Archives for category: Hope

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of Schools in Port Washington, Long Island, New York.

He writes:


My daughter Sadie has taught me more in her 9 years of life than I have learned in my past 52 years of existence. My wife Erin and I had no idea that our daughter had Down Syndrome when she was born. Sadie had to stay in the newborn intensive care unit for a few weeks and we met some of the most compassionate and amazing professionals in the world. Unfortunately, we also met others who were much better off keeping their thoughts to themselves.


I remember a doctor at the hospital telling me he was “sorry” after Sadie was born. On another occasion, a family member shared with my wife and I that “Mongoloids can be nice people.” She didn’t mean to upset us; it was her mental model about Down Syndrome. Initially, as parents we were surprised with the multitude of closed-minded comments we came across. As Sadie grew and we brought her to restaurants, stores or in public, people would stare at her longer than one should.

I’m sharing this with you not to complain; but doing so because we began to learn how the world can perceive others without knowing anything about them whatsoever, except through the lenses of their biases and assumptions. Little did they know our little Sadie has the best sense of humor and can read on grade level like here peers. She enjoys music and hanging out with her best friends like all children do. As parents, we began to advocate for more programs in her school and for the school districts we served in.


I probably should have started off this reflection by sharing both Erin and I are school Superintendent’s. She is an Assist Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and I have served as a Superintendent of Schools for the past 11 years. Here are the lessons we learned from our personal lives that now transcend to our professional ones.

  1. You never know what others are going through. I have a much deeper respect for parents who have children with autism, Down Syndrome, ADHD, OHI, etc. They have incredible stories to share, and we need to support them as much as their children.
  2. Never place limits on your child or students. Don’t accept what professionals say at face value all the time. If Erin and I listened to what some professionals believed Sadie would never be able to do, her life would be so much more unfulfilled. She is flourishing.
  3. In the education system I have served in for over 25 years, we need to remove the word “special education”. This word places a label on a child that never leaves them and carries a negative connotation with it. Yes, the children are “special”, but they are certainly not less than “typical children”. By the way I loath that phrase as well.
  4. Inclusion is important. Integration however is critical. It’s great to be included but to be fully integrated is where the secret sauce is. Separating and segregating children is not the answer. Teach them to become independent and watch them soar!

Sadie is now in 4th grade. She continues to surprise people with her intelligence, humor and at times stubbornness. We are so fortunate to have her in our lives. There are other “Sadie’s” in every school in America. Are we as school leaders doing everything in our power to make our school system more inclusive and integrated? That’s for you to answer and my hope is that you strive to make that a reality. Every child will benefit from it.

As expected, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which stood for half a century as a guarantee of women’s reproductive rights. About half or more states have already passed or are about to pass laws banning abortions, even for women who were victims of rape or incest, even for women whose life is in danger. The “right to life” so prized by anti-abortion activists does not include the life of the woman.

As was not quite so expected, the Supreme Court gutted the Miranda rights of people who are arrested. Police may fail to tell prisoners of their legal rights, including their right to remain silent.

The Trump Court is remaking and redefining the law in a radical way. There is nothing “conservative” about their willingness to toss out precedent. There is something very radical about the jackhammer they are using to change social and legal norms.

Women will die because of the Court’s decision to throw out Roe, which several of them pledged in public not to do. The old coat hanger routine and the unlicensed abortionists will return. Women who can afford to flee to a state where abortion is available will do so. Those who can self-medicate with Internet anti-abortion drugs will do so, although some states are trying to ban Internet abortion drugs (will they open every package to every woman of child-bearing age?).

The Court’s decision on New York’s gun law is terrifying. Be prepared to see armed men (and women, don’t forget Congresswoman Lauren Bobert) strolling through your neighborhood or shopping malls. If the six justices actually think that open carry is a fine idea, why won’t they permit it in their own courtroom?

Make no mistake: the current majority on the Supreme Court is not conservative; it is radical, in its reckless disregard for precedent and the safety of citizens.

