In Defense of the Dark Side

A modern practice in education, especially elementary education, is the ZONES of Regulation. In this model, we teach children expected versus unexpected behaviors, given the context of circumstances. For example, if we’re learning together, being in the Green Zone is what’s expected: alert, content, focused. If we’re on the playground, being in the Yellow Zone is entirely acceptable, because it’s expected: heightened alertness, perhaps a lot of action, louder voices, more movement. But in a collective classroom environment, Yellow Zone behaviors can be problematic for one’s self and other learners. And Red Zone behaviors – screaming, crying, rage, alarm – are very rarely expected behaviors, especially in school. But instead of saying it’s “bad,” which we never do, we say it’s “unexpected,” because there are  circumstances in which Red Zone behaviors are not only expected but entirely appropriate: if someone falls and breaks their arm or if the house is on fire. Then, we would say that a Green Zone behavior is quite unexpected!

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If we can (and we do) teach children that there is a continuum of acceptable emotions and behaviors, we ought to be able to take a little bit of our own medicine. Red Zone behaviors for kids are what I, as a sci-fi nerd, might in some cases think of as the Dark Side, and I defend it as expected and appropriate in some circumstances.

Last March, as part of the Slice of Life blog challenge, I authored a post on the Sith Code, and asked without irony, “is it unnatural or wrong to choose one’s self, one’s own wellness, one’s own safety? One’s own life?”

As you likely know if you know my work, I am an avowed enemy of oppression and an ardent champion of transgression, especially in the education space. These qualities also meaningfully and consistently inform my orientation to others, to psychology, and to society and its structures. It has long been my habit to seek out that which sets others free, and that immutable desire to liberate has become the cornerstone of my work with children. (Indeed, just this afternoon, well-timed fuel for this particular bonfire of inanity, my second graders watched a video that seemed to me overly reliant upon the idea of obedience, and it’s prompting quite a discussion about values.) Having found a growing group of fellow revolutionaries rising up against the structures that conspire or are explicitly constructed to oppress children, more and more in education appear to accept the maxim that I posited near the start of my first book on education:

“It is inhumane to view other people – not “even children,” but “especially children” – as ignorant, incapable objects that should obediently acquiesce and must be corrected when they don’t. That is a slaver’s mantra. It is a dictatorial, oppressive attitude, and I cannot abide harming children.”

It is axiomatic that children are often oppressed because they cannot by their nature defend themselves against oppression by larger, stronger people, in a system that does not recognize children as people. Children are considered – quite literally – to be objects in many cultures, given no rights and in many cases no personhood until they are what that society considers “adults.” This chattel mentality is present throughout modern American ideas about children, even if some may incorrectly think it anachronistic.

The natural lack of defense by children, of themselves, is quite precisely why I chose not to merely stand as an aegis between them and their oppressors, but to actively teach them personhood (transgressive though it is to the society within which I myself live) and to actively fight for them.

I mean precisely what I say: I fight for children, not just defend them. I will seek out the battlefield and initiate the first volley where I see injustice levied toward them. I will willingly and proactively wage social war, against the patriarchal and objectifying inhumanity that consigns people to non-personhood, where I see it. These enemies, rightly and clearly identified, stand against not only children, but against all who are othered. Knowing my enemies, and fighting them, is one of the most important incarnations of my most strongly-held ethics.

To fight for children is a crusade that has earned me anything from begrudging acceptance to honest praise by those who truly love children… but to fight for one’s self, even if for the same reasons and in the same ways, is a far stickier matter for many.

Not for me.

It is a given for most adults that we have the right to fight for our rights. Most adults, particularly Americans thanks to our historically-glorious if utterly-disregarded-of-late belief in ideals of enlightenment and liberty, believe that defending oneself against oppression, be it at the hands of the state or the hands of an individual or a group of others, is not only acceptable but a noble cornerstone of freedom. Defending oneself against violence – physical, material, sexual, emotional, relational, structural – and defending oneself against violation and injustice is in practically all circumstances a fait accompli wherever such wrongs may occur, in the eyes of those of us who uplift Thomas Paine.  

However, there are those, often in the guise of “new age” zeitgeist, who are hellbent on nonviolence and kindness to the exclusion of all other attributes and courses. There are those who believe all shadow can and should be eliminated in favor of all light. There are posters, bloggers, vloggers, authors, auteurs, demagogues and dilettantes, who seem to revel in “positive thinking” and “the power of hope” and “attitude governing outcomes” as if they’ve never had to actually deal with any adversity beyond running out of vanilla creamer, but think that level of challenge equates to, say, poverty or racism or a broken vertebra.

It doesn’t. Some challenges are actually hard, and some challenges cannot be overcome through “staying positive.”

This piffle is not even exclusively the purview of the “shiny, happy people,” as it were. I saw a video recently in which conservative Arthur Brooks addressed the Kennedy School at Harvard, and suggested that his takeaway from a conversation with the Dalai Lama was that anger and contempt (polarization, as he says) should be met with warmheartedness. “You can show true strength,” Brooks said, “if the next time you hear contempt, you answer with warmheartedness.” He goes on to invoke the aphorism that your “enemies should be your friends.”

No. I refuse.

