I Quit! – ‘My profession … no longer exists’

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FROM THE DAILY KOS (But I so endorse every word!)

Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession … no longer exists’
Valerie Strauss April 6, 2013

Increasingly teachers are speaking out against school reforms that they believe are demeaning their profession, and some are simply quitting because they have had enough.
Here is one resignation letter from a veteran teacher, Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y.:

Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation.

With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised.

STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian.

This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom.

Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe
My little Zu.

This is not from me. This was eloquently written by a true expert in their field whom everyone should listen to, educator, Gerald J. Conti. I picked it up from an article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss. Read it and learn…there will be a test after.

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Cutting Education: You just shouldn’t do it

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How does Paul Ryan or anyone in a position of authority justify cuts in spending to the engine of education?

At a time when we need an technologically-skilled, highly-educated populace, now more than ever, it seems both short-sighted and even destructive to the future development of the nation.

Not that education is doing well at the moment. It is struggling under burdens of defining the correct pedagogy for the era, defining methods, increasing financial pressures, teacher quality assurance issues, the increasing dependence on technology for the delivery of services and the attendant cost of that technology.

Corporate America is both the greatest user of educated workers but also one of its greatest detractors, saying education today has not produced the kind of workers they are seeking.

Corporations are loathe to admit that through their tax-avoidance policies, some of the lasting effects on education development are due to an lack of funding for education nationwide. Corporations directly affect the bottom line of education when they decide to maximize profit before considering the long term effects on the social fabric they are dependent on, but not taking responsibility for by paying taxes.

Teachers are being challenged to educate students whose needs vary widely, whose backgrounds and starting points are quite diverse and expected to create people capable of working in a workforce transformed by both corporate need and corporate greed into a two class system.

The first class is the high-tech worker who will be required to critically think, analyse, devise new ways of problem solving, utilizing new technologies, and being driven to find new levels of profitability against what would be considered our own best interests, environmentally, socially and in the light of a future growing ever more crowded, dysfunctional, unhealthy and psychologically unbalanced.

The second class is even worse off than the first. No real expectation is made of that second class of workers. Since the economy is becoming more service oriented, meaning fewer manufacturing jobs are being created in America, than at any time since the start of the Industrial Age, the service industry is being asked to absorb workers leaving school but lacking the capabilities of the first tier workers.

Exacerbating this problem, service industry jobs are already, unfortunately, unable to absorb the ever-increasing numbers of both second tier workers whose educations were not able to create a first tier worker, but must also compete with first tier workers who cannot get jobs due to the ever-present specter of technological obsolescence built into the Information Age society.

Simply put, there isn’t enough work to go around, no matter what level of technological capability and educational training a person may possess.

The service industry is completely saturated and will remain so for the foreseeable future and while the tech/development/creative/professional parts of society are still in demand, they have not kept pace with the number of educated people coming out of school, let alone emigrating to the US. Far too many highly-educated people are competing for a job whose mantra may be “Would you like fries with that?”

Creating the science fiction authors of the future!


Octavia Butler's Dawn, first book of the Xenogenesis Saga

How do we increase the publication of science fiction works (or for that matter, any writing) by African-Americans?

This essay was my response to a question posted on the Black Science Fiction Society Website. The question was posted by William Landis on August 3, 2010 at 9:34pm in Black Internationale on The Black Science Fiction Society Website

Any effort to convince young men and women of color to contribute to the potential pool of stories using speculative fiction, science fiction or fantasy of any type will first require the creative energies of young people to be directed toward the written word.

As a whole, African-Americans do not seem to have a love affair with the written word, but it is especially evident in our lack of interest in the science fiction genre. We would rather see works, judging by the popularity in bookstores, where we are engaged in illicit love affairs, scandalous relationships, pimping and whoring tales of excess, or tales of brothers and sisters making good except for their addiction to drama of one sort or another. Perhaps these tales more reflect an anchoring in reality as we know it. Perhaps they are a more fiduciary form of wish-fulfillment, since money is so difficult to come by and so prized by our community as a whole, that may explain the success of that type of fiction. We also have a love of historical works, if bookstore racks are any indication, a fascination for successful African cultures such as Kemet (Egypt), or of periods where African-Americans were discovering their power in American society during the Age of Invention in the early 1900s or during the 1920-30’s Harlem Renaissance, or the Civil Rights Movement when so much changed in the world for people of color.