The Court is not libertarian; its decisions require millions of people to abide by their cramped view of the way things ought to be. The state must fund religious schools, no matter how bigoted and discriminatory they are, if the state funds any private schools. States and cities must not protect their public by enacting laws that prevent them from openly carrying a deadly weapon.

We can expect even more intrusive decisions, valuing property rights over human rights, corporate rights over workers’ rights.

We will be living with this narrow-minded, bossy, intrusive Court for many years. My generation has failed. I look to the enlightened young people, the product of America’s much-maligned public schools, to reverse course in the future and preserve this fragile experiment in democracy from the ideologues who seek to destroy it.

For an insightful assessment of how the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion will affect women in Texas, read this article in The Texas Monthly.

An excerpt:

An excerpt: As trigger laws go into effect around the country, Texans seeking surgical abortions will likely find themselves in either Kansas or New Mexico, the two nearest states where the procedure will remain legal—though both have a limited number of clinics, which is likely to make scheduling an appointment difficult. Kansas has four clinics, which currently serve 530,000 potential patients of reproductive age. Now the state’s clinics will be the nearest alternative for 7.7 million such patients, according to theGuttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group that researches reproductive health. New Mexico, which has seven clinics, will be the nearest option for 1.9 million potential patients, the vast majority of whom will be Texans.

What about abortion pills?

Medication abortions, which are nonsurgical and administered by taking a two-dose regimen of pills that terminate a pregnancy, are currently illegal in Texas after the seventh week of pregnancy; after HB 1280 goes into effect on July 24, medication abortions, which are currently the most common type of abortions in Texas, are included in the total ban on the procedure in the state.

As of last December, Texas law also forbids the shipment of pills that induce an abortion “by courier, delivery, or mail service.” It’s unclear how Texas officials plan to enforce this law, as many U.S. and international organizations offer the pills by mail, or whether those who seek care after a self-administered abortion could face criminal charges under HB 1280, depending on how the law is applied.

Legislators see the Supreme Court ruling as a green light to outlaw abortion and criminalize anyone who performs one. The penalties are as stiff as murder.

Robert Hubbell is a wonderful, sensible blogger. I enjoy reading his posts. Here is one that ties together our current “gloom and doom” about the politics at home with the defiance and courage of Ukrainians who are standing up to a brutal invasion.

He wrote:

The media doomsday machine is in overdrive.

Readers are again filling my inbox with stories that predict disaster for Democrats in the midterms. All I can say is that we should be thankful that the journalists declaring defeat are not in charge of defending Ukraine. The current narrative is that the only issue that matters to voters is the economy. Of course, except for inflation, the economy is strong—a fact universally ignored by the media. But in the “short-attention-span” media, the criminalization of abortion is a story that has run its course and is baked into the outcome of the midterms. Such a view denigrates the role of voters in the political process and ignores the possibility that the attitudes of voters can change over the course of an election.

So, let’s reset where we are at this moment in time. Most primaries for midterms have not yet occurred, so Democrats don’t know who they will be facing. But we have strong signals that Republican candidates will be more extreme, less qualified, and more vulnerable than the GOP had hoped. The surge of activism that should follow the criminalization of abortion is just getting off the ground. The final opinion was expected in late June; the leak in early May caught many grass-roots groups by surprise. Republicans and the mainstream media want to create a narrative that says, “Nothing to see here, move along. The fight over abortion won’t motivate Democrats or persuadable Independents.”

I believe the above narrative badly mis-reads what is about to happen. We are no longer arguing over abstract legal principles. We are facing a situation in which abortion will be a crime, and teenage girls raped by family members will be ordered by the state to bear children forced on them by violent attackers. The narrative ignores that a strong majority of Americans supported the Roe / Casey paradigm for balancing individual liberty and societal interests. And it ignores the fact abortion is far more common than many believe. Per the NYTimes, “25 percent of women will have an abortion by the end of their childbearing years.” Telling those women, even retroactively, that they are “felons” or “criminals” will surely have some effect on their view of their Republican accusers.

