Archives for category: Students

Jeffrey Fleishman of the Los Angeles Times describes the assault on librarians by rightwing groups and parents who want to ban books. Across the country, but especially in red states, librarians are vilified as “the arm of Satan” by those who want to control what books are on the library shelves. If you want to read a concise summary of book-banning, read my book The Language Police, published by Knopf.

He writes:

In her time as a Texas school librarian, Carolyn Foote watched the image of her profession veer from “shrinking violets behind spectacles” cataloging titles to “pedophiles and groomers” out to pollute the minds of the nation’s youth.

“Librarians came from a climate of being so appreciated to hearing this message that we’re reviled,” said Foote, co-founder of Freadom Fighters, an advocacy group for librarians that has nearly 15,000 Twitter followers. “It was an astonishing turn of events.” A lot of librarians are asking themselves whether they want to remain in the profession, she added. “At least five people I know have retired early.”

Once a comforting presence at story circle and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, bullied and drawn into battles over censorship as school and library boards face intensifying pressure from conservatives seeking to ban books exploring racial and LGBTQ themes. Those voices have grown stronger in red states since the pandemic, when parental groups opposed to mask mandates expanded their sights and became more involved in how and what their children were taught.

Recent polls suggest most Americans are not in favor of banning books. But concentrated pressure by politically connected parental groups, said Peter Bromberg, a board member at EveryLibrary, a nonprofit library advisory group, “has librarians facing a great deal of stress. There are signs on people’s lawns calling librarians pedophiles.” They face pressure from principals and administrators over book displays, and “neighbors talk about them being an arm of Satan.”

Books are displayed at the Patmos Library

The Patmos Library in Jamestown, Mich., which lost public funding after a campaign by conservatives, forcing it to rely on donations.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

Some librarians are fighting back; others have lost or left their jobs. The culture wars over books come at a time when about 27% of public libraries have reduced staff because of budget cuts and other reasons, according to a 2021 national survey. Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozado, president of the American Library Assn., said librarians’ problems are compounded by attacks that are part of an effort “seeking to abolish diverse ideas and erode this country of freedom of expression. I see it as the dismantling of education.”

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A number of school board meetings in recent years have become explosive and emblematic of the country’s political animosities. Parents yell, boo, shake fists and hold up sexually graphic images in dramas that play out on social media. Similar scenes have erupted at public libraries, including at the Patmos Library in western Michigan, where at least two librarians have quit amid pressure and harassment from residents demanding the removal of LGBTQ books and young adult graphic novels.

(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

At the library’s December board meeting, librarian Jean Reicher denounced critics a week after the building closed early over fears for the staff’s safety. She said that signs around town labeled her a pedophile and that she’d received abusive phone calls and had iPhones pointed at her. Her emotional retort came a month after a campaign led by conservatives succeeded in defunding the library, forcing it to rely on donations.

“We have been threatened. We have been cursed,” said Reicher. “How dare you people. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You have said I’ve sexualized your children. I’m grooming your children.”

She raised her hands. Her anger welled.

“I have six grandkids out there,” she said, ticking off the offenses aimed at her. “I moved to this town 2½ years ago, and I regret it every day for the last year. This has been horrible,” she continued. “I wasn’t raised this way. I believe in God. I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian. I’m everything you are.”

School and library boards are encountering demands from conservative lawmakers and parental groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Mama Bears Rising, and in a few instances the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, to scour libraries of what they consider upsetting pornographic and LGBTQ depictions. Many conservatives criticize schools as overrun with progressive ideas that are confusing children about race and gender.

“By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them,” Kit Hart, a Moms for Liberty member, said in a video posted last year from a school board meeting in Carroll County, Md. “A 10-year-old should not be reduced to his sexuality.”

A video posted on the Moms for Liberty website shows another one of its members outlining her concerns at a public meeting in Mecklenburg, N.C.: “Parents beware of terms like social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion. Those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda,” she said. “Our schools are becoming indoctrination camps and a breeding ground for hatred and division.”

