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.

Adult-on-Child Violence

I cannot claim to have originally said it, but I’m happy to repeat it, because it’s spot on: By definition, violence violates a person.

Both “violence” and “violate” have roots in the Middle English violentus (with the core word “viol“), by way of vis, meaning “force.” The two words are rooted in the same meaning, and bear a strong connotative resemblance.

Children are people. They are neither a homogenous class or unified group, nor are they things or property. Children are thinking, feeling, individual human beings. They are people. Violence against a child is – literally, practically, and figuratively – the violation of a person.

This is more than a semantic exercise.

A short time ago, I was pointedly asked to differentiate between occasional spanking and beating children. I was roundly rebuffed for categorizing spanking as “adult-on-child violence.” As a thinking person, there are obvious differences, even to me, between occasional spanking and regular HCP or “harsh corporal punishment” as it is known in child developmental circles. Some of those differences are illustrated simply in factual language: frequency, inferred strength of impact, inferred frequency of incident, and so forth.

These are (not so) nuanced qualitative differences describing two different acts, but both situations nonetheless describe acts of violence. Striking is by definition violent: it is the application of physical force, or “vis.” Hitting another person is violent, and is violence. The question is not whether or not spanking is adult-on-child violence. It is, by definition, one person being violent to another. Advocates of HCP seem to want me to give them credit for their intent. They seem to want credit or validation or affirmation in being violent. They would say selectively and infrequently violent, but I see no reason to make such a distinction in this context. Research shows us that care-taking adults who are violent to children damage those children. Be it neglect or corporal punishment, mistreating children hurts children.

Kids that get hit are getting hurt.

Hitting Never Teaches

Parents who embrace corporal punishment, of any kind, intend to use selective violence as a teaching tool. They seem to believe that it “toughens kids up” or “straightens them out” or “sets them right.” The truth of the matter is that violence is never a viable teaching method. It is never an effective teaching tool.

Ever.

It may induce a Pavlovian aversion dynamic, and instill even keen awareness of an antecedent-consequent action-outcome logical truism, but that’s not teaching. That’s training.

You may not differentiate, but I do not believe in “training” children. I am a teacher in part because I believe all people deserve to understand. Hitting is the action equivalent of the ubiquitous verbal “because I said so.” That’s not instructive; it’s dominating. “You must comply,” as the Borg might say, is not a valid form of engendering trust and bringing about understanding. Instead, it establishes a dominating power dynamic, and I find that undesirable in the context of love and compassion.

Yes, a parent has “authority,” but explaining why that is in a way that children truly understand will have far more valuable and extensive validity than any momentary pop-off, verbally or physically.

“Hitting to teach” does not accomplish the goal at hand, regardless of intent. The outcome of violence is neurobiological trauma to the child. This action fails to address the real issue at hand, whatever issue that may be, and instead replaces meaningful relevant consequences imparted by a caretaker with the “action shorthand” of causing hurt to another person as a dissuading influence. Corporal punishment is by definition an extrinsic motivator, and serves only to deter one specific behavior again the consequence of violence in return, but it does not serve as a method for addressing the underlying cause of whatever the erroneous behavior may have been. Indeed, it makes an assumption that the behavior was erroneous to begin with, without ascertaining the reasons behind and the causes of the behavior to begin with, or why a child said or perceived a thing, and instead utilizes what to me is obviously action shorthand.

Before one even need study the ample evidence that striking children harms them psychologically and neurobiologically, one need only examine the pedagogical inefficacy of violence as a relevant consequent to child antecedent action to recognize hitting children as ineffective and counterproductive.

To view children as empty-headed little know-nothings with no thoughts of their own, no beliefs of their own, no experiences, no unique qualities, no personal observations, no individual characteristics, to fail to see them as individuals is bad enough, but to see them as objects is entirely inhumane. A child who has misbehaved – first of all, misbehavior requires a significant analysis of the rules: What is the child doing and why? Frequently I find people who are supportive of spanking or HCP adult-on-child violence will speak at length about hypothetical conditions in which they may nee dot coerce the child’s behavior to a specific conduct: “the child is crying in public, and its embarrassing, so sometimes you’ve gotta smack the kid to straighten him up. The child took something without permission, and he’s gotta learn.”

