Many teachers are writing deeply reflective work now, but I am not one of them.
This past week I’ve been waking up around 4:15AM, and then dropping off to sleep earlier and earlier. Still drinking water, taking my vitamins, and trying to breath, but my body revolts. But my brain surges in the witching hour, (which is not midnight, but between 3 and 4 AM).
It’s almost the end of first quarter. My teaching practice and energy has been spent on what I predicted last spring, but struggled with how to prepare. I write notes, letters, send packages, and even went on home visits. But still students, home with large and small families, who struggled with depression, anxiety, and trauma, cannot seem to find the invisible bridge to online school–it’s hidden in a fog, the mist of sorrow.
And I’m not trying to bum you out, I promise. I’m not. But playing on repeat in my head is that so much of this was going on before the pandemic, and now it’s just magnified. Students and teachers struggled to connect with one another: I don’t mean building relationships, or students not knowing that many adults cared about them and their well-being, but the kinds of generational connections to curiosity, satisfaction, and purpose. The ikigai of life. They didn’t put down their cell phones because that world was consistently far more entertaining and dopamine inducing than anything a teacher could say.
But considering some of the spreading of misinformation by teachers on social media now, why would our students trust us with their critical thinking skills? Even educators I respect(ed) and trust are sharing fake news about the new health curriculum in Washington State, and a few even posted that “Zuckerberg won’t allow the Lord’s Prayer” — twice. TWICE. Even after I told them this was false. And I didn’t even begin to get into the antisemitic piece about that lie.
Maybe — just this — please, teachers –don’t make things worse. Don’t exacerbate this situation by spreading lies, rumors, half-truths, and any fear mongering story.
There is no war on religion. There is a war on intellectualism and critical thinking skills.
There is not war on on white people. There is deeply rooted racism in our nation. And no, there is no such thing as reverse racism, as a few white women teachers tried to contend in a recent thread.
I’m asking folks to have a little less Dunning-Kruger and a little more skepticism and questioning.
And stop spending and spreading the lies so quickly. Save and keep the truth.
I look under rocks so you don’t have to.
If you saw what some Libertarians, White Supremacists, Trolls, write about teachers–that their jobs are ridiculous, outdated, and students can learn everything they need to know from Khan Academy and YouTube, and that our professional expertise and ability to find relevancy and context with our students, help them understand and apply the process of critical thinking skills, weigh facts, opinions, truth and biases to draw their own conclusions based on logic and personal values. When we do this well, it’s powerful. And perhaps it is that expertise and knowledge that frightens many, including some teachers. Unfortunately, many teachers still uphold white supremacy, colonialism, and other harmful, violent practices. And, though I will never understand it fully, many voted for the current president and would do so again. But at this writing he’s in the hospital right now, Sunday, October 4, 2020, with the virus he called a hoax.
But this is about teaching Ayn Rand’s works Whatever you may think about her writing, her opinions, etc., I ask: please do the background knowledge and current scholarly research into the consequences of her work. I provide a few articles to read and consider.
The new age of Ayn Rand: how she won over Trump and Silicon Valley
It is a timely decision because Rand, who died in 1982 and was alternately ridiculed and revered throughout her lifetime, is having a moment. Long the poster girl of a particularly hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism – the advocate of a philosophy she called “the virtue of selfishness” – Rand has always had acolytes in the conservative political classes. The Republican speaker of the US House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, is so committed a Randian, he was famous for giving every new member of his staff a copy of Rand’s gargantuan novel, Atlas Shrugged (along with Freidrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom). The story, oft-repeated, that his colleague in the US Senate, Rand Paul, owes his first name to his father Ron’s adulation of Ayn (it rhymes with “mine”) turns out to be apocryphal, but Paul describes himself as a fan all the same.
