Monthly Archives: January 2014

I Am Not Going to Take This Anymore!

In the 1971 movie, Network, Peter O’Malley goes into a rant on his evening television show against the inhumanity of mankind, and declares he is not going to take it anymore.  He implores people to go to their doors or windows, and let their voices be heard.  In the movie, people who are tuned in to O’Malley’s show are swayed by his passion and animated agitation with the society in which they live, and are so compelled by his words that they throw open their doors and windows and shout, “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!”

Well, I believe it is time for teachers in the United States to take up that battle cry.  Why?  Because American education is not broken! I repeat – American education is not broken!  It is plenty bruised from all the negative comments it is continually bombarded with by the media and politicians, and it could probably use a lot of tender loving care, but it is not broken.  A major problem with education today is educators!  Educators have listened to the propaganda about how bad they are for so long they have started to believe it, and they seem to have forgotten about all the good they do.  Teachers have been literally beaten into submission by politicians and teacher bashers who have ridden the bandwagon bashing education to the point of permanently crippling education in this country by ripping apart the very foundation of confidence and hope that American education was built upon.   It is time for it to stop!  It is time for teachers to mount their own bandwagon and stand up for themselves.   It is time for them to throw open the doors and windows of the schoolhouse and shout, “I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!”

Sure, there are problems such as children failing, children dropping out of school, low graduation rates, and teachers who may not belong in the profession.  However, student failure, dropouts, and poor graduation rates are as much due to poverty, a society with marginal respect for education, and poor parenting as they are to a broken educational system.  As for teachers who may not belong in the profession, I agree if they do not have the capacity to do the job, if they cannot be trained to do the job, and they do not have the desire to teach children with passion and compassion, they need to be gone.  However, that can be said about any profession whether it is teaching or in the business world.

Speaking of the business world, it is also about time teachers stood up and took exception to the nonsense of running schools like a business.  Since when did children become a commodity?  Since when did schools get to pick and choose the raw materials they work with like the business world does?  Since when did schools get to keep only the cream of the crop and throw out the rest?  The answer is NEVER, so what makes people with little or no educational experience think a business model will work in our schools.

Yet, we keep hearing that education needs to be run like a business.  We hear that education needs to treat children as customers.  We hear that education needs to follow a business model to be more efficient!  Really?  Whose business model should education follow – Bank of America, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Ford, Trustmark Corp?  These businesses as well as many others that I could name have enough problems running themselves much less trying to be a model for someone else to follow.  Think back to 2008 when 937 businesses in the United States (including the ones I named above) were recipients of nearly 700 billion taxpayer bailout dollars, and that’s not counting the 21,000 emergency loans to banks and small businesses by the Federal government totaling in the trillions of dollars.  If schools were run like these examples of business genius, the schoolhouse doors would have been chained and locked long ago with no hope of a bailout.  Schools may not be perfect, but thank goodness we have professional educators running our schools who know the kid business rather than business executives who have shown through their personal greed and poor management that they cannot meet their obligations to their customers.  We could not trust them with our money, and now some people want us to trust them with our children!  I think not.  Also, what about treating children as customers?  Get real people!  How many businesses have you walked in lately and could not find a business associate or employee of any kind to help you or even greet you with a smile?  If schools offered students the same level of customer support as the business world, I am afraid the student failures and dropouts would double or even triple.

Yes, it is absolutely time for teachers to stand up for themselves!  I challenge anyone to show me another profession where the professionals are . . . .

1.     Expected to take bruised merchandise and turn it into gold;

2.     Expected to accept raw materials with little or no quality control;

3.     Expected to get high results from people who do not what to be there;

4.     Expected to perform without flaw their core work while during the same day providing transportation, breakfast, lunch, counseling, nurturing, attendance incentives, behavior incentives, and acting as a mother or father as well as trying to find time to squeeze in hygiene and sex education; and

5.     Expected to lay aside the never ending insults, disrespect, and bashing from students, parents, media, and politicians and teach with pride and loyalty to their profession and those they serve.

