Thursday, July 16, 2020

A Letter to Governor Polis

Governor Polis,

After hearing your interview on CPR this week, I have some significant concerns. Fortunately, your statements about returning full-time to in-person school this fall provide opportunities to look more closely at this topic.

When you stated, "Well, this is really hard for everybody. It's really hard for people who work in restaurants and retail trying to decide, is it worth risking my health or risking my job? It's hard for real people across society. And of course, that means it's hard for educators. It's hard for teachers. It's a difficult decision to make." You implied that, because we have done a poor job caring for our most needed workers, we should also not care for the people who work in schools.

It's worth noting, though, that the analogy doesn't hold up either. No one working as a server or retail clerk or mechanic spends approximately 5 hours a day with 25 children who will not wear a mask all day. These other jobs do not spend multiple hours with their customers. When people refuse to wear a mask, they can be asked to leave a store or a restaurant. Everyone who knows kids knows that it's challenging to keep kids wearing clothing they need for their own comfort, nevermind hot, uncomfortable, and frankly confusing a mask. Kids aren't going to wear their masks faithfully, and it's an unreasonable ask of children.

Additionally, many 1st graders don't wipe their own noses; most kindergarteners don't know how to tie their shoes. We're asking these teachers to put their faces next to the potentially infected faces of 25 children.

When you went on to said, "I mean, to walk away from a career that you put your life into or at least put it on pause," it became clear that you may not have heard about Colorado's teacher shortage. A survey collected by the Colorado Department of Education showed that "Approximately 81 percent of urban/suburban districts, 60 percent of rural/small rural districts, and 63 percent of BOCES that responded had vacant educator positions unable to be filled at the beginning of the 2017- 2018 school year." Colorado cannot afford to lose any teachers, and it felt like you were inviting them to see themselves out.

Much more concerning is that this statement implies that teachers are the only people affected by the decision for schools to return to full-time, in-person learning. Many people, other than teachers, will be forced to choose between their families and their jobs. Cafeteria employees, office staff, bus drivers, paraeducators, student monitors, library clerks, campus security, custodial crews, maintenance staff, and IT departments will return to schools as well. Do we mean that these workers should also "take a little bit more health risk," as well?

On the note of risks, the statement continues, "...or are you willing to take on a little bit more health risk as we are across society." It's worth noting that teachers already sacrifice a great deal for their profession. We know that more than 90% of teachers report using their own money for resources for their classrooms. The median amount of money spent between 2014 and 2016, according to Marketwatch, was just under 300 dollars. There's no other industry like education in that respect. There's even a joke that most people steal supplies from their offices for their homes; teachers steal from their homes for their work. But, if that's still not enough additional sacrifice, how about the fact that it isn't possible to do everything a teacher is required to do in 40 hours? A survey conducted by Scholastic and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation called Primary Sources: America's Teachers on the Teaching Profession found that teachers work an average of 53 hours a week. It seems like teachers are already sacrificing a great deal, certainly more than is expected from most professions. As we compare teachers to other similar professions, it's worth noting that, "Nationally, teachers earn 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals."

Assuming that the time and money teachers spend is not enough additional sacrifice, we can look at the real health consequences. Students at school spread illnesses apart from Covid-19. In 2008, Joseph Brownstein reported that "Teachers had six times more germs in their workspace than accountants." Significantly, teachers are always "taking a little bit more health risk" than the rest of society. I assume that you know, but I'll mention again that a quarter of teachers are in high-risk groups for complications from Covid-19.

But, Mr. Governor, the biggest reason to not have students return to in-person learning is the students. Some people have been sick with Covid-19 since February. Many people who have recovered have reported permanent changes, from the potentially long-lasting loss of smell to post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome. Additionally, we don't know yet what the consequences will be in a year or two or 10. Respiratory viruses can damage lung tissue, but Covid-19 doesn't only affect the lungs. According to the AP, "Heart inflammation, irregular heartbeats, and worsening kidney and liver function have been reported as well," in patients post-Covid-19. It just isn't worth the risk to the lives of the children.

We miss teaching, we miss our kids, we miss our schools, and our communities, and our colleagues. We miss being there for those who need us. We miss it like crazy. But it's just not worth the lives of these children and communities we love to rush back when we can save lives by waiting.


Monday, July 13, 2020

Home Should Not Be A Luxury

Vote Shaming

There is something scary about realizing you’ve made a mistake. And the louder, harder, stronger you were in your belief, the more terrifying that realization becomes.

