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Emergency! Become Aware of the Creeping Consequences of Neoliberal Policy and Learn how to Fight Back 💲

            American parents and students must become aware of how neoliberal values creep into schools and negatively affect the quality of learning. Marketplace ideologies warp education because schools spend billions on test prep and curriculum materials that fail to regard student locality and culture. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to education supports the neoliberal agenda by ensuring that an oppressed underclass will always be available for cheap labor.

            Parents and students need a working definition of neoliberalism so that talking heads such as Sean Hannity can’t deceive them by twisting words such as “socialism” and redefining such words to fit the sneaky neoliberal motive: The removal of all public safety nets and the complete privatization of all pubic resources.

            This economic model has nothing to do with “liberalism” as commonly understood. Rather, neoliberals are generally politically conservative and are always decrying the evils of socialism, even though shared public resources do not equate to socialism and have always been a staple of free enterprise and capitalism. Neoliberals reject any restrictions or regulations on business no matter the human or environmental cost. Neoliberalism’s marketplace theory supports the complete removal or privatization of all public safety nets including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act.

            Neoliberals wish to privatize and profit from everything that is currently remaining in the public sector: National parks, existing state and federal roadways, libraries, remaining public utilities, federal lands, public schools and colleges, and any other form of shared public ownership that is intended to benefit all people in a democracy. NOTE: Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell exemplify neoliberalism in all of its greed, corporate welfare, and sneakiness.

            Neoliberalism’s parameters exist worldwide, as the creeping takeover of publicly owned enterprises means these institutions become corporate entities intended to serve the interests of profit and not people. This results in the bottom line, the profit margin, becoming more important than the quality of services rendered to the public. This is how teacher quality and educational access are affected.

            As we monitor the growing spectacle of neoliberalism, and the decay of all public goods and services, schools fight to hire the best educated teachers. But, because of neoliberal austerity policies, they have no budget to attract top talent. Colleges and universities cut funding to writing programs and bend to the will of corporate interests in an effort to meet tight budgets. An explosion of adjunct positions and dual credit courses intended to offset the consequences of neoliberal austerity measures have destroyed countless professional teaching careers, undermining education at all levels.

             Undervaluing the teaching community and ignoring school culture interferes with student ability to critique, write, and practice democracy. If students and teachers become critical thinkers and resist the regressive and punitive policies associated with neoliberalism, then neoliberal politics can no longer continue to infect all corners of our democracy and can no longer continue to profit from human suffering.    

Following is a list of books and articles that can aid in your understanding of neoliberalism as it pertains to education and the destruction of democracy.

For everyday people beginning to become aware of neoliberalism, this book works as an introduction.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2007.

If you are an academic and you are beginning to recognize the symptoms of neoliberalism in your own career or institution, this book can help you understand what is happening.

Giroux, Henry A. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Pbk, ed., Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2014.

For writing teachers at all levels, this book of excellent academic articles can help you see what is happening in your classroom because of neoliberal economic policies. You will learn how your class is connected to the building of a democratic society, and how neoliberal policy is preventing you from fulfilling your pledge to your students.

Welch, Nancy, and Tony Scott. Composition in the Age of Austerity. Logan, Utah State UP, 2016.

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Fake Apologies, Cowards, and Nothing Burgers

            Fake apologies, the stuff of cowards, come from a place of deficit. Usually the person doing the apologizing fears some kind of a loss, such as a sports contract, a job or bonus, or some position of privilege. They may even consider the recipients of the apology not an intellectual equal, so hubris and arrogance override good old common sense. If someone is giving you a fake apology in front of a camera, during a recording, in front of your boss, or some other “staged” moment in time, consider it a nothing burger.

            A true apology takes incredible courage, and it often comes at a huge personal cost. Someone has to admit that they have been weird, rude, or threatening, or that they have cheated or lied about something. The words must be chosen carefully. For example, if someone tells you that it isn’t their intention to make anyone “uncomfortable” then you can bet that they are lying while apologizing. Of course, when someone is screaming at you across a crowded room, exerting their white male presence, and acting like a sexist idiot, then the full intention is to make you feel “uncomfortable.” The person issuing the apology should at least be courageous enough to admit what they did. This apology is clearly a total nothing burger.

