Archives for category: Personal

Thank you to Politico magazine for naming me one of the Top 50 political figures whose ideas are making a difference.

The bio says “For standing up for teachers, not tests.”

I am honored to be in such illustrious company!

I have had so many direct questions about the status of my health that I thought I would share what I know. So many of you sent good wishes and even suggestions for natural cures; I thank you for your kindness and concern.

As you probably don’t remember (but I can never forget), I tripped down some outdoor steps on April 5, landed on my left knee, and pretty much demolished some necessary ligaments and tendons. I had surgery on May 9 for a total knee replacement at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery. Many people wrote to tell me that this operation is routine and that their sister, brother, mother, or father had it and felt great after about two months.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work so well for me. I was making steady progress but then, after two months, developed a huge hematoma on the operated leg. The blood from the bruise seeped into my knee, making it impossible to bend.

On July 31, I had what is called “manipulation under anesthesia,” in which my surgeon “cracked” my knee, forcing the bottom and top together, which was supposed to break up the adhesions (scar tissue) that prevented me from flexing my knee. That didn’t work either. Within a day or two, the adhesions had grown back, and my knee remained inflexible.

So now I am engaged in aggressive physical therapy, with a wonderful practitioner who is trying to break the adhesions by vigorous massage of the knee and exercise and lots of icing. It is helping but I don’t know whether it will be enough to bring back my mobility. If it doesn’t work, I will require yet another surgery to scrape out the adhesions. I seem to among the few who sprout scar tissue internally with amazing speed. I am totally focused on getting better, and at the same time exploring options about where to have this surgery done, with the best after-care, if it turns out to be necessary.

Thank you for reading, thank you for your expressions of concern. The blog has kept me going at a time when I am eager to think about something other than my poor knee.

Shortly before 1 p.m., the blog passed 14 million page views!

Although I am not afflicted with Triskaidekaphobia, I am nonetheless happy to move on to 14. I confess I am a wee bit superstitious. After all, this was the time that I crushed my knee, underwent two surgical procedures, and am still struggling to recover full mobility.

Fourteen million page views doesn’t mean that the blog has that many daily readers. It means that over a period of 26 months, that is the number of times that someone has opened the blog to read an entry. On a slow day, I have 15,000 readers. On a good day, I have 30,000 or more. On my best day ever, I had almost 70,000.

Best of all, I have great readers who correct my errors, send news tips about their schools, their city, or state., and maintain a high level of discourse.

The blog has a larger purpose than giving me a perch or giving readers the latest news. Its central mission is to help build a grassroots movement against high-stakes testing and privatization of our nation’s public schools and in favor of sound policies that improves education for all children. I respect the men and women who do the hard daily work of education. I believe in public education. I believe in equity for children and schools. I love learning. I have low regard for those who seek to turn our children and their education into Big Data. For as many days as are left to me, I will fight for the humanistic values of genuine learning, not the guessing game or ritualistic responses of standardized testing.

I read every comment you post–there are now nearly a quarter million. I don’t permit cursing, although I ignore innocuous “hell” and “damn” stuff. I occasionally delete especially vicious comments. I do not allow insults directed personally at me (it’s my blog). But 99.999% of comments do get posted. I welcome dissent and debate. I welcome civil disagreement.

My personal goal is that I can walk on two legs unassisted long before we reach 15 million!

We have become accustomed in recent years to seeing films in which teachers are shown as lazy, greedy slugs. This fits nicely with the corporate reform narrative that seeks to strip all honor, dignity, and rights from teachers. Teachers don’t deserve those mean-spirited caricatures, nor the treatment they receive from legislatures.

Remembering Robin Williams’ portrayal of English teacher John Keating in “The Dead Poets’ Society” takes us back to another era, a time when the teacher might be seen as a source of wisdom and inspiration, a rebel and a non-conformist. Here is the trailer. Robin Williams represented the teacher as the best that one could hope to be: not just a man who taught language and literature but a man who changed lives.

My favorite scene in the movie occurs when Mr. Keating invites the class to read the introduction to the poetry anthology. The introduction describes a mathematical formula for judging the worth of a poem. Mr. Keating tells his students to “tear out the entire introduction! Rip! Tear! Rip!”

