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The Dangers of not Knowing how to Read and Interpret


People might point out that I am myself a know-nothing compared to the professor of comparative languages from Princeton, but that type of superstar academic is seldom found stumbling around a public school with students struggling below grade level. Public schools typically hire teachers with good state educations, with some kind of certification. But now that teaching has become such a hopeless endeavor, now that the profession is bogged down by budget concerns and political attacks, hardly anyone, no matter their expertise, wants to risk their livelihood authentically improving student outcomes.

The English degree takes quite a bashing, and the result of this is that an entire subject is deprofessionalized. Now, at least in my state, nearly anyone, no matter their course of study, can teach English in a public school. The horrific outcomes are obvious to people like me that actually follow trends and can notice the decline in the classroom. In my short career, I have taught students that can't read at grade level, have no knowledge of academic vocabulary, no relationship with any book, have never read a newspaper or magazine, don't know any current events, are media illiterate, and cannot speak or listen in the classroom. Some of my students cannot use dictionary guide words, cannot take effective notes, have never asked questions of a text, and cannot plan an essay. They know nothing of banned book week, poetry month, what a poet laureate does, or the part that opinion plays in American life. These types of disenfranchised and miseducated students will not succeed in college or in the job marketplace without serious intervention.

When my feelings of confusion rise to the surface because of a scheming manipulator or hateful sycophant, I push my hurt down and watch the ooze glide off of my fingers onto my pen to the page beneath; my tear splattered manuscript becomes a textual product of the mental stress this kind of gaslighting takes on me the teacher. An entire state changed its standards to help people like me ward off the fake English teacher. One fake happened to make an enormous amount of money running a low-achieving high school that I happened to work in. Before that position, she worked as an English teacher in a charter school that was closed due to falsifying student records. Her "know nothingness" accentuated her ridiculous behavior.

She arrogantly strode into my room accompanied by an equally clueless Teach for America candidate that also masqueraded as an English teacher, and then yelled at me in front of my students because "They aren't doing anything"! The students, some of them for the first time in their lives, were busily self-selecting books from my classroom library to read for the first few minutes of class. Some of the students filled the books with sticky note comments and placeholders so that they could go back to the books again and again to keep reading. She hauled me into an admin meeting and wrote me up for insubordination after she caught my kids reading after her outburst. My lawyer, armed with academic research proving the benefits of sustained silent reading, had a hard time understanding her smug stupidity. The result of the meeting hurt all of us, the students and myself. In place of reading, the students practiced standardized test questions.

Another Know-a-Lot claimed to have an English background, even bragged about an English degree, but couldn't understand why classroom novels and projects related to shared texts mattered. She sat at her desk while the "kids did lit circles with choice books." This person even tried to convince the administration that the new state standards didn't allow for assigned texts, by far the dumbest assumption ever uttered by a person in a public school. And this person even suggested that encouraging student writers to professionalize and join English departments, and become English majors, is a form of disservice, a barricade to their employment.

I know my readers think I harp on this a bit too much, but I believe our darkness, the horrible state of our world, is due in part to the mixed messages that our students cannot properly decode. Our students are ill-equipped through no fault of their own. Until we recognize that real credentials matter, until we treat our fellow teachers with respect and provide them with the authority to create authentic activities in the classroom based on shared texts and stacks of texts, while incorporating multimedia literacy, we will not solve the misinformation problem. And the misinformation problem, the confusion, is paradoxically connected to the fake English teacher. In this way, the fake English teacher is a threat to national security.

All students can learn to do any of the things in the above list. They need an authentic English teacher, and you can't provide that to a school system if you downgrade the degree itself. I've seen fake English teachers with philosophy degrees, psychology degrees, history degrees, and so on. Maybe that is okay if the teacher is willing to add hours of education in English literature and composition. But I don't see that happening. What I see is a slow withering away of the English teacher. I see a slow withering away of the librarian. I see a political movement based on fascism forcing its own low standard on our educational system by creating near unbearable working conditions for literacy experts. I see book bans and attacks on teachers and academics. The government threatened librarians with jail time. This kind of multi-generational ignorance is a real threat to our country. When someone is happy to walk up to you and accuse you of spreading filth because you are an English teacher, freedom and democracy are threatened.


The Book Burning/Banning People are Wrong: Let Me Tell You Why

    My literacy journey started with my school placing me in our country's first national ed reform failure, the Follow Through Program. It was designed before HeadStart and it targeted children from disadvantaged homes. You could certainly say that some things about my life qualified as disadvantaged since my father had bounced and left my mother with a mortgage and a small, struggling bar business. With my father out of the country and my mother in a fight for survival, it's easy to see how the school system could think something like this might be to my benefit. 