            An “authentic” (a word usually overused by fake people but used now in the spirit of jest) apology, at least between people and not institutions, can be done with a card, or in a private moment. A vow to undo whatever harm has been done is usually paired with a sincere apology.

            People of courage typically apologize with sincere remorse and will fully confess to whatever it is that they have done to hurt someone else. Cowards will stage some kind of a fake apology and offer you a nothing burger thinking that you are dumb enough to accept it. Cowards tend to gather in groups, so you might experience backlash if you fail to accept a cowardly and insincere apology. Remember, cowards know they are cowards, and they actually live with this shame day in and day out. They are recognizable to one another, and this fearful condition, this lack of courage and sincerity, programs itself into the fabric of their everyday lives. Because of this, they trust no one, and a plastic and superficial life is all that they know. They skip from one cowardly incident to another, randomly hurting the people they interact with, handing out nothing burgers right and left.

            Bill Clinton might be the daddy of them all when it comes to handing out the nothing burger. In his apology to the American public after the Lewinsky scandal, he admitted to his sexual peccadillo, but he soft pedaled the enormous lie that he told: “I never had sex with that woman.”

            We all know that he told this lie out of fear so he could keep serving the interests of American politics, but we also know that every single one of his apologies were just a huge order of nothing burgers. When Clinton realized that he was caught and he had no way to cover up the peccadillo, he should have volunteered the truth and mixed that with a sincere apology (I’m just kidding).

The most tragic thing to come of the nothing burger is the unwitting people it involves. Without putting much thought into anything, an unwitting person might say that you should accept a nothing burger and move on with your life. But moving on without expecting sincerity enables the coward to feel courageous about a couple of dangerous things: hurting the same person again, or simply finding a new person to hurt. A cabal of cowards can exist institutionally because they’ve been allowed to hand out nothing burgers as a matter of tradition. When cowards begin to think that their behavior is acceptable, then they are willing to go further.

            Apologizing is hard work, and it does take effort and courage. But when you’ve apologized for the damage that you’ve done, other courageous acts become easier. Apologizing cleanses the soul, clears the air, and creates lasting bonds of respect and humility. Handing out nothing burgers to the people you have hurt proves you are just a coward.

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Narratives of Negativity: When they obscure the positive

It was the new millennium and my mother's fight with cancer channeled itself to its predictable, unfortunate ending. My child was not yet walking, but he sometimes pulled himself up on a plastic storage tub, yelling and screaming, beating his little fists on the lid for attention while I walked my mother back to the bathroom and then returned her to her comfortable place on the battered, sunroom couch. The routines of care-taking became meaningful, transcendental and comfortable. I had begun to imagine something spiritual beyond those precious days as they counted down to a death that would end a chapter in my hectic and frightening life. I sat in the entry hall in one of the cat-clawed wicker chairs and stared ahead thinking apprehensively about what would happen once my role as caretaker closed and the heavy front door opened into a new life without my mother.

My sister had cleaned out the safety deposit box, hoarding Mother's jewelry, and then hocking it off to some hick town jeweler so that she could pay my nephew's law school bills. Meanwhile, I was busy in my short jaunts away from the house visiting resale shops so I could buy back the family heirlooms that my drug-addicted brother had sold off to make his own ends meet. The "things" of my family's shared life meant much less than the stories that bound us together, the intriguing family legends about half-brothers in foreign countries and Dad's mysterious volunteer work with a bulldozer in some Amazonian rain forest. But some of our family stories were paired with painful realities and outrageous falsehoods, the narratives of selfishness and jealousy. 

One of the most damaging falsehoods concerned my brother, a man that returned from Vietnam with classic symptoms of PTSD. Post traumatic stress syndrome passes easily from one person to the next, and I, as a preteen, found an escape from my brother's rages and paranoia by walking to the library and spending the day under its modern air conditioning and quietly structured rows of books and magazines. The busy librarians ignored me, and I had the run of the place every summer day, poking in shelves, checking out books, thumbing through difficult academic journals, and listening to audiotapes. I was a late comer to the love of reading because I had been placed in the Follow-Through Program, a federal experiment on children from poverty. Once my mother realized I wasn't in a "regular" first grade class, she had me pulled from Follow-Through, and I was an entire semester behind my classmates.