So, what should we do? First, we need an attitude adjustment. If you see a story predicting disaster, you must summon the fighting spirit to say that pundits and “conventional wisdom” do not control your actions or your destiny. The fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people is instructive. The “conventional wisdom” predicted their defeat in two weeks. Our first clue that the Ukrainians would not allow conventional wisdom to determine their destiny was Zelensky’s statement, “I need ammunition, I don’t need a ride.” The second indication came from the defenders of Snake Island who were ordered by a “Russian warship” to “surrender” before being shelled. The reply, “Russian warship, go f**k yourself” will live in legend. [Note: The “warship” in question was later sunk by Ukrainian missiles.]

We all need a bit of the “in-your-face” confidence to tell the doomsayers what they can do with their predictions. In that regard, I recommend the video in a tweet by MeidasTouch, “Hey, Republican Party. Go f—k yourselves.” Fair warning—the video includes about a dozen profanities, which are usually unproductive and distracting. But the sentiment expressed in the video captures the fighting spirit that all Democrats need at this moment. Republicans are busy telling the mainstream media that the 2022 midterms are over and that Democrats should surrender. As the Ukrainian defenders on Snake Island said, “Russian warship, . . . .”

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus.

After every conference, attendees say, “This was the best one yet.” They enjoy meeting people who are doing the same work to fight privatization of their public schools. By the end of the conference, attendees say they feel energized, hopeful, and happy to know that they are not alone.

I urge you to read Tom’s post. You will get a sense of the embarrassment of riches available to attendees.

I should add that the Nebraska Save Our Schools group shared the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. Nebraska is one of the few states that has managed to protect its public schools and keep out both charters and vouchers, despite being a Red State.

The Pastors for Texas Children, a co-winner of the award, has repeatedly blocked vouchers in the Texas Legislature and has consistently fought for funding for public schools. PTC has opened chapters in other Red states, where they mobilize clergy to support public schools.

A high point for me was interviewing “Little Stevie” Van Zandt, a legendary rock star and actor (“The Sopranos”), who is dedicated to getting the arts into schools, not as an extra, but across the curriculum. we had a wonderful conversation. He has funded lesson plans based on rock and roll, available free at his website TeachRock.

All of the general sessions were taped. I will post them when they become available.

If you don’t know the work of Jitu Brown, this is a good time to inform yourself. Jitu Brown has worked for many years as a grassroots organizer in Chicago. He wants families and communities to be able to advocate for themselves, and he trains them to do it. He ardently opposes school closings and privatization, methods of ”reform” that are imposed on communities of color by the powerful. He led the successful hunger strike that blocked the closing of the Walter S. Dyett High School, forcing Mayor Rahm Emanuel to rescind the closing and to reopen the refurbished high school. Out of his work in Chicago, Brown led the creation of the Journey for Justice Alliance, which has chapters in 36 cities. J4J strongly supports the establishment of community schools that meet the needs of communities and build networks of families and communities.

MEDIA ADVISORY TUESDAY, DECEMBER 7TH 10:00 AM ET


AFT’S RANDI WEINGARTEN, NEA’S BECKY PRINGLE, U.S. SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, CONGRESSMAN BOWMAN (NY-16), JOURNEY FOR JUSTICE’S JITU BROWN TO JOIN EDUCATION EQUITY COALITION AT PRESS CONFERENCE TO ANNOUNCE NEW COALITION


National Leaders Back ‘Equity or Else’ Campaign and
Push for Biden Budget Initiative: $440 Million for Community Schools


(WASHINGTON, D.C) – On Tuesday, December 7, 10 a.m. ET, the American Federation of Teachers president, Randi Weingarten; National Education Association president, Becky Pringle; U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD; Congressman Jamaal Bowman, NY-16; Journey for Justice Alliance national director, Jitu Brown; and Schott Foundation for Public Education president, Dr. John Jackson will join national justice and education union leaders to hold a press conference in support of the “Equity or Else” campaign to announce a brand new commission, and amplify its strong support for President Biden’s education budget which will announce a groundbreaking increase of 41 percent for school funding in his proposed FY2022 budget. This Equity Commission will engage municipalities and the federal government to inform government officials at every level on how to create investments and policies that transform quality of life for all Americans, with a focus on equity.