And there’s a reason that it’s terrifying: we’re not forgiving.

Oh, we’re forgiving in the “I kind of forgot what you did” or “I don’t know who you assaulted, so it doesn’t really affect me” sort of way. We do NOT forgive people growing and evolving and changing. We have a wealth of research about how telling people they’re wrong does not help change opinions. But we persist. We’re still trying to shame people into changing their views anyway.

We call it flip-flopping, and the implication is that that changing your opinion means you failed. TWICE.

Who would voluntarily sign up for that? No one, that’s who.

When President Obama’s personal position on gay marriage evolved, the press had a field day. In June of 2015, Hunter Schwarz published an article titled, “Obama and Clinton love to celebrate gay marriage now. Here’s how late they were to the party” for the Washington Post. At one point, Schwarz discusses a tweet from President Obama celebrating marriage equality. Schwarz writes, “What was left unsaid, of course, is that he [is] among those who used to run against same-sex marriage but have since changed their tune.”

It didn’t matter that he was celebrating marriage equality. It mattered that he hadn’t always supported it.

Who would be willing to admit changing their opinion in that environment?

So, a lot of the people who voted one way in 2016 now realize that they made a mistake. There are a lot of people who voted for President Trump because they were afraid. The world they understand is changing, leaving, and they don’t know what their place is in this new one.

The change should be uncomfortable, it should be scary, because if it isn’t scary and uncomfortable for those of us who have benefited from the privilege of our race, then the change won’t be radical on the scale we need. But just like we understand that it is ineffective to scold a child for being afraid, we need to be willing to have compassion for folks who made a choice they now regret.

Because who hasn’t done that?

So, here’s my proposal. If someone tells you that they voted for President Trump, don’t shame them. Everything you want to say probably makes perfect sense and is almost certainly accurate to boot. But that won’t change anyone’s mind.

We need to find a way to make it safe to vote for someone else this time. Our success in getting people to feel comfortable with that vote will depend on how willing we are to accept other people’s mistakes WITHOUT shaming them for it.

If you’re reading this, you almost certainly didn’t vote for the current President of the United States. More than that, you have a laundry list of logical, thoughtful reasons why you believed Secretary Clinton was a better choice than Mr. Trump.

This conversation is not about you (us). It’s about acknowledging the anxiety people feel, it’s about making the decision to be loving, and patient, and kind. It’s about creating room for people who don’t understand what’s happening in the world or their place in it to feel what they need to feel without shame.

Now, let me be very clear about a few things. This is NOT an endorsement of the current President of the United States nor any of the choices he has made during his tenure. This is not an endorsement of people who act on a fear of change by hurting and killing other people. This is not an endorsement of policies that lock up children, force women to continue pregnancies, or violate people’s rights under the guise of “religious freedom.”

This is NOT an institutional argument.

This is an argument about your great uncle. Or your co-worker. Or your dad. There are people who you know and love who are freaking out right now. Their whiteness has been a magic key card that got them anywhere they wanted to go for all of their lives. They were able to work and feed their families without going to college. They knew that their race would only help them secure loan applications, get jobs, gain admission to college, buy a house, and a myriad of other things. Their skin color was only ever an asset.

Now that’s started to change.

We’re having really important conversations about how our whiteness doesn’t entitle us to anything but a small amount of melanin in our skin.

Even harder, they don’t think they’re racist, because they’re not actively hateful. They’ve never called someone a hateful name, they’ve never actively supported the policies of disenfranchisement and segregation, they’ve “never done anything racist.” Privilege and time have conspired to ensure their cultural blindness.

The portrayal of racism in media isn’t always called out when it’s subtle. And lots of people don’t know they need to be looking for it.

Our loved ones can’t hear dog whistles. They don’t even know the dog whistles are blowing.

So, I want to ask us to be thoughtful when having conversations with our loved ones. People aren’t willing to change when they’re backed into a corner, it would fly in the face of thousands of years of evolution. So, when your uncle says, “I think I might vote for Biden,” you have a choice to make. You can make this easy for him, make him feel right and good and smart and compassionate, and growth-oriented. Or, you can make him feel ignorant, selfish, and racist.