The Fountainhead was serially rejected and published to ambivalent reviews, but it became a word-of-mouth hit. Over the coming years, a cult following arose around Rand (as well as something very close to an actual cult among her inner circle, known, no doubt ironically, as the Collective). Her works struck a chord with a particular kind of reader: adolescent, male and thirsting for an ideology brimming with moral certainty. As the New Yorker said in 2009: “Most readers make their first and last trip to Galt’s Gulch – the hidden-valley paradise of born-again capitalists featured in Atlas Shrugged, its solid-gold dollar sign standing like a maypole – sometime between leaving Middle-earth and packing for college.”
What Happens When You Take Ayn Rand Seriously?
The core of Rand’s philosophy — which also constitutes the overarching theme of her novels — is that unfettered self-interest is good and altruism is destructive. This, she believed, is the ultimate expression of human nature, the guiding principle by which one ought to live one’s life. The fly in the ointment of Rand’s philosophical “objectivism” is the plain fact that humans have a tendency to cooperate and to look out for each other, as noted by many anthropologists who study hunter-gatherers.https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/good-thinking/201602/what-happens-when-you-take-ayn-rand-seriously
In other words, we are more social and connected than some would like to believe.
The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise
The city’s experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from “60 Minutes” flew out to talk with the town’s leaders. The New York Times found a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. “This American Life” did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new “Adopt a Streetlight” program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. “I’ll take care of mine” was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/06/30/colorado-springs-libertarian-experiment-america-215313
This is a long piece, and requires a few readings to reach its conclusions, mainly because it’s muddy (like most human endeavors). But it does illustrate an experiment of Libertarian ideals that would make Ayn Rand rise from the grave, and then go back in again when she sees what a failure it is.
Libertarianism, in my husband’s words, doesn’t scale. That’s it. And my words: it produces an immaturity and failure to actualize into adulthood. And if we teachers want this for our students, and insist on teaching Ayn Rand, please provide multiple viewpoints that demonstrate how it doesn’t work. Everyone of us likes to think we’re the hero of our own story, we’re in control, and we are independent. And there’s nothing wrong that until we forget there are 8 billion others. It’s misspent energy at best, and destruction at worst.
There were more than a few times when I told students that I was not a television, video, or YouTube star, I was a human, talking in real time, and to actively listen and practice solid metacognitive thinking, having a dialogue/exchange is one of the ways we learn from each other. Face to face. In person.
I joked with my students (we started school on September 9) that now I am a YouTube star. One student said WHAT IF YOU DID MRS. LOVE?! What if I did indeed. My chubby face, grandma-wave-bye-bye-arms, and extremely warm workspace (yes, that’s the shed payment on my bar so I don’t forget) is not the makings of movie and screen magic. I gave them the metaphor it’s like they’re on Jupiter, I’m on Mars, and I’m their teacher in space. That analogy seemed to help frame our current situation.
But I am lucky. And I wish “luck” had nothing to do with it. My district and several neighboring ones are working remotely. Reading about the lengths teachers and parents are going to around the country, many schools opening to face to face instruction, closing right back up again, etc. I’m seeing tweets about being “allowed” to wear scrubs to school (!!!!!) and which ones don’t get wrinkly. My pitch for my novel: the future is a hybrid of schools/hospitals where the sick and dying are cared for by women in scrubs providing rotating read-alouds. Forever. The End.
Yes, teachers are asking for scrubs recommendations. And wondering about classroom management so kids keep their masks on. I can’t even get a Ford Dealership service manager to keep his mask on, what makes us think we can expect our colleagues and students to do so?
The big things: the skies are thick with smoke, hazy and orange, visibility and air quality down to nothing, somewhere in an orange man is plotting his return by lies, cheating, and stealing with complicit minions, fires are burning, COVID keeps killing, and there is not a thing I can do about it. Oh, and white supremacists continue to spew their toxic, hateful, racist, immature garbage for their trolls. And get published by Education Week.
The little things: my students did log on this week, by and large. I kept the cognitive load low. I helped a student with her science homework. I helped one student work out a flexible schedule so he could work 40 hours a week and still go to school (I know this doesn’t sound like “help” but I will do whatever I can to help this young man graduate and support his family.) We had great conversations in drawing class, and we now have a mermaid skeleton naming contest for next week.
