Falling behind

I’m getting tired of hearing all this talk about students falling behind academically during the pandemic. It turns out that remote learning is a completely different beast than learning in brick and mortar schools. As if that model was working so splendidly for academic achievement. The fact of the matter is that regular school sucked, for a whole lot of reasons and online school sucks for a whole lot of other reasons. 

The main thing that makes online school suck is the thing that makes IRL school not suck: socializing. Yeah, that is the main reason kids want to come to the brick and mortar, to see their friends! It’s not about the academics, it’s about relationships. And it turns out that the online school provides unheard of opportunities without the physical constraints of the building. 

I never liked hearing “be in your seats and ready to learn”. What a stupid idea. We all learn all the time, not just in the classroom. For most of us, the classroom is a distraction from authentic learning, learning from your environment, your family, your culture and most importantly, your interests.

No one knows what to do about our situation. That means that we all are truly on an equal footing in terms of what we should be doing. Top down decision making in the schools has always been a major barrier to school improvement but with the COVID, as is true in so many cases of inequity in our society, top down decision making has been proven to be a fool’s errand. 

The Superintendent doesn’t know what to do anymore than the custodian but I would place my bets with the practicality of the essential worker over the fluff at the top. The truth of the matter is that we all need each other to get through this, we are all learning how to do remote learning together and therefore we have to be willing to rethink our initial plans from the summer to adapt them to our lived experience.

Tech skills are slowly improving. Scheduling can be made much more flexible to efficiently teach whole classes in short blasts while giving more individual and small group attention. We are moving forward together. Imagine the earth hurtling around the Solar System and through the Universe, no matter where you are or which direction you are pointed on the surface, you are still hurtling through space with everyone else. That is how the individuals and tribes swim through history. Everyone does their own thing but it’s always just a part of everything.

We aren’t going back to the old ways. The old ways were dominated by the hierarchy of white supremacy culture. We can see that the hive mind is a better decision maker. We are not falling behind.

What’s the Point?

I started this blog to try to sort out my feelings about education as an Anarchist, teacher and librarian. It seemed like a good way to document my thoughts and responses to my lived experience as a public school teacher and to create a platform from which to share. As this school year gets underway and the pandemic has laid bare the social, economic and racial injustice that hinders our society’s ability to develop into the advanced, compassionate society that technology could make possible, I see more than ever that we need to being doing “Just the Opposite” of what we’ve been doing. This is true of the public schools, the police, and so many of our institutions. Now I’m doubling down on my efforts, recommitting myself, opening myself to vulnerability, laughing at it all and writing.

The point is that it is better to do something than to do nothing. Doing nothing is an early capitulation and surrender to the inevitability of death. Doing something is the defiance of death and a celebration of life. Writing is doing something, reading is doing something, all kinds of study are doing something. Theory is important but it is only half of doing something unless it is done along with practice. Doing something is the combination of theory and practice, something both Paolo Freire and Hannah Arendt called Praxis. My writing helps me solidify my ideas which I then concretize in my daily practice. It also helps me call in other folks, prompting them to act together with me as they see fit. Or not. But since I want to see a better world it only makes sense for me to do something rather than nothing. 

Originally, I took on the handle anarchoeducator because I wanted to inject some Anarchist theory into education discussions. But now, with all of the hype about Anarchists, I realize that this discussion is even more important than ever. I realize that I’m also an educator who wants to teach about Anarchism. Now, anarchoeducator has a dual meaning. 

The point is (there is usually more than just one point) I’ll be sending out short blasts every week this year. Tag along if you wanna.

Anarchy Happens!

Built-in Alternative

There’s always an alternative

Why I love being the school Librarian

Like the disneyfied Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, I can claim that “I’m the only one”. I know that in fancy private schools there might be more than one and in public schools poorer than mine there might be none. In MY school though, I’m it and I get to define what it is.

Building relationships around information, that is my operating definition for my role as a school librarian. In my view education’s main role is to provide students with a way to understand and use information. The school librarian provides the connections.