Florida and other states have placed tougher restrictions on books that schools can stock. A Missouri law passed last year makes it a crime for a school to provide sexually explicit material to a student. After a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school district after a superintendent directed librarians to remove LGBTQ-related books.

“We have been thrown to the forefront of the cultural wars whether we want to be there or not,” said Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Livingston Parish, La., who last year broke out in hives and fell into depression after she was threatened for speaking against censorship. “It’s not fun to be vilified in your small town or the country at large. It’s all related to their using political fear and outrage. And they’re using children to do it.”

Jones was skewered by conservative activists, including Citizens for a New Louisiana, after she warned at a library meeting that “hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.” A picture of her appeared online with a red circle around her head — resembling a target — and she was called a pig and a supporter of teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Someone suggested she should be slapped.

Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in Annandale, N.J., endured similar stress and said she lost 12 pounds in one week after she was accused by a parent at a school board meeting of being a groomer by providing graphic novels and memoirs, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, that could influence children toward “heinous acts.”

“What really stung was that my name was used in that context,” said Hickson, 63,who in 2020 received the American Assn. of School Librarians’ Intellectual Freedom Award. “It was devastating. I broke down and I couldn’t stop crying.” She couldn’t catch her breath, she said, and “couldn’t speak in full sentences. I cracked two teeth from grinding and was fitted with a night guard. I go to the pool now and swim three times a week. It washes the stress away.”

Jessica Brassington, head of the Texas-based Mama Bears Rising, which advocates for increased parental oversight in education, said her intent is not to rebuke librarians or teachers but to get stricter state guidelines on selecting school books in what she sees as a broader war against her Christian faith.

“We want to protect our children. We’ve seen the dark side of what can happen beyond the book. Suicide. Alienation,” said Brassington, whose organization has pressed for the removal of books in school districts and warned against children being indoctrinated by an “evil” sexual agenda. “We want to know what books are available to our children. … The parents are being bypassed.”

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Calls to ban certain books in schools have arisen for generations among liberal and conservative parents, educators and activist groups. Classics such as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” have been pulled from reading lists. Books deemed to be obscene such as “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Tropic of Cancer” were censored for decades. In the 1980s, well-funded and organized groups like the Christian right Moral Majority condemned books on secular humanism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a press conference

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed laws to restrict school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.

(Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Those battles echo today and have accelerated as religious conservatives and right-leaning politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have backed bills to limit school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. Of the 1,648 titles banned in schools across the country in the 2021-22 school year, according to a PEN America study, 41% had prominent LGBTQ characters or explicitly explored LGBTQ themes.

“It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the Red Scare in the 1950s,” said Foote, a retired high school librarian of 29 years who was named a Champion of Change by President Obama. “There’s nothing else remotely close to this.”

Open the link and read the rest of the article. It might be behind a paywall. I subscribe to the Los Angeles Times. It’s a terrific newspaper.

A reader who signs in as “kindergarteninterlude” posted the following comment in the discussion about “growth mindset”:

The year I retire, I will have a tee-shirt made. On the front will be the word- big and bold- “RIGOR”, with the NO Symbol on top (a circle and diagonal line through it).


On the back will be the word data with the same NO symbol on top of it.


I’d love to work in “growth mindset “. What a bunch of garbage.


Hopefully my tee-shirt will be a conversation starter and I will be happy to talk to people about my experiences in the kindergarten classroom.

I will explain that rigor is developmentally inappropriate and the desperate attempt to shove rigor into the heart and mind of kindergartners (and every other grade level student) can only hurt them.

As for data- the obsession is destructive on so many levels. What’s worse, it’s meaningless.


Diane, why does this insanity persist? Why are true best practices and proven methods of success in education completely dismissed? I have been shaking my head (and my fist) for 20 years. Nothing changes. It’s just getting worse. What will it ever take to shift this train wreck that is education?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a time to reflect what we are grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I am grateful for life. Last year, I had open heart surgery, and for the first five days after surgery, my life hung in the balance. Yet here I am, reading, writing, thinking, alive.

