Censorship and the Fear of Free Thought – Attacking Vital Books In Our Public Schools

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 governmental 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 for 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 Guy Montag, a conflicted fireman, 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 the current trend to challenge books in our schools based on ideological zeal to appease the very conservative coalition in power in Raleigh is disturbing.

For this English teacher, actions carried out by our current Lt. Governor spell censorship and more governmental control over what is read by students in North Carolina. His track record screams that free thought, interaction with unknown ideas, and expressions of differing viewpoints should not be allowed in our schools.

That hurts our students.

Remember the nomination of Todd Chasteen to the North Carolina State Board of Education 2016 by Gov. McCrory? He;s still on the state board – with that Lt. Governor.

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” speaks loudly when considering that he will in all probability be appointed to the empty Northwest NC vacancy (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.”

But 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.”

Will Todd Chasteen want to now ban Huck Finn? It goes against the Bible, which leads me to my major concern about the potential appointment of Chasteen – he is not one who is familiar with public education.

Wagner wrote in her article,

“Todd Chasteen appears to have strong connections in private, religious education.

His wife, Kim, runs a private Christian school in Boone called Grace Academy. And Chasteen is a proponent of home schooling, having served as a government instructor for High Country Christian Home Schoolers.

Chasteen’s bio for HCCHS says he “has a passion to help ground and prepare our students against an onslaught of liberal views that they may face in higher education, and to be able to convey the subject matter with academic freedom.”

Wow. That’s sounds like someone who does not need to be on the state board of education for public schools.

First, if his wife still runs that private Christian school in Boone, would it not be a conflict of interest that Grace Academy has actually received monies from Opportunity Grants for students who enroll. Below is a screen shot from the NCSEAA website of schools participating in Opportunity Grants (https://www3.ncseaa.edu/cgi-bin/SCHOOLROSTER/NPS500.pgm)? Would Chasteen actively help public schools or would he allow his puritanical views start dictating the very types of books NC student would read?

grace academy

With a bias toward biblical adherence and being anti-liberal arts, Chasteen is the very person that Bradbury warns us against. I can just imagine his 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.

He would also have to consider banning Shakespeare – all of it. The Bard is well-known for his use of bawdry and vulgar language. There’s some cross-dressing in it as well.

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 Grace Academy and other religious affiliated schools 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 a still expanding voucher system.

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. The House of the Spirits won The Best Novel of the Year in Chile in 1982, and Allende, the author, received the country’s Panorama Literario award. That’s high praise as well.

Annie Kinsella, wife of the protagonist Ray 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.

Coming Back From This Pandemic Reinforces That We Should Go Back to the 7-Period School Day

Okay. I have said it before – even before this pandemic but…

We need the seven-period school day back.

It’s better for schools.

It’s better for teachers.

But most of all, it is better for students.

In years past, winter weather and Winter Break obviously dictate a great amount in the time I see students in December and January. But after we come back from Winter Break, we usually go into an exam period that for over a week will decimate the regular schedule. (That brings up the issue of calendar flexibility).

That’s more time away from students. And before someone argues that technology can help span those divides in time and space, I will state that I need that face-to-face time with my students. It’s vital. It’s critical. It’s the basis for the student-teacher relationship in my opinion. AND THIS COVID-19 PANDEMIC IS ONLY SHOWING THAT MORE!

A seven-period school day would also have done our schools better in this period of school closures and hybrid attendance. My school system shut down its building on March 13th, 2020. For most of last school year we have had to juggle synchronous and asynchronous class time with both in-class students and those who have chosen to stay remote.

What it meant was that we spent less time with classes in real time situations. A seven-period day would have assured more continuity and stronger foundations to help alleviate the struggles of distance learning.

Yes, many school systems have been on a block schedule for many, many years and there are many teachers who love the block schedule, but if we as a country are so enamored with test scores without the interruption of pandemics, it does not make sense to have more kids taking more classes and therefore more tests and expect them to score more points on those tests without giving them more time per class to study.

AND IF YOU THINK THAT STUDENTS ARE PREPARED RIGHT NOW MENTALLY, PHYSICALLY, AND EMOTIONALLY TO BE IN A SINGLE CLASSROOM FOR 90 MINUTES FOUR TIMES A DAY, THEN THIS TEACHER DISAGREES WITH YOU.

Pandemic, no pandemic, or even coming back from a pandemic:

Block classes force more students to devote less time to each class. With twenty –four hours still the span of a day, keeping up with seven classes per year as opposed to eight classes per year seems logical. That would mean more time per class to study the curriculum and to master the concepts. Furthermore, in the seven-period day, those students would take the class the entire year. That’s more opportunities for tutoring and remediation.