My heart cannot be whole if I warm it up to make it cozy for my enemies. And yes, I have enemies. You have enemies. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I don’t understand the thinking that there is no shadow and all men are my brothers, all humans my family. No they’re not. I didn’t invite that, and I certainly don’t want it. There are people who I loathe, for their cruelty and for the damage they do to others. There are people I know I cannot have in my life, because for whatever reason, I know they are toxic to my health. Who drinks poison on the basis that “all liquids are essentially water?” Who jumps into every river, because “we’re all originally children who float in the womb?” That’s delusional insanity from an amplified psychosis, and I don’t want that foolishness clouding my authentic perceptions of the world. I have enemies, and so do you.

Those who destroy me, are my enemies.

Those who destroy the people I love, are my enemies.

Those who destroy children, are my enemies.

And I will fight them. I will fight them. And you can fight, too. That is my TL;DR tag. Here, I’ll make one of those bloggy text boxes for emphasis, in case you were scrolling past my prolix penchant:

You have the innate and immutable right to fight your enemies, and those who say you can’t or shouldn’t are lying to you.

You have a sovereign, unimpeachable, sovereign, inborn right to the whole and full range of your humanity. You can have love and hate. You can have brightness and darkness. You can use passivity and will. You can not act and you can act. You can turn the other cheek and you can ball up your fist and smash back with all of your rage. You can be silent and you can speak. You can whisper and you can bellow with your primal power, and you do have primal power. It’s yours.

As Helen Caldicott said, “sometimes it is appropriate to scream at them.”

I am not saying that you may need help or healing before you have access to and feel the power to have those things; but the right to all of it is inborn. I have found that the only people in my life who help me have those things, not just want them in an abstract way, are people who recognize that wounds can compromise one’s access and ability in these regards. Reconnecting to the broken-off parts of our abilities, or cultivating the growth of those things in us that were denied nurturing, can be an arduous process. I have many things that I am working on “for me, in me,” all the time, but I am at least cognitively aware that I have the right to work on myself, and to develop the full range of my capacities. I am not required to polarize myself, for any reason, in any circumstance, no matter the forces that have tried to oppress me into corners and extrude me through their ideological matrices to take the shapes that they’d prefer.

I can be a Jedi and I can be a Sith, and I don’t have to choose either light or dark. I’m not playing that game. I am not a pawn. I am a person.

As Obi-Wan said to Anakin in the very context of requiring polarization, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes.” I will never be absolutely Light, and I will never be absolutely Dark. I am, as we all are, gray, and choosing to acknowledge and accept that isn’t “giving in to hate” or “going down a dark road.” There are dark roads that need light, but there are also terrible lasers that need to be blown up.

As Star Wars fans will note, the line that prompted Obi-Wan’s admonishment was Anakin’s declaration that if Obi-Wan “is not with” Anakin, then he “is against” him. One might take this to mean that the Jedi don’t believe in enemies, and that that’s a preferable way of being, but that isn’t so. Even the great Mace Windu was willing to strike down Emperor Palpatine for what he believed was the right ethic. Enemies do exist, whether people choose to see them or not, and if any group should have learned that the hard way, it was the decimated Jedi Order.

There is evil in the world, things that are polarized, and to those who think they’re okay, they’re polarized light, and to the victims of those things, it’s polarized dark.

The blithely saccharine is absurd in 2018. Euphemisms and niceties and the turning of cheeks and the quiet acceptance of horror is madness in the context of that horror. I had originally detailed here a list of the polarized, destructive things I see around me, but rather than an impossible-to-fully-account list, suffice it to say I don’t think you, dear reader, need to think very hard to conceive of the destructive things going on around us.

Am I to turn my cheek to this? Think positive will myself to be better? Do good in the face of such bad and “believe” that good will always win? Pretend it’ll all be okay?

No. I refuse.

Sometimes you fight. Sometimes you start the fight. Sometimes you smash them.

The idea that there is no shadow in the light is blithering and moronic, and shows not only a fundamentally lacking understanding of the physics behind the inaccurate analogy, it also shows a pollyannaishness that can comes from the privilege of isolation from reality, ignorance borne of some kind of privilege or of seething indoctrination that warped perceptions or cognitive reasoning, or an incredible amount of mood altering substance of one form or another.

For the rest of us who live in reality, things aren’t all light. There is darkness in the world, and in me, and it’s my right to have it, and to use it. Pretending that all is well does no one any good, and I don’t have any desire to “make myself” happy. Happiness is vastly overrated. Civility, as Hitchens said, is vastly overrated, in the context of waging war against oppression and abject violence. This principle seems only counterintuitive to those who’ve done little true fighting, so it seems in my experience. I choose instead of seeking “contentment” to fight for what I need, for what I want, for those I love. Advancement of my cause, is my cause, flying my own banner ever-higher, and while this is not to say that I seek to oppress others – I despise oppression – but it is not oppressive to demand, advocate for, fight for, and (damn it all) break in to the vaults and seize by force what is rightly mine.

My rights are mine. I am myself, and my self is mine. I have a sovereign, innate right to my agency. I have an unimpeachable, inborn right to my identity. My voice is my birthright. My freedom from violence is something I would kill for, and the kind of mindset that cannot comprehend fighting to the end to live is an especially loathsome form of privilege to which I was never party.

Those of us who have been the object and victim of violence, especially as children, ought not be suppressed and mollified by florid sweetness. Our rage is righteous, and we can use it for profound good… and doing good for one’s self is good. I originally caveated this sentiment with the idea that that good for self ought not cause harm to others, but in the case of our enemies – those who seek to gain by oppression and destroy us – harm is a necessity. The material harm of those who seek to amass at our expense and exclusion, for example, is a justifiable harm. These are philosophical points, of course, but isn’t that the cornerstone of all of this?