Now as I read about the econometricians who have developed algorithms to determine who are the best and the worst teachers, I will think of Mr. Keating–Robin Williams– telling his students “Rip!” Live life to the fullest! Dare to be yourself! He was–or he acted–the teacher of our dreams, the one who inspired us to be our own best selves, to defy authority when it is wrong, and to live lives of possibility, not lives weighted down by the routine. Now as I see the purveyors of Big Data descending upon students, teachers, principals, and superintendents alike, ready to label them, rank them, crunch their numbers and their souls, I will think of Robin Williams as the irreverent Mr. Keating. I know what he would have done with those forms and spreadsheets. “Rip!”

These images remain 25 years after seeing “The Dead Poets’ Society” because Robin Williams was that teacher. Not just in one film but in dozens of films.

If you are on the West Coast, you still have a few hours before bedtime, but I am turning in now.

Before I do, I wanted to acknowledge that I neglected to add the link to the post in which Mark NAISON explains why charter schools are like subprime mortgages. Here it is:

Fortunately I have readers who kindly remind me when I forget the link or when autocorrect turns words into gibberish.

Then I wanted to tell you I was preoccupied tonight watching Fritz Lang’s spectacular silent movie “Metropolis” (1927). See it if you have a chance. It was on Turner Classic Movies. So much that presages the rise of fascism. Knowing what was going to happen to Germany, I found myself siding with the “bad” Maria who wanted the workers to turn against the machines to which they were psychically chained, not the “good” Maria, who wanted the workers to wait, wait, wait, and be peaceful. If you think about the movie in relation to German history and the monster who would plunge the world into war just a few years later, you want the workers to be rebellious, not docile. There is a time for collaboration and a time to stand up and fight.

After writing a post last week to tell you about the great progress I have made, about going from walker to cane to walking like a normal person, I suffered a sudden setback. Out of nowhere, I developed a very large hematoma on the back of my operated leg. That’s a humongous bruise that is black-blue and very ugly. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk. The pain was intense. The physical therapist said I probably tore my hamstring. What do I know about these things? Nothing. It has been a few days, and I have graduated back to the cane. The hematoma is turning other colors. I think I’m getting better. I feel that so many of you are good friends that I wanted you to know.

Thanks to all those who have inquired about my health. I was on Long Island in a remote location, no one nearby, when I tripped and landed on my left knee on April 5. I was alone, had no cell phone, and had to drag myself inch by inch into the house to reach a phone. Within minutes, the town’s fire department and police officers arrived to put me in a stretcher and take me to the localhospital. One of my sons took a bus that night so he could drive me to Brooklyn the next morning. On May 9, I had major surgery: a total knee replacement. I spent five days in the Hospital for Special Surgery, then a week in a rehab hospital. Then home on Long Island, where I needed a walker to get around.

I will be candid. I was in terrible pain, couldn’t sleep at night, and suffered deep depression. I continued physical therapy, first at home, then at a clinic about ten minutes from my home. My depression was profound. I felt physically depleted and couldn’t get over how dramatically my life had changed, how my horizons had shrunk. I kept blogging because I needed to keep my mind active. But again, in candor, I had very little energy to get out of bed most days.

About two weeks ago, I started to feel better. I watched movies that made me laugh. I stopped thinking all the time about how miserable I was. I started thinking more about other people. I switched from a walker to a cane. Then one day the physical therapist told me to leave the cane at her door. I walked like Frankenstein. Then, when my scar healed, I started using a pool. Not to swim, but to flex my leg. I still don’t have full range of motion, still can’t straighten or fully flex my leg.

But I’m walking again. I have the urge to write more than blogs, and I have something in mind though not yet on paper. I still have sharp pain in my knee but it is not continuous. I often wake up at 3 am in pain.

Best of all, I am not depressed anymore. I am feeling that I will get better. I have stopped feeling sorry for myself. I am glad I landed on my knee instead of my head as I would have bled to death, due to the fact that I take blood thinners and any major injury can cause me to bleed to death.

