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Controversy, Conflict, and Your Beeswax

This is an absurd rant. I know that. But hey… what are blogs for on a Friday? (Though this has been slowly building in draft form for a while, ’cause I get peeved by this stuff.)

You’ll read why, in the next few pages, why I caveat this: Read at your own peril. If you don’t like it when I get controversial, remember: On a PC, click the X in the upper right hand corner. On a Mac, hold “Command” and press “Q” to quit.

Nobody is making you read anything online, ever. Here goes.

When my brothers and I get together, we tend to laugh and spar, usually in that order. We’re loquacious. As Jed Barltet said in The West Wing, “In my family if you use one word when you could use ten, you’re not trying hard enough.” Our conversational style can be admittedly-offputting, because we tend to pounce on each other: Logical fallacies are immediately dismantled, suggestions to the contrary of prevailing sentiment are critiqued, and hyperbolic emotional reactions are generally excoriated. We enjoy debate and even more than that, we enjoy storytelling. My father says, half-jokingly, “never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”

We are unsurprisingly “loud.”

Now, I don’t mean we get bawdy-lit and sing tavern songs at funerals, but we do tend to be energetic and the decibel level may creep above “inside voice” from time to time. Being from New York, we also are very comfortable with what Spock called “colorful metaphors.” I believe it was Chris Kluwe who observed that a well-made argument laced with profanity is an especially effective form of communication.

Let us say that you are dining next to us, and you are dissatisfied with us. You have a litany of options available to you:

  • Ignore us
  • Raise your own voices slightly to be heard over us
  • Ask to be reseated at a different table
  • Leave the restaurant and dine elsewhere
  • Speak to a manager
  • Join in, make an intelligent comment, and do so quietly, modeling behavior

I must underscore that we are not being rude idiots in this scenario. Were we to cross into that territory, I might finally (and I do mean finally, as in as a last resort) add politely asking us if we might keep it down a bit.

But I don’t like that last option. I don’t like it one bit, and I don’t do it to other people. Why? Because it is not my place to tell others how to behave when they are not hurting anyone, and emphatic verbal conversation is not a cause for conflict.

You understand, then, why I think the musclebound vicious-tongued member of the social propriety police who physically threatened assault at a restaurant not long ago was well out of bounds. He had a litany of options at his disposal, but instead of solving his own problem for himself and concerning himself with his world, he decided to alter ours.

You understand, then, why I think a man making somewhat-flailing “keep it down” hand gestures at us across a restaurant and telling us to watch our language would trouble me. He had a litany of options at his disposal, but instead of solving his own problem for himself and concerning himself with his world, he decided he’d take control of ours.

This very phenomenon just happened to me again while out with a colleague and friend of mine at a local establishment, when we were vehemently debating the fact that cost-benefit was not a valid consideration when discussing the matter of the death penalty. (I am in Hitchens’ tradition a staunch opponent of human sacrifice.) A nearby gentleman decided to take issue with the one factoid he overheard out of context – that all American citizens enlist by choice, because we do not have compulsory service, and I was deeply challenging my friend’s suggestion that some people “have no choice” but to enlist – and call me out as a jerk for disrespecting the military. (Which, as I just stated, I was not only NOT doing, but actually illustrating what must be viewed as a positive fact about anyone who has enlisted, because they chose to do so.) This uninvited interjection was not only fallacious and silly in fact, but absurdly and ignorantly presented.

Hey. You. Random stranger: Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.

Part of embracing diversity is recognizing that socially-normative behaviors are relative, and there are things that matter and things that don’t, and a group of five people laughing and conversing in a restaurant or a bar who are maybe slightly-louder than the people around them is not a cause for taking a social stand. It deadens the effectiveness and meaning of interpersonal intervention.

I am entitled, by virtue of being an individual human being, to my opinions, thoughts, and beliefs. I am similarly entitled to expressions of those beliefs, and to the consequences that come from those expressions. As a public employee, there are more consequences for me than for, say, a self-employed private citizen, and there are fewer protections for me than for others, like whistleblowers and journalists. (I recognize that right now, both of those groups are under siege by those who would deny them their rights, and I empathize.)

I am, as a citizen of the United States, entitled to freedoms of speech, expression, and assembly. I am allowed to be loud. I am allowed to offend you, and you are allowed to offend me. While there are Constitutional limitations on intentionally antagonizing someone to incite incident (the Chaplinsky doctrine established in 1942, or the “Clear and Present Danger” doctrine of Schenck from 1919), generally expressions of honest belief in discourse are afforded near-absolute protections. (At least, they ought to be, Constitutionally.) If I laugh at a joke you don’t find funny, espouse beliefs contrary or troubling to you, or get a little loud talking to my friends, in short…

Tough.

I am colossally troubled by a so-low bar of protestation against expression that strangers come up to me in public and tell me and those I’m with who enjoy spicy discource to keep it down.

No.

You may remove yourself if you find me distasteful. You are not the proprietor; you are a peer. If the proprietor asks us to keep it down, that’s one thing, but being a bully is being a bully. Your dining experience is no more important than mine. If you’d like to meaningfully join the conversation, you may find yourself one of the many lovely strangers I’ve met and with whom I’ve passionately conversed over the years, so long as you bring real contributions and substantive additions to that conversation, and don’t barrel in like Donkey Kong hurling  barrels. Otherwise, keep it to yourself. You are not the police of me.

