Fireworks and Revolutions

RevolutionAs the 2014 NEA Rep Assembly winds down, and we simultaneously set off fireworks to celebrate the collection of 56 signatures on our nation’s Declaration, I keep thinking about the ways revolutionaries are created. Some seem born, and leap to any cause that opposes power; others seem slow to accept insurrection until swept up by events.

The Boston-born Sons (and Daughters) of Liberty filled a role that many Badass Teachers feel suited to—public displays of disaffection toward governmental and corporate structures that are insensitive to vital public institutions. For the Sons of Liberty, the collusion of the British Crown and the East India Company presented a corporatocracy worth challenging because it acted beyond the reach of representative assemblies. BATs look to the alliance of the Gates Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education with similar hostility.

Hostility, however, can be self-defeating. Poet Charles Bukowski’s description of the alienation from American society he experienced as a student and young person exemplifies this:

“The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole gdamned nation of aholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidates who reminded them most of themselves.”

Bukowski damned corporatism and the idiocy it promoted, but was famous for his own forays into idiocy and self-destructive behavior. Still, his words evoke feelings persons close to current educational politics can relate to.

The distress BATs feel about the election of Lily Garcia to the NEA presidency (and Randi Weingarten’s reign in the AFT) is linked to their rejection of corporatism and its corrosive effect on democracy within the teaching profession. Corporatists have slowly emerged as leaders in each organization because they are not leaders at all. This is the irony of corporatism. The way out is not self-destructive calls for separation from those organizations or revolution against their leadership. It is a commitment to self-discovery and re-creation. We must change ourselves in order to change our national professional organizations and to protect public education.

BATs have had a remarkable year. We have become self-aware, all 49,000 and more of us. We have begun to present a recognizable and consistent voice on matters of public education. It’s probably a bit early to expect name cards at the tables of decision to include many BAT members, though. As an organization, providing a compelling vision for public education that is supported by a mechanism for achieving it will be necessary to turn self-awareness into visible action. And that is a concern.

As long as we find it necessary to identify ourselves as BATs– as members of an interest group— we will be one of the corporate structures that inhibit the function of democracy itself. When we are able to convince people that their obligation is to society as a whole, we will have convinced them to be part of a true democracy, where interest is subjugated to disinterest. We may also find it unnecessary to label ourselves as an interest group.

There is no reason to expect the tension between democracy and corporatism to be anything but prolonged and difficult. It has been a central conflict in our national history since its inception.

We should be pleased that the past year has given rise to the BATs and the idea that public education is worth supporting. I think it’s time to set some signposts that might indicate the effect our movement has had as we look forward to our second anniversary:

  • Has CCSS become a pejorative in its own right? That might mean that people are experiencing frustrations due to the impacts it has on instruction and on the finances of school districts across the nation.
  • What is the level of awareness of Gates Foundation involvement in public affairs, including education? Debate on the impact of its semi-private initiatives will bring it into the sunshine of democratic process.
  • What is the status of recognizable BAT participation in national, state, and local education policy decisions?
  • To what extent have BATs extended their activities to other initiatives for social justice and general public policies?

If we become more self-aware, and if we seek to have a positive impact on local, state and national affairs, we will look back on the 2014-15 academic year as one of democracy-building success. We will watch the fireworks with new understanding of the challenges the Founding Fathers passed on to posterity.

We will also feel less like Charles Bukowski, and be better able to contribute to society as a whole. Then, the primary obligation we have—to convince the coming generations that their obligation to society actually exists—will be next.

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Coercion—the Post-democratic Tradition?

Quote

Gates Menace

”Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature.”            Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782

When Jefferson wrote those words, he was emphasizing the need a democratic society has for tolerance of minority viewpoints. Today, even majority viewpoints may be subjected to coercion—by those whose pocketbooks enable them to purchase tremendous political power and who use that power to undermine democratic process in the public realm. The Gates Foundation subverts democracy by determining the “correct” path for public education, funding secret meetings and promoting private decisions—and misrepresenting those decisions as legitimate public policy. These actions fly in the face of American tradition and violate any sense of legitimacy.

