All posts by kdr

There’s Good News, and There’s Bad News

The good news is that kids now have access to the whole wide world. The bad news is that there are teachers who think that fact is bad news.

My friend Christine recently posted an article from The Atlantic, the first line of which asked the baiting question,”When the internet delivers its own content, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?

The article’s author, Michael Godsey (a regular education podcaster and internet article author) opens by portraying a typical dystopian (to educators at least) vision of quasiprogressive technology-facilitated mega-centers of digital content delivery, watched over by (or rather just watched by) an ever-less-relevant facilitator. “Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?” he asks, half-ironic, half-lamentingly.

The article is lengthy and thoughtful, and cites some decent examples and articles, but as is almost always the case, Godsey (a veteran English teacher) fails to drill down far enough into the true pedagogical and philosophical questions he’s tapping up against. This is, to me, one of the hallmarks of “education reform” and where otherwise strong voices (and I like Godsey’s as well as Ravitch’s and Cuban’s and Wormeli’s) sometimes fall down: They do not truly get to the heart of the issue we’re talking about, which is that the conservation of the school, of teaching, and of our cultural concept of children and learning is folly. We cannot, we must not preserve the attitudes, ideas, and understandings of our past as teachers. Children have changed. This is a neurobiological truism that has been true for a long time now, yet many teachers are utterly unaware that the brains of their learners are measurably, observably different than theirs.

Teaching is absolutely going to change. It has changed, and it will change, and it must always change, because children change. Highfalutin abstract notions of “real learning” and archaic lamentations of “real teaching” betray a fundamental misunderstanding of learning and teaching. I don’t suggest here that Godsey has his head in the clouds; he’s right that he’s seeing an explosion of robust, powerful digital learning tools and a constant plummeting of the costs involved (for teachers as well as for students, often totaling zero) in accessing these resources. I see absolutely nothing wrong with children opting to be autodidactic on their own terms, in their own time. But there is a huge difference between a child choosing to do something alone, and forcing a child to be alone. Autonomy is one thing; abandonment is quite another, and the circumstances Godsey describes in the warehouse-like “facilitation center” run by an unskilled, uneducated thrall are conditions of intellectual and psychoemotional abandonment.

The longing for a more comfortable time that weeps out of the interstices of Godsey’s article has good company online, which he even points out: “When I did some research to see if it was just me sensing this transformation taking place,” he writes, “I was overwhelmed by the number of articles all confirming what I had suspected: The relatively recent emergence of the Internet, and the ever-increasing ease of access to web, has unmistakably usurped the teacher from the former role as dictator of subject content.”

And there it is. There’s what Jed Bartlet called “the ten word answer.” There’s your key phrase that’s the nexus of difference between a reformer and a radical, between a position like Godsey’s that apparently yearns for return, and a position like mine, which burns for revolution. “Teacher as dictator” is a nightmare. It’s bad for kids. I know he doesn’t mean it as a political position, and I’m not misunderstanding him: The teacher was, in days of nineties yore, the same a teacher had been since 1635: An ad lib content expert authoritarian who governed a classroom and delivered said content.

But that was never teaching. It never has been teaching. I spend a lot of time in my writing and work talking about what teaching really is, and there is a huge difference between lecturing (“delivering content”) and teaching. In fact, I loathe the phrase “delivering content” because it is so often conflated with teaching. The phrase commoditizes learning as well as learners. This cuts right to the center of Godsey’s article, and his incorrect premise: facilitators can help deliver content, but none of that is teaching, and  the technology systems that he describes are incapable of teaching.

Teaching is the bringing about of all necessary conditions for the individual learner to create relevant meaning for themselves and to construct the skills to apply that meaning, which is learning. One cannot “deliver” that as if it is a commodity. Inundating a learner with learning opportunities is not enough to qualify as “teaching,” in my universe. True teachers are more than content experts. True teachers are masters of the craft of pedagogy, able to flexibly adapt in real-time to the individual needs of the individual child, comprehensively inclusive of their psychoemotional conditions, their unique traits of person, their immediate and long-term sociological contexts, their learning styles and thinking modalities… True teachers meet all of the learning needs of their children, and to do so must absolutely be masters of content, but they must also be experts in children and learning. This is a massive field, and no matter how many pieces of paper cultural artifacts someone hangs on the wall or how many bits of comma-separated alphabet soup cling to the end of their names, no person can be a master of children. We try, but we must constantly learn and relearn ourselves, because children are rapidly changing, right in front of us.

That’s not new.

Yes, the rate of change is accelerated, and that’s highlighting this disparity, this too-slow inability for the social institution of “The School” to keep up, but I say, “Good.” Enough is enough. It’s high time we recognized that the school of 1852 wasn’t good enough in 1916, or in 1954, or in 1975, or in 1999, and it sure as heck isn’t good enough now. Teachers must disengage from the concepts of teaching and learning and school as they have been popularly promulgated for decades (indeed, centuries) in America.

At one point, Godsey quotes a teacher who said, “I don’t ever write my own lesson plans anymore. I just give credit to the person who did.” There was a time when lesson plans were sacrosanct, artifacts of a teacher’s guile and panache, mastery and expertise, thoughtfulness and wittiness and cleverness and genius… only there wasn’t, really. True teachers have no desire to throttle learning, to govern or limit or manage or regulate learning. True teachers want learning to explode vibrantly from the minds of each individual learner, not to be poured into them. Freire called this vessel-like objectification of children into empty boxes to be filled “banking pedagogy,” as if each vacuous little head is a vault into which the tight-fisted teacher carefully places an equal and identical little set of facts. That was never teaching and learning. We called it that sometimes, but that’s never what it was. That was lecturing. That was creating conditions within which children were autodidactic, and while autodidacticism is permissible, it cannot be forced upon the learner, lest we impose solitude, isolate, and abandon.

We know at my school, for example, that over forty percent of our learners like to use YouTube to learn how to do things outside of what is required at school. Four in ten kids wants to learn how to do something that we’re not teaching them, and turn to YouTube for help doing that. Is that child learning? Yes, quite possibly. It’s no guarantee, but it’s possible. Should that child be forced to learn that way exclusively? Of course not. Can that child learn absolutely everything s/he needs from experiencing “delivered content?” While the answer is “yes,” because some students are indeed marvelous autodidacts and vastly prefer that, the answer is an emphatic “no” for many other learners. We cannot overgeneralize kids into any one way of being, and we cannot oversimplify learning into the experiencing of delivered content. Consequently, we cannot oversimplify teaching into the delivery of expert content, and that is precisely what we’ve been doing in our schools for two hundred years.

Enough is enough.

Schools have to change, and they’ve needed to change. Radicals like me say that the institution of the school is incapable of true teaching in the way I describe, and consequently children cannot truly learn within that institution, because we as a culture and as a profession are obsessed with the institution itself. We perpetuate the fallacious idea that schools should be structured as they have been, with classes and classrooms, with desks and rows, with clocks and periods and hallways and Spring Breaks and quizzes and no hats allowed. We self-aggrandize an antiquated vision of The Schoolmaster while the students around us gain ever-increasing access to better ways of doing, knowing, and being, as we become increasingly irrelevant to their lives.

Who can blame them? We do it. We tune out when our leaders prattle on about crap we already know. We turn to our devices when our leaders spend forty-five minutes talking at us reading from a slide presentation that’s being used as a script. We comment, “this could have been done in an email.” We comment “I already knew this.” We comment “I don’t care about any of this.” Why are we surprised that our students not only do this, but they’re vastly better at it than we are?

Schools are concerned with rigor and compliance. They are mechanisms of coercion designed for adults. Consequently, they are irrelevant to the modern learner, who has access to the totality of the information and shared experiences of the human race online, and has no need of us to gain the wider world. Well, “rigor” is just the right word for the way things are going in schools, because they’re solid, rigid, uncompromising, unbending, and in many ways lifeless. However, the future “learning environment” that Godsey describes is another kind of dangerous for kids. It may step back from some of these traditional structures, but it still abandons children into the wild by failing to conceive them as individuals and provide for them individually. “Tailoring content” isn’t meeting the comprehensive needs of the individual child.