There is, of course, however – and you had to see this coming – conditions under which one DOES intervene. I daresay there are situations that COMPEL us to intervene:

If I shouted a racial slur. If I whispered a homophobic epithet. If I commented in a deeply sexist way. When one engages in bigotry, I think it’s open season. I’d have no problem expressing my deep disapproval to the party sitting next to me if I heard someone use the word f_ggot or n_gger. I would confront (and have confronted) such a person, because that’s person didn’t make a statement of controversy; that person made a statement of conflict. If someone is spouting denigrating racial epithets about people of color, whispered or shouted, I’ll help you in speaking to that person about being deeply offensive. There’s a psychosocial awareness, however, that says there are times, places, and manners of expression that make sense, and those that don’t. Body-tackling that person at a fine dining establishment? Not okay. Expressing deep disapproval verbally? Sure, I can buy that, because that’s not protected belief; discrimination on the basis of race is bigotry; our society says so.

That is my rule: If I say something bigoted, go ahead and say something to me. Otherwise, stick a cork in it. If you say something bigoted, I’m going to say something to you. Otherwise, I’m going to mind my own business. I might leave. I might flee. I have done so. But I’m absolutely not going to come over and tell you you’re wrong and to shut up and pipe down.

Doing so is authoritative and totalitarian, and I do not approve of authoritativeness or totalitarianism.

If you’re quietly expressing your deep conviction in Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, I have NO right to confront you. You’re not engaging in hate speech. Now, you come proselytize me at my table, different story, but no way would I come over to your table and speak to you about your conduct. That’s ridiculous.

Why would anyone think it’s okay to come to my table, and speak to me about having a conversation, simply because they don’t like its nature? That’s not okay. That person is rightly entitled, however, to change THEIR behavior: Stop listening. Move tables. Leave the restaurant. Speak to a manager. All sorts of options open up, available to anyone. You don’t get to decide you’re the “Me Police” just because you don’t care for me.

Being a little loud is a freedom. Being a bigot stands against freedom. I think that’s an easy distinction, and I don’t care if you agree with me or not in this particular instance… because this is my blog, where I get to say how I feel and what I think. If you want to share your feelings, start your own blog. If you don’t like what I have to say, unsubscribe and don’t visit and read this.

This all brings me to analogize the point: Short of correcting social injustice… Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.

Welcome to social media.

Firstly, there is a distinction: You choose to engage with me in social media. If you don’t want to engage, don’t connect. Social media consumption is voluntary. But, on to more analysis:

For me, Twitter, like my blog, is my “professional” restaurant. Yes, I espouse radical ideas there and foment rebellion, but that’s part of who I am and the work that I do, and when you come to MY Twitter space, you’re getting a table at MY restaurant. This is my little cafe of revolutionaries. I do not shy away from my fervent advocacy for egalitarianism, my strident opposition to bigotry and the infringement upon others’ rights, and my utter disapproval of many aspects of corporate reform and standardized testing profiteering. Don’t like that sort of thing? Don’t follow. Don’t visit. Don’t read. Don’t pull up a chair. I’m not sending you messages; Twitter is an on-demand platform. You see what you choose to see, so if I bother you, choose not to see me.

You can get up and leave. You can be re-sat. And you can talk to the manager, and because this is a professional “restaurant,” I will certainly engage with you accordingly.

Facebook, however, is my rumpus room. It’s private, my house, a place friends and family gather. It’s bedecked with pictures of my nieces and nephew, complaints about ragweed, things I find funny, recipes and football gripes and, yes, sometimes screaming about things that annoy me. I leave my dirty laundry out sometimes. I try to keep it cleaned up, but sometimes, because this is my space, I’m messy.

Do not come into my house and tell me how to hang my shirts.

You don’t get to speak to the “manager” here, because this isn’t a “restaurant.” This is my private space, and I say what goes, with impunity, and owe no explanations.

I do not have the same sociopolitical, philosophical, metaphysical, ontological, pedagogical, and epistemological views as the vast majority of the people I know, like, and love. My beliefs are my own, and arrived at through critique and analysis, reflection and experience, and I feel no meaningful compulsion or motivation to conform to normative expectations, beyond the fearful inner child that just wants to be loved and accepted. However, being authentically me is more important to the health of my inner child than seeking immediate inclusion for the sake of inclusion, and so I do that instead, whenever I can. I try. I recognize that my attitudes and orientations are often the minority view, and sometimes, a minority of one.

So what? I am an individual.

I do not require that everyone I’m friends with on Facebook feel, act, or believe similarly to me. I like diversity. I like dissent. I enjoy debate. I like contrary opinions. But, because this it is not MY space, I also don’t feel obliged to give all parties equal voice. You control your space, I control mine.

If you come into my space, you’ll read my ideas. If you choose to engage me in my space, on my wall or in my messages, you’re engaging me on my territory. I didn’t solicit your input; you reached out to me.

Similarly, if I go onto your wall, into your space, that’s yours, and you have every right to espouse your beliefs there, free and unfettered. I don’t feel entitled to give my counterarguments in YOUR space, though if I choose to, and you let me, we might well debate meaningfully. I think this happens all the time. But ultimately, you have the tools to hide, delete, and control what happens on your wall because it’s YOURS.

In short, my wall is MY WALL, and your wall is YOUR WALL.

