Friday, May 20, 2022

19 Rules for Life (2022 edition)

I first posted this list when I turned 60, and have made it an annual tradition to get it out every year and re-examine it, edit it, and remind myself why I thought such things in the first place (it is also a way to give myself the day off for my birthday). I will keep my original observation-- that this list does not represent any particular signs of wisdom on my part, because I discovered these rules much in the same way that a dim cow discovers an electric fence. Also, I'll note that it gets longer every year; if you think you see a book, feel free to contact me with a publishing offer. In the meantime, I exercise a blogger's privilege to be self-indulgent.

1. Don't be a dick.

There is no excuse for being mean on purpose. Life will provide ample occasions on which you will hurt other people, either through ignorance or just because sometimes life puts us on collision courses with others and people get hurt. Sometimes conflict and struggle appear, and there is no way out but through. There is enough hurt and trouble and disappointment and rejection naturally occurring in the world; there is no reason to deliberately go out of your way to add more. This is doubly true in a time like the present, when everyone is already feeling the stress. Be kind.

2. Do better.

You are not necessarily going to be great. But you can always be better. You can always do a better job today than you did yesterday. Make better choices. Do better. You can always do better.

3. Tell the truth.

Words matter. Do not use them as tools with which to attack the world or attempt to pry prizes out of your fellow humans (see Rule #1). Say what you understand to be true. Life is too short to put your name to a lie. This does not mean that every word out of your mouth is some sort of Pronouncement from God. Nor does it mean you must be unkind. But you simply can't speak words that you know to be untrue. I'll extend this to social media as well: if it's not the truth, don't post it.

4. Seek to understand.

The necessary companion to #3. Do not seek comfort or confirmation. Do not simply look for ways to prove what you already believe. Seek to understand, and always be open to the possibility that what you knew to be true yesterday must be rewritten today in the light of new, better understanding. Ignoring evidence you don't like because you want to protect your cherished beliefs is not helpful. Understand that this is a journey you will never complete, and it's not okay to quit.

5. Listen and pay attention.

Shut up, listen, watch, and pay attention. How else will you seek understanding? Watch carefully. Really see. Really hear. People in particular, even the ones who lie, will tell you who they are if you just pay attention. Your life is happening right now, and the idea of Special Moments just tricks us into ignoring a million other moments that are just as important. Also, love is not a thing you do at people-- to say that you care about someone even as you don't actually hear or see them is a lie.

Also, pay attention to things and people who contradict your cherished beliefs about yourself, because there may be something there that you really need to hear.

6. Be grateful.

You are the recipient of all sorts of bounty that you didn't earn. Call it the grace of God or good fortune, but be grateful for the gifts you have been given. You did not make yourself. Nobody owes you anything, but you owe God/the Universe/fate everything. I have been hugely fortunate/blessed/privileged; I would have to be some sort of huge dope to grab all that life has given me and say, "This is mine. I made this. It's all because I'm so richly deserving." I've been given gifts, and the only rational response I can think of is to be grateful. That's important because gratitude is the parent of generosity.

7. Mind the 5%

95% of life is silly foolishness that humans just made up and then pretended had some Great Significance. Only about 5% really matters, has real value. Don't spend energy, worry, fret, concern, time, stress on the other 95%. The trick is that every person has a different idea of what constitutes the 5%, and sometimes the path to honoring and loving that other person is to indulge their 5%.

8. Take care of the people around you.

"What difference can one person make" is a dumb question. It is impossible for any individual human to avoid making a difference. Every day you make a difference either for good or bad. People cross your path. You either makes their lives a little better or you don't. Choose to make them better. The opportunity to make the world a better place is right in front of your face every day; it just happens to look like other people (including the annoying ones). Nobody is in a better position than you are to take care of the people right in front of your face.

You are never too young for your first tin hat.

9. Commit.

If you're going to do it, do it. Commitment gets up and gets on with it on the days when love and passion are too tired to get off the couch. Also, commitment is like food. You don't eat on Monday and then say, "Well, that takes care of that. I don't need to think about eating for another week or so. " Commitment must be renewed regularly. 

10. Shut up and do the work

While I recognize there are successful people who ignore this rule, this is my list, so these are my rules. And my rule is: Stop talking about how hard you're working or what a great job you're doing or what tremendous obstacles you're overcoming. In short, stop delivering variations on, "Hey, look at me do this work! Look at me!" Note, however, there is a difference between "Hey, lookit me do this work" and "Hey, look at this important work that needs to be done." Ask the ego check question-- if you could do the work under the condition that nobody would ever know that you did it, would you still sign up? If the answer isn't "yes," ask yourself why not.