I’m going to keep focusing on the little things. They are large in my heart.
P.S. This is hard.
Trying to take one breath, one moment, and capture some of the good ideas out there, either from my own noggin or others. And the thing is, many of these ideas I feel I should have been doing all along — not just greeting kids and doing community building activities at the beginning of the year, but more before school connections. (Oh, wait, yeah, at a previous school the admin didn’t have schedules finalized until October, so there’s that…)
- Sending invites and RSVPs to my students
- Making Bitmoji classrooms: not because I love Bitmoji, but because it gave me a focus and teaching therapy.
- Google Sites are ready to go
- Getting goody bags ready for students to pick up tomorrow (masks on, people!)
- Going to make a lesson with ‘song of the week’ where students get to choose the theme song/share a favorite song (no explicit language)
- Emailing support and colleagues to make sure I have supplies and materials for students–it feels like we’re coming out of a deep freeze from March
- Made an introductory video (it’s not done yet)
Need to add the ‘after” information…
There will be more, I’m sure. Every year is different from the one before, and starting year 15, I’m just now realizing that’s a good thing.
Remember that big push for #STEM a few years ago? I do. And I thought it was okay, I mean, I read what other countries did, and remembered my own gendered education, and memories of being made fun of for having a wide vocabulary and being “smart.” Because being pretty is/was valued over being intelligent. For STEM, targeting girls especially because science and math are ‘for boys’ and we wanted to show girls that science and math are cool, that it’s okay to be smart. There is a YouTube Channel called “It’s Okay to Be Smart,” too. I even participated in the WABS Fellowship program, and am still friends with a Boeing engineer I can call on anytime to speak to my students. I have worked for years to bring project-based learning through a Humanities’ lens to my students, a bigger picture, big, burning question excitement and engagement. Curiosity is love. Biology is poetry, and physics is art in motion.
I am going to use ‘we’ here, but it’s clumsy. Of course it wasn’t all of us.
My question this morning, and it must be asked, what are we really teaching children now? What values do we hold as a nation, and what do we build together? As I look at crowded hallways and teachers around the nation who are planning face to face instruction during COVID19, I am frozen in my tracks at the sheer audacity of arrogance, greed, complicity, and the nightmare unfolding in front of us. I want to scream at them all, what are you doing? To parents who are “anxious” but send their children to school anyway?* To teachers who are trapped by their right-to-work states? In this purgatory of forever quarantine, losing our rights, written in headlines on the hour?
Yes: I know if Texas teachers, for example, strike they lose their retirement savings. Just like that. For decades the GOP has worked, infiltrated systems and institutions to undermine social protections at every level. And every time we fight back, it feels like we have ten other people screaming at us, supporting these actions, loving the “game” and “winning” because that’s all we are now. A binary system of winners and losers. And the irony is, we’re all losing.
Yes, I know many parents are working two jobs to make meager ends meet. This is also by design.
Yes, I know many parents identify with their white supremacy and the current president, and think not only is he a good person, but he’s done well by them.
What I don’t know, and I don’t know how we can find out, is what children are learning right now? If children learn what they live, are they the current manifestation of conspiracy theories, lack of facts, and are they lost forever? And I mean…lost. Truly. My sons know what’s what. Their friends, do, too. And probably your school-aged children. But they are about to face the biggest battle, the one in preparations now–there is no more science. There is no more curiosity. And there is no more love of intelligence. It’s been murdered and no one cares to solve the crime.