If I were to post something that bothers you, and you’re deeply troubled by it, just as if you were sitting at the table at the restaurant, you have a number of entirely viable options to defend yourself against being offended. Instead of moving tables, speaking to a manager, not listening, or leaving, you could:

  • Block my post
  • Block me
  • Report my post
  • Tell Facebook “I want to see fewer posts like this”
  • Unsubscribe from my feed
  • Unfriend me

However, what would possess you to tell me I don’t have a right to say what I want in my space? What in the world would make you think that it is inappropriate for me to speak controversially or loudly or passionately about whatever I want in my space? My Facebook account is sealed tighter than a drum. If you’re friends with me, it’s because we agreed to be friends, and that means we agreed to be in each others’ spaces using the settings we choose for ourselves to moderate our Facebook experiences. Nobody made you be friends with me. Nobody forced you to read anything. Nobody demands your presence. I don’t.

I have never complained about being unfriended.

I find instructing me on how to make you comfortable in my space to be arrogance tantamount to bullying. Let’s take a recent example.

If you’re not familiar with my position on adult-on-child violence, it’s clear: no adult should ever intentionally harm a child, in any way, for any reason, without exception. No spanking, no hitting, no withholding bathroom privileges as punishment, no forcible starvation, no neglect, no psychological warfare, period. Ever. Nurturing a child does not require you to toughen them up, smack them around, or physically harm them. The research is compelling and concrete, the examples of ineffectiveness replete, the socially-cyclical nature of violence easily observable, and while I don’t expect to convince everyone because so many people are products of that cycle, I have ZERO TOLERANCE for excuse-making and apologies for adult-on-child violence. I simply don’t tolerate it. Call it a quirk, call it fervor, call it whatever, but that’s the score.

If you post something that lauds, approves of, or supports adult-on-child violence, we’re done. If I see someone who posts something about hitting children, I unsubscribe from the thread or from their feed altogether or even unfriend them. You see, I know that my Facebook status with a person is not analogous to my interpersonal relationship with them. I can unfriend you because I like kicking around Facebook to laugh and rant, and still think you’re brilliant, intellectual, insightful, worthwhile, and wonderful.

But you know what really frosts my cupcakes? Telling me that I ought to keep my opinions to myself on my own wall. It’s my wall. Mine. Not yours, mine. Not everybody’s, mine. It’s mine. You can do ALL of those things above to control how you experience me, and if you choose not to, I’m going to be annoyed.

Leave the bar. Move down a few seats. Go engage in your own conversation. You do you.

I don’t blow people up on their own walls. I might engage with someone on a topic about which I disagree, but if I do that, I know FULL WELL that I’m asking for it. What I usually end up doing is when I reach my saturation point with the debate, I unsubscribe from the thread, and it dies. I move on, forget about it, and we all roll merrily along.

I like controversy, and I can have controversy without conflict. I like debate, and I can have debate without denigrating you. What I DON’T do is private message you, summarily blast you on your wall, or excoriate you publicly for espousing a belief about which I disagree.

I recently commented, after a very frustrating day, that if people on my newsfeed reposted the video of that woman in Baltimore beating the crap out of her kid in the street, they should not be surprised if I unfriend, block, or unsubscribe from them, because people by now should know how deeply passionate I am that adult-on-child violence is an epidemic in this country, and any glorification of or justification for it is, to me, loathsome. Because I’ve had problems with this in the past, I gave fair warning to my social media connections that I was in no mood. (This is, after all, Facebook. This isn’t a professional environment; I was chatting with my “usual peeps.”)

Why on EARTH would you think the appropriate thing to do after someone comes home from a long day, plops down at the table with a sigh, and expresses how exhausted of X they are, is to pour that person a gigantic heaping bowl of X?

That’s antagonizing me, and I’m going to react unhappily, as anyone would. Don’t like my comment? Unsubscribe. Think adult-on-child violence is so awesome that you just HAVE to shout about how awesome this mother beating up her kid is? Hey, baby, go right ahead! But when you want to talk to me the next day, and find yourself unfriended, that’s the price you pay. I’m me. If you want to be connected to me socially, you’re connected to THE REAL ME, not to the version of me that’s convenient for you or to the piece of me that you care for.

As Arthur says in “First Knight,” “I cannot love a person in slices.”

Don’t like my post? Unsubscribe. Unfriend. Disconnect. Take responsibility for YOUR social  experience, instead of correcting mine. Isn’t that the responsible thing to do? Isn’t that the ONLY thing that’s APPROPRIATE to do? It’s not as if you said something horribly racist or advocated for specific action to abuse kids. You just approved of a woman significantly disapproving of her son joining in a mob scene. (I think such an attitude is deeply misguided and fails to recognize larger socioeconomic issues, but again, this is Facebook, land of Bub and The Oatmeal and Kardashian Butt Memes. C’mon.)

As I absolutely believe you have a right to post and say anything you want, and would never infringe upon your right to do so, isn’t the only appropriate, adult thing to do to handle the situation myself?

A friend I dearly love blew me up for my comment that I vehemently disapproved of the circulating mother-hitting-child meme, and that friend suggested that I had a responsibility not to post controversial things if I didn’t want to be yelled at or chastised.

Dude, that’s messed up.

I accept that there are consequences for one’s actions, especially in public fora, and I certainly confess that sometimes I get quite peeved (that’s the understatement of the century) about things like being violent toward children, majoritarianism that abuses the minority, corporate reform in education, bigotry and homophobia, animal cruelty, and anything about the New England Patriots (not really), but I have two choices:

I can mind my business, and remove myself from the situation, or
Respond with the full preparation to engage in meaningful debate.

