I Will Never Carry a Gun in School But Will “Ready” Myself With Voter Registration

I will never carry a gun in school as a teacher. If I am asked to do so, I will refuse. If I am required to do so, I will not be teaching any longer.

That does not mean I would not in any way shape or form try and defend a student from harm.

But I will not carry a gun. I did not get into teaching to be a law-enforcement official. In fact, I became a teacher to “arm” students with something much stronger than a gun: critical thinking skills.

Is it not interesting that one of the architects of the budget process that has slashed the budget for the Department of Public Instruction as well as funneled more money into charter schools and vouchers might consider having teachers carry weapons in public schools?

No, it is not. I would not expect anything more from Rep. Tim Moore (pun intended).

A report that Rep. Tim Moore of North Carolina is putting together a committee to possibly consider arming teachers in NC’s public high school’s is startling yet not surprising.

From T. Keung Hui:

A new state legislative committee will consider arming North Carolina teachers in the aftermath of last week’s mass school shooting in Florida.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced Tuesday that he’s forming a new school safety committee that will be charged with developing recommendations for how to improve safety in the state’s schools. During a press conference Tuesday in Shelby, Moore said the committee will look at a myriad of issues, with arming teachers as a possibility after getting feedback from school districts and law enforcement (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article201179899.html?__twitter_impression=true).

Just this week a key K-12 task force assembled by Gov. Roy Cooper was presented with a report from Education Resource Strategies. As reported by Billy Ball from NC Policy Watch:

Karen Hawley Miles is president and executive director of Massachusetts-based Education Resource Strategies, a national nonprofit that advises states on school finances.

Miles’ report, which analyzed both state and national public school spending trends, pointed to numerous shortfalls in the state’s school finance structure, including that North Carolina has the fifth lowest average teacher salary in the nation when adjusted for cost-of-living, and that the state’s teachers earn only about 67 percent of the pay given to “similarly-educated, non-teachers” (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2018/02/21/experts-gov-coopers-education-commission-nc-school-funding-near-nations-lowest/)

That very finance structure has been championed by the likes of Tim Moore.

The thought of arming teachers with firearms is rather interesting when the very people who are calling for having teachers equipped with firearms don’t even arm the public schools with enough resources to adequately function.

Consider that:

  • I have to fork over my own money to buy supplies.
  • We have not had new textbooks in over ten years.
  • We have a lower per-pupil expenditure in this state than we did years ago.
  • We have school buildings that are literally falling apart.
  • My high school has five counselors for over 2400 students.
  • There is one part-time social worker.
  • There is one school psychologist assigned to multiple schools at one time.
  • A school nurse is on campus only one day a week.

Add to that rising numbers of students per class, more classes to teach, more administrative duties, more paperwork, more tests, more value-added measurements, and more evaluations.

All of those things have happened with Tim Moore as the Speaker of the NC House chamber.

And now there is talk of having teachers be armed as law-enforcement.

In this state, there are teachers and administrators who do not feel they have enough support from “higher-up” to even enforce the discipline plans already in place. There certainly is not an incredible amount of faith in the current GOP-led NC General Assembly to empower teachers.

As a country we require people to have a license to drive a car, we regulate alcohol, and we determine who can operate businesses at certain places. We cannot even put an addition on a house that we outright own unless it passes several stages of permits.

But at 18-years of age, one becomes old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes and an AR-15. That’s three years before one can buy a beer legally.

Lawmakers set these guidelines. Interesting that some think I should carry a gun to protect students from shooters like Rep. Larry Pittman.

The massacre at Douglas High Schools in Florida really has hit the nerves of many a teacher and student. The fact that the students who survived and experienced the horror of last week’s events are organizing and calling for gun-control measures has set up a national dialogue that we must have.

Funny that many who think these 16, 17, and 18-year-old people are speaking from a point of view that is too impressionable and easy gulled may also think that having a law that allows an 18-year-old to purchase a weapon like an AR-15 is just fine.

They may also forget that when someone turns 18 years old, then he /she can vote.

2018 is a big election year, especially on the local and state levels.

Those students who went to Tallahassee, FL to persuade the state lawmakers to ban AR-15 sales as they exist now did not even get the chance to see a bill make it out of committee. They won’t forget that. And those old enough to vote this year just made sure that they are registered to vote.

There will be a lot of young voters in North Carolina as well.

And they will not mind being heard. In fact, they will make sure they are heard.

NC-Voter-Registration-Form-English[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Censorship and the Fear of Free Thought – Dropping Great Books From Curriculum

When Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, he was living in a time of the rising Cold War and the end of Nazism.

The novel is a futuristic look (in 1950) into what society might be like if reading books were banned by the government. Firemen, who were the government workers who burned rogue books, would use a fire that reached 451 degrees Fahrenheit to incinerate written works of imagination and free thought. It was a way to control the people. It was a way to keep their minds from being curious and imaginative. It kept them from being “free.”

Today, around 50,000 copies are still sold a year of the classic dystopian novel and it is a staple in many junior classes in North Carolina as well as middle school gifted classes. Its message is still very relevant today.

The main character in the novel is Guy Montag, a conflicted fireman, who befriends a man named Faber (an old English professor) who explains why great books are so important. Faber lists three reasons:

  1. Books have “quality” of information.
  2. Books provide “leisure to digest it” (information).
  3. Books give us the “right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two” (information and time to digest).

Simplified in a crude and dirty manner – books promote free thought and interaction with ideas.

