THERE IS NOTHING LIKE….

by B.Keller

There’s nothing like

taking over a room,

every eye glued on you,

nothing like owning that space,

holding their attention,

every thought

becoming another thought

or some question no one had ever bothered

to ask before.

 

Nothing like making their certainties

just a little bit less certain,

nothing like lighting

a mind’s fuse,

nothing like watching

eyes widen

and worlds unfold.

Nothing like

capturing a room

without tricks

and theories

or scripts

and high def.

 

There is nothing

like changing the world

one class at a time.

TEACHING

by B. Keller

People keep trying

to computerize teaching,

remove the human factors,

take out the human elements,

but you cannot mechanize lives

or reduce humans

to robots.

Anger

uncertainty

effort

pride

fear-

each one

plays its part.

 

Teaching is not

an hermetically sealed

vacuum

or a push button console.

It cannot be measured

like a batting average

or arrived at through the machinations

of a scientific calculator.

 

Teaching is a hands on

touch and go

give and take thing.

 

It is a sometimes you win

sometimes you lose proposition

in which all the parts are not equal

and not everyone is working

at the same speed

or in the same time frame.

 

The human element

defies time and logic

and perfectly matched pieces.

It defies one-size-fits-all,

lock step formats,

(and creativity cannot be

programmed).

 

Teaching is not theoretical

or mechanical,

nor can it be entered

like some function on a

computer.

 

Teaching is still what happens

when you join the desire

to know more

with the willingness to free

what you know,

still the interaction of the

human element,

of lives

acting upon the lives

of others.

I think I got it.

I think I got it.

I think I’ve finally figured out

why the only thing that matters

is the numbers.

 

I’ve finally figured out

the numbers don’t have faces

or souls,

that the numbers can’t speak out

or speak up,

that they are easy to twist

and change

or make lies easier to believe.

 

I’ve finally figured out

that numbers can’t lose a home

or a life’s savings,

that numbers are oblivious

and obsequious,

that numbers neither raise questions

nor objections

 

I’ve finally figured out

that numbers don’t celebrate birthdays

or take the family out to ballgames,

that numbers only scratch the surface

and offer shadow

but no substance.

 

think I’ve finally figured out

why the only thing that matters

is the numbers,

(and I don’t think I like it

one damned bit).

 

 

  1. Keller

Get on any train, or bus, or walk any street

by B. Keller

Get on any train, or bus, or walk any street and you’ll see most of the people looking at their cellphone screens, and I’d argue that most of them are tweeting or emailing, and I’d argue that most of those tweets and emails are mundane, inane, irrelevant, mindless, shoot-from-the-hip-without any thought fifty or sixty character “statements”.

The recent presidential campaign and its accompanying polarization are excellent examples of how tweets and technology have “dumbed us down”. For one thing, nobody speaks to anyone say more- they speak “at” them. This is not only evident in the rise of bullying in which people make horribly mean-spirited statements, with no concern for the rights or feelings of others or the consequences of their tweets, (usually opinion anonymity)- but in the inappropriate, often disrespectful tweets of a certain president-elect.

It is clear to me that for all of the talk about “ critical thinking” and making students “critical thinkers”, there’s not a whole lot of thinking going on. Thinking is not just some magical word, it is a process that must be taught, developed, practiced and honed.

It is a process that is present when students read Hamlet and are asked to why he was right or wrong not to kill Claudius as he kneels, or whether or not George’s actions at the end of “Of Mice and Men” is correct. In many schools the aforementioned pieces of literature, as well as other pieces of literature that challenge students to think and take a stand and defend it, are not taught. They have been replaced instead with assignments that do not compel students to take one side or another and defend their sides with evidence from those pieces of literature.

When I listen to members of congress other people who dissent with people who don’t see the world the way they do but who cannot defend their disagreement with facts or evidence, or when I listen to students tell teachers the grade they received was unfair but cannot provide any proof that the grade should have been different, it’s clear that the thinking process is not being taught, (and even if it is, it’s not being taught successfully).

