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Dear Readers: Professional Development in the English Community! I Know you are Mesmerized 😃📚

My long journey into education, tough and fraught with peril, has been padded by a long list of fabulous supporters and teachers. Just this summer, I finished a week long training with 29 other people facilitated by a professional that truly knew his content and cheered us all on with a tasteful sense of humor that was both dry and engaging. Believe me, being treated like a professional after a long drought is definitely refreshing because the sense of collegiality and respect had become somewhat foreign to me. Prior to the weeklong experience, I also enjoyed two other summer trainings that incorporated fun activities into a socially relaxing environment. Both of the facilitators were prepared, the materials were of quality, and the content was relevant to the questions that had been roaming around in my head. Recognizing a teacher's right to professional autonomy and choice is what every experienced coach and facilitator prioritizes. Jim Knight writes about the importance of respecting a teacher's choice of professional development opportunities in his book, Instructional Coaching, a valuable 'must read' for anyone in education, especially if you suspect that you could be better supported. Reading the book can at least either validate your suspicions, or help you take advantage of opportunities available to you even if they are limited. In other words, you can fine tune your relationship with your coach if any trust exists. 

Whenever I have problems with parents or students, I try to think back to what I learned from student teaching. I worked side by side with an experienced professional, a truly amazing, organized, and well prepared teacher. She had a ton of tips and tricks that she shared with me that made it possible for me to imagine myself at her level at some far in the future day. No matter how hard I try, or how long I slog away at this, I will never be able to match her expertise because she is just that great. She shared her classes and her students with me for 14 weeks in a spirit of positivity and inclusiveness; she never complained about me because she was graceful and patient, consistently modeling professionalism. Whenever I raised doubts about my own competence, she would point out my strengths.

After I became certified, I started to venture out into other places for professional development. The Writing and Thinking Institutes at Bard can't be matched for intense instruction. Each group consists of at least 15 participants that work in both secondary and post-secondary schools. I managed to attend 3 summers in a row. The first summer I attended I took a weeklong seminar in creative nonfiction, and I can't recommend it enough. The professor that taught this section had lived on the Hudson for most of her life. The texts that she selected centered around the local river culture, and the discussions were thought-provoking. I learned about the area and the people, the history, and how the river sustained them. To say that a Bard Institute is inspirational is to understate the value. At the end of the week, my fellow participants and I had created a lesson plan for our own creative nonfiction unit. This sparked an interest in teaching and writing creative nonfiction, and I learned how valuable it is in the classroom for making students aware of our common humanity.

By the next summer, I was feeling as if I needed more instruction assigning and responding to student papers; I signed up for a seminar at Bard titled, Teaching the Academic Paper. Because I love composition theory so much, the class was a perfect fit for me. The week just seemed to fly by, and every evening was filled with English nerd-type fun. I even met Sondra Perl, a famous writer and leading composition theorist that I had always looked up to and had always felt intensely curious about because she had developed the 12 guidelines of writing that I like to use in the classroom. Finally, the following summer, I took a Bard institute titled, Writing with Technology. All of us participants bonded closely because this class required us to share our journeys into literacy. Not only that, I was able to take a super strong and super smart English professor with me. What could be more important to an English teacher than practicing the continuous cycle of reading, writing, learning, discussing, and sharing with some of the best people in the field? I hate to sound silly, but we were tighter, tougher, and stronger than the New England Patriots when our week together concluded. 

I've been fortunate enough to attend other advanced placement trainings and tons of other one-day seminars, writing retreats, and of course, the daily grind and struggle of grad work and teaching various preps; the intensity of these high quality experiences have helped me improve my teaching. Without dutifully attending these various trainings and zoning in on my grad work, I would be not somewhat mediocre, but truly mediocre. But at the end of the day it all comes down to the people that inspire you the most. Usually the toughest teacher with seemingly unattainable requirements ends up, often after years of agony, becoming the most important person in your professional life. But at this point, I don't have time to tackle becoming that well-versed in my subject even if I was that kind of genius. But I do know that after taking trainings and trainings after trainings, that I am able to learn from the work of other people, especially if it isn't garden variety. I know that at least a few of those people that bothered to teach me do still care about me, just as us fellow participants still enjoy keeping in touch. Being able to differentiate between a quality training experience and one that is mediocre and inspired by nothing but basic low rigor and test prep is an important skill in the education world. Teachers that invest in high quality professional development, that take the time to learn their subject, sometimes have to accept the superficial even though it isn't helpful. It is at those times that I reflect on the differences between quality and low rigor and try to develop fresh ideas for student learning. Now at the beginning of a new academic year, when I once again feel like running away rather than running to, it seems appropriate to reflect on what has brought me to this point.

Blythewood Manor Italian Garden Bard College


Donald Trump, Climate Change, and Totalitarianism: A Connection

Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism is a tough read. And sometimes I wish I hadn't struggled through her dense prose because much of it is making me sick with worry. I feel like an old time fortune teller because everything that I learned in the book is relevant to the Trump administration. Anyway, somewhere deep in her book she begins to talk about how Totalitarianism creeps in without the population's awareness or recognition. I strongly suggest reading this book yourself. I hope you will take time with every word. In the meantime, let me try to clarify what I think is important to understand in this moment. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism

Hitler warped reality for the Germans by using propaganda, symbolism, terror, concentration camps, shame and racism, along with dishonesty and violence. He pretended to care about the working man and woman, the underdog, and he aligned himself with other despots and liars. Education in all forms became not only a luxury, but it became something degrading and negative. The press and literacy became the enemy, so reality became a matter of debate, discussion, and skepticism. Warping reality serves to rip away trust and unity in society, creating a sense of confusion, supporting a rhetoric of aggression. This rhetoric of aggression serves to heighten tensions and stress (even in personal relationships), validating arguments that are essentially destructive and divisive. 

While people are living in this state of confusion and distrust, violence and chaos become more acceptable and frequent. Facts slip away. Society searches for truth by indulging in petty arguments and blundering around in confusion. Meanwhile, Totalitarianism is seeping into the social cracks. She wrote many pages on this subject of reality and confusion. And here we are quite confused arguing about whether or not children are drinking from toilets while living in cages, whether or not they are going hungry, or are ripped from their parents. We are arguing about whether or not the planet will be habitable in 50 years when we can clearly see that if we do nothing the die-off will overwhelm our souls and plunge us into a psychic darkness. We are arguing about science that is settled and factual. We are arguing in the face of science and allowing our government to dismiss this science as if it were some kind of fabricated theory while the evidence exists all around us. People are so confused they are literally becoming fanatically religious because of fear and doubt; somehow the supernatural becomes more reliable than everyday reality.

Arendt would say that Trump is a symbol, a caricature of Totalitarianism; he represents the future if we don't reclaim our reality and stomp out the kind of power he will extend. He is like a nasty seed, and we don't have time for him and his hatchlings because truth is on its way, a truth that will provide a rich ground for the growth of a more frightening and destructive form of Totalitarianism than we have yet to see in any society. With climate change will come massive disasters, resulting in the loss of national worth by depleting our resources and producing roaming populations of climate refugees. This is what they are striving for...a dark and selfish future that will allow for many helpless people to die out in floods and droughts, or to starve in famines while they attempt to build and buy their way out of the consequences of inaction and greed. Help will take years to arrive, and isolated communities will die out. Death due to neglect is just another symptom of Totalitarianism. 

We know what is real. All we have to do is communicate stronger, harder, clearer, and better. We are not communicating the coming catastrophe in a strong enough way. We are pretending that we will always have a voice even in the midst of a climate emergency. Even now, on the cusp of disaster, our voice is already muted and weak. 

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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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