That’s not a teaching tool.

You haven’t shown me, in this hypothetical, any effort to understand the origins of the behavior. You need to understand that child that action that situation, and not paint with some over broad brush, but significantly and seriously ask: “why is this happening?” What’s going on. Only then, only by truly understanding that child in that situation, can you create some kind of intervention if appropriate. Kid took something without asking: Why? What if it was born out of a deep seated injustice that some other child had less? Is that something we should punish? Does the child developmentally understand the situation? Is the rule you have or the social convention that you’re objecting to not being followed, is that appropriate developmentally? Was the child put into a circumstance that set him/her up for failure that s/he didn’t choose and may falsify type (Jung) or be contrary to the child’s natural modality? (Benziger.) These are questions of child development, and to suggest that as part of child rearing, violence is a useful and thoughtful tool, is patently absurd. It’s not going to teach the child anything. Providing an extrinsic motivator of relevance maybe developmentally appropriate, but the aversion to violence is not an effective teaching tool. You are instilling fear, terror of violence, in a child. Have you not seen what goes on in Gaza? Parents who are advocates of spanking see absolutely no similarity, but psychologically violence light is still violence. Even violent words can be extraordinarily damaging to a child. I’m not suggesting that we wrap kids in bubble wrap, because certainly children nee to learn relevant lesson sir they are to develop their own understanding and identity, which is something every individual ought to have, and certainly there’s difference between the thoughtful compassionate restraint of a child from self-harm and abject violence.

Parents who are tired or exhausted or frustrated may not take the necessary time, not invest the necessary energy, to fully ascertain and understand the conduct and the child, and instead may simply want the behavior to stop, no matter what no matter why, and resort to violence. If a child does something undesirable, striking the child as a consequence may serve as a momentary deterrent, but it does not address the underlying cause nor does it act in a loving or compassionate manner in understanding the situation, communicating the situation, helping the child to understand the situation in a relevant and meaningful way, and assist the child in building personal meaning so that s/he will can better decisions in the future. Adult on child violence does not seek to teach the child. It says, intentionally or not, simply, “I’m bigger and stronger than you, so you better listen to me, or I will hurt you.” For violence to aid a child’s learning, the method must be meaningful and relevant, and that means violence must become relevant to the child. Children are not developmentally equipped to handle violence. Indeed, humans are not intended to experience violence. We’re not built for it. Exposure to violence leads to hyper vigilance, post-traumatic stress responses of a variety of fashions, and ultimately may lead to antisocial or pathologic behavior, given the significant neurobiological impact that violence has on the brain. Children, while neuroplastic, are especially susceptible to neurobiological damage, and violence will force the child brain to “develop around” perceptions and understandings of violence.

Do I feel empathy for tired parents, beleaguered by life circumstance or a grueling day, who then come home to face energetic children who, by developmental necessity, are pushing buttons, challenging boundaries, and learning new ways of doing that may be problematic or frustrating? I absolutely do. Folks, I’ve taught kindergarten, I’ve taught self-contained special education classes, I’ve taught middle school… I’ve taught sixth grade percussion, and if you wanna see kids push buttons, come hang out with eleven and twelve year old drummers. I get it: Kids can be tiring. Kids can be challenging. Kids can really frustrate you.

You’re an adult. Grow up. There is never a valid reason to strike a child because you’re annoyed.

In instances in which parents are more thoughtful, and selectively apply hitting their kids after all other instructive avenues have been exhausted are almost always skipping the next steps: ask for help, do research, look for other strategies, and so so often, are compromising on other consequences.

Once, a mother told me, “it was easier to spank her than to go through the trouble of taking away her iPhone.” That is the laziest parental argument I have ever heard. If you’re not willing to parent, do not complain about the challenges of parenting.

