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Day 453 – Letter to Fellow Citizens: Psst…We Heard That Some Folks Think Public Schools Are Indoctrinating Our Youth Toward a Liberal Agenda. We Also Heard That is Total Bunk.

Day 453 – Letter to Fellow Citizens: Psst…We Heard That Some Folks Think Public Schools Are Indoctrinating Our Youth Toward a Liberal Agenda. We Also Heard That is Total Bunk.

Image from WBUR

My dear fellow citizens,

Since President Trump was elected, there have been many issues that have come up in conversations that have caused me to ask some important questions. First, I have wondered more frequently about biases, both among the general population and within myself. Second, I have questioned how we have become so vehemently “against” one another, and where the information is coming from that is causing such strong animosity. No matter which side of the aisle your political beliefs lie, I think it’s easy to see that mass media plays a large role in this.

In an effort to try and remain open-minded and see issues from multiple perspectives, I have taken to talking with people on social media that I normally wouldn’t; people who I don’t know, and whose views clearly vary greatly from mine. I’ve heard a lot of…..well….fascinating notions, to say the least. I have learned a few things, but I have also been able to identify a few things that are blatantly false. These tidbits apply to my line of work as an educator, so I have first-hand knowledge about what types of things do (and don’t) regularly happen in public schools. Yes, I have seen the snippets of terrible teachers, and they do exist. I know that I have not taught in every state or every school, but from the experience that I do have, I am fairly certain that these teachers are the minority. However, I am most concerned about the general notion that public schools are a breeding ground for the indoctrination of young people toward a liberal/anti-conservative agenda.

The first time I heard someone make this statement, I truly laughed out loud. “What in the world is this person talking about?!” I thought. I shrugged my shoulders, and went on with my day. After all, I know what I do as a teacher. I do tend to lean toward the left politically, but I am also a Christian. I have shut-down talk about God in my classroom (more than once) because I do believe in the separation of church and state, and that it is not my place to discuss these things in my public classroom. My professional colleagues spend their days teaching about equivalent fractions and making inferences in literature. We are not on our soapboxes, and I can almost promise you that we would be in boiling water within days if we were. Parents are not necessarily laid-back about what goes on in schools, and there would be a modern day witch-hunt if a parent even suspected that their child was being “indoctrinated.”

Nevertheless, I have now heard this statement more times than I can count. As part of my continued endeavor to explore new perspectives, I went on to Fox News’ website today. And there, I see the headline “Anti-Trump American history textbook ‘blatantly biased,’ critics say.” Of course, I continue and read the article, which includes a Tweet from Alex On-Air (radio personality Alex Clark) stating, “In case you didn’t think there was an effort going on in public schools to indoctrinate kids with an anti-conservative agenda, a friend of mine took pictures and highlighted parts of this AP US History book.”

The article is about a textbook that isn’t even in schools yet, as far as I can tell from the article. It is published by Pearson, and is the newest addition of their AP History textbook; they are providing samples to schools and seeking purchasers. Also, there are pictures from within the text with the “blatantly biased” sections highlighted. Some of the questionable text sections are written as follows:

  1. “Most thought that Trump was too extreme a candidate to win the nomination, but his extremism, his anti-establishment rhetoric, and, some said, his not-very-hidden racism connected with a significant number of primary voters.”
  2. “Trump tapped into a sense of alienation and “being left behind” that many voters- most of all white, poor, and working-class voters- felt.”
  3. “They (Clinton’s supporters) also worried about the mental stability of the president-elect and the anger that he and his supporters brought to the nation.”

I read this article, and these textbook excerpts, with every attempt to be critical. I have to admit that I didn’t find the excerpts to be untrue. Since President Trump’s election, many analysts have looked at the predicament(s) of the 2016 election. If you listen to political experts speak about the topic, they have mentioned these events and factors. Fox News is really reaching with this headline, but Alex Clark is doing more than reaching with her Tweet; she is just flat-out lying.