Most of us are jealous and discouraged about countries who have cornered the outbreak and kept it under control. I for one wish I was a Hobbit right now and lived in New Zealand (well, I did before this, and now more than ever). Other countries have taken the lead, and not had the cultish devotion of an unintelligent man as their leader. My husband read Denial of Death by Ernest Becker years ago and like a Nostradamus of Washington he laid out the entire next four years for me. But being warned is not the same as being prepared: I should have known that my fellow citizens would pull us into this hell of ignorance and magical thinking. But children, however, that’s a different matter. We have never loved children in our nation, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
Down the street from me a neighbor who flies both a US flag, his Marine Corp flag, and has a Culp sign in his front yard. Culp doesn’t believe in wearing masks. I don’t dare put out an Inslee yard sign, because last time I put out an Obama yard sign it was stolen and swastikas were painted on my fence. This was 2008. I don’t have the money to fix a graffitied fence. And I am a coward. I am afraid of them, the white supremacists in my neighborhood who don’t understand science, or care to know. They are satisfied in their ignorance and think magic will protect them, or it was magic’s will.
Children are learning now how little we value their lives. They may not be able to articulate it, because they trust us. Those same kids who shouted “build the wall!” when Trump was elected trust their parents. They trust their teachers who are coming back to school to teach them, with clear shower curtains, hand sanitizer and masks. Sometimes.
And when I say their lives their lives not only include their mortal coils, but those of their families. Get ready to collectively mourn the children who bring home COVID19 and harm their families. I have relatives and though three of four of them came down with COVID19 brought home by their 19 year old daughter, they dismissed it like a bad cold. They’re Trump supporters. And maybe for them it wasn’t bad or life-altering, or they will have any long-term health effects.
I don’t have any answers for my question right now. I’m watching, waiting, and thinking. But I do hope, and wish, all teachers right now, would start the year with facts and how science works. How getting new information and adjusting approaches works. How they can prepare and make decisions for themselves and their families. This is a natural disaster and must be treated as such.
Do we love children or not? Do we love them enough to teach them facts and critical thinking skills?
This reporting deserves a Pulitzer. Now that’s out of the way, Chana Joffe-Walt and the Serial podcast is a must-listen.
While I sit in my rage, my fear of personal hypocrisy, and memories of my own education and the parallel worlds of Black and brown children alongside mine and my sons’ I cannot help but feel this odd sense of inevitability, hopelessness, and also drastic change and revolutionary, explosive change. But maybe that’s just life now; maybe many of us waver between hope and despair. But if we don’t get this right, if we don’t solve this, it is my prophetic conviction we’re headed toward doom. What this series reports is a history, the heart-pumping, breathing in and out contextual poetry of history. How did this happen? How did we get here? What might happen next? And my hopelessness is rooted in the 40% of white Americans right now who have done everything and continue to fight this war the rest of us don’t want, we reject, and we swing and miss, swing and miss, swing and miss, and strike out.
Let’s get this right.
Understand that this isn’t some other white woman speaking. This is me. These are my wealthier friends who struggled with where to send their children. This is me when my husband and I bought our first (and only house) and moved to where the reports said the schools were good. The schools, and the community, is still predominately white. Did I subconsciously think about race? I can’t honestly say. Knowing how I feel now, and knowing my own past with living overseas, I think it was a drawback because it was too homogenized. It’s my family member who lived in a very wealthy area and whose PTSA drew in thousands of dollars for already privileged children of very wealthy parents.
I’ve told this story before. I lived in Tehran for about a year, and then moved during 7th grade to a white Denver suburb. I went to a large, predominately white high school. The students had affluent parents, and many drove BMWs, Mercedes, etc., to school. I had one friend who lived in a bona fide mansion. My boyfriend’s family belonged to the Denver Country Club. Later he would tell me the reason he didn’t marry me (one reason, anyway) was because his parents wanted him to marry the daughter of their other wealthy friends. He did, they later divorced, and I am still wondering what happened to that Cinderella path. Bippity, boppity, boop. I moved my senior year to a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware. Yes, that Delaware. With Joe-Biden-as-Senator-Delaware. The high school was said to be “formerly one of the best in the state, but since busing has deteriorated.”
Understand moving my senior year was traumatic: I left the boyfriend, left my friends, left my rank as a senior to move to a state that was not nearly as beautiful as Colorado. Sorry, Delaware, you’re just not. Okay, the beaches are pretty wonderful, but yeah.