Today, we hear people talk about the “Founding Fathers” as if they were some monolithic bloc of unanimous assent to the policies enacted by our national government. In reality, they were a bag of cats, arguing, conniving (and drinking) to create a constitution that might satisfy the needs of a diverse population. At least three delegates did not sign the final document. The Founding Fathers did, in fact, work secretly—a choice made to alleviate public outcry that might prevent full and uninhibited exploration of possible answers to the young nation’s problems. But while the meetings were held in secret, the attendees at the Constitutional Convention were legitimate representatives, granted authority by their respective states to make decisions on their behalf. The final document was then open to public debate and ratification—a heated contest, to be sure, and one that took nearly a year to complete. The Founding Fathers, lacking the hubris of corporate oligarchs, anticipated that changes to the Constitution might be desired, and provided a clear means to do so.

It was a model of democratic decision-making.

How well does the creation story of the Common Core State Standards measure up to that model? Not very.

The committee members for the CCSS were chosen by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). None of the NGA Educational Division staff had K-12 experience. You might expect that the members of the CCSS Math and English Language Arts Work Groups would have had extensive classroom teaching experience, but you’d be disappointed. Out of the 24 members, less than half had any classroom experience at all, and several of those were experienced in a content area other than that of their committee work. 14 members had direct ties to testing companies. That tells me that people were not primarily selected for professional qualifications, but that ties to the less-than-edifying testing industry counted at least as much. It also suggests to me that the purpose of the group was not to compose a document primarily for student benefit, but was instead to build a system that would be mined for profit. The fox was building the henhouse and designing the security system, so to speak. No wonder NGA and the CCSSO resisted releasing the names of committee members— obvious conflicts of interest between the common good and commercial interests were the rule.

These conflicts of interest alone ought to have caused queries of corruption; add to them the secrecy concerning membership and the process by which the committee worked and there is no reason left to grant legitimacy. Anyone believing that the CCSS is a document that has earned the right to be enforceable public policy has little understanding of democratic process.

Beyond all of this is the omission from the document of any method for ratification or amendment. CCSS was a fait d’accompli on arrival, since state officials were asked to commit themselves before the working committees ever met. In fact, the CCSS is not exactly a “public document” in any real sense, since ownership remains in the hands of the NGA and the CCSSO. This group got Arne Duncan and the federal Department of Education to act as their enforcers, making adherence to the CCSS part of the requirements states must meet for taking federal dollars. No state or individual has any legal power to demand reconsideration of the CCSS in whole or part, and probably never will.

At the rotten core of this perversion of democratic process is the Gates Foundation. Over $170 million dollars has been provided by Bill Gates to fund the creation and implementation of CCSS. These donations are not benevolent grants provided without strings to further a common good. They are at first bribes offered to public officials who, starved for ongoing revenue sources for any educational initiative, jumped on board without due diligence. They are at last the basis for coercion of the states, which must adhere to requirements for testing by companies that created the tests corresponding to the CCSS… and the (at least) equal coercion of teachers, for states must use those test results as a means for evaluating educators.

The power of law has been granted to CCSS without the necessary process to assure public input and debate. Coercion, rather than professional debate, has taken precedence as the source of educational policy.

That coercion is geared to turn math and English language arts classrooms into production venues of standardized, homogenized instruction. “All children can learn” becomes “All children will learn what, how, and when we want them to, and for as long as we make money from it…”

Thomas Jefferson warned against people like Bill Gates over 230 years ago. Bill Gates is that fallible man who is governed by a bad passion for privatized, monetized, and standardized education. He seeks uniformity because it provides a sense of certainty in a field which ought to reject anything of the sort. Corporations can’t adequately predict needs and outcomes if educators creatively expand horizons of learning as they work alongside students. As Gates said, back when the CCSS committees were just getting started, “When the tests are aligned to the common standards, the curriculum will line up as well—and that will unleash powerful market forces in the service of better teaching. For the first time, there will be a large base of customers eager to buy products that can help every kid learn and every teacher get better.”

Mr. Gates, the common good is not compatible with coercion. When your “donations” are offered to grateful educators so that they can do meaningful professional work in a democratic setting, you’ll be welcome to join in at the appropriate moment for public input. You are not welcome to pre-determine the topics for discussion, nor the outcomes of those discussions. You are not welcome to disregard the voices of professionals or to fund the coercion of educators.