    Mom's incredible work ethic meant I spent most of my time at home alone in the dark behind the drapery and her odd furnishings. I spent many hours outside in the backyard, under the sun and the trees, sometimes playing with the neighbor kids under the street lamp. But I was basically alone with no one to question me about my school life. 

    The Follow Through Program strived to teach reading without phonics. We would literally be expected to remember a word by associating it with an object. Like the word "typewriter" would be placed in front of an actual machine. I couldn't read anything, and I'm not sure I could count to ten. I remember feeling proud that I could identify all of the colors but reading was not something I could do. Kindergarten wasn't offered at my school. It was something only the affluent kids did. At that time, there was no such thing as an early childhood program. Even if something like that existed, I wouldn't have been able to do it because of my family situation. 

    Follow Through didn't issue any grades or report cards. My mother, in all of her busyness, never noticed that the first round of report cards didn't happen. It wasn't until the semester ended that she happened to be at home because school let out early. It let out early enough for her to see other kids walking home with report cards in their hands. My mom figured that since I was such a stealthy and corrupt child that I had hidden my report card, or maybe I had thrown it away. I suffered a spanking and a truly miserable holiday break while I waited for school to resume. 

    Finally, I'm back at school sitting on the big braided rug with my classmates looking at the typewriter and all the colorful this and thats around the room, when suddenly I hear my mom yelling at the principal. I recognize the hurried click of her footsteps coming down the hallway, and I am embarrassed; I am wishing I would blend into the rug so that she can't find me. My mom pulls the classroom door open and the principal is all helpless and stricken looking like he'd been caught in a crime; he was holding his palm over his mouth. I wondered if she had slapped him.

"Oh my God! What the Hell is this"? I will never forget those words. Everyone is making a scramble for a corner of the room, except me. I'm frozen. "Wanda, get your coat. We are leaving." I still sat frozen to the rug. She reached down with her hand and pulled me up. "Come on. I am getting you out of here." At the time, I didn't understand. I liked sitting in the classroom playing with the nice teachers. I didn't know that I wasn't learning anything. I didn't know that I was being treated different for an economic and social reason. Had my mother not came to the school and given me a hand up, I might never have become the strong and resilient, educated person that I am today. I might never have learned to read had she not cared about me. 

    I will save you the story about the black eye, the little mechanical dog, and the rows and rows of metal bookshelves. I will tell you that my mom marched me into a public library and a real first-grade class on that very same day. I will tell you that she signed me up for the Book of the Month Club and Highlights Magazine. She took me into the Carnegie Library and she explained that I could learn about anything I wanted just by reading books. The effort to get caught up with my peers was painful and humiliating. I never became a math whiz, even though I learned to love and appreciate different kinds of math. But by fourth grade, I could read almost anything.

    My mother's panic became my panic. The school system betrayed us. They needed 13 students to receive federal funding for the program. I, according to the principal, became number 13 without anyone's knowledge or permission. This is how they felt about us. My brother was in Vietnam in a struggle for his life. My father was in a foreign country working. My sister was newly married and trying to live her own life. No one knew that I was sitting around playing on a rug, when I should have been sitting behind a desk learning some phonics. 

    By the time I became a fourth grader, some old family wounds had begun to heal, and I was happily hanging around with my precious grandmother every weekend. Her mind was active and alert. She read a lot of junk, but she also engaged with tons of solid, contemporary and classic texts. She talked to me about different religions, and she insisted that I open my heart and mind to all kinds of people. I don't remember how we started talking about the Holocaust. I just know that it was a conversation over her kitchen table. Me, a fourth grader, went to the Carnegie Library and checked out Mein Kampf. I guess these days some librarians might try to talk a child out of that. In the seventies you read what you wanted. I won't give Hitler any press here, but I will say that I found his writing style rather boring and his arguments extremely weak. I felt terrible about my German heritage. I couldn't believe that he orchestrated this terrible thing. I read more books. I looked at pictures. I cried a lot. My German people came to the USA long before Hitler's rise, but I still feel as if something about me is deficient and evil. I will never forgive anyone for genocide. I am completely opposed to fascism in all forms, alt-right, or whatever. 

    I went on and read books about all kinds of adult problems. I also indulged in fantasy stories, confessionals, romances, horror, philosophy, and I loved John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. I must have read Black Beauty one thousand times. I read everything I could find. When someone would die or get sick, I would write elaborate poems. By reading these ideas, by writing myself, I came up with a belief system that works for me. It is my own belief system, an educated and fair system. The fact that I could read whatever I wanted without interference meant that I could vicariously experience the tragic mistakes of life without committing too many of them myself. Had I not been able to read, I would probably not be alive. Reading saved my life. Had it been monitored by an adult, I know the outcome would have been negative because I was a difficult child. The joy would have been stripped from me. Reading was an important part of my freedom. Books helped me survive an extremely difficult early life.