I've thought a lot about this one this year. It has occurred to me that one of the side effects of social media is that not only do we curate and craft our lives, but we want lots of other people to participate in and confirm the narrative that we're creating. "You're canceling me," often means "You are refusing to corroborate my preferred narrative." We don't just want an audience; we want pliable co-stars. 

11. Assume good intent.

Do not assume that everyone who disagrees with you is either evil or stupid. They may well be either, or both-- but make them prove it. People mostly see themselves as following a set of rules that makes sense to them. If you can understand their set of rules, you can understand why they do what they do. Doesn't mean you'll like it any better, but you may have a basis for trying to talk to them about it. And as a bare minimum, you will see yourself operating in a world where people are trying to do the right thing, rather than a hostile universe filled with senseless evil idiots. It's a happier, more hopeful way to see the world. 

Also, this: when you paint all your opponents as monsters, you provide excellent cover for the actual monsters out there. 

12. Don't waste time on people who are not being serious.

Some people forget to be serious. They don't use words seriously. They don't have a serious understanding of other people or their actions or the consequences of those actions. They can be silly or careless or mean, but whatever batch of words they are tossing together, they are not serious about them. They are not guided by principle or empathy or anything substantial. Note: do not mistake grimness for seriousness and do not mistake joy and fun for the absence of seriousness. Beware: One of the great tricks of not-being-serious people is to get you to waste time on them, to spend time and energy thinking, fretting, arguing acting about shiny foolishness, leaving them free for larger abuses that go unchecked.

13. Don't forget the point.

Whatever it is you're doing, don't lose sight of the point. It's basic Drivers Ed 101. If you look a foot in front of the car, you'll wander all over the road. If you stare right at the tree you want to miss, you will drive right into it. Where you look is where you go. Keep your eye on the goal. Remember your purpose. And don't try to shorthand it; don't imagine that you know the path that guarantees the outcome you want. Focus on the point (even if it's a goal that you may never reach) because otherwise you will miss Really Good Stuff because you had too many fixed ideas about what the path to your destination is supposed to look like.

14. People are complicated (mostly)

People grow up. People learn things. People have a day on which their peculiar batch of quirks is just what the day needs. Awful people can have good moments, and good people can have awful moments-- it's a mistake to assume that someone is all one thing or another. Nobody can be safely written off and ignored completely. Corollary: nobody can be unquestioningly trusted and uncritically accepted all the time. People are a mixed mess of stuff. Trying to sort folks into good guys and bad guys is a fool's game.

And make sure you don't get things backwards. Don't decide that someone is a Good Person or Bad Person and then waste energy trying to fit all of their actions into your predetermined definition.

15. Don't be misled by your expectations.

Doors will appear on your path. Open them even if they are not exactly what you were expecting or looking for. Don't simply fight or flee everything that surprises or challenges you (but don't be a dope about it, either). Most of what I've screwed up in life came from reacting in fear-- not sensible evaluation of potential problems, but just visceral fear. Most of what is good about my life has come from saying "yes." And most of that is not at all what I would have expected or planned for.

16. Make something.

Music, art, refurbished furniture, machinery. Something.

17. Show up.

The first rule of all relationships is that you have to show up. And you have to fully show up. People cannot have a relationship with someone who isn't there, and that includes someone who looks kind of like they're there but who isn't really there. You have to show up. In the combination of retirement and parenting again, I'm reminded that this also means nor just being fully present, but remembering to show up at all. You put your head down, do the work, and then a week or two later you're suddenly remembering that it's been a while since you checked in with someone. Rule #2 applies.

Part B of this rule is that when you show up, you may suddenly find out that the place and time requires something of you. Showing up means answering that call.

18. Refine your core.

Know who you are. Strip the definition of yourself of references to situation and circumstance; don't make the definition about your car, your hair, your job, your house. The more compact your definition of self, the less it will be buffeted and beaten by changes in circumstance. Note: this is good work to do long before you, say, retire from a lifelong career that largely defined you. 