I think I will emerge from this ordeal with some changed ideas. I know what it feels like to be disabled, even if only temporarily. I still feel an urgent need to stop the theft of public education, but I intend to write more and travel less. I will save more time to spend with those I love. I can never repay the partner who took such good care of me and put up with my deepest depression and despair. I will walk more slowly and watch where I am going.

I am not completely recovered. I expect it will be September before I feel recovered. At least, I hope so. I hope I have learned to be grateful for life, for friendship, for those who helped me, for those who didn’t let me give up, for those who taught me patience. Now I will try to practice what I have learned.

I earlier posted about an article in the New York Times that expressed concern about the loss of handwriting, as children are taught keyboarding at younger and younger ages. The article said that some researchers believe that a loss of handwriting skills may be associated with a loss of cognitive development.

As I read the comments on this post, I felt inspired to share my own experiences with handwriting and typing.

When I started public school in Houston, we used pencils and quill pens. By quill pens, I mean that the pen was dipped into an inkwell repeatedly to have enough ink to write answers. Because I am left-handed, this was often messy as I ran my hand over the wet ink, which always got smudged. I believe we were taught to write with the Palmer method, which required making round, round circles again and again. It was excruciatingly boring as my circles were never round enough.

About the time I was in third grade, there was a technological breakthrough, and we switched from quill pens to ballpoint pens. I would have said “hallelujah,” but the ballpoint pens were even messier for a lefty than the quill pens. I always dragged my hand across whatever I wrote, and whatever I wrote was smudged and my left hand was always ink-stained. To make matters worse for us lefties, the chairs in the classroom had single arm extensions, almost always designed for righties. So my natural tendency to turn my hand above my writing was accentuated because of the design of the chair. There was a brief period when my teacher tried to force me to write with my right hand, but she gave up when she saw it was hopeless.

Now, despite the Palmer method and despite being graded for penmanship, I have truly terrible handwriting. Sometimes I can’t decipher my own notes.

I was really happy the day I was able to buy a portable typewriter. It was my proudest possession. That was probably about ninth grade. I was finally freed from the bondage of my own awful handwriting.

So, from my personal experience, I am not prepared to say whether my struggles with pen and ink improved my cognitive development. I don’t know. I do think it is a good idea that young children learn to sign their names and to write notes. It is practical. I admire people with beautiful handwriting. But I was never one of them.

For some time, I have wanted to share with you some of the comments in my spam box.


Currently there are more than 150,000 items in my spam box.


Usually I take the time to empty it out, but I haven’t been attentive lately, so it just grows and grows.


Some of the items are hilarious, like this one that arrived today:


Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as
though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos
to your blog when you could be giving us something informative to read?


Now, given the fact that I almost never (maybe never) post videos to my blog and that I typically overwhelm people with more to read than they can handle, this one is priceless.


A lot of my spam is simply advertisements. Advertisements for almost any product or service you can imagine: Rolex watches, roof repairs, hot girls, how-to-do-something, urinalysis, drugs from Canada, and almost everything else you can think of.


Many come from corporations that want to use my site to tout their online schools or products. Some come from authors who claim to be free-lance but ask to write a guest blog about the wonders of online learning sponsored by a particular corporate entity.


Many spam comments begin, “My sister told me to read this site and…” or “My cousin told me to come to this site…”


Others start, “Howdy, dude.” Or, “Howdy, man…” and I stop there.


And another typical opening, “I know that this may be off-topic, but….” and what follows is not only off-topic but not germane to anything on the blog.


Many start by telling me I have an awesome site. They love what I write. They want to read more. They love the graphics (of which there are none). They can’t get enough. They think that if they praise me or the blog, I will post their comment, though it is obvious that they have never read anything I have actually posted.


And periodically, at least a few times a week, someone writes to tell me that my blog looks just like his or her blog and they ask whether I am copying their site.


Oh, and then there are the dozens of requests from people who ask me if I have had problems with hackers (like them?) or if I would tell them what platform I am using (WordPress, which is obvious).


And the spammers who ask me for advice on how to write.


My guess is that there is an army of spammers who would like to find a way to get their comments approved. So far, so good.


