Education

DUMMY UP AND MOVE UP: HOW TO LEVERAGE MINIMAL KNOWLEDGE INTO AN APPOINTMENT IN RUNNING PUBLIC SCHOOLS

State Commissioner of Education Michael Williams recently stepped down. Governor Greg Abbott chose Mike Morath, a member of the Dallas ISD Board of Education, to run public schools in Texas. The only classroom experience Morath has is a stint in his home high school when a computer teacher quit in the middle of the year.

Morath himself stated, “I’m certainly not an education expert, but I’ve accumulated a lot of data.” Read that quote to yourself again to let it sink in. Now ask yourself in what industry is a lack of experience an advantage? This reminds me of something musician and iconoclast Frank Zappa said about rock journalism: People who can't write interviewing people who can't talk for people who can't read.

After 32 years of teaching, I accumulated a lot of data myself. Heck, I should write a book. It would be called "DUMMY UP! - How Corporations, Businesses and Public Schools Reward Incompetence Through Promotions." Anecdotal evidence would be overwhelming. I’ve seen countless instances in which an utter boob, who should not be put in charge of a broom closet, let alone a school district, was shoved out the door and promoted. The military has a phrase for this: Screw up and move up.

I should become an educational consultant. It’d be like forecasting the weather. I could be wrong 100% of the time, but it won't matter. By the time they figure it out, I'll have moved on to the next educational brownfield. As long as whatever I say sounds good and uplifting and progressive, I can sing cha-ching!

If lightning ever strikes just the right way, and I'm appointed Education Poo-Bah, first thing I'd do is abolish compulsory education. Don't want to be here? Guess what? I don't want you here, either. Next time I see you, I want extra mayo and jalapeños on my burger. Now, scoot. I've got a class to run, and they WANT to be here. Leastways, they don't want be where you're headed.

For all its oppressive faults, Communism has - or had - an edge over us when it comes to dealing with the pants-pinching, knuckle-dragging, tattoo-wearing, bling-sporting, shaved-head cretins that bedevil teachers daily when they're not clogging the juvenile court system. It's called Produce or Perish. It's a variation of the collegiate Publish or Perish system. Having trouble with that quadratic equation? Embrace the plow, comrade! Do the Parts of Speech resemble so much cornmeal mush? Make friends with the corn rows, the kind with actual corn! Don't know a molecular mole from a hole in the ground? Here's a real hole in the ground - keep digging! A team of nuclear scientists who DO know a molecular mole from a hole in the ground are putting a missile in here as soon as Boris and Ivan can pour the concrete. 

Teachers would save a bundle on colored markers trying to make presentations more interesting and relevant and affective and such. Schools would save tax dollars not trying to rehabilitate the mouth-breathers who spend most of their day sleeping in class. Teacher inservice would consist of how to make it HARDER for students to pass freshman English. A level playing field would consist of a field of fallen comrades for the rest of the survivors to step on climbing to the top of the academic field inhabited by achievers who set their alarm clocks with gnarled and bloody fingers, and actually brought a pencil to class. - April 28, 2016
https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/opinion/columns/singing-the-inservice-blues-on-a-holiday/article_2946a757-64b0-5bbd-9891-9b159940e5c6.html


Hot-Footing it to a Tony Robbins Seminar
A lifetime of listening to motivational speakers during teacher inservice inspired me to conclude that I was in the wrong business. Oh, sure, being a teacher enabled me to inspire others to pursue lofty goals and all. But for making money at the expense of others' ignorance, nothing beats the life of a motivational speaker. Weather forecasting doesn’t come close to the chicanery of Tony Robbins.

Tony Robbins was in the news after 30-40 people were treated for burns on their feet during a seminar he conducted in Dallas. The story reminded me of a similar event that caught fire one summer three years ago. I’m just going to repeat what I said, adding that I wish Jerry Jones could be convinced to try this standing on his head:

Would you walk on a bed of hot coals for your beloved? I love you dear, but couldn't we just have your mother over for a week? Okay, how about for a motivational speaker?

