Monthly Archives: April 2015

You might need to go back to school if . . .

Part I: Stupid

Albert Einstein said, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” After a trip to Walmart, listening to the news, spending too much time on Facebook, watching people at the mall and watching people do stupid things like text and drive, I must agree. Einstein was correct; human stupidity is “infinite.” Human stupidity is absolutely boundless!

I believe it is safe to say human stupidity is the best argument against the evolution of man. There is little evidence that stupidity is an evolved trait that over time morphs into anything greater than more stupidity. Through my observations, the stupid trait seemingly remains intact from generation to generation, and no one is exempt regardless of upbringing, wealth, ethnic background, or religion. Just because a person is smart, has a good mama, goes to church every Sunday, politically knows what is best for everyone, starches his shirts, changes his underwear daily, loves his family, is artistically talented and is just a pure down to earth overall good person does not make him/her immune to stupidity.

It is unfortunate, but none of us are immune from stupid. There is no cure for stupidity. Medicine, prayer, memberships nor asylums will completely cleanse people of the absurdity of the human condition. Going to school or going back to school may be the best chance people have against the stupid bug that plagues mankind, but even school is at best a shot in the dark for many individuals. But, everyone deserves a chance.

Maybe, if people afflicted with the stupid bug, people who naively believe anything they hear or read, people who blindly trust in politics, people who are gullible to whatever is blowing in the wind and people who are just plain simple minded got a second chance to go back to school, they would be able to get it right the second time around. At worse, they would be out of circulation for a while, which would actually be a break for everyone else. Many of the these poor afflicted souls do not have a clue that something is out of whack in their lives, so bless their hearts, they can’t help subjecting those around them to their irksome character quirks. But, hopefully they will read or have someone read to them the five part, “You might need to go back to school if . . . ,” series I will be blogging over the next few weeks. Who knows, some of these individuals may recognize themselves in these blogs and register for school in the fall.  One can only hope.

You might need to go back to school if . . .

  1. You think rampant racism is an out of control stock car race;
  2. You spend more time on Facebook than you do reading a book;
  3. You name your first, second, and third born Bubba Junior, Bubba III, and Bubba Gene as well as name your daughter Bubbalicious.
  4. You name your kids after food: Paprika, Cayenne, Ambrosia, Basil, Muffin, and Apple;
  5. You walk around with your laptop held to your head by a Gojo®;
  6. Your vocabulary is comprised mainly of four letter words and is as bad as, like, whatever;
  7. You believe fluttering butterflies in your stomach is love and not a warning to get to the John fast;
  8. You visit the zoo and the monkeys make faces at you and toss you peanuts;
  9. You have a graduation diploma that says unconditionally discharged; and
  10. You struggle to put M&M’s in alphabetical order.

If any of these strikes a personal nerve or you know someone these may apply to, please enroll or help that someone enroll in the closest school as soon as possible. After all, it is your civic duty to help the afflicted and the needy.

Coming in future weeks:

You might need to go back to school if . . . . for Believers

You might need to go back to school if . . . . for Politics

You might need to go back to school if . . . . for the Gullible

You might need to go back to school if . . . . for the Simple Minded

JL

©Jack Linton, April 26, 2015

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Did the Punishment Fit the Crime: Test Fraud in Atlanta

Cheating is never right, so many will applaud the punishment handed out to ten Atlanta administrators and teachers charged with racketeering for cheating on state-administered standardized tests. Three of the ten convicted educators will serve a minimum of seven years each in prison while five will serve a minimum of one to two years each in prison. All ten will face stiff fines and 1,000 to 2,000 hours of community service. Did the punishment fit the crime? Maybe, but it is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the three educators sentenced to seven years in prison may have received a lighter sentence in 87% of the crimes tracked by the Commission. Only murder, kidnapping/hostage taking, sexual abuse, and pornography/prostitution carried longer median sentences than the three Atlanta educators received for cheating on standardized tests. Although testing fraud is serious and should be punished, do these educators really deserve harsher punishment than 87% of hardened criminals?

Fulton County Superior Court Judge, Jerry Baxter, said, “Everyone starts crying about these educators. There were thousands of children harmed in this thing. This is not a victimless crime.” There is little to argue with in the judge’s statement, but as despicable as the actions of these administrators and teachers were, it is hard not to see them as victims also. Administrators and teachers across the United States are under inordinate pressure to meet district and state student achievement targets and failing to do that they often face severe evaluation and/or termination consequences. The Atlanta educators were no different. However, they could have taken the high road and let the chips fall where they may as the vast majority of educators do, but they chose to sell their professionalism and integrity for a shortcut to success – their success, not the children’s. As a result, the children became victims of their fraud, and they became victims of their own stupidity as well as victims of a “CAN’T WIN” testing system for school administrators and teachers.

