Monday, December 11, 2017

A Tennessee BAT's Message to DeVos by Larry Proffitt

I just finished a blog post entitled, Are There Enough Roots in the Grass 4 a Real Movement? The answer to that question is yes, as evidenced by 4 successful showings of Backpack Full of Cash over the past month.

The answer to that question is yes also, because education is the key to change. We've seen what big money and false education can do, and now it's time to to show what real education is about. It is being done now all around our nation. It is being done now in Tennessee. It's being done by a vast network of educators, parents, students and concerned community members all across our state and nation. And these groups are growing. They are growing and sharing information through social media, through film events and through rallies, much like this one today. It seems many times that fear and intimidation are the tools for which many are forced to stand down. It's done by the changing of laws that weaken teacher protections. It's done by the ongoing threat of withholding much needed funds from school systems.

Well, I say, Secretary DeVos hear this; I say also to all politicians within the sound of our many voices, HEAR THIS! Those who stand before you today cannot be intimidated nor deterred! We are the voices of many and we are growing. We are growing through our teacher's union. We are growing the grassroots movement through groups like my friends the Momma Bears, TREE, Williamson Strong, CAPE, SPEAK, SOCM, and the group which houses members of every group, the Tennessee BATs and Badass Teachers Association. We are 65000 strong, and we refuse to be judged on the failure of our government ever fully and adequately our childrens' schools. We love our children, Secretary DeVos. Hands off! We do not need nationwide, nor here in Tennessee, the ruination caused by you and your family in Michigan.

In other words, we do not need your DeVostating policies here! Our children are not pawns nor toxic testing experiments. And our children sure are not for sale! So, public education warriors, use the greatest weapon we have, education. Tell your neighbor, and have them tell their neighbors. We need a grassroots effort to equal the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s. We need everyone, because this will inevitably affect everyone.

‘Take Your Hood Off’ and Other Teacher Microaggressions by Aaron Michael Baker

Originally posted at:

In 2008, David Whitman, future speech writer for early Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, coined the term “paternalistic school” to describe what we now know as “no nonsense” charter schools. Whitman, a proponent of education reform, chose the word “paternalistic” as a flattering moniker for the movement. In an essay entitled “An Appeal to Authority” Whitman says that one of the aims of these schools is to teach students “how to act according to what are commonly termed traditional, middle-class values.” The overtly racist policies of these “paternalistic” charter schools are now well documented. More recently, many charter schools have dialed back on official attempts to use school rules to refine urban students of color into middle class white students. These attempts can be appropriately described as “macroaggressions,” large-scale overt acts of aggression toward marginalized people groups.