And this is where memory may falter: I don’t really remember how I felt about being around other students of color. I really don’t. I think I just thought they seemed annoyed at being there, and of course many of the other white kids were racist shits. The entire framing of the school and the experience there was surreal to me. My English teachers at the other school put me through my paces, while my senior English teacher had given up. The whole thing seemed weird, and whatever opinions I had about race, integration and school were wonky and wrong. But it seems like that’s many white people’s views: they were just wrong.
It’s in the voices of the white people on the podcast –the guilt, shame, and false naivety.
And think about Episode 3: poaching students. What the hell is this? Is every damn thing a sports arena?
“It’s like a secret they didn’t tell us.” Nadine Jackson, Episode 3
When my younger son was in middle school, he, well, was having a rough time. Following in the shadow of his highly achieving brother, school was a struggle. At one point, I wanted him to come to where I was teaching–it was objectively better. Better because the teachers wanted to be there, the programs, the freedom for project based learning, better math and science, all the way around. I’m still friends with many of the teachers who taught when I did, and while the school has many problems, it always comes down to the adults in charge. Though a Title I school, which in this context means the students’ families have financial obstacles. (I say it this way because I am raging over how our nation handles money, but that’s a story for another time.) My son would have thrived there, but he decided to stay locally because of some of his close friends, friends he still has to this day. Was I trying to replicate some kind of global or world experience for him that his mostly white school couldn’t do? Maybe. I wasn’t successful. And when I see social media posts by my white neighbors, I see they’re content and satisfied with the status quo. And even vote for a dangerous man to keep it that way.
But more integrated schools have greater flexibility: I and the counselor worked out a structure that “honors” classes were open and available to all. Contrasting, the mostly white middle school in my same district used a triage of tests because so many of the white parents wanted their children tracked in honors. And, I taught my core ELA classes with the same Honors content, and told them so. It wasn’t more work, it was offered to all, and the only difference was pacing. That’s it. We didn’t get it right when inclusion came around, and again, not the fault of the students. Inclusion was not introduced well, at the expense of many students. By the time I left, they brought back honors, but only one teacher was allowed to teach it, one of the admin’s darlings, and she would not accept late work. Period. I think she’s now teaching in my sons’ district. Interesting how that works, isn’t it?
Another memory is when our neighbors, who have a son between my sons’s ages, said how “scared he was to go” to my school during sporting events. I told him that was ridiculous, the kids were great, and I loved teaching there. But I knew it was code for “I”m scared of the Black and brown kids there.” And the power and white supremacy goes unchallenged.
My sons’ schools had active PTSAs: money, events, socials, and expensive supply lists. My teaching school had two years of an active PTSA because a white mom ran it when her daughter went to the school-within-school on campus. Now, some white women know how to get money and resources for their buildings, and keep it going. But it feels too fragile and unsustainable when the white savior is centered.
I’ve tried to get three buildings on board with ProjectLit, and they look at me askance, with polite, cold “no’s.” I’ve had to tamp down my enthusiasm many times.
Now — recently my older son and I had a great conversation about the white savior trope in teaching. He is interested in becoming a teacher, and wants to do a great job. I am keeping a weathered eye on his perfectionism, but will only assist if he asks. And in our conversation about saviorism I had the opportunity to say out loud what lives in my teaching soul. Students don’t need saving. They have parents who love them. They want the best for their child. That’s it. No need to ‘save.’ Just provide the best education you can. Keep learning. Listen. Honor the human in front of you, and be humbled–parents send their hearts to school.
But in terms of the inequities between schools, white, wealthier parents you are on notice: listen to the podcast and do your homework. Shed your defensiveness. We all make mistakes and missteps. I’ve only worked in Title I schools, and I’ve seen these programs, initiatives, etc., come through constantly. Going on 15 years, it’s 15 years of this. It’s decades of this for this nation.
