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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.


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

Make Sense: Fight the Real Common Core Fight

It’s called “number sense.”

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

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

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

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

New Math Meme

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

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

Probably not. I didn’t.

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

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

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

The Test

I left my classroom to work for more kids. To help more teachers. To make a bigger difference. I wanted to be in more classrooms. To see more students. To change more lives. I thought “administration” would be different for me, that I’d be one of the good guys. That I’d support a cadre of thoughtful professionals, create conditions for thriving teaching and immersive, passionate, compassionate learning. I thought my days would be filled with “ah-ha moments” and laughter and effusiveness. I used to make music. I used to have a room, filled with a hundred young musicians. I used to have clarinets and saxophones and trumpets and tubas and cymbals and wind chimes. I had Rimsky-Korsakov. I had Kamen. I had Holst. I had art. I had moments. I made music. I made a difference. I had kids. How many kids do you see, now? How many smiles? How many ah-ha moments? How much positive change in the world do you see, from the floor underneath a table filled with the accouterments of the standardized testing industrial complex? What do you see? Where have we gone? What have we done? What are we doing? What the hell is going on…

( Emo though it may be, and bent though the meaning may be, my accompaniment for the day has been this Imogen Heap tune. )

IMG_20140516_140543_691 IMG_20140516_140535_288 IMG_20140516_115836_838 IMG_20140516_115823_985 IMG_20140516_115821_700 IMG_20140516_113922_139 IMG_20140516_113916_788 IMG_20140516_113904_469 IMG_20140516_113819_711 IMG_20140516_113813_333 IMG_20140516_113808_665 IMG_20140516_113748_924 IMG_20140516_113712_169 IMG_20140516_111411_624 IMG_20140516_104618_927 IMG_20140516_101738_598 IMG_20140516_101358_516 IMG_20140516_101311_306 IMG_20140516_101230_465 IMG_20140516_101215_637 IMG_20140516_101158_922 IMG_20140516_101129_907 IMG_20140516_101102_139 IMG_20140516_101045_837 IMG_20140516_095424_021 IMG_20140516_095417_368

Gender-Based Dress Codes Threats to Kids and Schools Alike

I have a difficult time understanding school districts that seem to invite having their names in potential Supreme Court decisions. It’s 2014. Wouldn’t you think that issues like “children and their gender” and “student First Amendment rights” would be worthy of at least a modicum of rational policy discussion? I would. But time and time again, elected officials and appointed administrators seem to believe that if they just bully children enough, they’ll go away, and everything can go back to being quiet.

Wouldn’t you think that bullying would be something a school would avoid? It’s 2014.

All the more surprising when things like this arise is the fact that nobody takes the time to even basically Google (or preferably DuckDuckGo) these things. Take for example a recent situation that crossed my desk in which a child was asked to wear the color of graduation gown opposite that child’s gender identity. Did you ask which gender? I bet not, because it doesn’t matter, does it? It matters that there’s a disparity between the child’s gender to the child and the child’s gender to the school. So let’s start with the most fundamental level, below the foundation of American Constitutional law, and start with fundamental inalienable human rights:

Who gets to say who you are: you or the government?

Conservatives and Liberals alike should love this issue, because as a public school is, by proxy of taxation, a government entity, Conservatives should adore saying “keep the government out of my personal life,” and Liberals should adore saying “treat all gender identities equally.” How is this even an issue? You know the reason why, perfectly well, but let’s move past that for a moment and get to the Law of the Land.