Teachers cannot get rid of students who do not meet the specs called for in the blueprint.  They are expected to fix every student regardless of how far below the specs a student may fall.  Of course, you might say that goes with the territory, and you would be right.  However, because such expectations are a part of the territory, most teachers accept them without a word other than asking for an occasional well deserved but token pay raise once every seven years or so.  Therein, lies the problem.  Teachers are rarely heard, and when they are, their voices are more than often stamped out by the howls of the wolves that live at their doors.

Therefore, I believe it is time for teachers to start howling back.  It is time they demanded that the politicians replace their opinions, personal agendas and rhetoric with facts before they legislate arbitrary education laws that do little more than cloud the waters and promote personal agendas.  It is time that teachers demand that parents be held as accountable for their child’s education as the child’s teachers.  It is time that teachers demand and accept nothing less than the respect they deserve.  It is time that teachers demand their voices be heard when it comes to fixing those parts of education that may need fixing.  It is time teachers demand they be treated as professionals, and not faceless punching bags without feelings.  It is time teachers stand up with pride and say, “I am a teacher, I am a human being, and I am mad as hell, and I am not going to take this anymore!”

JL

©January 22, 2014, Jack Linton

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Rubber Monkeys

Stress is so common in today’s world that if you type the word “stress” into Google, you will get 151,000,000 hits.   On the other hand, you can type the word “happiness” into Google and get only 73,200,000 hits.  Does this mean stress is more prevalent in our lives than happiness?  After watching people interact at the mall and on the street, reading the newspaper, watching the evening news and assessing my own life, I am inclined to believe that is exactly what the numbers mean.  Stress is epidemic in our lives, but what can we do about it?  Let go of or remove the stressful things in our lives?  Easier said than done!  Pray?  Absolutely! Take a pill?  That only covers the symptoms.  Take a class on coping with stress?  Great, if you are not too stressed to go to the class.  So what can we do?  I don’t know if there is an exact answer, but my granddaddy, the most laid back stress free man I have ever known, had a solution.  He advocated rubber monkeys for coping with stress and life in general.

Granddaddy was a man who refused to waste time worrying or fixating on things over which he had little or no control.  He believed there were three things a man had to do to live a successful, stress free life – have faith in God, recognize spilt milk and hug a rubber monkey.  Sounds crazy, but it makes a lot of sense.  You see, spilt milk is anything you cannot fix or make right – something that is out of your control, and a rubber monkey is that little saying or something that you can hold on to when stress and spilt milk enter your life.  Rubber monkeys help you bounce back and move forward when life steps on you.  I can still hear my granddaddy say, “There’s no need to stress or worry as long as you have faith in God and a rubber monkey in your pocket.”

Granddaddy had little patience with people who spent “good time” stressing over things they had little or no control over.   When people around him started groaning and worrying, he would shoot them a rubber monkey such as, “Quit stressing!  If you cannot do something about a situation, embrace something you can and move on,” or he might say, “Life is about the ability to bounce back.  It is the ability to let stupidity, ignorance, and whatever the world throws at you bounce off and not ruin your day.”  He was the best I have ever known at recognizing spilt milk for what it was – a waste of his time.  He would say, “The sun is shining somewhere, so there’s no need wasting time or good sunshine on people or things that don’t matter.” He had a rubber monkey for just about any situation or occasion; unfortunately, some of his best ones are unprintable here.

Of course, people were sometimes offended by his aphorisms, but my granddaddy as gruff as he often appeared was not out to offend anyone.  He just spoke it like he saw it with few apologies.  My mama used to say that was why he did not have many friends and would never win a political election, the latter of which suited him just fine.  He always reasoned that if the truth offended you, it was very likely that you needed to be offended or you were one of those poor worrying souls who was always looking for ways to be offended.  Either way being offended was on you – you had control over that.  To him, if you were offended by anything he said, you got what you came for.  I can still hear him saying, “I have no time to be offended or time for folks who look for ways to be offended.  Life is short, so grab a rubber monkey and hold on, it’s moving forward with or without you.”  In other words, get over it!