19. How you treat people is about you, not about them.

It's useful to understand this because it frees you from the need to be a great Agent of Justice in the world, meting out rewards and punishments based on what you think about what people have done or said. It keeps you from wasting time trying to decide what someone deserves, which is not your call anyway. It also gives you power back that you give up when your stance is that you have to wait to see what someone says or does before you react to it. Treat people well because that's how you should treat people, not because you have decided they deserve it. But don't be a dope; if someone shows you that they will always bite you in the hand, it's prudent to stop offering them your hand.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

When The Treadmills Stopped

We've been cranking the treadmill (or, if you prefer, the hamster wheel) for years. One of the through lines of No Child Left Behind and the imposition of Common Core was that schools had become havens of laziness. Teachers were lazily allowing low expectations to let students languish, lazily, on the curbs of the highway of education.

So part of every solution involved cranking up the treadmill. Turn kindergarten into the new first grade! No, make it the new second grade!! Check to see that eight year olds are on the college track! Get those kids off the playground and back into the classroom for more educating! Test every year, repeatedly, so that we can see results NOW NOW NOW! Make middle school the new high school! Get high school students to take college courses (because if you don't go to college you'll end up broke and in a crappy job living in a tiny apartment eating cat food warmed up on a hot plate so for God's sake get to college now)! Let's get 4 year olds--no, 3 year olds-- into academic settings.

Plus one of the oddest things to bleed through from the business-minded approach to education-- the enterprise must grow from year to year. So we must somehow socially engineer each class of students to be smarter, faster, stronger, more highly achieved than the last. 

So the treadmill has gotten faster and faster and faster. And the effect on our children has been visible and sometimes heartbreaking. They grow up thinking they're on a razor's edge, one wrong move away from some disaster that "proves" how unworthy and weak they are. I wrote about this all the way back in 2015 and it's still a worthwhile, applicable read. Instead of building strength and confidence, the treadmill was grinding it down. 

And then COVID dragged the treadmill to an abrupt halt. 

Not a careful gliding slow-to-stop, but in many places as abrupt as a railroad spike through the drive shaft. People stumbled, fell, smacked their faces off hard surfaces. 

Then the panic-- we've got to get you running again, somehow, even a little. Maybe--I don't know--a virtual treadmill. Just get up and wipe that blood off your face. Walk it off. Maybe we can get you into a private treadmill.

Then many people--both young and not-so-young--slowly realizing "Hey, running like a crazy person on a cranked-up treadmill was hard, and I'm not even sure why I was doing it, and just sitting here resting and running at my own pace in my own direction--that all feels pretty good." Followed by, in the case of many adults, "I quit."

But of course while adults were free to join the Great Resignation, children were not. And pretty soon adults were pleased to announce that the treadmills were up and running again, and children had better Get Back To It. So they've been put back on the treadmill, and the treadmill has been turned back on, and the speed has been ramping up. 

Folks still in the trenches tell me that this last year has been the worst one so far. That's anecdotal. Meanwhile, articles about teen mental health decline and why teens are so sad and college students are not okay and behavior problems are rampant and, incidentally, teachers are having a rough time-- they're all over the place. 

For five minutes there was a dream that while the treadmills were down we could maybe rethink the whole treadmill thing and tweak or even replace the whole approach. It seems pretty clear that those five minutes are up, and we are shoving children (who, in many cases, have been through three or four levels of mess) back up on the treadmills and spitballing ways to get things cranked up again (maybe if we give more standardized tests, we can better figure out how to get the treadmills up to maximum speed). Even as a generation of students consider their bruised and bloody not-yet-healed knees and think, "I don't really want to get back on there."

Not only did we miss the opportunity to be better, but we have failed to learn critical lessons about how easily the treadmills can break down and crash to a damaging halt. 

When the treadmills stopped this time, we failed to do better. Unfortunately, we'll probably have another chance. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

NH: Hillsdale Is Coming To Town

In 2020, the Monadnock Freedom To Learn Coalition was formed in Hancock, NH, apparently for the sole reason of launching a local charter school. So far, they're doing pretty well.

MFTLC's leadership team includes Leo Plante. Plante is an immigrant to the state, having retired from the investment banking business. In 2020 he ran for the legislature, taking the pledge of no new taxes. He has particular taxes in mind.

“Education is kind of my main issue, and education reform is what I desperately want to see in this state,” he said. Taxpayers are being charged too much per student, Plante said, and lawmakers need to find new ways to make the K-12 experience more beneficial and efficient for students.