It allows for more continuity of classes. Core classes such as math or science may be predicated on previous material in previous classes. What if a student takes a math class in the fall of one school year, and then takes the next math in the spring of the following year? That’s a very large gap.

It makes scheduling easier. Some may effectively assert the argument that some classes could be on the A/B block which means that they would meet every other day throughout the year for a block of time. That presents more continuity, right? Not always. It is impossible to make all classes do that making scheduling a nightmare even more than it would be for just select classes using the A/B block. If all classes are offered at the same length of time for the entire year, scheduling for large schools becomes more streamlined.

If the block schedule (especially the A/B day block) is to prepare students for college, then it has missed its mark. College students tend to only take a full load of 4 classes per semester. We have students taking eight classes in an A/B block schedule at our schools, many of which are AP classes. Add some extra-curriculars and a job and lack of freedom that college students have and you have a schedule that actually seems harder to manage than a college student has.

It’s hard to keep attention spans for really long periods of time. If this post is too long, then you will not give the whole essay your attention. Sit in a meeting for more than an hour. Sit in church for more than an hour. Sit in traffic for more than an hour.

As a teacher, I want to see my students every day for the entire school year. That’s more face time and personal instruction. Instead of under 90 meetings in a school year, I would have almost 180 meetings. If my classes met every day over a year, my ability to track student progress and student achievement would be much more precise and have more historical data to measure against.

Students would have an easier time coming back from extended absences and breaks. On the A/B block that my school is on for over four weeks of time (winter holidays and exam schedule combined), a teacher may see his or her students for maybe the equivalent of 3 class periods. For true block classes that usually have those state exams used to rate schools, that means teachers see their students for maybe five class periods during that same frame. Not good.

Students would have a better shot at passing their courses the first time around. Students need 22 credits to graduate high school in NC. With the A/B day block or straight block schedule, these students have 32 possible credits they could earn. That’s a lot of wiggle room.

In essence, students in NC could fail 10 classes and still graduate in four years. A seven-period day gives students 28 credit chances, but with more time to devote to each class and more opportunities for face time with teachers and personalized instruction, plus extra calendar days for that class. It seems that it presents a better opportunity to do well in the class their first time.

Plus, students can still fail 6 classes and graduate in four years and that does not even consider credit recovery and summer school opportunities.

Graduation rates probably would not fall. If graduation rates are so key, then going to the 10-point scale took care of that. With a “50” being the lowest grade possible for a student to receive for a quarter score (at least in my school system) and a ten-point scale in place it means that 41 of the possible 51 quarter “averages” one could possibly obtain (60, 61, 62, … to a 100) are passing grades. Only 10 (50, 51 … to 59) are failing.

Those are just benefits for the students.

To talk of the benefits to teachers would take another entire post but it surely would talk about less teacher burnout, more opportunities to show leadership, offer more chances for collaboration, and give teachers more flexibility with duties and paperwork.

And teacher burnout is huge this school year.

Damn Right “It’s A Slap In The Face” – Stagnant Teacher Pay But Double-Digit Raises At DPI?

It’s rather hard to be a teacher in North Carolina this year.

It has been three years since a budget has been passed by an NCGA that is bent against public education.

We have a Lt. Governor who has a bogus task force that is investigating “indoctrination” based on circumstantial and biased “evidence.”

Some schools have seen more loaded guns in their classrooms than they have seen social workers for their students in need.

Supposedly some of us are teaching a theory that is taught to third year law students because it’s that complicated that is being used to fuel a false narrative.

And there is still one hell of a shortage of people in public education.

And there’s this thing called the LEANDRO decision which no one in DPI seems to be openly advocating for after a court-ordered demand to put its recommendations into fruition.

But damn, they sure got some big raises.

There is a link in that report which talks of the actual raises given to many of Truitt’s hires.

One person received a raise of over $45,000 per year – a %61.5 raise.

Yep. It’s a slap in the face.

This District’s Bus Drivers Are About To Strike. It’s The State’s Fault.

My district is the fifth biggest in the state serving over 50,000 students.

More than half of those students use transportation provided by the school system to get to and from their schools.

There was already a shortage of bus drivers before the school year started. It’s even an bigger shortage now.

What many people may not realize is that each driver has multiple routes in a given day. Drivers do not just serve students for one level (elementary, middle, or high), but multiple levels (elementary, middle, AND high). It’s one of the reasons that the start times for different levels of schools is staggered.

The print version of the Winston-Salem Journal carried a story about the upcoming strike on top of the fold on the front page.