The more pressing issue today, in both traditional public schools and on an even larger scale in charter and voucher schools, is what is known as “microaggressions.” To be specific, teacher microaggressions are the indirect, subtle, or even unintentional ways that teachers discriminate against students of color and other marginalized student groups. They include body language, choice of words, and other small seemingly innocuous daily decisions. Often teacher microaggressions are couched in an authentic attempt by the teacher to connect with students. Many times, however, these microaggressions are distinctly connected with the manner in which teachers choose to enforce school rules.
Teachers giving undue attention to student behavior that is technically against school rules but not directly tied to a specific consequence is sometimes referred to as “sweating the small stuff.” Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions. All teachers have “pet peeves.” Questions for every teacher to ask themselves include, “Why does this behavior bother me so much?” “Will enforcing this rule help keep students safe?” “Do I disapprove of this behavior because of the way I was raised?” “Is enforcing a rule at a particular time worth the potential loss of relationship capital with the student?”
Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions.
One student behavior that is clearly more about etiquette and an outdated understanding of what respect means, is the wearing of hats and hoods in the school building. It is true that students frequently use hoods to cloak the use of ear buds, which obviously can impede direct instruction. But just as often students wear hats or hoods to provide a sense of security in attempt to overcome something like social anxiety or an insecurity related to appearance (like a bad haircut). The idea that hats worn inside a building is disrespectful has fallen out of favor in almost every venue with the exception of the schoolhouse. Today, hats are frequently worn inside movie theatres, formal concerts, churches, and virtually any other public place. Constantly insisting that students remove hats and hoods at school is a microaggression because it is premised on an antiquated view of respect and does not account for present day cultural practices among communities of color.
The constant policing of language is another example of teacher microaggression. White middle class teachers often have a concept of what constitutes polite and acceptable classroom language, a concept that has likely not been made accessible to their students. The teacher may be the only adult in a student’s life who wishes to produce a “G” rated environment of language. In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase. An unengaged student may express frustration with instructional content by saying, “I don’t give a shit about this class!” The last thing this student needs is school discipline that would remove them from the classroom and further alienate them from their own learning.
In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase.
Punishing students for sleeping in class is also a microaggression. White teachers may have a concept of what it means to get a good night’s rest that simply may not be available to their students. Sleeping students cannot learn, but they might be able to learn better after a brief nap. A sleeping student indicates a need for rest, not a need for consequences. Teachers should not be personally offended when students fall asleep in class because chances are it has little to do with instructional methods and much to do with factors outside of the classroom. Although, teachers must be self-reflective in these moments to see if lesson plans could be more engaging for students. The goal should be for students to be engaged at a level where they want to stay awake whether they can or not.

To avoid microaggressions, white teachers should utilize what is called “culturally responsive teaching.” Teachers who are educated in how their students’ lives diverge from their own are better equipped at recognizing their own implicit bias, the mindset on which the microaggressions feed. Teachers must understand that deciding whether or not to “sweat the small stuff” is not just a matter of classroom management, it is a matter of social justice.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Teaching When Mr. T Is In The Room: Questioning The World Of False Facts And Quick Intolerance by Ira Rabois

Trump is reaching from the White House and news media to classes throughout the US, and the world, so teachers are fighting him everyday. They’re fighting the way he is influencing individual children as well as the collective psyche of the nation. Many teachers have spoken about the difficulties they have faced in their classes since the election. They value open discussion, but too many students seem poised to verbally leap onto the metaphorical backs of fellow students. Many students do not feel safe to voice their views.

But to have a successful class means creating not only a safe environment, but a sense of community, of working together to learn. How do you do that? And how do you respond when students verbally attack one another, or you?

Ruben Brosbe recently wrote an article about this subject. The country has become more divided and partisan, he said, and teachers are supposed to be neutral. “But schools and teachers must resist the urge to remain ‘neutral,’ because doing so only reinforces the dominant political ideology of their communities.” The community, the media are certainly not neutral, nor are most teachers, no matter what they do or try to do. 82% of teachers in the US are white, despite a student population that is more than 50% made of minorities. This can make it less likely that teachers will engage with controversial issues related to race and other forms of identity.

Brosbe provides resources from the Morningside Center that can be extremely useful to teachers, like finding out what students already know about a controversy, making connections to student’s lives and allowing them to opt out of uncomfortable discussions.

The Center also recommends setting a tone of responsiveness and openness. To begin the school year, make group agreements about ground rules and processes to facilitate positive and respectful interactions. There can be no delay or hesitation in your doing this. And Social Emotional Learninghas never been more relevant and important.

In my experience, to create openness in a classroom, you must be open. When students feel seen and heard, they come alive, so make sure to greet students as they enter the classroom. From the very first day, let students know you see them and they are important. Come to class as engaged and present as you can, so students see you as a person first, and then as a teacher.

The job of a teacher is not just to increase knowledge in a particular subject, but help students learn to think clearly and work with others—and learn that discussing issues with others is a vital component of thinking and learning. Brosbe quotes Dr. Paula McAvoy as saying that schools are one of the few places students can learn to go beyond campaign rhetoric to really examine evidence. I agree. Students who can’t speak to others respectfully or who don’t know the difference between a fact and an opinion, or a truth versus propaganda, do not meet those criteria. Trump might imagine that whatever pops into his mind is the only truth. He might believe that anyone who disagrees with him should be punished. But it is the job of teachers to challenge that way of behaving and thinking when it arises in the classroom.