My fascination with learning screeched to a stop when it came to math, but I struggled on with reading, even getting a black eye when my mother, overwhelmed from long hours at work and mental frustration, hit me in the face with a book. That night she came home with a wind up toy, a small furry dog that chased a ball on a string, around and around. Not long after, she came home with a real dog stuffed in the cavern of her huge purse, and I was besotted with love. Several years later, a speeding car struck my little dog because it had squeezed out under the fence to join me with my friends across the street. It died on the curb, and my mother held me as I sobbed.

Much has been said about my mother, and some of it is not that positive. But the narratives of negativity have no real basis in fact, and they are constructed from malice and a desire to control the family narrative. Without my mother's multiplication tables game, I would never have passed fourth grade math. Had she not taken down all of my childish wall hangings and put metal bookshelves in my room, if she hadn't signed me up for the book club, had she not filled those spaces with books and MAD magazines, word search puzzles, and Highlight Magazine, I wouldn't have a college degree of any kind. I remember complaining to my brother about one of my teachers, and his response was not what I expected. He typically took my side on things, and he tended to love me through his haze of anger and addiction. When he told me that my problem with my teacher was a problem with myself, I was shocked. He was right. It didn't really matter whether I "liked" my teacher or not--it only mattered that I learn everything I could from my teacher. His tough stance with me enabled me to open my mind to the ideas of other people. 

They both passed away within months of each other, but they left me with enough wisdom to move on and live a fascinating and fun-filled life. I feel sorry for the people that avoided my mother and my brother because of the negative narratives they had been subjected to. I also pity the source of these narratives because they are an example of how hate and narrow-mindedness constructs an alternate reality that is untrue and negative. 

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Writing Assessment: Why are we doing this to our students?

The neoliberal approach to education, an approach that bases itself in austerity and cruelty, is rooted in the test and punish cycle. Students are sorted by scores and data, rather than interests and talent. Writing, with its connections to personal style and background knowledge, should never be judged by a standardized test. Teachers that never write anything more than the odd email are charged with teaching basic writing techniques in a pedagogy that is eerily similar to the rejected and formulaic Current-Traditional Rhetoric, known simply as CTR. A top-down, managerial type teaching style is noted by critical theorist Paulo Freire as the "banking model of education" a form of pedagogy that privileges the teacher over the student and "deposits" information into an otherwise empty receptacle. The "banking model" oppresses the student by not providing them with an opportunity to experience the joy of altering reality with a problem-posing pedagogy. The "banking model" suggests that reality is fixed and static.

Peter Elbow points out that three types of assessment exist. In order to better understand why one method of assessment is superior, we have to analyze why writers write in the first place. First of all, people write to salvage something from their soul, especially when they are hurting. From this kind of misery, poetry and short stories are born, along with essays and critical, pithy statements. Transmitting messages and exploring modes of creativity typically arise out of exploratory pieces, and these exploratory pieces bare a connection to some travail in life. Storytelling comes from a well-ordered mind that aims to share a moral or idea. No one writes against their will unless it is for a standardized test. This kind of writing, because of its oppressive nature, fails to measure talent or purpose. 

Elbow, in an essay in College English, observes that gauging a piece of writing on its validity and effectiveness are the most common measures in a typical classroom. His problem with this type of assessment is that it fails to allow for how the piece makes the reader feel. Elbow argues that how the words make the reader feel is the highest form of assessment. If the purpose for writing is not left to the student, then even a well-written piece really demonstrates nothing but an ability to adhere to mechanics and form. Even assigning a particular genre to the student waters down the joy of writing, inhibiting the flow of ideas and artistry.

Obviously, the way we teach writing must change. Our students are actually writing more than ever on social media posts and electronic message boards. Self-publishing is common and apps allow for writers of all levels to share ideas and self-promote. The quality of these communications matter to our democratic society. Unless we are able to concisely explain our positions with clarity, we remain vulnerable to those who want to exploit us. Working to weed out the neoliberal test and punish cycle from the English classroom must become a priority. Neoliberals have no desire to teach civil discourse or share power. They would prefer that our students remain as spectators to democracy, rather than grow into strong individuals with an ability to transform reality.