So far, my favorite of all is the spam that complains that I need to write more and rely less on videos and graphics.




I am writing this from my hospital bed. I am at a rehab center after getting a total knee replacement. I keep thinking how dumb I was. I didn’t hold the railing as I went downstairs and landed full-force on my knee, tearing out every major ligament. Now there is some titanium thing in there, a long row of metal staples, and standing on that leg is painful, almost as painful as bending it.

All day today, perhaps to distract myself from the pain, I have been thinking about the Brown decision. This hospital makes me think of how much change I have seen in my lifetime. Most of the change is because of the Brown decision. I look around, and both the staff and the patients are a mini-UN. My main physical therapist is a statuesque, beautiful black woman. I endured my training today on the same large mat with a young black man suffering a brain injury. His trainer was a young white woman with infinite patience and humor.

I was born in 1938 in Houston. I was third of eight children. We attended the same public schools, had the same teachers, used the same textbooks. Our school experiences and outcomes were so different that I can’t take seriously those economists who insist that teachers have a dramatic and uniform impact on all children in their classroom.

All of my classmates and teachers were white, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The only black people I knew worked in menial jobs. They were cooks, maids, manual workers. In the supermarket, there were different drinking fountains, one marked “white,” the other “colored.” The public buses were racially divided; a movable metal marker said “colored,” and all black people rode in the rear, behind the marker.

Houston was a very conservative Southern city. The elected school board was often dominated after World War II by the John Birch Society and the Minute Women, who felt sure that the Communists had infiltrated almost every organization, and we had to be prepared for a Soviet invasion. When some teachers innocently suggested an essay contest for students about the new United Nations, the school board felt certain that Reds and pinkoes had infiltrated the school.

Race was a forbidden subject too. When the district was looking for a new superintendent, one of the leading candidates was disqualified when the press revealed that he belonged to the Urban League in his hometown on the west coast! Any organization that advocated racial equality was considered by our officials to be Communist-dominated. Certain Southern racist customs were common in Houston. If a black person entered a white person’s home, it was only through the back door. Deference was required. When I think of how things were, I cringe with embarrassment and shame.

I didn’t have any black friends, so I can’t tell you how they reacted to the pervasive insults based on nothing more than their color. They must have felt humiliated every day.

The Brown decision was released on May 17,1954. The school board responded by saying they would never desegregate. They thought they could defer compliance forever. I was a high school sophomore. I remember I went to see the high school principal to ask him why we were defying the Supreme Court. He patiently tried to explain why it was best to leave matters like this alone. Feelings ran too high. From that time forward, I became intrigued with school politics, especially controversies. My first term paper in college was about the extremists who ran the Houston schools and spied on teachers to see if they were loyal to America. In college, I wrote many papers about the struggle for desegregation. I remember the politicians across the South who loudly declared that they would comply with the Brown decision but only if families had choice. Of course, they expected that white children would still go to white schools, and black children would stay in traditional schools (there was always the fear and coercion factor).

So, from my hospital bed, many years later, I have three observations about the Brown decision. First, our own federal government took the decision very seriously in the mid-1960s and demanded actual integration, not just “free choice,” which they knew would produce no change. As conservative appointees were added to the Supreme Court, the federal courts lost heart. Now, irony of ironies, “choice” is supposed to be a “civil rights issue,” but the reality is that choice promotes separation and segregation. Now, we are supposed to believe that segregated charter schools are a great innovation.

Second, we cannot continue to tolerate the extreme educational and residential segregation that has become commonplace. It bodes ill for the future of our society to permit such extremes of economic and social inequality.

Third, the Brown decision may have been abandoned by the federal courts and the federal government—for now—but it has nonetheless had a profound effect on American society. People of African descent are no longer confined to menial jobs. There is a black President, there are black CEOs. In every walk of life, we expect to see a racially and ethnically integrated workplace.

But that’s not enough. We must persevere until black and white and other children live and learn together. We must persevere until there are no racial ghettoes. The American Dream deserves another chance. Fair housing. Equality of educational opportunity. A fair chance at a good life. It is not out of our reach unless we give up. We must not give up. We must make it work for all.


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