That these educators should be held accountable for their actions is not in question, but their sentencing does not solve the problem. Their sentencing only substantiates there is a problem. Judge Baxter is right; when the stroke of the cheater’s pen passes kids regardless of their ability to read, write, or do basic math, the kids become victims. However, aren’t they also victims when their parents don’t take responsibility for their education; aren’t they also victims when state lawmakers do not adequately fund education; aren’t they also victims when teachers pass kids to the next grade who lack the skills needed to succeed; aren’t they also victims when principals tell teachers no one fails even when kids do not have the skills needed for the next grade or school; and aren’t they also victims when superintendents make it clear to principals and teachers that their jobs depend on how well kids do on state tests?

If educators are to be held accountable for a child’s education, which they should be, it stands to reason that not only teachers but everyone who has a hand in the child’s education, including parents and state lawmakers should be held just as accountable. Why should school administrators and teachers shoulder all the pressure and blame? After all, if judges are going to uphold children as victims in cases of test fraud and hand out prison sentences normally reserved for hardened criminals, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to parents of children with excessive absences from school or parents of children with habitual behavior problems in the classroom that impedes the teacher’s ability to teach? Also, shouldn’t the same consequences be applied to state lawmakers who fail to fully fund resources needed by teachers and children in the classroom? Aren’t children being educationally harmed, cheated, and victimized just as much by the actions or lack of actions by these individuals?

There are no doubts the administrators and teachers in Atlanta deserved to be punished for their fraud, but a more fitting punishment may have been to strip them for life of their license to teach and ban them for life from involvement in education in any capacity whether it be in the public or private sectors. Fines large enough to make it hurt and community service were appropriately part of their sentencing, and the shame and stigma they will carry with them for the rest of their lives may very well be the harshest punishment they will receive. However, Judge Baxter felt more was needed than expulsion from the teaching profession, large fines, and community service. He felt such an egregious conspiracy to fraud by professional men and women who disgraced their profession, themselves, and their families deserved more, and he may have been right. Through his actions, he has sent a message across the nation that such disingenuous neglect of duty will not be tolerated. Maybe, someday neglect of duty will likewise not be tolerated by the courts in the ranks of parents and state lawmakers as well.  After all, when it comes to educating children, educators are not alone, or are they?

JL

©Jack Linton, April 19, 2015

Is this the Real Truth, or Is it Their Truth?

The other night while watching the evening news, I suddenly realized I was being played! The news anchors and journalists I had invited into my home to report the news were instead relentlessly pelting me with their biased opinions. I grew up in the era of Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, and David Brinkley, who reported the news and left their audience to form their own opinions about it.  In contrast, I found the news coverage on this particular evening to be covered by a thick haze of the personal biases and opinions of the journalists. The news came second to their personalities and their interest in swaying me to think like them or more likely their corporate sponsors.  Instead of news my home was being infiltrated by propaganda.

Some may say calling network news propaganda is a bit harsh or hogwash, but what else do you call it when a news network moves beyond reporting the news to telling people how to think about the news?  Of course, in this day and age of rating numbers, sometimes injecting the news with controversial biases and opinions adds a certain amount of entertainment value to the program. We have become a society so addicted to being entertained that unless a news program is anchored by a flamboyant personality titillating us with spicy nothings and unholy shock value we are quick to change the channel.  Television ratings have become more important than the news, but unfortunately, it doesn’t just stop with television; the same can be said for the print media as well.

Commercialization of the news, whether it is broadcast or written, is a major problem in America.  It is unfortunate, but journalism in America has become the mouthpiece of corporate America and the playground for journalists not above selling their souls for sensationalism, book deals, and star status.  The saddest part of all this is the American public has become enablers of this atrocity.  In an era, where the public is poorly read, and lack of rationalization, common sense, and probing thought are often thought of as inherit American liberties, the absolute truth becomes what the powers in control, political or corporate, tell the people they should want it to be.  That means rather than simply reporting the news and allowing people to draw their own conclusions, nationwide surveys/polls are often conducted on behalf of the networks to determine the interests, beliefs, and opinions of the public so the news can be written and reported to reflect those interests, beliefs, and opinions.  In a commercialized world, you give the customer what he wants even if it means injecting the truth with opinions and biases and then shamelessly selling it as news.