With my background in school administration and education law, I immediately thought that Tinker v. Des Moines might apply. It was Tinker after all that, over forty years ago, established in SCOTUS precedent that “[i]t can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

However, knowing Tinker was about peaceable protest and that I, as a reasonable school administrator (were I in a position that involved graduation management) would probably have decent latitude with reasonable restrictions at a major event, probably under Bethel v. Fraser(Note: I do not, personally, believe Bethel to apply to the case at hand and I think it’d be an absurd argument to suggest that a black robe instead of a white robe when both are officially approved is remotely the same as charged sexual innuendo in a graduation speech. Read the case law if any of that sounds interesting to you.) But other cases tried in Federal courts have recently shown that schools that participate in gender bias are, in fact, treading into the same Constitutional violations as Tinker used. Cases like Fricke v. Lynch that said a school can’t tell a boy he can’t have a boy date at the prom would seem to indicate that even at so-called “special occasions,” the school can’t participate in gender bias without violating student First Amendment rights. (If I were an attorney fighting for a student’s right to wear one color of gown and not another, I’d probably lead with Fricke, but I’m no attorney.) Flores v. Morgan Hill might also suggest that a school that knew that a student felt discriminated against on the basis of gender (in that case, specifically, sexual orientation) could be found liable.

However, I’m no attorney, so being unsure of the case law precedent, I fell back to a few other ideas. Would Title IX apply in any way? Probably not, but would it be worth getting an attorney to try the tactic? It might, and even if it provides no ultimately-compelling litigation legwork, it’s still damned compelling argument about how we don’t allow gender bias in our schools under Federal Law.

Taking another tack, I thought about the supportiveness of the parents. A parent could well claim Constitutional injury on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, having the right to raise the child as s/he sees fit. (Turns out, I’m not the only one wondering about that.)

In fact, these issues are in our courts – both legal and of opinion – right now. Last year in New Mexico, a transgender student was told he had to wear a “female” gown at a private school graduation. However, that was a private school, and therefore that school has more protection.

For two students named Alicia and Amber in Florida, I’m glad it didn’t come to litigation, but I do wish in 2002 we’d seen a court decision defending their right to wear graduation-appropriate clothing of the gender of their choosing, just like any other student of the opposite biological gender was being allowed to do. I’m also glad that the ACLU had prevailed twelve years ago when it fought this very fight and won. (I may not be an attorney, but the ACLU has them at the ready. If I were a student being bullied by administrators, I’d certainly consider talking to them. I bet Michelle Garcia agrees with me.)

All this is to say that I think it’s pretty shortsighted and self-defeating for a school to think it should just try to brush this stuff under the carpet by harassing the kid into “going away,” when there are replete examples of that backfiring big time.

Then again, I’m the sort of guy in schools that thinks kids should come first, and deserve our love and protection, not bullying for adult convenience.

The Hidden Cost of Placating Parents

The amount of time, energy, and resources we waste on trying to make mopey parents feel better, make angry parents happy, and brush problems under the carpet is staggering, but we never seem to want to face the hidden costs.

Teachers who are circumvented, who are ignored, trampled upon, brushed aside, plowed under, and thrown to the wolves burn out. They teach less effectively because they’re under massive stress, and more children suffer because of the parent(s) of one kid.

We insist too often in education on making concrete that which must be fluid. “My child needs X.” “My kid must have Y.” “You’re doing Z when you should be doing A, B, and C.” These adversarial, motto-riddled, emblazoned-in-granite-over-edifice conversations are contrary to any child’s best interest. Collaborative conversations between the primary observers and guardians of a child – the parents – and the trained, experienced professionals in child psychosociology, pedagogy, and development – the educators – can accomplish wonders when they work together, especially when paired with thoughtful paraprofessionals. (And I include specialized, degreed non-educator child experts like psychologists, therapists, and counselors in the “paraprofessional” category.)

But all the best intentions and opportunities in the world are for naught when higher-ups circumvent hard conversations for the sake of convenience. The vast majority of the time, I’ve seen teacher-parent relationships blossom because of mutuality: everyone has the child’s best interests genuinely at heart, and disagreements about style are easily overcome through substance. (Note to professional practitioners: Have your research in line before you walk into the room, or don’t ask me to back your play. You purport to be an expert in children by virtue of sitting on my side of the table. Know your stuff, or find another chair.) However, there are times when it is entirely appropriate to have an adversarial relationship with a parent. Specifically, when a parent wants something that we know beyond the shadow of a doubt to be contrary to the child’s best interests, we have an ethical and professional obligation to say “no.” At best, this leads to clarification and parent education. At worst, this can lead to due process hearings and legal proceedings.