What is not, ever, in my mind, a viable option, is the condemnation of others for espousing their own beliefs on their own wall. I did not solicit your input; you are invited to by virtue of being my Facebook friend, but you were not specifically invited to comment. Unless you were, in which case, that’s another story entirely.

Bottom line is that I do believe people have responsibilities to be mindful when they post things, but my expressing a very rational belief – like, I disapprove of being violent to children, for any reason, and have no desire to see that crap on my newsfeed, so don’t be offended if I step out – is being mindful.

I am not everyone’s cup of tea. I did not ask to be, set out to be, or state that I was. Just unfriend me, and move on with your life. It is nobody’s place to put me in mine, any more than it is mine to put you in yours. There’s meaningful debate, and then there’s whatever the other thing is.

In short, I think the bar for intervention in another person’s affairs should be set quite high, and for me, bigotry and the harm of children are just about the only things that clear the hurdle. Debate loudly, speak passionately, laugh boisterously, embrace each other, fan the flames of fervent discourse, and be ferocious and strident at at times, and enjoy the fact that the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees your right to do so.

I have the same rights as you. And I recognize you do have the right to call me a jerk in a public place. Do so at your own peril if it’s just because you don’t like my volume or agree with the substance of my material argument… because I’m not the guy that says “oh, sorry,” and shuts up and sits back down.

Mind your own beeswax, Ramona.

Droning On

It’s assimilate day in the neigh-Borg-hood,
The best kind of day for a neigh-Borg.
You will be mine.
Of course you’ll be mine.

It’s a neigh-Borg-ly day and your species could
add your distinctiveness to our hood.
It will be mine.
You’ll all be mine.

I’ve always wanted to have a drone-Borg just like you.
I’ve always wanted to live in a neigh-Borg-hood with you.

So, let’s make some drones of your beautiful friends.
Since our minds are together we all have to say:
You will be mine.
You’re totally mine.
Now you are a neigh-Borg.
Resistance? Please.
Resistance? Pshh, please.
We are now one as neigh-Borg.

Beep.

‪#‎standardizedtesting‬

‪#‎resistanceisfutile‬

#‎pluggingincables‬

‪#‎feelslikeadrone‬

CMEA Keynote Address (Video & Script)

Keynote Address

Friday, May 1, 2015

Connecticut Convention Center

Hartford, Connecticut

 

Keynote Address Text

I began my teaching career a week before 9/11 in a poor, rural school district in New York. I’d student taught there for the semester prior, and was hired immediately when my cooperating teacher retired. The only instrumental music teacher in the school district, I was Harold Hill. Young and stupid, idealistic and arrogant, I was ready to transform what I thought was a podunk, backward, totally substandard little program into a program of exceptional quality, teaching the whole child, advocating fiercely for expansion of the program, and raising the standards of performance and musicianship in a way not seen since the heydey of those bands in the 1930s.

My tenure there was short lived. They didn’t fire me, but as you’re going to find out about me today, I’m a straight-shooter. “Exercising the nonrenewal option in my probationary contract” might sound better, but let’s cut to the chase. I got canned.

It wasn’t because I didn’t grow the program, like the first of the five administrators I worked for in those two years asked me to. I did. The program exploded and nearly tripled in size.

It wasn’t because I didn’t raise the level of musicianship, like I’d wanted to. I did, moving from a high school band that played level two stuff to tackling our first sincere level five, albeit roughly, within about 18 months.

It wasn’t because I didn’t expand the influence of music education in our community. I created and instituted a Music History program, added so many sections of general music for non-instrumentalists to gain exposure to the benefits of meaningful music education that I was violating my own professional rights by teaching during lunch and my planning period.

It wasn’t because I didn’t cultivate colleague relationships. I was elected Vice President of my local music ed association chapter, having grown up a NYSSMA kid and knowing full well how robust the music association and music teacher communities were there. I had great colleagues in Central New York.

It wasn’t because I didn’t teach the whole child. I believed in meaningful, valuable experiences that were relevant to each child, not to a general idea of children, and the fact that many of those students today continue to reach out to say that the band room was their one, solitary beacon of light in an otherwise oppressively dark educational environment tells me that mattered.

It wasn’t because I didn’t do those things. My relationship with that school was dysfunctional because I did those things.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t a good teacher. I was good. Not great. Not nearly as good as many of you. I was young and idealistic, and I wasn’t any good at politics or playing the game, and we’ll talk about the game here this morning. But I didn’t lose my first job because I wasn’t a good teacher. The straw that really broke the camel’s back was a single piece of music that I prepared my kids exhaustively to perform. Tiny little rural school, where I built two tubas out of the parts I salvaged from the six that didn’t work. My newest horn was built in 1949. I had a soprano saxophone, but no tenors. I had metal folding chairs, old Manhasset stands that did that thing they do, and you know what I mean. (Raise, fall, raise fall.) Tyrannical, short-sighted leaders. The mayor of the town was the head of the social studies department. One colleague drew and hung derisive pictures of me in the faculty lounge. It was, to me, a dark place, where I built the county’s first MIDI lab out of spare computer parts, got an entire set of marching band uniforms donated from California because we had no money to get our own, and then committed a deep, cardinal sin.

I taught my kids to play this piece, and i’m going to perform it for you now.

[ Movement II, 4’33” ]

You know the work? You know the composer?

