Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

What Public Schools SHOULD Be Focused On

June 15, 2018 Leave a comment

The solution to our seemingly intractable problems is found in this thought provoking article.


The Desegregation Conundrum: Can Schools Move Faster Than the “Speed of Trust”

May 8, 2018 Comments off

Late last month the new New York City schools chief Richard Carranza weighed in with a tweet on a desegregation effort that is resulting in pushback from affluent Upper East Side parents, and in one short message he indicated that there may be some changes in the efforts to integrate schools in the city. The Chalkbeat blog noted that by tweeting an NY1 video of Upper West Side parents angrily pushing back against a city proposal that could result in their children going to middle school with lower-scoring classmates, Mr. Carranza indicated a sift in the thinking in his administration.

Carranza didn’t add any commentary of his own to the message generated automatically by the site that amplified the NY1 video, Raw Story. He didn’t have to for his Twitter followers to see an endorsement of the site’s characterization of the video — “Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

…Since taking the chancellorship, Carranza has signaled that he believes the education department has a central role to play in desegregating schools — offering a contrast to the chancellor he replaced, Carmen Fariña. She called school diversity a priority but argued that integration efforts should happen “organically” and be driven by school leaders and local communities, not department officials.

Last week in a NYTimes article,  First Test for New York Chancellor: A Middle School Desegregation Plan, education writer Elizabeth Harris weighed in on the change in Mr. Carranza’s administration. Citing the fallout from the same tweet, Ms. Harris wrote:

Mr. Carranza said in a partial apology on Monday that the language was not his — it had been automatically generated from the headline on the site hosting the video, a local news story that was first broadcast on NY1. But he did not back away from the issue.

“The video speaks for itself,” he said. “And the video of the comments that were made, I don’t know how anybody could be O.K. with that. I know that I’m not O.K. with that.

To observers, after four years in which Mayor Bill de Blasio and his first schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, took only small bore action on the issue, Mr. Carranza’s language sounded like a sea change.

The new middle school desegregation plan that will test Chancellor Carranza would give priority for 25 percent of the seats at all the district’s middle schools to students who score below grade level on the state tests. Given the fact that test scores generally mirror socioeconomic status and race, the plan would likely increase the number of poor and minority students at middle schools that rely on test scores as a primary admissions criteria, schools that have much higher ratings because they unsurprisingly have much higher pass rates on subsequent standardized test scores. But parents at these high scoring schools are afraid that teachers will be unable to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of incoming underprivileged students use “the lack of a plan” to support teachers as a defense for maintaining the status quo. And some parents are even more caustic in defending the status quo that results in resegregation, like the woman in the video that prompted Mr. Carranza’s late night tweet: :

“You’re talking about telling an 11-year-old, ‘You worked your butt off and you didn’t get that, what you needed or wanted,’” a woman yells. “You’re telling them, ‘You’re going to go to a school that’s not going to educate you in the same way you’ve been educated. Life sucks!’”

Ms. Harris notes the underlying rationale for the school boundaries and choice plans in the city, indicating that “… in drawing school zones and allowing parents choice in which schools their children attend, the city has been seen as trying to keep white families in the public schools.” In tinkering with boundaries or changing the rules in terms of school admissions, Mr. Carranza may topple a delicately balanced arrangement that enables affluent whites to remain in the public schools and thus encourage the support for school funding that provides resources for all students.

The solution to the problem of fewer seats in “elite” schools for children of color seems easy. Instead of expanding the number of seats in schools that restrict enrollments based on test scores provide, expand the number of seats in those schools and offer those seats to children who struggle to do well on tests. That is, instead of forcing 100 students out of a school of 500 to make room for struggling students, expand the seats in that school to 600 and offer those seats to students who sought entry but whose test scores fell short of the mark. A parent who was interviewed for the NYTimes put it this way:

For Tracy Alpert, a white parent who has one child at P.S. 191, which was at the center of an earlier desegregation debate in the district, the answer was clear. “They need more good schools. It’s a scarce resource,” she said. “We need more good seats at good schools.

As one who wishes desegregation could happen much faster, I attended a Buddhist retreat where an African American presenter spoke about our tradition’s need to welcome more people of color. I was struck by a phrase she used in her concluding remarks: she suggested that in our efforts to be more accepting, she realized that we could move no faster than the “speed of trust”… and that trust would only occur when we realized that the stories we imagine may not be the stories others believe.

Parents like shrill woman featured in the video believe that her children’s education will be compromised if they are assigned to a school with those children who didn’t “work their butt off”. The story SHE believes is that the children who do poorly on standardized tests are lazier and less motivated than her children… and the parents of those children care less about their children than she does. But she might think differently if her child attended a school with those “other children”. She might find out that those children work as hard as her child and the parents have the same struggles with their children and aspirations for their children as she does. But here’s the conundrum: if she decides to withdraw her child from public schools for fear that their education will be compromised in some way, she will never gain that understanding… she will never have the chance to trust that all parents want the same thing for their children.