I teach students not to just yell at the tops of their voices and claim they are right, but to be able to prove what they are saying is true, using verifiable evidence and facts to support their points, as opposed to just throwing out their feelings and opinions or relying on “Fake News”.

If we are to maintain a working democracy, one that will create citizens who can think and analyze, not just hear and accept, we are going to have to bring thinking back, and I’d argue that needs to happen in a hurry.

“You can call a dog a pig, but you can’t get no bacon from a dog.”

by B. Keller

Bertrand Russell said. “We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one in which we preach but do not practice, and one in which we practice, but do not preach.” This quote speaks to the current education issues nationwide and to New York City in particular. The powers that be preach that no child is being left behind and that the changes they are making are ensuring that students are receiving “a world class education”, but what they are practicing is another matter entirely.

For example, what world-class education reduces the access to challenging, higher order thinking courses such as physics, or AP courses, calculus or trigonometry? What world-class education ensures students a passing grade on state authorized exams for answering only one-fourth of the answers on the exam correctly? What world-class education is more concerned with the number of passing students in a cohort, or the success of a cohort than the actual knowledge those students possess? What world-class education values a lack of experience and wisdom more than the expertise borne of experience and practice? What world class education has a high graduation rate at its high school level, the level responsible for preparing students to have success at the college level, yet has a high drop out rate on the next level which is the college level because the students are simply unable to perform at that level?

These examples all speak to the idea of “preaching without practice. You can preach anything you want, but saying that it’s true, doesn’t make it true. “You can call a dog a pig, but you can’t get no bacon from a dog.” Saying that you care about education, about the children who are being “left behind”, about the poor performance levels of school, doesn’t prove anything. It’s what you do that speaks volumes. In my career, I always made it “difficult” to get a grade of ninety in my classes. I was always demanding and challenging and uncompromising. I preached excellence, especially in one’s effort, (which is the only thing a person can truly control). I preached it and I demanded it of my students because I understood that without the will to demand the best from themselves, to challenge themselves and to demand excellence of themselves, their chances for success, (unless one truly believes in luck or serendipity), would be severely limited. What sense does it make to practice or say one thing, but when it comes time to do that thing, you do something totally different?

While the solutions to this problem may not be easy, it is most certainly obfuscated, exacerbated, and blurred by people who “talk a good game” and sound like they know what they are doing, but who really are merely preaching without practice. Our communities, our society, and our country cannot afford the luxury of preaching without practice. In fact, it just might be just the right time to add another type of morality to Russell’s quote, one in which reformers actually practice what they preach.

“Ain’t Nothin’ New Under The Sun”

by B. Keller

Many  reformers and educrats speak and act as if education and its problems are brand new, as if they have never existed before now. The fact of the matter is, ”Ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.”

Students have always cut classes, failed tests, not done homework and dropped out of school. These things didn’t just start now. As long as there have been schools, these problems have existed. The solutions to these problems are not new. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented. All we need to do is to use and apply the solutions that already exist, that have been tested and tried, and in those cases where the older solutions don’t work, you can create newer solutions.

The words and the terms are 20th and 21st century, but the ideas that address them are old school and old world. There is nothing that much new under the sun. New ideas are inspired by ideas that already exist. Someone may add a new twist to it or build on it, but even a “brand new” idea isn’t completely brand new.

Which, if any, of these rules would you say would be valuable or vital in the 21st century?

  • The love of learning
  • The pursuit of knowledge
  • The ability to think for oneself
  • The ability to stand alone against the crowd
  • The ability to work persistently at a difficult task until it is finished
  • The ability to know the consequences of one’s actions on others
  • The ability to consider the consequences of actions on one’s own well-being
  • The ability to recognition of higher ends than self-interest
  • The ability to comport oneself appropriately in all situations
  • The willingness to ask questions when puzzled
  • The readiness to dream about other ways of doing things
  • The ability to believe that one can improve one’s life and the lives of others
  • The ability to believe in principles larger than one’s own self-interest
  • The ability to speak well and write grammatically, using standard English

I’m just guessing that you picked all of them, and if you did, that’s funny because these rules which you picked as vital for the 21st century, were actually the rules in a schoolroom in the 19th century! (Courtesy of Diane Ravitch’s website).

