I am a public school teacher in Tampa, FL who has lived in Florida since 1998 and have been teaching since 2003.

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This guest post was written by Michelle Hamlyn, a fellow teacher here in Hillsborough County Public Schools and member of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.

I’m Angry

In the past, I’ve been heartbroken at the lives lost, the upheaval after, the despair of the families. This time I’m angry.

I’m angry that mass shootings keep happening in one of the richest, most civilized countries in the world. A country that should be able to figure this out.

I’m angry that schools need to be secured. How do you secure a playground, a PE field, a campus with multiple buildings? And do we want our schools to look like fortresses and prisons?

I’m angry that legislators are bought by special interest groups, leaving rational conversation and problem-solving in the dust. I’m angry that any conversation about gun control results in “You can’t take my guns.” I don’t want your damn guns. I want to have a conversation where you and I can find a solution to the current madness. But that would require us to both come from a stand of compassion and understanding, not defensiveness and posturing.

I’m angry that those same legislators have decimated mental health programs, even though the number of mentally ill people hasn’t diminished. I’m angry that the NRA doesn’t include lobbying for better mental health programs while they’re lobbying for gun rights. I’m angry that time and again, the controls in place have “missed something” about the shooter, thus rendering the controls pointless and dangerous. I’m angry that the government continues to tell us how safe we are, when anyone can see that we’re not.

I’m angry that legislators have also decimated public education and currently see it as a money-maker for billionaires. I’m angry that those decisions have led to public school policies that are conducive to school shootings, like not having enough mental health professionals on hand to adequately deal with students’ issues in a timely, meaningful manner. And stressing testing so much that students actually believe the test defines them. Which makes them even more stressed and more likely to lash out at others.

I’m angry that everyone thinks the solution to this is having more school resource officers. Or, even worse, in arming teachers, a ghastly idea that would probably result in so much more harm than good. Or that it’s somehow a child’s responsibility to “See something. Say something.” I’m angry that in districts across the country, there are teachers who have done just that and it has resulted in nothing being done.

I’m angry that districts are more concerned with their public images than with what’s really best for students. I’m angry that in some schools, teachers are told not to write referrals for bad behavior or to pass students who haven’t done any work just so the district can tout its data.
I’m angry that district spokespeople are busy reassuring parents their children are safe, when I know they’re not. How could they be if students keep getting shot at school?

I’m angry that helicopter and bulldozer parents coddle and enable their children to the degree they don’t understand right from wrong, or that actions have consequences, or that dealing with negative emotions is a part of life, thereby creating a child crippled by fear and anxiety, with no coping skills to deal with the reality of life. And then expect schools to fix it.

I’m angry that every time I try to get people to listen to all these things, I’m told I’m being too negative, that I’m on my soapbox again, that my passion for my students is really an excuse for my own unwillingness to change. I’m angry that I’m not looked at as an authority on the reality of today’s public schools. I’m angry that the people who are in charge never invite me or any other teacher to the table.

I’m angry that in addition to the never-ending responsibilities foisted upon teachers, one of those responsibilities includes keeping students safe in conditions I have no control over and in which I’m a hero if I die while saving students. It seems a lot to ask or expect. I became a teacher, not a soldier or a police officer or a firefighter.

Mostly, though, I’m angry that a human being decided to kill other human beings.

I’m angry that students who may have changed the world will never have that opportunity.

I’m angry that school personnel had to choose to irrevocably harm their own families to try and save other families.

I’m angry that families are broken and battered, and will never feel whole again.

And I’m angry that my students have to live in this world.

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A new day dawns in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy

After yesterday’s senseless and tragic act of violence at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, teachers all across the Sunshine State returned to work today ready to help their students and colleagues process what had happened the previous afternoon. In most of my classes throughout the day, I spoke of the active shooter training all teachers received at our school, shared some of the information we learned, but most importantly gave the students time to process these events—some students chose to ask questions and open up a dialogue, others wanted to chat with their shoulder partners, and a few remained dumbstruck by the gravity of a situation that struck so close to home.