As an English teacher, I tend to cringe at the thought of books that have that very quality and ability to engage thought in young people being banned or challenged by people who believe that they know what is best for others without proper investigation.

That does not mean that I want to all of a sudden make Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint a staple in high schools or make all freshmen read Lolita by Nabokov. But I do want them to read works of literature that have value and insight into the human condition.

That’s why I cringe when school systems pull works of high literary merit from the curriculum because of perceived “risks.” From The Guardian:

A school district in Minnesota has pulled To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its curriculum, arguing that the classic novels’ use of racial slurs risked students being “humiliated or marginalised”.

The Duluth school district will keep the titles in its libraries, but from the next school year, they will be replaced on the curriculum for ninth and 11th-grade English classes, according to local newspaper the Bemidji Pioneer (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/12/hurtful-harper-lee-mark-twain-dropped-from-minnesota-curriculum-to-kill-a-mockingbird-duluth).

For this English teacher, this action spells censorship and more governmental control over what is read by students in Minnesota and North Carolina. It screams that free thought, interaction with unknown ideas, and expressions of differing viewpoints should not be allowed in high schools.

That would hurt students. Remember the nomination of Todd Chasteen to the North Carolina State Board of Education  by Gov. McCrory to appease the very conservative coalition in power in Raleigh?

Mr. Chasteen was vetted in a report by Lindsay Wagner when she worked as the education correspondent for NC Policy Watch. Her April 24, 2015 report entitled “Censorship controversy, thin record spark concerns over McCrory’s State Board of Ed nominee” talked of Chasteen’s effort to ban a book from his area’s schools (http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2015/04/24/censorship-controversy-thin-record-spark-concerns-over-mccrorys-state-board-of-ed-nominee/).

Chasteen’s efforts in banning a book called The House of the Spirits from a Watauga County classroom garnered a lot of media, especially when it was revealed that his boss at the time, Franklin Graham, was also actively trying to have it banned as well. According to Chasteen the book was simply a vehicle for promiscuity. He said,

“If the Bible contained the 59 sexual references and the graphic, descriptive detail of The House, my kids would not read the Bible, nor would I. Mr. Mckay stretched to find a few violent, non-descript stories in the Bible of 1500 pages. The House, 59 depictions in 430 pages, a pattern, pervasive vulgarity, and very descriptive. The Bible, as non-graphic, does not say that King David enjoyed “the dark, hot, juicy cavern of her _____.” This is not a mere nuance. The reading of the Bible does not produce sensual arousal.”

Ironically, the Bible does talk about David having multiple wives and when he met Bathsheba, he actually had her first husband placed in the front lines of war to ensure he would be killed. Maybe there was not anything graphic since it is biblical diction, but it doesn’t sound wholesome. Then, of course, David begat Solomon (he of 700+ wives) from Bathsheba, and Solomon was the “wisest man who ever lived.” That is unless you talk to Jim, the slave from Huckleberry Finn.

There is that wonderful exchange on the river between the truant, irreverent Huck and the runaway slave.

“Yit dey say Sollermun de wises’ man dat ever live’. I doan’ take no stock in dat. Bekase why would a wise man want to live in de mids’ er sich a blim-blammin’ all de time? No—’deed he wouldn’t. A wise man ’ud take en buil’ a biler-factry; en den he could shet DOWN de biler-factry when he want to res’.”

“Well, but he WAS the wisest man, anyway; because the widow she told me so, her own self.”

“I doan k’yer what de widder say, he WARN’T no wise man nuther. He had some er de dad-fetchedes’ ways I ever see. Does you know ’bout dat chile dat he ’uz gwyne to chop in two?”

“Yes, the widow told me all about it.”

“WELL, den! Warn’ dat de beatenes’ notion in de worl’? You jes’ take en look at it a minute. Dah’s de stump, dah—dat’s one er de women; heah’s you—dat’s de yuther one; I’s Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill’s de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun’ mongs’ de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill DO b’long to, en han’ it over to de right one, all safe en soun’, de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in TWO, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat’s de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what’s de use er dat half a bill?—can’t buy noth’n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn’ give a dern for a million un um.”

Would Todd Chasteen want to now ban Huck Finn? It goes against the Bible. Or would he want to ban it for the reasons that that Minnesota district did?

Back to the Guardian article:

Duluth’s director of curriculum and instruction Michael Cary told the Pioneer that his department wanted to be considerate of all its students, and that there were other literary options that “teach the same lessons” as To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn without containing racial slurs. The N-word is used frequently in both titles – more than 200 times in Mark Twain’s 19th-century novel – but both are widely considered anti-racist texts.

“We felt that we could still teach the same standards and expectations through other novels that didn’t require students to feel humiliated or marginalised by the use of racial slurs,” said Carey.

 

 

With a bias toward anti-liberal arts, this is the very action that Bradbury warns us against. I can just imagine my current school board challenging the very list of books used often in my junior English classes.

  • Scarlet Letter for the out-of-wedlock child of a clergyman with a married woman.
  • Huck Finn for the language and that Solomon bit.
  • The Great Gatsby because it promotes adultery and drinking and a worship of money.
  • The Crucible because of, well, witches.
  • Of Mice and Men because of the language and violent scenes.

They would also have to consider banning Shakespeare – all of it. The Bard is well-known for his use of bawdy and vulgar language.

And considering that the new budget doesn’t offer much in new resource monies, I may not be able to procure multiple titles of books that would be allowed in schools. Why won’t public schools have that money? Because many private schools and other religious affiliated institutions that may teach the coexistence of dinosaurs and humans and that the earth is literally only a few thousand years old will be getting that money through an expanding voucher system.