It is a sad commentary on American journalism, but many journalists today will do almost anything to promote themselves or make a name for themselves in the eyes of the public.  It is sad because we are talking about highly talented people with the journalistic tools to make people take notice without being unethical or outright lying.  However, too many talented journalists can’t seem to negotiate the line between being a journalist and a celebrity.  It is sad when such talent allows their celebrity to overshadow and even destroy their credibility as a journalist. The list of journalists who have traded their journalistic credibility for the fleeting sensation of stardom includes such notables as . . . .

  1. Brian Williams (NBC News): Embellishing the truth to make himself look bigger than life;
  2. Dana Milbank (Washington Post): Inventing and taking quotations out of context to support his viewpoint;
  3. Stephen Glass (The New Republic): Creating fictional sources and events in articles and presenting them as the truth;
  4. Sabrina R. Erdely (Rolling Stone): Reporting a story as true without corroboration; and
  5. Network News (Fox News): Reporting news that is often filled with the personal opinions and biases of the reporters.

In her book, Stonewalled, Sharyl Attkisson speaks to the influence of corporate America on today’s news.   Along with her views on the commercialization of the news media as a whole, she outlines the role/job of the journalist.  She says the role of the journalist is to understand that unless the story is an editorial, the journalist should avoid opinion.  Being a journalist herself, she makes it very clear that the job of the journalist is to be free of the influence of political as well as corporate interests.  She goes on to point out that the ultimate accomplishment for a journalist with strong personal opinions and convictions about a story or issue is to deliver their account of the story in such a way that it is absent of personal biases to the point that no one really knows where the journalist stands.

Following such common sense guidelines in reporting the news was once held in the highest esteem by reporters.  The only journalists who ignored such principles were those who had sold out their craft to the sludge of vanity writing and yellow journalism often found in grocery store gossip and shock tabloids.  Of course, there are many highly ethical and credible journalists in the profession, but the number who are willing to take chances with their professional credibility seems to grow almost daily.  Why?   The reason may lie in the very fabric of American society.  As a society, Americans have become intellectually lazy and smitten with all that is celebrity.  Americans today believe more in the celebrity of the journalist than they do in the truth he/she is reporting, and often they are only interested in the truth when it fits into their individual beliefs and biases.  If the news does not neatly fit into their personal belief system, they do not want to hear it, think about it, or talk about it.  Most Americans today are more interested in having their beliefs and convictions affirmed by the news and being entertained by the news than they are the truth, and since the news is big business, the news media delivers what the majority of Americans want.  As a result, there is seemingly no shortage of journalists willing to do whatever it takes to become the darling of the masses and see their names in lights even if it means taking shortcuts to get there.

So what can Americans who are tired of hyped up, commercialized, celebrity anchored news reporting do?  First, they should never depend on one source for their news; they should change the channel often and listen to other news reports, and they should not rely on just one source when reading the news.  They should not rush to judge or form an opinion when a sensational story is blasted across the headlines; they should give the article or news report a few days before making up their minds. It is also wise to use common sense and take everything read, heard, and seen in the news not with a grain of salt but with a box of salt.  Americans need to ask if the journalist is reporting the news or is he reporting his opinion of the news – there is often a big difference.  Remember, most television reporters at the national level are personalities who have been hired to read the news to the public because of their looks, image, voice, and charisma in front of the camera.  Therefore, be careful not to accept what you see and hear in the news as the gospel until you have had time to corroborate the story with other news sources. Finally, remember although most journalists are good solid people interested in getting at the truth and reporting it honestly, there are others who are more interested in a star on their dressing room door.  Reporting the news is big business and what is heard and seen on the news is often what is in the best interests of the corporate sponsors who pay big money to get the spin they want on the story. The NEWS is a business out to make a profit, and unfortunately sometimes those profits dictate the truth America sees, reads, and hears. Responsibility for the truth no longer lies with the news media; it lies with the American people who must be willing to ask, “Is this the real truth, or is it their truth?”

JL

©Jack Linton, April 12, 2015

Principals do not Invent Crappy Useless Time Consuming Things for Teachers to do!

Most teachers do not understand what makes their principal tick, or why so much of what he does comes across as stupid or without reason. They often wonder what planet he is from, why he constantly assigns extra work to them, why he is always on their back, what possesses him to make asinine decisions, and the list goes on and on. However, contrary to popular teacher beliefs, principals are just as human as teachers. Sometimes they may not act it, but they are indeed human, and as such, they feel many of the same frustrations teachers feel. Although their actions may sometimes appear desperate, stupid, insensitive, or outright incompetent, there is usually some rhyme or reason to their madness. But, teachers often fail to understand the madness due to not comprehending how the principalship works, and/or due to misconceptions about principals that have been engrained in the teaching profession for decades.

