Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Viral Overconfidence

Well, this is an interesting piece of research.

A new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that overconfidence can be transmitted socially, that being around overconfident people rubs off on other folks.

As with most psycho-social research, the experimental designs leave room for considerable debate, and there are plenty of needles to thread. I find it interesting that the transmission only appears to occur within people in your own tribe.

The research reminds me of a not-uncommon phenomenon in the world of student performance-- the group founded and led by somebody who's not very qualified, but who is absolutely confident in their awesomeness, and the group itself is filled with students who are vocal in their belief that Beloved Leader is awesome and the group itself is also awesome. These kinds of groups are aided and abetted by an entire industry of "competitions" that let them earn medals and awards.

The power of overconfidence is under-discussed in education, probably because the problems of confidence gaps loom so much larger in classrooms. But the effects are similar. A student who lacks confidence will not try, because not trying is the only tactic they believe they have for avoiding failure. The overconfident students will also not try--because they don't think they need to.

Both are also brittle and destructive. Someone lacking confidence collapses at the first sign of impending failure. Overconfidence lacks any tools to deal with failure, and has to retreat to blaming ("They must have cheated!!") or trying to overwrite reality ("No, that's actually what was supposed to happen").

A teacher who fills the classroom with viral overconfidence is just setting those students up for a crash (and setting a colleague up for a "You don't do things right like Mrs. Awesomesauce" headache). But a teacher who destroys student confidence sets those students up for a school career of misery.

Could this kind of viral overconfidence be used as a factor in group work? I don't think I've ever seen that phenomenon in action. But confidence is a huge factor in the entire student social scene, as powerful in its own way as tribal behavior. This is the kind of thing I read about and it makes we want to get back in the classroom and try tweaking some things. Could I nudge some growth by putting over and under confident students together? Probably not, because levels of confidence are used by teens to sort and recognize fellow tribe members.

Here's what I do know-- when we talk about confidence, we have to talk about confidence in what. We often jump to the idea that one is confident in their ability to get the job done, to successfully complete the task, that their confidence rests in their own competence and ability.

But there is another kind of confidence, which is confidence in one's own ability to cope with the outcome no matter what that outcome may be.

This is one of the things I learned years ago in divorce school. I fully expected to never recover, to never be able to uncurl and stand up and get back to doing stuff. But as it turned out, I was considerably more resilient than I thought, and I carried that (at least on my good days) forward. I re-acquainted myself withe the power of the question "What's the worst thing that could happen?" and learn to add "And if that happens, is there any reason to think I can't handle it?"

In the classroom, we can be reluctant to just say to a student, "No, that's wrong." But I think the key is to send a message of "No, that's wrong, but you will still be fine." It's the same message that more recently has morphed into the reminder to students and parents that students are more than a test score. Your failures may be real, but they don't have to define you as a human being. I think that's far more useful than trying to convince yourself that they aren't failures at all.

It's all a critical part of learning how to be your best self, to be fully human in the world--you have to strive to see reality as clearly as you can, including your own strengths and weaknesses, without letting them define your ability.

It is the opposite of standardization, which feeds the kind of viral overconfidence the paper talks about. In this approach, you set an artificial bar (especially one that your tribe is well-poised to clear) and then you treat that artificial bar as if it is proof that you are wise, smart, and destined to be successful in life. And then whenever anything doesn't go your way, you blame that failure on someone or something else. Or you just tell yourself that everything is fine. Just fine.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Catholic Church Looks To Cash In On Espinoza

Well, this is not exactly a surprise.

Now that SCOTUS has poked another huge hole in the wall between church and state, and now that the Catholic Church and the Trump administration have been forging closer ties over support for school choice (aka getting tax dollars to Catholic schools), and now that Betsy DeVos is insisting that financial aid intended for public schools should go to private schools-- now that all that is going on, it should come as no surprise that the Catholic Church is now arguing publicly to be given more taxpayer dollars.