Twenty-one gullible snake-oil consumers did. Attendees at an event in California featuring motivational speaker Tony Robbins were invited to walk on one of 12 lanes of superheated coals at an event called Unleash the Power Within. Well, they unleashed, all right. According to a witness, they unleashed full-throated screams of agony. Or were they just screaming affirmations of life? Most of the power-unleashers were treated for second- and third-degree burns. You just can't make this stuff up. If this doesn't make you wet your pants laughing, I'll retract every word I said and hose down your feet.

Some administrators might think this would be a swell idea to test our commitment, but insurance agents would probably balk. Besides, stupidity is a pre-existing condition. Better stock up on aloe vera.

Well, as P.T. Barnum famously said, there's a sucker born every minute - especially a sucker that'll pay good money to burn his feet on hot coals. I say hooray for Darwin. Sometimes the gene pool could use a little chlorine - or a cleansing fire. 


Unleash Your Inner DaVinci!
I was a late bloomer in school. I was middling in math, so-so in science. Don’t ask me about P.E. I excelled in English, at least. And I graduated magna cum laude from the University of Houston. But first, I had to get past Kindergarten, which meant mastering basic skills.  

Thanks to Amazon, adults who are still challenged with an ability to handle crayons can order Coloring for Adults for Dummies. Some folks need more explaining than the average dummy. If so, this is the book for you. The book cover invites you to seek your inner creativity, combine colors to create impressive works of art, and find new energy for your stress and soul. On second thought, do you really want to give your stress more energy?


Well, I learned everything I needed to know in Kindergarten. It was just a struggle staying inside the lines. But now I wish more books like this had been around, like Tying Shoes for the Dummy. At least I wouldn’t have kept tripping so often. - July 12, 2016


E Pluribus Stupidum
We live in a country that celebrates diversity, but everyone gets a trophy. So, what if your diversity is academic achievement and community service? If you’re a member of the National Honor Society and you attend Plano Senior High School in Texas, you don’t get to wear your stole over your graduation robe, that’s what.

According to a statement released by the school, the practice of not including any regalia for various student clubs, honor societies, leadership roles or other activities was upheld by student leaders. I wonder if any of the school leaders are members of the NHS?

I’m reminded of the New York Yankees. The team wears the same uniform with only a number to distinguish themselves, and they take the field as one man. This is just dandy if all the members are first-rate players, but at this writing the Yanks are near the bottom in the standings. Which means that every member of the team that takes the field has the distinction of being, well, near the bottom.


The only other alternative, of course, is allowing all the graduates at Plano High School to wear an NHS stole. That, or carrying a trophy. - June 1, 2016

612 Square Miles of Irony
I woke up this morning to a radio ad the school district is running that asks, “How would you like to look forward to going to work every day?” A resounding YES was heard throughout 612 square miles of excellence. Teachers understand irony, being educated and all, but this is just cruel.

The personnel office is just trying to keep up with the loss of teachers. And custodians. And bus drivers. And cafeteria workers. As LBJ put it, they’re jumping like ticks off a dead dog. And it turns out people aren’t circling the parking lot trying to get in. The only circling we have is the circling around the drain plug. Or buzzards circling the carrion.

We need someone – anyone – to fulfill our mission to reach every child, every classroom, every day. But as it is, they can’t fill the vacancies we already have. During lunch, a newly-minted graduate with a degree in music, told us he subbed for a 5th-grade teacher at one of our elementary schools. At the end of the day, after ONE day of subbing, the principal asked if he would like to become a full-time teacher at the school.

Mission creep has eclipsed our real mission to educate students. We have to be truant officers by calling parents of students who are missing. We have to keep account of every student who leaves our classroom with a sign-out sheet. We have to check for dress code violations. Lesson plans must document state objectives along with a dozen other Fundamental Five/Framing the Lesson items, not to mention the C-Scope objectives.

And all along, we’re picking at a glacial mass of indifference, ignorance and outright hostility with olive forks.