Journey for Justice sits at the helm of the coalition that has been pivotal in shaping President Biden’s agenda on education, especially around community schools. The Equity or Else campaign is a coalition of leaders and organizers from different quality-of-life areas, including education, housing, health care, environment/climate justice, youth investment and food production and delivery, to promote education on how inequity impacts these areas and the grassroots solutions they have organized.

The coalition includes: The Alliance for Educational Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, Dignity in Schools Campaign, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Appetite for Change, Clean Water Action, White Coats for Black Lives, National Nurses United and Black Lives Matter at School.


WHAT: News Conference with National Education and Justice Leaders on President Biden’s Budget Proposal and Brand New Equity or Else Commission


WHO:
● U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-MD
● Congressman Jamaal Bowman, NY-16
● Becky Pringle, president, National Education Association
● Randi Weingarten, president, American Federation of Teachers
● Dr. John Jackson, president, Schott Foundation for Public Education
● Jitu Brown, national director, Journey for Justice Alliance
● Zakiyah Ansari, Alliance for Quality Education, state advocacy director
***

PLEASE EMAIL MAYA.HIXSON@GMAIL.COM TO RSVP*** WHEN: 10:00 AM ET, Tuesday, December 7, 2021

WHERE: The National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC (Vax card or Negative COVID Test Required)


Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/J4JAlliance

FURTHER BACKGROUND: The Schott Foundation’s national Opportunity to Learn Network, in partnership with the Journey for Justice Alliance’s Equity or Else project, is launching a nationwide campaign to reverse the trend of privatizing public schools and in its place implement its proven plan for reimagining an education system that has long neglected Black and brown children and starved their schools of resources.

Bolstered by a newly created Grassroots Equity Commission, Equity or Else has come to Washington to back the Biden administration’s budget, which would double the Title I funding that targets low-income schools and, for the first time, allocate $440 million for sustainable community schools. The commission, formed by Schott with J4J, will engage local and federal government in exploring how institutions engage Black, brown and working-class families.


Intent upon getting true equity in education for children of color and reversing the runaway school-privatization trend abetted by Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary, grassroots members of campaign organizations will also meet with key senators and with current Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.


The time is ripe for reimagining public education. The Biden administration is committed to allocating critically needed new resources for the task. Congress has shown itself willing and able to provide those resources. The conviction of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers has amplified the discussion of what equity actually means. The pandemic has highlighted the stark inequity that afflicts children of color. And those who have been left behind are raising their voices to demand the rooting out of systemic racism in every institution, including: schools, hospitals, healthcare, food production and delivery systems and public safety.


The Schott Foundation’s Loving Cities index assesses how these institutions function in Black, brown and working-class communities. Equity or Else is founded on the proposition that this reimagining of policy must be guided by the voices of those who have been most deeply affected by inequity. We have come together and are finding solutions that meet our needs.

Equity or Else is doing listening projects with people in underserved communities across the country. The Equity Commission will engage officials from municipalities and the federal government to explore how those foundational institutions in those communitIes can be reimagined, with a focus on equity. By using data from all these sources, the commission will be able to inform government officials at every level on how to create equitable investments and policies to transform quality of life for all Americans.


The following national organizations are participating in the overall Equity or Else campaign: The Alliance for Educational Justice, The Center for Popular Democracy, National Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, Dignity in Schools Campaign, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, Appetite for Change, Alliance for Education Justice, Clean Water Action, White Coats for Black Lives, National Nurses United and Black Lives Matter at School. For more information go to http://www.standing4equity.org

Founded in 2012, the Journey for Justice Alliance (J4J) is a national network of intergenerational, grassroots community organizations led primarily by Black and Brown people in 36 U.S. cities. For more information go to www.j4jalliance.com.