As the day wore on, more and more students were willing to open up about their thoughts and feelings on the matter, and many of those who did opt to share had many insightful and poignant words on the matter. One student spoke of how she had lost an uncle to gun violence in a local neighborhood that has always seemed safe, and how her father, never originally a proponent of gun ownership, purchased and learned how to use a gun fearing his family’s safety after the loss of his brother. Another student spoke of the anxiety that all of these mass shootings have created, and that just last week when we had a fire drill he thought about how he and his friends would be easy targets for someone who wanted to harm them.

The most common theme that emerged from the students, though, was that something must be done to eliminate—or at least significantly reduce—gun violence here in our country and culture. Many of them debated ideas in an open and honest way, discussing how it must be a multi-pronged approach that includes better screening, raising age limits to purchase rifles of any kind, mental health resources, and most agreed that banning any and all types of assault rifles would be the prudent course of action. I sat back most of the time and listened, amazed that so much wisdom could come from high school juniors.

The lone interjection I made in much of these discussions was talking about the difference between Columbine, an event that happened nearly 20 years ago now, and what happened yesterday in Broward County. I told the students that when the Columbine shooting happened, the nation came to a standstill and was in utter shock that something like that could happen in the United States. Now, however, these mass shootings have happened so frequently, I was worried that we were becoming desensitized to them as a nation. In the last 18 months alone, we have had terrible shootings such as the Pulse nightclub, Vegas, the church in Texas, the Ft. Lauderdale airport, and now this. Though there may be more, these are the ones that immediately came to mind. All of us spoke of how much the normalization of these shootings have changed the ways in which we react to them. One student lamented the fact that as she drove her younger brother home yesterday he quipped “that’s it?” when they announced the final death toll on the radio, almost as if, in her words, “he was expecting more or that it wasn’t enough.”

At the end of each class, all the students were grateful to have had the opportunity to talk about yesterday’s events and to process their feelings. While it may have cost us a day of curriculum, a great deal of non-traditional learning transpired. It was an open, engaging dialogue to hold with the next generation, and especially interesting to hear their views, hopes, and fears for what the future may bring. We all agreed that something must be done about the frequency and scope of the gun violence that has become so rampant lately, and sooner rather than later.

Our collective hearts and minds go out to all of the victims and their families, their communities, and the rest of the people who were in any way touched by this tragedy. But today’s discussions and the ones that are surely to follow are only the beginning of the healing that is necessary the day after a senseless act of violence such as this. It will take time for all of us—especially our children—to recover from it, but we can help each other through this ordeal by lending to one another a listening ear and compassionate heart.

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President Negron and Honorable Senators:

My name is Ryan Haczynski and I am a veteran high school teacher living and working in Hillsborough County. I am writing to all of you today to respectfully request that you flatly reject HB7055. There are numerous problems with this bill, many of which were recently outlined in this editorial from the Tampa Bay Times.

The most troubling aspect to me, personally, is the subversion of our Florida Constitution. One would surmise that true conservatives would be outraged by these attempts to legislate around our most cherished legal document in the Sunshine State, but it would appear that is not the case. Last year, for instance, the Senate narrowly passed HB7069, which clearly goes against Article III, Section 6 that states: “Every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.” Last year, during the floor debate on HB7069, Senator Simmons presciently warned of an impending legal battle over this very matter. This year is no different. Not only does HB7055 have multiple subjects, the subject introduction(s) carry on for 11 pages; therefore, it should be struck down on constitutional grounds alone.