Today so much emphasis is placed on technology when people speak about education. Are they really indispensable if students are to succeed academically? Technology changes almost daily. Unlike truth, technology never remains the same, it always changes- it has to- that’s why I tell students not to depend on it.

Truth be told, not only do many students have access to it, they are even more expert at it. They get technology! Here’s the problem. Their use of technology isn’t academically based. They are expert at it, but how they use it has little or nothing to do with anything they are learning in school. Only if its use as a tool is directed to facilitate or to complement learning can technology have any positive impact on education.

No matter how technology changes, the basic truths are still the same. Schools still must do what schools were created to do which is to provide access to education and knowledge and to afford students the opportunity to obtain the education and the life they are willing to work to achieve. They must still offer their students challenging and competitive subjects and courses of study in order for them to successfully compete in the world in which they live.

The answers for most of the problems that exist in education today are already available. You do not need visible signs of “impact” demonstrated on the classroom walls, or proficiency ratings of 80% for the whole class, or multi-paginated, multi-tiered evaluations and assessments. All you need are the solutions that have been tested and tried since the beginning of time, and the will to put them into practice, even though they are not as sexy or as exciting as the “new”.

The ignored issue that will destroy Public Education.

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I have been silent for months on the issue of education. I haven’t even said anything about the election in weeks. But a Lo-Hud article about the plummeting of teacher candidate enrollments in NYS colleges and Universities revived my sensibilities. The reason public education will fall to the appointees, corporations, Eva Moskowitz’s etc. is simple. It isn’t testing. It isn’t Common Core. It isn’t whoever is Secretary of Education. It is simply this: a lack of good quality devoted teachers.

For decades the numbers of teaching candidates has dwindled. For years people have been writing about the “lowering of standards” in many schools of education. For years people like me who went into teaching have disappeared as the calling to even higher paid, more prestigious positions have stolen the best and brightest from the profession. Economics, supply, and demand have reared their ugly heads to create an atmosphere where teaching, even for the most dedicated is a terrible choice for a lifetime profession.

For years some of us have fought against this and the rise of TFA and its cooperating charter schools. We have fought against Common Core, and Standardized Tests, yet we have failed to see the bigger, long-term picture. The end result of these abominations has been to greatly decrease the number of candidates for teaching regardless of the lower pay and prestige. These abominations have created such terrible working conditions that, not only do fewer want to teach to use their talents and honed skills, but more and more experienced teachers want out because they have lost the working conditions that allow them to do what they do best…TEACH!

The net result? More vacancies, fewer qualified and expert candidates to fill them, more teacher shortages, more “trumped up” reasons to say that schools are failing. Of course there is a wealth-based sliding scale in this phenomenon. Rich school districts don’t see this. Teachers in these districts continue to work almost as they had prior to the new pressures, because of past and present successes. They also still receive the highest salaries and best benefit packages, at least somewhat comparable to many of their friends in business. Middle-income districts see a slower decline in the number of qualified teachers as their districts succumb more slowly to statewide and economic pressures. Working class districts are harder hit, as fewer teachers want to work under harder conditions and lower wages and benefits.

Hardest hit? No surprises here. Urban or rural, poorest districts get the biggest losses of teachers and good candidates because the state mandates are more entrenched, the working conditions poorest, the ability to be creative often gone, and of course the wages and benefits are unable to support a family. So where do all the charters and TFA people go? We know.

Based on the findings in the Lo-Hud article about the huge declines in enrollments, it wont be long until more working class, then middle class, and even wealthy districts will feel this heat and be forced to go along with the cancerous changes. Friends in one of my former teaching haunts, (Scarsdale) tell me that the number of really good candidates for any teaching position has drastically dropped. I am not surprised. When I was on hiring committees in the late 1990s through 2008, I saw that even then, even there. It has gotten worse as more and more people are retiring.