There are no grades or assessments in my library. This might not be true in every school library because distant technocrats always want to push their agendas. Some of their accountability/control policies leak but I’ve guarded against those intrusions. Measuring people’s intelligence or mental growth seems like a fool’s errand to me. If anyone wants to interact with the library it is completely on their terms, let them be the measure of themselves.

The library promotes the idea of free inquiry, meaning there is no compulsion or system of domination in the library. Yes, you do “have” to return the books but we’re lenient. Most people want to return their books just so they can get new ones.

Remember, libraries are about information not just books. Books carry lots of information but there are many other information platforms and libraries deal with all of them. This creates a sense of freedom for me because there are so many options. I only have to follow directions when I’m tasked specifically by someone in order to connect them to the information they want, which I always find fascinating. I indulge in other people’s intellectual pleasures as a sort of sampling tour.

Technology has transformed information science. Being in the library is like being in a whirlpool of emerging technological systems that are all vying for relevance. Librarians are both early adopters and early critics of technology. The new Prometheus deals with the usefulness and the danger of this new fire in our world.

Librarians are the epitome of the quide on the side, the quiet subversive and the curator of alternatives.

Why librarians are as important as principals

schools need libraries

When talking about excellent public schools, librarians are as important in securing excellence as principals are. Here are the top ten things librarians do; principals not so much:

  • Research – school librarians help the entire school community, students, teachers and even parents do research. School librarians are prepared to teach students how to do research either in class or individually. School librarians help teachers find studies and resources for their classes.
  • Critical thinking – school librarians use questioning to model critical thinking as part of their daily practice.
  • Collaboration – school librarians are ready to collaborate with anyone on any topic.
  • Lifelong learning – school librarians model and encourage lifelong learning by actively listening to student questions regardless of how far afield they might be and by encouraging students to pursue their personal projects.
  • Individual attention – school librarians give full, undivided attention.
  • Technology – school librarians are intimate with technology both as early adopters and as serious critics of the abuse of technology.
  • Flexibility – school librarians provide flexibility to the entire school by always  being ready and welcoming to student needs.
  • Refuge for the marginalized – it’s a bit of a cliché but no one in the school provides the refuge that librarians provide in their libraries.
  • Documented positive impact on student achievement – 34 state studies (Lance, Kachel) confirm that school librarians always have a positive impact and it is even greater in under-resourced communities.
  • Literacy – school librarians build reading communities. This one is last because it is also the first. It may be very obvious but it is also very powerful.

Public school principals are typically technocrats who are very good at their jobs. In other words they satisfy the needs of their employer, the school district, whose primary concern is to accommodate the needs of adults, the legislators and education policy makers. Too often the needs of the adults have everything to do with politics or business and nothing to do with children. All the decision makers and implementers of education policy build their strategy with a technocratic approach based on data. But can a technocrat ever be able to satisfy the human needs of the students and their teachers? Education is more than a technocracy.

Librarians are the humanistic counterbalance to the paint by numbers approach of the technocrats and are also very good at their jobs. At this particular moment in time it has become necessary to draw a distinction between technocratic decision making and humanistic decision making in order to see the dynamic tension between them. In this ever increasingly technological society, in an already overly technocratic system, we are in sore need of the humanism that is guaranteed by the presence of librarians.

This important distinction must be made. The balance is our true measure.

Cited

“Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Kappanonline.org, 4 Oct. 2018, http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/.

Librarians are making noise

sos libraries

Librarians should not be quiet about school funding. School libraries are an equity indicator of any school and school librarians are well aware of it. They are also aware that the chronic underfunding of schools affects more than just the school libraries, it affects every aspect of public school. Right now we are facing serious cuts to existing librarians in Seattle public schools just when we are heavily advocating for more librarians so that all elementary schools can have full time, instead of half time, librarians. We are also advocating for equitable funding to buy books, as apportioned by the WA state legislature; $20 per student should go directly to every school library budget. Unfortunately, we seem to be headed in the wrong direction. Librarians should not be bystanders as this situation passes by, we should be making noise. It is perfectly appropriate.

This is an opportunity to let the public know about the power of the library.