There is also the constitutional attack on workers’ rights to collectively bargain. Realizing that HB25 would not receive any traction in your chamber (much like last year’s HB11), the House has decided to package it into this train bill. Ostensibly, members of the House have stated that it only seeks to decertify teachers’ unions because it is an education bill, but the vast majority of the public, especially the nearly 200,000 teachers working in the state of Florida, believe it is an attack on our unions because we have been decrying the slow and steady starvation of public education funding that has left the entire state in financial dire straights. Again, how is this constitutional when Article I, Section 6 clearly guarantees “the right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively”? The very same section states that this right shall not be abridged or denied, but by attempting to decertify unions this legislation does exactly that.

Finally, in Article IX, Section 1 of our Florida Constitution, it calls for “adequate provision” of “uniform…high quality schools.” While the Legislature continues to be woefully behind on providing funding to keep up with rising costs across the last decade, HB7055, in a sudden show of largesse, will alter the PECO funding structure so that well over 3,000 traditional schools must split $50 million dollars while 650 charter schools, many of which are managed by for-profit companies such as Academica, Charter Schools USA, and Charter School Associates, will receive over $120 million and in future years will be chained to CPI (why has not all education funding handled this way?). How is this uniform? More critically, how is this not corporate welfare?

Senator Bradley has already taken a stand against the connection of funding attached to HB7055. Now I am encouraging the rest of the chamber to join him. At a minimum the above mentioned provisions must be removed, but my ultimate hope is that HB7055 will be completely rejected so that the House must go back to the drawing board, begin anew, and serve the will of the citizens of Florida rather than their political campaign contributors and other special interest groups who are clearly the only ones clamoring for such bad legislation.

Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Respectfully,

– Ryan Haczynski

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But before I say why I’m voting for Val, a confession: I never was a “union” person for the first decade of my career.

In the podcast in which I interviewed both Rob and Val (listen here), I talked about this at the end. I joined for two basic reasons: 1) out of gratitude for the new payscale that economically changed our lives for the better; 2) out of concern for what was happening to public education in Tallahasse, which began to make me sit up and take notice eight years ago in 2010. In fact, this op-ed that landed on the front page of the Opinion section of the Sunday edition of the Tampa Tribute was the first time I publicly waded into the waters of education policy here in the Sunshine State.

Thank you, Tallahassee, for making me realize why I needed to become part of a union.

As a member for the last four and half years, as well as a building rep for the last two years, and now executive board member for the last seven months, I am proud to be part of a dedicated group of education professionals who work incessantly to give each and every child the very best quality education while simultaneously advocating for all students and our entire profession.

Perhaps more importantly, being a member of HCTA has given me strength through solidarity and the courage to share my perspective with my “teacher voice.” But ultimately what being a member has taught me is that it’s not about any one person at all.

It’s about all of us. Together.

When I recorded the podcasts for all four of the candidates, I was trying to be as impartial as possible, which is why I asked five essential questions and did not interact with any candidate’s response. Every candidate had great things to say, and I wish I could have an amalgamation of them all. But I realize that’s not possible, which is why I have been pondering this decision for the last few months and only decided today.

In my mind, Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman are tied. I honestly cannot really separate them, mainly because they both bring numerous tangible assets to the role of president. I even went so far as to write out a list of pros and cons, and still couldn’t make up my mind.

My gut, however, tells me something else. It tells me that we are walking into a storm the likes of which I doubt anyone in our district has seen in the last twenty years. The locus of this storm, of course, is the capitol; what the GOP-led Legislature has wrought over the last two years between HB7069, HB7055, and more cannot be ignored, especially the unwillingness to truly invest in public education and instead take what scant money exists and pour it into dubious ventures that only erode the entire education ecosystem.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we all read about it a great deal a few years ago when it happened in Wisconsin. Now it seems as if “reformers” are trying to replicate that here, and we need someone who has the experience to take the fight to them by activating members and engaging our community partners.

We cannot afford to let them win.

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Val has this experience. She fought for teachers and all union workers in Wisconsin. She is not afraid to confront our elected officials, speaking truth to power while respectfully being a staunch advocate for all education professionals and our profession overall. Here’s one small sample and more can be viewed here. Anyone who watches will notice time and again Val going to bat for us all.