As G.K. Chesterton said, “We have had no good comic operas of late, because the real world has been more comic than any possible opera.” - Jan. 28, 2014


TAKE A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE
When I was still in the classroom, an inservice presenter encouraged teachers to keep a sunshine file filled with stories and letters, notes and inspiring quotes. On days when it seemed like the administration, students and even the clock were conspiring against us, we could simply open up that sunshine file and let a golden ray illuminate our heart.

Of course, we’re all inspired in different ways. I had saved subpoenas to show up at court to testify regarding the character, or lack thereof, of some miscreants who were on trial for assault, arson and murder. Three little items didn’t seem like much, so I turned to the newspaper for uplifting stories of people who tackle challenges head-on. The most gratifying were those who do this without actually using their head.

Like a story about one intrepid animal lover who wanted nothing more than to take a walk on the wild side. He leaped from a train track into an enclosure in the Bronx Zoo to become one with a tiger – a 400-pound tiger which pounced on him and dragged him around by his foot while thanking the Striped Jungle God for manna from heaven. Were it not for some alert zookeepers using fire extinguishers to keep the tiger at bay, our 21st century Dr. Doolittle may have kept his wish to achieve oneness in a way he didn’t quite envision inside a tiger’s digestive tract.

Police said there was no indication he was intoxicated. There is also no indication he was insane. Not in the clinical sense, anyhow. According to his own Facebook page adorned with New Age odes to Mother Earth, he was just a typical free spirit infatuated with wildlife. I, too, am infatuated with lions and tigers and bears, but I also know there's a reason they’re called wildlife - they want to eat me. I’ll throw the treats from this side of the fence, thank you very much.

More recently, a shirtless, mud-covered man under the influence of meth broke into a zoo in California and announced he was Tarzan in an attempt to mingle with the monkeys. The would-be King of the Jungle from the set of Breaking Bad was arrested by police after a short chase. Well, how fast can you run with a loin cloth flapping in the wind?

Most people who read these stories are alarmed at such reckless behavior. They’re right, of course, but I see fresh possibilities for anti-drug ads: Hey, kids, this is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. And THIS is your brain on drugs in a smelly pile of tiger scat.

I'm all in favor of folks becoming one with nature. If incidents like this keep up, we may finally achieve a civilization pruned of the useless members that torture the rest of us with teacher inservice, guitar liturgies and reality shows. Let the sun shine in!

INSERVICE CAGE MATCH
While all the kids, mailmen and folks who count our money were sleeping late on a federal holiday set aside to honor Martin Luther King Jr., teachers arose for work on a holiday advocated by teachers' unions all across our fruity plain. If you're an English teacher, you already understand the concept of irony. The rest of us could only mutter swear words as the alarm went off.

Better yet, we could have said this:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

And etcetera. That's Latin for "Behold how I do carry on!" Stumped? So was I. It sort of looks Latin, but I don't think nonummy or nibh appear in any of Cicero's orations. But it appeared on the website of the day's inservice speakers, Danny Hill and Jayson Nave.
According to an advertising industry specialist, "This is some dummy copy. You're not really supposed to read this dummy copy, it is just a place holder for people who need some type to visualize what the actual copy might look like if it were real content." If you're going to use dummy copy, at least use a dummy language, like Pig Latin or Esperanto. Better yet, use inservice language, the better to enlighten teachers on the errors of their ways.

Thomas Edison and Benjamin Franklin showed up as scheduled to show how they reinvented the wheel as detailed in their book, Power of ICU, provided to all teachers. Thomas Edison, or whatever his name was, told about his baptism by fire during his first year of teaching. He had 39 students in all his classes including homeroom to make a daily roster of more than 250 students. And he LOVED it! So if you have more students than seats in your class, be thankful for all those kids to love.

A recurring theme of their book is that teachers should never record a 0 for work students don't return. After all, utility companies cut some slack for ordinary people when they don't pay their bills on time. In fact, one presenter claimed with a straight face that the electric company is not allowed to cut off your power. I gave him the benefit of doubt, but wondered if the IRS would be as indulgent toward taxpayers. Maybe we could ask Al Capone. Oops! Ol' Scarface died from syphilitic insanity. But at least he died comfortably in Alcatraz. Besides, the school district will accept my contract renewal if I turn it in a month after the due date, right?