And here’s the last conundrum: the “speed of trust” was not the standard the Supreme Court envisioned when it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The court insisted that schools move “at all deliberate speed” to integrate and now, 64 yeas later nothing has changed in terms of segregation. What will it take to accelerate the “speed of trust”? It will take some courageous leadership on the part of school administrators, school boards, and, in many instances, mayors and state politicians. And sadly it will require courage and persistence on the part of parents of children raised in poverty and parents of children of color… for before parents like the shrill woman featured in the video can trust that economic and racial segregation will not harm their children they will have to experience success in racially and economically desegregated schools and change their stories. And changing the stories we believe in is difficult.



Individualism and the Common Good are Not Incompatible

April 21, 2018 Comments off

In thinking about the policies advocated by today’s libertarian leadership of the GOP, it is difficult to see any effort being made to advocate for the common good. Indeed, many GOP members think that any philosophy whatsoever that calls for the “common good” is either naive or somehow automatically anti-capitalist. Several week ago Arthur Camins wrote an excellent blog post titled “If Not Now, When?” explaining how individualism and the common good can coexist. He opens with a definition of “the common good” and the GOP’s definition of “individualism”:

Without one another we are diminished. The more we have others around us, the stronger we can become. That is the idea of the common good.

It’s not a uniquely American idea, but it is one with which many of us identify.

Republicans in Congress have a different idea. It applies to guns, health care, retirement, and education.

Their value is a strain of individualism that stands in opposition to the common good.   Their strategies are: Promote fear and undermine public confidence in government as a vehicle to keep people safe. The goal is the further enrichment of the already privileged.

After establishing that the GOP’s definition of individualism is the opposite of “the common good”, he proceeds to offer examples of legislation proposed by the GOP that buttress his assertions, he asserts that the Democrats have been reluctant to appeal to the common good in their resistance to the direction the GOP has headed our country, mirroring arguments advanced on several occasions in this blog.

Centrist Democrats, acceding to conservative framing, have been loath to appeal to common good values, the obligation to pay taxes, or defend government as a common good institution. Too many­– in the Clinton years– accepted the premise that poverty is an individual failing and supported “Ending Welfare as we know it.” Too many–in the Obama years– accepted the Republican framing of the failure of democratically-governed public schools and supported individualistic solutions such as charter schools. Too many– before Bernie Sanders’s advocacy for Medicare for all– abdicated and supported the Affordable Care Act’s foundation in the private insurance market.

Camins then poses a question from Rabbi Hillel from hundreds of years ago:

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” 

Camins concludes that the GOP today views everything through a zero-sum game lens, which means others can gain only if each person is asked to make a sacrifice– in effect to compromise their individuality. But Camins believes the issue of individualism can be reframed, and by doing so progressive wing of the Democratic party can rekindle the collaborative spirit that at one time defined our country. He concludes with this:

Progressives, need not shame individualism, but rather reframe it. That is, we become our best selves through others. We can only become our best selves when we are all safe, healthy, well-fed, and well-housed. We can only learn to be our best selves when we are educated with the benefits of diversity and equity. Hopeful, but hard.

If not now, when?

If not now, never. So, organize.

Hopefully, yesterday’s gathering was another step along the path toward restoring the common good.


Thomas Edsall’s “Contract with Authoritarianism” Begins in Schools

April 8, 2018 Comments off

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column this week, “The Contract With Authoritarianism“, provides a description of our nation’s devolution from a nurturing nation that values and supports all its citizens to the country governed by self-interest. Mr. Edsall attributes this devolution to a rise in authoritarianism, spurred in large measure by voters who favor “Strict Father” model of family life over the “Nurturant Parent”model. He summarizes these two contrasting perspectives as follows:

In 1994, Newt Gingrich, brandishing his Contract with America, led a Republican revolution that swept aside Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate, initiating an epoch of conservative ascendancy that lingers on. Don Sipple, a Republican campaign consultant, declared at the time that the 1994 midterms pitted a Republican Party calling for “discipline” against a Democratic Party focused on “therapy.”

Two years later, George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at Berkeley, published “Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think,” which argued that

“Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are two different models of the family. Conservatism is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered on a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems.”

Several approaches to contemporary politics echo the insights of Sipple and Lakoff. The crucial word now, however, is authoritarianism.