All candidates reached out to me for their support immediately after our current president, Jean Clements, announced her retirement. I was hesitant to fully commit to anyone, and I will say that initially Rob was my front-runner due to his diplomatic approach. But I knew I  wanted to interview them all myself to get a better grasp on who I would vote for while also informing our HCTA membership.

And after all the interviews and much thought, still unable to truly make up my mind, Val called. That really was the tipping point. More than anything else, Val’s tenacity tells my gut to vote for her. If she shows such persistence to earn a single vote, how relentless will she be as a leader and our next president? How dogged will she be in defending our education professionals throughout the entire district? How unflagging will she be in advocating for public education here in Florida? My gut says more than I can put into words.

Val’s got the fire. And that’s why I’m voting for her.

If you are an HCTA member, don’t forget that voting begins tomorrow at noon and will run through Wednesday, February 21st at noon. If you are not a member, I sincerely hope you consider joining; though you won’t be able to vote in this election cycle, you will still have a voice as a member and can help shape the future direction of our union.

This is about all of us. Together.

 

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Time to Tell Tallahassee to STOP!

Several people in the audience at last night’s HCPS School Board meeting asked me for a copy of my comments, so I figured it would be easier to post them here.  The indefinite “you” mentioned throughout would be our seven elected officials. Feel free to share with others so that our growing chorus of concern over the state of public education here in Florida becomes even stronger and louder.

No one likes a bully. We teach our kids how to stand together in solidarity against bullying, and we also tell them that when they see something to say something. Many would argue that silence in the face of bullying is to be complicit in the act itself.

Bullying has become a hot topic in Tallahassee this year. Bills like HB1 give vouchers to students so they can be uprooted from their school and go to another. Pay no attention to the fact there is no consequence for the bullies themselves, because simply removing the bullies would make too much sense.

The irony in all of this is that Tallahassee is the bully, and our 67 counties throughout Florida are the kids who are routinely picked on.

So when will you stand up? When will you say something? When will you fight back? You said nothing, and did nothing last year with HB7069. This year, when you’ve had time to be publicly outspoken about the new train bill, HB7055, you’ve said nothing again and, as cliché as it may be, the silence is deafening.

When all of you were elected, you swore an oath to protect the Florida Constitution. Personally, I am a constitutional conservative who believes we should obey the law as it is written, and I have railed against the multiple ways our Legislature has and continues to subvert our most important legal document by writing legislation to circumvent it.

HB7055 has an 11 page introduction and includes 32 subjects, violating a prime rule for how bills are to be written. It is a hodgepodge of education policy that is notably full of tax dollar giveaways to private and for-profit managed charter schools. It includes language that will decertify teacher unions that do not maintain at least a 50% membership, which flies directly in the face of Article I Section 6 that states employees’ rights to collectively bargain shall not be abridged or denied. Worst of all, Speaker Corcoran has added proviso language to the bill that effectively holds all of the state’s education funding hostage unless this trainwreck is passed.

Have you even read HB7055 yet? My guess is no, because if you had you might have recognized the fact that all of you are looking at a pay cut. The bill amends statute 1001.395, which means you will be paid by the established formula or at the same level as a first year teacher, whichever is less.

But let’s get back to your duties as our local education representatives. Specifically, I’d like to review the “core values” listed in the School Board’s Way of Work document.

  • #6 – Vigorously and intelligently advocate for the School District and its students on the local, state, and national level.
  • #7—Commit, both individually and collectively, to being well-informed and educated on local, state, and national educational issues, initiatives and practices.
  • #20—Take children’s interests first. The board will represent the needs and interests of all children in our district.

While you undoubtedly exemplify these core values in some areas, you have and continue to be lacking in advocating for our district on the Legislative front. If you are doing any advocacy, it certainly is not in the Sunshine.