    The books my teacher assigned to us helped me make friends and understand different levels of literacy. The books brought us together as young academics struggling to understand a complex and confusing world. We became empathetic with one another no matter our race or income. My class is still like that. We still care about each other. Had we been censored, we would have existed in a type of mental prison. This is what book bannings and burnings do to the young. You stifle their freedom. You limit their intelligence and creativity. You end empathy. I read books in order to understand and form opinions. We all deserve this kind of freedom, the freedom to research, explore, think, and ultimately write. 

    I am still ashamed of my German heritage. But I know how the German people came to that point. They were forced into a mental prison by a fascist movement. Let's not do that.

IMG_1209                                                                                                                            Credit to unknown meme artist 

Teaching and Writing During the Pandemic as Compared to Now

I looked back at my notes from the year 2020 at the end of the month of July. What I noted about this period of time is that I had to take extra training to teach online. My old community college, a place that treated me with transparency and respect, issued an online teaching certificate course that I completed before the beginning of school. I also spent hours and hours moving content to an online platform. This meant I made a ton of new files, busied myself by scanning books and worksheets into the learning management system for my students, and saved that material in my MacBook and in the cloud. The reality is that the pandemic made me a better prepared teacher, but I received no support or pay for this extra work.

In my end of the month reflection, I wrote this:

Could we be headed for a civil war? This has been a month for the record books. It started out pretty happy with the Fourth of July celebration and my son going with me to visit our hometown. And then it kind of lurched off into an oddly sinister month with continuous political strife, protests both violent and peaceful, super hot temperatures, and drastically rising Covid cases. I guess I will have to start setting up my classes, and I don't know what to do with them. I am confused about making these modules for the community college. I'm also worried about going back to school. I've been so sick, so many times, and I have no reason to believe that I won't catch Covid just like I catch everything else. This is so scary!

One goal that I had at that time was to create a fluid and integrated presentation that I could modify daily, and I managed to do this by using my iPad as a document camera. Rather than rely on a software program, I decided to create visuals that the students could enjoy and imitate. By doing this, I was able to integrate visual literacy into the remote classroom. All of this sounds so smooth and easy, but I struggled. I spent many hours working on materials. And now I am struggling again. I am struggling because someone decided that their timeline supersedes common sense and human decency.

This July, instead of attending social events and working on my class materials, I am in a crack. I am in this crack for no good reason whatsoever. I have heard numerous excuses, but at the end of the day, none of them add up to professionalism. I am asking that my readers say a little prayer for me. I am also going to once again reiterate the obvious. Teachers do not need hoops to jump around in. Teachers need respect and money. The fact that we are in this shortage crisis is not because teachers are making great salaries and experiencing strong support. This crisis is happening because teachers are tired of chaos. I have seen the lowest performing people receive the highest rewards. I have seen administrators brush off teachers in need of help. I have heard the silliest remarks. Teachers need help, not ridicule. This month I have read communications that suggested that I didn't know the difference between rhetoric and a pet bird. Some of these communications are ridiculous and borderline abusive. I allowed these communications because the writer may not understand the concept of audience; the writer could be overwhelmed or new to the job. You never know what kind of information a person feels compelled to act upon. But this example of this terrible communication style is one of the reasons that the teaching profession is withering on the vine. And of course the fact that facts matter, not silly opinions or gossip.

In the end, I believe the month of July, during the perilous 2020 pandemic year, felt more accomplished and productive. That is sad.


Credit to unknown meme artist 🌹

Exam Prep and the Folly of Fascist Upstarts

My advanced placement students are working hard to prepare for their exam next week, and I am struggling with maintaining focus. I want them to know that if they wander into this thing underprepared, the experience will feel like a rockslide. This year we completed all progress checks in the order recommended, just like good soldiers. First this, and then that, all down the unit plan with our theme based repertoire of inspirational readings and writings. We started out with American Indian literature, even old speeches given by long-dead and bitterly disappointed chieftains, and we mingled that with contemporary artists like Joy Harjo, and Simon Ortiz, N. Scott Momaday and Sherman Alexie.

We moved on to African Americans and literatures around the Civil Right's struggle, even Malcolm X (whom I love with a passion), and our major figure, Martin Luther King. We looked at the dramatic tone shift in the Eula Biss essay, Time and Distance Overcome, and we paired that with an introduction on discourse modes. My students learned from a brief dive into the digital college library that lynching is indeed an area of academic study, and they learned that not everything is right in America--I am good with that. Our imperfections reside in an ugly heart, the heart that indulges in hate.

We dabbled around in the question of what it means to be a woman in today's world, and we ended our theme-based study with the environment. We looked at the many ways we could stop trashing our planet and how to stop hurting women and children. And now we are in the world of exam prep practice in the midst of a world of meaningful ideas. My students are leaving my class better-informed and more articulate than in the beginning. I am proud of that. I am happy that I could help them lift the veil and look at the reality of today. I am convinced they feel empowered. I want them to know that the written word, their own style and voice, really matter.