The free thought and investigation of other viewpoints would not be fostered in those places as much. That would be catastrophic.

Plus it’s an infringement on the First Amendment and freedom of speech. If you have never seen the movie Field of Dreams, then you should just for the PTA meeting scene where a parent is trying to have a book banned from the school based on its use of language.

The woman says,

“Mr. Harris, the so-called novels of Terence Mann endorse promiscuity , godlessness, the mongrelization of the races, and disrespect to high-ranking officers of the United States Army . And that’s why right-thinking school boards all across the country having been banning this man’s S-H-l- since 1969 . Terence Mann? You know why he stopped writing books. Because he masturbates.”

In the movie, Terrance Mann had won the Pulitzer Prize. High praise if you ask me.

To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer. Huck Finn has been called the foundation of American novels. That’s high praise as well.

Annie Kinsella, wife of the protagonist Ray in the movie responds beautifully,

“Who wants to burn books? Who wants to spit on the Constitution of the United States of America? Anybody? All right. Now, who’s for the Bill of Rights? Who thinks freedom is a pretty darn good thing? Come on ! Come on ! Let’s see those hands ! Who thinks we have to stand up to the kind of censorship they had under Stalin? All right. There you go.”

Ray Bradbury would have known of Stalin. Maybe that’s what he was thinking about when he wrote F451.

Because he saw what censorship could do to a people.

Maybe the leadership of that school district in Minnesota should put it on their own reading list.

 

The NCGA’s Plan to Make School Performance Grades Fuel Voucher Expansion

Public Schools First NC (PSFNC.org), an organization that supports advocacy of public education in North Carolina, regularly sends out very informative factoids through social media that give texture to the landscape of the politics associated with public education.

With the current recess of the General Assembly after its disastrous budget proposal for public education, it takes a lot of eyes to sift through the muck and make sure that all deficiencies are identified and brought to light because those who made this budget did so behind closed doors without political discourse and with partisan agendas. PSFNC.org is invaluable in that respect.

One of those agendas is to help ensure that vouchers will continue to be funded and expanded at astronomical rates.

This past summer Public Schools First NC tweeted this graphic:

Budget fact

Those school performance grades are based on a model developed by Jeb Bush when he was in Florida. It’s disastrous and places a lot of emphasis of achievement scores of amorphous, one-time testing rather than student growth throughout the entire year.

It’s part of the “proficiency versus growth” debate that really came to the forefront during the Betsy DeVos confirmation hearings when she could not delineate between whether test scores are used to measure student “achievement” or student “growth.”

The people who made the decision to keep both the school performance grading system formula where it is and still expand vouchers ABSOLUTELY UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROFICIENCY AND GROWTH. IT HELPS TO VALIDATE THEIR WANT OF MORE VOUCHERS.

If one thing is for certain, North Carolina’s school performance grades are a confirmation that student poverty levels have so much to do with how schools perform.

With the tweet sent out last summer, PSFNC.org, also had a link to a quick fact “sheet” about school performance grades in North Carolina. It is very much worth a look on any person’s part, especially public school advocates – http://www.publicschoolsfirstnc.org/resources/fact-sheets/quick-facts-a-f-school-performance-grades-2/?platform=hootsuite.

PSFNC1

There’s a table in the report that talks about the link between these grades and poverty levels from 2015–16 Performance and Growth of North Carolina Public Schools Executive Summary, NC DPI.

PSFNC2

You can also refer to another posting from this blog from last year that talks about the correlation between the grades and state poverty levels – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/09/05/map-it-and-it-becomes-very-apparent-that-poverty-affects-schools/.

Interestingly enough, in the school year 2019-2020, the school performance grade scale will shift from a fifteen-point scale to a ten-point scale. Do you know what that means?

IT WILL BE HARDER FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO QUALIFY AS PASSING. IN FACT, SCHOOLS COULD HAVE A HIGHER PERCENTAGE OF STUDENT GROWTH AND STILL GET A LOWER SCHOOL PERFORMANCE GRADE!

There will be more failing schools. This comes from a legislative body that endorsed the state board last school year to institute a ten-point scale for all high school grading systems to help ensure higher graduation rates, but now shrinks scales for those schools’ performance grades.

With policies that still hurt the working poor and those in poverty (which in NC affects over 20% of students) and the refusal to expand Medicaid and the other policies that hurt poorer regions, it is almost certain that poverty will have as much if not a bigger role in school performance grades in the near future.

Guess what else is happening in 2019-2010? Voucher expansion!

PSFNC.org made mention of the Opportunity Grants being expanded in a Facebook posting a day ago. It references the following from the recently passed budget by the NC General Assembly:

SECTION 6.6.(b) G.S. 115C-562.8(b) reads as rewritten: “(b) The General Assembly finds that, due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students, it is imperative that the State provide an increase of funds of at least ten million dollars ($10,000,000) each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. Therefore, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the following amounts for each fiscal year to be used for the purposes set forth in this section:
Fiscal Year Appropriation

2017-2018: $44,840,000
2018-2019: $54,840,000
2019-2020: $64,840,000
2020-2021: $74,840,000
2021-2022: $84,840,000
2022-2023: $94,840,000
2023-2024: $104,840,000
2024-2025: $114,840,000
2025-2026: $124,840,000
2026-2027: $134,840,000

For the 2027-2028 fiscal year and each fiscal year thereafter, there is appropriated from the General Fund to the Reserve the sum of one hundred forty-four million eight hundred forty Page 14 Senate Bill 257-Ratified thousand dollars ($144,840,000) to be used for the purposes set forth in this section. When developing the base budget, as defined by G.S. 143C-1-1, for each fiscal year specified in this subsection, the Director of the Budget shall include the appropriated amount specified in this subsection for that fiscal year.”