We intend to close the door on Mr. Gates.

Join the Washington State BATs on June 26, 2014, at the door of the Gates Foundation, Seattle, WA!

© David Sudmeier, 2014

The Teeches & Leeches… by Dr. Soods

The Enemy

 

The peeples of Lernville were learners—the best!

They shared what they learned; it was school, sans contest.

 

The pathways of Lernville were twisty and turny,

Fun things to look at, no one in a hurry.

 

The Pooples of Lernville were taught by their Teeches—

The Teeches of Lernville: adored by their Pooples.

 

Learning’s the journey peeps wanted to last,

They never got finished, “What for?” they all asked.

 

The Teeches all knew each Poople they taught

And the Pooples were happy—they learned quite a lot!

 

The Teeches helped Pooples with readin’ and writin’,

They helped them with buildin’, they helped ‘em stop fightin’.

 

Teeches taught Pooples old songs and new dances

They talked about kings, long ago happenstances.

 

Pooples learned to count numbers, they learned algebratin’

It weren’t always easy— it could be frustratin’…

 

But all of the Pooples knew Teeches were there

To help them and guide them if they felt despair.

 

Teeches helped ‘em explore the world and its voices,

The Pooples of Lernville, they made learning choices.

 

Their neighbors in Gatesville weren’t nearly so lucky,

The Schoolmeister there was really quite touchy.

 

“A box for each student! A box that they’ll fit in—

We chop ‘em, we pound any part that is stickin’!

 

“We make sure they learns every fact in the book,

Or go back and start over, by hookety-crook!”

 

Gatesville was orderly; neat and quite straightly,

No wasting of time, no Poople-come-lately.

 

Schoolmeister McDuncan was very specific,

His speeches on learning were, alas, quite prolific.

 

A standard for reading, a test when that’s finished,

More standards, more tests to keep students skittish!

 

Obedient students reading 70/30,

Not too much fiction; it makes your head hurty!

 

The two Bros. Kooks were both up for a quest,

They relished a chance to purloin an int’rest.

 

They handed McDuncan their credit-y cards,

And told him to spend ‘til the stack reached to Mars.

 

And the man Gatesville’s named for, he told them to hurry,

“We got to remember, Standards must be quite sure-y!”

 

Together they Kooked up a doozy for students,

They called it the Kommon Kore Standard Impudence.

 

“No student can do this! It’s truly implacable–

With this we can show Lernville Teeches are laughable!”

 

“Once Lernville parents lose faith in their Teeches,

We sell them our Kommon Komputery Leeches!”

 

Quite soon in Lernville, the message descended,

Less fun for Pooples! No school open-ended!

 

It’s got to be done to fight off the foreigners,

National security calls for cast-iron outcomers.

 

The Teeches of Lernville were terribly stressed,

They didn’t believe what they worked for were tests.

 

The Pooples of Lernville felt less than inspired—

Their grades on the tests could get Teeches fired?

 

In place of the Teeches the Leeches were tendered,

Costly machines that Poople minds might be rendered.

 

At this point, Teeches and Pooples became furious,

They hated the changes, which had grown rather serious.

 

And all of the Teeches, they came to consensus

That all of that testing made no common senses.

 

They marched to the office of Principal Doopt,

“This testing is tedious, it’s dull and we’ve drooped,”

they said in one voice, “Away with this scam!

We want to help Pooples, that’s who we am!”

 

And all of the peeps of Lernville that day

Decided to make sure that Teeches would stay.

 

“We don’t want Leeches or any machines

That don’t know our Pooples and walk in like kings.”

 

And that’s how they ended the Kooky Kore Schemin’

While Pooples resumed both learnin’ and dreamin’:

“We want to do stuff, and share what we’re learning,

School always includes things we might need for earning.

But don’t try to stuff us like moon pies for parties,

‘Cause the dreamin’ part makes us more than just smarties!” 

 

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Are We Simply Mad?

Are We Mad Graphic

Bedlam.