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A Few Reasons Why Standardized Testing is Creating a Crisis in Literacy

I'd like to ignore the neoliberal industry that now manages test prep, curriculum materials, and software packages. But I find it impossible to look away from the glossy, well packaged and unlimited amount of stuff that basically manages compliance with all of the so-called reform strategies that crept out of the hideous test and punish culture of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The revenue numbers and profit margins connected with the test and punish culture are astronomical. Even Obama doubled down on the test and punish gold mine to the horror of public school advocates. According to Education Market Watch, Pearson recorded 1.5Billion in revenue for 2017. This is money they are making off of the misery of millions of impoverished and underfunded school children. Most parents are not even aware that the test and punish cycle is a profit-driven machine supported by lucrative businesses with high level marketing and political lobbyists. Because of that, we may never live to see its demise; unfortunately, the negative effects are more pronounced in children of color and children of poverty, the most powerless and voiceless members of our society. 

Test prep, and the test and punish cycle, might be appropriate for some subjects such as biology, history, and math, but literacy is something quite personal and individualized. 

Let me list a few reasons why accountability-based standardized testing interferes with literacy.

  1. A dialogic classroom that focuses on local problems, issues, themes, and events is impossible because of the stale and static content of test prep material and the invasive nature of the test itself. Engaging points of discourse are sacrificed on the altar of accountability. Teachers are forced to introduce materials and standards that sanction a stripped down curriculum, and exploratory and expressivist writing is replaced by something that mimics the old Current-Traditional Rhetoric (CTR). CTR rejects a writing to learn approach, and focuses on correctness. However, even CTR didn't bastardize the essay form like the test prep culture does today. Typically, especially in schools that are labeled underperforming, students are taught to forego an introduction and just plunk in a broad and generalized thesis statement at the beginning of the essay. This creates confusion for young writers. Because of this confusion and because the test is so important to the school, some teachers never get around to teaching any other essay genre other than test-prep. How to really write an essay is never covered. How to write for a variety of purposes is usually only blushed over. Countless hours of classroom instructional time is wasted on teaching students how to write or type a nonacademic and disconnected, formulaic and uninteresting, piece of writing. 
  2. Doing away with context, both in the introduction of an essay and in the student's community, has a way of creating a passive learner. Someone that is forced to passively accept a formulaic, top-down strategy for something as democratic as writing is easier to control but harder to educate. Learning happens as we actively construct and change our reality. Writing enables us to view our thinking as others would see it and develop our style and voice. The top-down and one-size-fits-all test and punish culture erases this process with its need for duplication and stratification. 
  3. Marketed software packages insert control into the English classroom. By forcing students to spend hours responding to drill and kill type exercises via software and prepackaged materials, teachers are excluded from the creative process. These repetitive and joyless kinds of activities cause students to despise their own personal journey into literacy, a journey that should be individualized and sacred. Not only that, these kinds of packages deprofessionalize the act of teaching literacy because almost anyone can present test prep. Even though this is the least effective route to literacy, and millions of dollars in research proves that a qualified, professional teacher is the key to success, districts are spending millions on these products.

Next time I write on this subject, I am going to talk about two types of writing assessment. The least effective type is the rubric style used by the test and punish culture. I will explain why rubrics, while they are good for some basic writing efforts, are harmful to the beginner writer. 

Just to sum this all up, poverty is the problem. Neoliberal economic policy devalues human discourse and intellect, and it places an inordinate amount of importance on market-based principles. Neoliberal economic policy is not about the word "liberal." It is not about whether or not someone is a liberal. Neoliberal economic policy strives to dominate all aspects of culture and market everything to the highest bidder. In education, neoliberal policy doesn't care about civil discourse or civic duty. The object is to make workers out of everyone, and make sure the poor continue to have no access to power. Unless we can teach our students how to access democracy and become relevant (and, as you know, literacy is the key), our way of life will be lost. Everything we own as a society will be privatized and auctioned off. Think about that.