They also expressed objections with teachers who give extra points for non-academic reasons such as not using passes to go to the restroom. I should hang my head in shame, but in fairness, I got this idea from another inservice provider, Harry Wong, as in Two Wongs Don't Make a Right. Wong also inspired me to not grade every single paper that comes across my desk. Inspiring, but not as innovative as the inservice provider that threw markers and assignments, the equity specialist at Region III with Mother Goose for the Modern Feminist, or the teacher from California who assigned hugging for homework.

While I was mulling over the cognitive dissonance of it all, it occurred to me that this could be settled with a cage match. Invite all the inservice providers and educational consultants and experts and put them in a bracketed competition, like the World Soccer Cup match every four years. Whoever comes out on top is the guy we follow for the next four years, which is the average lifespan of any given education fad. - Feb. 11, 2011
https://www.victoriaadvocate.com/opinion/columns/singing-the-inservice-blues-on-a-holiday/article_2946a757-64b0-5bbd-9891-9b159940e5c6.html

CLEAN HANDS ARE THE DEVIL'S WORKSHOP
You can’t make this stuff up!

So help me, I received the following message in my faculty e-mailbox:

Date: Thu, 28 Jan 2010 12:58:19 -0600

Staff,

We have had students setting fire "Hand Sanitizer" in the classrooms.  This is a safety issue and fire hazard.  You must remove all hand Sanitizer from reach of any student.  Put in desk or story in cabinets but do not all students access to the Hand Sanitizers. 

Sincerely,

Principal XYZ

Let’s overlook at least six language usage errors. I set the bar pretty low for administrators because, after all, they’re mostly plucked from a pool of candidates of mid-management and doctoral candidates in education as well as fizz-ed instructors.

The most alarming aspect of this message is that the official Homeland Security Airport Friskers were right all along in forcing you to hand over the little bottles of innocuous liquids and gels, including toothpaste, shampoo and hand sanitizer, as dangers to national well-being. Who would ever expect that good hygiene could pose a danger to safety? 

I buttonholed our campus resource officer regarding the miscreant. He – no, make that SHE - will be charged with some kind of legal abuse regarding open flame use instead of attempted arson. Well, as long as legal niceties are observed. And they’re throwing the book at her, too – a month-and-a-half of alternative educational placement. That means she’ll have to show up for school at another campus of higher expectations for behavior and aca – COUGH! – academ – COUGH! COUGH! – aaaahcaaahhh – COUGH! COUGH! GAAAARRRUMMMPHHETAWWW!!!!


Aaah, who are we kidding? We all know the ‘tard’ll be back within two months with a 90 average and a couple of new tattoos, maybe even a spawn pooping in a Pamper. - January 28, 2010


How do you say "loser" in Spanish? 
Parents and administrators in Frisco I.S.D. are aggrieved over a Spanish middle school teacher's "loser" essays. They are upset because students had to write "I have been irresponsible and have not completed my homework for Spanish class today. I will work harder to be prepared next time an assignment is due."

The word "loser," the principal said, was intended to inject some humor. Parents were not amused, fearing for the tender emotions of their little ones.

Administrators were also concerned with the teacher's Reminders and Rules to Succeed, such as, "Stay away from Mrs. B's desk unless I am giving you permission to get something," and "Remember that I am the teacher. You are the student. You do not have as many rights as you think you have."

In other words, "Sit down" and "I'm the adult, you're not." No wonder they're outraged. It cuts right to the bone of sensitivity training and political correctness.

An expert, with a doctorate in education, no doubt, opined that this "should be relegated to the same place as standing in the corner . . ." That would be even worse than not turning in homework in a timely fashion because good work habits aren't supposed to be taught and reinforced in public school. Positive self-esteem is.