It surfaced here in the National Catholic Register last Thursday. The op-ed is penned by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Cardinal Seán O’Malley and Archbishop José H. Gómez, from New York, Boston and Los Angeles, and it leads with the Espinoza decision, saying it "corrected an historic injustice." Also, the Covid-19 pandemic is sad and affecting everyone. And then they move quickly from there to demanding their cut of taxpayer funding. Their talking points include the following:

* Catholic schools have been around for two centuries. They would like you to focus on the part of the Catholic system that serves the upwardly mobile poor, and not the part that serves exclusive wealthy folks.

* Catholic schools educate lots of non-Catholic students, like them Protestants, Jewish folk, and Muslims. Well, as long as they aren't, you know, gay, or have too costly an IEP.

* Catholic schools are facing a financial crisis and many "will close." Parents might have to pull kids out because of their own financial hardships. We're going to come back to this point in a moment.

* Catholic schools are worth saving because they help poor kids and make society better.

* Catholic schools are better and cheaper than public schools. They provide "healthy competition," which is a bogus notion. And then there's this bit of baloney: "Year after year, 99% of our students graduate from high school..." First of all, that's just sloppily inaccurate, since a goodly percentage of their students are not in 12th grade. Second, as always, watch the cohort. In other words, don't tell me how many of your seniors graduate from your high school, but tell me how many of, say, your freshmen are still there after four years and then graduate. Third, I notice this sloppy sentence just says that their students graduate from high school, so I guess if someone leaves Catholic school after eighth grade and then graduates from a public school, they still count. Which is still not impressive since Catholic schools automatically select for families with committed and involved parents.

* Catholic school closures would cost taxpayers big bucks because Catholic schools spend so much less per pupil. And in this pandemic time, they're keeping schools from overcrowding.

The Catholic leaders have a solution!

To enable families to provide the best education for their children and stabilize enrollment in Catholic and other non-government schools, Congress should also adopt a federal scholarship tax credit modeled after successful state-level credits.

By a remarkable coincidence, this is exactly what Betsy DeVos has been pushing with her Education Freedom tax credit program, aka super-vouchers. The writers argue that this is just the kind of program that Espinoza upheld, which, yes, sort of. In fact, the unfortunate truth is that the argument in favor of Espinoza was always going to lead here, because the argument is basically "if the government funds something, they can't exclude somebody from sucking up some of those delicious tax dollars just because they are a religious organization."

So I'm not going to bet that the Catholic church won't eventually win this argument nationally (they've already won it in a couple of states).

But it's still baloney. Take this:

This is not a choice between tax-payer-funded public schools and tuition-based independent schools. Public schools and independent schools equally deserve and urgently need our government’s assistance.

Well, no, unless you're planning to tap some infinite pool of money, it is a zero-sum choice game. Nor do independent schools "equally deserve" taxpayer dollars. Let's say your town has a community pool that's open to everyone, but a local group decides that they want their own private pool for just the people they want to let swim there. When there's a need for maintenance and upkeep, are both pools deserving of taxpayer support? Of course not.

Nor do Catholic schools just "close." The language used in the op-ed is carefully chosen, but if you've been in a community that went through the process (we've watched this unfold locally over the past couple of years), you know that Catholic schools don't just close like the tide going out or wildflowers blooming. Catholic schools close because the Catholic church chooses to close them. The Catholic church swoops into town and says "You aren't pulling in enough students" or "we don't want to spend more money on this building" and, to the accompanying sound of parent protests, the Catholic church itself shuts down the school.

And it should be noted that in many cases what's needed is not an infusion of dollars, but an infusion of students. If we're going to praise the virtues of "healthy competition," well, this is what that looks like in some communities--Catholic schools have lost the competition for a big slice of the market. 

Arguments like the one in this op-ed talk about Catholic schools as if they are orphan private schools, with no possible source of income except tuition and aid, when in fact they are attached to one of the wealthiest organizations/businesses in the country. And I think we can say "businesses" because the US Catholic church pulled in billions of dollars from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Even if you convince me of every talking point above, I'm going to ask why that isn't an argument that the Catholic church should provide greater financial support for their own private school system. Why should the US taxpayer be footing the bill for a private, exclusive organization run by one of the richest companies in the country?

Don't Waste Time

This is personal. You may want to move on. But I need to write this out because one of the people I would ordinarily talk it out with is not here.