 


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The People and Subjects that Paulo Freire was Fighting For: Composition and Education, the Poor and Oppressed

 

I've been working on a paper that examines the effects of standardized testing on secondary students. I'm most interested in essay responses and how they interfere with an expressivist pedagogy. I'm trying to argue that even though an essay prompt might have good intentions, it still caters to what Freire would call "the banking model of education" because the test is more constructivist--it doesn't allow students to display the ability to write in an authentic genre because the test itself becomes a genre. 

For example, in the state of Texas, ninth grade writers are asked to compose an expository piece inside of a box on 26 lines. Teachers in schools with socioeconomic deficits really stress over this piece of writing, and it can be taught throughout the school year. While students are being forced to respond to a prompt in a 26 line essay "that explains something" they are missing out on the joys of composing authentic, expressivist writings that explore current events, inner peace, self-exploration, or other topics of interest. 

For example, in one extremely poor urban school students were given a state prompt that asked them to explore and explain why it is important to trust someone. Most of these students had never trusted anyone and with good reason. In fact, someone that was trusting was considered foolish. The neighborhood consisted of mostly public housing and crime was a part of every student's life. Asking them to write about "trust" was a completely inappropriate topic, a topic that was basically foreign to them.

If English teachers are cultural workers with a mission to humanize and teach empathy, then how did they become aligned with this form of oppression? Is the energy, effort, and time wasted on teaching students to write to a standardized test really an act of oppression?

I think that Paulo Freire would say that we have lost our way, and that we have become the oppressor. If "oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization" as Freire says they are, then does the modern English teacher fit this mold? Freire makes a distinction between "systemized education" and "educational projects." Projects involve the student, while systemized education is a top down form of management that disregards the problem with oppression. 

Typically, standardized tests are equated with power, both financial and political, as profits are made and student needs are ignored. The standardized test is a neoliberal and far right conservative manifestation that touts educator accountability but fails to allow the pursuit of a problem-solving style pedagogy. Freire teaches us that:

"In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people's historicity as their starting point."

Why not understand the origins of our students? When people become "aware of their incompletion" then education becomes an "ongoing activity." Standardized testing symbolizes an oppressive barricade, a box much like the one the students are forced to write in. The test becomes an education completed, or in some cases it becomes an education never accomplished. 

Either way, both outcomes send our students the wrong message. 

 

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Doing Research in Education: A Writer's Dilemma in the Age of Trump and Devos

I'm at an impasse in my research and in my paper, and I think I've just become sick of the battle for public education. I am sick of this battle because in the age of Trump and Devos I am losing hope. Even though teachers and other stakeholders have come forward with proof that accountability based statewide standardized testing is lowering the quality of student educational experience, nobody, no matter how loud their voice, is able to make any significant changes.

My paper, heavy on criticism and blended with pedagogies that have been made near extinct by policy, is a just another tired, old dialogue to throw on my scrap heap of other various complaints. For example, I am sick of sharing the road with drivers that haven't bothered to license up for even the most basic of journeys. I am talking about the privileged teacher, the ones working in charter schools, the ones with no certification and no advanced degree. I believe those teachers should be made to go back to school and do it all again. You actually need some background on human and child development, some literature courses, and an awareness of composition theory. You need a practicum or student teaching cycle. You don't become an expert in the English department just by trying to teach the subject. We wouldn't say that about any other occupation, so why are we allowing this to happen in our classrooms? Students are not lab rats; experimenting with them is wrong.

At any rate, I do have a variety of places to go with my paper. I could write about how standardized testing, and these lower standards for teachers, have interfered with an expressivist and critical writing pedagogy in the English classroom. I could write a vitriolic, complaint paper based upon my most recent experiences, but what would be the use? Writing a vitriolic and angry paper would help me blow off some steam, but I don't believe it will help my students. Even so, I have had certain people without even a basic understanding of the writing classroom come into my world and try to make sense of it. They remind me of how lost I would be in a chemistry class, and I wonder why they think they have the expertise to criticize any methods in an English class. I have heard some of the most ridiculous comments from people like that, and I could weave them into my paper for entertainment purposes, but would that help anyone?