Hitting a child is “shorthand.” It skips the compassionate care and nurturing instruction the developing child needs and requires in favor of simple situational modification at the hands of superior force. It is not only discompassionate, but ultimately counterproductive, and has no place in any child’s life, let alone in the context of a caretaker relationship.

Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes kids are pains in the ass. Guess what? They’re hardwired to be that way. Learn about your kid’s head, don’t strike it.

They’re kids.

Real Harm

The use of violence is not an effective adult skill for enhancing child understanding or for addressing perceptions of the child mind. I don’t doubt that many parents are well intentioned in their use of corporal punishment, but it strikes me as extraordinarily arrogant for a person who has not studied child development, who has not invested time and energy to study the child mind, and who are not experts in learning, to say “I know better” for logically-fallacious reasons, and that they are uncompelled and unswayed by the evidence presented to the contrary. Recently, during a particularly unexpected and volatile interaction, I was accused of utilizing “junk science,” because the studies in question had not been replicated on the billion-person scale. In short, the counterargument presented justifying the use of selective violence with children was that billions of people evident all around “turned out just fine” hitting each other.

The truth is that they did not “turn out just fine.” Instead, they had to develop around instances of violence. This is not to say this is not possible. Shonkoff & Phillips showed in 2000 that proper brain development is promoted through occasional, infrequent experiences of moderate stress. However, there is no compelling research to support the use of violence as a form of this stress. I do not advocate a “parentless parenting” technique in which one does not establish boundaries and consequences within reason to establish safety for the child and encourage alignment with general expectations – learning not to hit other people, for example! – but find no compelling reason in the literature to use violence as a teaching method. To the contrary, I find compelling, overwhelming evidence that suggests doing so is deleterious to development. (If you read the collected works of Alice Miller, and still attempt to make a rational argument that treating children so is good for them, I’ll gladly take on that debate.)

Strikes to the head are the most problematic for developing child brains, by far, and the recent emphasis on traumatic brain injury has only served to reinforce this. Miller’s work suggested that children of single digit ages are especially susceptible to damage when struck. Several major studies have recently shown that abusive head trauma (AHT) causes massive damage to children up to age five. However, violence is not merely a matter of the immediate imparting of hurt, but also of the lasting consequences of violence-induced stress, such as the hormonal response. Striking a child as a parenting technique is, usually, designed to induce embarrassment and/or terror, responses which have significant biochemical consequences. As the child brain is susceptible to hormone and neurotransmitter influences, this is not an inconsequential consideration. All the more disturbing is the 2011 finding (Berger, et al) that during times of stress for adults, like the recession, incidents of AHT resulting from HCP rise, underscoring the issue at hand: adults hit kids for the wrong reasons, and adults who think hitting kids is a good thing are justifying their mistakes in judgment and decision making.

Many adults to whom I speak say that they are not trying to injure the child, but rather use a “last resort” consequence when verbal, temporal, or material admonishments fail. They describe a “gentle swat” or an “uninjuring smack” or a “light tap on the bottom.” If there is no injury caused, no harm or physical discomfort intended, then the argument as a consequence is dismantled from the start. If there is no extrinsic motivation, the act serves no purpose. The only purpose of striking is to induce harm, so if one does not seek to induce harm, there is no purpose in the action. I have heard the follow-up, “well it’s embarrassing and makes the child feel bad about themselves.”

When that is the motivation, you are now squarely in Miller’s research and must begin to explore the nightmare of psychological trauma induced through humiliation ritual and personal denigration as a parent method, and that is the subject of another equally-excoriating blog post. Shaming an humiliation rituals are also psychologically damaging and counterproductive, and there is still the inclusion of the threat of violence in the act, as an amalgam it is still violent. I believe very fervently, based on the psychological work done in the field, based on a career’s worth of experience with children and child development, intense recent study of these subjects in my work, and my own experiences as a child and with children, that there is no room for any form of violence with children. In short, if you hit to injure, you’re causing injury, and if you hit not to injure, you have no reason to do so.