Frisco, by the way, is near Dallas. They know a thing or two about "losers."April 4, 29, 2009

DILBERT COMES TO LIFE IN PUBLIC SCHOOL
Most readers of comics pages are familiar with Dilbert. Dilbert is the hapless engineer trapped in his cubicle which is a microcosm of the larger world of corporate sharks and apple-polishers. I have devoured each and every strip as an application to some of my past experiences in public school. Mismanagement? One doesn't have to scour the media to find delicious sources of inspiration. Just ask teachers throughout the state.

I always wanted to draw a comparable cartoon, mining my own experiences as a teacher. Then another thought struck me. Why not simply rename a district the Dilbert "Independent" School District. Everyone knows public education takes barking orders from the feds. If we can't drop the word "independent," we should at least put it in quotation marks to show we "get it." You know, wink, wink. 
The first item on the agenda for Dilbert "Independent" School District's school board will be to adopt a slogan. Several millions of dollars ago, everybody in Texas got slogan fever. Every school had to have a slogan and a mission statement. The many monoliths that warehouse all our cubicled geniuses were not exempt. Imagine the thoughtful discussion over the precise wording of the sign that hangs at the entrance of our own headquarters: "Should it be `Everybody' or `Everyone' can learn? Shouldn't we call William Safire first before we make a final decision on the wording?" No, I'm only kidding. They didn't call Safire. Why should they when we have paid experts at regional education centers?

Dilbert "I." S.D. will have access to the finest educational experts, like the one who hosted an equity workshop I attended, called "Jack and Jill Be Nimble." One of the handouts included Politically Correct versions of Mother Goose nursery rhymes: Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
  
Jack jump over the candlestick!
Jill be nimble, jump it too,
If Jack can do it, so can you!
Here's one called Mr. & Ms. Pumpkin Eater:
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and wished to keep her.
Treated her with fair respect,
She stayed with him and hugged his neck!
  
Wonder what they'd do with that poor woman in the shoe? Worse, what would she do with her kids, whipping them soundly and sending them to bed being out of the question?
  
The opening school year for D."I." S.D. should have as many portents as Macbeth. I'm thinking of an example from the year I received a list of infractions for office referrals. My favorite was #40--"murder." A rather inauspicious way to begin the year, I think you'll agree.

Dilbert High will have an infraction on the list which is common to all high schools, that is, "display of public affection." Recently, I came across this quote: "A youth with his first cigar makes himself sick. A youth with his first girl makes everybody sick." Before, the spectacle of amorous behavior in the hallway used to disgust me. Now, I get a warm feeling as I recall this quote.

The Dilbert "Independent" School District will have its share of pointy-haired bosses. Years ago, when the evaluation instrument we call the Bed of Procrustes was first used, administrators prepared teachers with walk-through observations followed by lots of positive comments. One such landed in my box, complimenting me for my "non-threatening seating arrangement." Maybe that's the edge I've been missing--a threatening seating arrangement.

No school district, including D."I." S.D. would be complete without educational engineers producing suggested lesson plans, strategic plans and curriculum guides. They read magazines geared to consultants in public school and coin terms like "educational delivery system," formerly known as school, and "cooperative learning," formerly known as "cheating".  The hard-to-crack special populations of students called "at-risk," formerly known as "just plain lazy," seem to be the target of most of the innovations which are backed by the latest research, require pots of dollars, consume vast amounts of colored paper, and take up entire building wings.

My solution is simple and inexpensive. Students failing to catch on to the old-fashioned formula material + effort = learning should be herded into portable buildings where each student will be thrown a roll of bubble- wrap. The time spent popping the little beads of air is less time spent scrawling gang glyphs on desks and walls. Taxpayers will be delighted.

Every workplace has its disgruntled employee, though not necessarily the kind who wants to give the boss "what-for" with a loaded Magnum .44. No, at Dilbert "I."S.D., the employee who is routinely subjected to workshops that would be laughed to scorn in the real world will circulate a list of suggested positive comments for the inservice presenters. Here are a few:

1. She really makes that overhead projector sing!
2. The presenter's power suit was so commanding that it caused me to question my own masculinity.
3. She put a lot of work into this presentation. I could tell by the sweat on her upper lip.
4.   Gripping! I hated to get up every ten minutes I had to use the bathroom.
5.   Quick! Somebody douse me with water! I'm all afire with these inspirational ideas!
6.   The stunning use of four-colored graphs on the transparencies was evocative of Gaughin's oils.
7.   Set induction, behavior patterning, closure, visual/auditory/tactile experiences - it had all the elements of classroom drama and, therefore, human drama.