Many of the drivers who are now employed have had to take on extra routes in their jobs to accommodate students. While the number of drivers is significantly lower percentage wise to what is needed, the number of students requiring transportation has not.

Fewer people are doing more work.

Telling is that at this very time the NC General Assembly still has not passed a state budget.

It hasn’t for three years. School systems are running on recurring funding levels from years ago before the pandemic.

Of course, this would put a lot of pressure on a superintendent, especially one who took over in the middle of the pandemic after the short tenure of someone who was not as invested in our schools. And what the superintendent stated about funding was correct.

It is about funding. The largest part of the state budget is dedicated to the state public school system. When the state doesn’t adequately fund the public school system, then local funding has to be used. In Forsyth County, the school system is second biggest employer in the county. The state budget affects the local budget in a big way.

But there is something about the last part of the statement that the bus drivers are actually standing up for.: being able to continue being in the job.

Yes, we stay in the profession because of the children, but only as long as people who are in education are able to make a living wage and can live on that income. Just because there might be an hourly wage at a certain level does not mean that there are enough hours of work to make that hourly wage workable.

There are many educators and people in our schools who are having to decide whether to stay in the profession and their decision does not hinge on whether they love children or not. But it’s hard to be in schools when you can’t even take care of your basic needs and the needs of a family.

Pornography, Parent Disturbances, Loaded Guns, Shootings, COVID, Witch Hunts & Politics – Not The Way To Recruit Educators

Below are screenshots from the front page of the WinstonSalem Journal from just this past week.

One week.

Seven editions.

Bonuses for employees are not going to solve a damn thing until this NCGA starts funding schools as they should.

When more guns have been found in our schools than there are social workers in those same schools, then we have some misguided priorities.

Oh, and today’s TeachNC “Featured Jobs” number that shows vacancies in schools around the state is still holding strong at over 22,000.

Now U.S. News & World Report Is Ranking K-8 Schools – And Stigmatizing Many Of Them

U.S. News & World Report is probably most well-known for its rankings of colleges and universities.

It’s a rather fragile system for ranking. Malcolm Gladwell in his latest season of the podcast Revisionist History deals with the parameters and variables used in the ranking system and shows its drastic shortcomings. Whether you agree with Gladwell’s approaches or conclusions in his other works, it is worth a listen to the episodes on the college/university rankings as they clearly show many subjective inconsistencies in ranking schools.

U.S. News then started ranking America’s high schools. Many dubious measurements were used there as well to come up with rankings which many who do not totally understand how effective schools really are based on the clientele they serve simply take as gospel.

Now they are ranking elementary and middle schools…

…in the name of school choice.

If and when you look at the rankings, please make sure to understand their methodology.

Then understand that there is so much more to a school. Maybe perhaps go to this site (Neighborhood Atlas) and catch a glimpse of the socio-economics that affect schools that are never really considered in the U.S. News rankings.

This NFL Coach Resigned. Our Lt. Gov. Won’t Even Apologize.

Jon Gruden resigned as a head coach of a privately held professional football team for egregiously harmful comments linked to him in emails before he took over his current post.

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson won’t even apologize for his homophobic, transphobic and hurtful comments as an elected official for much more publicly given comments made just in the past few months.

Actually Michele is a woman.

Gruden will probably never work again in the NFL.

Mark Robinson is supposedly eyeing a run at higher office.

Gruden offered an “apology.”

Mark Robinson is going after teachers.

A Double-Down Vs. A Double Sausage & Egg McMuffin

Consider that we have the highest ranking republican doubling down on his stance on “filth.”

Furthermore, his political enablers in the NC General Assembly have refused to pass a budget in three years and have kept passing negative education reform after another.

And there is this:

McDonald’s is giving more respect to teachers in one week than the NCGA has in years.

Let that sink in over some good coffee.

This guy is doing more for teachers…

… than this guy:

2 Minutes & 38 Seconds Of Unsubstantiated BS

For all of the pushback (and some support) that Lt. Mark Robinson has received for the now viral video of his talk at Asbury Baptist Church last June, releasing a video today to answer his critics on his choice of words and stance just confirms what most of us already know: Robinson is trying to make a large issue out of unsubstantiated claims just to villainize public schools.

Here’s the video:

https://fb.watch/8zlSNzt15S/

In it he shows the contents of a book that he alleges is being used in North Carolina schools. He never names any school that uses it.

He claims that it was a book reported to him and the F.A.C.T.S. task force through the reporting portal he established this past spring.

If this was the case, then it should have been investigated well before this video. Has it?

In fact, has any one of the supposed reports given to the F.A.C.T.S. task force ever been verified and shown to be true?

No.

Which makes this claim unsubstantiated.