We need elected officials, School Board members in particular, who are willing to take the fight directly to Tallahassee. Our School Board is desperately in need of a true education advocate who is outspoken and will stand up to the bully in the capitol. We need School Board members like Billy Townsend in Polk or Charlie Kennedy in Manatee, elected officials who stand up for their own districts against the dictatorship that is the House.

Who will become our outspoken champion? Who will join the concerned educators and parents in this fight? We need you now more than ever. Our kids need you now more than ever. Public education needs you now more than ever.

It’s tragically comical how much Tallahassee complains about the Federal government dictating terms to them yet turn around and do the exact same thing to the counties in turn. I believe in local control. I believe that our people, here working in our district, educating our children know what’s best for our community. But until we take a united stand against this bully and shout stop at the top of our lungs, Tallahassee will continue to tell us what to do. Which one of you will stand with me? Stand with us? For the sake of our students and their future, I hope all of you will. Thank you.

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The Florida Public Education System under HB7069 and HB7055

Got some time to spare? You might want to read the language of HB7055, the tumescent bill brought to the citizens of Florida by Corcoran, Diaz, Bileca et al. What started off as a 109 page bill covering multiple topics has now ballooned to 198 pages after a couple committee stops. In its current form it has an 11 page introduction and covers 32 different subjects, which is why many critics of the legislation have dubbed it a “train bill.”

But this is a misnomer.

HB7055 is not a train bill. It’s a trainwreck. And it will have a devastating impact on public education here in Florida.

For those who haven’t been keeping up with the latest Tallahassee shenanigans since the start of committee work back in September, there is one theme that is running through many of this year’s bills—subvert the Florida Constitution by legislating around it. Two strong examples are the proliferation of vouchers and attack on teachers’ unions.

Despite all the problems that have recently cropped up in the last year concerning the utter lack of accountability for private schools and for-profit managed charters receiving public taxpayer dollars, Speaker Corcoran seems intent on giving more and more money away to those who will line their own pockets rather than educate our children. It’s not enough that educational vouchers to religious schools have already been struck down by the Florida Supreme Court during the Jeb Bush era, or that Governor Scott’s stacked deck of CRC players is also trying to remove the Blaine amendment, Corcoran and his army of yes-men in the House will continue to write bills this way to economically undermine the entire public education system despite the outcry from engaged and enraged citizens.

No one is asking for these giant bills like HB7069 and HB7055. Well, except for the Koch brothers (and their lobbying arm, Americans for Prosperity) who are investing in politicians—including Corcoran—to dismantle the entire public education institution brick by brick under the pretense of reform and/or school choice. The only thing the Kochs and their lackeys care about is the commodification and monetization of our children and their learning.

And who finds this the most distressing? Public education advocates in general, and teachers in particular. So what is the House to do? Silence the teachers. How? By making it difficult to unionize and thereby have some semblance of control over their contracts, salaries, workplace conditions, and the exercise of their First Amendment rights without fear of retribution.

Let’s completely set aside the fact that this legislation will provide yet another end run around the Florida Constitution by potentially stripping educators of their constitutionally guaranteed “right of employees, by and through a labor organization, to bargain collectively.” (Article I, Section 6) The legislation is redundant because employees can choose to decertify their union if they ever deemed it necessary, so all the bill really seeks to do is shut down any union with less than 50% membership and have them jump through numerous officious hoops on an annual basis.

But worse than the redundancy and officiousness of the language in the bill is the rhetoric and so-called logic being proffered by Education Committee chair, Michael Bileca, who recently stated “the 50 percent threshold is intended to preserve the rights of the majority” and that “a minority leadership…is not a voice for the majority.”

Really, Representative Bileca? You do know where you live, don’t you? The United States of America, the country that always lives under minority leadership. Case in point: the 2016 election cycle. Roughly 60% of all eligible voters turned out at the polls. Of that 60%, 48.6% voted for Hillary Clinton and 46.2% voted for Donald Trump. 46.2% of the roughly 60% of the voters means that our current president now holds office because 27.7% of Americans voted for him. You know what that is? A minority rule.