4’33” was written in 1952 by composer John Cage, and is written in three movements, each of which is marked “tacet.” I taught it to fourteen and seventeen year old farmer’s kids. We studied it intensely, embarking upon the very journey Cage conceived, to understand sound and the role sound does and does not play, vis-a-vis rests and silence, in music, and to understand what music truly is, as part of deepening our preparations to tackle less and less traditional literature. My. Students. ATE. IT. UP. It was one of the most remarkable educational journeys, and I truly believe it enhanced their performance quality of literature from the usual catalogs. My students were willing and able to tackle the very IDEA of music, and extended tendrils of questioning and investigation into COUNTLESS other areas of their lives.

That, of course, was the problem. I taught my students to think critically and independently in a place where critical independent thinking is practically criminalized. You may know such insular places, where conservative leaders who have never sung a note or plucked a string in their natural born lives can sit on high in judgment and proclaim, as mine did, “that’s not music.”

When a school leadership – I don’t say community, because the community sure did – but when policymakers don’t understand or recognize the value of what you do, the deck is stacked.

The sad fact is that some people have no music in their hearts. Some people rise to so-called leadership positions in schools not because they love children, not because they are good teachers, not because they have something to offer you as professionals, not because they are good for the community, but because they are good at playing the game. They seek power, not promise. They desire control, not compassion. They prefer institutions over individuals.

This story is not to elicit your sympathy; I was a stupid kid, I made some genuinely bad decisions there, it wasn’t a good fit for a lot of reasons and I did make some serious mistakes. Nowadays I’d counsel my younger self to slow down and to have been much more careful. But this isn’t to tell a sad story. It’s to tell a powerful one. Our story, yours and mine: The ability to transform, enhance, and realize the human experience for and with children. You see, while I want you to know that I’ve been there, the target of an administration hell bent on laying waste to arts programs, the victim of an institution that doesn’t believe in the power or value of music education, they haven’t beaten me. I admit it, I was low for a long time, but I got back up, and I did it because the brightness of electrified children lights even the gloomiest heart. There is a battle, but the tide of that war is turning, and I truly believe we are coming into a renaissance of humanity and the humanities in education, if we fan the flames for our side.

We as music educators live, pedagogically and professionally, not at the intersection of art and science, but rather simultaneously occupy all aspects of the spectrum between the two. They’re not mutually exclusive or diametrically opposed in our world.

Personal expression, emotional evocation, drama, inspiration, powerful moments, deeply connected interpersonal experiences… these non-quantifiable creative and psychoemotional experiences, these artistic and even religion-like experiences are found in our classrooms in ways and with frequency rarely seen elsewhere in the school.

However, we also work with precision, with exacting measurements of time and space, tuning sympathetic longitudinal waveforms into resonance patterns specific to the space, specific to the moment. We ensure the mechanical engineering of brass pistons operate within strict tolerances of micrometers, that the tension of spun and steel strings is exact and the physics of wood and metal and air generate not simply the proper frequency, but the proper amplitude and timbre, that posture and breathing and kinesiology and muscle tension shape and transform the human instrument and even tiny tots can learn to really sing.

We study history and apply comprehensive analysis of society and trend to the interpretation of Western notational glyphs, yielding a fundamentally different acoustic reality for dotted-eighth-sixteenth (demo) in 1740 when compared to 1940 (demo).

It is oversimplified to say that we exist at the crossroads of art and science. We constantly and consistently span the whole of art and science.

In my book on educational revolution, I spend a great deal of time talking about what teaching and learning really are, and no moreso are my beliefs about teaching true as when discussing music education.

Teaching music is an art, yes. Teaching music is a science, yes. But these words are often conflated or co-opted by those seeking to justify our existence by relating us to practicality, as if we are riding in a sidecar duct-taped to the hindquarter of the motorcycle of “the economy,” as if we are lampreys with our teeth sunk into the big fish of the core four. We are not ancillary. We never have been. In 2009, archaeologists discovered a carved bone flute made by hand around 35,000 years ago. We have conclusive evidence from this and other similar finds that Neanderthals were playing bone flutes as part of everyday life. It is, therefore entirely appropriate to say that human beings have ALWAYS been musical. We have never been secondary, we music educators; we have been primary and central to the human experience since the beginning of the human experience.

As part of celebration. Of mourning. Of expression. Of representation. Of ceremony. And while it is a misconception to call music a universal language because music is not technically a language, music is also part of interpersonal communication.

Art? Yes. Science? Yes. Between the two? No. INCLUSIVE of the two, simultaneously, always.

Music education is a craft. It is our craft. It is your craft.

We know, by virtue of our having answered our life’s calling to teach music, that music needs no justification. We need not call music a language when it isn’t. It is music. We do not need to cite the REAMS of research that suggests music education enhances a person in more ways than we can count, which it does, and may be directly responsible for increasing intelligence, emotional expressivity, brain size, general health, processing skills, motor skills, and creative problem solving. Yes, it’s true, we can do all of those things, but that’s not why we’re here.

We do not exist so that others may exist. While it is true teaching is the profession that creates all other professions, we do not teach to serve the system. We exist because we are deeply inscribed upon the centermost pillar of the human heart and the human mind.