Enough with philosophies of pacifying our anger at being wronged.

Enough with ideologies of accepting harm and violence.

Enough with suppressing ourselves for the gain of others.

The dojo of my growing and increasingly-free heart has no room in it for hanging mobiles made of sprites and gumdrops. I’m practicing the swordcraft of righteous self-centeredness, and cutting them down is not just okay, it’s good. While I aspire to be an ethical, moral, prosocial, pro-child, humanist self who believes in the unimpeachable individual and would, in the ideal, have all others except my enemies (oppressors, fascists, patriarchs, oligarchs, rapists, abusers, etc.) have those same rights, there is absolutely nothing misprioritized about putting allegiance to self at the center. I gave away far too much of myself to far too many people for far too long, and had far too little power over it all. That hurt. It hurt me as a child, when things were taken from me, when I was the object of violence, the subject of neglect, the sufferer of significant and formative pains. It hurts me still as an adult.

And it is understanding those wounds that empowers me to wage my war for myself against others who other.

“Dammit, Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with a wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” – James T. Kirk in Star Trek V

I do not advocate causing others harm nor do I seek to do so. This piece should be taken as it is intended: a ferocious defense of ferocity, and an unrepentant support of going on the offensive against those who harm you. Your agency need not be exclusively pacifistic or “warmhearted” as Brooks suggests, and be it a transgressive and unexpected “NO!” when you actively deny your consent or the destruction of a relational dynamic that is poisonous to you or a physical response to someone who violates your person, you have a right to your Dark Side. It is an intrinsic and innate part of the human condition, and I have absolutely had it with “be nice, be happy” people who think our anger is wrong.

It’s not. Sometimes it’s appropriate to scream at them, just like Caldicott said.

So Brooks and the Dalai Lama and the New Agers and the turn-the-other cheek cheeks can keep their “it’s all light” and “there is no shadow” and “darkness begets darkness” nonsense to themselves. I’m better able to be me by being an authentic, fiery sagittarian. I am a warrior in defense of children, including my inner child, and I will if necessary start and win wars to protect him.

In Amistad, John Adams (portrayed by Anthony Hopkins), states the following, rebuffing the words of John C. Calhoun advocating that slavery is natural, moral, and inevitable:

“Now, gentlemen, I must say I differ …  offering that the natural state of mankind is instead — and I know this is a controversial idea — is freedom. Is freedom. And the proof is the length to which a man, woman, or child will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains. He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.”

He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try, against all odds. This is, in stark contrast to the slaver’s mantra that depersonalizes others, a warrior’s mantra that steadfastly and strongly refuses to be depersonalized. We have a right to fight for our freedom, for our truest selves, and in doing so, we can use our agency for what ostensibly is “genuine good.” In being ferociously allegiant to myself, I have found that I am more ethical, more honest, more able to love, more able to find joy, more able to laugh, more able to do what I consider to be “good” in the world… but none of that is required of me.

I think I’m a good person in many ways, and I aspire to be the best I can, consistent with my ethics, and it is true that I abhor most violence in most circumstances. I said at the outset that I am an avowed enemy of oppression and an ardent champion of transgression, and that I seek out that which sets others free. Freedom is of utmost important to me, and I want others to have it, too. Societal and especially political structures are very difficult sometimes, and I do not pretend to have all the answers to every question, but I have found this one central tenet to be true, and worthwhile to write about here, in response to the recent spate of idiotic social media “think positive” memes that have floated across my screen lately: That darkness is not necessarily bad, and lightness is not necessarily good.

Polarization is unhealthy, in my experience, and I claim my right to the whole, full, rich continuum of feelings, thoughts, and powers that help me be who I really am, and to do what I really want to do.

And I’ll fight with that full range. I’ll fight, and I’ll win.

As Usual, Cell Phone Bans Miss the Point

Yesterday’s NPR report from Tovia Smith highlighting cell phone confiscation in schools yet again highlights the layperson’s and traditionalist’s misunderstanding of the underlying etiology behind so-called systemic distraction in schools.

Students who are distracted, bored, and constantly reaching for their phones are being failed by poor pedagogy, and the suggestion that merely banning the device is a valid solution to this miseducation is a constant frustration for we professional, progressive pedagogues.

It is entirely inappropriate to blame students for the failures of the school, or of the teaching. As I write about extensively in Insurrection, it is our responsibility – professional, ethical, and indeed moral responsibility – to design teaching to achieve learning and needs-meeting for each individual student. The report’s inference that “all eyes on the board” is a desirable state for learning underscores the traditionalist, banking-style pedagogy being employed by the schools highlighted. Lecture, teacher-centric practices, and the nearly-fascistic demanding of attention from children who have not been authentically, meaningfully engaged through well-designed, appropriate learning opportunities cannot be resolved through bagging cell phones.

I’m constantly amazed how rapidly people will scream and yell about electronic device addiction, and yet have no trouble whatsoever perpetuating miseducative and regressive pedagogical practices. It is a prison-like affect, and that belies the social roots of the school and the historic methodology employed by such schools.

