Sunday, February 26, 2017

Member of the "Education Establishment" Responds

Nearly everyone (except some legislators) has attended school, and considers himself or herself an expert. 

Last week, following the latest revenue failure, Secretary of Finance Doerflinger made a statement about all the problems he and his colleagues are having trying to create a budget…and how committed they were to finding raises for teachers (because he knows teachers!), and providing other services for our state.

My colleagues Rob Miller and Rick Cobb have both written eloquently and pointedly about the news conference, and I have little to add to their analyses-Rob and I did see red over the same statement. paragraph from Secretary Doerflinger’s  statement, one, sent me for my blood-pressure pills. In one paragraph he reveals how he really feels about educators, and he dismisses us all, one and all, as greedy, self-serving graspers.  Any good-will his pandering ‘I know teachers’ comment was lost when he said:

“If the agency known as the State Department of Education and if the Education Establishment in general would start coming with more solutions to the problem versus just the answer being solely we need more money, because there are opportunities to realize efficiencies within the common education universe. The problem is that the Education Establishment really is fixated on just maintaining the status quo, which is sick and really disgusting and it doesn’t benefit the children in this state, so enough of that already.”

Two things…three things stand out to me in this statement…”agency known as the State Department of Education.” It’s not ‘known as.’ It IS the State Department of Education. Why the tortured wording? All I can think is he’s trying to deliberately destroy the credibility of the department charged with the public education of our children.

Shall I call the Governor’s office ‘the office known as the Governor?’ Or the official known as the ‘Secretary of so-called Finance?’  Or ‘the so-called Secretary of Finance?’ Words matter and they are chosen to make a point. All I can think is he is trying to delegitimize the entire department… What’s up with the attack on OSDE?

Then he blames all our woes on the ‘Education Establishment.” They are the villains causing all the problems. If they would just stop asking for money to buy books, and repair school buses, and pay the electric bill; if they’d just be grateful for the scraps from his financial table…everything would be just fine. It’s all, obviously, the fault of the Education Establishment.

Who’s the “education establishment?” I guess that would be me. 39 years of teaching in three states, 10 schools. 34 years in Norman – every grade level in public education. Thousands of students, many of whom are still in my life in meaningful ways.  I must be ‘establishment’.

The library media specialist at my Grand’ schools: doing more with less…teaching, planning with classroom teachers, getting to know students and their tastes so well they can say, “Sorry, no new Minecraft books today,” when little Johnnie comes through the door. They must be the education establishment.

Or the principals who’ve gone back to school (on their own dime) to learn more about administering schools, to be more effective.

Or the choir teachers who work with 70+ students at a time, and make magic with all the blended voices singing works they’d never dreamed they could perform.

Or the English interns I work with at Oklahoma State: bright, idealistic young people who are very aware of the challenges that await them in their own classrooms.

You know who else is ‘education establishment?’ Your third grade teacher who works every day with students who may not have the advantages of a stable home, or enough food to eat.

The special education teachers who lose sleep at night trying to find new ways to help their students succeed.

That American History teacher who sees the realities his students face with one or both parents incarcerated. He’s part of the education establishment.

The art teachers who inspire students to believe in themselves and their talents. They’re part of the education establishment.

The counselor at school – who sees the great needs of her students, but she must ignore those needs to plan and implement state testing.

The parents who partners with educators to advocate for their children. 

The Education Establishment is every teacher working in a public school in Oklahoma. Mr. Doerflinger tells us, no doubt with great sincerity, that he knows teachers. He wants teachers to have raises…and then in the next breath attacks all educators as part of the ‘Education Establishment.’ He seemed to be entirely unaware that he both praised and slammed the folks who teach 90%+ of the children in our state.  Or, more likely: he just doesn’t care.

He accuses us of only wanting to maintain the status quo. He must not know what the status quo is in our schools:
  • ·         No new library books in many schools
  • ·         No new electives for high schools
  • ·         Four-day weeks to try to balance the budget
  • ·         Sustained standardized testing and a culture of fear
  • ·         Promising programs being cut
  • ·         Record number of alternative and emergency-certified teachers
  • ·         A-F school grades, punitive accountability
  • ·         Third graders who can be retained on the score of one test
  • ·         Over-crowded classes
  • ·         Students whose needs are not met by over-extended, overworked counselors
  • ·         Smaller custodial staffs
  • ·         Openings for substitutes and bus drivers – and teachers take up the slack
  • ·         Schools losing teachers who take jobs in the prison system, or at high-paying private schools, or out of state
  • ·         More and more unfunded mandates on top of other unfunded mandates.

That is the reality, the status quo, of our schools. I challenge you, Secretary Doerflinger, to find a member of the ‘Education Establishment’ who supports that list…You and your reformer buddies are responsible for the current status quo…it’s YOURS. And we don’t wish to maintain any of it.