Our national obsession with standardized multiple-choice testing is psychotic. IT is bad for teaching. IT is bad for learning. It is bad for Connecticut. It is bad for America. But far more importantly and far more damning, psychologically and pedagogically, IT is bad for kids.  As a national educational system, we have lost our collective mind. Our national and state and far, far too often local leaders drone on endlessly about the need to create “productive members of society” and “prepare children for the workplace.”

Firstly, the aim of education is not to create workers. That entire line of thinking is philosophically backward, historically uninformed, pedagogically unsound, and in my opinion, deeply anti-individual, anti-child, and inhumane. But moreover, IF we believe that schools have a great role to play in preparing children for their future lives, shouldn’t we be remotely interested in what those who toil in the most emergent sectors say is needed to succeed?

Innovators and true leaders aren’t clamoring for more factual recall, for better test-taking skills, for the ability to conform and comply. They’re screaming for creativity, for innovation, for problem-solving, for critical-thinking, for psychoemotional intelligence, for the intersection of art and science OHHHH… where have we heard THAT before?

If you Google things like “jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago” or “top paying jobs of this year,” you’re going to find piece after piece after piece of evidence that supports what business leaders, entrepreneurs, and community leaders have been shouting year after year: What we need from the young new professionals of America in 2015 is CREATIVITY. Is ART. Innovation and invention are the new cornerstones of the information economy, so they tell us. And while my personal sociopolitical beliefs do not include “JOB” as the pinnacle of the human experience, because I am an artist and they can never, ever take that out of my very bones, the arguments being made against us are frequently made by those people who believe we need to do more to prepare our young people for this future economy.

Well then KEEP THE BAND.

Expand the chorus, grow the orchestra, and make sure that every single child in every single school in Connecticut has meaningful access to quality music education, because we have mountains of research that shows that music and the arts is just about the best bang for the buck in town to ensure children grow up with whole brain health, access meaningful opportunities to create and express, and create relevant connections between the disparate other disciplines.

Year after year, since the early 2000s, we have seen study after study tell us this, and yet the so-called “data-driven policy makers” don’t heed THAT data. The undergraduate major most likely to be accepted into med school? Music. If you want your kid to be a doctor, your kid should be involved in music education! By the way, if your KID doesn’t want to be a doctor, that should matter. Music educators have a unique capacity to address the individual student while simultaneously giving that student meaningful social and team-based opportunities.

We hear budget concerns, but how many fundraisers have we done? How much money have we raised? How able to make up shortcomings have we been over the last two decades? While it’s no excuse for the INEXCUSABLE underfunding and in some cases defunding of our essential music education programs, we nevertheless have demonstrated a remarkable capacity for survival and adaptation that few curricular programs can match.

I count myself an example of the wide-ranging positive effects of music education. My life was forever changed by music education, and by the time I was fifteen or so, I knew I wanted to be one of you. To become one of us, to CREATE that positive change for others, as it had been created for and within me. I was able to touch and change lives only because my life had been touched and changed, and don’t take my word for it.

In 2013, a former student of mine brought me a book. It contained notes from students and parents, saying goodbye after I left that first teaching job over ten years ago. I never knew it existed. I never knew anybody said a thing about me after I left. Here are a few comments:

“Very rarely do students like their teachers as much as we like you.”

“They have gained confidence and performed beyond their years.”

“Your responsible for the re-birth of music in [our community]. May the enthusiasm you’ve created continue in your honor.”

“You did not just teach your subject; you infused your students with a desire to become better thinkers.”

“It’s been awesome have you here to try and counterattack the shallow mindedness of the vast majority of people in this school.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to sit down and be quiet again.”

“You gotta do somethin for me: When you down and all like depressed, you got a take a sec, breathe, and think of us and how much of a better person you have made us and all the memories we take with us to the future. Nothing makes me happier…”

This is no testament to me. This is what we do. This is what you do. If you haven’t heard it lately, let me be the one to say it to you today: Nothing makes them happier. You matter. You change lives. You are the center of some of your kids’ universe, and while that includes a COLOSSAL responsibility to serve those kids, make no mistake about it: You are opening the universe to children every single day, and there is NO better job. I know. I’ve done it.

I miss my band room all the time. I miss my kids, and I do mean “my” kids. While I fervently oppose objectifying children and treating them like possessions or numbered objects more than individual human beings – I also know the compassion, affection, and protection that I felt toward these kids. We develop unique, powerful psychoemotional relationships with children, as we provide the environment and the circumstances through which our student musicians can explore, understand, contextualize, and meaningfully impact their worlds and their lives.

We do not justify our existence in the context of the other disciplines. Rather, the varied academic disciplines are contextualized within the sum total of the human experience, and the arts, especially music, manifest that experience holistically. Knowing all of the math, English, social studies, and science in the world is, I dare to say, effectively useless if one does not know WHY those things matter. The so-called core disciplines teach some of the what, but the arts teach the WHY.

So true, so clear is the research, so strong the impact of music education, that it can penetrate a substance of such density and hardness that it rivals anything on the periodic table: The thick skulls of congresspeople. Just one month ago, on April 7, 2015, as part of the rewriting of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a bipartisan agreement was struck to include Music as a core subject in the new draft of our nation’s primary education law, thanks in no small part to music education associations just like CMEA.

I’ve taught general music, elementary music, middle school band, middle school chorus, high school band, musical theatre, music theory, music history, vocal jazz, keyboarding, and man, whatever your axe, whatever your gig, whatever your group, you are DOING it. You are the life blood of your school and for some of your kids, you are the reason they get up in the morning. For some of your kids, you are the reason they go on living. There are kids out there that are desperate for ONE person to turn to, and you might be that person and not even know it. You are the reason. You are the inspiration. You are music. You have LOVE in your life.