I could write about the development of the STAAR writing prompt, and I could make the argument that it lends itself to a formulaic and reductive pedagogy. The STAAR prompts are intended to fit any ethnic or economic demographic, but they fall tremendously short of this goal. I could show the reader why they discriminate, and I could offer some solutions for fixing the prompt. I could write about the history of expressivist writing in high schools, and discuss why it works with marginalized populations. But what would all of this mean for me? What would I learn from this?

Anyway, I am at the classic writer's crossroad, that place where picking up the pen has become a chore rather than a thrill. But no matter what, this writing has to happen. After this, I can write whatever I want... and, believe me, I will 😊That piece of vitriol might happen anyway.

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Five Ways to Survive the Drama King or Queen at Your Workplace

            Just when you started to think that your life had become dull and uninteresting to other people, you suddenly realize that you’ve been a long-running target of the weak-minded and categorical. I say weak-minded because even with a solid education the cause of your misery is still oblivious to common sense and the surrounding world with all its peculiarities, and I say categorical because even though they (he, or she, or the person in transition) rejects insulting classifications and stereotypes that could easily be applied to them, they fall into the trap of outwardly embracing what it is that makes them repugnant in the first place. Happily playing at therapy and liberally applying labels to other unsuspecting people is just daily business for people running on an intellectual deficit.

So, how do we outmaneuver and protect our finances and career, our sanity, from this abuse and assault on our character?

  1. Don’t play nice and don’t help them. People that run around slapping labels on coworkers and acquaintances do not deserve your help. No matter how tempted you are to point out the obvious, or cover for the person, resist. If they are running around judging you, they are somehow in deficit. This means they will lie to obscure the truth about themselves. Labeling other people makes it convenient to dehumanize. In other words, they will never care about anyone that isn’t a convenience to them.
  2. When you are targeted by a person in deficit, do not turn the other cheek. I’ve done this before, and it does not work. Be totally proactive and completely truthful. Do not allow them to bully you, and do not share in any of their blame. I’ve tried to compromise with a person like this before in an effort to make peace and, sadly, it does not work. When someone is pretending that they are qualified to psychoanalyze you, or if someone thinks they know your character better than you do yourself, beware, because they are in search of drama and attention at your expense. This tendency to slap labels and stereotypes on other people will create a sense of isolation ultimately lending itself to inauthentic and dishonest, two-faced relationships.
  3. Keep your sense of humor even as they devalue you. Remember, those obnoxious lips and mouths are really crying out from pain and insecurity, and you can help them coexist without exclusion if you demonstrate your own courage and resilience. Most of the time they are operating from that lonely place of deficit, and that is a place of fear and uncertainty. The attack on you is an act of cowardice. Recognize it for what it is and be glad you are not in that place.
  4. Practice articulation. If you are unable to explain to other interested parties why you think you are a target, then you might be misinterpreted. This happened to me, and this inability to share my thoughts in an articulate and powerful way hindered my ability to convey the truth. I was simply underprepared, blind-sided, and in a state of shock. Prepare to defend yourself at all times. People that backstab you and label you will stop at nothing to destroy you. You have been reduced to a category, a label, or stereotype. Do not soft peddle your defense in an effort to protect your own humanity. The deficit, the cowardice, is real.
  5. The five-year rule. I always tell my students that they will never know how they will feel about someone, or some situation, in five years. Never take an action against your attacker that might cause you shame in the future because nothing is more destructive. Instead, mitigate the damage to yourself by maintaining a sense of dignity. You know that you are more valuable than the careless and irresponsible label that your pretend psychotherapist, or attention seeking gossip, or fake friend, has tossed in your direction. Be strong and resist the temptation to take revenge.

Finally, I would like to say that it is important that we do everything in our power to keep our children safe. That means doing our best to monitor their movements and give them rules that we are able to enforce. If we give our children mixed messages, if we fail to support them with consistent discipline and structures, then we not only endanger them physically, but we also create mini-dramas that will produce more confused and intolerant adults with social and intellectual deficits.