Suppose the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Representative Assembly (RA) votes next week in favor of the New Business Item (NBI), a resolution, inviting school librarians to walk out, rally and/or hold a press conference/panel discussion about school funding from the school library point of view with the full support of our union? How could we use this to advocate for libraries and better funding for schools? Seattle seems to display consistent and tremendous community support for libraries; it is an emotional issue for many citizens. But not everyone sees or understands the actual impact that libraries have on schools. If we staged a one day walk out we would be bringing the stories from our schools about what would be missing from the school day for that one day. This is an opportunity to relate our narrative to a broad audience while advocating for full funding for all schools and explain the lobbying and advocacy we do at all levels of the education system, from classroom to school board to Olympia. This is an opportunity to let the public know about the power of the library.

 

At the same time we face these budget cuts we are facing upcoming contract negotiations. Teachers have been rising up across the country and have been winning at the bargaining tables. A walk out of a specific set of specialists, when fully supported by each school community and the union as a whole, sends the message that we are tired of fooling around with this endless budget shortfall. A walk out will signal that we are ready to apply increasing pressure and are ready to strike to get the best contract so that we can give our students what they deserve, an excellent education.

 

Librarians have been sidelined for too long, especially when they are so important. Librarians are the built in alternative for any school, giving any school the ability to adapt to any individual. Libraries are the heart and soul of education and librarians are what makes it all tick.

 

Address to the Seattle School Board

 

truth to power

In our district-wide social equity work, one of the norms has to do with the intent vs. impact binary. I’ve spoken before this body before and to some of you privately. There is not a doubt in my mind that your intent is good. But when it comes to your impact I have to wonder: who’s side are you on?

Libraries have a positive impact on student performance. We have hundreds of studies to prove it and few to disprove it, something that cannot be said about the practice of standardized testing.

It is not just in the individual school where librarians have impact. Librarians have impact district wide. As each of us come up with solutions to problems we share the solutions through collaboration. And guess what? We willingly and gratefully steal each other’s ideas, as needed. The more of us, the more solutions and boy do we have problems.

Libraries store the wisdom of the ages. Having librarians in the school is having access to the elders. They are resident elders (even the younger ones).

Why, knowing all of this, would you cut instead of increase, the number of Librarians?

The knee-jerk, default answer is “fiscal responsibility”. But I have to ask, responsible to whom?

It seems irresponsible when looking at our society as a whole. Limiting resources ultimately limits productivity. Limiting resources means assets remain undeveloped. Human Assets.

The scarcity narrative is for the benefit of the rich.

It needs to be challenged.

Again I ask, “Who’s side are you on?” Is your intent to defend corporatism? Because that is the impact of your actions. Or do you want to side with the humanists and be a champion of the people?

Here is what I want you to do. I want you to go beyond the legislature. I want you to fiercely challenge the billionaire class that controls the legislature. I want your impact to have positive change for the people. We know what to do. You need to listen to us, not Bill Gates.

 

What’s wrong with that Principal?

 

confused-businessman-cartoon-character_1473-162

 

Contrary to the wisdom of common practice, here I am, leading with a negative. To be fair, there is already enough written about how significant, important and necessary principals are, how much good they can do for the school community: but those articles are mostly aspirational, except in the rare award winning cases, the cases when awards are given by long standing professional organizations with high credibility factors and not private foundations. Most principals fall far short because, in reality, it is frequently an impossible job, so it should be no surprise to hear the question, “What’s wrong with that principal?” Maybe it really should be “What is wrong with the principal’s job?”

 

Personally, I would not want to be a public school principal (I’m happiest in the library). I think it is a rotten job. That’s mostly because there are far too many opportunities for failure. Which means of course that there are far too many failures, which is why the hierarchy above the principal is the zone of real control. The hierarchy is willing to smooth the edges of failure as long as the principal remains compliant. To the school community they are the deciders but to the hierarchy they are nothing but place holders. And candidates for moving up the ranks, if they have that certain something.

Most principals are easily sucked into the allure of corporate riches and are susceptible to soft corruption.