The Self-Organized Learning Environment that Sugata Mitra talked about in his 2013 TEDTalk advocates for teachers in a facilitative role, and can be considered taking the so-called “flipped classroom” idea to the extreme. (The “flipped classroom” shifts content consumption from in-school to out-of-school, and similarly swaps content analysis from out-of-school to in-school, thereby allowing the teacher to better observe and, ideally, understand and influence the analytical process.) Godsey went on after watching this TEDTalk to talk about Khan Academy and other massive repositories of information and resources, and then pondered, “For how many more years can I compete?”

Dude. C’mon. It is hubris beyond measure to think that any one person can “compete” with the sum total of human freaking knowledge and nearly-universal access to every other person on the planet. There is no “competing” with The Internet. That comment, though made in passing (as much as anything in an article published by The Atlantic can be made “in passing”), demonstrates the misunderstanding of the teacher role about which I’m complaining. We’re not arbiters of information. We’re not  custodians of knowledge anymore. In fact, the Joshua Starr quote Godsey uses highlights this: “I ask teachers all the time, if you can Google it, why teach it?”

I am apt to say that it is not important, in 2015, for a child to be able to immediately recall the date of Pearl Harbor. The child should instead be able to access that date, and understand its relevance. There was a time in America when the passing on of facts and factual knowledge was much like an oral rote tradition among a native population, and there was a case to be made for having immediate factual recall, but at some point knowing something factual got confused with understanding something and being able to do something with that understanding. They are not, nor have they ever been, the same thing. I do not care about facts and names and dates and places. I care about being able to find those things when it matters.

And I’ll go a step further, and clarify: When it matters to me. I don’t consider that solipsistic; learners only ever learn what is relevant to them. They may recall things that are irrelevant, but how many things were you “taught” when you were a student that you just plain old don’t freaking know now, because it wasn’t relevant?

I, for one, am thrilled that I no longer have to recall the publication date of Stravinsky’s Firebird like I once had to in college. I can whip out my phone, and there it is. Godsey seems to think this is problematic, or at least paints is as an artifact of what he sees as the lamentable shift toward facilitation, exemplified by his reference to the “cliche” of moving  from being a “sage on the stage” to being “a guide on the side.”

Priscilla Norton, a professor of mine at George Mason, used to refer to “the sage on the side.” Is it true that teachers need to “get out of the way of learning?” Yeah. It is, in some cases, if the teacher is being a regulator of learning and a manager of process, because those things aren’t part of learning. Those things are part of schooling, and I have no interest in schooling. True teachers – compassionate, powerful experts in pedagogy as well as content – cannot be replaced by any content delivery mechanism. Even adapting learning platforms lack the ability to comprehensively understand the individual child, as an individual human being, with the empathy, analytical power, observation, environmental and even tactile experience, critical thinking, and human relevance that is critical to teaching and learning. Facilitators are not teachers, and neither ever have been nor ever will be. Teachers may sometimes facilitate, this is true, as they may sometimes lecture or train, but these are not synonyms.

Teaching is a craft, and computer technology is a tool. To conflate the two, and fear the latter will replace the former, misunderstands not only psychology and pedagogy, but philosophy and history in education.

Godsey closes his article with a few wonderings, and I’m going to selfishly answer them, because this is my blog and that’s what I do here, LOL.

“Should I encourage this aspiring educator to fight for his or her role as the local expert, or simply get good at facilitating the best lessons available?” he asks. If he wants to fight to preserve the role as it has existed, then I say “neither.” The former is the status quo and the latter is a misunderstanding that one can pull a lesson off a shelf, plug it into a classroom, and cherry-BOOM-sauce! learning happens, like some chemical reaction. Children’s minds are not beakers to be catalyzed with reagents. Instead, I’d prefer Godsey tell the aspiring educator to remember that mastery of pedagogy, and all of its substudies – child psychology, the history of American public education, socioemotional learning, learning and thinking modalities, child development, emergent work in assessment, etc. – is almost more important than content mastery, and content mastery is more important than ever. The role of the True Teacher is not diminishing; it is expanding. We must be experts in children as well as content. We must study harder and know more than we’ve ever had to before, and we must constantly engage in new learning for ourselves in a way that’s never been seen, if we are to aspire to what I believe is True Teaching. I know a whole lot of people who work at schools who I don’t believe are really teachers at all. It’s scary as hell, but I didn’t make the world, I just live in it. I’m no master teacher, but I try like the dickens to get there.

Godsey asks, “Should I assure this person about my union and the notion of tenure, or should I urgently encourage him or her to create a back-up plan?” Listen, I of all people get that teachers are under fire. I’m the guy who went buck-wild on Whoopi Goldberg defending tenure as a valid method of ensuring due process rights, so I’ll defend my bona fides as a teacher advocate any day. But if the union in question believes that teachers haven’t and shouldn’t change, that union isn’t protecting its teachers. If the union in question thinks that lecturers and content facilitators that try to deliver learning like it’s a dish of cocktail wieners are doing right by kids, that union is way out of touch. As a former board of directors member of a union who resigned in protest despite massive local support because my leadership was out of touch, I’ll again defend my bona fides as a teacher advocate. Tenure is fine. Bad teachers are not. Let’s get those two separated before we get poor Whoopi all ticked off again.

Finally, Godsey closes by suggesting that he might be giving young new teachers “false hope” by suggesting that the teacher role we know it will be gone in 20 years, because he suspects it might be gone sooner.

Sorry, my friend, but I have to be the one to say it: It’s already gone. It’s been gone for a long while. The reason teachers are scared is because a lot of teachers aren’t really teaching, and haven’t been, and to wake up suddenly and realize that your kids aren’t who you thought they were, your school is completely irrelevant, and our entire profession is teetering on the brink of eradication at the hands of laypeople who have absolutely no idea what they’re doing because we have lost our way so badly and are in such deep need of revolution, is a nightmare. It is terrifying.

I’m sorry to be the one to say it. When I woke up, I experienced what I called “My Professional Heartbreak.” I cried. I absolutely, seriously sobbed, for about two days. My entire concept of my career path, where I was going, what I was doing, it all disintegrated. I worked my way “up” from teaching at a poor, rural secondary school as a new, young teacher to a senior (at least that’s what my title says) instructional administrator (at least that’s what my contract says) at an incredibly affluent and renowned school, in a position intended to help teachers  enhance their teaching practices… and then realized there is no “up,” and that every school I’d ever taught at, independent of socioeconomic conditions, was basically “the same.” The structures, the institutions of the American public school, are basically “the same,” and that led to a comprehensive review of the history of American public education, tearing through the collected works of Lawrence Cremin… “The same.” That led to digging deeply into the social and psychological structures of teaching and learning, of parents and children, of adults and kids, of individuality versus group, of homogeneity versus uniqueness… The deeper I dug, the more I wanted the answers that terrified me. I became “a radical” in the way Vidal used the word, someone who seeks the root of the problem and wants viscerally, desperately to understand the truth.

My teacher truth is the epigraph of my manuscript. Ken Robinson said it in his legendary 2010 TEDTalk. He rightly said that our schools cannot be reformed, but must be transformed. They must be revolutionized. I believe that. I believe, truly, that our school institutions are preventative, not facilitative, and I do not believe that the future vision Godsey portends is any less prohibitive and restrictive for all its facilitative trappings, because it continues to misunderstand what teaching and learning is.

Teaching is not the delivery of content. Learning is not the consumption of content. These objectifications of meaningful, autogenic, constructed, and relevant processes that are totally unique to the individual continue to plague our national, state, local, and classroom attitudes… as well as well-meaning articles in The Atlantic.

I hope my writing, when it sees the light of day, will help explain what I think we should do instead.