The fascist upstart would say that our students need to know a Christian God. Our students need to know America for only the good things, not the ugly reality. They insist that Us Teachers are grooming our students for Marxism and Socialism, and we are sexualizing them and making them hate America. We are making them gay or binary or whatever. Everything we say and do in the classroom must be monitored and reported. If we say the wrong thing about America, we must be silenced and removed from our classrooms. Thanksgiving, the original one, happened as a collaboration, not something "Indians" did to save ignorant settlers from starving and freezing. But what if out of their decency and humanity, these so-called "ignorant savages" facilitated their own demise by trusting the greedy white man?  These kinds of knowledge, the stories that ring the bell of truth, must be erased and ignored, especially if they make people think or question. We must stick to old labels about the dead. We must not glorify true bravery, true humanity, or true generosity and love.

Most of all, I want them to know what it is like to enjoy writing. I want them to feel a good pen between their fingers, the way it scratches against the paper, the sound like a whisper to a loved one. The exam prompts, safely tucked away in a digital vault, still offer a compelling opportunity for planning. Most good writing takes place in the brain, so I ask students to start formulating bits of prose, key words, and commit these ideas to memory, so that under stress, during the exam, the words arise from the mist and fly off the fingertips, and the magic happens, the unicorn appears on the page and a sophistication point is earned.

I love my students, and I owe them all a debt of gratitude. They teach me something new every day, so I want them to recognize the oppressor.


The Sin of Low Expectations: Is it a trap?

Okay, I know it's true, I am thorny. I am thorny by design and not by choice. I am thorny because of my experience and what I know. I am justifiably thorny. Open your eyes to the potential in front of you, and then ask yourself if you are committing the greatest sin of all, the sin of low expectations. What if someone wants you to accept low expectations, low expectations for job satisfaction and unity, student achievement, parental involvement, equity, and social justice? I heard someone remark one day that, "Our kids are not there. These are not the kids we have. These kids cannot do this." I thought it was the most idiotic statement because an individual can only have limited knowledge of student learning styles and potential in a broad way, and students present with an unlimited variety of possibilities. We can never know how far they can go. 

I sometimes become frustrated with the superficiality of what I see and what I hear. The mundane and hollow, pretentious and predictable, sad blasphemy committed against my subject by people that barely understand its complexity or purpose; I believe this is proof of some type of sabotage. This blasphemy spills from the minds and mouths of people that are in powerful positions. How can we be so deluded? We can never know all of this. What are we thinking? Why are we here? Why do I tolerate this lie, this blasphemy?

My subject is a key that opens the door to power and democracy, equality and justice. Without the key, people suffer. Even if you possess an extraordinary key, one that is gifted and complex in design and purpose, it still might fail to render the best outcome. The key I offer my students is never guaranteed, but it certainly remains their best option for solving difficult personal and social problems. This key opens a gate to the pathway of knowledge, so how can its value be measured by people that claim it as a part of them, but then prove by their actions and words that it is something foreign and unfamiliar instead? This key, when used for good, opens the door to true power.

I'm tired of the charade. I am becoming convinced that the opposition's failure to attack with an effective offensive assault resulted in subterfuge and duplicity instead. Certain powerful individuals look only at abstractions and spreadsheets, when instead they should look inside the organization, into the head of the fish. But what would I know? Maybe I know because I recognize the sheer absurdity of what is happening. I see through the haze of mendacity straight into the eyes of the aggressor. I'm swatting flies.

Many nights and days are devoted to my key. I hold it in my palm like a precious jewel. I share my key with the people that need to unlock the gate to knowledge. I tell them to write to learn. They do it. 

IMG_2567Credit to unknown meme artist

Working on National Board Certification: Lost and Adrift

This year I am going to try and complete two National Board components. Last year I successfully sat for the Component One exam and that provided evidence of accomplished teaching. Component Two is designed to prove that I fairly provide differentiation for all of my students. My worry is that somehow my featured activity/lesson/artifacts will fall short of the requirements. I'm not sure if National Board envisions a large project activity or some small specific skill, whether it can be an outcropping of some paper through a writing conference, or if it must entail a specific standard and strategy. I'm skipping over Component Three and moving ahead to Component Four, which my coach encouraged me to do. But now that I've watched some YouTube videos on this subject, I am wondering if she actually misguided me. The problem is that I have only 2 more years to get these done, and they are only approved yearly in December. 

In my program, I am lacking an English coach. They did assign me one, but she failed to stay with the program. My official coach is a middle school math teacher, someone that truly doesn't seem to understand the kind of advanced English classes that I teach. My work products are possibly a bit foreign to her. She already downgraded one of my practice submissions which is a final exam paper followed up with feedback and then a student written reflection with specific prompts. Most of my classes are dual credit anyway, and this kind of lesson might have seemed extreme to someone that doesn't teach much writing.