To create the sense that logic and reason, as well as compassion, are equally the core of an education, always make clear your own reasoning, sources of information, and willingness (if the facts warrant it) to change your position on most anything—except how you will treat students and other people.

Too many people think of discussions as a competition for who gets to speak or dominate. They think of a viewpoint as their identity, which they must hold on to as tightly as they can so they don’t disappear. The competitive, warlike atmosphere that many politicians and bureaucrats mistake for a constructive educational environment undermines education. Fear is not a good teacher. When you teach with fear, not only are you limiting the quantity of information you can integrate, but you learn that learning is fearful.

People easily imagine that when you speak, you are simply expressing yourself. But to speak, you must create an idea in your mind of your audience. You can’t utter a word without an idea of who is listening. You speak differently to a one year old than an English professor, differently to your peers than your parents.

When some people speak, they speak to the crowd in their mind, not the breathing people in the classroom with them. They do not see others or try to learn from them, and thus feel isolated. Ask students what being isolated feels like. You must look at and listen to the people you speak to if you want a good conversation.

Make the class discussions themselves the teaching. Ask students: How can the way you speak to others influence how well you learn? Did anyone ever cut you off or shut you up by the way they spoke? If someone doesn’t hear you, will they learn from you? If you don’t listen, will you hear?

Occasionally, in a class discussion, especially if the level of tension is rising, stop the discussion. Ask students to close their eyes, partially or fully, and take two calm breaths. With the third breath, ask them to notice how they feel. Or with the third breath, ask them to bring to mind a person with whom they were having a disagreement. Have them picture the person and imagine that they have feelings, just like they do. They hurt, just like they do. They want to be accepted, just like they do.

Teach students three aspects of a learning dialogue:
  1. The quality of your listening: What exactly did you hear? Be ready to check if what you heard was what was said.
  2. The quality of your understanding. What was your evidence? Was the evidence factual, reliable, and well supported? Make sure students recognize the need for accuracy and truthfulness in their speech. Talk about what a fact is, and how it is different from a theory or opinion. How do you verify or support a fact versus an opinion?
  3. The quality of metacognition and reasoning. In order to think clearly and discover bias and points of confusion, you need to be mindful of your thinking process. For what reasons did you say that? What was your intent? And: How did you figure that out? Did you jump to a conclusion too quickly? Did your conclusion clearly follow from the evidence?

Help students be more observant of others by playing theatre improvisation games. Pair up students to mirror each other. The pairs stand, facing each other, hands up with palms facing their partner as if there was a glass surface between them that they never break. Ask them to decide who will first lead, who will mirror. As the leader moves her right hand back, away from the mirror, the follower moves his left hand away. They continue moving together until you call out switch—and they change roles without stopping. Or: show students an ambiguous photo of people in a group and let them create a story of who the people are and what they are doing.

Critical thinking is a process, not an immediate taking of a position. It requires that you question and test your understanding and ideas, as well as feelings, and recognize discussing with others is a crucial component of that process. When you consider a diversity of viewpoints and listen to those who disagree with your original position, this is not a threat to who you are but an expansion—if it is done respectfully. Viewpoints must be seen as evolving, not final. The process of arriving at a conclusion is as important as the answer or solution you derive. The process influences the quality, depth and breadth of that solution.

Students come to school partly to test reality and discover if what they heard at home reflects what happens in the larger world. Teachers know this. Intellectually opposing a teacher or other students might be the only way some children can rebel or learn to assert themselves.

This can be painful for teachers to deal with. It is so easy to feel you have failed if your students treat you or each other badly. But if you can keep in mind the depth and importance of the struggle you are engaged in, it might help you be kinder to yourself. We have a bully in the White House. We have to do what we can so a caring, clear thinking person, not a bully, presides in the classroom.