If a smartphone is being used in a classroom, if the instruction is well-designed, that use will be either benign or educational in nature. I am utterly unconvinced that any of the stories highlighted in the piece, or that I’ve heard or seen from schools that insist upon student restriction instead of teaching improvement, reveal authentic, student-centered, well-designed, and relevant pedagogy. “Sit there, be quiet, pay attention, and look up here” is the hallmark of the Dickensian schoolmaster, and has no place in today’s schools.

The Declaration of Educational Independence

I am privileged to be a founding member of the Council on the Future of Education, and to be – as Dr. Rob Furman said – the “Thomas Jefferson” of its Declaration of Educational Independence.

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Reproduced here, as originally posted on EduFuture.us, is that document:


 

In Collaboration, November 16, 2017,

A DECLARATION

by the Representatives of the Council on the Future of Education

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the educational system which has connected them with the past and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of educators requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the need for change.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all children are created equal, that they are deserving by their innate nature certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, happiness, authenticity, and an individualized, future-inspired education.

— That to secure these rights, learning environments are instituted among educators, deriving their pedagogy from the consent of the students ,

— That whenever any form of education becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the students and their teachers to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new digital-age educational system, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety, happiness, authenticity, and skill mastery for the future of their choosing. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that schools long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that students and teachers are more disposed to suffer, while teaching is sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such teaching, and to provide new structures for their future learning.

— Such has been the patient sufferance of these 21st century students; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of education. The history of the present educational institution is a history of repeated errors and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over children. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Current policymakers have refused to accept the need for change in our educational system or to create the necessary new system that fits needs most wholesome and necessary for the good of our students.

Corporate masters and special interests have forbidden great teacher leaders from changing practices of immediate and pressing importance, such as the elimination of high stakes testing.

Preservers of the status quo system and state have refused to pass or permit appropriate policies for the accommodation of our students’ unique needs.

Politicians, without educational credentials or experience, have called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the true and proper aim of American public education, for the sole purpose of fatiguing children and teachers into compliance with their measures.

These owners of the system have dissolved representative teacher voices repeatedly, for opposing with teacherly firmness those owners’ invasions on the rights of children.

These owners have refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to allow educators to be uplifted, whereby good pedagogy, incapable of annihilation, has returned to the true teachers at large for their exercise; the school remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of ideological, corporate, and institutional invasion from without, and convulsions within.

These owners have endeavoured to prevent the modernization and futurization of these schools; for that purpose obstructing emergent research and best practices; refusing to give voice and power to those who serve children first in all things, and instead appropriating schools to serve as incubators of their antiquated idea of schooling.

These owners have obstructed the teaching of social justice by refusing to acknowledge truths and facts in favor of establishing and advancing partisan political bases.

These owners have made teachers dependent on the command of the uninformed elected alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

These owners have erected a multitude of new tests, ineffective evaluations, and irrelevancies, and sent hither swarms of corporatocrats and lobbyists to harass our schools and eat out their substance.

These owners have kept among us, in times of great public crisis, weapons of physical, emotional, and social violence without the consent of our profession.

These owners have affected to render the Standardized Testing Commercial Complex independent of and superior to the teacher and the child.

These owners have combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to teaching and learning, and unacknowledged by our pedagogy; giving their assent to their agents’ acts of pretended instruction:

For denying children their rights, their voice, and their sovereign independent humanity:

For abusing them, through mock school and through obedience-demanding punishment for any natural acts of curiosity, thoughtfulness, humanity, or childhood which they should engage in the course of learning:

For cutting off our critical thinking and our curiosity with all parts of the school:

For imposing high-stakes, commercial testing on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of appropriate staffing and funding:

For insisting upon compliance with traditional and institutional mores despite lacking evidence of their value:

For abolishing free play and childhood joy from seemingly every aspect of the modern school, establishing instead an arbitrary system of corporatized testing and imposed standards so as to render the school an instrument for introducing privacy influence into the lives of children:

For taking away our public funding, abolishing our most valuable principles of education, and disabling fundamentally the ability of teachers to genuinely teach:

For suspending our research-based and academic understandings of how to teach and how children learn, and declaring themselves invested with power to decide for us in all cases whatsoever.

The political, corporate, and non-educator owners of the system have abdicated sense here, by declaring us failures and waging social war against us.

These owners plundered our budgets, ravaged our schools, burnt out our veterans, and destroyed the free childhoods of our people.

These owners are at this time transporting large armies of corporate mercenaries to complete the work of privatizing, dismantling, and crushing our schools, already begun with circumstances of ignorance and stupidity scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous pedagogy, and totally unworthy of the children of a civilized nation.

These owners have constrained our fellow citizens taken captive by this uninformed and unscientific ideology to bear social will against their schools, to become the ruiners of their children’s and their friends children’s education.

These owners have excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and have endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our communities, the merciless privatizers whose known rule of for-profit “education,” is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

In every stage of these old principles educators have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only with repeated ignorance. A politician, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a non-educator, is unfit to be the decision-maker of a free 21st century educational system.

Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our neighbors and fellow citizens. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our own education and our calling to the profession of teaching. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of common cause. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in policy, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the Council on the Future of Education, in general congress assembled, appealing to reason, research, and ethics, do, in the name and defense of children everywhere, solemnly publish and declare, That all students are, and of right ought to be free and independent human beings, that they are absolved from all allegiance to bad teaching, and that all ontological and pedagogical connection between them and antiquated schools, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent people, they have full power to learn authentically, think critically, express individual thought and autonomous agency freely, and to do all other acts and things which independent people may of right do.