FOR MORE INFORMATION: MAYA HIXSON
321.266.2000 MAYA.HIXSON@GMAIL.COM
LAURIE GLENN
773.704.7246 LRGLENN@THINKINCSTRATEGY.COM

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At a time when teachers are burned out and leaving, when teacher shortages are growing, it’s useful to learn about a beloved educator who inspired many children, including her own. And, as it happens, she was the mother of philosopher Cornel West.

Journalist Seth Sandronsky writes about Irene B. West here:

Irene B. West was a trailblazer on many levels. As Elk Grove’s first Black classroom educator in what was a rural community, she enjoyed a long career as a teacher and principal.

The Elk Grove Unified School District named an elementary school after her in 2002. West died in April at age 88…

The school now showcases a stunning memorial mural of West and her favorite saying: “If you can’t be a highway, then just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are.”

Joy Hofmeister, a lifelong Republican and Superintendent of Public Instruction in Oklahoma, has decided to join the Democratic Party and run for Governor against incumbent Kevin Stitt. Stitt is a devotee of Trump, and Oklahoma is a deep-red state. Hofmeister is a strong supporter of public schools and a very brave person. She was interviewed by Erin Burnett on CNN.

I met Joy a few years ago when I was invited to speak to the state’s superintendents. We had a chance to talk, and I was very impressed by her candor, her thoughtfulness, and her strength of character.

If you are reading this and you live in Oklahoma, get involved and help her. If, like me, you don’t live in Oklahoma, send money to her campaign. As soon as I have a link to her campaign, I will post it.

Thank you, Joy, for taking on this formidable challenge. We need more people like you in public life: principled, honest, intelligent, devoted to the common good.

I originally posted this commentary in December 2020. It has since been opened by readers more than 600,000 times. It struck a chord with teachers and parents. It still does.

In recent months, we have heard a crescendo of recommendations for what to do with the children. “Test them!” “Quantify the learning loss!” “Let no child go untested!” Those clamoring for testing are well-funded, usually by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They have big megaphones. Here and there, other voices have spoken with quiet authority about what children need when they are back in school. They need social and emotional support. Some have lost parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins to the virus. Some have experienced intense loneliness and sadness.

Theresa Thayer Snyder offers different advice, based on her long experience as an educator. She was superintendent in the Voorheesville, New York, district. As more and more schools begin to reopen, it is time to read it again.

Teresa Thayer Snyder was superintendent of the Voorheesville district in upstate New York. She wrote this wise and insightful essay on her Facebook page. A friend sent it to me.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I am writing today about the children of this pandemic. After a lifetime of working among the young, I feel compelled to address the concerns that are being expressed by so many of my peers about the deficits the children will demonstrate when they finally return to school. My goodness, what a disconcerting thing to be concerned about in the face of a pandemic which is affecting millions of people around the country and the world. It speaks to one of my biggest fears for the children when they return. In our determination to “catch them up,” I fear that we will lose who they are and what they have learned during this unprecedented era. What on earth are we trying to catch them up on? The models no longer apply, the benchmarks are no longer valid, the trend analyses have been interrupted. We must not forget that those arbitrary measures were established by people, not ordained by God. We can make those invalid measures as obsolete as a crank up telephone! They simply do not apply. 

When the children return to school, they will have returned with a new history that we will need to help them identify and make sense of. When the children return to school, we will need to listen to them. Let their stories be told. They have endured a year that has no parallel in modern times. There is no assessment that applies to who they are or what they have learned. Remember, their brains did not go into hibernation during this year. Their brains may not have been focused on traditional school material, but they did not stop either. Their brains may have been focused on where their next meal is coming from, or how to care for a younger sibling, or how to deal with missing grandma, or how it feels to have to surrender a beloved pet, or how to deal with death. Our job is to welcome them back and help them write that history.