They dress for success. When I say that, I am specifically saying success in the corporate world. In any school community the principal is the front person for the corporate world, the persona of corporate reality. Most principals are easily sucked into the allure of corporate riches and are susceptible to soft corruption. They become unwitting shills to market forces. They usually come trained with a non existent understanding of political economics, psychology or philosophy. They are the front line in the hierarchy that supports white supremacy culture with their able logistical guidance, keeping the schools running just well enough.

 

They abuse data. It is rare to see a principal’s presentation on data that does not send up a dozen red flags putting the bullshit detector into hyper activity. Some principals cheat or game the system. Others use benign neglect and omission to home in on their single issue concerns. They use data to rationalize inequitable decisions. Data is the carrot that their superiors use to dangle in front of them, motivating them and keeping them in line. They themselves are abused by data.

 

They employ logical fallacies. Asserting the consequent, denying the antecedent and lacking a true premise is their norm. They sound like politicians in public settings and technocrats in private meetings, but throughout they are prone to saying things that they don’t actually believe and doing things they never talk about. They exist in a very narrow place facing the wrong direction. They are adrift in an existential wasteland, ill equipped to make authentic decisions and unable to employ the power of the school’s hive mind to make the best decisions. But they could turn things around.

 

If principals took up the cause of their students and teachers and fought against the hierarchy to undo the artificial scarcities that have plagued our schools since the 1980s, they could make all the difference. It seems far too unlikely but maybe we can wake them up. Maybe we can help them see that what’s wrong with the schools is what’s wrong with principals and vice versa. What’s wrong with principals is that they are the pivot point and they need some help.

 

The Moratorium Manifesto

leader

Moratorium Manifesto

 

WE are committed to fighting the standardized testing movement because progressive education and standardized testing are antithetical. The premise of progressive education is that the best learning happens when theory and practice come together experientially.

 

WE understand that progressive education is at its best when it is culturally responsive and that cultures vary in their structures of discipline.

 

WE believe that progressive education in America is anti racist.

 

What would a moratorium on standardized testing do to stimulate progressive reform?

 

  1. It would blow the lid off the narrow constraints that have been imposed on curriculum and allow the adequate implementation of ethnic studies.
  2. It would allow PBLs to take a leading role in curriculum development.
  3. It would be a bold step toward dismantling tracking.
  4. It would open up the teacher initiated referral for advanced learning opportunities.
  5. It would allow for measure of musical, artistic, athletic, mechanical and interpersonal  aptitude to be assessed on an equal footing with math and reading.
  6. It would interrupt the deficit model cycle for low scoring students who hear year after year that they are below standard.
  7. It would put the center of learning back in the classroom and out of the hands of distant technocrats.
  8. Money that would have gone to Pearson and other testing companies could be put back into the classroom.
  9. It would eliminate gaming the metrics and cheating.
  10. Removing tests from the schedule would be a pain palliative.

 

Why I don’t work at a progressive school

And the reality of public education in the 21st century

 

When John Dewey introduced the ideas of progressive education that advocated active, experiential learning within a curriculum designed to accommodate the interests and experiences of individual students, he inspired a reform movement away from the Prussian style, factory model of the 19th century. Many progressive ideas were embraced that improved public education but the real core of the movement required a much more intensive student/teacher relationship that could only be accommodated by private schools. Public schools have never been adequately funded to implement real, progressive programs. Even with the post sixties revival by way of alternative schools, the budgetary and business pressures on public education far outweigh the evidence provided by research and experience, and now alternative programs struggle for survival.

Standardization is the best way to get good enough.

Standardization is “cost effective” and generates a uniform data stream. Dewey’s way is costly and the data it produces is only useful to the student and the teacher. This is why you see more occurrence of progressive education in wealthier communities, whether in private schools or affluent neighborhood public schools, where there is a higher level of privilege. Standardization is the best way to get good enough. But if you really want quality, you have to customize. Quality is not a real priority of public school in general, therefore we don’t see much in the way of what I would call progressive education there.