Even worse, I am receiving no support at all from my campus or my district. Other teachers around my area receive extra planning time, financial compensation, and assigned cohorts in order to achieve this difficult certification. My district refuses to even accept the micro credentials that I complete for Board certification practice, even though the rigor is extremely high, possibly higher than anything else a teacher can do other than the actual Board Components. 

I'm not confident that I will achieve a National Board Certificate because of the time frame and my lack of support, but I'm going to try anyway even though it has been thousands of dollars out of my own pocket. I am learning to become a better teacher by engaging with this process even if my participation is only superficial because of my challenges. 

As a young twenty-something living in Oklahoma, I abandoned any dreams of ever becoming a teacher. The low pay and the location interfered with my idyllic imagining of a bright and wealthy future. I wanted to make "as much money as the men." I often felt insecure and homeless, a possible feeling of negativity left over from a difficult childhood. Later, after I partially completed my first degree, I started to imagine myself as a teacher again. But I ended up returning to my previous work because money was tight, and I had my little boy to worry about. 

Finally, I managed to navigate myself back into education. Now I am happy with my choices. Even so, I am always critical of myself, so I am possibly feeling unworthy of National Board Certification, and maybe that is why I feel so lost in the process and need additional support and encouragement.

I know I can do this; I know I can learn from this experience; I know my students will benefit; I know I have to try.


Working on My Subject Area Masters and the Devastating Consequences (with update)

My health went down when I worked on my subject area masters. Different than an M.Ed, a subject area masters requires you to become an expert, contribute to the academic discipline, and develop a thesis and area of study. As an undergrad, my interest in composition theory, education, and recidivism, led me into a series of interesting papers that felt easy to write, and my department chair and professors supported me with anything I wanted to do, whether it was in the education department or in the English department. For example, I enjoyed the experience of working as a visiting teacher at our local alternative school, and I split my observation schedule between 12th grade English and Kindergarten; splitting that observation time enabled me to imagine vertical alignment and see the big picture as it pertains to childhood development and literacy. I worked on a series of lesson plans for English with another teacher, and I created a lesson plan portfolio on our twelve domains that I donated to the education department when I graduated. Overall, the experiences, the practicum in English, the composition theory classwork, the writing, and the childhood psychology and development classes helped me become a better teacher. When I moved to Texas, I had to basically revisit all of that in order to feel qualified and effective. I worked on weekends, nights, and at all kinds of odd times in order to prepare for my masters. I read incredibly difficult writers and thinkers, such as Kenneth Burke, in order to prepare myself for teaching rhetoric and composition at the college level. I dug into the Theory of the Novel by Lukács, and I reread all of my old college textbooks in order to prepare myself. I worked on my writing using the theories that I learned. I published with my audience in mind, fellow teachers and instructors, and I watched as my writing became more professional and academic. I finally felt prepared.

My health slipped away. On weekends, while other people were out walking and enjoying the beautiful Texas weather, I hunched over my desk. I neglected my child, and I became surly and over-stressed. Taking him to his guitar practices felt like an intrusion on my study time, and working at my school on Saturdays interfered with my writing time. I gained weight. I became unhappy, but I loved my classes with a passion I hadn't felt since I taught English at the alternative school. I inserted the concepts, the beautiful ideas that I learned, into my ninth and tenth grade English classes. I started to teach Advanced Placement English. I navigated the hoard of people that judged me without knowing my struggle. I felt misunderstood. An over zealous and abusive administrator mismanaged me, one in a series of new underprepared principals that I endured early in my teaching career. I started to think that nothing that I did would matter to the world of education because it catered to a long line of people that, in my opinion, were unworthy of their position and relied on connections, instead of expertise, for employment.

The years went by and I became a better teacher. I paid for my own professional development at expensive places like Bard College and Rice University. I earned some scholarships from Bard and Rice, and this extra work helped me become even more professional. I even earned a scholarship as recent as this year from the College Board in order to study in a cohort with a mentor. 

But, apparently, somehow, this year, I am not worth as much to my institution. My institution wants to squabble with me about my adjunct pay. The community college that hired me as an adjunct issued a raise, but none of this money trickled down to me; this raise never trickled down to my fellow coworkers that earned the difficult subject degrees that allowed them to teach dual credit classes. Not only that, my institution wanted to pay me for one less section than last year, even though my enrollment increased substantially, and my students are struggling harder with the material. I wonder where the money is going. I wonder why I am not paid more for my education, the sacrifice that I made for my students, the ongoing cost to my physical health which is now named by my doctor, Type 2 diabetes. To define how this has made me feel, this attack on my professional life, could only be described as depressing. This feeling of unfairness, this disregard and disrespect for my contribution, causes me to feel like leaving my institution, the institution that has become so familiar and family like. Meanwhile, this steady parade of people barely making a contribution seems to increase in size.