I’m going to add something here that I sometimes forget to when I blog, because I confess I don’t want to get ahead of myself and my writing as I come into the home stretch: I know some wonderful teachers. I know gifted, incredible, fantastic teachers. I know that sometimes it sounds like I’m being terribly harsh and judgmental, and I do think I’m harsh on schools as institutions (rightly so, IMHO), but I believe so, so many of my favorite teacher colleagues would thrive in the conditions I want to bring about. I also think we can do some really remarkable things in classrooms, given these tools and opportunities, in the intervening time between the now of the hardly-changed-in-three-centuries nonsensical, contradictory, anti-child, self-defeating institutions in which we work, and the freedom-loving, learning-loving, child-loving learning environments for which I advocate in my work. I went into educational technology because I believe that I can do great things to connect to my individual students, as individual intellects, using tools that we didn’t have twenty or thirty years ago. I’m not trying to discourage you.

But we cannot allow ourselves to mope about and yearn for times gone by. Pick up the tools, embrace them, and use them… but don’t forget pedagogy. Don’t try to “do it for the sake of doing it.” Don’t use YouTube just so you can say, “I use YouTube with my kids!” Instead, ask yourself the deep questions of learning, skill mastery, assessment, and understanding the unique child that you should ask every day, and use the tools that fit best the needs of the individual child. That’s the key, for right now. That is my advice:

Don’t forget that every single individual child in your classroom is a thinking, feeling, creative unique individual human being with individual experiences and situations. That should be the center of absolutely everything we do, and no technology – not even adaptive and purportedly-individualized technology – can replace you when you do that.

Things Travel Far and Fast on The Internet. We Get It. Now Stop.

Please, for the love of all that is educational, stop posting pictures that fall into the following meme: “Smiley picture of me and/or my kid! I’m from Anytown, USA and we’re learning about how far and how fast things can travel on teh inturwebz! Share this pic and like it and comment where you’re from! Thanks!”

Hey. Hey. Hey. You. Stop it. This is lousy educational technology and you are not teaching your kids anything that matters at all.

I recently discussed this with my friend Christine, who is brilliant and fabulous, and she summed it up as elegantly as I’ve ever heard it summarized: “Ed tech for the sake of ed tech = lousy ed tech.”

Yup. Exactly right.

“Share my pic to see how fast and far it goes” is the modern day equivalent of a potato battery: Get over it. We’re past it. It’s superficial, unnecessary, and irrelevant. You’re teaching your kids a nonsensical widely-known factoid in a contextless vacuum with at best a hope for data that you don’t need to generate and at worst (and I think, often likely) with a self-aggrandizing egocentrism that is distasteful if not downright unenlightening.

Stop it.

Now, there is the counterargument “you [KDR] believe in individual authenticity, and when it’s my kid’s picture and my kid’s data, it’s more relevant and authentic than some other person’s data.” That’s a fair counterargument, but it’s still answering a question that’s incredibly superficial. I’d much rather students develop some authentic surveys to administer internationally, maybe to gather information on perceptions or cultural norms, to assemble some never-before-conceived data. Children are capable of doing that, and it’s a far better use of their time, which EMBEDS the core understanding – how far and fast we can reach – in the project.

If you want your kids to know how far they can reach, create an opportunity for them to reach out meaningfully to other humans for a genuine purpose. “Repost my pic” is useless; your kids aren’t doing anything. You are. That’s not empowering or enlightening kids, and you’re squandering an opportunity to empower your kids to reach out themselves with the compassionate, protective guidance of a loving adult teacher.

Create a three-question survey in Google Forms about something that matters to them and let them ask those questions to the international community. Create a hashtag on social media that asks a meaningful question relevant to the cross-curricular content your kids are studying at the moment, that informs the discourse. (I’m starting one: #StopTheShareLesson.) Create a race to connect with a picture that says “meet us in X Google Hangout at Y time from wherever your classroom is so we can chat in realtime for 15 minutes about how far away you are.” There are SO MANY brilliant ways to accomplish the objectives you THINK you’re accomplishing, but aren’t. You’re not teaching your kids anything by throwing your blithe smiling face around the internet. You’re wasting opportunities for authenticity.

Stop it.

There is no point in making the point “photos go far and fast on social media” because it’s an established obvious thing that kids know far better than adults. They may not have the equivalent ethical, experiential, social, or safety frameworks to DO anything with that knowledge, and THAT would be a worthwhile set of connections to pursue in the classroom, but I generally find it to be more an exercise in “look at how connected my kids are, fellow digital immigrants” than it is authenticity and experience for kids.

I’ve seen infinite variations on this. The most recent variation I saw was, “This picture is private. Show my kids how private private really is!” And somebody will copy-paste it, download it, screencapture it, or otherwise reshare it, and you’ll get to say “oooooh, look, it’s not private at all.” What have you accomplished here, in a vacuum? Why not have a conversation about Julian Assange and Wikileaks?

The most frequent rejoinder I hear is, “I teach elementary school.”

This betrays the fundamental misconception that I think leads to this entire debacle in the first place: You underestimate the skills-based sophistication of your children because you conflate their moral-psychological (vis-a-vis Kohlberg) development with their technological development, and you ought to differentiate between the two. Children are capable of understanding complexity at a level for which we rarely give them credit at surprisingly young ages, but only if relatively contextualized, meaningful, and authentic. Nevertheless, pedagogically, I would FAR rather you take the time to design something authentic with your collaborative educational technologist than waste YET ANOTHER ounce of the time of your friends, family, and colleagues doing the same tired potato battery picture repost that a million other teachers have done to have the same yawn-fest result:

Hey! Guess what? Things travel far and fast on teh inturwebz! ZOMG!

Get over it. It’s pedagogical charlatanry. It’s hackery. It’s a waste of your time, and far more sinfully, it’s a waste of your students’ time. I’m not saying internet safety and information management isn’t important. I’m saying “repost my pic” threads on your Facebook page is a stupid and ineffective way to accomplish it.

Develop a meaningful lesson and let this meme die, please.

If you don’t know what else to do, talk to your educational technologist. If you don’t have an educational technologist, click “Resources” above and contact me. I’ll help you. Please… internet… we’re begging you: Enough with the “share this picture for my kids” meme.

Enough.

The Hill Questionnaire

South Carolina legislator Jonathon Hill is a bit of a twit. He asked thirty questions of judicial candidates in a questionnaire that reads like it was written by a nitwit, betraying deep lacking understanding of legislative process, judicial process, legal precedent, Constitutional law, American government, the English language, and a good number of other things.

Here’s a link to a story on the subject.

I thought it might be interesting to answer said questions. I did so in order, as they came, not having read the document in advance. While now, looking over the answers, I think some of my responses were less than stellar, I answered them as if I were in an interview: answer as you come to them, and don’t go back to edit.

What I got out of it? This questionnaire is N.B.D. It’s all benign and banal. Jonathon is looking for “are you one of my people or not” answers, and no thinking judge in his right mind is going to say “yeah, I’m with X party!” because that’s not the role of the judge. Silly.

BUT… I filled out the stupid thing, so here it is.

Questionnaire

1. Name

Keith David Reeves

2. What religious or community organizations are you actively involved in, if any?

While I am a public employee and associated with many professional organizations, in the context of your question, the answer is ‘none.’

3. As an attorney, what has been your greatest achievement?

I am not an attorney.

4. What Federal or State Justice do you most closely identify with or respect? Please explain why.

Justice Kennedy, who has a track record of independently evaluating cases based exclusively on their merits, independent of sociopolitical agendas.

5. Do you agree or disagree with the Judge Manning’s ruling in Harrell v. Wilson, that only the House Ethics Committee has the authority to investigate the Speaker of the House.

No. An investigation differs from a trial, and the Attorney General did not overstep his bounds in initiating an investigation into Speaker Harrell’s actions. It is up to a court of law to determine sufficient grounds and/or certiorari.

6. Do you agree or disagree with the majority decision in Abbeville County School District v. State of South Carolina? Please explain why.