— And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of loving adults, we mutually pledge to our children and our children’s future, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

The Seditionists: Binge Watch Edition #2

My buddy Rob Furman and I are coming to the end of Season 2 of The Seditionists, our video blog series tackling emergent and revolutionary issues in public education. For the sake of all of our various audiences, here’s a “catch you up” series of videos to get you current with The Seditionists!

Check out the previous Binge Watch Edition for more!

S2E6: Pokemon Go! in Schools

 

S2E7: 5 Tips for Teachers Going Back to School

S2E8: The Great Homework Debate

S2E9: Space and Time in Education

S2E10: How To Get Rid of Bullies

S2E11: Meditation in Schools

S2E12: Cyberbullying

S2E13: What Trump vs. Clinton Has Taught Us

S2E14: Greed Keeps Kids from Quality Education

S2E15: Technology as a Crutch

S2E16: Will Education Survive DeVos?

S2E17: Saving Time in Schools

S2E18: Can We Put a Dollar Amount on Education?

S2E19: 3 Reasons why AR/VI Can’t Replace Teachers

In Pursuit of Google Innovation

I am fortunate enough to have been nominated several times to become in a Google Innovator, and so submitted my application! I blogged recently about getting my Google creds up to current snuff, and folks responded:

From M.: “Keith is passionate and innovative in all he attempts. He is brave and takes risks. He does anything it takes to make school a safe and wonderful place for all students.”

From L.: “Keith is always on top of the latest and most useful ways to get the most out of the G Suite. He is open and giving of everything he learns to bring the rest of us along. While being knowledgeable about all things G Suite he is also on top of all curriculum areas and always looking for innovative ways to leverage the tools to enhance learning outcomes. He is an innovator he just needs the badge.”

From C.: “He’s remarkably well-read and bases his theory in actual practice with actual children, not just the data points pushed by administrators.”

Here’s a link to my Slide Deck for my Google Innovator project: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1b-KuT3d0Kydn3NQFK9INwolSmDIu__J9OA7wBiMFOvY/edit?usp=sharing

And here’s my quick video on what I propose in it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHeT7_InW94

I should hear back from Google in June! Either way, I’m committed to doing this work! I’ve gotten some great encouragement – my colleague Dwayne McClary called it a “game changer” (a great pun as well as a great compliment!) – and I’m excited to leverage Standards-Based practices into something even more powerful for kids than I think it’s historically been!

Slice of Life #16: Google Re-Certification

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The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I was privileged and honored to be the first Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer in the Commonwealth of Virginia back when the GCT program first started. I’m re-certifying in the new framework this year, and I’ve completed several of the big hoops.

I completed the Certification Test and the Performance Scenarios, and got my Google Certified Educator Level 1…

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…then I completed the Certification Test and the Performance Scenarios, and got my Google Certified Educator Level 2…

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…and today I will complete the Google Trainer Skills Assessment examination, have completed the mandatory application and the videotaped professional development scenario, so barring some unforeseen glitch, I should be (re-)certifying as a Google Certified Trainer endorsement here shortly…

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…and so the only thing left is the big enchilada. Google Certified Innovator. It requires nomination for a future cohort, and the current one is in London – which I obviously can’t afford to go to! – so perhaps, dear reader, if you think what you know of me qualifies… perhaps you’ll nominate me to attend a future Google Certified Innovator cohort?

Because the big badge is the red badge, and I believe my work with students through Google has been pretty bang-up, if I do say so, and it would be a great privilege to be able to bring those skills back to the spectacular kids and teachers of Discovery.

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Why do I do this?

As I said in my GCT recertification application, one of my coremost beliefs as a teacher, as a pedagogue, as a leader, as an author, as a revolutionary… is setting children free.

I aspire to liberate children from the bondage of oppression, institutionalism, traditionalism, racism, bigotry, patriarchy, and scholiocentrism. As I wrote in Insurrection: A Teacher Revolution in Defense of Children, children are “for” one thing, and that is to be loved. They are not to be “done to,” and scholiocentric education of all stripes, steeped in banking pedagogy and wrong-headed in its chattel-minded objectification of children – seeking to turn them into engines of economic growth instead of promoting their authentic individuality – has done terrible wrongs to children for far, far too long.

I believe in the power of educational technology to liberate children because I employed it personally as a teacher and saw shackles broken. Then I became a professional developer and coach, and taught others to break those bonds. And now, as an administrator, I pursue the edge of liberation, pursuing ever-new ways to tear down the insidious forces of adult-mindedness, and seeking every chance I get to keep schools grounded in working for children, to help children.

Authentically loving children isn’t hard for those in my tribe. We never lose sight of that. I employed Google Apps for Education (and gods help me this better not sound like a plug) because I needed freely-available collaborative tools. GAFE was there for me when I needed something like it. I’ve remained current in my skill set because Google’s K-12 platform sets my kids free, sets my teachers free. We do great work, and we do it both within GAFE and sometimes around other systems, because we have genuine facility in a freely-collaborative environment.

I don’t use tools because they’re there. I use the best tools I can, to make the most impact, to help the most kids. When a better game is in town, I’ll be doing that, and I’ve certified in a lot of things over the years, but Google stays current. So long as it does, and it helps my kids do what they choose to do and costs me nothing, I’m going to keep pursuing innovation in that milieu.

I aspire never to forget my true mission, and employ whatever I can in making that happen.