Plante has made friends with the Free State crowd (you can read more about their approach to public ed here). He claims the "zeal of a convert" and says “This whole ‘Live Free or Die’ motto, to a lot of people, doesn’t mean anything — but to people who are transplants here, it means a lot.” When running for office he promised to push for a charter school in Dublin.

Also on the team is Richard Merkt. Merkt is a former New Jersey pol who served in the legislature, mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor, and, for his day job, served as legal counsel for various corporations. He retired and moved to New Hampshire, where he ran an unsuccessful campaign for the legislature in 2020 (he came in dead last out of eight candidates). His campaign themes included "lower taxes and smaller government" (also, his favorite book is the Lord of the Rings trilogy). 

Other members of the group include Augusta Petrone, whose husband was a US ambassador to the UN. She was the 1984 chairman of the Reagan-Bush campaign in Iowa. They've been involved in several GOP campaigns, and were Honorary New Hampshire Co-Chairs for the Rudy Giuliani campaign in 2007. There's also Fred Ward of Stoddard, who once wrote a letter to the editor complaining about illegal migrants being bused and flown to settle in New Hampshire. 

The chairman of MFTLC is Barry Tanner. Tanner is a CPA whose work has been in the "private equity-backed healthcare services sector" biggest job has been as CEO of Physicians Endoscopy, LLC located in PA. All in all, the group seem like an interesting assortment of folks to decide to get into the education business.

In July of 2021, Tanner submitted an application on behalf of the Coalition for Lionheart Classical Academy, stating the intent to open in 2022 with 148 students K-5 and expanding by 2026-27 to 355 students K-9.

The school, the application states, will provide students "a full and complete liberal arts education that will challenge them to excel both in learning and in character," producing students who are "highly literate" and also "virtuous." They cite E.D.Hirsch. And they planned to collaborate with Hillsdale College's Barney Charter School Initiative. They would use Core Knowledge, Literacy Essentials, and Singapore Math, combined with "traditional" teaching methods. Students would receive explicit phonics instruction, explicit English grammar instruction (including sentence diagramming), ability grouping, and the Socratic method. The application covers extensive details of a fairly transparent governance model.

The application (53 pages) is an interesting look at how a classical academy expects to run, but it's a deeper rabbit hole than I want to travel down today.

The application was accepted, and Lionheart Academy acquired a location in Peterborough, and it will be a Barney Charter School Initiative School.

Hillsdale is a Very Religious college located in Betsy DeVos's Michigan; you can find a compact history of the school here. They're an old school and always explicitly Christian, but in recent years they have become increasingly Trumpy and MAGA. The Barney Initiative was their earlier foray into charter schooling.  

The Barney Charter School Initiative, started in 2010 to help 20 charter schools based on classical curriculum. The Barney mission statement used to include the goal "to recover our public schools from the tide of a hundred years of progressivism that has corrupted our nation’s original faithfulness to the previous 24 centuries of teaching the young the liberal arts in the West.” They also turn out to use a religious curriculum. Hillsdale also offers materials that can be used to supplement education plus a whole raft or resources for home schoolers.

Literacy Essentials, one of the resources that the charter says it will use, is produced by Hillsdale, which calls it "a comprehensive literacy program for grades K-3 that combines the sound linguistic theory of an Orton-based literacy program with an easy-to-use format and a beautiful style." With phonics. The website also lists The Rigg's Institute program, which emphasizes phonics and learning styles.

One concern with a Hillsdale charter program is the school's emphasis on Christian content, but Lionheart's executive director (and member of MFTLC) Kerry Bedard says the school will not be "using the religious or faith-based aspects of the curriculum. In other interviews, she has explained that the curriculum will call for a “centrality of Western tradition” and “a rich and recurring examination of American traditions.” It will focus on classical education, which has a focus on virtue and moral character. "Maintaining that separation seems... challenging. But New Hampshire, at least for now, prohibits spending public tax dollars on religious schools, so the distinction has to be made.

Lionheart is looking for a solid start, having scored some big bucks from New Hampshire's slice of the federal Charter School Program--reportedly a full $1.5 million. Meanwhile, Bedard has been going to bat for the school in the press, arguing that they are transparent, cheap, and effective. In an interview, she told a reporter, regarding the school's classical curriculum, “It is going back to the way education was done for thousands of years. It’s an education that frees us to be fully human." There will be uniforms, and Latin for third and fourth graders.