(Update) Apparently someone on my campus made a little mistake that affected my pay and this issue will be resolved. Still, adjuncts did receive a raise that the district did not issue. Teachers at all levels are trying to achieve a healthy pay schedule so that they can afford to work and live in their districts among the students, typically inner-city, that need professionals the most. Civil workers deserve a decent and dignified retirement. Anything less is an attack on democracy. Imagine if only novices without college degrees are the main source of our education workforce. What would that look like for our children?

Full time teachers that work hard to improve deserve respect. This practice of underpaying teachers and demonizing them must stop. The endless menagerie of toxic people installed into roles they are literally not educated for, these people that make it a habit to undermine the faculty, need flushed from the school system. People that underpay teachers to the point that teachers can't even afford a home, should be removed from the school system. Politicians that attack teachers and insult them by calling them childish names like "groomers" and "Marxists" must be voted out of public office. People that would restrict a students' right to read the books of their choice, should be forced to read the books themselves, write a lengthy report, and then file their dubious and silly claims. The attack on intellectual life, the attack on writers and thinkers, is a sign of authoritarianism and fascism. This is unacceptable. Installing people into roles that they are not qualified for is another sign of fascism. 

Lift up your real teachers. The teachers that are real, that want to remain in the classroom and not jump out into administration, are worth your protection. Show your respect by calling them teachers, call them faculty, stop calling them staff, provide them with moments of happiness that make them feel special. Pay them what they deserve without trying to find an excuse to take it away. Treat teachers with humanity, dignity, and respect. Remove people that micromanage and ridicule your teaching staff. Provide meaningful professional development opportunities, not busy work.


Thoughts on the Book Burning Crazies: Censorship in American Life 📚

A friend of mine recently theorized on the weird book burnings and bannings that are happening around the country, and all I want to say on the subject is that it is only a form of intimidation meant to conjure up images of Nazi boot lickers, and such, so that us open-minded sorts will become fearful. I would like to remind the white nationalist crowd that we live in the modern era where nothing can be erased. Even that embarrassing tweet or fakebook post that you authored several years ago is still out there in the great expansive internet lurking around, waiting to creep up on your dating profile or something. Think about Janurary all of those nifty social media posts made it possible for some of you to do serious jail time. Deleting that from your profile didn't work all that well, did it?

Burning a book or banning it someplace is a tremendous waste of your time and energy. Something so stupid and pointless hurts your image and makes you look like a fool. It really is a sidecar issue because as soon as you make a book a point of controversy, people trample each other to go buy a copy. But out of respect for my friend, I will post her thoughts on the subject. I would like to add that getting any of these fanatics to do any actual work, like writing a book report or something, is not going to happen. If they had literacy skills, they wouldn’t feel any desire to suppress any books:

So, I'm wondering, if it would be helpful to require a book report be submitted along with the complaint on a said book before its being pulled from a library shelf or educational curriculum. Maybe requiring an item be read before being cancelled would cut down on the growing epidemic of book burning that is sparking across this country. At worst, the book burning devotee might actually learn something if required to read the very novel they are striving to stifle.

Just saying that I'm becoming more and more suspicious that some of the authors of these book banning lists can neither read nor write but can only cut and paste.

On the positive side, Gandhi tells us that you cannot destroy an idea. 

What this country needs is another Kirk Douglas, Dalton Trumbo, and a return of the rule of law to come in and save us from the jackbooted crazies.

My dog barks a whole lot, and it is a kind of game for him. I think the same thing is happening with a bunch of these school boards and such, everyone is after power and wants to tell the teacher what to do. They are much like the dog though, just barking and accomplishing absolutely nothing beyond looking foolish. Our children experience things two ways: vicariously and in real-life. Which do you prefer? One way or another, they are going to indulge in these happenings. I prefer to see my students experience the negatives in life vicariously, and that is why we read certain texts. Watching someone make bad decisions in a great book is much better than going out blindly and doing it yourself. Think about it.



Interesting Vaccine Mandate History that Everyone Should Know


~ Professor Lee Hester, author

Due to personal stuff I haven't posted much... but I'll post this note out of frustration concerning people who are against Federal vaccine/masking mandates.

I don't know why there is even a question, legally. Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), made it clear that states could mandate reasonable regulations for public health and the case was SPECIFICALLY ABOUT VACCINES. The plaintiff arguing against vaccination provided evidence that some medical professionals thought the vaccine was potentially harmful or ineffective. The court ruled that these objections were not well-founded given the overwhelming bulk of scientific evidence. Face it, there will always be naysayers, or conspiracy theorists. No matter what, you can find someone to gainsay anything. The court made it clear that states could follow the lead of the best science, rather than fringe groups in deciding policy.