Merrill and I taught together for just under thirty years. We were the same age, but she had gotten a late start on her career, having first worked in the world of newspaper advertising, just one of the many parts of her biography that hinted at the toughness that backed up her magnolia-sweet proper belle exterior.

A love story (that is not mine to tell, but which has inspired me at many points in my own life) brought her here, far from South Carolina, with a young daughter from an earlier marriage. We were looking for someone to fill a new gap. Merrill came with impeccable credentials, an impressive background of knowledge, and a recommendation from a local giant in teaching English.

Over the years, we settled into regular spots-- I taught the juniors, and she taught the seniors, and so we often worked as a team. In a district that didn't always provide a lot of curricular direction, we had to make sure we were hitting the right bases with our students.

And she knew all of the bases. Her knowledge and love of literature was huge, and it just kept getting huger over the years she taught. The great headline-making showpiece of her classroom was the annual end-of-year unit for the 12th grade honors (later AP, after Merrill made the extra effort to get the official upgrade for the course) for which she first taught Paradise Lost, and then had the class split into two groups to put John Milton on trial for either whether or not he successfully made the ways of God clear to man. The trial was a huge piece of theater, with students portraying Adam, Eve, and various other characters; the jury was composed of lawyers and judges from the community. It was the project that people talked about year after year.

But there was so much more going on in her classroom. She taught those seniors--the ones who know they're supposed to go to college for some reason, but they aren't sure why to what they want to do when they get there-- she taught them to think like college students, to develop the disciplines of reading and writing and interpreting. She taught those seniors who were headed straight into the "real world" how to communicate effectively, to deal with nuts and bolts like resumes, to be responsible, that there were plenty of aspects of literature that were fully accessible to them even if they weren't "college bound."

And like all the great teachers, she cared, enormously. Students knew they could talk to her about anything, at any time of the day. She was a mother hen in the best sense of the word, and her students--even the ones with whom she butted heads--knew she cared about them, not as projects or work-related responsibilities, but as human beings. Every Friday, she told her seniors to keep it "safe and legal" over the weekend.

She took the work seriously. She was up well before the crack of dawn, in her classroom hours before students arrived, and she took truckloads of papers home every evening. She was department chair for forever because nobody else wanted to try to match her level of organization. And nobody in the entire district was better at shaking down publisher's reps, who waltzed in, heard the sweet southern accent, and figured they had another easy mark.

Merrill was fiercely loyal, and she never half-assed a commitment. Once she had committed to an activity, a committee, an organization, she stuck it out, even in the face of disappointment or just plain being taken advantage of.

We were a team for many parts of school life. I advised the yearbook; she was the business manager. I directed the school's variety show; she worked the box office. We had very different styles in the classroom, and over the years we had the occasional disagreement. But those disputes never lasted. Every year her students held a debate about Lady Macbeth; Merrill always sent one team to me because I believe Lady M is redeemable, and Merrill did not. She helped me land my first writing gig. She was my work sister.

I admired her depth and breadth of knowledge, her ability to be a positive force for so much of the staff, her love for her students. She battled illness. She knew how to balance being a good team player with maintaining her high standards, a skill I never exactly mastered. I also admired her courage; Merrill really didn't like situations where she had little control over what was happening, and yet time after time, she waded into exactly those situations, from moving to a strange small town to all the control one gives up to be an effective classroom teacher. I have little doubt that part of her longed for the safe, simple thing. She had the background to retreat into the role of the cutesy blond former cheerleader belle, baking tarts and sitting quietly on some civic committee. But she didn't, because she was so much more than that. She pushed herself, often in roles that were never going to provide much glory or recognition. She suffered through years on the bizarrely contentious humane society board, and everyone who ever got married in the Episcopal church owed Merrill for the smoothly-running ceremony. She ran a writing competition held in honor of the woman who first pushed Merrill toward our district. She never wasted a moment.

When I retired, she stuck around. She didn't have as many years in, and I don't think she wanted the department to lose both of us in one year. But last spring, she decided to take the retirement plunge. Then everything went to hell, and she didn't get a victory lap, a goodbye session with her last students, or a send-off from the staff that loved her. There was a retirement party scheduled for this month, but as you have by now sensed, it won't be happening.