I am grateful for my dear family: My wife, Mary. My children, my grandchildren. I am blessed to be with and near people I love who love me.

I am grateful to live in America. Despite all the challenges our country faces, it’s still a wonderful place to live, where communities come together in bad times, and strangers act to help others.

I am grateful to live in a country where I can speak and write what I wish without fear of punishment.

I am grateful for the rise of a young generation whose idealism and vision will change our country for the better.

I am grateful for the dear friends at the Network for Public Education, whose advocacy and passion on behalf of democracy, public schools, their teachers and their teachers inspires me every day.

I am grateful for the educators who put students first, who work tirelessly for one of the nation’s most important and vital institutions.

I am grateful for the readers of this blog, many of whom have become good friends, without our having met in person. I am grateful too for what I learn every day from you.

If you have read this far, I want you to know that I don’t intend to post much this weekend. Maybe nothing at all.

The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy urges you to write a letter on behalf of your child or everyone’s children to the Federal Trade Commission. The deadline is November 21.

Right now, the Federal Trade Commission is collecting comments from the public about how their oversight of the use of personal data by commercial enterprises can be improved. As you know, many parents are rightly concerned that too many vendors that collect personal student data at the behest of schools and districts have recklessly allowed that data to breach, and/or have used it for advertising, sale, or other commercial purposes. The comment period to the FTC has been extended through this Monday, Nov. 21, 2022, and we encourage all parents to submit comments by the end of that day.

Since the pandemic, the risky use of digital programs and apps in schools has soared. Most of these programs are operated and owned by for-profit companies who have been collecting personal student data without parental consent, sufficient oversight, restrictions, and/or security protections. As a result, the number of student data breaches has exploded.

This is in part because the existing data security provisions in federal law are weak or non-existent. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, or COPPA, only requires “reasonable” security without the FTC having defined that term, while FERPA does not specify any security standards at all. And too many vendors are using personal data to target ads to students or their families, and/or to build new programs and services around, which are clearly commercial and not educational purposes.

We encourage you to submit your comments here; no later than this Monday at 11:59 pm. Let the FTC know that they should use all their authority to ensure that student data is safe and secure and used ONLY for educational purposes. A sample email is below, but please edit it any way you like. MOST important is for you to add any examples of when your children’s data was breached or improperly used. Please also share any such experiences with us, to aid us in our work going forward, by emailing us atinfo@studentprivacymatters.org

A sample email message is below. Thanks!

______

To the FTC:

I am a parent and am very concerned about how the number of student data breaches has skyrocketed in recent years, through hacking, ransomware, and other cybersecurity events. Moreover, too often school vendors are also using and abusing student data for commercial uses. I urge you to require enforceable contracts that require encryption, as well as other strong security standards for the collection, disclosure, and use of student data. Also, these contracts must prohibit vendors from accessing or using any data they do not need for the purposes of carrying out their contracted services, and the information they do collect should be deleted as soon as possible, preferably at the conclusion of each school year or at the very least, when students graduate or leave the district.

I also urge you to strongly prohibit the use of student data for any commercial purpose, including allowing vendors to sell it, to use it to target ads, and/or to use it to develop new products or services.

Yours sincerely [ add your name here].

And have a great Thanksgiving!

Leonie Haimson & Cassie Creswell, co-chairs
Parent Coalition for Student Privacy
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011
info@studentprivacymatters.org
www.studentprivacymatters.org
Follow @parents4privacy
Subscribe to Parent Coalition for Student Privacy newsletter at https://www.studentprivacymatters.org/join-us

Blogger John Warner saw that the New York Times asked right educational experts to reflect on the purpose of school. He thinks they missed the point that is most important. His response reminds me of what John Dewey emphasized. For a child, school is their life, right now.

He writes:

Just about every essay framed school as something that would deliver some kind of positive future benefit. The reason to go to school is because it will pay off someday in terms of economic prospects, or being an informed citizen, or having an appreciation of nature.

This views the result of school as a product, an outcome. I would rather we look at school as a process, an ongoing experience. For that reason, my answer to the question “What is school for?” is:

To be engaged.