Neuroplasticity, Intent, and Outcome

I have never made the claim that children are totally destroyed by being hit once. I was struck as a child. I can recall four, perhaps five times I was struck as a child. Spanking was not a way of life in my household, and I was never beaten. However, I was hit a few times. Do I resent my parents for it? No I do not. Do I blame my parents? No I do not. Do I believe my parents were bad parents? No I do not. Do I believe that my parents’ belief at the time that an occasional spanking was good for their kids is a damnable and unforgivable offense? No I do not. But the fact of the matter remains, yes, every time I was hit, my development was impaired. In a minuscule way? Perhaps. Insignificant in the grand scheme? Perhaps. But just as likely is that something significant – relative to being child – happened in my brain that I had to “grow around.” I use the phrase “selectively brittle” in my work to describe the fact that children are extraordinarily neuroplastic, with up to three times more neural connections than the healthy adult. However, my ability to grow up neurotypically does not change the fact that I was subjected to unnecessary harm through selective, infrequent, well-intended violence. I am not afraid to use the correct term to describe what something is, and striking another person is violent. A caretaker striking their child is adult-on-child violence, by definition. If you are uncomfortable with that language, then your argument is with Merriam-Webster and the development of Germanic languages, not with me, because I cannot help you with that. This isn’t a matter of semantics: violence hurts kids. It causes irreparable harm, though not irrecoverable harm. You can grow up to be healthy and happy after having been hit, it’s true. But that doesn’t change the fact that your brain will have to do something it ought not to have had to do to adapt unnecessary trauma. While occasional moderate situational stress may be productive, I find no compelling evidence to suggest that being struck by a caretaker is a valid or healthful form of such stress. You may consider this no big deal and totally absurd, but the bottom line is that once you have seen the neurobiological evidence as to the significant harm that striking a child does to that child, if you care about children, if you believe that adults in care taking roles have a responsibility to truly care for those children, then as I say in pedagogy, so I say for child behavior: intent doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter if you meant well if what you did was harmful. Thinking people who want to do right by children cannot roundly ignore the evidence that hitting children hurts them. That, to me, is far more compelling, far more important, valuable, has far more veracity than any layperson’s opinion or casual observation, than any logical fallacy, and I’m not interested that it’s inconvenient for people. I don’t care that it gets people riled up. It’s good to be challenged, to be set back on your heels, and to seriously question: is this best for my child? Is this right? Is this healthy? Is this good for my child, not just not bad? Is this achieving the aim of compassionately caring for and teaching the child? The evidence says that it is not.

If you are uncomfortable with the word “violent” in the context of the adult-child relationship, you ought to be seriously circumspect about being violent, and question why you are willing to be so to a little kid. Some of the people to whom I speak, who are most angered when I challenge a parent’s right to as if we’re on a playground and that I said something mean about your dad. The truth of the matter is that if your dad hit you, I have absolutely no judgment about your dad’s intent or mindset or philosophy or character, because I don’t know your father. I’m not interested in making such a judgment, nor am I interested in judging people. I’m not talking about people; I’m talking about behavior. I’m not talking about a person when I say “corporal punishment is adult-on-child violence that results in significant often-unseen harm to the child.” I’m talking about an action. Now, your dad may have had all the positive intentions in the world, and was a loving, compassionate person who would have done anything in the world for you, and believed fervently that what he was doing was the right thing for you and good for you. That may be the case. You may also have simply rationalized away the fact that your father engaged in regular violence and might have been abusive. At least one of these two sentences probably gets your blood running. Good: it’s good to have passions. But your passions running hot can never be sufficient justification for an action, and very frequently, we do exactly that. the fact is that when an adult is physically violent for the child they are responsible for taking care of, they do significant, often invisible harm to the child.