Friday night, Merrill experienced what they call a major cardiac event in the middle of the night, and she passed away.

It hardly seems real. She was too young; this is much too soon.

As humans, we learn this same lesson over and over and over again. Do not waste time, for so many reasons, not the least of which is that we have no idea how much we have, or how much the people around us have. And I think as teachers we have a greater requirement to remember it, because it is easy to start imagining that the present--the time of classrooms and studies and youth and childhood--are some sort of swift empty present to be run past on the way to some "real life" that starts on some unknown future day. But real life is going on right now, right this instant, and it is not a rehearsal or a trial run or an empty placeholder. Yes, we can say that youth has the advantage that some choices can be unmade or remade, but it is still real life. And it is still not to be wasted.

If you want it in fancier words, this quote from Nick Cave crossed my desk just this morning:

This feeling… of alertness to the inner-spirit of things — this humming — comes from a hard-earned understanding of the impermanence of things and, indeed, our own impermanence. This lesson ultimately animates and illuminates our lives. We become witnesses to the thrilling emergency of the present — a series of exquisite and burning moments, each extinguished as the next arises. These magical moments are the bright jewels of loss to which we cling.

After retirement, you become sort of a ghost at your old school, but the magic of texting and social media blunts much of that effect. Most recently, Merrill had asked me about writing "the letter," and at the beginning of the summer, I sent her a letter on the occasion of her retirement, and she responded via text. Thank to technology, I can keep those conversations for years. They can serve as reminders; they will not substitute for all the retiree lunches we were going to enjoy once the pandemic subsided. We were going to make a swell pair of old retired friends. I have the picture above as well. Merrill and I for years and years led the seniors into the graduation ceremony, and when I retired, I made sure that taking that walk would be my last professional act. So that picture is of our last walk together.

These are scary, difficult times, not just because of the pandemic, but because of how some people choose to handle it-- less kind, more selfish, or just withdrawing and waiting for it all to end. We could do better. We could not waste the time we have, even if it seems like a meager, cramped time. We can be brave enough to step on into the times, to embrace and support the people around us, even in the face of heartbreak and fear. We can be smart enough and committed enough to focus on the big stuff and not the little piddly crap. Merrill was passionate and strong about what mattered, but she was never unkind or thoughtless. She was always goodhearted and classy.

These are not lessons from Merrill's death; there are no lessons to be learned there, other than sometimes people you love die and it really sucks. But since there will be no chance to learn new lessons from her, I can put a pin in the lessons from her life. I don't know what to do with all the conversations I'm going to want to have with her in the years ahead. I miss her. Remember-- don't waste time. Take care of the people around you, and for heaven's sake, be kind, babies.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

ICYMI: August Already Edition (8/2)

So, here are some things to read.

Is the push to reopen schools really a plot to dismantle them?

Accountabaloney listens to some bonus content from Have You Heard that lays out how DeVos has set up a pandemic win-win for herself.

Worst Year Ever  

Nancy Flanagan reflects on the year and wonders if it couldn't actually mark a good change for education?

How the child care crisis will distort the economy for a generation.

Politico takes a look at the ripples that are going to spread from the pandemic crisis in child care (which is just a more severe version of the child care crisis we were already having) 

Trump paints teachers as villains; how that hurts students.

I saw this piece when Anna Lutz Fernandez posted this on her own, but then NBC picked it up, and here it is. Well worth the read.

Note from the principal: This fall your classroom will be equipped with a lion.

From Mary, a blog that specializes in satire. A reminder that satire doesn't always make you laugh.

Infamous John Deasy Resigns, Again 

Thomas Ultican with a well-researched look at how reformsters manage to fail upward, with a case study of one of the great serial failures of ed reform.

The Post-Espinoza End Game  

Bruce Baker and Preston Green take a look at what comes next, now that SCOTUS has busted another hole in the wall between church and state.

How To Stop Magical Thinking in School Reopening Plans 

Share this with an administrator. Jersey Jazzman lays out how to do a reality check on a district's plan for the fall.