I agree. However, I judge the thrust of your question to be whether or not the Abbeville students were receiving a substandard education, which I believe they were. However, limited government jurisprudence required Justice Cooper to rule as he did, in the context of the legislation. The issue in Abbeville can be traced to failures of the school system as required under legislation. The failure is not one of the judiciary, but of the legislative. The issue of public education funding is far more complicated than can be ascertained based on this question. As a public school education policy wonk, I feel qualified to state categorically that this question is oversimplified in nature to ascertain any meaningful information. Entire dissertations have been written on this subject, all of which are worth your study.

7. Do you agree or disagree with the majority decision in Anderson v. South Carolina Election Commission which disqualified hundreds of challengers in the Republican and Democrat primaries?

I agree. You neglected to mention Florence County Democratic Party v. Florence County Republican Party which held the same. No political party has a right to summarily circumvent the will of the voters, no matter how likely it is the same candidates would have achieved the nomination. Freedom is not about what is cost-effective, and sometimes liberty costs more than slavery. It is inappropriate to assume that a political party represents the will of the people. The will of the people is the will of the people, and in America, we are supposed to express that will through as direct a democracy as is permissible under Constitutional law.

8. Should the Constitution be interpreted according to the original intent, or is it an evolving document with flexibility for the issues of today? Please explain.

It is an evolving document.

Explanation: The world is not the same as it was in 1789. We saw fit to declare that black Americans were not, in fact, three-fifths of a person, but are, in fact, people. This is an exemplar for the evolutionary perspective.

9. Do you believe in the “Supreme Being” (SC Constitution, Article VI, Section 2)? What is the nature of this being? What is your personal relationship to this being? What relevance does this being have on the position of judge? Please be specific.

No. Specifically, my interpretation of the metaphysical universe is unrelated to S.C. Constitution, Article VI, Section 2 (1788), and the United States Constitution, Amendment I (1791) in conjunction with the United States Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2 (1789) does not require my allegiance to the S.C. Constitution.

The being described has absolutely no relevance to the position of judge, as established in many Federal documents, not the least of which includes the Treaty of Tripoli (1789), signed by President John Adams and unanimously signed by Congress, establishing our nation as a nation that is not predicated upon the being inferred in the S.C. Constitution.

10. Will you make prayer and religious displays (such as the Ten Commandments) a part of your court? Please explain why or why not.

No. Such actions are prohibited by the United States Constitution, Amendment I (1791) in conjunction with the United States Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2 (1789).

11. Is there ever at time you would make a decision influenced by foreign legal systems and/or international law? Please explain why.

Yes. Thinking people consider all ramifications, and “influenced by” is so overly broad as to require me to answer in the affirmative, without specific jurisprudence to which to point.

12. What role will precedents play in your decisions? What if you disagree with the precedent?

Precedents will be the primary basis of my decisions, as that is the nature of jurisprudence. If I disagree with said precedent, I would have to be able to cite extraordinarily compelling alternative jurisprudence, emergent case law, or emergent prevailing and counteracting studies of a compelling, rational, scientific or logical nature to undo said precedent.

13. If a state and federal law conflict, under what circumstances would you rule in favor of upholding the state law?

See answer to Question 12.

14. Please name an example of a Federal violation of the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and state how you would respond as a state-level judge.

The “Real ID Act” of 2005 strikes me as a potential violation of the 10th Amendment. I would, as a state-level judge, not require the enforcement of the Real ID Act under South Carolina law. While the identifications issued by South Carolina that do not comply with federal requirements may not be recognized for federal purposes should this occur, it is within the jurisdiction of the individual states to determine for themselves what standards constitute appropriate security measures for the purposes of state government issued identification cards.

15. What role do you wish to play in effecting policy change?

I endeavor to set all men free from all possible forms of coercion, no matter how inconvenient or undesirable for any institution.

16. What factors would motivate you to assign the maximum penalty for a crime, given a guilty verdict? What about the minimum penalty?

All penalties should be minimum as required under law, except in cases in which compelling arguments can be made to increase said penalty for purposes of rehabilitation or the general welfare of the public. The government has a responsibility to infringe as little as possible upon personal liberty. If the legislature believes harsher penalties are appropriate, the democratic process avails the people of that right through said legislature.

17. What is jury nullification, and what is your perspective on it?

Jury nullification is a condition in which an empaneled jury of an accused person’s peers believe the trial is founded upon a flawed principle, thereby eliminating the guaranteed due process. It is an appropriate and expected consequence of American jurisprudence.

18. Are there cases you would feel a need to recuse yourself from? If so, what cases would those be?

Yes. All cases in which I have a personal, vested interest or an established compelling bias would require me to recuse myself.

19. Would you ever assign the death penalty in a particular case? Under what circumstances?

No.

20. In a case where someone was assaulted because he was gay, would you consider it a “hate crime” and increase the penalty?

South Carolina has no “hate crime” laws. Your question seems to demonstrate either a misunderstanding of South Carolina law or a desire to elicit my personal opinion on the subject.

21. Do you believe unborn children have rights? If so, how would those factor in to your decisions as a judge?

No. However, your question is overly broad, as rights are legal statuses granted to citizens, and unborn persons are not yet legal persons, and therefore have no rights. The question is more complicated than your question allows, and you cannot glean my position on this response. Please rephrase the question or be more specific.

22. How would you handle a murder case in which the victim had actually requested help committing suicide?

See answer to Question 12.

23. Do you agree or disagree with the argument that homosexual marriage is a “right” protected under the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution, which would render S.C.’s 2006 marriage amendment unconstitutional. Please explain why.

I agree. South Carolina’s marriage amendment is unconstitutional. American citizens are granted equal treatment under law, and the totality of case study and precedent shows that gender bias is prohibited under law for purposes of many civic factors, most especially treatment under law. There is little ambiguity in this area.

24. Would you perform a homosexual marriage, either voluntarily or involuntarily?

Yes.

25. Does the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution apply only to the militia and military, or to the people at large?

It applies to the people at large.

26. Given a case where a local gun restriction ordinance was being challenged, would you uphold the ordinance or strike it down? What factors would play into that decision?

I cannot answer this question based on the lack of specificity and evidence. See answer to Question 12.

27. If a woman sued her employer because she was paid a lower rate than her male coworkers, would you rule in her favor or not? Please explain why.

I cannot answer this question based on the lack of specificity and evidence. See answer to Question 12.

28. Do you see any conflict of interest allowing legislators who are practicing attorneys to vote in your race?

Yes. That said, there is no precedent for denying them the right to vote in said election.

29. Would you like to see the current judicial selection process changed? If so, how?

Yes. I believe all judges at all levels should be approved by state legislatures.

30. South Carolina is currently a right-to-work state. Is this a position you will support or work to undermine in your rulings?

My rulings will be based exclusively on the case at hand, and in no way influenced by my personal opinions.

 

N.B.: I did edit this response, such as for typographical errors. I worked all day, and flubbed the keys a bit in places.

My Charter Lament

This morning,  WAMU special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza interviewed Carrie Irvin of Charter School Partners, who trains board members for charter schools. WAMU aired two segments, one for Morning Edition and one for Metro Connection. The priorities both Kavitha and Carrie listed for charter boards included “financial, legal, and marketing,” “P.R. [public relations] and communications,” and mentioned “education skills” as a passing aside.

My fury was kindled instantly, unsurprising to those of you who know me.

Carrie spoke about how often “friends and family board(s)” create schools founded around a “compelling and inspirational mission.” Friends and families… also known as non-educator laypeople. I can imagine these missions, advancing idiosyncratic causes made for social-engineering purposes or focused through biased lenses about what matters in society, what businesses need, or what communities want their streets to look like.

That’s not teaching and learning in my universe. That’s coercion. That’s the usurpation of the individual child to advance an adult cause, and I have no patience for such an enterprise.

Private boards cannot bring about the “clear thinking” that Carrie speaks about to “look out for the best interests of the students” if their thinking is predominated by the very items listed in the interview: financial, legal, marketing, public relations priorities… That’s not teaching. That’s not learning.