So what? Let it. In short: Go ahead. Sue me.

You heard me. Bring it on. “I’m an attorney, sir…” I’m going to go ahead and stop you right there. Oh, what, you thought there was more? No, I’m really just going to stop you. I have no interest in what comes out of your mouth after you, as a parent, say something like that. If you’re an attorney, you know that our system of laws exists in a naturally-adversarial condition. It’s designed that way. Even “no fault” cases are often heard with plaintiffs and defendants, and involve evidence and process to guarantee that everyone gets a fair say. So I say, bring it on. If I know, in my heart of hearts, what I’m doing is accordant with the law, compliant with research and child science, consistent with best practices, and representative of the state-of-the-art of teaching, bring it on.

You always have a right to leave the public schools if you want what you think is best for your child despite the facts. (In my world, we call doing something you know to be wrong “stupidity,” but hey, I’m just a teacher. What do I know about definitions and meaning?)

See, I think we’ve sold our credibility down the toilet by placating parents. I’m not interested in complacent parents. Are you a parent? Are you pissed off at this blog post? Why? Do you want to be coddled and complacent? Do you want me to ignore the facts of modern child science when doing right by your kid? Or would you rather your child’s school be populated with people that constantly pursue, with unmitigated tenacity and unbridled passion the absolute bleeding edge of what modern psychology, sociology, pedagogy, medicine, and the multifarious content disciplines tell us to be best for your child? I’m not interested in making you happy, parents. I’m sorry if that busts your chops; I really am. I wish you’d believe me when I say I hope it’s a fringe benefit, but as an action, I could give two shakes if you’re “happy” with me as a teacher. What I want, more than anything that involves your ego, emotions, feelings, whims, thoughts, or aspirations, is what’s best for your child. Fortunately, 95% of the time, parents and teachers are on the same page about these things. I’d bet most of you have rarely, if ever, experienced a real confrontation with one of your kid’s education professionals.

But in the 5% of the time when a haughty know-it-all, an egomaniacal fact-flaunter, or a self-appointed homeschool-leaning dilettante decides to act or speak contrary to what we, as professionals, know to be best for the child in question, I say take it to the mat.

Do we fight stupid and unnecessary fights in our field? Absolutely. There’s stuff I desperately want to teach teachers is unimportant, useless, and counterproductive. There’s a lot of completely avoidable tribulation in our schools, and I’m neither blind to it nor unwilling to tackle it and make some fairly sweeping culture shifts to ensure we put down our baggage. But there are times when we’re right, you’re wrong, and it’s as clear as day to any objective observer.

The cost of placating parents when they’re wrong is worse than wasting massive time and energy and money that could be better spent helping kids. Make no mistake, tiny fraction of parents that put “winning the fight” ahead of respecting good educational science: you’re hurting your kid and many other kids with your shenanigans. The real cost of placating parents is that it hurts kids.

Usually, the kid hurt the most, is the kid at the center of the situation, and you know me: I will never acquiesce in the face of defending a child.

Disabling Outlook Desktop Alerts

Projecting our email onto a screen in front of kids could be problematic at times, as we may receive confidential information during class. Use the following steps to disable the Desktop Alerts in Outlook:

  1. Open the Outlook client software.
  2. Click the orange File tab in the upper left.
  3. Near the bottom of the menu on the left, click Options.
  4. Click the second options,  Mail.
  5. Under the third heading, “Message arrival,” locate “Display a Desktop Alert.”
  6. Uncheck “Display a Desktop Alert.”
  7. Click OK.