NEA’s Lily on ESEA

“We support grade span testing to free up time and resources for students, diminish ‘teaching to the test,’ expand extracurricular activities, and allow educators to focus on what is most important: instilling a love of learning in their students.”

via NEA’s Lily on ESEA.

Mandates of and from Our Hearts

We are being mandated to death. A mandate is an official order, a commission to do something, a law. I am tired of official orders and of commissions and of the law. I need the mandate paradigm to be shifted now.

I am sitting in front of a blank screen on this Sunday evening – almost Monday morning – just thinking about the mandates we educators are under. We have mandates from our school, our departments, our district, our state, and, yes, from the government. We have mandates to test our young children and mandates to write up goals on our own evaluations based on those tests. We have mandates to enter data every month, every week, every day, and every period of every day. We have mandates to meet in data teams to manipulate and further extrapolate more data from the data. We educators are being mandated to death.

Then I began thinking about the mandates our children are under. They are mandated to attend school and to pursue an education. They are mandated to take evaluative and standardized tests. Then they are mandated to sit in review sessions if they do not pass the tests. They are mandated to practice taking tests so that they can pass the end of the year mandated standardized test. They are mandated to be obedient and compliant and they are mandated to dress and act according to school, district, state, and federal codes. They are mandated to sit in meetings if they do not pass the tests. They are mandated to be college and career ready. And they are mandated to take tests to see if they are college and career ready before, during, and after they are in college or on a career path. Our students are being mandated to death.

I remember when the new mandate paradigm first appeared in my school. I was told in no uncertain terms that our reading/writing program could no longer exist and that we had to adopt a comprehensive school curriculum where all grades and all subjects would all be doing the same thing at the same time according to the new curriculum. This was my first mandate and it broke my heart because it destroyed years of successful creative and innovative curricular work. Each year since, the mandate paradigm has gotten more and more onerous and unmanageable. It has a life of its own and, little by little, has sucked all the joy out of teaching and learning. Both teachers and learners are being hammered into empty mandated shells that have no resemblance to what we were meant to be.

Tonight I listened to the radio show The War Report on Public Education hosted by Dr. James Avington Miller Jr., co-hosted by Anthony Cody with special guest Dr. Yong Zhao. It was a great show talking about the authoritarian management in our schools and the lack of innovation and creativity. At one point Dr. Zhao mentioned that the mandates we are under should be the “mandates of the heart.” That one phrase stuck a deep cord in my own heart and has been pulling at me all night. After the show, I posted on Twitter and FaceBook that I want my students and grand children to have mandates from their own hearts not mandates from the ed monsters. Because that is what these pushers of mandates have become – they have become educational monsters destroying the very love of learning in our children and the love of teaching in our teachers.

If I am teaching according to a mandate from my own heart, I am teaching with love and compassion, excellence and creativity. If students are learning according to a mandate from their own heart, they are learning with joy and spontaneity, comprehensiveness and inquiry. Do we still need guidelines and common goals? Yes. Do we still need rules and discipline? Yes. But those mandates must take second stage to the primary goal of education – teaching in such a way that each and every student is afforded an education that will enable that student to be a life long learner and a productive and happy member of society. And if we follow the mandates of our hearts first – both teacher and student will be filled with the joy that only comes from true teaching and true learning. As Aristotle taught almost 2400 years ago, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” So, I think it is time that we act first and foremost by being true to the mandates of and from our hearts before the mandates of the ed monsters finally destroy us all.

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Fourteen Words that are Cursing America’s Children

Words do matter. They do have life. They do have power. They can hurt our souls and bring us down or they can heal our hearts and raise us up. They can cause us to love and they can cause us to hate. We can take words and use them to spur us to actions or we can take words and use them to spur others to act in ways we desire. Words are power and words give and take life.

With that said, I want us to examine these 14 words that are shaping the future of American education. These words were spoken by Common Core wizard David Coleman at a NY State Department of Education presentation, in April of 2011:

“…people really don’t give a s*** about what you feel or what you think.”

If you replace the “you” with “students” and the “people” with “teachers” we now have a pedagogical statement that truly shatters my heart. Now it reads:

 …teachers really don’t give a s*** about what students feel or what students think.

 Let’s paraphrase this educational dogma less explicitly and reveal a sense of Coleman’s message to America’s educators:

 Teachers should not care about what students feel or think.

Is it just me, or is this the antithesis to what a good teacher should be doing? A mere decade ago, the mantra “It’s All About the Kids” pervaded everything that was being done in my CT district. Almost before my eyes, we are now teaching in a time where the mantra has changed to “It’s All About the Data.”

Now I do not have anything against data teams and data sheets and data collection. But data is just that – DATA, NUMBERS, lifeless characters on a page. Good data can inform our instruction. It can reveal deficiencies and strengths in our teaching. It can help kids improve. But it’s just an inanimate tool. Each one of my students is much more than a placeholder on a spreadsheet.

If we accept Coleman’s directive and not care about what our students are actually thinking and feeling, then, I guess, it is easier for some teachers and administrators to view their students as just data. It’s like being a piece of merchandise in a retail store. The student is just inventory and the worth of the student is determined by the value in the spreadsheet. If the student isn’t making a profit, then the student should be reduced in value and eventually written off the books. This is a chilling way of looking at our young people.

My hope on this Sunday morning is that each and every educator, administrator, and parent would come to their senses and see just what is happening to our children in our schools. With one voice, we must all speak out and say that our kids have hearts, minds, bodies, emotions, talents, questions, and needs that must be valued. Our kids deserve to be seen and they need to be heard. With one voice, let us all proclaim these fourteen words and turn a curse into a blessing over America’s children:

 Teachers, parents and administrators must deeply care about what our students feel and think.

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Isn’t it Time?

Isn’t it time to wake up
to shake off the sleep
the weariness
the dust of despair that keeps our
minds cluttered with meaningless crap?

Isn’t it time to be active
to stop being reactive
to start marching to our own
inner voice that screams at us constantly
to just move onward?

Isn’t it time to embrace the moment
to reach out in hope and in trust
and to risk the plummeting of our dreams
even if our choice is wrong?

Isn’t it time to mend fences
and bind wounds
and reestablish relationships that
once were vibrant and true but now
are lifeless and corrosive?

Isn’t it time to work together
for the children
for our children
for their children
so that our future won’t be threatened
by ignorance, fear, paranoia,
and hate?

Isn’t it time to just love
each other?
Isn’t it time to just respect
each other?
Isn’t it time to throw away the
gauntlet and to offer the olive branch?

It is for me – tonight.

When all is said and done
they will remember us
for our love.

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©Copyright 2015 Poetic Justice