I am a Radical, in the sense that Vidal used the term. (I came to realize in 2014, in part through correspondence with masters of modern pedagogical reform like Giroux and McLaren that I’m neither a radical pedagogue in Friere’s tradition nor even a critical pedagogue in Giroux’s, though I think our aims for children would often be compatible. Ultimately, however, social engineering endeavors have no place in my definition of teaching and learning. I’ll save boring you with all that for the magnum opus.) I believe to solve problems, we must not be afraid of complexity and must go to the root of those problems. Superficiality and oversimplification are the bane of analysis, and I have been analyzing and prying apart and studying schools for a while now. I am convinced that to understand schools, one must both conceive the individual child and meaningfully comprehend real learning.

As I’m writing extensively, learning is an individualized process. It is autogenic (originating within the learner as opposed to originating within the teacher or the source material), and is entirely unique to the individual learner. Learning must be relevant, meaningful, applicable, and actively-engaged to be “learning.” I believe retaining and factually-recalling inert knowledge is not learning. The mission of teaching – learning! – is complex and difficult to achieve, because it varies from child to child, from situation to situation, from topic to topic, and even from day to day. Teaching must lead to learning, or it is not teaching, at least not in my universe.

It is so, so rare these days that I see what I consider to be “true” teaching and learning.

This brings me to the rebuttal to my lament, and one I’m finally answering today: “Why don’t you make your own school, then?”

I love the idealism of “found your own school and do your own thing,” but it’s all corporate. Private schools? Corporate. Charter schools? Corporate. Parochial schools, for crying out loud, are vassal institutions of a larger sociopolitical entity which while religious in nature is, ultimately, corporate.

A corporation is a distinct organizational entity that is treated, under law, as a person. Non-public schools are distinct private organizational entities and are invariably influenced by a select group of non-educators, be it a board of directors or a board of deacons. One of the reasons I began my writing, speaking, and working outside of the mainstream was because I even believe at this juncture, thanks to the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex and the nature of local-level democratic sociopolitics, that public schools have been corporatized. I wish I could believe that I, with like-minded radicals, could strike out and found a school detached from both the State and the Corporation, but I just don’t believe it possible because the root problems that corrupt teaching and learning would be unsolved in such an enterprise. If one does not stem the poisonous source, seeking a clean corner of a lake does not prevent pollution from eventually destroying the swimmers there. Don’t be pedantic about the definition of “corporation,” though, because I use the phrase “corporatocracy” more broadly to refer to the infusion of capitalism into enterprises that ought to be without it. There should never, ever, ever, ever, ever be any concern whatsoever with money or profit when it comes to loving, nurturing, and teaching children. Ever.

Non-public schooling is ultimately, from the executive perspective, deeply entwined in marketing and competition and money. I recognize that “money” is always going to be involved in education in America because America is a capitalist plutocracy – much to my chagrin, because I believe American corporatocracy to be responsible for dehumanizing, isolating, marginalizing, and destroying human beings – but we cannot solve the problems of pedagogy, and ensure that every person working with children conceives individual children and is exclusively invested in ensuring relevant, meaningful skill mastery for each unique learner, if we introduce utterly-unrelated priorities like “marketing and public relations” or “competition and recruitment.” That has nothing to do with kids and learning. It is the corporate-like systemization, yet again, of teaching and learning, and it cannot be allowed.

People say, “you complain about school so much, form your own.” You can’t. You can’t. We’re talking about the context of American capitalism, folks. It’s banks. It’s Wall Street. It’s The Two Party System. It’s Boeing. It’s Microsoft. It’s Pearson. It’s The Koch Brothers. As Jane Fonda as Leona Lansing in The Newsroom said, “they drop Brinks trucks on people they disagree with.” If I was completely independently wealthy and had ten billion dollars, then certainly I could found a school that would, in my personal and professional opinion,  fulfill the mission of truly teaching every individual child, at least as long as I could pay for it. But the minute I start to look for sustainability from outside, it’s going to involve some kind of corporatizing and that instant, that very instant that happens, it’s dead. Even if I’m still the one paying for it, the minute I let the compelling long-term private interest sit at the table, the project is dead, because they’ll want to talk about sustainability which has to do with capital-raising, which in our society means corporate. Even non-profits are often and increasingly corporate, as is evidenced time and time again by the discovery that minuscule percentages of donations and raised funds actually go to the fulfillment of the mission of a non-profit. So either one person who is 100% altruistic has to entirely fund such a project – and I’d do it in an instant if I could! – or it’s never going to be uncorrupted by corporate influence.

Even if I came into all of that money, because I’m not “one of them,” because I’m neither the bootstrapping middle class workaholic storybook American Daydream love story, nor the entitled-to-it insider of the plutocratic sociopolitical elite, they’d destroy me. Who I am? What I believe? Artist? Radical? Out? Vocally opposed to the results of the mechanism of local representative democracy? Vocally opposed to the oppression of the poor, the disenfranchised? Vocally opposed to the coercion of others and the principle of profit and objectification and the imposition of property-status on human beings? What I say, what I do? I’m a buffet of material for them. They’d ruin me, because I wouldn’t… play… their… game.

Going it by yourself as one tiny island amid the sea of machinery that still destroys children is not a solution to the machinery destroying children. You have to stop the machine. Sabot, as Valeris in Star Trek VI illustrated. It’s like a sci-fi film with a massive alien invasion. You grabbing your kids and a couple nearby people and racing off to an island somewhere, holing up, laying low, and hoping that the aliens don’t find you is no way to save humanity. I recognize there is a whole group of rational, compassionate people who say, “that’s a solution! You can’t stop the apocalypse, the aliens are more powerful,” and will go live alone, hope for the best, and try to wait it out and make it better in the future. They concede.

I can’t do that to kids. I can’t walk away. Public school is where the kids are, and the only place to teach children where corporatocracy hasn’t entirely wiped us out yet, we pedagogues of my ilk.

And yes, I really struggle some days with being a part of a system of which I fundamentally, deeply disapprove. You have no idea.

But I’m the dude in that film that needs to save as many kids as he can. How can you not? They’re little kids. Eighteen years old or eight years old, their kids, man. I’m going to leave them to be decimated, to be corrupted and turned into alien slaves by their hegemonic overlords? No way! They’re little kids, man. How can I abandon them? It’s war, it’s going to destroy them, and I have to stop it.

It’s worse yet, though, because they’re not alien invaders: They’ve been here the whole time. They’re us, the corporatocrats, the plutocrats. They’re people. At least I think they used to be.

Yes, you can find a way to get your kids and your friends’ and neighbors’ kids the kind of education you think they should have, but laypeople creating organizational structures that have a schooling mission of a type of character, a way of being, a type of education, a type of learning, that’s not teaching, that’s not learning: That’s indoctrination.

Those are indoctrination camps. Corporate-influenced “schools” aren’t schools.

Public education is a trust. The American public school is a trust. It seems like practically every other (mostly socialized!) first world nation has figured that much out. Pluralism is not served by American democracy in the 21st century. It would be better served by a system that did not work like our democracy works, a system that isn’t a system at all, really, and instead conceives of and celebrates individualism and equality, that seeks to empower instead of disenfranchise, that does not, at its core value the defeat of one in favor of another.

Idealistic? Sure. But what’s wrong with that?

The one degree of pragmatism I do have in this is knowing that capitalism and the middle-class machinery of corporatocracy that exists in 2015 is so powerful that if you sufficiently, overtly buck it, it may try to kill you. I know. It’s happened. I’ve been attacked by it, hurt by it, wiped out by it. It’s not so simple as “just go it alone.” The system has to be stopped. I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it. I’ve been complicit in it because of my ignorance. Now, I’m awake, and I’m trying really hard not to do that anymore.

I wish I believed that founding a unique school that practices the pedagogy in which I believe and serves the children to whom I’ve dedicated my life was a solution. I don’t. It’s a patch, and it’s all well enough for those who want to to do so during these dark days of inhumane schools. My work is different. My work is to try and shine a bright light upon the failure of public school, and why I believe free public schools,  as insulated as possible from the barest  hint of influence from the private sector, is a human, ethical, moral, civic responsibility.