Surveys show that pre-pandemic we had something of an “engagement crisis” with fewer than 50% of students saying they were engaged in school and nearly one-quarter saying they were actively disengaged. Engagement declines with each successive year of schooling. This problem has been significantly exacerbated by the disruption of the Covid pandemic.

By framing school as something that will only have benefit in an indefinite future, we ignore the importance of living in the present. As I say in my book Why They Can’t Write, “Life is to be lived, including the years between 5 and 22 years old. A world that suggests those years are merely preparation for the real stuff, and the real stuff is almost entirely defined by your college and/or career, is an awfully impoverished place.”

Pieper Lewis was 15 when she ran away from the home of her adopted mother. She slept in the lobby of an apartment building. She was befriended by a man who then gave her to other men in exchange for drugs or money. One man raped her repeatedly. In a fit of rage, she stabbed him repeatedly and killed him in 2020. After more than two years in detention, she came before a judge who gave her five years of probation, instead of 20 years in prison. He also required this homeless teen to pay $150,000 to the rapist’s family in accordance with Iowa law.

One of Pieper’s high school teachers stepped in to help her by creating a GoFundMe to pay her debt. Leland Schipper, her former math teacher, hoped to raise $150,000, enough to pay what she owed plus some money to help her get a fresh start. He has so far raised over $400,000 so that the child will be able to go to college or start a business. She said in a statement that she wants to help other girls like her who were victims of sex trafficking.

This was Pieper Lewis’ statement at her sentencing hearing.

Thank you to Leland Schipper for giving this young woman, this child, a chance to start over.

Quite a story.

This is a thrilling story, reported by The Intercept.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari, who turned 18 days before the election, was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues. But in the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, wasendorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

In an interview, Rajbhandari told The Intercept that although he had hoped people would vote for him rather than against his opponent — “My campaign was not against Steve Schmidt,” he said — he was nonetheless shocked that Schmidt did not immediately reject the far-right group’s endorsement. “I think that’s what the majority of voters took issue with,” Rajbhandari said.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area.

But, Rajbhandari said, “that’s the least of what they’ve done. Last year, there was a kid who brought a gun to Boise High, which is my school, and he got suspended and they organized an armed protest outside our school.”

Rajbhandari, who started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was 15, is familiar with the group’s tactics. “We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

So when the Idaho Liberty Dogs called on Boise voters to support Schmidt — and a slate of other candidates for the school board who, ultimately, all lost — Rajbhandari told me he texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

While the school board election was a hyperlocal one, Rajbhandari is aware that the forces he is battling operate at the state and national level. “Idaho is at the center of this out-of-state-funded far-right attack to try to undermine schools, with the end goal of actually abolishing public education,” Rajbhandari told me. “There’s a group, they’re called the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and they actually control a lot of the political discourse in our legislature. Their primary goal is to get rid of public education and disburse the money to charter schools or get rid of that funding entirely.”

For his courage and candor, he won the endorsement of The Idaho Statesman.

This is a remarkable young man with a bright future ahead of him. I am happy to add him to the honor roll of this blog.

Read the rest of the story by opening the link. Rajbhandari is a force to be reckoned with. He is a good omen of the bright, dedicated young people who stand up for their teachers and for environmental activism, who fight for gun control and against censorship. Best wishes to him!

Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy Charter chain has won national plaudits for its extraordinarily high test scores. SA is a fundraising dynamo, attracting the support of leading figures on Wall Street and the financial sector. She and her chain were the subject of a hagiographic film called “The Lottery,” made by Madeline Sackler of the infamous opioid Sackler family,who are big supporters of the charter industry. The implication was that all students were chosen at random and were exactly the same as those in local public schools.

Over the years, critics have noted the high attrition rate of kids who start at SA schools, as well as an extraordinarily high teacher attrition rate.

Gary Rubinstein, high school math teacher and blogger, has followed the progress of SA in many posts on his blog.