A major misconception of many teachers is that principals sit around inventing crappy useless time consuming things for teachers to do. The truth, however, is that most principals do not have time to sit down much less think about inventing crappy useless time consuming tasks. When they do sit, it is often with their face in their hands wondering how they are going to find time during the school day to meet with five irate parents, two bickering teachers, visit at least ten classrooms, attend a meeting at central office with the assistant superintendent and food services director on the nutritional value of serving SPAM burgers over hamburgers in the school cafeteria, complete a mega data report due to central office by 3:00 p.m., meet with the superintendent over a disciplinary issue that has the community up in arms, meet with a fuming bus driver who doesn’t think the assistant principal is supporting her when she tells kids they cannot read a book on her bus, meet with a couple of fired-up club sponsors to explain for the second time why they cannot conduct candy sales during breakfast and lunch, make phone calls to local pastors apologizing for the football team practicing late Wednesday evening, meet after school with the counselors to discuss course offerings for the next school year, supervise the junior varsity football game that night, and before going to bed at one or two in the morning complete a crappy useless time consuming report that must be on the superintendent’s desk no later than 8:30 a.m. the next morning. Another common teacher misconception is the principal and sometimes even the school board is out to get them. Unless the teacher lives in Oxford, Mississippi and his name is Dan Jones, this is not something teachers need to worry about. Principals do not have time to plot against anyone. They do not want to get rid of teachers unless they are not doing their job. One of the happiest times of a principal’s professional life is when he doesn’t have to conduct interviews to fill teaching vacancies for the coming school year. That rarely happens, but when it does, no one is happier than the principal. Principals are usually so thankful they have found enough teachers crazy enough to sign a contract that plotting to get rid of one of them rarely crosses their mind. The only plotting most principals are guilty of is scheming to find a week to get away during the summer.

The bottom line for principals is they, like teachers, are simply trying to survive. Why should they invent conflict when the very nature of their job tends to attract more conflict than they ever bargained for? Teachers understand stress and conflict as much as anyone, so why they often believe school administrators are sheltered from or immune to conflict is baffling. Maybe the problem is that unlike the principal who has served as a classroom teacher, teachers do not have a reference point to help them make a connection between the job they do and the job a principal does. In the eyes of many teachers, the principal’s job is to make sure there is toilet paper in the teacher lounge restrooms, keeping troublesome students out of their hair, and staying out of their way so they can teach. They simply do not understand what a principal does all day other than sit in his office and think of more useless crap for them to do. Therefore, it stands to reason that if they had a better understanding of the role of the principal, they might better understand that the roles of a teacher and principal are extensions of each other – each needs the other to have a successful school as well as to survive.

