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The Internet Never Forgets… a Lesson Impulsive Pre-Teens Need to Learn Along with Right Speech

December 28, 2020 Comments off

The NYTimes featured an article this morning by Dan Levin that describes the consequences a Mimi Groves, a white female student in Northern Virginia, faced for an impulsive 3 second posting of a racial slur on social media when she was a Freshman in high school. To make a very long story short, Ms. Groves posted a snapchat video in 2016 after passing her driver’s test. Here’s a description:

Ms. Groves… said, “I can drive,” followed by the slur, to a friend on Snapchat in 2016, when she was a freshman and had just gotten her learner’s permit. It later circulated among some students at Heritage High School, which she and (her black classmate Jimmy) Galligan attended.

The post did not cause much a stir at the time… and Mr. Galligan never saw it at the time. But when he DID see it four years later as both he and Ms. Groves were graduating from high school, he felt it was a good example of the kind of racism he had to endure during his four years at Heritage High.

Throughout her high school years Ms. Groves pursued her passions a cheerleader and won a full paid scholarship to the University of Tennessee, whose college cheerleading program is one of the best in the nation. When Ms. Groves weighed in on the killing of George Floyd with a public Instagram post that urged people to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ms. Groves was stunned to read post later that afternoon from a total stranger questioning her sincerity given her use of “the N-word” in the past. It quickly became clear how the stranger learned of this:

Mr. Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.

Ultimately, as Mr. Levin matter-of-factly reports, the University of Tennessee DID revoke its admission offer and instead of attending UT on a full paid scholarship Ms. Groves was attending a nearby community college. And Mr. Galligan?

For his role, Mr. Galligan said he had no regrets. “If I never posted that video, nothing would have ever happened,” he said. And because the internet never forgets, the clip will always be available to watch.

“I’m going to remind myself, you started something,” he said with satisfaction. “You taught someone a lesson.”

In the end, the story has no clear winners but does have a clear message for adolescents: the internet never forgets and words you post cannot be undone by actions you take or apologies you make years later.

As one who worked in the public spotlight for decades, I can recall times when I made statements that “went viral” in pre-internet days and can recall instances where words I said or wrote were taken out of context in an effort to indicate I was either a hypocrite or inconsistent in the way I treated students. Over the course of my career and as a result of hundreds of blog posts I’ve written over nine years, there is an extensive written record of my thoughts and ideas, some of which have changed over time. But I am VERY fortunate that there is no written record of comments I made impulsively to friends, crude and vulgar jokes I laughed at and may have repeated, or the comments I made behind someone’s back. I daresay that anyone who has lived as long as I have would concur with that statement and, like me, is happy there was no way those things could be captured in writing and repeated.

There is a concept in Buddhism called “Right Speech” that urges those practicing the discipline of the Noble Eightfold Path that Wikipedia synthesizes as follows:

Right Speech: no lying, no rude speech, no telling one person what another says about him to cause discord or harm their relationship.

As a former high school disciplinarian in the pre-internet Dark Ages (1974-1980), I can recall many disputes that occurred between students, between students and teachers, between teachers and administrators, between parents and school staff that resulted from the failure to adhere to this principle. In addition to making students aware that the internet never forgets, it would be equally important to make them aware of the concept of Right Speech and call it to their attention whenever they engage in lies, half-truths, rude speech, or any intentional or unintentional instances where their speech creates discord. In a perfect world, disciplinary action would not be necessary… the awareness that their actions resulted in harm would be sufficient punishment in itself and the growth that comes from self-awareness would be a sufficient reward.

Could the Pandemic Put and End to the Artificial Construct of Students “Falling Behind”? Could it Shine a Spotlight on the REAL External Factors that Stymie Academic Progress?

December 25, 2020 Comments off

Common Dreams contributor Steven Singer wrote a compelling essay excoriating those who are wringing their hands over the students who are “falling behind” as a result of the pandemic. In the middle of his essay he makes these unassailable and clear points:

Let’s get something straight: there is no ultimate timetable for learning.

At least none that authentically can be set by educators or society.

People – and kids ARE people – learn when they’re ready to learn. 

And when they’re ready is different for every person out there. 

You can’t stomp around with a stopwatch and tell people they’re late. Your expectations are meaningless. It’s a matter of cognitive development plus environment and a whole mess of other factors that don’t easily line up on your Abacus. 

For example, many kids are ready to learn simple math concepts like addition and subtraction in Kindergarten. Yet some are ready in preschool.

That doesn’t mean one child is smarter than another. It just means their brains develop at different rates. And it’s perfectly normal.

In the early 1990s when I was trying to implement a mastery learning program I used the examples of two professional basketball superstars of that era: David Robinson and Michael Jordan. Both of them were late bloomers in terms of their physical development.