If knowing that, you still say, “I know that when I strike my child it is an act of violence that will damage him/her in a way that they will have to effectively grow around,” then you and I stand at philosophical odds in terms of how people treat one another, not just how parents parent their children, but in terms of what is appropriate and healthy behavior of how one person treats another. Selective violence against women by men who feel it is difficult to reason with them, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is decried by mature thinking people. Selective violence against one race by another, which feels it is difficult to reason with members of that other race, and in order to teach them desirable behavior, is so reprehensible to our society that it is illegal and the subject of constant social awareness campaigns and reparation efforts. Selective violence against one age group by another is, however, “a right” in the minds of those who support spanking, HCP, and other forms of child mistreatment. I find it selective and silly to allow for violence against the group most susceptible to its ravages, and to claim moral righteousness and superiority in doing so.

Children are People

To treat children in a lesser way because one feels children are incapable of understanding betrays ignorance of the child mind as well as demonstrates a misunderstanding of the pedagogy of actions and consequence. The developing child mind certainly will have a challenging time understanding certain concepts. It may, in fact, have an extraordinarily difficult time, and require simplification or allegory, with more developed nuance being introduced into the child’s understanding at a later time. However, children deserve understanding. They deserve to be explained to. Simply by virtue of being, they deserve to be free of violence, and to be explained to, because that’s what caring adults do: they patiently explain.

Adult on child violence betrays the adult responsibility to the child, especially when that adult is a caretaker. It is unacceptable to me for a care taking adult to say I cannot, will not, do not invest the time and energy necessary to help the child understand healthfully, and will instead resort to violence.

Violence is not an acceptable or valid way to treat a person.

If you believe in harming a child, in striking a child, if you believe that adults should occasionally strike children, then you believe that your perception is more important than their outcome. You believe that your opinion and your expedience has more validity than substantive reproducible research, and you believe that an ineffective way of doing something for the sake efficiency for the adult is acceptable parenting.

I fail totally to see a pedagogically-appropriate context for teaching by hitting.

Here comes Adrian Peterson in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal: We have a national outcry that Ray Rice physically battered his girlfriend. There was significant outcry (as there should be) at so heinous an assault. It is not acceptable for a person, regardless of their size or gender, to physically attack another person. There are no situations in which physically striking someone is an appropriate solution to your problems, is an acceptable expression of anger or frustration or sadness. It is not an effective teaching tool. It is not an appropriate or effective thing for a police officer or teacher to do. Why is there, then, any shred of difference when we’re talking about a child? In order for a person to accept that these rules that we would apply to any other person do not apply to children, one must suspend the believe that children are people. This is a prevailing view of certain sociopolitical groups that espouse extremist ideology: That children are in fact not people, but are property.

It is an inhumane, despicable, disgusting attitude that, to me, is indicative of either some significant pathology or psychology, or some kind of social or institutional co-opting or damage, such is its significant departure from essential humanity.

Children are people, and each child is an individual person. To treat them as anything less is, by definition, inhumane, and I have absolutely no tolerance for those that purport to value humanity but do not value each human.

You say “don’t hit people,” and yet we’ll hit a child. You cannot teach that lesson. If you expect the lesson to be learned as an adult don’t hit people, then why would you violate that principle for the child. Well because he’s a child. You view him as different than a person, and I do not accept any situation in which a child is not understood to be, seen as, a unique individual person. It is discompassionate, inhumane, unloving, anti child, and I reject it out of hand. Stirking a child does not teach a child, does not help a child. Parents who are such strong advocates of spanking often say “I myself was hit, and I turned out just fine.” While you may have turned out “fine” in the macro, that does not mitigate the fact that there is strong evidence that every time you were struck, your development was in some way impaired or affected. Children being extraordinarily neuroplastic is insufficient justification for the application of violence as a teaching tool. It is not a teaching tool. Teaching is the b ringing about of learning, and learning is auto generative: it comes from within, and it must come from relevance. For violence to be effective, you’d have to make violence relevant to children, and violence ought not to be relevant to children. Children are not developmentally equipped to deal with violence; I daresay no person is. Violence damages the human being. Violence damages the human entity. When we are exposed to violence, we become hyper vigilant, develop post traumatic stress, develop neurological, biological, measurable damage psychologic, because violence is damaging. A smaller, less physically robust human will be more significantly damaged by less robust forms of violence. It’s relative. you say, it’s just a smack, it’s a thoughtful and occasional smack, relative to the little child condition you’re still imposing abject violence on another person to no productive or useful end. One must separate in their minds, fundamentally, the difference between consequences and violence.