We can create microcosmic universes of safety and celebration, of meaning and art, of deep understanding, reaching the kids that others call intransigent or recalcitrant. I’m sure this has happened to a bunch of you. “Oh, you have John in your class, he’s SUCH a lazy bum,” and you go, “Uh, he’s my lead alto sax player and that kid is AMAZING. Do you know that he’s like two levels ahead of his classmates?” “Oh, you have Samantha, she is SUCH a prissy little stuck up snot,” and you go, “Uh, she’s one of the most sensitive artists I know. Do you know that she survived for two weeks in the mountains with her family to get out of her country of origin?” “Oh, you have Charles, and he is the most sullen, rude little boy,” and you go, “He laughs constantly in my class and I think he’s one of the most thoughtful kids I’ve met.” They, those colleagues, look at you like you’re crazy. “Are we even talking about the same kid?” No. Not really. He’s himself in my class. She’s herself in my group. These kids are isolated and repressed, stymied and silenced, in classes that don’t care about relevance, that don’t take the time to meet their individual needs.

I, as an idealistic long-haired loud-mouthed art-loving child-empowerment-obsessed Whoopi-Goldberg-fighting blog-posting book-writing screaming lunatic former-theater-kid-to-no-one’s-surprise fluffy freak of nature, have always wanted to throw the doors wide. I wanted any kid and every kid that wanted to make music, to come in and do so, no experience required. I wanted comprehensive literature, challenging preconceptions, and a classroom of absolute love and safety, an oasis from hyperconservatism, and the socioemotional and intellectual brutality I found in nearly every corner of that school. Play the electric bass? Join the band. Don’t play an instrument at all? Join the band. Haven’t played since sixth grade? Join the band. On the football team? Join the band. Don’t speak the language? Join the band.

Nobody will stop you here. Nobody will limit you here. Name-calling, ostracizing, cliques, barriers, these are expunged at the door. Here, we will not just say we refuse bigotry and hate and limitation, we will actively tackle them. We will talk, out loud, frankly, about stereotypes and self-harm, about attitudes and perceptions. We will listen to fluorescent light fixtures and debate if that ballast hum constitutes music. We will perform 4’33” and not shy away from passionate even shouting debates about it. In music rooms, we fail and fail and fail, and every time we practice more, we try something new, we try again. Business leaders in technology are desperate for people that know how to “Fruitfully Fail,” who want to “Disrupt” as they say so often in innovative startups. That’s what we do! We experiment and improvise, we create and collaborate, and we safely fail again and again in the pursuit of excellence and perfection that we learn to love as impossible to attain. We embrace nuance, we embrace difference, we embrace difference. Once you start seeing that differences are colors and not corrals, your world starts to change. Questions get asked that lead to more questions, and the status quo, the stolid static structures of state, start to look a lot like nonsense.

That’s what these community leaders and businesspeople are telling us they want. Outside the box. Innovation. Paradigm shifts. Understanding. International understanding. Context. Relevance. Connection. Oh, oh, I got it. You mean musicians.

Unintentionally, in my first job, I created just the right vacuum of anti-authoritarianism of which so many of those young people had been deprived, and they came in droves. The program burgeoned, more than doubling in size in a handful of months. I composed new music, arranged everything from science fiction film scores to Nintendo music, complete with projection big-screen gameplay to accompany the band. We resurrected the musical, created unique ensembles, and were well on the way to reestablishing the long-dead marching band right about the time the administration decided it had had enough.

I was threatening the structure of the school – and by extension the community, in their minds – by engendering critique in the hearts and minds of my kids: Question everything. What a recipe for becoming Public Enemy Number One. It might have ended badly, but it doesn’t mean I did the wrong thing. I kept my band room doors open, constantly inviting people into my teaching space to see learning, to experience music education, to be immersed in, participate in, become a part of our band, and the powerful experiences we know to be endemic to ensembles like ours speak volumes for themselves far better than any words I pen or preach. One of the keymost ways we help ourselves is to be transparent and open about what we do and how we do it, because the very phenomena policymakers are seeking – engagement, technology integration, multimodal and especially kinesthetic learning opportunities, authentic assessment practices, cross-curricular connections, all of these things are naturally-occurring in music education. Simply by opening the windows, we can show our natural leadership, and our thriving, vibrant student communities.

We can advocate for each other, and help answer the questions we’re asked, and ask significant questions in return. If administrators aren’t showing natural interest, I encourage you to question them. Politely, professionally, properly, but ask. What can I show you? What are we working on as a school? What can we do? How can we help?

As Noam Chomsky said, “if you’re willing to be puzzled, you can learn.” I would posit that the opposite is also true: If you are unwilling to ask questions, you cannot learn. If you are unwilling to be asked questions, to be questioned, you cannot teach. You certainly cannot lead teachers. I invite being challenged as an administrator. I’ve had a quote commonly attributed to Doris Kearns Goodwin on my office wall since 2008 or so: “Good leadership requires you to surround yourself with people of diverse perspectives who can disagree with you without fear of retaliation.” I believe all leaders must both question and must be questioned to lead.

