stress by watching a movie. That is no longer allowed but it did allow teacher a chance to check in on their students as people.

They weren't playing a game that teaches socializing behavior and abstract thinking skills because, unless every single experience from the game is measurable on a test, those games are no longer allowed. There's another small opportunity to identify which student wasn't smiling when others were.

They weren't monitoring or tracking this student's behavior. They were all too busy for that, you see.

They sure as heck weren't at a training to figure how we celebrate national No One Eats Lunch Alone Day - a one day activity designed to ensure that we all say no to isolation in schools.

And why? Because that's not measurable.

They sure as heck weren't at a planning meeting to figure out how Rachel's Challenge -a unifying and beautiful anti bully campaign started by the father of Rachel Joy Scott, the first person killed in the Columbine shooting- can be brought into their school community.

They sure as double heck weren't spending their time thinking of ways to make sure every student is well known by at least one adult. Nor were they they weren't thinking of ways to pay careful attention to students who exhibit emotionally poor conduct or emotionally disturbed behavior..

The districts no longer require these type of programs.  They cannot show they improve any metric.

As besides, tgeacher accountability required other commitments to be made.

They weren't doing any of the things that school staff used to do for a reason. And that reason isn't because of gun control.

It's because they were too busy dealing with the repercussions, and the achievements, of the Education Reform Movement - a movement that, on its best day, focuses only on academics and on its worst day turns away from the child in favor of paying attention to the metrics generated by groups of children.

Tell mel how many timers have you heard this before:

We now care more about the data generated by organizational structures like a school than we do about the children in them.

What happens when you stop paying attention to an individual and start paying attention to groups of students? What happens when you stop paying attention to actual human growth and start paying attention only the growth generated by assessment data and other metrics?

The answer is simple.

Don't forget, we're the same profession that went to war with the political establishment in 2010 because we, real educators,  knew that "Race To the Top" was hurting our students. I would like to suggest here that school shootings are evidence that we were right. Because of the politicians' race to the top, we as a society are lurking ever so closely to the bottom.

And yes, of course, the other institutions need to do their part as well. When child protection services clears an emotionally disturbed child, when the local police department does the same, when the FBI admit that they themselves failed to do their part, then we clearly have plenty of people outside of schools to blame.

But this isn't time for us to walk out of our schools and demand more gun laws. This is no time to allow ourselves as teachers to be exploited so that some politicians can achieve a political goal which the they themselves have failed to achieve for decades.

This is also no time to divide our own profession.  Many -many- law abiding gun owners are also our colleagues in the classroom. Law abiding gun owners care about emotionally safe schools and safe students too. They have also seen the failures of law enforcement organizations.

They have also seen the damage that the absence of programs -many of which were cut due to the demands placed on all of us by the Education Reform Movement- has created.

They inhabit the same brick and mortar buildings that were once thriving school communities too. They are in this fight too.

Now is not the time to stand up for students by demanding some political agenda. To do so would be go against our ethics and deny us the very thing -wise, modest political impartiality- that allows us to maintain a special role within our society.

Now -now- is the time to stand up for students by demanding the return of programs and teaching styles and priorities which  allowed us to to pay careful attention to students but were taken from our schools by people who claimed to knew better.

This isn't complicated. There were no school shootings decades ago because there were no education "reform" initiatives decades ago.

So when February 20th, or March 14th, or April 20th or May 1st comes around, don't abandon your pedestal by walking out of your school.  Spend that time to demand from our local politicians more money for programs which make sure no student is alone, or bullied or has fallen off of our radar because of something else that we have to do. Spend that time to insist we stop preparing groups of students for tests and start preparing individuals for their own realistic futures. Spend that time on efforts which unite our entire profession to take back our schools and turn them into the thriving communities they used to be.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

BEWARE of those who start fires

"Low blows" and "cheap shots" are taken by both parties involved. Neither admits to seeing the perspective of the other yet, somehow, each party involved knows just how to hurt the other.

Both sides are to blame.

Both sides blame each other.

While this may sound like a confrontation between two children at your school, it's actually a description of the the squabble currently happening within your union, the UFT.  Full grown adults -educators from the best teaching corps in the United States- are actively seeking to convince their allies to fear hate the another.