Read that first line again: “due to the critical need in this State to provide opportunity for school choice for North Carolina students.”

That “critical need” has been created in part by making sure that many schools look bad – i.e., school performance grades. With a shrinking scale, more schools will “fail” and most of those schools will have higher levels of poverty in their student populations.

Those are exactly the students who will be targeted for expanding vouchers, because the Opportunity Grants are supposed to help “low-income” students.

And look when that expansion will start to take place – the school year of 2018-2019 with another 10 million dollars. However, our state budgets go in cycles of two years. That means that the next budget if the powers that be stay in power can come back and expand vouchers even more.

Starting right when those school performance grades change scales.

They know damn well the difference between proficiency and growth – the less proficient public schools look in the eyes of the public through a lens that the NC General Assembly prescribes, the more growth for vouchers in this state.

Dear Rep. Pittman – As a Teacher, You Will Never Arm Me With a Gun in School

As a teacher, I cannot legally give a student an aspirin tablet.

My high school has five counselors for over 2400 students. There is one part-time social worker. There is one school psychologist assigned to multiple schools at one time. A school nurse is on campus only one day a week.

As a country we require people to have a license to drive a car, we regulate alcohol, and we determine who can operate businesses at certain places. We cannot even put an addition on a house that we outright own unless it passes several stages of permits.

But at 18-years of age, one becomes old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes and an AR-15. That’s three years before one can buy a beer legally.

Lawmakers set these guidelines. Interesting that one (possibly more) thinks I should carry a gun to protect students from shooters.

I am a teacher of 20 years in public schools. And I want to tell Rep. Larry Pittman that I will never carry a weapon on my person as a teacher in any school despite what he suggested in wake of the recent school shooting at Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.

As reported by the Associated Press on Feb. 16,

A North Carolina lawmaker says allowing teachers to bring guns to school would save lives in situations such as the deadly school shooting in Florida.

The News & Observer of Raleigh reports Republican State Rep. Larry Pittman of Cabarrus County told colleagues Thursday that he met with a police officer who wants to talk to lawmakers about training school personnel (http://www.journalnow.com/news/state_region/want-to-stop-deadly-school-shootings-let-teachers-have-guns/article_a6436b6e-1954-5205-8fb9-546688ce0724.html).

And this was not all that Pittman had to say on the matter.

From a recent News & Observer article, it was reported that Pittman made some interesting assertions.

In a Facebook comment on another user’s post, Pittman speculated the Florida shooter was part of a conspiracy to “push for gun control so they can more easily take over the country” (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/politics-government/politics-columns-blogs/under-the-dome/article200294174.html).

pittman

Let it not be lost that Pittman is an ordained Presbyterian minister.

I don’t ever remember part of my training as a teacher whether in the classroom or in the field involving carrying a weapon to protect school children. Something in me clings to the idea that I am trying to arm my students with the ability to think for themselves and become productive citizens based on their choices in pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.

But Larry Pittman wants to me to carry a weapon, even if I am a “communist democrat.”

Because I am a public school teacher.

I have to fork over my own money to buy supplies.

We have not had new textbooks in over ten years.

We have a lower per-pupil expenditure in this state than we did years ago.

We have school buildings that are literally falling apart.

And lawmakers like Larry Pittman want to privatize public schools in North Carolina in such an explicit manner that we are seeing dramatic drops in teacher candidates to teach our students. Yet he wants to “arm” me when he won’t even fully fund the very place I would be called upon to protect.

Not one student who survived the massacre at Douglas High School has called for arming teachers. In fact in a post on Facebook a couple of the teachers who were very near the lines of fire talked about what teachers could always do in such horrific circumstances. They never mentioned being armed. They talked about being prepared. They talked about drills, locking doors, staying away from windows.

And those students from Douglas are pleading for gun control. Loudly. This teacher is taking their word for it, not Larry Pittman’s.

This is actually from www.electpittman.com, Rep. Larry Pittman’s website:

“Without the right to keep and bear arms, the people have no means of securing their freedom. The framers of the US Constitution understood this, and put the Second Amendment into the Constitution for that reason. They had just had to fight to throw of the tyranny of the British government. They knew that, no matter how wonderful a form of government they gave us, humans are corruptible, and the government might become tyrannical again. So they wanted the people to be free always to fight for their freedom, even against their own government if need be. Government officials today who deny this know better. They understand all too well that this is the meaning of the Second Amendment. That’s why people like Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer want to get rid of our right to keep and bear arms. Never trust anyone who wants to disarm our citizens. They are potential tyrants who bear watching. We must be ever vigilant to preserve our freedom. As an NRA member, who fully supports the Second Amendment, the NRA, the GRNC, and other supporters of gun owner rights have no greater friend than I in Raleigh, BECAUSE THE PEOPLE MATTER.”

If Rep. Larry Pittman really wanted to “arm” teachers, then he would push for fully funding our schools with every resource possible.

And as a “man of God,” he could at least understand that gun control can be enacted without infringing on people’s rights to bear arms.

Keeping It Partisan – Our State Superintendent

And some of those tasked with making schools better are more focused on preserving tired partisan wedges rather than looking for innovative ways to provide more and better opportunities in rural communities.” – Mark Johnson, February 7th in an op-ed he wrote entitled “What I meant about $35K teacher pay” in the News & Observer (http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/op-ed/article198795214.html).