In this post, he explores the effects of SA’s “backfill” policy, meaning that the schools seldom accept new students after fourth grade.

Using public data, Rubinstein explores the chain’s admissions and placement policies.

He writes:

I’ve learned through a lot of first hand stories that one of the biggest factors in the ‘success’ of Success Academy is the way they weaponize the school’s ability to force students to repeat grades or to voluntarily leave the school to avoid having to repeat a grade. When they have a student who they think is not fitting into their system enough, even if that student is on grade level and passing the state test, they sometimes arbitrarily tell the family at the end of the school year that if the student returns to Success Academy the next year they will have either repeat the grade they just completed or they can transfer to a different school and then they won’t have to repeat the grade.

So one way that holding a student back can improve the school’s test scores is that the weaker students leave the school ‘voluntarily.’ But maybe the family will decide that they want to keep their child at Success Academy and then the student will be more likely to do well on the state test when they have just repeated the year in that grade. But there is another way that Success Academy wields the power to arbitrarily make a student repeat a grade. Each year there are many students who leave the school for all kinds of reasons. While most schools give students on a waiting list a chance to be ‘backfilled’ and transfer from another school, it is known that Success Academy only allows backfilling in grades 1 through 4. So students from the waiting list are offered a slot at the school, but sometimes Success Academy will tell these families who just got a position off the waitlist that because Success Academy is so rigorous, the student will have to repeat the grade they just completed at their other school. They say this to the families whose children, Success Academy thinks, will struggle at the school. So these families who are told this will either take the deal and have their children repeat the grade or they will choose to go to a different school. Either way, Success Academy improves their test scores this way either by denying the student a chance to go to Success or by having them retake the same grade where they will likely do better on the state test the second time around than they would if they were in their proper grade.

I have heard about families having to grapple with this choice after getting into the school as a ‘backfill’ student, but I had no idea how common of a thing this was. So I did a freedom of information request to the NYC Department Of Education. Much to my surprise, the data was just emailed to me today and what it reveals is shocking, even by Success Academy abuse of families standards.

Read what he learned.

Pastors for Texas Kids is sponsoring two discussions TODAY about public schools, in Lubbock and Amarillo.

PUBLIC EDUCATION
AND YOU


Front Runners for Texas
Lt. Governor Q&A

Amarillo registration here: https://bit.ly/3QjZDyi
Lubbock registration here: https://bit.ly/3AcGTdb

Mike Collier is confirmed for both cities. No response from Dan Patrick after multiple messages to his staff.

A federal court in North Carolina ruled against a charter school that required girls to wear dresses.

The charter school claimed it was not subject to federal laws against discrimination because it is not a “state actor.” Charter schools frequently claim they are not “state actors” when they violate civil rights laws or labor laws, but simultaneously say they are public schools.

An en banc federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a public charter school in North Carolina violated the equal protection clause when it required girls to wear skirts.

The full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, ruled against Charter Day School Inc. in a June 14 decision. Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote the majority opinion.

The Charter Day School required girls to wear skirts, jumpers or skorts based on the view that girls are “fragile vessels” deserving of gentle treatment by boys, the appeals court said.

The school had argued that the school is not a state actor subject to the Constitution, and that the federal law banning discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs did not apply to dress codes.

The appeals court ruled against the school on both arguments.

The 4th Circuit decision is the first by a federal appeals court to recognize that charter schools receiving public funds must abide by the same constitutional safeguards as traditional public schools, according to a press release by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The en banc court and a prior 4th Circuit panel agreed that sex-specific dress codes may violate Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. But the en banc court went further than the panel when it ruled that the charter school violated the equal protection clause

The school founder had said skirts embody “traditional values” and preserve “chivalry” and respect. Chivalry, the school founder said, is a code of conduct in which women are “regarded as a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor.” School board members agreed with those objectives, including the goal of fostering “traditional roles” for children.

“It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of a rationale based on impermissible gender stereotypes,” the appeals court said.

Nine judges agreed with the opinion. Six dissented, in whole or in part, on the grounds that charter schools are not state actors.