The person that penned the decision, John Marshall Harlan, was a REPUBLICAN. He was nominated to the court by Rutherford B. Hayes... another REPUBLICAN.

Four more Republicans joined Harlan in favoring public health mandates along with two Democrats. Only one Republican and one Democrat dissented.

At one time, Republicans were not only the Party of Lincoln, but also the Party of Science and Reasonable Government it seems.

Some may say that this decision was only about state mandates. But that is silly, especially in the U.S.. With no borders between states, a single state passing such a mandate would constantly face the problem of infected people of neighboring states coming in.

A 50 state mandate of the Polio vaccine literally ERADICATED IT FROM THE U.S. The only cases recorded since 1979 were brought in from outside.

When we can't get 50 state mandates. we may need a Federal one.

Morally, it has always been clear to me that one person's rights end when another's begin and my right not to be infected greatly outweighs another's right to not get a needle prick, wear a mask or quarantine.

I've had three shots of COVID vaccine. Three FULL doses, not just half-dose boosters. I haven't grown tentacles and as far as I know, the NSA can't track me or listen in on me with some microchip. If you are so worried about that GET RID OF YOUR CELLPHONE. A vaccine is the least of your worries. You might also want to check with a mental health professional.

Of course some people cannot be vaccinated for valid health reasons. That is not a problem and would be covered in any reasonable mandate.

We are all part of a society, not individual atoms. We all affect each other, whether we like it or not. We can't all have absolute freedom because of that interaction. Regulations exist, in part, to ensure a balancing of individual freedoms. As an example, traffic laws restrict your freedom to drive 70mph across town without stopping, but they help ensure your freedom to drive across town at a slower rate with a much less chance of getting killed. And face it, realistically we can't all go 70 and not stop.

I'm tired of it. The people that hate mandates should think about whether they can even live within a civil society. The kind of freedom they want can only be achieved by living alone on a deserted island. Perhaps they should buy a boat.


Professional Development: How Bard's Institute for Writing and Thinking is Helping Me on Day One

It is impossible for me to quantify the many various ways that Bard College IWT has helped me become a more effective teacher. In the past, I participated in three week-long summer workshops on their campus that guided my pedagogy and introduced me to a bevy of other teachers from around the world that shared their own best practices and innovations. Today we did several activities that will inform my future teaching, including a loop writing activity that I must admit that I have neglected to incorporate into my own classroom. 

The theme for this workshop is "margins" and "centers," a confusing concept for someone that might not teach. But for me this poses a true reality as I think about what exists in the margins of my classroom and what exists in the center. I decided to share, verbatim, a couple of excerpts from my loop writing from today because I want you to possibly use this technique to improve your own classroom or workspace.

My teacher asked us to write about what is in the center of our classroom. 

The students are at the center of my classroom because, of course, I am a student-centered teacher. I want every student in my class to feel valued and appreciated so that they can have enough self-esteem and confidence to forge ahead and become happy, productive members of society. The goal, in my case, is to make my students be able to yield power in nonviolent ways by using the pen instead of the sword. I think humanity is tired of the sword.

One of our team members attending from Israel had an interesting response to this question. He wrote that the text is the center of our classroom, the reason we meet at all. I think we both gave pretty good answers. A class needs cohesion, so this emphasis on fragmentation, lit circles if you will, interferes with advanced interpretation and significantly reduces the possibilities of creating a valuable community in a challenging environment. A shared text brings the class together.

My teacher asked us to write about what is on the margins of our classrooms.

I am on the margin of my classroom because this is my students' high school experience. Even though I advocate for them whenever possible, I want them to solve their own problems and be active learners. That can't happen if I don't step into the margins. I don't want my students constantly looking to me for the answers. I want them to take my guidance and then create their own compositions based on what they believe to be true about the text, or I want them to be able to use style and voice to explain what they like or dislike about the text. I want argumentation and persuasion, and that takes confidence.

We did several more loops today, and then we used a metacognitive strategy to analyze what we had written. 

The loops gave me a way to visualize the interplay between myself, the students, and the materials presented. This activity also enabled me to visualize strategies used by my workshop colleagues as we shared our writings. The loops served to fine tune my planning--helped me access those murky spaces in my pedagogy.

We analyzed a visual. I am sad to admit that this has always been an area that I ignore or only briefly examine. My teacher used a photo that had meaning to me personally. Of course, my teacher doesn't know me, so he couldn't have known that this visual would lead me into some interesting short, this activity is going to help my students on their exams. This activity is going to help my students with inference, symbolism, and interpretation. 

The pandemic created a climate of confusion and distraction for almost everyone. Thanks to Bard, I am finally breaking out of my cycle of confusion and distraction that haunts me continuously and rediscovering my ability to get in the zone and write. 