If you are a conservative-minded citizen, I am going to make a request: please stop jumping to conclusions that are not based on much more than a few YouTube videos, your like-minded friend’s Facebook post, and a radio personality’s Tweet. There is no deep conspiracy to indoctrinate your children in our public school system. We don’t even have a public school system that is cohesive enough for that to happen. Please think critically, talk with your children’s teachers, spend some time in your local schools, and form your own opinion based on experience. Truly, if we didn’t want your attention drawn to some deep-seeded conspiracy, I would not be writing this letter in the first place.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

Day 451 – Letter to Governor Bevin of Kentucky: Who Is Cavalierly and Flippantly Disregarding What Is Best For Children? We’re Looking At You, Governor. You.

Day 451 – Letter to Governor Bevin of Kentucky: Who Is Cavalierly and Flippantly Disregarding What Is Best For Children? We’re Looking At You, Governor. You.

Image from NPR

Dear Governor Bevin,

How dare you.

How dare you refuse to support Kentucky public schools.

How dare you insult the voices of those employed in your state’s schools.

How dare you blame these teachers for crimes against children when voicing their dissatisfaction with the school systems.

How dare you.

On Friday afternoon, you told the press, “I guarantee you somewhere in Kentucky today a child was sexually assaulted that was left at home because there was nobody there to watch them. I guarantee you somewhere today, a child was physically harmed or ingested poison because they were home alone because a single parent didn’t have any money to take care of them…some were introduced to drugs for the first time because they were vulnerable and left alone…I’m offended by the fact that people so cavalierly, and so flippantly, disregarded what’s truly best for children.”

As an educator, I’m petrified to know what some of my students must endure at home. However, stating that I am the one to blame for these situations? Shame on you. Are teachers also to blame for kids who get “introduced to drugs” or are “physically harmed” in the evening or on the weekend? I am not a babysitter to simply keep kids out of trouble. I chose education because I want to inspire, protect, and teach; I hope to show kids the benefits of making good choices no matter the time or day.

You know what makes that possible?  Time and resources – pay a living wage so that schools can hire invested teachers, buy new materials children are drawn toward, and keep class sizes small so that educators can connect with everyone. Demonizing teachers only weakens your state. Demonizing teachers only hurts the children.

I am absolutely shocked that you could somehow attack the very people working to better our next generation. Yes, the teachers, but also the parents of these children. You have not only criticized every educator for not working hard enough, but also insulted each parent of a school-age child, insinuating that parents disregard the needs of their children.

None of these people will forget your words.

Soon, very soon, I hope you will be taken to task. I know you will get schooled. And in November 2019, you will not get reelected.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

Day 446 – Letter to Betsy DeVos: We Need to Talk About Standardized Testing

Day 446 – Letter to Betsy DeVos: We Need to Talk About Standardized Testing

Image from Mental Floss

Dear Betsy,

Can I call you Betsy? I feel like I know you. After all, we’re from the same state. I’ve been in buildings with your name on it hundreds of times. I’ve used Amway products; I’ve taught in a charter school. Even though my entire house could fit inside your first floor bathroom, I feel like we should be able to talk woman-to-woman. After all, we want what is best for kids, right? I’m a teacher; you’re the United States Secretary of Education. We are both in it for our students, not for corporate profit. Right?

So, here’s what we need to talk about: the way I just spent my day. You see, I just spent 4 ½ hours proctoring the SAT to my students. After that, they went home. Tomorrow I will spend another 3 hours proctoring the ACT WorkKeys to my students. Then they will go home. And Thursday, I will proctor the rest of the M-Step to my students. And then they will go home.