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So, by 2025, will alternative professional schools and TFA like programs replace universities and colleges? Will teaching be a career or a temp job, easily handled by robotic technocrats who can follow computer programs, not creative teachers? Will pubic school systems be privatized in their entirety? Will the teaching profession disappear like coal mining? Will automation do to it what it did to auto manufacturing? Will it be “exported” to private concerns? Yes. We have ignored this issue too long. We have failed to see the bigger picture. We have used poor political strategies that seemed partly successful, but have blinded us to this huge problem. How are the children? Without teachers, they are not well.

HOW DID HE RISE TO NATIONAL PROMINENCE?

How did this “mysterious calamitous figure” with “undeniable talents and obviously deep seated psychological complexes” rise this far?

Many call him “self possessed clown” and “rabble-rouser” with a “strangely scattershot, impulsive style.”

He is an egomaniac who “only loves himself” – a “narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization” and a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” “His manic speeches and penchant for raised questions about his capacity for self control.” Yet, he has a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations” has helped him gain these great heights.

He is “so thoroughly untruthful” that his words are “a swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths, and real facts.”

He assumes “various masks and “feeding off the energy of his audiences,” “using a “mask of moderation” when he tries to win over members of a more liberal middle class. He adapts “the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower middle class, nationalistic, conservative, ethnic-chauvinistic…listeners.”

He peppers his speeches with “coarse phrases and put downs of hecklers” as he plays to their “fears and resentments and offers himself as the visionary who will “restore law and order” as he leads the nation to a “new era of national greatness” although “typically vague about his actual plans.”

He offers up pictures of a past golden era so as to “better paint the present day in hues that are all the darker.” His “repertoire of topics is limited” and “attracts larger and larger audiences with mantra like phrases consisting largely of accusations, vows of revenge, and promises for the future.”

The nation is also to blame. “Why not give [him] a chance?” Too many dismiss him as “fascinating evening entertainment” even though he has a “dark, Darwinian view of the world” who has become “ a mouthpiece of the cultural pessimism growing in right wing circles.”

How did Adolf Hitler become Chancellor of Germany?

No, it isn’t who you thought it was.

The above quotes (put into present tense) describe Adolf Hitler in his rise to power and are from the new biography entitled “Hitler” by Volker Ullrich (a German author).

“Any resemblance between the characters in this picture and any persons  living or dead, is a miracle.”

– “You Naztzy Spy”, The Three Stooges, 1932.

Nothing has changed:“Implicit bias does not begin with black men and police.”

Here’s a surprise. According to a report in USA Today- Journal News “Implicit Bias” starts in Preschool. A Yale Child Study Center study asked teachers which student would require more attention? 42% said Black boys. 34 % said White boys. 13% said White girls, and 10% said Black girls.

The findings also revealed that this intensifies once they know more about a child’s Walter Gilliam, the head of the study explained it thusly. “Implicit bias is like the wind – you can’t see it, but you can sure see its effects”, and that implicit biases “do not begin with black men and police.”

They used two experiments.

The first had teachers watch videos of students they were told were exhibiting “challenging” student behavior. The researchers tracked where teacher eyes went along with other factors. They were also told that the researchers were only interested in learning how quickly and accurately they could detect those behaviors, but didn’t tell them the students were actually actors and that NO challenging behaviors were depicted in the videos. The teachers watched 12 clips of 30 seconds each featuring a black boy and girl and a white boy and girl. When primed thusly, they clearly gazed longer at the boys, especially the black ones.

The second had the teachers read descriptions of fictional misbehaving preschoolers to which fictitious yet accurate (based on the 2011 census) popular names were attached to each: DeShawn and Latoya for the black children and Jake and Emily for the white. When asked to rate the severity of behavior, they rated “white” kids more severely, (as in it was more unexpected). In 2005 it was found that preschool boys were expelled 4.5 times as often than girls.

This study again shows that bias against boys, especially black boys has not been adequately dealt with. About 20 years ago I started researching these issues because of how unfairly I found pre school and early childhood teachers treated my son, saying he needed psychological testing and was probably had attention deficit disorder. They had no idea of how boys developed more slowly than girls, especially emotionally. What I found was that this was commonplace then. (https://dcgmentor.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/boys-especially-minorities-are-severely-hurt-by-social-economic-and-reform-creatededucational-disadvantages/)

It seems still to be the case.