Contradiction in Terms

I find it so entirely strange that we can generally acknowledge it is normal and healthy for an adult to be averse to pain, but to be so willing to inflict it upon a person when they are most vulnerable to its most damaging effects, instead of doing what we can to shield children from that pain.

Parents who say I would only ever hit my child on the bottom I would never slap my child across the face, that kind of mitigation it seems to me indicates that you know that what you’re doing is wrong. You bring about crying and shame and hurt and believe that associating these deeply damaging feelings with behaviors will dissuade the child’s behavior. But do you understand the development stage, what he will and will not associate. At what point od you decide to start seeing that person as a person, and shift away from violence? Does my 60 year old father have a right to hit me, his 35 year old son? No? Why not? When did I cease to become something less than a person, and became a person, to you? Is boyhood a subhuman condition? Can it be so defined as to separate those who are to be kept safe, and those who are to be left out to be harmed for their own good? If either animal was to be subjected to harm, ought it not be the one who is better equipped and less developmentally damaged? The logic alone fails. You reserve the right to escalate your violence as the child grows and becomes more resilient to your physical duress. Do you eventually get to the point where you’re systematically escalated violence over years, built up a tolerance to the point you’ll crack your daughter across the face?

I find nothing laudable about this sort of pattern. Nothing desirable about this dynamic. Nothing loving about this kind of relationship. It is essentially flawed, essentially missing something. It is damaged.

I cannot help but wonder what happened to a person that led to such willingness to damage the ones they purport to love.

Learn more about the child mind, understand what works and want doesn’t, and step back from violence. There is no room for violence in any caretaker relationship. None.

None.


No views expressed anywhere on this website are or should be construed to be representative of the positions, endorsements, or views of any organization, institution, or group. The author is solely responsible for the content of this privately-maintained blog.

Make Sense: Fight the Real Common Core Fight

It’s called “number sense.”

In mathematics, one of the core numeracy concepts is “number sense,” which is the perception and understanding of numbers and their relation to one another. For example, we know that 10 is different than 1, and 100 is different than 10. In our base-ten (decimal) counting system, we add a “place” to the left of a number once it reaches the next multiple of ten. When we were kids, we called them by name: “the ones place,” “the tens place,” “the hundreds place.”

However, this sense of “tens-ness” gets thoroughly lost when we start doing things like long-form subtraction. Modern mathematics pedagogues have developed new methods of teaching children how to compute algebraically while preserving and reinforcing number sense in a way that older, more traditional methods do not.

I watch meme after social media meme sail by these days, sometimes conflating 2010s-era “New Math” (sometimes called “New New Math”) with the the 1990s-era Reform Mathematics movement (also sometimes called “New New Math”) and the 1960s-era “New Math” movement, illustrated in a humorous half-parody by Tom Lehrer:

I see pictures like this posted all over Facebook all the time:

New Math Meme

The picture is idiotic, as is the sentiment. One attempts to illustrate a process (on the right) and one attempts to show the basic idea without process (on the left). If I showed you a picture of a flat tire and a picture of a changed tire beneath it, it would invariably look simpler than a series of step-by-step photographs illustrating the process of changing a tire. But that isn’t “the basics;” it’s a faulty comparison.