Slice of Life #15: Qotsisajak

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The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


The Jedi Code is a five-part mantra that reinforces the Jedi adherence to the Light Side of The Force:

  • There is no emotion, there is peace.
  • There is no ignorance, there is knowledge.
  • There is no passion, there is serenity.
  • There is no chaos, there is harmony.
  • There is no death, there is the Force.

The characters made famous in Star Wars including Qui-Gon Jinn, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and (for the most part) Luke Skywalker would have to reasonably be considered adherents of the Jedi Code. The Jedi Order holds that peace, wisdom, calm control, and orderly structure (vis-a-vis discipline) lead to great power and balance for the individual as well as for the universe. This is not to say that the Jedi are inactive; they will actively pursue what they perceive as altruism and aid to others in an effort to manifest the Light Side of the Force and better themselves and others. Intrinsically egalitarian, the Jedi hold altruism and the defense of others in high esteem. Consequently, there is a great deal that is attractive in the Jedi Order to those who share values around being good to others.

But it is “goodness” that gets complicated, because “goodness” often holds that “badness” is its opposite. In the Star Wars galaxy, the counterpart to the Jedi Order is the Sith Order.

Whereas the Jedi Order may be considered Light Side wielders of The Force, the Sith Order may be considered Dark Side wielders of The Force. But is the Dark Side “bad?”

The Sith Code is also (effectively) five-part, with the last two lines being unified:

  • Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
  • Through passion, I gain strength.
  • Through strength, I gain power.
  • Through power, I gain victory.
  • Through victory, my chains are broken.
  • The Force shall free me.

“Peace is a lie” must be taken in the universal and universe-sized context in which it is intended, to be understood. “Peace” is defined as either “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility” or, “freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.” The Sith acknowledge that the forces of the universe cannot be free from disturbance and quiet, as the entire universe tends to entropy and involves destruction and conversion of matter and energy, without ceasing. If such destruction-and-creation cycles were to cease, the universe would cease, and certainly a living thing would cease. While it is uncomfortable for some to say, the truth is that these processes are, innately, violent: when we eat food, we macerate it physically, dissolve it in acid, and destroy it, taking power from it to drive the engine of our body and fuel the furnace of our enterprise. Taking this one item, the Sith consider the Jedi’s code to be a “half-truth,” failing to acknowledge that while one looks at a star, gleaming bright and “pure,” one is observing a chaotic, cataclysmic destructive force at work.

The flow of passion, to strength, to power, to victory, to liberty is a linear progression that acknowledges the center of the Sith Code, and the center of the Sith practitioner’s way of being: The individual’s will is the center and start of everything. Whereas the Jedi start from a position of universal equilibrium and stillness – “peace,” if you will, and exclusively universal peace at that; there is no personification of the individual in the Jedi Code – the Sith Code starts from a position of individual perception and will.

It is not a universalized will, but a specific one: Through passion I myself gain strength. This one particular line is, I believe, the most essential difference between the two systems of thinking and being. Whereas the Jedi Code is universalized and serenity-seeking, the Sith Code is personalized and passion-seeking. Just as the Vulcans in Star Trek felt that emotions needed to be identified, controlled, and actively suppressed, Jedi tend to seek calmness and serenity, to the point of excluding if not punishing if not persecuting emotion. As Master Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

But does this progress hold true?

The Jedi suggest that emotions like Fear and Anger must be eschewed, to be identified and actively suppressed, lest one proceed down the “wrong” path, to become more attuned to passion and will, than to the universal altruistic serenity the Order seeks.

The Sith suggest that emotions like Fear and Anger must be harnessed, to be identified and actively employed, precisely so one can become attuned to passion and, therefore, to one’s individual will. Now, it is fair to say that taken to its logical extreme, the pure manifestation of one’s own passion and will to the exclusion of all others, and the desire to harness the fullest possible power to gain the fullest possible victory, could indeed lead to absolute liberty for the individual and absolute oppression or enslavement or annihilation for others, perhaps all others. Megalomania lies down that path somewhere, no question, and I believe most Jedi would use that sort of example – the falling of the gifted and powerful but arrogant and utterly self-concerned (though terribly lied to) Anakin Skywalker into the shadow-form of Darth Vader – to caution against so much as a toe in the water when it comes to the Dark Side.

The Sith, conversely, would likely suggest that this kind of puritanical absurdity is a lie – hence the first line of the Sith Code – because it is impossible to eschew emotion, to fail to feel passion, to be utterly without concern for self and exclusively employ will as a mechanism to help others, without sacrificing one’s self. Granted, the idealistic Jedi were “self-less” in this way, and would probably say that that is entirely appropriate.

Look at the sacrifice of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the end of Episode IV, as an example: He knows that for Darth Vader (who was his old apprentice, Anakin Skywalker) to be stopped in his unlimited power, by his son, Luke Skywalker, that a sacrifice must be made: By ending his life in “suicide by lightsaber” at Vader’s hands, Obi-Wan plants a seed in the middle of the unbridled rage at the core of Vader and (more importantly) thrusts a live wire right in to the middle of Luke’s being: It will either push the entire conflict in the “right” direction, or something else will have to. (I believe Obi-Wan understands these two individuals profoundly, and knows that his plan will work – hence the little glimmer of a smile Obi-Wan offers before raising his lightsaber out of combat posture and Vader strikes him down.) That act was self-less: it ended the self of Obi-Wan, for what he perceived as a greater good. And certainly in this particular case, one could make the argument that it saved millions of lives, paving the way for the overthrow of Emperor Palpatine.

