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Orwell Weeps

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Here’s the title of a blog post from Beta Beat that requires no further comment:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages on Dorm Wifi

Oh… and it’s not a private religiously affiliated university, which arguably COULD get away with restricting the freedom of speech of its students… but state funded Northern Illinois.

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This Just In: Salesman Try to Be Your Friend

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

Sometimes I think people look too hard for conspiracies. Diane Ravitch’s recent blog post on LAUSD is a case in point. Titled “Breaking News: LA Officials Met with Apple, Pearson a Year Before Taking Bids”, the post insinuates that these meetings constitute evidence of collusion. I’m not sure at all. A more likely explanation is that LAUSD was doing due diligence. Here’s my comment on the post:

This is NOT intended to defend LAUSD because I do not know the extent to which they wrote their bids to proscribe other offers… but… as a Superintendent who was interested in integrating technology into the schools my staff and I often met with software and hardware vendors to gain a better understanding of their products and to gain a better understanding of what was possible… When we chose to specify Apple operating systems over DOS (an unpopular decision in an IBM town) it was because we determined that there was more application software available… when we explored data warehousing we met with a vendor who was connected with a college professor I knew and learned a great deal about what was feasible at that time and what we could incorporate into a bid specification… A prudent administrative team will take a lot of time deliberating on what kind of hardware and software they need for a school system before committing resources. It’s POSSIBLE that LAUSD administrators were doing due diligence in convening extended meetings with Apple and Pearson… and those letters from Pearson are unsurprising and, from my perspective, unpersuasive “evidence” of collusion. Education salespersons use the same approach and same language as every good salesperson: they want to strike up a personal relationship with the purchaser and enter into a “partnership”… Have you looked at buying a car lately? You’ll get the same kind of email from a car salesman.

When I was superintendent in NYS there was an audience member who had his own public access TV show and who was convinced that every action we took as administrators was somehow part of a shady deal and/or part of our effort to promote “constructivist” education theories. His show was creepy. It included grainy footage of my home and the church I attended where he thought folks should picket to protest whatever scheme he imagined I was involved with. He would receive copies of our board packets and highlight memos flagging evidence of administrative misconduct. While no one ever picketed my home or my church and no one gave much credence to his rants and analyses, the show did make me look at all allegations of administrative misbehavior with a more jaundiced eye. It’s possible the LAUSD administrators engaged in misconduct— but it’s more plausible that he and his staff were doing their due diligence in gaining an understanding of the best way to match their technology purchases with their education needs…. and from Deasy’s perspective having a robust technology-based standardized testing program is an “education need”.

No More Guns Needed in Schools

August 23, 2014 Leave a comment

I read an op ed piece by Michael Wines and Frances Robles in today’s NYTimes titled “Key Factor in Police Shootings: “Reasonable Fear” and had a flashback to situations I faced as a teacher at Shaw Junior High School in Philadelphia, as an Assistant Principal at Darby Colwyn HS, and as a Principal in Bethel ME.

As a teacher I was once sucker-punched by a student while I was on hallway duty outside my classroom during the passing of classes. His defense was that he “thought I was another teacher”. For several weeks after that I was increasingly wary of students as they walked through the corridors between classes. Were THEY going to punch me? As a teacher I also intervened in confrontations between students in the hallways or in the Boys Room I patrolled across the hall from my classroom. Were these typical middle school  “woofing” exchanges or gang fights that spilled into the school? Would I be able to de-escalate the tension or find myself physically separating the students?

As an assistant Principal my greatest fears came from checking into reports that some of the “sports fans” from a rival HS were armed with baseball bats, knives, and maybe even handguns as they waited in the parking lot for the game to end. But in the life of an assistant principal in a lower middle class demographic there were several instances over the course of the three years when I had to break up fights, confront “visitors” to the campus who “needed to talk” with a student who we suspected was dealing drugs, and deal with students whose anger at their lot in life was directed at authority figures and who made impulsive threats that may— or may not— have been groundless.

As Principal and disciplinarian in rural ME there were fewer times when I felt directly threatened by students, but the fights between adolescents and the confrontations with campus “visitors” always led to the kind of adrenaline surge that results from the sense of personal danger.

In short, as I read the opening paragraphs Wines’ and Robles’ essay I recalled the many times I experienced “reasonable fear” as an educator and after reading the article wrote this comment:

As a former school administrator I get a knot in my stomach every time I read an article advocating that we arm teachers and administrators. There are many times when a teacher of administrator encounters a situation where they sensed they or someone else was “…in imminent danger of grievous injury or death”. In those instances, if the teachers were armed, they may feel they could “…shoot first and ask questions later.” Too often, confrontations in schools are the kind of “fast-paced, low-information” situations where researchers find the risks and potential consequences of a mistake are very high. I hope these recent shootings by trained policeman in MO underscore the flaw in the “good guys with guns” theory that is the basis for arming educators and the basis for “stand your ground” laws.

Police are trained to deal with adrenaline rushes and with handling a weapon. I imagine they go into every situation with the same feeling I had weeks after I was punched by a student passing by me in the hallway… or when I heard that a fight was underway or brewing… or when I heard that an unauthorized “visitor” was on campus. I do not envy the work they do, but I don’t dot believe we need more guns in the hands of those who are responsible for order in schools… we need to deal with the root causes of school violence. Spending money on social services is far more helpful than spending money to provide “good guys with guns” in every school.

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