The school has received permission to increase its initial enrollment, after holding an enrollment lottery. It has a principal: Elizabeth Wilber, who previously spent a decade as teacher and administrator at the New England Classical Academy in Claremont, NH (coincidentally, the town where I spent my single-digit years). It has hired part of a staff, and its marketing leans heavily on the "tuition-free" aspect of this "entrepreneurial, educational venture." The school's location, a 56,640+ square foot industrial and office site listed at almost $3 million, but apparently sold for $900K--that conversion job is apparently near completion. Soon Lionheart will be New Hampshire's first Hillsdale-connected charter school.

It remains to be seen how much of the school's work, funded with federal and local tax dollars, will be free of Hillsdale's religious influence, and given the Maine charter case before the Supreme Court, it may not matter. If SCOTUS says that charters must be allowed to include religion on the taxpayer's dime, Hillsdale, both in New Hampshire and elsewhere, is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the freedom to indulge in its own brand of indoctrination. Buckle up, New Hampshire. 

Monday, May 16, 2022

What Do We Do About Increased Student Violence and Misbehavior?

Anecdotally, we know something is happening. We see more stories like this one from Bettendorf, Iowa, about a middle schools that is descending into chaos because students are "out of control." We see more "trending" stories treating student disruption as an oncoming issue. And if you talk to teachers, you hear stories. You hear phrases like "I've never seen it so bad." We even have some attempts to try to collect some hard data on what exactly is happening.

Most every seems to sense, anecdotally, that something is happening, and it's not good. 

But--and I cannot stress this enough--the most useful response to this particular moment is not to automatically reach for the script for our favorite analysis of good guys and bad guys. In the few months, I've seen all of the following proposed as the root the current wave of behavior issues.

* After two+ years of pandemic pause, students have lost much of the skill of Doing School, including the part about functioning socially in a group of other small humans.

* The general atmosphere of hostility toward public schools and the teachers who work there has now percolated down and is manifesting itself in students' disrespectful behavior.

* Too much Restorative Justice.

* Too much Restorative Justice implemented badly. 

* Too little Restorative Justice.

* The pandemic has generated unprecedented trauma in young humans and they are now bringing that trauma to school with them.

* Teachers are big babies who get upset over every little thing kids do.

* Teachers are big fascist whose desire to control students is finally being justly thwarted.

* Parents won't let their children suffer the appropriate consequences of bad behavior and demand that administrators do the same.

* Permissive progressive policies.

* Repressive ed reform policies.

* Administrators are so scared of parents with lawyers that they won't draw any line anywhere.

And of course...

*Blah blah blah blah kids these days.

In most cases, what I'm seeing is people pulling out there pre-existing "This is what's causing trouble in education right now..." and slapping it onto the student behavior issue. That strikes me as a big mistake. Here are the things I believe are useful and true about this issue.

* Most of the problems are both complex and local. Therefor, there will not be a single solution that can be applied on any sort of scale. What works in East Egg this year may not work in West Egg--or in East Egg two years from now.

* Talk to--and listen to-- the students. They may not be loaded with deep insights about the human condition, but they are the ones closest to the problems. 

* Talk to-- and listen to-- staff. They are also right there on the ground where it's all happening.

* School climate is complex. If leaders are not taking deliberate steps to shape it in positive directions, it will drift wherever the winds take it, and in case you haven't noticed, the weather is pretty rough right now.

Maintaining a positive school climate is always a challenge, an attempt to hit a moving target from fifty yards with a feather in a snowstorm. It almost always requires a balance between extremes, and yet it is the extremes that somehow end up dominating too many of these conversations. Maintaining a safe and functional school requires firm, well-maintained boundaries, but keeping students (and staff) crushed under the administrative thumb is not good. 

Mostly what this moment needs is the people in charge to ask, seriously, "What is going on here?" with a willingness to look for the answer and not just confirmation of their favorite policy ideas. This kind of disorder in schools certainly isn't helping hold on to teachers, and it's not good for students at all. Anecdotally, we need school leaders to get a handle on this. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

OK: Wasting Pandemic Relief Funds

Oklahoma is one of several states where the administration thought that federal pandemic relief funds would be perfect to fund their dream of a school voucher program. But things didn't turn out so well.

Governor Kevin Stitt grabbed the $18 million of Governor's Emergency Education Relief Funds and set up some voucher programs with the goal to "just get the money to the families."