But…

Is there an argument to be made that without exceptional circumstance of this kind, there might be “room” in a Force-Sensitive or Force-Wielding practitioner for a “gray” area? Certainly there have been those that have tried to walk the line, such as the Revanite Order, which sought to employ equal parts Dark Side and Light Side.

In any case, regardless of one’s opinions and attitudes, I believe that the Sith Code is largely misunderstood, and that there is a place for the concept of self and the employment of the individual will in any person’s individual context that does not axiomatically require selfishness in the way that term is often used.

Is it “evil” or “bad” to have a concept of one’s self?

Is it “dark” or “cruel” to employ one’s will to help advance one’s own cause?

Is it “unnatural” or “wrong” to choose one’s self, one’s own wellness, one’s own safety? One’s own life?

These are the great questions that lie at the heart of the conflict between the Dark Side and the Light Side. One more great question to ponder, before I end. Consider, if you will, this excerpt from the speech given by Sir Anthony Hopkins playing John Quincy Adams in the film Amistad, in defense of a slave seeking his freedom:

Now, gentlemen, I must say I differ with the keen minds of the South, and with our president, who apparently shares their views, offering that the natural state of mankind is instead — and I know this is a controversial idea — is freedom. Is freedom. And the proof is the length to which a man, woman, or child will go to regain it, once taken. He will break loose his chains, He will decimate his enemies. He will try and try and try against all odds, against all prejudices, to get home.

Consider it in context, in this scene:

 

If, as the here-fictional Adams presupposes, that the natural state of man is to be free, then being a practitioner of backward design, who tries to ascertain what the goal is and then work backward to ascertain how to achieve that goal, is there not a powerful motivation, something natural and just and right and proper and appropriate for each and every individual, to begin with the premise that individual freedom ought to be the aim of any system?

If so… what, then, do we do with this strange, ancient, mythical, complex idea of The Sith Code?

Each of us are bound by chains that are unique to us. Is it anything but right to seek to break those chains, employing the forces of the natural universe and the natural state of being that makes us think and feel – employing passion, employing our will – so that we may be free?

I was recently asked about the Sith Code – which is Qotsisajak in the ancient Sith tongue, hence the blog title – and so… it was in my head, come blog time today.

Slice of Life #14: Diamond’s

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The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


If you’re ever in Ithaca, New York and you want Indian food, you have to go to New Delhi Diamond’s. I’m craving it right now. A mother-daughter team ran the place, the daughter being the ever-gracious Kamaldeep, and I’m telling you, it’s still some of the best stuff I’ve ever had on the Indian cuisine front.

Don’t get me wrong, when I lived in Bailey’s Crossroads in south Arlington near the Fairfax border, Raaga was the tops, and now that I live in Falls Church, Haandi is the place for me.

But man, my first, best Indian love was Diamond’s. What food! I’m having a bit of a memory of being there, during college, with my friends Sue and Mike and Jen and Hilary, and man do I miss those noms.

It’s cold and gray and rainy here in north Arlington today, as I look out the window – can I tell you how much I adore having my first ever office window in sixteen years in public education?! – and it’s making me chilly and, therefore, crave some spicy stuff!

By the way, all this glass is gorgeous, but can we talk about the things they don’t tell you in administrator school? Tornado drills, man. Really makes one rethink the window!

In any case, get thee to an Indian restaurant and get some vindaloo, so I may enjoy it vicariously through you! For at present, I have coffee and a student data analysis spreadsheet to devour. It is the lack of caffeine and the long day ahead that has me sharing this most random of thoughts for today’s slice!

Slice of Life #13: Who Watches the Watchers?

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The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I was humbled to discover that I was nominated for the National School Board Association’s 20 to Watch list, which identifies “education technology leaders who have the potential to impact the field for the next 20 years.”

My goal has always ever been to help as many kids as I can, and it’s nice to hear sometimes that I’m not not doing that.

I was a music teacher for the first part of my career in public education, a middle-and-high school band director (taught 5 through 12 all in one job!) in a small, rural, poor school division in Western New York. After moving to Virginia, I was an elementary school music teacher and middle school band director for years, and had a self-contained special education music class for children with profound cognitive deficits. I adored the class, and was encouraged to teach my methods for adaptive music education techniques to my colleagues at a county-wide professional development fair. Jan Streich, then the ed tech director for Stafford County, saw my work and said I had a knack for teaching teachers how to teach. She facilitated me joining an M.Ed. cohort to study educational technology, because it would help me help more teachers help more kids.

I confess: I’ve wondered, at times, if I am actually doing that.

I desire deeply to, and believe in my heart that I do, love children authentically. I believe that love is must be the cornerstone of everything we do in the craft of teaching, from pedagogy to design to policy to tone of voice to furniture selection. I need, and demand, that all teachers develop a robust educational philosophy rooted in the love of, and consequently the authentic perception of, children. I’ve no patience for bootstrapping or coercive mentalities in our vocation; a failure to perceive children truly entails an inability to perceive the individual child truly, and that is a tragedy I cannot abide. But in my efforts to make things better for children in one place, so I can model good teaching and enjoin others to our loving cause of empowering and setting free the child mind, I wonder if my work truly matters. If one more revolutionary voice is going to make a difference in the face of such titanic obstacles such as the intransigence of society, the historic misperception of children as chattel, and the ever-present specter of unloving ideology.