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Thoughts on Trump, Literacy Coaching, and Writing for My GIS

Like usual, I couldn't be more disturbed about the incompetence going on in Washington. I've been reading this book by Kurt Eichenwald about Enron and why it failed, and so many of the people at the top of that organization had no business working with large sums of money and creating financial vehicles like hedge funds. They had no business buying up water utilities and shuffling funds around. This compares to the Trump administration in a bunch of frightening ways, and I am tired of just watching the train wreck in slow motion. Some nights after reading in that book, it's hard to sleep well. And then I wake up in the morning and turn on the news, and Trump has already been up since before dawn making a fool of himself and taking the entire country along on his weird little ride.

My theories about incompetence isn't confined to politics; I'm worrying about other places too. When you are depending on your leadership to make good choices (because it's like you are on a bus careening down a dangerous mountain with a bunch of other helpless people when you are subject to the decisions of an incompetent team), your life is on a kind of holding pattern, like at an airport. For example, I went on an interesting job interview last year. The school was in a tough neighborhood and the principal was young and inexperienced. Honestly, she looked like she was just out of high school, and she even had a squeaky little voice to go along with her tiny, young appearance. She had the campus instructional coach sit in the interview, and at the time I didn't see anything wrong with that. And then in January of this year, I read an entire text book on coaching. It turns out that the instructional coach should never chime in on personnel decisions because that interferes with the trust that is needed between the teacher and the coach. The student's success in the classroom should be the goal of coaching, not deciding which teachers should win or lose during hiring season. To help students succeed, the coach has to be trustworthy and ethical so the teacher can feel comfortable asking questions and demonstrating teaching methods in the classroom. The coach is suppose to support the teacher in an objective and professional way. A coach that is critical and unethical, willing to gossip, or seek power over an individual's employment, is unworthy of the position. Coaches should never verbally abuse a teacher or make hateful and derogatory comments either, but most of us in education have seen this kind of unprofessional conduct at least once. 

But my answer on that day was pretty blunt. I told them that I respected credentials and experience, and that I was hoping to work with a team that had a campus wide learning strategy. But in some ways just relying on a person's credentials or education is an invitation to open Pandora's box because as soon as someone thinks that his or her terminal degree means it's okay to stop learning from colleagues, then the department or institution is limited to something that may not be what it appears, similar to Enron's CFO, Andy Fastow. So, if a team is looking up to someone that is believed to have all-encompassing knowledge, overloading this person's ego with decision making power or influence, and grooming them to serve at the top, then the institution will never know what it has been missing in the way of growth or innovation because it has chosen to overlook other perspectives. When an organization centers its attention on a particular individual, and relies on that individual as a source of guidance or constant advice, then the organization threatens its very existence because of this insulating factor. It's important to listen to every voice. Let's take a look at the relationship between Ken Lay, CEO of Enron, and Andy Fastow, the CFO. Anything that Andy did or said was supported by Ken Lay, and it took a string of whistle blowers and mini-disasters, and finally a major disaster, to get anyone outside of the company to believe that the entire organization was near financial collapse. It was basic incompetence 101 that brought Enron to its knees after years of mismanagement, and the fact that Lay was enthralled with an erroneous idea and image of Andy Fastow. 

This is why I have been thinking about writing some ideas about literacy coaching into my GIS. The way we do education in this country does need some revamping, but the reforms that have been tried so far have done nothing but harm students and teachers. Maybe if more teachers were encouraged to take advanced coursework this would help with student achievement. But ignoring professionalism has done nothing to improve outcomes, and just allowing anybody to coach, teach, or lead a school, is just as crazy as relying on a perceived guru. When I say ignoring professionalism, I think of the instructional coach example.

My first instructional coach has since retired, but I met her one night last fall on a moonlit bike trail. It was the strangest way to meet back up again, and I was so happy to see her. She had so much to offer me back at my old school in the way of knowledge and expertise, but she had no clue about the actual learning environment between her visits because all she was ever shown was numbers and data, so she was unsure of how to guide any of her teachers on that campus (an example of how misguided leadership can hurt kids). But our conversation was tinged with sadness since we both already knew from watching the news that my old school is in its seventh year of "improvement required," and will soon be closed, proving in general that drastic reform strategies fail our kids. 