The word invokes images of madmen chained to walls, ignored by society, abused by caretakers. We cringe at the idea that places like Bethlem Royal Hospital (nicknamed “Bedlam”) actually existed to isolate the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, under the oppressive watch of “keepers” like Helkiah Crooke and James Monro. You could end up in Bedlam if your behavior did not fit social norms, if you stuttered, if you suffered from strabismus or physical deformity…or just about anything else that might set you apart from society. A lifetime of imprisonment and abuse accompanied the label of insanity.

So, what determines that a person is “mad” today? The recent publication of DSM5, the new diagnostic manual for mental disorder, has touched off a firestorm of debate within the medical community. The National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) has declared that it “will be re-orienting its research away from DSM categories.” It’s fascinating that scientists are rejecting a cookie-cutter approach to defining mental disorders and advocating for the conscious application of subjective professional judgment when the educational community seems hell-bent on doing just the opposite.

Educators live in bedlam today, and Charlotte Danielson, Robert Marzano, Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and their ilk are our new Helkiah Crookes. The Gates Foundation funding of Common Core State Standards has given rise to a new House of Bedlam, created without any meaningful input from public school teachers. The U.S. Department of Education, eager to subvert the delegated state power over public school curricula, has leveraged Bedlam by requiring states to accept the CCSS or forgo federal funding for schools. The Danielson Group tools for teacher and principal evaluation places educators in Bedlam cells of specific, measurable, attainable, (un-)realistic, and time-bound goals. Bob Marzano’s Professional Learning Community (PLC) scheme promotes itself with quasi-evangelical workshops that demonize educators resistant to the dogmas of standards-based education.

Conservative political lust for objectifying learning outcomes has blinded us to the value that professional judgment offers. When we accept that “standards” should function as an adjunct to qualified discernment—and not as a replacement for it—we will emerge from bedlam.

We’re mad, you know.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

Does Music Lie?

Albert Tuba

“Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.”  Jimi Hendrix

But what is music? That might sound like a ridiculous question, but I wonder how our history might have been different if Standards Based Music Education had been the focus of schools in the 1940s or ‘50s.

I can only imagine what “standards” would have been imposed on little James Marshall Hendrix. Who would have been selected to write the standards? Certainly not the musicians that led the way in jazz, blues or bluegrass—Duke Ellington, McKinley Morganfield and Bill Monroe need not apply. The more likely candidate — Will Earhart, a music educator who you’ve probably never heard of. Earhart was convinced that the “beauty” of music should be appreciated by all students. Appreciate beauty? Great idea, isn’t it? But how would it be measured or described? Earhart’s standard for beauty clearly excluded the amplified instruments used in rock and roll or the loose approach to rhythm that characterizes blues music.  Jimi would have failed according to such standards—his playing was frequently ahead of or behind the beat, his amplifier distorted, with feedback shrieking. Some music educators today might still side with Earhart.

Standards tend to be written by academics, and the standards they produce are essentially conservative—they preserve the status quo rather than encourage learners to challenge accepted practice or extend the boundaries of a discipline. A standards-oriented musical academic of that era might have told Jimi, “You’re right, music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, it better happen outside of music. And what you’re doing isn’t music.”

History has spoken on that subject. Jimi changed the face of popular music, and had to do so entirely outside of the academic scene. How many other “Jimis” have been made to feel inadequate, unwanted, or inept at school because their interpretation of content, concepts or skills lay beyond an accepted academic norm?

If you’re a parent of a student, consider the impact that a standards-based education may have on your child’s ability or desire to “think outside the box.” The more we reduce knowledge or skills to a list of arbitrary standards, the more likely that we pre-empt constructive and creative change because we lie to students—we lead them to believe they have “mastered” a subject if they can check off the various boxes on whatever list we proffer.

Does music lie? No. Neither does mathematics, history, or any other field of human endeavor. The truth is that no field of knowledge will ever be complete, nor can a list of “standards” encompass any of the disciplines. When we reduce knowledge to a set of “standards,” we not only encourage students to view education as a finite experience, but also encourage teachers to eliminate anything that didn’t make the cut.  Education then ceases to be that open-ended journey that both students and teachers might contribute to.

Don’t lie to students. They deserve to explore the truths we have discovered thus far, and to add their discoveries to the ever-flowing river of learning.