With all that said, we are as a whole, less interested in speculative fiction, and I suspect it is partially an effect of modern media. It is rare that we saw science fiction with people of color participating effectively in those story lines. We did not see a successful agent of science fiction in the media until Nichelle Nicoles appeared as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek in the 1960’s. Science fiction was not a medium we appeared in often and I suspect it had some major effect on whether we were interested in it.

If we want to get science fiction to our people, we have to get them interested in science, in worlds larger than themselves, in ideas that span time and space, convincing them of a world greater than where they grew up. We will have to get them away from the television and useless social media that does not spawn true creativity. There was the question of the Digital Divide keeping our children from having access to computers but now that more of them have computers, they are still not inclined to use that technology to empower themselves. They use it more to communicate mindlessly using social media, often in ways that appear to be narcissistic and unproductive. Not a judgment, per se, just something I have noticed over the years and this is not something that is new. When AOL was still a basic subscription service back in 1986, people of color used the technology to communicate in real time, but having the tech did not seem to make any more of them more inclined to write for consumption or production.

I think the real issue revolves around a lack of personal creativity. Creativity is something you must develop and our children do not get the same energy devoted to creative thinking that you see in charter or private schools. I believe that time spent doing creative things boosts creativity. It is theorized that for every hour a child watches television, they lose some aspect of their creative ability. This makes sense, because television is a passive delivery system, requiring only that you sit there, not actively participate in any way. If we are going to return our children to the creativity we know they are capable of, we will have to promote creativity as the norm, something acceptable, no matter what form you use it in, and we are more than capable of being creative outside of the rap, music, or video industries where so much talent is lost or wasted pursuing a career of limited social value. (IN MY OPINION!)

If you wanted to foster creativity in writing with your kids, you will have to disguise it as something else and you will have to put your own creativity on the table. It might be uncomfortable at first, but after a time, you may discover your own creativity blossoming. So the plan might look like this:

  1. Limit your child to six hours of television, non-school computer use or computer gaming per week. If you have a DVR then you can record all of the television during the week and they get to watch it at the end of the week as a reward for work well done. The same goes for gaming. The goal is to expand their urge to create something they have not seen before.
  2. Since they will have more time during the week after their homework, it might help them to try and create simple children’s tales of adventure. They do not have to be complex, and in the beginning, it might help if it were following the oral traditions of storytelling before writing them down. My favorite method of creative story-telling is the round robin, where each person tells a piece of an unscripted story, and after a paragraph passes it on to the person on the left. This allows for open ended story development without any pressure to be great initially.
  3. Allow the tales to take on a more fantastic vein over time. Do not be afraid to add more unusual elements to the story during your turn (as the guiding adult) and watch to see what the children do. Promote the development of story elements and description of scenes. This should grow easier with time and practice. Use diverse and unusual words where possible, and promote the addition of new words to the children’s lexicon. Let the stories take on the tone the children set for them and alter them only once they are comfortable with expanding their story lines. Do not force the creativity, allow a child to speak only as long as they are comfortable. Guide the story with the premise that a Storyteller cannot add more than one element in his paragraph of the story at a time.
  4. Child with school supplies

    The right time to create an author

    Introduce them to published science fiction and fantasy, appropriate for their age groups. Do readings of published works during the week, when you are not creating stories yourselves. There are so many books out there, I will not make a list for you to consider, but keep it varied, keep it interesting and keep them involved. Let everyone read if they can. Discuss the chapter, talking about how the author told the story, what was good (to them and to you) and what they thought they could do to add to a story like that in the future.

  5. Once they are used to telling stories, have someone become a Chronicler. The Chronicler does not participate in the round robin, they jot down the basic ideas of each Storyteller. If they are a fast typist, they can do more but the goal is to get the basic gist of the story and then have the group, take those basic notes and flesh out the tale from beginning to end. Keep the first Chronicles short so they can remain complete stories. As Chronicle creation gets easier, the stories can grow more complex and allow each Storyteller some time as a Chronicler. The Chronicles can then become chapters in bigger books.
  6. If any of your Storytellers are more artistically inclined than verbally, they may also contribute to the story with their art, either in creating visual elements, or by enhancing the chronicle with their visual insights into the story. They may not be as quick on their feet with the Storytelling but they may enhance it visually, the same way a backdrop painting or a cinematographer adds to a scene with art or placement or pacing of a scene visually.

Using this iterative process, children could be convinced to be involved in story creation from a very early age, without any particular appearance of anything other than boosting their creativity and having fun. How would you approach the idea of bringing up new writers and what would you use as a training regimen?