Biden Opens Door for Vouchers

Not on purpose, mind you. But here's Max Eden to explain the opportunity that reformsters think Biden just handed them.

Does Covid-19 spell the end for public schooling?

Finally, this scary read from USA Today, conjecturing about just how bad this could be for education in the long run.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Report: PA Charters Game The Special Education System.

In a new report, Education Voters of Pennsylvania looks at “how an outdated law wastes public money, encourages gaming the system, and limits school choice.” Fixing the Flaws looks at how Pennsylvania’s two separate funding systems have made students with special needs a tool for charter gaming of the system, even as some of them are shut out of the system entirely.
The two-headed system looks like this. Public schools receive special education funding based on the actual costs of services, while charter schools are funded with a one-size-fits-all system that pays the same amount for all students with special needs, no matter what those special needs might be. 
Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding Formula recognizes three levels of cost. Tier 1 is minimal interventions (eg a student who needs one speech therapy session per week). Tier 2 students need larger interventions, such as a separate classroom or physical therapy. Tier 3 students may require interventions such as a full-time nurse or even out-placement at a special school (for which the sending district is still financially liable).
Public schools receive state funding based on student tiers; charters get the same funding whether the student needs an hour of speech therapy a week or a separate classroom, teacher and aide.
This creates an obvious financial incentive for charter schools to cherry pick students who are considered special needs, but who need no costly adaptations or staffing to meet those needs, while at the same time incentivizing charters to avoid the more costly high needs students. Denial of those students does not require outright rejection of the students; charters can simply say, “You are welcome to enroll, but we do not provide any of the specialized programs that you want for your child.” Parents will simply walk away.
Examples of this technique are not hard to find in the state. Before they closed down in 2018, the Wonderland Charter School in State Collegel was caught over-identifying students with speech and language impairment, a low-cost Tier 1 need, by 1,000%.
The actual dollar amounts vary by sending districts, making some districts more attractive to charters than others. Chester Uplands has been so hard hit by charter operators that at one point its payment to charter schools was greater than its funding from the state. The district’s state-appointed receiver identified students with special needs as a major issue. He found that the public system had an enrollment for costly autism students of 8.4%, while the three charters had enrollments of 2.1%, 0% and 0%. Results are similar for other high-cost needs. However, when he looked at speech and language impaired students, he found the public school with 2.4% enrollment, while the three charters enrolled 27.4%, 20.3%, and 29.8%. It costs pennies to meet those special needs, but in Chester Uplands, each student with special needs, regardless of what those needs might be, brought $40,000 into charter bank accounts, far more than the reimbursement for a student with no special needs at all.
This matches the pattern that the report found. In Philadelphia, twenty-four charter schools enroll no Tier 2 or 3 students. In Pittsburgh, while some charters such as Environmental Charter and City High Charter enroll numbers from each tier that match the city, twenty-two charters enroll no Tier 2 or 3 students. In nine Pennsylvania counties, not a single one of the charter schools enrolls Tier 2 or 3 students. 
Across the state, the report finds roughly 10% of public school enrollment is students with special needs; for charters, the percentage across the state is about half that.
The result is that taxpayers, through their local districts, are overpaying charters for the services provided. If a student with a language impairment moves to a charter, the funding doesn’t just follow her—it increases by thousands of dollars. A student who cost the taxpayers $15,000 to educate in a public school now costs taxpayers $27,000, though no more money is being actually spent on that student’s education.
The other result pointed out by the report is that high-needs students do not have access to the same school choices that others have. Realistically, some students need highly specialized services available from limited providers. But parents of other Tier 2 and 3 students were promised all sorts of options when school choice laws were passed, and that turns out to be false. 
Charter schools are businesses, and a basic decision in any business is which customers are too much trouble or expense to serve, and which are more profitable. And so charters make a basic business calculation. Meanwhile, the public school system is still required to make good on the promise of a free and appropriate education for every single student.
The Pennsylvania legislature could fix the problem pretty simply; just apply the same funding system to both public and charter schools. The report shows that this would save taxpayers roughly $100 million. We’ll see if charter schools are willing to let that kind of income go quietly.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Pence, DeVos, And More Private School Choice Baloney

My thanks to Bill Ferriter, who raised some of this on Twitter, thereby allowing me to boost my blood pressure before I even got all the way home from vacation.

Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos and a few other notables took a trip yesterday to North Carolina, to plug an assortment of their favorites issues while visiting a private school that, unsurprisingly, underlined everything wrong with their favorite issues.

The school was Thales Academy; Pence visited with faculty and with a Fourth Grade class (where he and the teacher wore masks, DeVos did not, and Pence took his off to do his talky talky). He tweeted that "To Open Up America Again is to open up schools again."

Thales of Miletus. Nobody asked him if he wanted
a school chain named after him.
Thales is one of many schools founded by Robert L. Luddy, who made his bundle turning a sheet metal shop into a manufacturer of kitchen ventilation systems. He launched his first charter school in 1998, followed by a private Catholic Prep school, and the Thales chain. You may remember one of his schools being in the news for its policy forbidding the mention of anything related to LGBTQ--well, anything. His libertarian-ish bona fides are many, and he was not initially in the Trump camp in 2016, bnt he's since joined the team. And when it comes to pandemic response, Luddy is right there in Trumplandia; take this March 2020 piece he write entitled "Back To Work: America Has No Choice If It Is To Avoid Total Disaster."

That's a big part of what brought Pence and DeVos to Thales. As Pence noted in his remarks:

We were — we had a great discussion, and I could sense the spirit in the room — the enthusiasm the children feel for being back in school, which is where we want all of America’s children to be. We think we can safely reopen our schools. And I’m here to listen and learn from your experience here at the forefront of reopening a school here in America to understand how Thales Academy is doing it and how North Carolina is making it happen.

DeVos took the opportunity to restate some of her current policy positions:

“There’s not a national superintendent, nor should there be, therefore there’s not a national plan for reopening,” DeVos said.

Too many schools in North Carolina are giving families “no choice but to fall back on virtual learning,” she said. DeVos advocated for school choice, including private school vouchers.

North Carolina has a school voucher program that DeVos's American  Federation for Children ranks as 5th in the country, and both that and the 100% tax-deductible Luddy Schools Scholarship Fund offer financial support to Thales students. Nevertheless, Thales is an example of how choice ends up not being choice at all.

Thales is a uniform school, and families are responsible for buying the correct clothes, including phys ed uniforms.

Thales also won't be providing transportation; "parents are responsible for transportation to and from the school each day." Thales schools run a fairly typical school day, so that parents not only need to do their own transport, but need to be able to get students to school before 8 and around 3:00. After school care is offered, for an additional price.

Thales won't be providing lunch, either. Parents can order through My Hot Lunchbox, a business that is free to the school (and actually provides a little kickback fund raising to the school, though the school expressly eschews fundraising, because Self Sufficient)--just charge the extra costs to your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover card.

Thales also won't be providing IEP or 504 plan supports. You just let the school know what your child's plan calls for, and they'll let you know whether or not they accept your child.

Thales focuses on a classical education, aka Ancient White Guy and Eurocentric Stuff, plus Traditional American Values (Thales of Miletus was one of the Seven Sages of Greece).. They like Direct Instruction for K-5, Latin logic and rhetoric, and will get that important character education focusing on "virtues such as self-discipline, perseverance, respect, responsibility, and humility."

So if Thales represents choices available to students, it's worth noting that the choice is not available to students who need transportation, or subsidized school lunch and breakfast, or who have special needs, or who don't think white Latin-ish culture is the only culture they need to be steeped in.

In her defense, DeVos would probably not argue the point, saying instead that a school like Thales exists just to serve the students for whom it is a good fit. You know--the right kind of students. Other students should find another school with a better fit for their station in life. A subtext of DeVos's approach to choice has always been that people would all be much happier if they just accepted their proper place and role in society. In the meantime, let's have the taxpayers foot the bill for private schools who serve the right sort of students, and do it by stripping resources from public schools which are for, you know, those Other People's children.