Explaining Myself: Why I Want to Become an Anti-Racist Teacher

First of all I would like to remind my readers that in spite of a stereotypical African American first name, I am a white person of western European descent with only a smattering of Native American thrown in. I know this for a fact because I took the 23&Me DNA test, and it turns out I'm nearly as white as a person can get. I do have skin that darkens up nicely in the sun, dark green eyes (cousin to brown on the DNA strand), and an overall 'Indian' look, but only one of my ancestors can be verified as native.

Discrimination and prejudice certainly impacted my life in an ongoing and rather problematic way because my family members stepped out in nontraditional roles and some of them worked in what could be considered as odd career choices, including myself. I'm not a stranger to white elitism and snobbery. But my challenges stack up nicely in the columns of inconvenience or mild heartbreak, even though I now realize that some of my old associates either hid their distorted and ignorant opinions from me, or have, over the decades, became disgustingly narrow minded and ridiculous, even ungrateful.

In recent years, some of my African American friends and coworkers quietly and patiently pointed out some of my own dumb blind spots and unearned privileges. Even if I earned the right to some of my privileges through hard work or suffering, I still enjoy a ton of White-Bread-American advantages that people of color righteously feel angry about. The best place to view this list of unearned advantages built into the racist American system are listed in Peggy McIntosh's essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, lists 50 ways that white people experience privilege over people of color. All 50 of them are relevant and important, eye-opening and true, but for now I want to talk about number 39: I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race. 

The best school leader I have ever known was a younger and wiser African American woman. She is honestly gifted, an amazing writer and communicator, a wonderful teacher and friend to every person that knows her. She goes out of her way to think open-mindedly about people that I typically write off as plain stupid and fake (this is hyperbole because I seldom write anyone off). Obviously, her heart is ten times bigger than mine because she strives to see the good in everyone, no matter their background or identity, while I'm a skeptic when it comes to adults. But she sometimes, like a million other qualified and gifted people, would be late to a faculty meeting or other function. On one notable time, she was stuck in a meeting with a parent, and I watched and listened as she entered the room; I witnessed the negative body language and eye-rolling, and I heard the comments that were made:

"There she is, late as usual. I wonder if she knew we had a meeting. She's late all the time." 

It's true that occasional lateness happened, but if the occasional lateness happened to me, or some other white person, nobody ever cares or makes any audible comments. When it's a white person, people tend to mind their own business when it comes to lateness. When it's a person of color, it's because the person is not organized, or they are lazy. This is just plain wrong.

Number 13 has to do with money: Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. Let us be honest white people--most of us don't deserve the bank credit that we get. Some of us start businesses and fail to properly pay or compensate our employees. Some of us are not worth the paper we are printed on, and that includes me. I am just not worth much, and I may never be worth much. But I have something that most people of color don't; I have some generational wealth. It's not much, but it's still amazing. It's better than nothing. When I walk into a bank, I get a ton of respect, respect I definitely do not deserve. If my qualified and gifted person of color walks into a bank, she receives less attention and gratuity, even though she is trying much harder than I am to establish herself as a reliable and current bank customer. 

We all know these stereotypes and racist beliefs are built into everything American. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, wants to make it illegal for teachers to point these facts out to students. He wants to forbid teachers to speak freely about critical race theory; but I'm positive that Abbott doesn't know what CRT is, or he would want to have it taught in our schools, because, after all, isn't Greg Abbott an open-minded and well-educated man? Critical race theory basically teaches us to notice the built in racist structures that exist, and then it teaches us how to reject and resist these ignorant ideas personally. For example, CRT points out that many deed restrictions disqualify residents based on their race. This is a fact of life, not a fairy tale or fake news. If it is our goal as a society to make opportunities and the American dream available to everyone, then how do these deed restrictions concerning race further equity? And, of course, this example of deed restrictions is just a tiny, petty example. If you really want to examine CRT, then look at incarceration rates, the war on drugs, immigration, and healthcare disparities, to name just a few glaring, national problems.

The real threat to American life is right wing extremism--neoliberalism. Donald Trump, Greg Abbot, and a slew of other ignorant politicians and demagogues clearly aim to normalize white supremacy, and they personally enjoy indulging in hateful and divisive acts and speech. They want wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else. Wealth for a few and subservience for everyone else is the political and economic theory known as neoliberalism. If you are following this ideology, if you are falling for this scam, then you are part of the problem. You are voting against yourself. If you are indulging in hateful thoughts and ideas, then you are doing something that is causing you to feel a temporary relief from what is buried under your psyche: the knowledge that you are wrong. You are actually causing Americans, including yourself, to lose freedoms. Neoliberalism and white supremacy are dangerous ideologies, but Critical Race Theory is an idea that will help you understand our national history; CRT will help you know yourself better, especially if you are white.