Three full days. Three full days where “teaching” means reading an instruction manual on how to successfully fill in bubbles with no stray marks. Three full days where “teaching” means hoping the kids remember to eliminate the wrong answers before they choose the answer that is left so they get a high enough score that our district isn’t in danger of state takeover. Three full days where “learning” means reading incredibly boring passages, answering meaningless and out-of-context multiple choice questions, and writing an essay that serves no academic or career purpose whatsoever. Three full days where “learning” means high levels of anxiety about a gateway test that is used to keep our students out of colleges. Three full days where my students know and I know (and you’d know if you did some research) that the only thing being measured is their own socioeconomic status and the educational level of their moms.

This, of course, is only representative of the junior year of mandatory testing in our state. I haven’t even mentioned the hours we lost to “pre-administration” bubble filling, and the entire elective students lost so that they could do focused SAT prep for an entire semester. But our students are drowning in standardized tests almost every single year, K-12. 20-25 hours a year is devoted to standardized testing; on average, students take over 100 standardized tests by the time they graduate high school. Much of the content is developmentally inappropriate. All of the content is soul-crushingly boring. And yet, our teachers and students are forced to spend days weeks months prepping for these tests, regardless of what the students really need.

What could have been taught in all of those lost hours? What could have been learned?

You recently told Oklahoma teachers who were striking for better teaching and learning conditions that they should “serve the students that are there to be served.” You told them that you, personally, “think about the kids.”

Well, I am thinking about the kids. And the only thing I get to serve them this week is more standardized tests. Tests that are meant to keep them out. Tests that are used to measure my own effectiveness as a teacher. Tests that are used at all levels to pit our schools against each other. Tests that will now be used to limit our students’ opportunity to advance to the 4th grade. Tests that measure everything but the things these students really need: safe learning environments, high quality and up-to-date resources, sound infrastructure, and teachers who are allowed to do the job they are highly trained and highly qualified to do: teach.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

March Is National Reading Month, Mr. President, and We Have Some Books for You and the Nation.

March Is National Reading Month, Mr. President, and We Have Some Books for You and the Nation.

Image from Twitter

Mr. President,

“Only love gets fists to open.” – Gregory Boyle

I am a teacher librarian who has worked over 30 years in public high schools. I am recommending we have a nationwide read. You know how a book club works. You’ve heard of community reads, where an entire city or area reads a book and then people discuss it together in many different venues. I am suggesting a NATIONAL read. Let’s all go to our libraries and our bookstores and get a book. Let’s read together, teens and adults, plumbers, social workers, introverts, extroverts, people employed, people out of work, members of Congress, state legislators, and you, President of the United States.

Did you know March is Reading Month? Here are my suggestions for our National Book Club:

We all want the same basic things. Of course we need food, clothing, and shelter. Yet, to be loved, to belong, to have meaningful relationships, to have a purpose; these are just as important as those physical needs. A book that addresses these needs and more is by Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.” These two have experienced great suffering in their lives. They have witnessed terrible violence and bloodshed, and yet they can write a book on happiness. Perhaps we can learn from them how fear, anger, and stress sabotage our joyfulness, and we can learn to set aside our many differences and face our flawed and beautiful humanity together, as one nation. Perhaps we can build rather than tear each other down.

No one who reads “Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion” by Gregory Boyle will be left unchanged. Father Boyle is a priest in Los Angeles who has been working with gang members there since 1988. He has devoted his life to love and compassion. He founded Homeboy Industries as a gang intervention program, and has dedicated his life to this work. The book jacket states what is so eloquently expressed in this book, “how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally.”

Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson is a searing indictment of our justice system. Bryan Stevenson, like Father Boyle, has dedicated his life to compassion for those unjustly accused of crimes, or those wrongfully imprisoned, or those improperly sentenced. He took on the case of Walter McMillan sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to help the poor and especially women and children get proper defense. He has fought for many people on death row, and has given a voice to the voiceless. Again, a story of boundless compassion and mercy.

Gregory Boyle’s newest book is “Barking to the Choir.” On page 7 he writes, “What if we ceased to pledge our allegiance to the bottom line and stood, instead, with those who line the bottom?”

Yes, what if? That’s a great opening question for our book club, and one that could create a lot of discussion if only we would open our hearts and our minds.