I sincerely plead with my colleagues, to surrender the artificial constructs that measure achievement and greet the children where they are, not where we think they “should be.” Greet them with art supplies and writing materials, and music and dance and so many other avenues to help them express what has happened to them in their lives during this horrific year. Greet them with stories and books that will help them make sense of an upside-down world. They missed you. They did not miss the test prep. They did not miss the worksheets. They did not miss the reading groups. They did not miss the homework. They missed you.

Resist the pressure from whatever ‘powers that be’ who are in a hurry to “fix” kids and make up for the “lost” time. The time was not lost, it was invested in surviving an historic period of time in their lives—in our lives. The children do not need to be fixed. They are not broken. They need to be heard. They need be given as many tools as we can provide to nurture resilience and help them adjust to a post pandemic world.

Being a teacher is an essential connection between what is and what can be. Please, let what can be demonstrate that our children have so much to share about the world they live in and in helping them make sense of what, for all of us has been unimaginable. This will help them– and us– achieve a lot more than can be measured by any assessment tool ever devised. Peace to all who work with the children!

As an added bonus, here is a video featuring the author of this wonderful article. Her title: “Children. Cherished and Challenged.”

During the pandemic, most schools turned to remote learning as a matter of necessity. Some in the education biz think that the pandemic has created a new market for their products. Actually, most parents and students are eager for real schools with real teachers to open again. Contrary to popular myth, teachers too want schools to reopen, as soon as they are safe for staff and students.

Historian Victoria E.M. Cain of Northeastern University has written an engaging account of the hype associated with new technology in the classroom. It is a tool, it should be used appropriately, but it is not a replacement for teachers.

She writes:

The lessons for today’s enthusiasts are clear. It is wise to be humble about the possibilities of classroom technology. No one would deny that technology can provide invaluable tools to improve learning. (What teacher today would not want to have classroom access to the internet?) Too often, though, instead of being seen as a tool to help schools, new technology has been embraced as a silver-bullet solution to daunting educational crises. In desperate times, desperate leaders have clutched at overblown promises, investing in unproven ideas without demanding reasonable evidence of efficacy. 

In the current pandemic, it might be tempting for education leaders to hope that if only we can find the right balance of learning management systems, home Wi-Fi access, and teacher training, we can continue to provide the same education we always have, virus or no virus. But it is not that easy, and it never has been.  

If we have learned anything from the past two centuries, it is this: New technologies provide assistance, not solutions. Whether it was Lancasterian school buildings in the 19th century, television in the 20th, or Zoom classrooms today, new technology will not solve our problems on its own. In the past, overhasty investment has wasted millions of dollars. Perhaps more pernicious, it has given well-meaning reformers false confidence that they have taken care of the issue. It is far better to take an approach that might not be popular or simple, one that acknowledges the scope of the crisis and the variety of solutions we will need to address it. We need to avoid the temptation to grasp too quickly at a single technological response. 

Wise counsel. Hope and hoax are both four-letter words that start with the same two letters. Hype is also a four-letter word.

A fitting ending to four years of the worst president in American history.

It felt as though it would never be over. Our long national nightmare has come to an end (to repeat a

But it did! Proving that all bad things must finally come to an end.

Now we await the trials and prosecutions. First, the Senate. Then the trials in New York City and New York State. Maybe one in Atlanta for election tampering.

Justice and accountability must be served.

My hunch: when the insider accounts are published, we will learn that he had no interest in governing or policy. He just liked the trappings of power. He liked winning. He liked being saluted. We will learn why he was obsequious to Putin. His tax returns will become public.


Now go watch the Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. They have a big task ahead cleaning up the mess that Trump left behind. Our nation will once again have a chance of living up to its lofty ideals, abandoned for four horrible years.

Congratulations to the new President and Vice-President!