**The increase in anxiety and fear in the classroom and society also interferes with learning and reasoning. Here is a link to a blog on helping relieve student/teacher anxiety. And the New Yorker published an article in September of this year, by Clint Smith, called “James Baldwin’s Lesson For Teachers In A Time Of Turmoil.” It is about a talk given by Baldwin in 1963.

Two Theories Why Facebook Keeps Blocking Me When I Write About School Privatization by Steven Singer

Facebook blocked me.

What did I do?




So what did I do?

I took that opinion and wrote about it. I backed it up with facts, analogies, literary references and examples from my own experience as a classroom teacher in public school.

I took all that, wrote it up in a blog called “The False Paradise of School Privatization,” and posted it on Facebook.

It was the same kind of thing I do several times a week.

Write a blog. Post it on various Facebook pages and on Twitter.

And wait to see if anyone reads it.

But this time – BOOM!

I hadn’t even posted it to a handful of pages before the cyber arm of Mike Zuckerberg’s robo-security came down on me.

I had hoped that that first time was just a fluke or that by now I had since sufficiently proven myself to be a human being and not some nefarious bot.

But no such luck.

After posting my latest article a few times on Monday, I got this message:


You have been temporarily blocked from performing this action.”

And I got a choice of clicking on:

“This is a mistake”


So I clicked on “This is a mistake,” and got the following:

“Thanks for letting us know.”

My only choice was to click “OK.”
At some point I got a message telling me that I was blocked until Dec. 11 – a full week from my offense.

And now I have limited use of the social media platform.

I can still see posts.

I can like posts.

For some reason, I can even post and comment on my own page. But I can’t comment or post on other pages without getting the same error message.

At least I can’t do it consistently.

I’ve experimented and found that sometimes I can share posts to different pages. Sometimes I can’t.

It’s a bizarre, wonky system.

And it gets in the way of my work as an education blogger.

Sharing my blog on the site gets me more readers than anywhere else.

Twitter is great and certainly more free. But when you push out a tweet, no one sees it unless they’re looking at their feed at that exact moment. Unless it gets retweeted – or you’re a famous unhinged former reality TV star turned President, then people seek out your own personal brand of nuclear-apocalypse-threatening madness.

So why does this keep happening to me?

I have two theories.

1) I am being purposefully censored by Facebook.

2) Facebook algorithms are targeting me because of how I post.

Let’s look at the first theory.

Could someone be actively censoring me?


The proposal has a certain plausibility because the powers that be at Facebook undoubtedly disagree with what I have to say.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, is a huge supporter of edtech, standardized testing and school privatization. He’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make public schools rely more heavily on high stakes tests, evaluating teachers on their students’ scores and pushing Personalized Education software packages on public schools. And when that doesn’t pan out, he’s even backed his own charter schools to do the same.

But that’s not all.

That’s right.

Brown, a school privatization lobbyist and former NBC and CNN personality, heads Facebook’s News Partnership Team.

The newly created position was part of Zuckerberg’s attempt to limit fake news on his social media platform while prioritizing information in the mainstream media.

What exactly is fake news? Whatever Campbell Brown says it is.

This is quite a lot of power to give one person, especially someone who has a reputation for partisanship.

Brown, after all, co-founded a charter school propaganda network called The 74, funded – unsurprisingly – by Betsy DeVos, Republican mega-donor and current Secretary of Education.

And she does. Not. Like. Me.

Let’s just say we’ve gotten into a few Twitter skirmishes.

When she became the face of a New York lawsuit attacking teacher tenure in 2014, she received a tidal wave of public backlash. So she went on the Colbert Report to complain about how those fighting for workplace protections for themselves and their students were “silencing the debate” on how best to reform public education.