And how do I do that? How do I make him feel safe? One idea is to say, “That’s awesome!” and then just stop. If they want to share more, they will. If they want to ask questions, they will. If they’re just changing their vote to be on the right side of history, who are we to complain? The least we can do is let them keep their dignity, it’s a much better way to get people to do what you want.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Schools Do Not Exist To Indoctrinate Children

I was prompted to write this after seeing a post which states that the reason we go to school is to ensure that “you can be molded into a state approved homogeneous drone that cannot think outside of the prescribed consensus. You will learn to repeat information instead of how to think for yourself so that you don’t become a threat to the status quo. When you graduate you will get a job, pay your taxes, in order to perpetuate the corporate system of indentured servitude for your political overlords.” Sufficient to say, I had some thoughts. 

So, we need to talk about this.

  1. This gives the actual attempts to control people WAAAAAAAY too much credit. A conspiracy on this scale has never managed to stay hidden because you would need too many people involved to pull it off.

    1. The Manhatten Project was deliberately distributed so that few people knew all of the information, and even still it was started with the understanding that it would never stay secret forever. Their goal was to keep it secret as long as possible.

    2. The US is subject to Freedom of Information Act requests, and you can put one in yourself too. If you want to know more about any particular government project or program or entity you’re entitled to see the records, provided they’re not currently classified.

    3. And, the stuff that is currently classified, won’t be classified forever. 

    4. All of the mind-control experiments that were a part of the larger MKUltra program didn’t work (not a single one)

    5. Legitimate psychologists will tell you that the implication of this statement could not possibly work out because people are too complicated 

      1. There’s no one magic way to get people to perform in a certain way. If it existed, we’d know. See the previous comments about keeping secrets, and also there’s a HUGE body of evidence that shows that it doesn’t work

        1. Side note, if we could magically control people, do you think we’d still have rape and murder? Or theft? Or speeding? If the government had the ability to influence people on this level they would, and they wouldn’t start with making kids learn to read.

  2. There IS a real, legitimate, conversation that needs to be had about the instructional materials that are provided (and not provided) to schools in the US. 

    1. There are a couple of companies that produce the vast majority of the textbooks in the US

      1. These textbooks can be adjusted based on community, so there are literally places in Texas where they’ve chosen to NOT have a critical conversation about the 2nd amendment. Sincerely. 

    2. These same companies also produce

      1. Statewide testing

      2. Educator licensing testing

      3. Test-prep help

        1. This is one of the real kickers. If the content they were producing worked, would they need test prep stuff for the tests they write? 

    3. The top 5 publishing companies are all for-profit and, as a group, took in no less than 10 billion dollars from governments and individuals, turning an industry profit of 1.9 billion dollars (Cengage Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, Pearson Education, and Scholastic)

      1. And for that 10 billion dollars we get textbooks which DELIBERATELY OMIT parts of history which are considered less than palatable 

        1. How is slavery taught in America? Schools struggle to teach it well

        2. Opinion | How Texas Teaches History

        3. Why Calling Slaves 'Workers' Is More Than An Editing Error

    4. And, even in this world of horrific, lazy, and expensive curriculum, there are still lots of schools where, if they have textbooks, they’re not even from this century.

      1. 2018 - 25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools

      2. These crumbling textbooks show why Oklahoma teachers are walking out

    5. Much of the “support” provided by these curricula for students who are not exactly cognitively exactly median adhere to an outdated philosophy which could be best summarized as students who are ahead do more work, struggling students do less.

      1. This strategy has the exact opposite effect of the one intended. Students who would normally be thriving or running ahead of their classmates quickly discover that they’re being penalized for doing well and stop doing well. Students who struggle are never exposed to enough content to ever catch up because they’re never exposed to everything.

  3. If people would repeat what they were taught in school the US would not continue to lose every...single… geography... challenge.

  4. For any of this to be true, you would have to be able to get all teachers, administrators, parents, and community members to agree on, and faithfully execute a specific, curriculum.

    1. No such curriculum exists

    2. Even if such a curriculum did exist, we wouldn’t adopt it. We attempted to voluntarily adopt standards for the entire country and only 32 agreed

  5. We have been encouraged as a society to make specific, and potentially (often) detrimental choices, but not by schools.

    1. Advertising has a much more significant impact on the behavior of adults and their dollars than any school could ever hope to attain

    2. From the fact that we accepted “halitosis” as a legitimate condition to the glut of personal, unsecured (read: credit card) debt, we’ve managed to accept lots of different ways to waste our current, and future, resources