© David Sudmeier, 2014

A Declaration of Independence from Corporatist/Behaviorist Education

Pogo Declaration

When, in the course of a teaching career, it becomes essential to break from excessively rational beliefs and schemes and to begin thinking openly and freely, disregarding the dictatorial influences of political hacks, the insidious prodding of education gurus and the bleating of complacent peers, it is necessary that the thinking educator admonish the world with the whys and wherefores of their intended independence from those scourges of productive learning, Corporations and their Behaviorist lackeys.

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that education is best described as a journey, not a destination; that education is not a medicine or treatment to be inflicted upon learners; that a partnership between willing learner, skilled teacher, and supportive guardian forms the foundation of productive education; and that a democratic society sustains itself by practice of its ideals within the educational environment. Numerous corporations and anti-public education fronts—including, but not limited to, the Gates Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, ALEC, State Policy Network, Teach for America, Stand for Children, and Teach Plus— plot and contrive to dictate educational policy, conduct and beliefs. When unelected billionaires use their financial clout to promulgate a destructive vision for American education, it is the right—nay, the obligation—of every educator to break all the Windows® they can, chop down every Solution Tree that stands, consign their Common Core lesson plans to the reformatorium, and renew their commitment to student-centered instruction in order to preserve their claim to professional status, ensure their future happiness, and maintain their present sanity.

A glance at the attempts by corporatist forces to deform public education provides ample evidence that ideas and opinions formed in the business world are all too tempting to politicians who rely on corporate funds for re-election. Behold: political narrow-mindedness, focus on data rather than humanity, the tendency to blame those who teach for the ills of society, and an unwillingness to consider humane methods of instruction as acceptable alternatives to techniques of indoctrination serve as warnings to the nation’s teachers and learners that they, too, are doomed to a future of boredom and inner turmoil if they do not act against the domination of Corporations and their Behaviorist toadies in public education today.

When narrow-mindedness reaches that point where afflicted educators are shamed for considering alternatives to the shallow reasoning and attitudes taught them by the nefarious Dufour Duo, their uprising is most justified. So have I and my fellow educators suffered. We rise above this morass of ridiculous ideals today to present several of the offenses of the Corporatist/Behaviorist Cabal for consideration:

They assert a corporation’s right to legal status as individuals in order to exert unrestricted financial influence over public policy, while also enjoying exemptions from the obligations which citizens affected by those policies must endure.

They degrade democracy by excluding teaching professionals from the process of creating standards and imposing those standards without public debate.

They devalue the professionalism of teachers by demanding the surrender of all autonomy in favor of scripted lessons and prescriptive standards.

They claim without evidence that setting “standards” will transform education for the better.

They threaten the privacy of students and seek to transform public schools into another source of profit.

They demand unswerving loyalty and obedience from educators, rather than encouraging professional discourse and promoting respectful dialogue.

They vilify the professional associations of educators and encourage citizens to view teachers and other public servants as parasites on society.

They use non-profit fronts to conceal profit-seeking enterprises.

They alienate youth from their educations by placing undue emphasis on outcomes as opposed to personal investment in the process of learning.

They reduce the beauty and complexity of academic endeavor to atomistic standards as part of their crusade to deprive educators of professional discretion.

They strip seasoned professionals of dignity and destroy their morale.

We, therefore, educators of America, straightforwardly and without dissembling, appealing to the Master Instructor for the iGeneration, do, in the name—and assuming the authority— of public school teachers throughout this Land, brazenly publish and declare that we are, and of right ought to be, Free and Independent of Corporate Influence; that we are absolved of allegiance to Arne Duncan and his ilk, and that all connection between educators and Bill Gates’ connivances is hereby dissolved, and that as Free and Independent Tutors, we have full power to offer learners a democratic environment, disregard the CCSS, ignore John Hattie’s latest work of fiction, and do all things that free-thinkers of the world might do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the dearly-departed Socrates, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives (such as they are after semester grading), our meager salaries and 403(b)s, and what little honor we have left after attending PLC conferences.

WE SIGN OUR NAMES…

David Sudmeier

© Copyright 2014 by David Sudmeier