And from the “Official Twitter of NC Superintendent Mark Johnson” on February 16th:

johnson2johnson1

If you are unaware, Jason Saine is probably one of the more “partisan” lawmakers we have in NC. He is a champion of charter schools.

AND HE IS NOW THE NATIONAL CHAIRMAN OF THE AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL (ALEC).

So much for not being partisan.

The 32-Minute “Run” That Decided the Conference Championship

confchamp

In sports, there are times when a team may go through a stretch in which it totally takes over the game, grabs the momentum, and seems to score in bunches either wiping out a deficit or increasing a lead.

In football, we may call it scoring “unanswered” points. In baseball, it is putting together some at bats and having a “rally.”

In basketball, it is called making a “run.”

In a sport that forces you to play both offense and defense in a matter of seconds, the ability to make a run when absolutely needed can do several things. One, it gives your team the confidence that scoring in spurts is possible at anytime, especially when the team can ride the momentum for a while.

Secondly, it always makes the other team feel like they have to “weather a storm” at any given time. It is always in the back of their minds.

But the best aspect of making a run is that it really takes a total team effort. Five players are on the court, but one team is making it happen.

Five moving parts. One entity. Synchronicity. Extreme effort appearing effortless.

“Runs” in a basketball game seem to come when the defense generates instant offense, when hustle breeds more energy, when enthusiasm becomes contagious, when potential gets realized, when all of the conversations in the huddles make sense, when players put team ahead of themselves, and when scoreboard means more than stat sheets.

“Runs” show both heart and mind, involve dedication to executing every fundamental, and giving your teammates better chances at helping the team.

A “run” shows the fans and your supporters that you fully embrace the desire to win.

Rarely in a championship game, does one witness a “32-minute run” – not when the two teams playing know each other so well from multiple competitions and are as highly ranked.

But that’s what happened tonight.

Well done, ladies and coaches.

Malcolm clapped a lot tonight. He sensed you were on a “run.”

Keep it going.

 

 

 

What Happens At Schools Should Teach Us All, Especially What Happened At Douglas High School

school-shooting-florida

The mass shooting at Columbine High School occurred in 1999. It was my second year of teaching. It changed the American high school landscape. Procedures. Drills. Even the construction of classroom doors altered to be more resistant to break-ins.

Furthermore, Columbine involved no gang members. It took place in an affluent area. The killers had planned to do something. There were warning signs.

The killers were white males. U.S. citizens.

Students whom I teach now were probably born after that event in Colorado, but mention it in conversation, and each one of them knows what happened that day.

One even stated that Columbine no longer ranks as one of the top ten massacres in terms of victim numbers. He was born in 2002.

Almost twenty years later we are in the same country, barely into the second month of the calendar year and we experience the 18th shooting on a school campus of 2018. That’s nearly one every 60 hours. It’s the fifth in which a casualty has occurred.

The killer in the Douglas High School massacre planned his actions. After initial reports of being linked to white supremacist group, any affiliation to any type of group or gang has not been proven.  He was a white male. A U.S. citizen.  There were warning signs.

And Douglas High School does not stand out as being a school in a poor district.

It seems that in a country whose president calls for a wall to keep out immigrants and “criminals,” claims that MS-13 is our biggest enemy, and that we need to focus on mental health when his administration has allowed for cuts to happen to the very agencies that can help with those issues, we would look at this recent shooting as yet another wake up call.

There is a problem with how we treat mental illness. There is a problem with how threadbare we staff schools to make sure we can ensure safety. There is a problem in how we perceive that sending thoughts and prayers can absolve us from action. There is  a problem in how we identify and ignore warning signs.

And there is a problem with how we as a nation can believe that the second amendment means that we can have access to semi-automatic assault weapons like we have access to cigarettes.

These problems are not mutually-exclusive. And if we build some sort of wall, then we will not solve these problems. Why? Because the problems that spawn horrific actions like the ones in Columbine and Douglas High have come from within our country.

It is often told that faith without works is dead.

Thoughts and prayers without action to help make sure things like this don’t happen again is an open invitation that it will in fact happen again.

We need to really look in the mirror.

Honestly.

 

The Privatization of North Carolina’s Public Schools – A Who’s Who

Remember Michelle Rhee’s visit to North Carolina last year for a “closed-door” meeting (February 7th  ,2017) with lawmakers brokered by an educational lobbying body of business leaders called BEST NC (coupled with the NC GOP’s invitation to Betsy DeVos who had just been confirmed as Trump’s secretary of education)?

It was another ominous omen of what has been and will continue to be attempted in North Carolina – the further privatization of public education in North Carolina.

This meeting with Rhee that was passed off as a session with leaders where candid questions could be asked and ideas exchanged on how to improve public education seemed to be void of the very people who know education the best – public school educators. The media did have a brief chance to meet and greet with Ms. Rhee and George Parker in a manicured and measured way, but what happened behind closed doors with people who make decisions on how to spend taxpayer money and fund public schools along with controversial educational reformers remains a mystery.

In fact, it seemed more like a special session of the NC General Assembly who used such “secret sessions” to spawn actions such as HB2, SB4, and HB17 (the latter two soon after Mark Johnson was elected as NC State Superintendent).

Despite what they claim, the intentions of BEST NC and other “reformers” to improve public education seems to have a different meaning to them than it does to those who are educators in our public schools.