Anyway, my GIS is my capstone course for my master's degree, and I want to expand on how standardized testing has affected student writing. I've already done some work in this area in previous courses, but I would like to offer some solutions on how to mitigate the classroom tragedies that are taking place everyday in public schools everywhere. I know that the emphasis on writing to an examination has overshadowed the creation of student writers per se. The drill and kill method of grammar instruction is once again overshadowing the more effective literature based method. Standardized tests cater to a certain demographic, and the writing prompts are evidence of this. I know that I can't change policies, but one voice at a time can help one child at a time. I hope that what I learn from my capstone course will help me become a better teacher.

Vogt, MaryEllen, et al. Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World. 2nd. ed., Boston, Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2007.

Eichenwald, Kurt. Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story. New York, Broadway Books, 2005.

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I Don't Want to do it Myself: Teaching Writing with a Worksheet

This week some of my fellow students (I'm in a composition pedagogy class) shared some worksheets that they would assign during a writing workshop. First of all, I am completely confused by this assignment because I have attended numerous writing workshops around the country, and I've never had to do a worksheet. My own composition classes have all been of the workshop style, so I really didn't even know there was any other way. I have met people that teach writing at the secondary level that have never attended any workshops and don't know what they are, but I have never met anyone teaching at the college level that doesn't use this methodology along with writing pedagogies and theories.

I am totally confused. I don't know what will happen with my grade in this course because it seems as if the professor is more of a constructivist (the Kenneth Burke variety), and I am more of an expressivist (the James Berlin variety). All I can do is look at what most of my classmates are offering in the way of writing exercises, and think about how I could see myself getting into a whole lot of trouble for handing the worksheet back to the teacher and declaring a big "no thanks." I believe if you don't want to do the worksheet yourself (or any kind of classwork for that matter), then you shouldn't be passing it out to somebody else. 

We all know that post-secondary educators are all crying the blues about the low level students they are getting. I keep hearing that none of the kids can write, and that some of the kids can't read, and how close reading exercises have had to be added to classes and textbooks, and how some of the kids have no library skills, or classroom etiquette, and the list of grievances just goes on and on forever. Some institutions are even bucking back against accepting any dual credit or Advanced Placement scores because they think the kids still can't write or think critically.

And all of this makes me wonder if the worksheets are some response to this perceived problem with literacy skills, at least in the undergraduate writing class. So, with this in mind, I would like to recommend a change based on my experiences with math. Schools have transformed the way they teach math, and it is working. Students do small group tutorials on a regular basis regardless of skill level (it is sometimes important to have a mixed ability group). Math tutors are everywhere, and most of the instruction has the look and feel of a workshop. The classes are more cohesive than ever before. I honestly envy what I see math teachers doing, and I can't figure out why secondary English teachers aren't attending workshops and taking advanced coursework so they can do the same thing. And, of course, math has some differences because students have to constantly do worksheets because repetition is important to memorizing an equation or learning how to operate a calculator. But, even so, math departments have their own versions of the writing workshop and writing lab.

Just like a mini math lesson, a mini grammar lesson can be fun. Students can revise pieces in class, and teachers can choose texts that are relevant and engaging. Every now and then a worksheet is okay. But drill and kill grammar lessons with worksheets and computer programs that are out of context with the student's life is oppressive. Students should never be handed a grammar worksheet without some context. Reading and fixing sentences that you didn't write yourself, and that no identifiable person wrote, is boring and tedious. For example, one of the future educators that I'm working with in my course created this elaborate worksheet for citation creation. On one side it has the text information, and then on the other side it has a bunch of lines where you would try to write your citation. If you need to make a bibliography for the sources you have used, you can look up how to do it in a handbook and follow the container pattern. It is really that simple. Teaching how to make citations is okay, but you don't need a worksheet for that, and it's a major waste of time anyway when you can just copy it out of a book. 

Students should be writing for a larger audience than just the teacher. Student writings should be published on school walls, school websites, blogs, or local newsletters and papers. When students are no longer isolated by the teacher, when they are no longer working out of context for some unattainable goal, when they have options about who reads and values their work, they become writers. 

 Cartoonist unknown

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