The balance of the article describes the rise of authoritarian mindset inner country but neglects to mention the role public education is unwittingly playing in promoting that mindset. As one who views the family model as a “Nurturant Parent” and sees the need for “discipline” and “therapy to be placed on equal footing, I fear that we are inculcating authoritarianism in our children in the name of “safe schools” in the wake of the horrific shootings since Columbine. Instead of investing in counseling and mental health services we are “hardening” our schools by adding armed guards, surveillance cameras, and door locks that keep “potential shooters” outside. Instead of developing school-wide plans to identify and work with alienated and troubled children we are developing school-wide plans to “shelter students” from “shooters”. Our children are learning to live in an authoritarian state where strangers are all potential “shooters”, where only good guys with guns can save them, and where 24/7 monitoring is a necessary trade-off to remain safe and secure.

We need to take a collective deep breath as a nation before we spend another dollar “hardening” our schools… for as we harden the schools, we hardening the hearts of the students who attend those schools.

Are Smart Phones Making Us Depressed… or is it What We Use Them For?

March 27, 2018 Comments off

I was a late adopter to the Smart Phones… not because I am a technophobe but because I accurately knew that if I had one I could become a compulsive “phone inspector”.  Given that degree of self-awareness that comes from having lived for 70 years, I am able to witness my use of the phone and observe those occasions when I might be trending toward compulsion and recognize when my mood can be altered by information that presents itself on the phone.

I am opening this post with that observation because a colleague sent me an article by Jean Twenge that links ” …increases in depression, suicide attempts and suicide” among teenagers with the advent of cell phones. Using a recent study she and some colleagues published in Clinical Psychological Science, Ms. Twenge found that

…the generation of teens I call “iGen” – those born after 1995 – is much more likely to experience mental health issues than their millennial predecessors.

What happened so that so many more teens, in such a short period of time, would feel depressed, attempt suicide and commit suicide? After scouring several large surveys of teens for clues, I found that all of the possibilities traced back to a major change in teens’ lives: the sudden ascendance of the smartphone.

Ms. Twenge and her colleagues identified a strong link between trends in the rates of depression among teens and smart phone ownership and especially the time spent online, a time that increased markedly since the advent of smartphones:

We found that teens who spent five or more hours a day online were 71 percent more likely than those who spent less than an hour a day to have at least one suicide risk factor (depression, thinking about suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide). Overall, suicide risk factors rose significantly after two or more hours a day of time online.

Ms. Twenge’s post describes the vicious circle that occurs as online time expands: the time online crowds out other more wholesome means of face-to-face interaction and limits sleep, and those losses of productive and healthy time use leads to increased depression. Ms. Twenge concludes her article with the obvious solution:

It might be argued that it’s too soon to recommend less screen time, given that the research isn’t completely definitive. However, the downside to limiting screen time – say, to two hours a day or less – is minimal. In contrast, the downside to doing nothing – given the possible consequences of depression and suicide – seems, to me, quite high.

I would add one other possible solution: mindfulness meditation. As a meditation practitioner for several decades— first through running and later through formal sitting— I found that these practices helped me cultivate self awareness which, in turn, helped me eliminate thoughts and notions that were counter-productive   and hold fast to those thoughts and notions that helped me stay emotionally strong. I am certain that my sorting process is imperfect, but I am equally certain that the process led to iterative inspection of my thought patterns (or “mental formations” as they are called in Buddhist meditation practice). More than anything, it was this self awareness that helped me understand that I needed to disable all of the pre-loaded games from the first computers I purchased and to constantly examine what I am reading and doing as I sit in front of the screen. In this day and age where we are bombarded by information designed to distract us and constantly comparing ourselves to friends and celebrities on social media, it is more crucial than ever to develop some kind of self-awareness…. and it strikes me more and more that it may well fall on public education to provide that self-awareness training. Our national well-being might depend on it.

A Troubling Analogy: The Protests Against Gun Violence and the Protests Against Vietnam

March 25, 2018 Comments off

Several articles over the past week have drawn parallels between the student protests against gun violence and the student protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s against Vietnam. I hope this analogy results in a different outcome than the protests of my generation. Let me explain.

During the Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s I was more of an observer than a participant. I was opposed to the war but like many in my generation willing to give our elected government officials the benefit of the doubt. At the time as a college student I was reading George Orwell’s works, some books on systems theory, and media accounts on the protests from a wide range of sources: the National Review, the Saturday Review, mainstream media, and the many counter culture broadsides that emerged in that time. My conclusion was that the mindset of the protesters was as totalitarian as the mindset they perceived the military possessed and as doctrinaire as William F. Buckley. The other under-reported reality was that while tens of thousands were protesting the war, tens of thousands weren’t. And while lots of ink was spilled explaining the mindset of the protesters, not much thought was given to explaining why millions were not engaged in the protests.