I have fears and doubts. I struggle with big questions. But I do not at all believe that private or charter schools are even remotely the answer to the root problems of education in America. We have an inclination, as people, to preserve that which is extant, and to fear the replacement of the extant with the emergent.

I don’t. I celebrate the unseen, the unknown, and the not-yet-made.

As David Kaplan said in Particle Fever, “In exploration, there needs to be a set of people who have no rules, and they are going into the frontier and come back with the strange animals and the interesting rocks and the amazing pictures to show us what’s out there. Discover something.”

I’m a Radical. I’m not here to patch things up. I’m here to build something new in the place of the failed old. I want to forge out into the wilderness and collide elementary elements of education into each other and split them into a billion fragments and look at what’s inside, and discover what teaching and learning really is, really means, really can be, and then help ensure every single child is loved, uniquely and authentically conceived, and really learns.

I can’t do that sitting on an island waiting for the aliens to finish ravaging my world. I have to be in the fight to win the fight, as agonizing as it is when the battle rages fiercest.

Throwback Thursday: Blodgett Vocational High School

For #throwbackthursday I’m sporting a shirt I custom-ordered to represent a school I loved and a building I cherish in memory.

blodgettshirt

Andrew Burr Blodgett was the Superintendent of the Syracuse (New York) City Schools from 1899-1910, and when Syracuse constructed what was at the time of completion in 1918 one of the most innovative and progressive school designs in the country, Blodgett’s name was emblazoned across the doors.

Blodgett Vocational in 1925.
Blodgett Vocational in 1925.

Located in the Near West Side neighborhood, I attended Blodgett in 1985 as part of differentiated instruction when I was in first grade. I recall its grandiose halls, towering doorways, massive columns, and endless ornate wood and stone with fervent fondness.

blodgett_exterior_3

It was at Blodgett where I learned Lego Logo, programmed turtles, played chess for the first time, was read stories in dramatic readings, painted, colored, danced, built airplanes, and engaged in immersive play and deep, relevant, meaningful learning. Vocational stood for progressivity and application in education for the half-century it served as a high school in Syracuse.

The main entrance of A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School.
The main entrance of A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School.

I’m a proud native son of Syracuse, born at Crouse and having grown up in the Eastwood neighborhood on the east side of the city. My father Dave Reeves was a Syracuse firefighter (most notably out of the now-shuttered Station 7, where I climbed onto a fire truck and slid down a pole for the first time) and my mother Luana Reeves, RN MSN was a nurse and later director of education at Crouse Hospital. My family has very deep roots in Central New York, and it’s fair to say we “bleed Orange” as a Syracuse family. (Though I probably bleed Blue and Green as a graduate of Cicero-North Syracuse High School.)

Today, however, I sport “The Maroon and Maize” as the local papers of the 1920s and 1930s called the colors of Vocational.

Twilight and the great staircase at Blodgett, which I first ascended when I was about six years old.
Twilight and the great staircase at Blodgett, which I first ascended when I was about six years old. Note the no-longer-accurate “Junior High School” designation, one of the many roles Blodgett played after it ceased to serve as a 9-12 school in the late 60s.

The last high school graduates from Vocational left the halls of the school sometime in the late 1960s from what I can find. (I think the Class of ’65 was the last official high school class.) Those that attended – often hailing from meager means and coming to learn a trade, back during an era when education was largely divided into “academics” and “vocations” – remember the school as a hallowed place of true community. History remembers Blodgett not so much for its originally-progressive educational mission, or the progressive man who gave his name to the school’s halls, but for the fact that the shot clock, a modern staple of basketball, was first used at Blodgett in 1954.

shotclock

Converted sometime around 1970 into a middle school, then into an elementary school, then into a K-8 school, and today standing as an unused facility (closed in 2011 after languishing as a barely-utilized early education site), Blodgett has seen better days. Its neighborhood has fallen on very hard times, and the school – having been (IMHO) criminally neglected along with its old rival and counterpart, Syracuse Central Technical High School – would be expensive to properly renovate. However, recently (2010), consultants have advised that the potential of the school is well worth the investment. The subject of what to do with Blodgett has been a raging debate for a long time, sparking protests by locals who want their school in their community and fierce contests within the political arena of both the School Board and the Common Council. I happen to be of Sean Kirst’s opinion that Blodgett is “fundamentally indestructible,” and it worth using as one of if not THE cornerstone facility of the schools in Syracuse, driven in no small part by my discovery of a wonderful book I want to share with you:

If you have any interest in Syracuse, in schools, or just in early 20th century American history, consider reading Doug Kahl’s book, “A.B. Blodgett Vocational High School” (2009), available for free on Issuu. It’s a great look back at one of the great icons of Central New York educational history, a fond way to remember an educator that did much for the kids of Syracuse, and, for me, one of the most formative and influential learning places of my life.

Today, I’m sporting Maroon and Maize in remembrance of Vocational, “my first high school” and a place that deserves recollection, preservation, and renovation.

 

I Never Left

Calling me “the I.T. guy” drives me absolutely batty. I think most people I’ve worked with since I became an educational technologist in 2006 know this by now. I think some folks are under the impression that it’s because I don’t prefer the technical parts of the job, or that I’m being pedantic about my title.

“Yeah, but you are” is a common reply when I correct people. “But you’re the ITC.” “Well  whatever, you’re the I.T. administrator then.”

No, folks. I.T. stands for information technology, and I correct people because I don’t do that for a living. I don’t fix things. That’s not the job. That’s not what I do, what I want to do, what I have even the remotest desire to do. This is one of the reasons why I want to change the title of people that do what I do from “instructional technologist” to “educational technologist,” to eradicate any trace of the “I.T.” acronym.

But beyond the fact that most people don’t know that I spent the first part of my career as a classroom teacher or that I’ve got experience teaching all levels of public school kids, I’m mostly hurt by being called “the I.T. guy.” It implies I’m not a teacher. People ask, “why did you leave teaching and go into I.T. if you don’t like I.T.?” I didn’t.

I never left.

No one would ask an assistant principal, “why did you leave teaching?” The use phrases like “move up” or “go into administration” or “pursue leadership” or something, because they know that being a school administrator is (supposed to be) about supporting teachers and students in teaching and learning, and it’s deeply intertwined and related to classroom practice. However, because in many places we educational technologists are relegated to catch-all roles and are so often misunderstood in our roles – and indeed, are hardly ever seen as “supportive experts in teaching and learning,” which is really what the job entails – we’re more often considered computer guys than classroom guys.

It’s insulting to people who have I.T. expertise, like my absolutely world-class amazing-sauce technician at my school, David, who is like a god send from the angels of technology. The guy can fix anything. It’s ridiculous the kind of skill this dude has, and he’s the kindest, warmest guy, so easy to work with, totally knows his craft, readily identifying with people of all stripes. You gotta love this man. And saying “you can do what Dave does” belittles Dave, ’cause I can’t.

I studied trumpet. I was a music education major, and have done more than my fair share of composing, arranging, and adjudicating. I’ve taught kindergarten through college. I was a middle school band director. I was an elementary self-contained special education adaptive music teacher. I was an adjunct professor of educational methods. I taught. I teach. I want to help others teach and learn.

I’m most upset by being called “the I.T. guy” not because it implies I’m someone I’m not (which it does), but because it implies that I left teaching.

I never did. I never left. I’m still a teacher, far more than I am “an administrator” to be sure. Hardware, software, network? Call the Help Desk. Pedagogy, assessment, curriculum, lesson design, consult on classroom management, identify resources to enhance learning? Call me, baby.

My job title is “ITC,” but you can call me teacher.

The Game of the Name

Around 2007, I had a conversation with colleague of mine, who is also my friend and who I love very much, about how students address teachers. This friend and colleagues believed that her students should call her by her first name, in an effort to ensure that students felt safe, did not feel dominated, and did not have a fear-based relationship with the teacher. I believe those aims are noble and desirable.