Most of the time, I feel like I’m doing good work, and occasionally I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I’m daunted to tears or frightened to paralysis about how deeply wrong things are, about how far we have to go, about how I’m neither smart enough nor strong enough to truly make a difference.

I question everything. I question you, and me, and everything we do. For all my passion and strident tone about things that are right and things that are wrong, about allies and enemies of children… I live in the gray, on a constant set of continuua, and I question everything. It’s my nature. I have a hand-calligraphy-drawn Japanese print in my apartment that reads, “Question Everything,” a gift from many years ago, so apparent is it to those around me that I take a flamethrower to complacency and am never truly sure that anything is so. It’s why I’m an empiricist, and seek facts, and then question truth to see if it’s really true. I don’t know how else to get to the bottom of these terribly complex system and problems. In doing such questioning, I question myself. I question my cause. I question my work. I question my motives, my methods, and my mettle.

I’ve long been accused of being “arrogant.” My classmates called me that. My parents told me that. My brothers told me that. My colleagues told me that. My teachers told me that. And I understand why, I do… the way I speak, the approach I take, that can draw hard lines in the sand when I feel injustice is at work, when I feel coercion or cruelty is in play, or – to be honest – when I feel hurt or sad or angry, and as a Sagittarian, I am often angry, usually on behalf of someone else…

I hope I’m not arrogant. I hope I’m not deluding myself. Spoken aloud in Red’s Shawshank-concluding hushed tone, “I hope…”

I am often insecure, as I don’t take much for granted, and so I don’t take it as a big “pat on the back, attaboy” moment when I realize that a colleague has taken the time to say, to one of the most prestigious educational organizations in the country, “KDR does good work for kids.”

If that is all anyone ever remembers about me, I’ll have done what I set out to do.

My goal has always ever been to help as many kids as I can, and it’s nice to hear sometimes that I’m not not doing that.

Slice of Life #12: Lizard Girl

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The Slice of Life Blog Challenge is sponsored by TwoWritingTeachers.org.


I used to be a female lizard street fighter. I was awesome.

My name was Sesketh and I was an Iksar Bruiser. Here’s a picture of Sesky:

sesketh0

Sesketh was a martial artist and she lived in the City of Freeport, on the continent of D’Lere, named after its authoritarian dictator Lucan D’Lere, on the planet Norrath. She lived originally in a slum district called “The Scale Yard,” though she later had other quarters in the city and around the world as she grew stronger and more notable. Freeport was not where she was born, however. You see, Norrath suffered two major cataclysms that wiped out much of the world’s populations, of all races and on all continents. Starting around the Norrathian year 3571 and extending until about 3661 – roughly ninety years – a major and rapid geotectonic disturbance saw a massive, relatively rapid rearrangement of the tectonic plates of the crust of the planet, moving oceans, mountains, and land masses so rapidly, some eyewitnesses described “massive chasms and canyons opening” in very short periods – sometimes minutes – and catastrophic destruction of major cities and population centers. The earthquakes were so violent that one “could barely stand up.” Millions perished and many landforms were lost or utterly destroyed. This global-scale decimation was called “The Rending.”

Only fifty years later or so, a second, almost inconceivable disaster befell the planet: one of the two moons of Norrath – Luclin – broke apart. Huge portions of the moon moved into Norrath’s gravitational field, and plummeted intact to the surface. The pieces that landed caused many continents to be absolutely destroyed and still others to be washed over by the ensuing tsunamis. This event was called “The Shattering.” One can still see the broken moon in the sky on Norrath, from the surviving portions of land that are habitable. Today, the parts of Norrath you can still live on are collectively known as “The Shattered Lands.”

luclin

Sesketh hatched in 3708, about three years before the Shattering. Iksar grow up very quickly, and she was full-sized and at sea when the Shattering occurred. She survived the wreck of her ship, and landed on the shores of the City of Freeport in 3728 after surviving about seventeen years in the wild.

To you, that was April of 2005.

Sesketh, whose relatively-complete biography is available here, was a character in the Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) called EverQuest 2, and it is my all-time favorite game. I played EverQuest 2, affectionately called “EQ2” by players, from Spring of 2005 until the Winter of 2012. I worked my way up from “noob” to become the Chief Administrator of my guild, “The Fallen Legion,” and I met so many wonderful people and had some of the most glorious adventures.

I created a female “bad guy” lizard as my character in an effort to explore the edges of my character, to investigate alternative ontology. By inhabiting other beings, we explore other ways of being, and I was fascinated by the experiences and lessons I gained from being Sesketh.

I have a very special place in my heart for her – as is evidenced by the amount of writing I left behind on the internet in her voice! – and while I can still log in to EQ2, I just don’t have much time for it anymore. But during dark and tumultuous times in my life, it was powerful to assume the persona of a well-liked, darker-hearted fighter from an empire fallen from glory on a planet laid to waste, and be able to overcome anything that Norrath threw at me.

People who don’t game are sometimes confused by why some people spend so much time in a fantasy world. To me, those people need more fantasy in their lives, if they judge doing so harshly, because it was a healthy, exciting, inexpensive way for me to feel free and to imagine, to explore and to adventure, to thrive and to relax. Fantasy is good for the soul, and Sesketh was good for Norrath.

Here’s one for you, Seskerdoodle. You were one bad-tailed chiksar.

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The professional website of Keith David Reeves