Perhaps we could listen to these authors for a while. And then talk with one another. Not like we’re at the OK Corral or living in the Wild West or a shoot ‘em up movie. Let’s have some rational discourse.  Instead of having ridiculous conversations about arming teachers, let’s talk about some great books and the profound issues they raise. Let’s talk to each other about how to make this world better, and not just for some, but for ALL. Instead of ranting and railing, let’s talk about caring for one another. Instead of demeaning and casting blame, let’s take a look at ourselves.

I invite you to my National Book Club. Read any/all of the above books and talk about the remarkable people who wrote them, and the marvelous, compassionate work they have done. I have many more suggestions when you’re done reading these.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

 

Day 244 – Why Charter Schools Are Getting A Failing Grade In Michigan…And Are Not a Panacea for Primary Education, Mr. President.

Day 244 – Why Charter Schools Are Getting A Failing Grade In Michigan…And Are Not a Panacea for Primary Education, Mr. President.

Photograph from Inside Counsel

Dear Mr. President,

There is so much one could say to you about how you are screwing up America and putting us all in danger:  your arrogance toward North Korea , your refusal to acknowledge climate change, your  lassitude toward clean air and water, your insults hurled at our allies, to name just a few. But as a Michigander and long time public school teacher, coach, and administrator I am going to focus this letter on what is happening to our public school system in Michigan with the encouragement of your Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  What has happened here is a lesson for every other state.

Even if you assume that charter schools provide essential competition for K-12 public education, it seems questionable that you would appoint as Secretary of Education a staunch advocate of charter schools who comes from a state, which according to a Brookings Institution analysis, ranks last among all states when it comes to improvements in student proficiency in charter schools. In the same article the author, Mark Binelli, states that “a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings.”

What are the reasons for these abysmal results for Michigan charter schools? We know how opposed to regulations of any kind you are, but try to pay attention to this: lack of regulation and oversight of charter schools is a main reason for their failure.  According to Binelli, “Michigan has the most for-profit charter schools in the country and some of the least state oversight. Even staunch charter advocates have blanched at the Michigan model.” Unlike most other states with charter schools which have some state oversight, Michigan has allowed a large variety of groups such as churches, universities, community colleges, and public school districts “https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/05/magazine/michigan-gambled-on-charter-schools-its-children-lost.html?mcubz=0&_r=0to approve the charters of would-be schools and act as sole oversight bodies. A result has been an inconsistently regulated glut of schools, all fighting over the same pool of students and money…”  When a Republican state legislator in Michigan led an effort to provide more oversight of charter schools, Betsy DeVos and her family led the effort, especially financially, to defeat the legislation which had bipartisan support as well as that of the Republican governor.  “Largely as a result of the DeVos’ lobbying, Michigan tolerates more low-performing charter schools than just about any other state. And it lacks any effective mechanism for shutting down, or even improving, failing charters.”

You, who tout your profit-making successes, would no doubt approve of for profit schools. But children are not products and parents are not shareholders in this for profit game. Only 16 percent of charters nationwide are run by for-profit companies whereas in Michigan 80 percent of its charters are operated by for-profit EMOs or Education Management Organizations. “In Michigan you can operate a charter for profit, so even schools that fail academically are worth keeping open because they can make money.”

Binelli succinctly sums up the co-opting of Michigan public schools and its lesson for other states: “With DeVos and her ideas ascendant in Washington, Michigan has become a symbol – and for some, a cautionary tale – of a movement gone astray.”  A good education is an extremely important facet of a democracy and indeed a right of all our children. Deceiving them and their parents with assurances that enrolling in a charter school will automatically provide them with a superior education may not be as dangerous as some of your other actions, Mr. President, but it ranks right up there.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

 

Day 232 – You Just Made College Campuses More Threatening to Young Women, Mr. President.

Day 232 – You Just Made College Campuses More Threatening to Young Women, Mr. President.