One Sunday, I heard him tell his pastor after confronting him for preaching too long and allowing the Methodist to claim all the tables at the local café, “Preacher, if you are offended, get over it.  Time is too precious to waste on such nonsense. Knowing when to open and close your mouth is a virtue.” His pastor was stunned, but the following Sunday the sermon was even longer.  When granddaddy confronted him once more about being long-winded, his pastor smiled and calmly told him, “Floyd, get over it.  Time is too precious to waste on such nonsense.  Knowing your place is a virtue.”  Granddaddy was speechless, but as he slowly walked away, a huge smile crept across his face.  The next Sunday he invited the pastor and his wife to Sunday dinner at his house.

Although I am not very good at it, granddaddy taught me to use rubber monkeys to help me through troubling times.  In fact, sometimes when tensions begin to build and problems pile up, I can still hear him say, “Jack,” always pronouncing my name as though it had two syllables, “grab a rubber monkey, and move on.”  I have not always followed his advice, but when I do, I am amazed at how quickly the fog around me seems to lift, and my anxiety, hurt, or fear begins to subside.  It is almost like magic, but the reality of a rubber monkey has nothing to do with any thing magical.  Rubber monkeys simply help you move on with your life, so that the healing process  called “time” can begin.  Of course, I cannot say rubber monkeys always save the day, but I can assure you I feel better when I slow down enough to embrace them.  They remind me that living is about learning to cope, and that sometimes the best way to cope with life is to take a step back, embrace a rubber monkey, and not take yourself so seriously.

To this day, I still listen for rubber monkeys to help me get through the spilt milk that causes the stress in my life.  I am a believer in the power of rubber monkeys and the hope and smiles they instill in the hearts and minds of those who embrace them, and I hope you find rubber monkeys in your life as well to help guide you through the spilt milk in your life.  However, if you are like me and struggle to find rubber monkeys, feel free to latch onto one of my granddaddy’s rubber monkeys (From time to time in the coming weeks, I will share more).  He would have been honored.  He loved God, life, and people, but other than God, he tried not to take anything too seriously – including himself.

JL

©January 20, 2014, Jack Linton

The Common Core Standards Controversy

Common core standards, an attempt by big government to take over the minds of our children, or the best chance our children have to be competitive in a global society, has been the subject of much debate lately.  The standards focus on the cognitive skills of children and emphasize teaching depth over breadth.  Opponents scream the standards are a federally funded program, and the truth is the federal government has incentivized states to adopt the standards through such programs as Race to the Top funding and the No Child Left behind waiver process.  However, the argument that we should oppose common core standards because it is being funded by the federal government does not hold water.  The fact is that the federal government has been subsidizing education in this country to some extent since the 1950’s.  For example, Title I, The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed in 1965 during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, is the most comprehensive federal legislation impacting education ever passed by Congress.  Over 56,000 schools in the United States including Mississippi schools accept Title 1 money from the federal government every year.  Based on 2011 – 2012 data from the United States Department of Education, 877 schools out of 925 in Mississippi received Title I funding from the federal government to the tune of $193,652,567.  This is just an example of federal government subsidies to Mississippi schools, and although I would like to see less government involved in our schools, I have yet to see any Big Brother brainwashing, or anything government related that is overly intrusive other than paperwork.  If nothing else, Mississippians should be thankful we live in a country where such support is possible – after all, I see it as putting our tax dollars to good use.  Of course, there are those who will disagree, but until we elect people to our state legislature who are willing to fully fund education every year as the law requires, we will always be a state with our hand out begging for whatever support we can find for our children.  People need to remember that the Mississippi state legislature has fully funded education only twice since the MAEP formula was adopted in 1997, and both of those years were election years, 2003 and 2007.  However, even if a miracle happened and the Mississippi legislature fully funded education, we would still need federal dollars to survive.  Face it people, we live in a great state, but economically a very poor state.

Therefore, even though personally I would like to be able to tell the federal government we don’t need your help, so leave us alone, the truth is that in Mississippi we do need the federal government’s help in funding education for our children.  This may be hard to swallow for some, but it is not only the truth; it is a fact.  It is also an unfortunate fact of life that the truth is not always what we wish it to be, and the truth about Common Core Standards is no different.  A person may have a million reasons to oppose Common Core Standards, but the truth is that our children need the standards regardless of opposition that is often founded on what is best for adults rather than what is best for children.  As I see it, there are basically ten reasons why people oppose the Common Core Standards:

1.  Common Core Standards make some parents, politicians, and teachers uncomfortable.  Many teachers, parents, and politicians are intimidated by what they don’t understand or by what they feel challenges the status quo;

2.  Common Core Standards make it difficult for parents to help their children with homework; therefore, the standards are not good for children.  That is equivalent to a parent telling his or her child that I am not good in math, so you don’t need to be good in math either;

3.  Some parents, politicians, and teachers believe Common Core Standards are a   federal takeover of education.  It is not a federal takeover of education, but for as long as Mississippi has been on the bottom, maybe we need somebody to take over.  It should be obvious by now that we don’t know how or don’t have the capacity to pick ourselves up.  Sometimes our “ain’t nobody gonna tell us what to do” mentality is an anchor around our necks that holds us firmly to the bottom.

4.  Some parents and teachers are happy with the way things have been in the past, and for them the present is fine also.  They are content with Mississippi being ranked 51 out of 51 in the nation.  Their generation and the generations before them have known only marginal academic success at best, so why should today’s generation be any different?  A marginal education was good enough for them, so it should be good enough for their children and grandchildren;

5.  Some politicians are afraid of creating a society of critical thinkers who can analyze data and make informed decisions on issues affecting their lives.  They cringe at the idea of a Mississippi full of free thinkers who have wrenched themselves free of the puppeteer’s strings;

6.  Many in the Tea Party movement look at Common Core Standards as a threat to charter schools and vouchers and their underlying agenda to destroy public schools;

7.  Some people fear Common Core Standards cannot deliver what it promises.  Their underlying reasoning is that we may be number 51 in the nation, but at least we know where we are and where we will be ten years from now;

8.  Some people fear Common Core Standards will develop a nation of anxious robotic children who have been brainwashed by big government.  This is just pure nonsense.  The government has nothing to do with developing anxious robotic children.  That credit belongs to an addiction to cell phones, video games, and countless hours in front of the television;

9.  Common Core Standards create a trickle down stress effect:  teachers are stressed by teaching more conceptually rather than factually, children are stressed because they have never been required to think on their own, parents are stressed because their child is stressed because he or she is having to work harder for an “A”, and politicians are stressed that they will lose votes because parents are stressed; and

10.  Some politicians are afraid that if the implementation of Common Core Standards is successful, they will no longer have teachers to belittle and use as their whipping boy.  If they can no longer bash teachers, who will they be able to intimidate and rail against for the poor state of affairs in the state?  If they can’t demean the teaching profession, how will they justify lobbying to take away the few fringe benefits teachers have such as retirement and insurance.  Heck, they may even be forced to honor the law and fully fund education.

Let’s be real about the opposition to common core.  The opposition as illustrated above is about adult discomfort with Common Core Standards.  The opposition has little to do with what is best for kids.  Opponents to Common Core can scream all they want about it not being good for children, but the bottom line is Common Core scares them, not their children.  Common Core takes adults out of their comfort zones and unfortunately that plays readily into the hands of adult paranoia.  Face it, the three major reasons some people want to get rid of Common Core Standards is based on adult discomfort with something new, adult insecurities, and adult paranoia.  It is not about what is best for kids, but rather what is best for adults.

However, to be fair, the proponents of Common Core Standards have done their fair share of adding coals to the fires of opposition.  It is a fact that many parents and teachers are scared of the Common Core Standards, and realistically, why shouldn’t they be?  Teachers often feel as if they are caught in the cross-hairs of the controversy, and they are.  They have every right to be stressed and even angry when their state legislature continually labels them as unprofessional and basically inept at their jobs, many parents blame them exclusively for the failures of their children, and the public in general has little or no respect for them as professionals.  Likewise, parents are scared.  Why?  Because for the most part, what they know about Common Core Standards comes from hearsay and misinformation.  They are frightened by the unknown, so they cling to what they know even though deep down they may feel change is needed.