Take time to find out who’s on your local school boards, whether you have children in the district or not. Find out the demographics of the schools in your area. Find out the building sizes, and how many students go to each school. For example, my former middle school has almost 900 students for a building intended for 600. There is another that has empty classroom. Busing doesn’t work, so what does? Maybe we need to overhaul how schools are ranked? Demand that money be spread equally to the schools,
Keep reading, but more importantly, reach out. Donate, no strings, no agendas.
A huge shout-out of gratitude to Angela Stockman: read this first:
Ah, the synergy and serendipity of collaboration and conversation.
I’m sitting in my writing shed, something I wanted forever, am very grateful to have, and am still paying off. And the barn-style door does not stay propped open on its own (does anything?). Returning from a walk, I go back to the shed to see what kinds of inspiration can be gleaned from a sunny, anxious depressing, cortisol-filled day. Now, mind you, the garden statuary of the squirrel has a long story, and not sure I’m going to write it right this minute. But I use this statue to prop open the door, and it came to me that this statue is symbolic of a guardian, a talisman, of mine. Quick snapshot, and onto my IG post of the day. Today is the 218/366 (it’s a Leap Year).
And then I thought–whew– wouldn’t this be a good writing prompt idea for my students? I know we all live in different spaces, sometimes sharing an apartment with extended family. But if they could imagine and fantasize about legendary guardians and protectors, what fantasy objects could their “loose parts” help them create?
I’ve often said being an art major informed my teaching. I use writing territories and many low-risk writing strategies. The trick is I’m not going to be ‘there,’ but merely a hologram. Stockman’s Loose Parts reminds me of writing territories but more refined and functional. When I’ve used writing territories in the recent past, some students are confused and don’t grab onto their own stories. The three timeline writing works, but even that can be traumatic. Allow writers to choose from their own writing territories, or collection of loose parts.
It may be wrong or naive of me to hope that the state standardized testing is gone, at least in its current form. The writing has morphed into solely writing to respond. It’s an autopsy of reading, too, and makes little or no connection to the symbiotic act of reading and writing.
John Oliver’s recent episode about history in the United States summed up what many of us have been thinking, saying, and advocating for for a long time. (Language warning. It is HBO, after all.)
We teachers must do a much better job at making sure our ELA, History, Science, Math and electives reflect and provide more than dates and events, and especially the racism of omission. Some teachers don’t know where to start with this process, so I’ll offer a few suggestions and resources, and overall, this is a case made for adding accurate and representational historical fiction to your readings.
Jennifer Binis is an educational historian, and shared this thread on Twitter. First and foremost: shape your questions around bigger thinking:
The Case for Historical Fiction
I love fiction. And I love history. Historical fiction is my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of literature. The best historical fiction blends a perfect balance between my background knowledge, my curiosity, and willingness to research, and learning something new. Historical Fictions novels are my portable time machines, where I get to live a life set in reality, time, and setting. I learn so much from great historical fiction, and its pairing with history would truly help deepen contextual and important learning.
Readings – Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Some historical fiction novels are deeply problematic. However, they can be used as mentor texts of what not to do. Many of us don’t have time in the school day to do this, but just be aware: if you can steer away from teaching the problematic ones, please do so. There are so many other solid choices out there that don’t uphold white supremacy or colonization. Here are a few books I recommend, and am continuing my search. Please recommend historical fiction novels that involve US History.
Dread Nation by Jill Ireland: Dread Nation is NOT historical fiction, but I’m adding it here as an example of historical fiction mixed with fantasy/horror.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – this is also not exactly historical fiction, but a mixture of magical realism.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: I am hoping to teach this whole class next year if I get permission, or add it to independent study if I don’t.
A Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulson; this short novel touches on one soldier’s story and battle fatigue.
The Astonishing Tale of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson: this novel was life-changing for me. The second novel is equally important.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: a story of two sisters and their paths through enslavement.
The Seeds of America Trilogy: Chains; Forge; Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (very apropos to our times)
Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
An African American and Latinx History of the United States (REVISIONING HISTORY) by Paul Ortiz
Zinn Education Project