Image from the Sexual Assault Assistance Program

Dear Mr. President,

Over the past several weeks, many parents have helped their children transition to college. They have washed clothes, bought new supplies, packed boxes and moved their sons and daughters into dorms and college housing.  I remember my father moving me into my first college dorm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. On his many trips carrying boxes up the several flights of stairs to my hall, he kept seeing another father who looked increasingly alarmed each time they passed each other. Finally, the other father stopped my dad and said, “Did you know there are boys living in this dorm?” My father answered, “Yes.” The man then asked “Did you know they live on the same floor as the girls?!?!?”

Clearly, this was not something he had anticipated and he was very worried about his daughter. I thought it was silly at the time. Why worry about boys and girls living in such close proximity? I thought the other father was old-fashioned and prudish and didn’t give it another thought at the time. But over the years, I have often remembered that interaction and I have come to understand what it was really about. It was about worrying about what his daughter would face away from home. It was about knowing the dangers and threats she could face there as a young woman.

In an ideal and perfect world, colleges would be safe harbors of learning for our children. But they aren’t, Mr. President. As in the rest of society, there are people on college campuses who want to do harm to others. Who prey on young women and on gay and transgender students. Who take advantage of them. Who hurt them viciously without ever looking back. And although the good folks out there certainly outnumber the bad, that doesn’t mean we have any less of a responsibility to protect students and to ensure that if they are assaulted, systems and processes are in place to address the situation in a way that protects the victim and ensures the attacker cannot continue hurting other people on campus.

In 2011, under the Obama administration, the Department of Education released guidance in the form of a Dear Colleague Letter on how college campuses should interpret the prohibition against sex discrimination in educational institutions as defined by Title IX.  The Department put out this guidance to “explain that the requirements of Title IX cover sexual violence and to remind schools of their responsibilities to take immediate and effective steps to respond to sexual violence in accordance with the requirements of Title IX.” The letter explained why the guidance was necessary and the obligations schools had under Title IX with regard to sexual violence.

On Thursday, your Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced that President Obama’s approach had “failed too many students” and that her administration would be revoking and rewriting these regulations. Even absent the recent statements by other people under your administration or your own hideous behavior toward women and statements about them, this announcement would be troubling to say the least. Her statements seem to focus primarily on the financial penalties schools face for not following the guidance or on the potential negative consequences for the accused. Her statements seem to place the same importance on the experience of a survivor of an attack and the accused.

But when you put her statements in context, they become even more alarming, Mr. President. There is your infamous Access Hollywood tape where your misogyny is palpable. There are the statements made by Candace Jackson, the head of the civil rights division at the Department of Education, suggesting that 90% of sexual assault accusations happened when people were drunk and later regretted having sex. And then, Mr. President, we know you hate them, but there are…the facts. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, among undergraduate students, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Breaking that down for you, Mr. President, that means that about 1 out of every 4 young women stepping onto a college campus will experience rape or sexual assault sometime during their undergraduate career. That should appall you, Mr. President. It should sicken you that somehow young men feel so emboldened. That they somehow get to college thinking their status as men protects them and maybe even gives them the right to take what they want, even if that is the mental and physical health, welfare and dignity of other students.

But you are the one emboldening all sorts of people these days, Mr. President. Your actions toward women in the past and your continued sexist behavior toward them sends a message that you devalue women. And DeVos, as your appointee to the Department of Education, doubled down on that message on Thursday.

I don’t believe that college campuses will go back to how things were prior to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter. But I do believe that your administration’s action on Thursday have sent a very clear and negative message to victims of sexual assault and rape. It tells them that you doubt their word. It suggests that you think that most of them are lying when they are brave enough to come forward and report an assault or rape. It tells them that you are more worried about protecting the reputations of the attacker then you are of protecting their victims’ health and well-being.

It reaffirms for them who you are, Mr. President. Once a misogynist, always a misogynist.

Sincerely,

Letters2Trump

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