Stitt's newly-appointed education chief Ryan Walters (currently running to be elected to the post) had a bright idea-- get the Florida company Class Wallet. That's what the company does-- administers the distribution of money through voucher and neo-voucher programs. Heck--right now they're running a banner on their site trumpeting "Seeking a Solution for Emergency Relief Programs?" So Class Wallet got the job-- without even having to bid

Walters was a busy guy (including sending textbook companies letters warning them not to try to sneak any of that CRT stuff into Oklahoma), but he still had time to record a video entitled "How to Launch a Scholarship Program in 4 Weeks with Min Staffing Requirements," which appears on the Class Wallet channel. Yay, marketing.

Turns out Walters might have wanted to spend a week or two more on the project. $10 million went to private school vouchers because of course it did. The remaining $8 million went...well, many places, via ClassWallet's Bridge the Gap program.

Oklahoma Watch ("Impact journalism in the public interest") and The Frontier did some digging and found that GEER funds were used to buy things like Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces, and outdoor grills. About $191,000 in federal relief funds were used to buy 548 TVs. In all, about a half a million was spent on non-school related goods.

Walters had been plenty enthusiastic about privatizing the operation of the voucher program:

“We didn’t have the government agency personnel with the background experience to do this and, quite frankly, we felt like there could be a more efficient way to do this outside our government agencies,” Walters said.

But ClassWallet has been clear that they have no intention of seeing the undercarriage of this particular bus. 

“As a software contractor, ClassWallet had neither responsibility for, nor authority to exercise programmatic decision making with respect to the program or its associated federal funds and did not have responsibility for grant compliance,” company spokesman Henry Feintuch said in a statement.

While $8 million of the money was meant to fund education resources for individual students, Walters did not set any limits or guidelines on how families could use the money — when ClassWallet asked for his thoughts on limitations, Walters gave “blanket approval” to any item a family wanted to purchase through approved vendors.

And while Governor Stitt wouldn't agree to an interview with Oklahoma Watch, his spokeswoman Carly Atchison did offer this in a written statement:

During the COVID pandemic, Governor Stitt had a duty to get federal relief funds to students and families in Oklahoma as quickly as possible and he accomplished just that.

Well, yes. He could also have dumped the money in piles in various school parking lots. That would have been quick, too. 

And he wasn't all that successful. The program shut down a day early "after federal investigators and attorneys for the state discovered the company was operating on an expired contract with almost no government supervision" and Oklahoma returned $2.9 million unspent relief dollars to the feds. 

Oklahoma Watch's full report deserves your attention, and reporters Jennifer Palmer, Clifton Adcock, and Reese Gorman your support and thanks.

Meanwhile, Democrats have called for Walters to resign, which isn't happening. He still has Stitt's support. Says Atchison, "Secretary Walters is doing a great job fighting for parents’ right to be in charge of their child’s education and advocating for funding students, not government-controlled systems." Bridge the Gap was supposed to be a proof of concept demonstration of the awesomeness of vouchers, and it certainly was a program without any government controls in place. But if the dream is a voucher system that lets families spend taxpayer dollars to buy a class Pac-man console, maybe Stitt and Walters should dream a little better. 

ICYMI: Covid's Still A Thing Edition (5/15)

It has been a week at the institute. My grown son passed out while driving himself to work and tried to take out a telephone pole with his car; he's fine (the car, not so much) but the ensuing ER testing revealed that he's covid-positive. My daughter-in-law, too. So be careful out there, folks. Meanwhile, the Chief Marital Officer is in Kansas City for a family event, so it's party time for me and the board of directors. 

But we've still got some readings for you from the week. 

Four New Teachers

EdWeek presents interviews with four fresh-out-the-rapper teachers, and it's encouraging for a change.

Homeschooling and the Christian Right

MSNBC's Anthea Butler takes a look at the religious right's battle with public education, all the way up through Kirk Cameron's latest shot.

This Year

The indispensable Mercedes Schneider reflects on the last school year. Because, damn.

Middle School is becoming the new High School and it's ridiculous

Melissa Fenton is a middle school mom blogging at Grown and Flown, and she's like to point out that middle school has gotten a little nuts.

Now this is how you recruit

In Chalkbeat, a story about how four teachers ended up working for their old principal.

Black teachers speak on mass exodus from schools

From Defender, a look at how Black teachers are doing right now.