What Every Teacher Needs To Know About The Principal

  1. The principal was once a teacher too. It is doubtful that he has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher:
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was one of those principals who spent less than five years as a classroom teacher. To expect a person to be an effective administrator without adequate time in the classroom is laughable. Without a solid base of five or more years in the classroom, it is a rare principal or assistant principal who truly understands the role of the teacher and has the knowledge and tools to provide the administrative support expected by the teachers;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he was socially promoted (Yes, it happens with students, and it happens with teachers). Sometimes an inept or marginal teacher is promoted to an administrative position because he is a hometown boy, goes to the right church, travels in the right circles, or at one time was a damn good coach, so when the day comes the district can no longer prop him up as a teacher or his coaching candle dims, he is promoted to assistant principal or principal as the lesser of evils;
    • It is doubtful that the principal has completely forgotten what it is like being a teacher unless he is just an outright A__hole, and unfortunately, just like with teachers, there are sometimes a few of these hanging around;
  2. Principals, like teachers, want to be left alone! Like teachers, they would like to be able to do their job without constant interruptions from central office, angry or needy parents, bickering teachers, gossip generated by teachers, and vendors peddling their wares;
  3. Principals hate paperwork, evaluations, and testing as much as teachers . . . .
    • Principals rarely require extra paperwork of their teachers unless by directive from central office or the state department of education. When it comes to paperwork, ninety-nine percent of the time the principal is simply the messenger;
    • Principals don’t like being judged/evaluated, and they dislike judging/evaluating others even more. This is especially true when the evaluation process and evaluation tool is little more than an “I gottcha” process or a checklist to document the principal went through the motions of conducting a teacher evaluation. These types of evaluations are a waste of time for both the principal and the teacher; and
    • Most principals understand that accountability is important, but when state testing eats up a quarter of the instruction time allotted for the school year, the school ceases to exist as a place of learning. It is transformed into a data collection venue for data that has little relevancy for the students or teachers by the time it is processed and sent back to the school several months later;
  4. Principals make decisions based on the following priorities . . . .
    • First, the safety of the students, faculty, support staff, and uncertified personnel;
    • Second, what is best for students;
    • Third, what is best for the faculty;
    • Fourth, what is best for the support staff;
    • Fifth, what is best for individual certified personnel;
    • Sixth, what is best for the community;
    • Seventh, what is best for non-certified personnel; and
    • Finally, what is best for the administrative staff can only be considered after all other considerations have been evaluated;
  5. Principals and teachers are both human, and as such, they are not always right. The difference is that teachers expect to be forgiven for their faults or mistakes, but they are often reluctant to extend forgiveness to an administrator for his faults or mistakes;
  6. It is not personal on the principal’s part if he forgets something he was told outside his office. More than likely, a principal will be stopped several times in the hall by teachers, students, custodians, etc., so the odds of his remembering all the important things he was told in the hallway when he gets back to his office are very slim at best;
  7. Teachers do not have a monopoly on stress! Principals deal with stress from home, students, parents, colleagues, central office, the state department, federal guidelines, community, church, Walmart, the mall, etc. Principals are confronted by school stress no matter where they go! Principals are on stress call 24/7.
  8. Like teachers, principals like to hear they are appreciated for the job they do. Constant negatives tend to raise stress levels and make both teachers and principals a little less human;
  9. Principals welcome constructive feedback. If something is not working, teachers should talk to their principal about it, but they should never talk to him without a solution in mind. The solution should be well thought out and even backed by research when possible. Principals value the perspective of teachers who share ideas and concerns with them. They may not always agree, and sometimes the meeting accomplishes little more than an agreement to disagree, but by initiating a conversation with the principal, the teacher has planted the seed for possible change in the future. Teachers must also understand that principals cannot make every brilliant idea happen that teachers approach them with even when the principal would like to do so. Sometimes, days or even months pass before a spark the teacher generated in an earlier meeting with the principal leads to a resolution that neither the teacher nor the principal had previously considered;
  10. Principals are put off by faculty or staff who appear to be slackers or clock watchers;
  11. Principals expect follow through when they ask a teacher to do something. Unfortunately, some teachers think ignoring this expectation and begging for forgiveness later is cute and acceptable; however, it is often a sure way for the teacher to get his name on the “poop list.” When the principal asks a teacher to do something, he expects it to be done whether the teacher agrees or not. The only exception to following a principal’s directive is if his request is unethical or morally wrong; then the teacher has every right to balk;
  12. Principals expect teachers to handle the majority of the discipline issues in their classroom. Unfortunately, some teachers see this as the principal trying to avoid doing his job. However, any teacher worth his salt knows classroom management is the responsibility of the teacher. If kids were robots, teaching would be easy, but when the robots are programed with personalities and brain waves, the difficulty of the teaching task changes dramatically. Learning to manage personalities and focus the brain on learning is the teacher’s responsibility, administrators are there to support teachers with interruptions they cannot handle on their own, but they are not there to take over the daily classroom management for the teacher;
  13. Sometimes it is hard for principals to have empathy for teachers who moan about long hours, especially when the principal logged eighty hours Monday through Saturday of the previous week working at the school and supervising extra-curricular activities. It is exhausting and unfortunate, but working long hours goes with the territory for all educators!
  14. Principals create new programs and policies each year not to make things harder or give teachers more to do, but because they understand there is always room for improvement. One of the worst things that can happen to a school is for the actions of the faculty, support staff, and even the administration to become stale or complacent; and
  15. Principals care about kids just as much as teachers do!

This list of 15 is only scratching the surface, but regardless of what is said in support of principals, some teachers will never change their perceptions of them. Nonetheless, principals do far more than drink coffee all day, take two hour lunch breaks, and sit around and think of ways to make teachers miserable just as teachers do a whole lot more than talk to kids or watch them color all day, and then go home and count their money. As a former principal, I will not hesitate to say that other than the students, the teachers are the most important people in the school. But, as a former teacher, I must admit that until I walked in the shoes of a principal, I had no idea how valuable the principal was to the overall success of the school and to my success as a teacher. There are three roles schools depend on more than any other for success: the role of the student, the role of the teacher, and the role of the principal. Without students there is no school; without teachers there is no learning; without principals there is no order.

JL

©Jack Linton, April 6, 2015