Thursday, March 17, 2016

Why Bother?

Why bother paying dues to the MEA? 

After all, the MEA isn't doing anything specifically for you. The lawyers they retain are not working on your behalf. The court cases that they are currently fighting in our state to ensure that teachers get fair representation and are not terminated because they are expensive, or old, or argumentative...these cases don't have anything to do with you. Those people are old and expensive and mouthy. Not you. Your job is not in jeopardy.

And those same lawyers who are fighting for the 3% that was illegally taken out of paychecks and is now sitting in escrow -- that doesn't have anything to do with you. That money was taken out of their paychecks, not out of yours. Those people want their money back. It doesn't affect you.

Why bother supporting a union that employs lobbyists? Those lobbyists don't represent your political interests. They are currently wasting time and money trying to make sure that Representative Garcia's bill to make calendar a prohibited topic is defeated. But the school calendar doesn't have anything to do with you. You don't have any interest in when school starts, when it ends, when holidays are, how professional development is mandated, and what would be best for local communities. Those people have an educated opinion about what the school calendar should look like. Not you.

Those lobbyists are wasting time trying to make sure that all of the terrible bills meant to punish Detroit teachers and students, like taking away the right for teachers to have a sick day, and taking away the right for teachers to point out that there are terrible building conditions, overcrowded classes, and dangerous mold in classrooms. But those people...they don't have anything to do with you. You do not have mold in your classroom, dangerous building conditions, and overcrowded classes. And you most definitely will not call in sick. Those people should deal with those issues. These are not your issues.

Why bother paying for liability and legal services? You won't need it. Those people are the ones who get accused of terrible things by students and parents. Not you. That will never happen to you. And your money shouldn't have to go towards legal fees for those people.

Why bother standing in solidarity with those people in poor, minority schools who are losing their buildings, their resources, their health, their jobs, their dignity? Those people are in other districts. Those people got themselves into those situations. You are not in those districts. You do not teach those students. Those people need to figure out their own solutions. It's none of your concern.

Why bother supporting your local leaders, who negotiate your contract and your benefits every year? That is, after all, their choice. It is their choice to dedicate hours away from their family to negotiate for the district. It is their choice to spend countless hours with the superintendent instead of with their own children. It is their choice to spend hundreds of dollars of their own money each year on babysitters so that they can attend workshops that help them understand the laws, the current legal issues, and the financial situation of the state and of the districts. You didn't force them to negotiate your contract. That's their choice. It has nothing to do with you. If that's how they want to spend their time and their money, so be it. And when your local leaders dedicate hours of their time meeting with administration to go over evaluations, or sit through disciplinary meetings...that is their choice. When they fight against privatization year after year in order to maintain local staff and services? Their choice. And when these same local leaders spend their planning periods working with teachers who are struggling with district didn't ask them to do that.

Why bother being a part of the local group that donated two month's worth of costs to the Ronald McDonald house to support a staff member in need? That was the group's choice to spend their money that way. That staff member who had to live at the Ronald McDonald house? That wasn't you. That was them. Those people. Not you.

And why bother being part of a group who spent time drawing up a letter of agreement with the district so that sick days could be donated to staff members who had run out of them? Those people run out of sick days. Not you.

Why bother to pay a union that does nothing for you? Sure, they have made sure that your working conditions are safe, and they have dedicated years to fighting for equal pay regardless of gender and race...but things are equal now. You get paid the same as everyone else, whether you are in the union or not. You still get your paycheck. You still get your benefits. That inequality stuff is all ancient history. It doesn't matter anymore. Those people are just fat cats, living off your dollar. And you have better things to do with your money than support a union. Unions are for those people. Not you.

So why bother?

Friday, March 4, 2016

Puerilia Argumenta

An Argument with a Child

"Sam, I've asked you three times. Please pick up the Legos."
"But Helena got out the crayons and you didn't ask her to pick them up!"
"Sam, I'm talking to you right now, not to your sister. Please pick up your Legos."
"Ugh! This is so stupid!"
"Sam, that word is not okay."
"But everyone at school says stupid!"

I could continue transcribing this conversation, but the argument strategy employed by my 7 year old son doesn't change. Even though I stress to my children constantly that we are each responsible for our own behaviors, their default is to deflect their own responsibility by pointing out the irresponsibility of others. This isn't unusual behavior, and it isn't limited to my own children. A similar conversation happens in my classroom and goes something like this...

An Argument with a Child, Part 2

"Seriously, Stephanie. Please stop talking when I'm talking. It's very disrespectful and disruptive."
"But Julie and Mark are talking."
"Stephanie, right now I'm speaking with you and asking you to stop talking when I'm talking."
"Well, you should talk to them, first."

Why is this an acceptable response from a teenager? When do people outgrow this "but what about those other people" mentality? At what point do we stop evading our own responsibility? At what point do we own our own behavior?

Apparently, the answer in today's culture is that we don't. We don't take responsibility for our own behavior and we don't force the leaders we support to take responsibility for their behaviors. Instead, we childishly focus on the other side. We've lost the ability to have a logical, civilized, mature argument. I submit, as evidence, the following two Facebook conversations.

A Childish Argument, Exhibit A: 

A friend on Facebook posted this article and took a stand, stating that Trump did not represent Christ's views, and that Christians should speak out. 

One person commented:

I'm not backing Trump. But I am not also going to pretend that he is the only vicious one out there. To have ANY dialogue there needs to be truth from both sides. If one side is still going to have their blinders on to what they are responsible for, well, this country has no hope.


"Obama had black panthers support him which he never denounced."

Why can't this person be brave and say that Trump is a disingenuous and dangerous man? When she says "but what about the other side," she is, in essence, saying, "but everybody's doing it."