These numbers also bear out at smaller scales such as state level elections, which means the legislation that the so-called “majority” keeps passing is not intended for the majority of the Sunshine State’s citizens at all. Instead, these bills are a means of repayment to the plutocratic overlords who bestow their largesse on political operatives who are in turn willing to sell out our own children in the name of corporate welfare, crony capitalism, and the decimation of public education as an institution.

It’s a foregone conclusion that HB7055 will pass the House along party lines at some point this week. Our only hope is that the more balanced body, the Florida Senate, will seek to avert this trainwreck that will slowly derail all of public education as we know it.

Contact your Senators now and demand they prevent this trainwreck from happening.

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Felecia Johnson                                                                   Leo Haggerty

This week’s podcast is a special edition for members of Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. After interviewing the first two presidential candidates about a month ago, two more, Felecia Johnson and Leo Haggerty, announced their intentions to run as well. In order for our membership to hear from the candidates themselves, I reached out to them both in order to ask them the same questions. Take a listen to what they had to say.

If you’re a teacher or ESP currently working in Hillsborough County who is not a member, please consider joining. Or, if you are listening elsewhere in the state, I hope you join your own local union. We need to band together now more than ever. As Polk County School Board member Billy Townsend recently wrote, the teachers’ unions are the only positive force in Florida’s education model.

Thanks for listening and for your membership in HCTA!

P.S. – And if you missed the first podcast with Rob Kriete and Val Chuchman, you can listen to it here or scroll down to Episode 14 on the main page.

 

The latest guest post on Teacher Voice is written by Dr. Joel W. Gingery, PharmD. He is a retired clinical pharmacist who has since gone on to become a public education advocate. He is a current member of the St. Petersburg NAACP Education Committee, which focuses on economic and educational development in south St. Pete within Pinellas County.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. – Plutarch

Imagine: You’re in New York City on the fifth floor of the The Museum of Modern Art, looking at Le Domoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso.  Picasso is a Spanish artist, but he’s in Paris when he paints this.  The title translates to ‘The Young Ladies of Avignon’, which refers to a street that’s not in France but is in Barcelona and associated with prostitution. What we’re looking at is a brothel.

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Le Domoiselles d’Avignon – Pablo Picasso

Les Domoiselles d’Avignon is one of the monumental works in the genesis of modern art. The painting, almost 8 ft x 8 ft square, depicts five naked prostitutes in a brothel; two of them push aside curtains around the space where the other women strike seductive and erotic poses—but their figures are composed of flat, splintered planes rather than rounded volumes, their eyes are lopsided or staring or asymmetrical, and the two women at the right have threatening masks for heads. The space, too, which should recede, comes forward in jagged shards, like broken glass. In the still life at the bottom, a piece of melon slices the air like a scythe.

In its brutal treatment of the body and in its clashes of color and style, Les Domoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective.

For many art historians, this painting is seen as a break with 500 years of European painting that begins with the Renaissance.  It is a reaction to the oppressiveness with which post-Renaissance culture, its mannerisms, the Baroque neoclassicism, the academies of the nineteenth century, all weighed on the contemporary artist.  This painting is the foundation on which Cubism is built.

 

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Pablo Picasso – Self Portrait – 1907

Picasso was one of the greatest and most influential artists of the twentieth century.   He is the inventor of collage, but, most of all, he is associated, along with Georges Braque, with pioneering cubism.  Considered radical in his work, he made use of any and every medium.

His total artistic output has been estimated at 50,000 separate works:  1,885 paintings; 1,228 sculptures; 2,880 ceramics, roughly 12,000 drawings; and multiple other works, including tapestries and rugs.  Picasso continues to be revered for his technical mastery, visionary creativity and profound empathy.