OK, I lied. There are four things in that one statement that infuriate me…I think he just called every educator in #oklaed “sick and really disgusting” and lectures us about what does or does not  “benefit the children in this state.” I can’t even.

And he wonders why the best and brightest teachers are ready to abandon this state.
I’ll see my OSU students Thursday…I’ll look into their eyes, I will read their reflections. I will do everything I can do to encourage them to stay – stay in this profession, and stay in their home state to teach. Because we need them. Our children need them.

I reject the Secretary’s assessment. 39 years taught me what really matters. I believe in my profession, and in the educators who show up – every day – to teach.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

All the Novels I Need to Read

I have brilliant friends, friends who read...some even read more than I do. When I put out the call for books we all need to read during the next turbulent years, it was answered enthusiastically. And I discovered my very brilliant friends had read books I needed to read. Books that could give me that comfort and empathy that books -- especially novels -- have proved to provide for us who read.

The list I present for you today are novels I've NOT read. Novels I will put on my ever-growing 'To Be Read' list. Novels that friends recommend to us all in trying times. And, yes, there are books here that I certainly SHOULD have read...even English teachers can't read everything. Lewis's book, and Askew's, and Hamid's books are physically IN MY HOUSE, on a stack.

Some appear to be those dystopian novels we have all been referencing recently...of 'perfect' societies run by men and women who have all the answers...who brook no disagreement, who control all parts of others' lives.
So, read through the list...find one you'd especially recommend for me...or add a book you don't see.

Reading keeps us human...and it's never been more important to be loving, accepting, reflective, empathetic humans.

Fiction I need to read:

As I Lay Dying -- Faulkner
Behind the Scenes at the Museum – Atkinson
Blood for Blood – Graudin
Blood Meridian – McCarthy
Disc World Series – Pratchett
Echo -- Ryan
Every Man Dies Alone – Fallada
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Hemingway
Howl – Ginsberg
It Can’t Happen Here – Lewis
Johnny Got His Gun -- Trumbo
Junkie – Burroughs
Kind of Kin – Askew
Never Let Me Go – Ishiguro
Station Eleven – Mandel
Super Sad True Love Story – Shteyngart
The Children of Men – James
The Children’s Hour – Clavell
The Circle – Eggers
The Cucumber King – Nostlinger
The Diabolic – Kincaid
The Dispossessed -- Le Guin
The Gate to Women's Country – Tepper
The Hate U Give – Thomas
The Iron Heel – London
The Leftovers – Perrotta
The Light Between Oceans – Stedman
The Mandibles – Shriver
The Plot Against America – Roth
The Reluctant Fundamentalist -- Hamid
They Thought They Were Free – Mayer
Version Control – Palmer
We – Zamyatin
When I was the Greatest – Reynold

Wolf by Wolf – Graudin

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nonfiction for Hard Times

I promised four posts, all with extensive book lists, and here's my second, "Nonfiction I Have Actually Read."

I am married to a surprise. But, Bob Swisher reads nonfiction. In our 52 years together, I remember him reading two novels: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and Killing Mr. Watson. Neither of those made MY list of novels to read during trying times.

He mocks my fiction-reading habits, and I was happy to report to him in the past few years my nonfiction reading equaled my fiction. But, I still prefer stories, so many of the nonfiction books I enjoy are narrative nonfiction: memoir, biography, and just plain-old stories. Creative nonfiction feeds my soul.

Other than narrative, I DO read education policy books. I'm excited to say, I now read the books of friends -- social media friends. Pretty cool to be only that degree separated from authors.

Of  the four lists I will share, this is my shortest...a lifetime of reading novels means I have not caught up.

The nonfiction I share now are all books I have read. I have learned, I have enjoyed. Every one of them has left me a better, smarter, person.

My next two blog posts will be the books my very well-read friends suggested for our bibliotherapy through  tough times.

How many of these have  you read? What would you tell someone about them?

Nonfiction I’ve Read

Devil’s Highway – Urrea
Diary of a Young Girl  – Frank
Dreams from My Father – Obama
Girl Interrupted – Kaysen
Hoosier School Heist – Martin
I Am Malala -- Yousafzai
Ishmael -- Quinn
Man’s Search for Meaning – Frankl
March Trilogy – Lewis
Most Dangerous – Sheinkin
New Testament
Partly Cloudy Patriot – Vowell
Quiet – Cain
Ratf*cked – Daley
Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty – Gorski
Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Manson
Symphony for the City of the Dead – Anderson
Teachers Have it Easy -- Eggers
Testimony – Williams
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack -- Skoot
The Innocent Man – Grisham
The Myths of Standardized Tests – Harris
The Other Wes Moore – Moore
The Power of Habit – Duhigg
The Stories We Live By – McAdams
There Are No Children Here – Kotlowitz
What it is Like to Go to War – Marlantes
Worst Hard Times -- Egan

Zeitoun – Eggers