That's not an appropriate response. The appropriate response is simply, 'YES. Trump is a terrible human being and not worthy of my vote." The other side has no bearing on the inherent evilness of Trump. Don't make excuses for this man. Don't dumb down your own convictions because of "the other side."

A Childish Argument, Exhibit B: 

Another friend posted this tweet, related to the Flint Water Crisis.

One person commented

But if I say the same about Barack and the VA or Benghazi its racist?


How many died at the VA? I didn't rule out neglect or indifference in the Snyder Flint situation, do you on Obama and the VA?

Aside from their obvious lack of understanding on appropriate apostrophe and comma usage, this person also lacks logic. He tried to deflect criticism of Rick Snyder and his cronies by bringing up the President and the VA. But this isn't a path of logic; in fact, it's a logical fallacy. Attacking the integrity of the speaker and bringing up a completely unrelated topic are simply attempts at changing the subject and belittling the speaker. 

It is imperative that we point out these logical fallacies instead of engaging in discussion with them. If we engage, we fall into the "yes, but" trap and end up on the defensive. And that is the goal of the arguer: to put us on the defensive, thereby diminishing his own responsibility for his own actions--and deflecting criticism away from his beliefs, his political candidates, and his cronies.

It's time we stop arguing and say, full stop:

Please pick up your Legos.

Please don't talk when I'm talking.

Donald Trump is unethical, immoral, egotistical, racist, and rude.

The Flint Water Crisis occurred because white people with money and power valued economics over human lives.

I will not engage in a childish argument. 

The Space Where I Currently Stand...

My Statement of Purpose -- Application for PhD Program

Opportunities for online and digital education are vast and continually expanding. This should be a win/win for our students; after all, they now have more variety in course offerings and more freedom to pursue their passions before they graduate high school and enter college or begin careers. And yet—as I watch my students opt out of traditional classrooms in order to take classes online—my heart sinks. One of my senior students, Jill, illustrates the promise and peril of online education. A bright and driven student, she took her junior-level high school English class online last year so that she could be in a business program during the hours that junior English was offered. She was able to take the business courses and get a head start on her future college goals; however, this year, in my Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition class, Jill is struggling. She has said, multiple times, that she “learned nothing” in online English last year. She “doesn’t know how to write.” She “feels so far behind” the other students in the room. She “didn’t have to read a book” during the entirety of her online English class, and she “never got feedback from the instructor.” Jill is right -- she didn’t learn how to become a better writer last year, and she is miles behind her peers this year.

When I was discussing online classes with a colleague during passing time, another student (who also happens to be in my AP class) overheard and blurted out, “online classes are the devil! They’re horrible! I had three last semester and two this semester…I learn nothing, I procrastinate, I get overwhelmed, I do a crappy job on everything. I hate them!”

So, while Michigan’s legislation 21F demands that all students in grades 6-12 are able to take any two classes of their choice online per semester from any education provider they choose, the reality is that students who are taking classes online are struggling. Currently, our district’s pass rate for online courses is 63%. A 2014 study released by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute found a 73% increase in the total number of online course enrollments in the state, but only a 57% pass rate at the time of the study (Watson, 2015).

In our district, in order to compete with the online course offerings, save money, save our own jobs, and raise student engagement, district and building mandates are continually being given by our administration. We have been challenged to “meet the students where they are” and offer them a new, modern format to our traditional seat-time classes. New technologies are presented as “game-changing” -- but the changed game doesn’t seem to be directly benefiting the students. We were encouraged to flip our classrooms as the solution to all of our engagement problems. The subsequent conversations in the teacher’s lounge now included discussions of equity and access for our students…but, ultimately, we had to admit that our students’ levels of engagement didn’t seem to change. Then, “blended learning” was offered as the solution. As more classes moved to a blended format, the workload for teachers increased…but the engagement by students remained stagnant. 

As I watch my colleagues give daily multiple choice formative assessments in order to have data-driven differentiated instruction and provide competency-based education, my heart sinks further. The joy is gone. The student engagement is gone. Teachers, desperate for ideas to pull students back in, try new quiz platforms. They Polleverywhere. They Kahoot. They have data. But are the teaching practices reflective? Are students engaged? And, if students are engaged, is the thinking critical? Life-changing? Are students mastering the content? Can they apply the content to new situations?

I don’t have the answers to these questions. But, I do know that this is the direction of education. And something needs to change. 

And this is why I want to pursue the Doctor of Educational Technology program. 

My professional goals as a high school English Language Arts teacher are, simply put, to continue to reflect and grow as an educator, and to remain a part of the professional learning community in K-12 public education. My passion has always been to provoke students and colleagues and myself to think critically, and to push back at the establishment. Although I have, hopefully, grown more tactful in how I have pushed back over the years, my passion and idealism have not changed. I know that technology is the future and the future is now. But I also know that what we are doing isn’t working. 

So, how do we teach students in meaningful ways that are technology rich? And, how do we avoid the siren song of “cool tools?” How do we engage today’s learners? How do we push back at bad politics and policies in order to create content that will truly provoke critical thinking, content mastery, and social change?

This is the space where I currently stand, and I am excited to be a part of meaningful conversations happening within CMU’s Doctor of Educational Technology program. I want to explore the domain of educational technology from tools and policies to content development and delivery. I want to have the conversations that will lead to stronger educational experiences for me, my peers in the program, and our students. I want to create thought-provoking and effective professional development for our colleagues in education. I want us to figure out how to meet our students where they are, and I want to inspire us—and them—to be game-changers.

Watson, John. "Michigan Study Provides Detailed Online Learning Data; Shows Student Attributes and Growth in Online Enrollments « Uncategorized « Keeping Pace." Keeping Pace with K12 Digital Learning. Keeping Pace with K12 Digital Learning, 23 Mar. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.