 

The American corporate reality has a deep thirst for data. It wants to use it for predictive analytics which is a powerful tool for understanding markets and consumers. Data is the new gold rush, the new oil boom, the latest frothy bubble of intense scrutiny for the capitalist system to generate profit. Public schools have been set-up and manipulated by corporate interests through legislative action and sophisticated marketing, to generate the type of data that is useful to their interests.

 

I could of course work at a private school, after all I graduated from a progressive private high school (after 10 years of public education) and a progressive private liberal arts college. The problem is that I want to do anti-racist work in a culturally diverse community, so I would rather work where I am, in a south end Seattle Public School, the center of the storm so to speak. The truth is the working conditions would be much better at a private school but where I currently work addresses my passions. My passion for progressive education permeates into what I perceive as an an anti-racist solution to so many artificially induced problems in public education.

“We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.”

I don’t work at a progressive school but I want to. At this point the only way for me to work at a progressive school is to transform the school where I currently work and to do that I need to transform the district too.  Obviously, I can’t do it alone. Nor do I want to do it alone because that is not the way I work. I agree with Errico Malatesta: “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people to emancipate themselves.”  So, I’m going to need a lot of help. There are hundreds of teachers in Seattle who feel the way I do. So let’s get together and make some progress! Let’s disrupt things! Let’s disrupt with our love for humanity.

 

Soft Corruption

Business-Lunch-Etiquette

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corrupt.

There is something fundamentally wrong with the balance of power in our schools. Administrators feel no compulsion to respond to the actual needs of individual teachers in their classrooms. It starts with the principal whose main function is to coordinate the implementation of a predetermined policy which they have come to believe they have the liberty of implementing in their own way, giving them the false hope that their actions are their own and that the results will be due largely to their interpretation of policy. How naïve of them.

 

Of course principals are merely the first layer in the hierarchy that comes into contact with actual classroom teachers. There are many layers up to the Superintendent and many side spurs as well. But one thing is clear. The hierarchy is self-sustaining and not really dependent on the schools it is meant to manage. Each layer of the hierarchy protects the next layer up from the layer just beneath, so that classroom teachers never see the principal’s boss, the executive director. But all of the administrators see each other, even the principals, because they are all in a club with its own social conventions that are quite different from the social conventions in the schools. Yes, there is a class difference. This is where the corruption begins to be evident.

 

Just to be clear, the schools are only one hierarchical system within a network of hierarchical systems that relate to each other hierarchically. Superintendents live on the border of the next hierarchy up, government and the political system. Above that, of course, are the banks, big business and the military industrial complex.

 

When it comes to schools and morality, no one wants to call out decisions made by school administrators as corruption. “Corruption” conjures images of brown paper bags stuffed with cash. But the corruption I see has to do with the culture within the central administration offices. The people who place the orders with ed companies like Pearson are solicited by sales people who pump up their buyers’ self esteem. It is not that difficult to stroke the ego of someone with an important job, an advanced degree and a budget. They earned their place after all and have the credentials. They deserve the free lunch that comes with the territory, since they are so important and meritorious. The problem is they tend to listen to the sales people and the expert colleagues in their offices more than the stakeholders they are supposed to be responsible to. They have a self sustaining culture of “we know better”.

 

The actions they take, buying worthless text books or expensive solutions to non existent problems, are taken to reinforce their positions. That is what they are paid to do, (along with protecting the next, even more comfortable layer up). Their actions can be seen as job protection. It is self serving . That is corrupt. They actively justify racist policies because the comfort to which they have become accustomed is an easier choice to make than the choice to fight for what their teachers and student families want. Standardized testing has been locked into the system by legal contract. What a waste.

 

Ultimately, it is the profit motive that messes everything up, not just for the schools but for our society as a whole. Competition inevitably leads to cheating. When competition is monetized it goes into a completely different dimension and that dimension is corrupt. Once the idea “What’s in it for me?” has taken over, displacing it with the more humanistic notion of “How does it affect the next person?” becomes next to impossible. But that is where we are with our school system and its soft corruption. And one last thing; when an administrator claims the tough decision has to be made and it is “for the kids”, there is more than just a bit of insincerity in it.