I responded with a blog called “Shhh! Who’s Silencing the Debate on Real Education Reform” claiming that Brown was actually doing the very thing she claimed to be decrying in shutting out teachers’ voices and rights.

She responded by cherry picking her rudest critics and tweeting “Sorry Steve but sadly this is not what I characterize as debate,” as if I had had anything to do with these comments.
As if any movement should be judged by its most extreme elements.

As if attacking someone’s job, someone’s kids and their future was fine so long as you did so with a smile and a polite comeback.

I don’t condone personal attacks, but I certainly understand them. In any case, Brown used the extreme fringes of her critics to condemn us all and conveniently refused to engage us – even those who had been unceasingly polite.

That lawsuit eventually failed, but Brown somehow landed on her feet.

Now she’s the one who gets to choose truth and falsity on Facebook.

Could she be actively working against people like me?


Could she be directing Facebook’s programmers to select against posts that are negative to her pet projects?


But there’s no way to know if she’s actually doing it.

Which brings me to my second theory.

Perhaps mindless Facebook algorithms are targeting me because of how I post.

I do, after all, try to post my articles on as many pages as I can.

They’re mostly pages focused on education and education policy with a few political and anti-racism sites thrown in, too.

Maybe I’m posting too quickly.

I might be triggering one of Zuckerberg’s bots to think I’m a bot, too, spamming up the works with advertising.

However, there’s a few problems with this theory.

Let’s say it’s true.

Why would that, alone, be reason to block me?

I’m not posting advertisements. I’m not asking for money. My blog doesn’t sell adds other than those WordPress puts on there, itself, so I can keep the page for free.

If an algorithm is stopping me because it thinks I’m unfairly selling something, it’s the result of some badly written code, indeed.

When programmers write code, that’s not impartial. It betrays their values. It betrays certain decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t.

For instance, I keep getting advertisements from Facebook asking me to pay money to the social media network so that they’ll post my articles on other people’s site for me.

I get reminders like “Boost this post for $3 to reach up to 580 people.”
Oh, really?

So I’m blocked because I posted my own writing to sites that have accepted me as a member and whose membership includes many I consider friends and colleagues. But for a fee, Facebook will post that same article to various sites filled with people I’d consider to be complete strangers.

Somehow that doesn’t “violate community standards” – the reason they said they blocked me in October.

This is very telling.

It seems to indicate that there is nothing wrong with what I’m doing, per se. It’s just that Facebook wants to encourage me to let them do it for me – so they can monetize my account.

They’re stopping me from doing this on my own, because they think I’m a sucker who should pay them for the right to communicate with others.

And that’s a very real possibility.

These blockages may not be political. They may be a simple marketing strategy.

So what can I do about it?

Well, first I need to wait a week until my account is unfrozen and I get back all the features Facebook users usually enjoy.

Then I can try to go back to the way things were posting my articles at all my favorite virtual watering holes.

Only slowly.

Much more slowly.

I figure if I only post once every five minutes or so, I can have my article at all the places that seem to like having them in about the course of an evening.

But I have a life, damn it!

I can’t spend the twilight hours posting and waiting and posting and waiting.

I guess another alternative is to rely on friends to post for me.

Spread the love.

Have others circulate my articles far and wide.

And that’s a great strategy. It’s very hard for Facebook to do anything about it.

But it requires me to impose on others. I don’t like doing it.

My readers, friends and supporters have lives, too.

They have more important things to do than post my writing all over the Internet.

So where does that leave me?

I’m not sure.

If I continue as I have, I’m bound to be blocked and thrown in Facebook Jail again.

Even if I don’t, I’m at the mercy of the wealthy elites who control the network.

Regardless of where I post on Facebook, my blog site will probably be slow to the point of molasses and maybe even shut down entirely.

This is the brave new world of the plutocracy unrestrained.

This is American fascism triumphant.

I am only a single point of the resistance.

My voice is only as powerful as those who share it.

If Facebook, Twitter or WordPress somehow takes me down, I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!