I, as many of us do, come from a long tradition of calling adults by their surnames. Now that I live in the South, I have become acquainted with the phenomenon of addressing adults with both salutations and given names. For example, in New York, it is practically a foregone conclusion that a student would address me as “Mr. Reeves.” However, in the South, there is a possibility that individuals in an attempt to be respectful in their own cultural traditions might call me “Mr. Keith.” Working with generally affluent students and in an environment in which equity and egalitarianism have strong traditions – again, all positive aspects – I am from time to time called “Keith” by children.

I’ve done some serious thinking on this particular topic, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I retain my original perspective – that it is appropriate for students to address adults with salutations and their surnames: “Mr. Reeves” – though my rationale for this perspective has shifted somewhat.

It isn’t simply a question of children speaking to adults; it’s a question of establishing and reinforcing the caretaker relationship, and ensuring that children understand logically, practically, and emotionally that we educators have responsibilities that entail authority. Whether or not the adult in question is a loving, pro-child individual who is deeply invested in the individual wellness of every individual child is not at hand. The fact of the matter is that professional educator, charged in professional educational settings with the care of children, have certain policy, ethical, and legal responsibilities that entail authority. Whether or not a teacher believes that a child should comply with a directive simply because it is issued is immaterial to the fact that that’s what the policy says must happen.

I believe in transparency and clarity for kids, and when we muddy waters unnecessarily, we make things more confusing for kids, and ought not to do so. An example of that came yesterday when I was speaking to students about dress code in the context of Constitutional law. While a vague policy of guidelines that exclusively uses language patterned after SCOTUS precedent – phrases like “reasonable” and “appropriate” – may provide individual adults the latitude to permit obviously-permissible things and sanction obviously-impermissible things regardless of an objective standard, the failure to provide objective standards makes things more difficult for kids, and it seems to me that the burden ought to be on the adults.

In the case of a caretaker relationship, it should be made expressly clear to everyone involved, adults and children, that this is not a peer relationship. It is not and must not be perceived as a peer relationship.

Friends are, by definition, equals, and teachers and children cannot be equals when it comes to matters of protection. Children should never be put in a position of having to have every bit as much responsibility as an adult when it comes to caretaking. Adults have to be more responsible and should be charged with heavier burdens than children when it comes to caretaking and protection.

As a consequence, I want to do everything that is necessary to constantly reinforce to kids that we are in positions of authority. If we teachers are friends, we are far more challenged when it comes to things like bullying, because we are in a peer relationship and cannot leverage the appropriate power dynamics of caretakers watching out for all children. Instead, we would be put in a situation in which we would have to change our roles from peers to authority figures, and that has the potential to confuse children and lead to unnecessary experiences of hurt, betrayal, mistrust, and misperception that are avoidable when children have a constant understanding that grown-ups have to look out for everybody, and sometimes have to say “no.”

My brilliant friend Dawn taught me the phrase, “develop personable relationships, not personal relationships.” While perhaps technically oversimplified, the idea is super-solid: Love your children as adults ought to love children – appropriate, compassionate, nurturing, thoughtful, attentive, receptive, responsive, careful – but do not conflate your position as teacher and mentor with friendship, parenting, or other roles. The teacher-student relationship can be tremendously personally meaningful to both parties, and I can attest to the powerful positive influence children can have on teachers, and that teachers can have on children. However, all of that remains possible and can include the power of appropriate caretaking, when clear boundaries are established.

Billy might be comfortable calling his friend Keith at home at 9:30 PM to chat about a relationship problem. He ought never feel comfortable calling his teacher Mr. Reeves at 9:30 PM at home at night to chat about a relationship problem. An extreme example, perhaps, but an illustration nonetheless. In the event that a child says, “I told you this in confidence. I thought you were my friend,” and we have a mandatory reporting duty, we have done the child a disservice in constantly previously reinforcing that we are peers and friends, and that there is no authority power dynamic.

It is disingenuous to lead children to believe that adults and children in caretaker relationships are “equal.” Equitable, perhaps, in that both are thinking, feeling, unique individual human beings with legal and human rights and worthy of consideration and care… but not “equal” as in “the same” when it comes to responsibility and legal burden. The adults have to be responsible caretakers in such circumstances, and children should not be deceived in thinking that is not so, even if well-intentioned. I believe we do children a disservice when we fail to reinforce with consistency that we are not identical when it comes to our school roles.

This is not a matter of “power over children,” but rather “power for children.” We shouldn’t be coy about the fact that the law of the land says adults have certain legal abilities and responsibilities that children don’t.

 

While I acknowledge absolutely that there are children who are smarter than me, faster than me, better at something than me, better at most things than me, more creative than me, who know more about subjects than I do, who are more adept with tools, technologies, and techniques than I am… and that in every aspect of my life in which I think I may have even a modicum of skill, there are countless children out there who are vastly superior in practically every way in every one of those areas, and that I have and will likely continue to teach them in my very schools, the fact remains that I am the one hired by the Commonwealth of Virginia to be responsible for the caretaking, welfare, and instruction of children. Whether desirable or not, that carries an unavoidable dynamic that ultimately does involve power and authority. I will do everything in my power to ensure that power is not abused. I will do everything reasonable and expected to ensure that children understand that I believe they are the priority, that the school exists for them, and that my duty is to serve them in every appropriate way possible… but part of serving children is sometimes having to be able to create boundaries for children.

I use the word “Child” extensively because I believe we are responsible for viewing all of our students as children, regardless of their age. I believe that we are charged with being pro-development, pro-social, and pro-child, and when we differentiate the point at which the people with whom we work are adults instead of the people we work for are children, we unnecessarily confuse that relationships, and I want to avoid confusing children.

Children deserve to be informed, aware, and oriented at all times, and we should not confuse them if we can help it.

I believe that we must maintain appropriate, healthy, loving, caretaking adult-child relationship orientation, and so after very careful reflection and consideration on this issue from my ever-constant position, with my Educational Revolutionary’s Prime Directive in mind – Children and Their Learning First, in All Things, Now and Forever! – I remain of the position that children should refer to adults in school by salutation and surname,  not by given name. Outside of school, in family friendships, and in post-graudaiton relationships, the school no longer has purview and the issue is moot.

My friends call me “KDR.” My students call me “Mr. Reeves.”

Student Rights and Moments of Silence

I had a series of conversations today with students at my school about student rights. I’m deeply passionate about this subject. In fact, one of my projects in grad school (specifically, the fourth time in grad school, LOL) was the development of a student “code of conduct” that was exclusively based upon legal precedent, especially Supreme Court precedent. Because my education nerdliness is known far and wide – Hi, Whoopi! – several different colleagues sought my insight with their kids for relevant projects, and today was just sort of a culminating day of education law.

So. Cool. I just adore working with sharp kids asking cutting questions!

I took kids through a few of the major highlights I think are relevant, starting with the early establishment of “In Loco Parentis,” or “in the place of the parent.” The landmark Lander v. Seaver was basically about a kid cutting across school grounds, and getting disciplined by the schoolmaster. The family sued, as they didn’t believe the schoolmaster had a right to discipline the kid outside of the school day, on school grounds. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school, establishing the doctrine that schools have a compelling interest in the broad care of their children, in the stead of the parent.

Fast forward to 1969: It’s the Vietnam era, and student protests aren’t isolated to college campuses. Several students tie black armbands around their arms, devoid of slogans or logos, to protest, and are told to take them off. The parents sue, charging that the school violated the free speech rights of the students, and the Supreme Court agrees. The Tinker v. Des Moines ruling establishes the “Tinker Standard” or “Tinker Test,” which says that the school can prohibit student actions that “reasonably lead school authorities to forecast substantial disruption [of] or material interference with school activities” or “invasion on the rights of others.” Since the school could not have reasonably forecast any problem with the armbands, the school was found to be in the wrong.

Another leap to 1986: A student delivers a graduation speech laced with innuendo, and is sanctioned by the school. In Bethel v. Fraser, the Supreme Court held that “teachers and administrators must have the authority to do what they reasonably believe is in the best interest of their educational responsibilities.” This word “reasonable” appears throughout a survey of SCOTUS opinion and literature on the subject. The court held that the school DID have a right to limit student speech, thereby establishing the idea of “school speech” versus “free speech.”