David Robinson was 6’5′ when he enrolled in the US Naval Academy. While attending there, he grew another 6″. Had he grown to that height BEFORE enrolling in college he would not have qualified for the Naval Academy because he would have been too tall. And because his ball handling skills were middling for a 6’5″ Division One forward or guard, the traditional college powerhouses overlooked him.  But those same skills were extraordinary for a 6″11″ center! As a result, he became an All-American player who was heavily recruited by professional basketball teams when he was eligible to play after completing college and his two years of service. The San Antonio Spurs built their franchise on his talents.

Michael Jordan was unable to make the varsity until he was a junior in high school. As a skinny 5’10” sophomore he was overlooked by the coaching staff in Wilmington NC. But he was determined to play basketball and was a JV sensation. Like many teenagers, Jordan had a growth spurt that year and ultimately made the varsity at his high school, at UNC, won Gold Medals and NBA championships, and became the iconic figure all other players are measured against.

Both David Robinson and Michael Jordan “fell behind” their age cohorts at one point. But a combination of their late maturity and determination enabled them to “catch up”. Not every athlete becomes a professional any more than every student becomes a Rhodes scholar. But when we apply universal yardsticks to unique individuals end up casting aside individuals who possess talents that haven’t emerged.  Few of us possess the persistence of a David Robinson or the grit and determination of a Michael Jordan. Many children who hear that they did not make the varsity because they were “behind” can enjoy athletic pursuits when they “catch up”. The “lesson” of David Robinson and Michael Jordan isn’t about persistence and grit: it’s about our the bogus expectations we set for children: the “ultimate timetables” that are used to decide that some children are “ahead” and others are “behind”. We need to give students the opportunity to learn when they are ready to learn and know that when they are ready to learn is different for each child. 

MAYBE the pandemic pause that is occurring will help drive this message home. MAYBE two years without standardized tests and using technology designed to tailor instruction for each child will make policy makers really that “ahead” and “behind” are relative and not absolute terms. If that is the case, we might break the stranglehold of the factory school that has gripped us since the turn of the last century.

Steven Singer puts the whole “ultimate timetable” debate in an even broader context, arguing persuasively that the only people who benefit from this mindset are the businesses who want to avoid paying for the basic needs of children and only view schools as a source of employees. He concludes his essay with this:

The problem is systemic. You can only solve it by changing the system, itself.

A system that places dollars and cents over life and health will never be acceptable. And that’s what we’ve got. Still.

So don’t buy the latest version of corporate school baloney.

Our children aren’t falling behind.

They’re surviving a pandemic.

Fix the problem and they’ll be fine.

Fix the system and they’ll THRIVE.

But beware of know nothing policymakers who don’t have our best interests at heart.

Pay them no mind and the only thing left behind will be them.

WSJ Op Ed Headline Underscores THAT Newspaper’s Narrative and the Narrative of All Right-Leaning: A Bogus Binary Choice Between “Students and Unions”

December 23, 2020 1 comment

The Wall Street Journal has a paywall, but on some occasions I can work around the paywall and get to an article with a compelling title and opening sentence and on other occasions the article is available through a third party source a day or so later. But when I read the title of one of their latest op ed articles I decided I didn’t need to read anything else. The title?

“Will Biden’s Education Nominee Stand for Students or for Unions?”

My gut level reaction was to pose a question of my own?

“Will the conservative leaning media outlets ever abandon their narrative that unions are ONLY interested in the well-being of their membership and, therefore, working against the students they serve?”

If the unions are balking at opening schools because of safety concerns, how is that NOT a concern parents also share? If the unions seek clean and orderly workplace, how is that NOT a concern parents also share? If teachers are seeking fully functional technology equipped with up-to-date operating systems and software, how is that NOT a concern parents also share?

And here’s a point the Wall Street Journal is overlooking in its false binary choice: when was the last time a Secretary of Education stood for unions in any way shape or form? Did Arne Duncan “stand for unions?”  John King? Margaret Spellings? Betsy DeVos? And did any of these Secretaries of Education “stand for students?” For at least two decades we’ve seen Secretaries of Education who put “accountability” and preparedness for work at the forefront. Did students benefit from this? Given that  the “performance” of students raised in poverty stagnated, NAEP scores (a presumed impartial metric of “performance”) plateaued, and student debt soared, it is hard to see how the policies of former Secretaries “benefited students”. But they each clearly diminished the stature of the teaching profession whether the teachers were in a union or not.

And here’s something for the Wall Street Journal and other conservative leaning media to consider: maybe if a “union first” Secretary of Education was put in place the safety of schools would improve, the orderliness and cleanliness of schools would improve, and schools, parents, and students would have access to the technology tools they need to succeed by any metric. Stop blaming the unions for the conditions created by the economic divide and systemic racism that persists and work with the Secretary of Education and— more importantly— your State Government and local school board to ensure that all students have an equitable learning opportunity.