You see, a major theme at the core of opposition to Common Core Standards is the lack of information.  Opponents claim that the public has not been adequately informed, and after taking a step back and looking at the implementation of Common Core Standards over the past two and a half years, I am inclined to agree with them.  Yes, schools began to tell parents and the public at least three years ago that Common Core Standards were coming, but few parents and the public in general had little idea as to what a standard was much less what was meant by Common Core Standards.  There is no doubt that school districts have tried to reach out to parents by sending home important information regarding the standards in student backpacks, and some of it may have actually made it home to the parents.  Give school districts credit; they have organized and held community meetings touting to answer parent questions; however, many parents have left these meetings feeling even more confused than ever since many felt the questions were closely censored or maybe even planted.  School districts have also posted relevant information about the standards on their websites.  This sounds like a good idea except that many teachers and administrators themselves are confused by the information contained on these websites, so how can parents with limited educational knowledge be expected to clearly understand the information?  Yes, schools have done all these things and probably more, but the one thing they have failed to do is adequately answer in a straight forward manner questions that parents still have after attending the meetings or reading through the information provided.

When people and especially parents who are concerned about their most important asset, their children, cannot get their questions answered by the people who are supposed to know, they tend to migrate to the conspiracy theorists, agenda driven politicians, and street hearsay.  When their questions are not answered they begin to wonder why?  What is the school district trying to cover up?  When they attend meetings to find answers and leave feeling they have been talked down to and made to feel inadequate as a parent, they become frustrated and anger begins to grow.  When they dare debate the issue, and they are met with condescending voices of assurance that everything will be all right if they just have faith, they leave disgusted and looking for answers elsewhere, and you can bet there is someone lurking in the shadows with an answer that under less stress and frustration parents would recognize as clearly questionable if not downright ridiculous.  But, when you are hungry, you become willing to ingest just about anything regardless of how it tastes.  The bottom line is parents are entitled to answers to their questions, so they can formulate an informed opinion rather than develop an opinion that is steeped in misinformation.

In closing, I stand behind the implementation of Common Core Standards as being what is best for children, but I also believe the only way to put to rest some of the opposition is to embrace the debate and provide the answers opponents are seeking.  I do believe that the vast majority of people, especially teachers, are in support of the standards, and that there are many others who are ready to support the standards if they can be assured they will not have to walk the journey alone.  It is time to move Mississippi forward, and Common Core Standards can help us do that.  I am ready for the children in Mississippi to have the same opportunities to make a wage comparable to what the same job pays in other states.  I am ready for children in Mississippi to be able to stand with their heads high among the nation’s elite.  I am ready for Mississippi to shine.  It is time Mississippians stopped settling for less when we are capable of so much more.

JL

©Jack Linton, January 12, 2014

It’s Not Complicated

I do not mean to offend, but . . . .

AT&T has recently launched a series of commercials that have propelled the company to number one status among the most watched and liked commercials.   The “It’s Not Complicated” ads focus on a deadpan moderator sitting at a child-size table populated by a group of bright, beyond cute, children.  The moderator asks the children such questions as, “Do you guys think it’s better to be fast than be slow?”  The delightful, uncomplicated, off the wall answers that illuminate the often times bizarre and whimsical minds of the children is a lesson for all of us in simplicity.  It is a simplicity that I wish we could somehow bottle and pass on to our elected officials, especially at budget time.  In fact, it would be to everyone’s advantage if we could get our senators and representatives to sit down at the table with these children.  I have no doubt the children could help them understand that when it comes to budget, it is really not that complicated.

You see, according to USA Today, the national debt in the United States is now equal to $534,000 per household, but no one seems to know how to slow it down much less stop it.  I use to think it was because our leaders did not care, but I have come to realize that they do probably care, but they do not have a clue as to how to solve the problem.   However, if we could get the leaders to the table with the children, and have the moderator ask, “How do you handle your allowance,” I am convinced the children could teach these adults a few things about economics.  “It’s not complicated,” especially if they would simply heed what I am sure the children would refer to as The Seven Principles of Kindergarten and 1st Grade Economics:

(1)   You do not spend more than your allowance;

(2)   You do not borrow more than your allowance;

(3)   You do not give away your allowance;

(4)   You do not put your allowance in a broken piggy bank;

(5)   You do not invest your allowance in strangers;

(6)   You do not spend your allowance on every piece of candy in the store;

(7)   You do not share your allowance with anyone who can’t or won’t pay it back.

It is not complicated!  Ask the children.

I do not mean to offend, but . . . .

JL

©Jack Linton, January 6, 2014