Picasso was born on October 25, 1881, in Málaga, Spain, into a middle class family.  His father was a painter and art teacher who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game.  Picasso expressed his artistic talents early.   At age 16 he was admitted to the most prestigious art school in Spain.   But he detested the formal training, and, shortly after arriving, he left the school to make his way on his own.  Picasso would have never become the creative visionary that he became by continuing in formal schooling.   The only way for him to become ‘Picasso’ was out of school.

The Purpose of Education

In 1911, about the same time Picasso painted Le Domoiselles, Fredrick Winslow Taylor stated in his book “Principles of Scientific Management” that the duty of enforcing standards of work rests “with management alone.”  This attitude still permeates most of our organizations, whether we realize it or not.

Taylor felt that only management had the right and ability to see the big picture and make decisions.  This “command and control” mentality proved more effective when businesses were organized as hierarchies.  When the work is routine and only requires obedience, compliance, and perseverance, it is the type of work that is easily automated.

In today’s inter-connected, networked enterprise, everyone has to see their portion of the system and make appropriate decisions of their own.  Their work increasingly deals with more complex tasks that require creativity, curiosity, empathy, humor, and passion; the type of work that is difficult to automate and humans are good at.

A new skill set and mindset is required.  Employees need to learn how to be more adaptable, courageous, and resilient, as well as how to connect, collaborate, influence and inspire others.   More importantly, a sense of curiosity and thirst for learning and innovation is essential.

Unfortunately, many of our educational institutions are not sufficiently preparing learners for this new world of work; of shifting learner attitudes and mindsets from passive entitlement to active accountability.

To compound the situation, in our naivete’, we supported accountability initiatives that demand standardization. We asked:  “How can we hold schools, teachers, students, parents, etc., accountable, so they’ll give kids the education we want them to get?”

The result has been a rigid, technocratic, highly systematized and numbers-driven approach to reform, built on big new bureaucracies, costing millions to grind out and analyze countless billions of data points whose connection to children’s real educational success is tenuous at best.

Designed as they are to make the public education system dysfunctional, is it any wonder that these accountability systems fail?  They are impersonal and unresponsive to the real needs of real people. People are curious, interested creatures, who posses a natural love of learning; who desire to internalize the knowledge, customs and values that surround them.

These evolved tendencies for people to be curious, interested, and seek coherence of knowledge, would seem to be resources to be cultivated and harnessed by educators as they guide learning and development.

Too often, however, educators introduce external controls, close supervision and monitoring, that create distrustful learning environments. Essentially, they reflect external pressures on teachers that motivation is better shaped by external reinforcement than by facilitating students’ inherent interest in learning. Under such controlling conditions, however, the feelings of joy, enthusiasm, and interest that once accompanied learning are frequently replaced by feelings of anxiety, boredom, or alienation. They create the self fulfilling prophesy so evident in many classrooms, whereby students no longer are interested in what is taught, and teachers must externally control students to “make” learning occur.

America needs to rethink what it really wants from schools.

Answering this question takes creativity and insight, and courage, because answering requires us to rethink who we are and what it means to be human.

If we are truly passionate about an education system that supports the development of a learning environment in which the learner can grow into his or her highest future potential, we need to challenge ourselves to explore the reality of our situation and follow through with the appropriate action.

Half a century ago James Baldwin warned against this giving in to the tendency to minimize its importance: “This collision between one’s image of oneself and what one actually is is always very painful and there are two things you can do about it, you can meet the collision head-on and try and become what you really are or you can retreat and try to remain what you thought you were, which is a fantasy, in which you will certainly perish.”

Education is by and for the people. People whose purposes in life can’t be standardized or captured in numbers and technocratic systems.  People who are embedded in a bewildering variety of relationships and communities that shape who they are and what their lives mean. People who cannot be the one-size-fits-all interchangeable cogs that our technocratic, educational accountability systems need them to be to function.