That’s because there exist too many relationships between business leaders, lobbying groups, wealthy benefactors, politicians, and educational reformers to be coincidental. In fact, many in the “reform” movement that have started to dismantle the public school system are strategically linked to each other both outside of the state and inside.

Look at the graphic below:

graph1

That is a diagram of the relationships between entities that many public school advocates deem as detrimental to our public school system. It’s very busy and probably confusing. It’s supposed to be.

Consider the following national entities:

  • Teach For America
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Walton Family Foundation
  • Eli Broad Foundation
  • KIPP Charter Schools
  • Democrats For Educational Reform
  • Educational Reform Now
  • StudentsFirst
  • America Succeeds
  • 50CAN
  • American Legislative Exchange Council
  • National Heritage Academies
  • Charter School USA
  • Team CFA
  • American Federation for Children

They are all linked. And the only teachers who seem to have any sustained dialogue with any of these is the Hope Street Group – and that dialogue seems mostly to have been with BEST NC (but not of late).

Somehow, someway all of the bulleted entities above have been at play in North Carolina even before that meeting with Michelle Rhee and BEST NC which took place literally days after Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education thanks to the first ever tie-breaking vote by a vice-president for a cabinet position.

They continue to be at play, more so now than ever before. And other are joining in thus making this document a work in progress.

If you are willing, simply follow the explanation below because what seems to be a simple meeting that took place in February of 2017 was just another step in the GOP-led NC General Assembly to dismantle public education and finance the privatization of schooling.

First, consider the national scene.

graph11

In 2014 a teacher/researcher named Mercedes Schneider published an informative book called A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who in the Implosion of American Public Education. What Schneider did was literally research and report on all of the bodies of influence that were applying forces on the landscape of public education for the benefit of political and capitalistic gain.

The fact that she is a teacher, product of public schools from southern Louisiana, a trained researcher, a survivor of Katrina, and a residential expert of the charter takeover in New Orleans, she has a unique perspective and an educated point of view.

Chapter 17 of the book is dedicated to the Democrats For Educational Reform and the Educational Reform Now groups (DFER and ERN).

DFER supports vouchers, union busting and other reform measures that are common in other reform circles, but they are (to summarize Schneider) not “non-profit.” What makes them powerful is that they have the word “Democrat” in their name and it allows them to literally “train” democrats into accepting and advancing a protocol that actually is more conservative in nature – initiatives that align with school choice and charter movements. Schneider talks about in pages 276-279 how the DFER even promoted “mayoral control and charter favoritism.”

It may seem a little bit like conspiracy theory, but it does make sense. Why? Because DFER is non-profit and has the word “Democrat” in it and therefore does not get the big time donations from conservative donators.

Or do they?

DFER is run mostly by hedge-fund managers. One of them is Whitney Tilson, who happens to be a Teach For America alumnus and a vice-chair of New York’s KIPP charters. He also sits on the board of DFER. That alone links DFER, KIPP, and TFA (p.278).

At least in 2013, DFER had an Executive Director named Joe Williams. He just happened to “also head another reform group, this one actually is classed as a ‘nonprofit,’ and it doesn’t have the D-word in its title.”  Education Reform Now (ERN) is a “democratic” body understood to be a “sister entity” to DFER (p.279).

By 2010, ERN counted the Broad Foundation and the Walton Foundation as donors. “ERN enables hedge-fund managers to quietly donate to Democrats advancing the privatization agenda…. Looks like the big Republican money is available to DFER, after all – through its ERN back door” (p.279).

More from Schneider:

  • Remember that Whitney Tilson is also a founding member of Teach For America along with Wendy Kopp. Kopp was the mentor of Michelle Rhee. Their ventures literally share the same circulatory system.
  • Tilson sits on the KIPP board and sits on the DFER board.
  • Kopp sits on the Broad Foundation Board which feeds money to ERN who in turn feeds DFER. Kopp is also married to Richard Barth, the CEO of KIPP Foundation.
  • DFER through ERN conducts business with StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee.
  • Tilson, Kopp, and Rhee are TFA alums.

BEST NC, based in Raleigh and architects of the recent controversial principal play program in the state, is affiliated with an outfit named America Succeeds that feeds and supports various “reform” groups within certain states that bring together powerful business leaders to push “educational reform.” Look at the following article: – http://www.prwatch.org/news/2016/03/13065/how-dfer-leaders-channel-out-state-dark-money-colorado-and-beyond. The title alone alludes to the ability for DFER to channel “dark” money to out of state entities that promote anti-union, pro-charter, voucher supporting measures. It shows something interesting.

  • America Succeeds’s address in Colorado is 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • DFER’s Colorado office is located on 1390 Lawrence Street in Denver.
  • KIPP’s Denver charter schools are headquartered in Denver. At 1390 Lawrence Street.

Seems that TFA, StudentsFirst, DFER, ERN, KIPP are about as incestuously linked as a Greek god family tree and it is feeding support to groups like BEST NC who just happens to be the Carolina affiliate of America Succeeds.

Think about it. North Carolina is an ideal target. Why? Because of the following conditions:

  • Right-to-work state.
  • Elimination of due-process rights.
  • Removal of caps for number of charter schools which are not regulated.
  • GOP controlled state assembly.
  • Opportunity Grants increasing.
  • Push for merit pay.
  • The new state superintendent is a TFA alumnus – Mark Johnson.

Part of that national scene includes three charter school chains.