The shrewd politician who DID notice that millions were not engaged in protests was Richard Nixon, and he gave a name to those who were not protesting: the Silent Majority. His “Southern Strategy” drew on the worst instincts of this group by using dog whistles to signal his opposition to the segregation that was mandated across the country. But his victory was not only based on the racist Southern Strategy, It was based on a “hold the course” message that resonated with countless Americans who had confidence in our elected officials and, by extension, our military leaders, believing that they were acting in the best interest of the voters.

By 1972, even after the publication of the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsworth, the GOP’s “hold the course” message prevailed as Nixon thundered past George McGovern’s antiwar platform, despite the highest turnout of 18-24 year olds in history. In fact, Nixon won the under 30 demographic in 1972, the continuation of the Vietnam War notwithstanding and the recently released facts on the basis for the war being known.

I offer this factual analysis because it might come into play following the gun violence protests, particularly in light of how those protests are being presented in a binary fashion by the news media. Contrary to their portrayal in the right wing media outlets like Fox News, those who marched to end gun violence were not advocating the confiscation of weapons. Indeed, as noted in my previous post, the Parkland students whose voice is being amplified the most did not seek ANY confiscation of weapons in their “manifesto”. Nevertheless their nuanced position on reducing gun violence has been reduced to being “anti-guns”. We are led to believe that if they had their way ALL the guns would be outlawed… and that, in turn, leads “fence sitters” to have empathy for the minority of Americans who own guns and some degree of antipathy for those who are protesting. This antipathy is exacerbated when the spokespersons for the opposition to gun violence are minorities, women, and “elitists”.

Alas, this whole protest against gun violence is looking too much like the Vietnam protests which, in the end, did little to change the outcome of the war and ultimately led to the dissolution of the Democratic Party from being the “Party of FDR” to the “Party-of-Not-Trump” or, worse yet, the “Party-of-not-the-GOP”.

I do believe there is a New Silent Majority that longs for a reasonable dialogue on complicated issues like gun control and an end to the demonizing of one side or the other. MAYBE a politician can capture the spirit of the young. idealistic, and reasonable youth who are articulating a different vision for our country… and MAYBE those of us who log for dialogue can ignore the “noise” of the mainstream media and make it clear that choices about guns, taxes, military spending, and— yes— public education are not binary.

Jeff Bryant’s Assessment of Betsy DeVos’ 60 Minutes Interview Underscores Her True Agenda: Politics Trumps Education

March 15, 2018 Comments off

In Jeff Bryant’s op ed column that appeared in yesterday’s Common Dreams, he captures Betsy DeVos’ world view in one sentence:

Many critics of DeVos understand her animosity toward public education, and accordingly challenge her grasp of facts, question her leadership abilities, lampoon her gaffes, and take issue with her education agenda.

The problem is, DeVos does not have an education agenda. She has a political agenda.

After observing Ms. DeVos in action over the past year, I fear that her lack of depth in public education leads many to underestimate Ms. DeVos’ political instincts. Like many politicians, it appears that Ms. DeVos knows how to carefully frame the answer to questions posed by interviewers. Mr. Bryant for example, calls her on her oft quoted “gaffe” in the 60 Minutes interview:

In the much-written-about 60 Minutes interview of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos by CBS reporter Lesley Stahl there was a telling exchange when Stahl queried DeVos on whether she had visited any “bad schools.” DeVos replied, “I have not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming.” But DeVos has visited an underperforming school—only she called it a “a shining example.”

The school, which will be closed at the end of the school year due to poor academic performance, was the Excel Academy Public Charter School, an all-girls charter in Washington, D.C. First Lady Melania Trump and Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan accompanied DeVos on the visit in 2016. Trump called the charter school “an exceptional example.”

Unlike most pundits who overlooked this un-intentional visit to a failing school, Mr. Bryant flags it and uses it as evidence that Ms. DeVos doesn’t care about failing schools at all:

D.C. is chock full of charter schools, and DeVos, a big advocate for charters, could have cherry picked a better performing one. Obviously, she didn’t know about the school’s academic performance then, and doesn’t know about it now. I would also contend she doesn’t care.

I’m not so sure that Ms. DeVos doesn’t know about the school’s failure NOW, because when I read the of her use of the word “intentionally” it seemed like a studied phrase. Unlike many who criticize Ms. DeVos, I don’t doubt Ms. DeVos intellect any more than I doubt her blind faith in the power of the marketplace. Like many true believers, though, Ms. DeVos is unwilling to accept any information that contradicts the narrative she adheres to as part of her faith. She is not unintelligent, she is ignorant in the true sense of the word: she ignores any and all information that contradicts her political world view. In that respect, she is no different than any of the “reformers” who believe in the magic of the marketplace, the magic of technology, the magic of grit, and the magic of a meritocracy. Her agenda is driven by politics… but, even worse, it is driven by blind faith in the “invisible hand” of unregulated capitalism… and that blind faith requires that she not care about facts that contradict her belief.