Public school needs to be better at transparency

Steven Singer points out that while much of the transparency assault on schools is not well-intentioned, schools could do a lot to help their cause.

Is teaching in charter schools different?

Larry Cuban looks at a study that discovers (surprise) that charter instruction is just recycling old public school pedagogy.

Ed Tech's false promises

This story is from India, but it's still a good look at what happens when education becomes a commodity and the ed tech sector is just one more sales group.

Meanwhile, over at, I looked at a report on teachers of color in PA-- specifically, how manny districts don't employ any.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Domestic Supply of Meat Widgets

In the midst of the general alarm and dismay over the leaked SCOTUS reversal of Roe, attention has been rightly drawn to one particularly alarming footnote in which Justice Alito quotes a CDC reference to the "domestic supply of infants." As Dahlia Lithwick argues, this has echoes of chattel slavery, but that's not the only thing it has echoes of.

Back in 2013, I highlighted one sentence from the Gates Foundation website. Written by Allen Golston, it was part of a piece intended to whip up business support for Common Core, and it was strikingly bad:

Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.

That is a spectacular amount of wrong to pack into a single sentence. Businesses do not "consume" the live humans who come out of our education system, and those humans are not the "output" of schools. But this view of schools--that they are factories whose purpose is to manufacture meat widgets for corporate use--just keeps cropping up. 

Here's Rex Tillerson (also stumping for the Core) back in 2014, being quoted in a Fortune article by Peter Elkind.

But Tillerson articulates his view in a fashion unlikely to resonate with the average parent. “I’m not sure public schools understand that we’re their customer—that we, the business community, are your customer,” said Tillerson during the panel discussion. “What they don’t understand is they are producing a product at the end of that high school graduation.”

The Exxon CEO didn’t hesitate to extend his analogy. “Now is that product in a form that we, the customer, can use it? Or is it defective, and we’re not interested?” American schools, Tillerson declared, “have got to step up the performance level—or they’re basically turning out defective products that have no future. Unfortunately, the defective products are human beings. So it’s really serious. It’s tragic. But that’s where we find ourselves today.”

The list goes on and on. The Florida Chamber of Commerce. Every person suggesting that colleges should be evaluated on how much their grads make aka how much corporations are willing to spend to get the skills that meat widgets acquired in their higher education. Earlier this very month, Virginia's Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera (a choice-loving reformster who used to run the Data Quality Campaign, a reformy data mining operation) said that her top goal is preparing students for jobs.

"Preparing students for jobs" absolutely, positively belongs on a list of educational goals, but when it's your main goal, that means you think education is there to serve the needs of business. Your measure of curriculum value is "Will somebody pay you for having this skill or piece of knowledge?" It's the same philosophy underlying value-added measures, the whole idea of which is to measure the value added to students as if they are pieces of sheet metal. Value to whom, exactly? To future employers, of course. 

And don't forget the kinds of proposals that occasionally surface in which Grand Widget Inc says it wants the local school to create a program that will produce 100 Widget Alignment Specialists per year; mind you, they only plant to hire 15, but they want a pool to choose from. Those other 85 students who have been trained for a singular job they won't get? Tough luck for them. Not Grand Widget Inc's problem.

For certain folks in this country, there has always been a pre-occupation with treating labor as a commodity, with an emphasis on finding a cheap source ("cheap" including the idea that you don't have to spend a lot of money training it). They view schools (at least certain public schools, the kind that Those Peoples' Children attend) as a source of human capital, meat widgets that can provide the labor they're looking for. 

There's a whole sub-genre of ed reforms that they find appealing. Cradle to career data tracking, including SEL info (like, how compliant with authority is this student)--maybe put it on that blockchain thingy. With micro-credentials! So that corporate bosses can just plug in the specifications for the meat widgets they want, and the System will spit out the candidates. 

Given all this, why wouldn't they also view gestation and birth as one more step in the supply chain of meat widgets, the initial creation of human capital. Lithwick's argument is that the 14th Amendment was written specifically to protect the humanity of a family against the demands of those who would view such families as a supply of meat widgets and who wanted to ignore the humanity of the people involved so that they could be treated strictly as a source of labor.

It is an attitude that has always and forever bumped up against the idea of public education's promise to serve the students, rather than the businesses that wish to "consume" them. It's a thin, cramped, meager view of education. Instead of helping students become their best selves, and figure out what it means to be fully human in the world, this is just meat widget training.