A couple of years later, in 1988, the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier opinion (which dealt primarily with student publications), held that “educators do not offend the First Amendment by exercising editorial control” … “so long as their activities are reasonably related to pedagogical concerns.” Again, the court sided with the school, finding that the administration did have a right to restrict student publications of inflammatory or controversial material, in order to preserve the educational mission and protect kids.

These benchmark tests – Tinker, Fraser, and Hazelwood – form the triumvirate of major student rights law where speech and expression is concerned, and are often-referenced in subsequent case law. The 9th Circuit court decision in LaVine v. Blaine, which found that a school can sanction students who describe abject acts of violence, including on homework, said “we review” … “with deference schools’ decisions in connection with the safety of their students even when freedom of expression is involved.”

The now-infamous 2007 “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” case – more properly known as Morse v. Frederick – once again reinforced the “school speech” doctrine, using a three-prong test for the curtailing of student speech: 1. the speech occurs at a school event, 2. the speech is “reasonably viewed as promoting” illicit or illegal activity, and 3. when the school has an “important, indeed perhaps compelling interest” in doing so to protect the educational mission and keep kids safe.

A 2014 ruling, Dariano v. Morgan Hill (better known as the “Live Oak” Decision), found that the school’s power in this regard is pretty significant, and might even seem outlandish to laypeople without all the facts. In the case of Live Oak, administrators told kids they couldn’t wear American flag T-shirts. Many were outraged at what they perceived as an egregious abuse of power, but in truth, the totality of evidence showed that administrators had credible reasons to reasonably believe the children wearing the shirts would be targets of ethnic violence at the hands of another group of students, and were acting to protect the wearers of said T-shirts. Because protecting kids is part of a school’s charge, and that charge has been upheld and reinforced by case law, the Supreme Court (rightly) held that the school acted within its scope.

I had to defer on a few questions during the school day, because I was operating as a school employee. Outside of my professional responsibilities, I’ve been recently asked about the Moment of Silence in Virginia. Virginia law requires a “minute of silence” to start the school day, despite the Supreme Court decision (Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985) that specifically prohibits such silence as Unconstitutional. (Engel v. Vitale, 1965, had already long ago decided that school prayer was Unconstitutional.) Despite this, appellate and district courts have found differently, most recently the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

So what’s a school leader to do?

Well, in the case of every Principal I know, they like being employed, so they do what they’re told, and the Superintendents and School Boards of Virginia obey the law. Until the law is challenged, it’s the law of the land. As I’m apt to say, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

Inevitably, I was asked… what do I think? Fortunately, being a lover of Constitutional law and precedent, I am happy to exercise my First Amendment free speech rights to share my opinion, with the caveat that as always, this is my opinion, and not representative of anybody I work with or for.

In the Treaty of Tripoli, Jacob Barlowe as Plenipotentiary wrote, “The government of the United States of America is in no way founded upon the Christian religion.” Signed into law by John Adams in 1796, and ratified unanimously by Congress, this, to me, provides as clear a statement as possible about the “Founder’s Intent” when it comes to the nature of this country. The Founders’ personal Judaeochristian tradition does not imply a national legal or philosophical Judaeochristian foundation. I have always found that to be a nonsensical position. It’s like saying that since I was raised in a Baptist church, clearly the foundation of the things I did in high school were Baptist by nature. That’s illogical, and not accurate. (I find it remarkable how few people I’ve heard cite that the Founding Fathers were “Christian” are able to historically discuss the religious demographics of the 1790s or Christianity versus Deism. As Aaron Sorkin wrote, “complexity is not a vice,” and none of these issues are definitively solved by throwing down quotes in isolation.) The predominance of Christianity makes it easy for some people to dismiss things like the moment of silence as “no big deal” or “whatever, get over it” or “it doesn’t matter” or “nobody’s forcing you to do anything.” The fact is, a Moment of Silence is, to any reasonable person (to use SCOTUS language) a spiritual enterprise, and as such, has no place in a school. Just because it doesn’t offend the majority doesn’t mean it doesn’t offend the First Amendment, which I argue that it does.

The Constitution is a remarkable idea and a remarkable piece of legal writing, rightly deserving of its place in history. However, like most major documents – The Bible, anyone? – abiding by it is harder than admiring it.

When we say “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” we mean that totally and absolutely: No individual citizen ought to be compelled by his government, at any level and in any way, to do or not to do anything pertaining to religion and spirituality. No agency of the government or in any way funded by the people as an agency of governance should have the right or ability to say to you or anyone else in this country, “yes you can” or “no you can’t” where your personal beliefs are concerned. Moreover, you ought not to have the right to compel me in any way to abide by your beliefs, nor should I have the right to compel you in any way to abide by my beliefs.

I find this wholly applicable to student rights.

As such, when the school (a governmental agency) says to a child, “you must do this,” it ought to be (in my personal opinion) for one of two reasons, as established under the Tinker Standard: it’s directly related to the educational mission of the school, or it’s directly related to keeping students safe. Short of that, the most minimal application of force (of law) is appropriate and necessary. When the school says “you must be silent as a group,” when that silence is deeply, traditionally rooted in religion, the school establishes religiosity, and offends the First Amendment. School moments of silence are rooted in school prayer, and I find no provable and invariable pedagogical, organizational, governmental, psychological, or developmental reason to do it. Consequently, I’d prefer to be minimalist and not compel it.

However, one can find absolutely no fault with any Local Educational Agency (LEA) in the Commonwealth for abiding by the law of the land. These are issues of law, philosophy, and jurisprudence that aren’t the direct purview of the teacher or school-based administrator, and so until there is a challenge to the Virginia law, one can reasonably expect schools to continue to maintain moments of silence as policy. Why? As I said before, a law is only as valid and strong as those willing and able to defend it.

That doesn’t mean that’s right, of course. It just means that it “is.” These are great discussions, in my view, to have with other professionals and with students. After all, our Constitution once deemed a person of color was a fraction of a person. We know that to be wrong now, but it “was” for a good long while. (Indeed, one can make an argument that some Framers knew it to be wrong even then.) The Constitution is a living document, as are the arbiters charged to interpret its words and meaning. How very educational to debate such things!

I do like my facts, though… and I’ve yet to come across even a hint of research that intimates that 60 seconds of silence in the morning at a public school “does a body good,” and have no reason to suspect it would have any positive impact, qualitatively or quantitatively, on “respect” or “discipline.” The issue is not that the MOS is “open” to all people, it is that it is forced upon all people. An “optional” MOS is one thing, but that’s not the functional issue at hand. To say mere availability somehow avoids an Establishment offense is kind of akin to saying, “if you don’t want to pray with us, cover your ears.” (A silly example, but apt!)

I suggest that the power of government should never be used to enforce an idea that has merit for some upon all, within the milieu of Constitutionally protected rights. The freedom of and from established religion is one of those specifically-enumerated rights. Insofar as the Constitution and education is concerned, I believe that the government should be restricted from exercising the power of the majority over the minority, as Madison and Jefferson seemed to believe.

Moments of silence in schools may not offend the majority of the populace, but I believe quite fervently that they offend the Constitution and that the Constitution is designed to protect the minority (or the one; give it up for Spock!) from the majority. We Americans have a long tradition of standing up for the little guy when it suits us, and kicking him in the face when it doesn’t. I tend, whenever possible, to prefer first part of that tradition…

…as does, I believe, the Constitution.

Student rights are not discussed nearly often enough in schools, largely because despite a tradition of In Loco Parentis – eroded as that traditional may be – schools are often relegated to “speaking only when spoken to,” no longer appreciated to be the purview of sagacious experts in children. I, for one, would like to have meaningful conversations that lead to clear statements, transparency, and a belief that our individual students are individual intellectuals, worthy of our consideration as thinking rights-bearing citizens who should be empowered to discuss, debate, and decide for themselves.

I love children, and believe that part of being loving is being respectful of individualism, especially when those individuals are different from us.