Diary of a Socialist Indoctrinator

This ran over a year ago at Forbes.com in response to a comment by Trump Jr. and for some reason I never shared it over here. Correcting that now, since teachers are once again teaching students to hate America.


We started the week here at Karl Marx Middle School with the usual reminders about monitoring the hall between classes and limiting bathroom passes during class periods. Principal McBossface handed out the school nurse schedule for the week (remember not to send sick students when she's not in the building) and the lunch monitor schedule for staff. He reminded us that state tests are coming up, so we'll be giving pre-test practice tests soon. The grapevine says that there have been flareups among the eighth grade girls on Snapchat this weekend, so keep an eye out for any possible fights here at school coming from that. Also the new Healthy Students for Health, No-Bully Zone, Make New Friends At Lunch, Drug Free Students, Anti-Depression Army, and Honor Our Veteran programs launch this week, so be sure to talk to your students about those, and remember to hand out and collect the registration forms for the Read Your Way To Mars program. Finally, we were reminded to make our Socialist Indoctrination targets by the end of the month.

Principal McBossface held me over a minute after the meeting to let me know that he's aware I'm running behind on my Socialist Indoctrination and to remind me that it's super-critical that I get up to speed. I'm really feeling the pressure.


None of the students in fifth period algebra had completed their homework from last night. They said they didn't understand yesterday's lesson about quadratic equations, and could I go over it again. I've been working on this quadratic equation unit for three weeks now, but if they're struggling, they're struggling, so I scrapped my original lesson plan and spent the day reteaching the concepts we had covered before. When the bell rang in the middle of answering some really good questions, I realized I hadn't done any socialist indoctrinating at all.


Today, fifth period walked in talking about the Read Your Way To Mars program. Actually, what happened was Chris hollered, "Hey, you gonna read your way to Mars?" and Pat answered back, "No, I'm going to read all the way to Uranus," and then the whole class laughed for five minutes because they are eighth graders. It took a while to restore order because when they want to, they block me out so thoroughly you'd think they'd been told to ignore me by some prominent public figure.

Then in the middle of class we had a big argument about whether or not Puerto Rico is part of the United States. I said it was, looked it up on line for them, showed them several pieces of documented proof, but it didn't matter. They were pretty sure it wasn't, and they weren't about to take my word for it, or any other authority's. Convincing an eighth grader who doesn't want to be convinced is like trying to part the ocean with a rake.

Then, while I was walking around the room helping them with the quadratic equation work one to one, I discovered that Pat was just crying, so I talked to Pat for a bit. Mom is sick and it has made for a tough time at home. I told the rest of the class to keep working quietly while I gave Pat a chance to talk it out (it's a Wednesday, so there's no nurse or guidance counselor on duty to handle this kind of issue). At the same time, Sam needed extra extra help on the assigned work, so I kept Sam after and then missed doing my socialist indoctrination with both fifth and sixth period.


We were informed in the morning that today would be the pre-test practice test, so my classes were canceled while I proctored.

At lunch, I asked some of my department members how they kept up with her socialist indoctrination work. One just laughed and said that she lies when she fills in the report forms.


This was a really exciting day. After I tried some new explanations of the quadratic equation material, something clicked and most of the class was starting to get it. I was excited. They were excited. They demanded turns at the board to show what they could do. When the bell rang at the end of the period, they were still at the board solving equations and hollering, "Come look at this! Check this!" I know the odds are that many of them will forget it over the weekend, because middle school brains are made of Teflon. And, of course, I was so busy teaching that I never got around to my socialist indoctrination.

I was depressed by the time I got home. I can tell my wife is losing patience. "Look," she said. "I teach kindergartners and we work on it every day between recess and art. How hard can it be? Just read off some Fabianist theory and then get out the construction paper."

I didn't bother to explain that I'm too busy teaching and doing all the extra stuff and, anyway, who can get kids interested in complex socio-political theory. It makes sense in my head, but then I realize that, like every other teacher, I didn't go into this because I wanted to help young people grow and learn and better understand the world and themselves-- no, like every other teacher, I entered the education field so I could be a Socialist Indoctrinator, but now all I ever do is teach. I feel like such a loser.