I became an administrator in part because I believe this so fervently. One of my jobs involved teaching self-contained classroom music to what was in Stafford County, Virginia termed “ID2-ID3” students, which stands for what they called “intellectual disabilities” of the most significant levels. I LOVED those kids, and because of my passion for working with them, I did some professional development teaching adaptive music technology to my colleagues around the county. The educational technology director saw my work and said, “you really know how to reach teachers. You should think about going to grad school to be a professional developer,” and before you knew it, my questioning if there was a better way for myself led me to help others question if there were better ways for THEM, which led me to question if there were better ways to lead… I question everything. I question everyone. I question myself all the time. I learned that in music. Is there a better way? Is there another way? What’s the history that lead to this way? Why is it this way? Why not improvise, why not experiment, why not try something new?

And the more I do this, the more fellow administrators I work with, the more I remember my music teacher roots, ‘cause brother, I tell ya, there are a whooole lotta so-called leaders that just don’t get it. They’re neither teaching NOR leading. There are a whooole lotta people sitting in big tall chairs that don’t know SQUAT about education, let alone music education.

You see, I understand the exhaustion you feel sometimes. I’ve felt it myself. I know what it’s like to be under siege. I know what it’s like to be on the budget chopping block. To be chopped. To be surplused. I know what it’s like to sit in a room in which a grand total of ZERO PERCENT of what’s being discussed applies to your classroom. I know what it’s like to hear “science and math >SQUAWK< science and math >BU-KAW!<” parroted from every administrator from Putnam to Fairfield.

I am a crusader for every individual child, and my moral compass points directly away from adult interests and straight at kids and learning. I tried, but I’ve not always been successful in affecting positive change even in what I thought were situations with great potential. Many schools are just too inflexible to change wholesale, and while I’ve dedicated my work nowadays to trying to break the inflexible institutionalism that infects our schools, some days it’s darned hard to make any difference at all. You know where I did make a difference? Where you are.

We need you. Your kids need you. I need you.

As an educational revolutionary, my life’s work is no longer dedicated to administration, it’s to insurrection. I am helping to loudly lead the anti-standardized testing movement, because you cannot bubble sheet kids into success. You cannot measure understanding through multiple-choice tests and factual recall. You cannot evaluate creativity and innovation and critical thinking like colleges and businesses and the international community and parents say they want by drilling kids into the ground in the core-four through traditional pedagogy and passing them along through an age-based promotion system that involves thirty kids sitting in nice neat rows, facing the same way, moving from concrete box to concrete box at the sound of the bell with locked doors while an authority figure at the front of the room disciplines children and enforces repetitious tasks. That’s a fusion of the industrial factory and the prison, and historically, that is indeed what our scholastic institutions are based upon. (I write about this in the book, which I hope will come out in the next year, follow me on Twitter!)

But that all ceases at the doors to our rooms. When people come into our spaces, they leave those rigid rigor-factories, and they enter an environment that operates on a different set of physics. In the music education learning environment, children are at the center of the galaxy, not adults. Learning is our core DNA, not test-taking. Individualism and art are the essential elements of life, not control and obedience. Students are empowered to choose participation instead of commanded into it, and young artists are given voices, not silenced. Your room is the last, best hope for children. Your space is sacred ground. Your ensemble is a haven, a sanctuary. It is nothing less than the most important learning world in your school.

In our world, kids sit on the floor or sit in arcs or stand in pods or move expressively. In our world, children use all their modalities, visual and auditory and kinesthetic, and have huge autonomy within a motivating larger whole. In our world, we empower student leadership, encourage child individualism, promote new ways of expressing, foment risk-taking and self-challenge and innovation in creation. In our world, we raise our collective voices to accomplish great things. In our world, we foster discipline and passion, engender responsibility and freedom. In our world, we are not limited by traditional ideas of what is, but we are informed by a glorious past, the richest history of histories, that of the music of humanity back to the dawn of bone flutes. We are not content to go through the motions, but seek new literature, seek new performances, seek creation. We create, and we create creators who will in turn create themselves.

You are here at CMEA, expanding your horizons, ready to tackle something new with old and new friends alike, and you will leave here this weekend and return to your schools, and your children’s lives will be BETTER for it. That’s being a dedicated professional. That’s being a great teacher. You’re here.

In short, my friends, we are not a problem in public education, we are not ancillary or 2ndary, unimportant, we are the SOLUTION to public education, we are the CURE to standardized testing, we are the ANSWER to “why should I go to school” to “why does this matter.” Music education is the very soul of teaching and learning, and every single day you get up in the morning and go to work, you are doing the work of REAL TEACHING, you are SAVING the lives of children that have no where else to go, and you are changing your world and theirs for the better.

That is not lip service. That is the fact, pedagogically and historically, scientifically and artistically, and I am jealous as hell of you that you still get to do it, because you my friends, are heroes.

Music teachers are heroes, and I love you for it, as do your kids.

Thank you.


Keith David Reeves is an educator, author, and speaker. The views expressed at KDReeves.com, on Twitter at @ReevesKD, on Facebook at facebook.com/KeithDavidReeves, in this video, and on KDR’s YouTube channel, are independent and his own, and do not represent the views of his employers, past or current.

No talk show hosts were harmed in the making of this video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not new.

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

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

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

Enough is enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hill Questionnaire

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

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

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

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

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

Questionnaire

1. Name

Keith David Reeves

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

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

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

I am not an attorney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is an evolving document.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See answer to Question 12.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

See answer to Question 12.

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

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

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

Yes.

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

It applies to the people at large.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.”

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.


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