National Heritage Academies is based in Michigan in the same state where Betsy DeVos began her quest to privatize public education. They’ve enabled each other. National Heritage Academies has 11 schools in North Carolina. One of them is Greensboro Academy. On the board of that school is Alan Harkes who sits on the Charter School Advisory Board of North Carolina. That’s convenient.

Betsy DeVos is also the founder of a school choice advocacy group in Washington D.C. called the American Federation For Children. On February 15th, 2018 Darrell Allison who was for years the head of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina, was chosen to assume a leadership position with AFC.

Team CFA is based in Oregon. John Bryan, the founder of the Team CFA, has been donating money left and right to specific politicians and PAC’s here in North Carolina to extend the charter industry including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (through a PAC). He spear-headed an attempt to win the contract of the ISD school in Robeson that was recently given a green light with Dr. Eric Hall as the superintendent. He would report straight to Mark Johnson under provisions of HB4. (http://amp.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article177836091.html).

Charter Schools USA is based in Ft. Lauderdale. It is run by Jonathan Hage whose political contribution to politicians in North Carolina are rather numerous.

Now consider North Carolina.

graph3

Those numbers correspond to:

  1. North Carolina General Assembly
  2. Charter School Advisory Board and State Board of Education
  3. Civitas Institute
  4. John Locke Foundation
  5. BEST NC
  6. SAS
  7. State Supt. Mark Johnson
  8. Gov. Dan Forest
  9. Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina
  10. Carolina CAN
  11. Jason Saine
  12. Jerry Tillman
  13. Innovative School District
  14. Bill Rabon
  15. Trinity Christian School
  16. David Curtis

Go back to Charter Schools USA.

Below is a screen shot from followthemoney.org which tracks campaign contributions to political candidates (https://www.followthemoney.org/entity-details?eid=14298646). Here is a list of candidates who have received money from Hage in NC.

graph5

  • There’s Jerry Tillman, the former public school administrator who is a champion for opaque charter school regulation. He’s #12 on the state map.
  • And there’s Jason Saine who loves charters as well. He’s #11 on the state map.
  • There’s David Curtis, who loves charters as well. He’s #16 on the state map.
  • There’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who sits on the state school board and lambasted DPI under Dr. June Atkinson for its report on charter schools that said they were disproportionally representing populations. He’s #8 on the state map. It is also worth noting that Forest is also on the state board of education and is ramping up for a run at the governor’s mansion in 2020.
  • There’s Bill Rabon, who stalled the HB13 bill in the Senate. That’s the bill that would have been a clean fix of the class size mandate that was replaced with a poison pill called HB90. He’s #14 on the state map.

Furthermore, Jason Saine has just been named the new National Chairman of ALEC and is helping to open yet another charter school called West Lake Preparatory school that is affiliated with Charter Schools USAhttps://caffeinatedrage.com/2016/12/08/open-letter-to-rep-jason-saine-youre-a-state-representative-fight-for-all-public-schools-not-a-new-charter-school/.

Brenda Berg who is the CEO of BEST NC has increasingly brokered working relationships with many entities that have targeted public schools – John Locke Foundation being one.

BEST NC’s VP is Julie Kowal, who at one time was the Executive Director of CarolinaCan, which is the NC chapter of an outfit called 50CAN, a national “advocacy group” that just a few years ago merged with another entity: StudentsFirst: https://studentsfirst.org/pages/50can-and-studentsfirst-merge-strengthen-support-local-education-leaders-across-country. StudentsFirst was started by Michelle Rhee.

Now, add to that the fact that BEST NC has had some workshops/meetings with people from the The Hope Street Group which is a group of teacher leaders who receive a stipend in exchange for gathering and communicating educational concerns with public school teachers. Hope Street Group receives funding from the Gates Foundation. Hope Street Group and other teachers were not in the meeting that Michelle Rhee attended with lawmakers that was set up by BEST NC. In fact, there has been no evidence that BEST NC had even worked with Hope Street Group in any endeavor of late meaning that BEST NC really does not reach out to any teacher-affiliated groups.

Additionally, Mark Johnson was granted a massive amount of power over public education through House Bill 17 and Senate Bill 4 (HB17 &SB4), power over charter schools, and the control of the Innovative School District and has retained the services of ex-Pat McCrory aids who possibly were enabled by other McCrory cronies, such as Art Pope who is linked to the American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known as ALEC. Art Pope is also part of the aforementioned John Locke Foundation.

The North Carolina General Assembly has backed Johnson with money and resources to fight the state board of education in a rather long-timed lawsuit thus showing he NCGA’s loyalty to Johnson and not the state board. Furthermore, it has reduced DPI’s budget significantly and allowed Johnson to hire people loyal to him including a former official with the Mississippi Charter Schools (#14 on national map) as a high ranking person in DPI.

And Mark Johnson is an admirer of Betsy DeVos. When interviewed by the Charlotte Observer for a Jan. 27th, 2017 feature Johnson expressed his support for the neophyte DeVos.

When asked about her, Johnson didn’t hesitate: “I support her.”

It’s not ironic that Betsy DeVos is also associated with ALEC. From sourcewatch.com it is learned that DeVos has “bankrolled the 501 (c) (4) group the American Federation for Children, the 501 (c) (3) group Alliance for School Choice and by having these groups participate in and fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).”

And remember that Darrell Allison who served as president of the Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina for the past few years will now be a director in DeVos’s American Federation for Children. Allison still plans on being based in North Carolina.

Oh, Allison is also on the UNC Board of Governors. He will remain in that capacity. So a man who has influence over the state’s university system is employed by national school choice advocacy group founded by the current secretary of education that feeds funds to ALEC, an organization that just named a NC lawmaker (Jason Saine) as its national chairman.