Thanks for reading, everyone. As always, if you’d like to be a guest contributor to the Teacher Voice project (or discuss education issues on the podcast), please email me at 1teachervoice@gmail.com.

 

 

 

FCS

This edition of the podcast is an interview with high school science teacher, Brandon Haught, who is a founding board member and communications director for Florida Citizens for Science, a grassroots organization of concerned science education stakeholders that began in 2006.

During our conversation, we talk about last year’s textbook challenge bill, HB989, which has since become law, how it’s already been used in Nassau county, as well as legislation that is moving through both the House and Senate this session. All concerned education advocates should be paying attention to HB825 and its Senate companion SB966, which both deal with “controversial theories and concepts.” The other bills we discuss concern “textbook adoption” and are known as HB827 and SB1644 respectively.

If you’d like to get involved, please reach out to your legislators and tell them to vote no on these bills. And be sure to check out the good work being done by Brandon and the rest of the Florida Citizens for Science organization.

Thanks for listening and have a great week!

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Whistleblowers serve an important function in a free and democratic society. They serve as a bulwark against corruption and unethical behavior, and are a voice for the masses who feel powerless to fight back. And, more often than not, they carry on this important work anonymously.

Governments recognize and respect the work that these people do, which is why we have legislation at both the state and federal levels to protect those who have the courage to stand up and speak out against those who unscrupulously wield their power. These people should be commended for taking on the injustices found in both the private and public sectors.

It was alarming, then, to witness the unfolding of events at last night’s school board meeting here in Hillsborough County. For those reading beyond our borders, a popular local Facebook page, the Hillsborough County School Board Whistleblower, sprouted up shortly after our previous superintendent, Mary Ellen Elia, was unceremoniously removed from her post without cause in January of 2015. Over the last three years, the page has grown a large following while being critical of several of the board members on a wide range of issues.

During the meeting, a concerned citizen named Jason Ferger addressed the board about several issues, specifically the lack of transparency in their dealings with one another, which should happen “in the sunshine” according to state law. It was at the end of his address that one of our school board members, April Griffin, outed him as being the administrator of the Whistleblower page while simultaneously dragging another school board member, Melissa Snively, into the fray, despite the fact that she was absent from the dais. It was both shocking and unprofessional to say the least.

To be honest, Mr. Ferger may or may not be the person I interviewed a couple of months ago over the phone. The more important point is that, based on what I gleaned from our discussion, the Whistleblower is more than any one person at this point–it is a movement. And this movement is comprised of any and all stakeholders who are concerned about the surfeit of challenges facing our school district here in Hillsborough County. From what he described, the page routinely receives dozens of tips in any given week, and anyone who has sent along tips or helped dig through records requests to put together the facts may as well be the Whistleblower him/herself.

Which makes me the Whistleblower, too.

Over a year ago, I received a tip from a friend who told me that the district was purchasing 8,000 laptops. We apparently were about to significantly overpay for them because one of our other school board members, Susan Valdes, questioned the item and had it pulled from the agenda before a vote. Summation: the contract went to a local company whose CEO donated $1000 to her most recent election campaign. So I passed along the tip and then got an email back asking if I could help.

Attached to this email were pages upon pages of emails, purchase orders, bidding sheets; it was mind-boggling to behold at first. Relishing the opportunity to do some investigative work, I dug in, sifted through all the information, organized it onto a spreadsheet, and then sent it back. After a few more email exchanges, we were able to create a timeline, and then the page took the information public.

It has since been accepted by the Florida Commission on Ethics, and the investigation is one of two that are currently on-going (as far as I know).

My point is this: whoever you are, dear reader, you are powerful. We all are. As I said to someone last night, anyone who is helping to provide greater transparency by holding democratically elected officials accountable to their citizens is the very definition of what it means to be a good American. We have a right and responsibility as citizens of the United States to be informed, engaged, and acting on our civic duty. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

I am the Whistleblower.

And if you have ever helped that page and the cause, then so are you.

We are all the Whistleblower.