And it's not just hate. The two largest groups within the union are, as we speak, actively trying to convince anyone who pays attention to union stuff that the other group is so vile and disgusting that they should be detested.

This all started last year when one group, MORE, decided to plan and execute a Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Many within the caucus hesitated to support the initiative, given all that the union is currently working to achieve. This includes securing paid parental leave and positioning itself to begin contract negotiations with the city on favorable terms. It also includes winning back a whole host of protections that were lost during the Bloomberg administration.

Besides the timing, the week of action seemed like an important idea for teachers to pursue. By itself, one full week devoted to spending some school time to raise awareness of an entire school community as to experience of African Americans today -in our present time- is more than sorely needed. It's necessary.  The Week of Action sought to do this across several dozen school communities over the course of the same week. And it was scheduled to occur during the only full school week of Black History Month. The group met and planned, and met, and planned until they had a game plan down and implemented it.

Then, at the end of January, MORE brought legislation to the union's congressional body -the Delegate Assembly- asking for the whole union to vote to support and participate in the Black Lives Matter Week of Action that they had planned.

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know that the union is essentially run by another, larger group, called the Unity Caucus. Well, when "Unity" read the legislation, they opposed it. Among other things, they cited the challenges with keeping such a diverse union united as they enter a post-Janus world (one where certain unions would be greatly weakened). I'm sure they also decided not to endorse a week of activities that they had not helped to plan and did not want to distract from their other important work.

I also, in my heart, believe that they felt and feel there are other ways to support a movement that seeks to gain for a group basic human rights in America during our time (if you drive to work, click this link instead).

So, on January 27 of this year, "MORE" rolled into the "Unity' lead assembly and raised the legislation. Unity opposed it. The assembly voted and MORE lost. The UFT would not not support and participate in the MORE lead and MORE created Black Lives Matter Week of Action.

And then something happened. Suddenly -out of nowhere and without any warning- MORE appeared on TV news and seemingly accusing Unity of not supporting Black Lives Matter.

The only sensible message taken from the news story was not that the union did not support the Black Lives Matter Week of Action but that the union did not support the Black Lives Matter Movement.* That this was faulty premise made no difference.

Of course, the internet was not very happy with this message. (how could they be when this was the message they received?) Neither was anyone who cared about a kinder, better cooler world (because all those people care about is that the adults in our union act like adults and sit down and plan a worthy city wide week of events, like adults would. You know, because all the people in the union are all adults and, well, adults).  

And, of course, "Unity" was not happy either.

Recently, when the larger Unity caucus sent its newsletter out to its own members, it warned of the differences between a 'loyal' opposition and a "not so loyal" opposition. Using words like "disturbing" and "burning" and "misinformation" as well as phrases like "spewing incendiary remarks" and  "burning a hole through the fabric of our union", the leading caucus lead  its members to believe that the opposition were extremists who were dangerous and could not to be trusted.

"BEWARE", warned the newsletter "of those who set fires".

So the next time the 'less involved'  people of the Unity Caucus come in contact with MORE, all they will see is a turn-coating, back-biting, press-mongering, commee-lovin' group of people who don't love our society or our union.

And the next time the less involved people of MORE come in contact with Unity, all they will think is that those people are just a power-lovin, politics-playing, overly-suspicious, toned-deaf group of people who either don't love all of the people in our society or just don't care to do anything about it.

That's all the less union inclined will see.

Now BOTH of these things, of course, will be untrue. And NEITHER group will be adult enough to admit it and to explain to their followers that the other side are mainly good, hardworking people who love teaching, love all of their students, work hard for their schools and love their (amazingly strong) teachers' union  (and love our city and our country). But, you see, that won't matter. The only thing that will matter is that the allies of each group will look upon the other group as dangerous. That's all either group cares about.

This outfit needs a restorative justice circle -quick.

* Sidenote:  The news outlet misidentifed the Black Lives Matter Movement as a group. It is not. It is a movement made up of several hundred small groups across the country. But it should be noted that the story's lede was not objected to or corrected in any public forum by either union group. 

"A rift has opened inside the city's teachers' union over whether to endorse the controversial group Black Lives Matter."  

It irks me that neither teacher group offered this correction.