All of these connections seem more than coincidence and this perfect storm of timing, state politics, gerrymandering, and people in power can’t just be by chance. Could it?

So where are the teachers in this dialogue? The schools of education in one of the best college systems in the nation and from some of the highest ranking private schools in the country?

Well many teachers have been represented by groups like NCAE (which is an association and not a union). Multiple times the NC General Assembly has tried to weaken any group like NCAE through stopping automatic dues payments and other things such as what the Civitas Institute tried to do here – luring teachers in NCAE to “buy” their membership back.

Remember this?

graph6

That website was established by the Civitas Institute, which was founded by Art Pope. It showed NCAE members how to withdraw their membership in NCAE and make $450 because that is what they would not be spending in dues.

Now look at that first map again:

graph1

Hopefully, it makes a little more sense.

The NC GOP has been very instrumental in the following actions:

  • Removal of due-process rights
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Removed
  • Standard 6
  • “Average” Raises
  • Less Money Spent per Pupil
  • Remove Caps on Class Sizes
  • Jeb Bush School Grading System
  • Cutting Teacher Assistants
  • Opportunity Grants
  • Virtual Schools
  • Reduction of Teacher Candidates in Colleges
  • Elimination of Teaching Fellows Program and reinvention in a different entity.

Also look at this timeline:

  • Art Pope became McCrory’s budget director – 2013
  • Graduate Degree Pay Bumps Eliminated – 2013
  • 50Can created CarolinaCan – 2013
  • School Performance Grades – 2013
  • Due-process rights taken from new teachers – started in 2013
  • Charter school cap in NC lifted – 2014, but proposed in 2013.
  • Opportunity Grants (vouchers) – 2014

Now consider SAS, a software company whose president, James Goodnight, is married to one of the founders and current Board Member of BEST NC, Anne Goodnight. Mrs. Goodnight was also one of the founders of Cary Academy, a rather prestigious private school in the Triangle area.

In a data-driven, educational-reform era that seems to crunch and use data to position evidence that supports their claims, it would make sense to align with SAS, an “American multinational developer of analytics software based in Cary, North Carolina. SAS develops and markets a suite of analytics software, which helps access, manage, analyze and report on data to aid in decision-making” (Wikipedia).

SAS controls the EVAAS software system. It is used by the state to measure teacher effectiveness. It uses rather surreptitious methods and secret algorithms to calculate its data – https://caffeinatedrage.com/2017/11/26/why-teachers-should-be-wary-of-evaas-and-sas/.

Other lawmakers aligned with the privatizing movement here in North Carolina include Sen. Chad Barefoot who heads the powerful NC Senate Committee for Education. It is rumored that he is being considered as a possible head of the NC community college system in the next few years.

What has happened is that much of what should be “public” in the North Carolina school system is now being guided by non-public entities.

And we in NC get this:

graph4

Simply put, the privatization of the public school system.

Remember Ladies, You’re The Titans

I imagine most of you have seen the movie Remember the Titans about a public school in Virginia the 1970’s being desegregated and how its football team became a vehicle for positive change.

I watch it every chance I get. There’s a hopeless romantic still inside of me that likes a feel-good movie that actually is based on real events. That and my aunt who is an actress is in it.

It’s rather neat to see her on screen and say, “Hey, I know her.”

titans

We play a clip from the movie before football games that has Denzel Washington’s voice giving a pep talk to his players.

It sounds cliche’, I know. But if you remember, that was an actual team from an actual small town in the south and the local public school was a fundamental part of those kinds of small towns like West is to Clemmons.

West Forsyth is one of those few remaining schools in our area that can be claimed by a small town. It has been that way for three generations. All of 27012 feeds into West along with other surrounding areas of course.

So what happens at West happens to the town. And we are the Titans.

“Family” is a word that you have been using to describe yourselves. It’s on social media and Twitter. It’s also why there is only one name on the back of each jersey to remind you that you are a team, a “family.”

You ladies are a family. Anyone who watches you play sees how you pick each other up, celebrate each other, and refuse to let setbacks keep you from achieving. And you instinctively understand that the power of the team as a whole is more than the sum of the individual parts put together.

Any competitor is disappointed in a loss or less-than-stellar performance. But since March of last year, you have been preparing for this part of the schedule, the season after the season. The real season.

A house is where you keep your belongings. A home is where your family is. Sometimes it is a physical place, sometimes it is metaphorical, but it is always an awareness that you carry with you and keep open for those you care about.

You ladies are family. Have been for a while. Those who cheer for you have seen it. Those you have played against more than know it.

So no matter that color of jersey you wear, you are the “home” team.

There will be a lot of people from your hometown and school to see you play on your “home” court. There will be parents, friends, coaches, students, teachers, and others who may have never played a basketball game in their lives there to watch you play, hopefully for many more games.

And there will be many more following from their homes via social media, texts, phone calls, internet, etc., but expect a crowd at your “home court,” whether it is Simpson Gym or some other hardwood floor.

Baskets are still 10 feet high. Jump stops still will work. Driving to the basket still makes others play defense.

There is no need to tell you that every other team will “remember the Titans.” They’ll know. You will leave it all on the court tonight, Friday, and for the other games.

Just remember that you are the Titans and there will be a very large family gathering when you play.

On our “home court.”

Makes you wonder if we could get a large school flag to wave inside the gym.

Play to win. There is no room to play to not lose.

And as always, it is a joy to be a part of West.