See, adults often have trouble realizing that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. They like to see learning as a process that mirrors the way they learned, and to see children as prototypes of them, instead of as the unique, capable individuals that we critical pedagogues insist (and rightly, truly know) that they are. I wouldn’t ask an adult to unlearn 30 years of understanding how to add and subtract and change an efficacious process to a new, foreign process, if the skill mastery is already there. Can you add? Yes. Does it matter how? No, not especially, so long as it works. Did you learn in a way that provided the best opportunities for you to have the best possible conceptual understanding of number sense?

Probably not. I didn’t.

Does that mean I don’t have number sense? No. Does that mean I do not or cannot have ever-better understanding of number sense? No. But modern mathematical pedagogues (who are rooted in good work, at least) don’t accept as a maxim that all mathematical understanding is or must be the same. There are many ways to approach computation and numeracy, and I find it absurd that Badass Teachers and educational revolutionaries would waste one breath of their time trying to fight against sound teaching methodology. I’m not taking a position that one way is better than another way, but I am suggesting that pedantic adherence to “your way” of understanding numeracy and computation may do your children a grave disservice.

I would much rather people who oppose the Common Core State Standards – and make no mistake, I do, because CCSS is irrefutably married to the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex, and is a recipe for the corporatizing of classrooms not the establishment of effective content standards – spend their time and energy fighting against the real problems of CCSS instead of perpetuating this nonsensical distraction.

Just my two cents. Maybe three, ’cause I really do know what I’m talking about. ;) (If you’re a math teacher, you get a nickel’s worth LOL)

The Cycle of Misunderstanding Children

It was a joy to be a featured guest today on We Act Radio’s Education Town Hall (www.educationtownhall.org) with Thomas Byrd, alongside feature DC reporter Virginia Spatz and fellow pedagogue and guest David Greene.

Here’s a link to the MixCloud archive if you missed it: http://www.mixcloud.com/education_town_hall/doing-the-right-thing-for-students-and-teachers-on-the-education-town-hall-august-7-2014/

One of the things I touched upon is the cycle of misunderstanding that exists at the heart of the discussion about assessment and evaluation. Make no mistake, our misperception and misunderstanding of the individual child is at the heart of our misunderstanding of effective teacher evaluation.

The cycle is vicious:


cycle

1. Inappropriate Learning: Students experience irrelevant, disengaged, homogenized, generalized “learning” experiences, based on false perceptions and deep misunderstandings of children, based largely on leaders insisting that teachers use nonsensical data and ill-advised, often non-educator-influenced ideas about teaching and learning.

2. Inappropriate Formative Assessment: We use standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” to determine “mastery.” However, these formative assessment “systems” and “programs” absolutely fail to consider all factors, and do not at all engage students where they are, neurocognitively and psychosocially, leading to deepening feelings of irrelevancy and a set of data that does not reflect what non-educators think it does.

3. Inappropriate Remediation: Because our assessment method stinks, we don’t know what a kid does and doesn’t know, what s/he can and can’t do… So how the heck can we help them?

4. Inappropriate Summative Assessment: Again, using standardized, unidimensional, homogenized “measurements” of “mastery,” we know jack about what a kid really knows and can do, only this time, we’re using very high-stakes, high-stress vehicles that are totally removed from the real world and reflect more of an ability to navigate a system of hoops than actual mastery.

5. Inappropriate Outcomes: Because we never understood the kid to begin with, don’t listen to the kid, don’t know what the kid can and can’t do and knows and doesn’t know, we failed the kid all the way down the line, and the results weren’t great. So we blame the teacher, or the school, or worst of all the kid, and then make policy and strategic decisions based on all of this inaccurate nonsense, and begin the cycle all over again: We put the kid right back into irrelevant, meaningless industrialized rote learning without ever having addressed some of the root problems that may exist.

Until we wrestle the Standardized Testing Industrial Complex to the ground and stop misperceiving children and inaccurately believing that they can be oversimplified into single quantifiable integers, we cannot break free of the gravity of the effort to objectify and commodify children and their learning.

The professional website of Keith David Reeves