Knowing that he is safe from retribution because satire is lost on administration - also because he prefers to work anonymously - the same ne'er-do-well at Dilbert "Independent" School District will devise a slogan for their very own: Consulto, ergo sum. The experts in the rabbit warrens will have to devise their own mission statement. - August 31, 1997

TEN-LANE FREEWAY TO FAILURE
Every year the Texas Education Agency releases its accreditation list of public schools, setting in motion much hand-and-handkerchief-wringing. Among the list of schools with the stigma of a lowered rating was the school where I teach. A lot of things don't surprise me anymore after 15 years of teaching, but one common thread among the low-status schools bemused me--the dropout rate.

Encouraging teens to stay in school is certainly laudable. Many useful options have been tried toward this end, including after-hours classes, technical school, and weekend classes. If the only goal were ensuring teens not to miss out on school in spite of home or family responsibilities, I could be persuaded to accept a host of other solutions.

What I see instead is a stream of miscreants who repeatedly abuse authority and are sent back to class, and chronic truants represented by a string of slashes in my grade book. I once had a student who was on time for fewer than 14 days out of the entire school year. Needless to say, she failed the course. The question ineluctably arises: Are we are more concerned about buttering our bread, that is, maintaining a high attendance rate to keep the federal dollars flowing? Or are we interested in maintaining high standards so that a diploma can not only be read, but used as a ticket to better employment? We are sacrificing the latter for the former.

The pressure to keep a low dropout rate has forced us to lower both academic and behavior standards. I will not pretend that if higher standards were emplaced, the dropout rate would not increase. I am confident, however, that it would stabilize, and even decrease as more parents decide public schools are a safe and excellent alternative to costly parochial school alternatives.

We have come to view every dropout as a self-indictment and devise makeshift arrangements to enable the would-be dropout to not become another sign of reproach and loss of federal cash.  Case in point: Last year we eliminated Fundamentals of Math for the get-tough Algebra 1-B course. Pull back the window-dressing and you will find-- Fundamentals of Math.

At a recent school board meeting, the mother of a former student blamed our faculty for "breaking her son's spirit." She had brought the boy into the lobby where he threw a glass of water at her, she testified, so she promptly pursued the administrators to see to it that he got into class. As an incentive, he was allowed to choose his own teachers. I wanted to ask her a couple of questions. One, if she were a teacher and witnessed a boy throw something at his own mother, would she seriously want that same boy in her class? Two, how many others have the privilege of choosing their own teacher? How many employees in the real world have the privilege of choosing their own supervisors?

Not long ago the movie Stand and Deliver regaled audiences with a no-nonsense teacher who was determined to teach calculus in an inner-city high school with a high dropout rate and low standards. The teacher, Jaime Escalante, did not exactly fit the mold desired by teacher inservicers. He was not touch-feely, he was occasionally abrasive, even sarcastic, and threw out students who did not want to be there, or showed up late. The movie scored a hit with teenagers and adults alike. Certain administrators are rumored to have enjoyed it as well, although I suspect they were uncomfortable with the notion that not every kid was going to measure up to his standards.

Another movie with a similar theme, Stand by Me, featured principal Joe Clark who carried a baseball bat! Perhaps public schools should hire Hollywood scriptwriters as consultants.

The principal will see you now.
We must quit blaming ourselves for every kid that decides to shag it.  Let's face it--not every single person is willing to sit still for five to six hours and exert the self-discipline necessary to keep up with a more rigorous regimen than a carefree life offers. Take a Biblical analogy. Christ Himself did not chase after his erstwhile followers when they decided His way of life was too hard.

The road to graduation need not be too narrow, but it shouldn't be a ten-lane freeway either. - January 5, 1997

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