Year Six Themes By Against Me!
“It doesn’t even turn my stomach to see the pictures of atrocities anymore.” –Ya’ll Don’t Want To Step To Dis
The number of Far Below Basic (FBB) students enrolled in my classes continues to grow. Up from eight in 2003, I have 43 this year. Contrary to claims made at a recent board meeting by an individual who is either 1) a liar or 2) grossly incompetent, scoring FBB does not mean you don’t understand the slope of line. It means you cannot add two digits without your fingers. It means you cannot subtract at all. It means there’s a 50-50 chance you cannot write the alphabet and correctly identify the vowels. It means you can neither read nor write a complete sentence, and there’s a good chance you cannot speak a complete sentence. It means you’re in seventh grade with the academic profile of a below average 2nd grader.
Contrary to recent public assertions that students scoring FBB did so as a result of a capricious test, these are young people with no discernible academic skills; gross language deficiencies; no sense of how to be student; typical, predictable, and boring resistance to the learning process, and a sense of impending doom. Is there someone who can explain how they spent the previous five to seven years of schooling? Can anyone justify this without resorting to that old saw about migrant kids ruining everything, as if our failures weren’t home-grown? Barring the obtainment of our 3-in-1 goal, I teach sixty future high school drop-outs each day. This isn’t about not knowing the slope of a line; these are kids who could not even hit the twenty-five percent correct achievement mark guaranteed by the laws of probability.
In our attempts to homogenize middle schools, promote the growth of only the top-scoring select, refuse with mule-like stubbornness to implement effective Newcomer Centers, we continue to doom these kids.
“I don’t think that you’re bad people/ I just think that your aesthetic is horrible.” –Piss and Vinegar
In large part driven by Dan, and his insistence on the importance of design, and in small part driven by me, I’ve tried to improve the presentation of my materials. I’ve always been a minimalist – in this and other areas of design – but I think my minimalism is sometimes unnecessarily stark and counter-productive.
So I’m stepping up. I’ve unified my fonts (Georgia, Century Gothic, Impact). I’ve put more thought into presentations and design of posters, homework, classwork. I’ve eschewed some of the D.I.Y. we’ll-make-our-own-organizer for pre-made and dutifully copied assignments. In this and other areas, I’m attempting to raise the bar. Big improvements come in the form of the parent letter:
And the interactive powerpoint comprehension quiz.
“You believe in authority, I believe in myself/ I'm a Molotov Cocktail, you're the Dom Perignon.” –Baby, I’m An Anarchist
Because it was "successful" in one place, because all middle schools simply mustmustmust function in identical ways, because inside the box is the new outside the box, the District decided to place a police officer on all middle school campuses. The individuals themselves are fine, the message this decision sends is disastrous.
Our school was once the most violent campus in the entire 408. We sit at the intersection of multiple norte/ sur neighbors, and adults had abdicated control to kids. Fights were frequent, common, and seen as inevitable. We eradicated this situation and made our campus safe, not by compelling behavior through the threat of force, but rather by defining for young people the concepts of dignity, honor, excellence and holding them to that standard. We sought to change behavior rather than punish. When kids came up short, they received more instruction, not more punishments.
When you bring an officer onto campus, you undermine these teachings. Rather than sending the message to kids that adults expect your best and are fully in control of the school environment, the patrolling presence of police sends the message that we expect your worse and are not in control. Rather than sending the message that you will do the right thing because strong, successful people do so naturally, we are sending the message that you will do the right because we will punish you otherwise. We once used the phrase family to describe the school environment we sought to create. External controlling agents are no part of any family I know. Instead of kids hearing a message of inclusion and warmth, one that softens that self-defeating mantle of hard so many reach for, we are sending a hardening message that this is a place for thugs, a ghetto place where the kids are so bad actual armed police officers are needed to ensure control.
You don’t have to go far to find people who disagree with me on this issue. They’re wrong. They don’t understand the perception of police in the surrounding community. They don’t understand how a police presence could negatively influence families already wary of the official nature of a school. They don’t understand the negative ramifications on relationship-building when administration/ counselors/ teachers become affiliated with police officers. They don’t understand that there is a difference between protecting the campus from outside influences and patrolling the campus. They don’t understand that those officers need to be out in the ten-block radius surrounding campus from 3:00 – 6:30, not on campus during brunch. They don’t understand that it is a privilege to live your life outside the presence of the controlling agents of the state, a privilege we shouldn’t so readily deny our students. They don’t understand how goddamn powerful we are when we function together, and it is beyond silly to give that up – not for anyone, not for anything.
"And there's no need to shit talk or impress/ cuz honesty and emotion are not looked down upon" –Those Anarcho Punks Are Mysterious
We're picking at each other a little. The king is dead; long live the king, and folks are trying to see how they fit in the new order of things. Some of this is good: new ideas, new leadership, new initiatives. Some of it isn't. Some of this becomes a jockeying for position that feels gross to me, unwelcome, and ultimately unnecessary. Let's take some deep breaths, ya'll, and remember that it was the unity of purpose, and the mutual enthusiasm that took us here. Ain't none of us good enough, strong enough, or smart enough to steer this ship alone.
“The president’s giving a speech in Georgetown/ to remember the voice of a slain civil rights leader/ Do you understand what the Martyr stood for?/ Oh, Condoleeza, do you get the fucking joke?” –From Her Lips To God's Ears
Around me are powerful educators busting butts and brains to bring educational equity to an academically starving community. When we’re successful, we benefit two organizations – the prevailing District power structure and Teach For America (40% of the staff) – that do not support our fundamental principles nor our understandings of how to bring about more effective teaching and learning. The former would have us abandon the instructional flexibility and structural creativity that have allowed us to more perfectly meet the needs of an academically diverse student body, teaching exactly what needs to be taught to exactly the type of kid who needs to get it. The latter would have us leave the classroom for the greener pastures of charter schools and program director positions.
The more successful we are, the more press releases that can be written, the more fund-raising that can be done. We cast our best efforts into a contextual frame that inherently devalues the work, the thought process behind it, and our great hopes for the future.
“Standing here like a comedian I repeat what I say/ again and again and again/ until the meaning has become an imitation of itself/ An impression of an original defeats the purpose/ I don't know where this is going/ but it's looking more and more like the same place that we started.” –Holy Shit!
How many times I have taught proper and common nouns?
How many times have I explained how to put homework in a binder?
How many times have I defined the word define?
How many times have I spoke the short /i/ sound, waited to hear it repeated, and corrected mispronunciations?
How many paragraphs have I colored green, yellow, red?
How many times have we compared theme in Social Distortion and Eminem songs?
How many times have I held up the school money and said, Con dinero, el perro baile, and then waited for laughter?
How many times have we used dialog to identify examples of indirect characterization?
And how many more?
“If you had told me about all this when I was fifteen/ I never would have believed it.” –Tonight We’re Gonna Give It Thirty-Five Percent
It’s still a little weird, being a teacher.
"Last night a room – full, drunk – sang along to the songs / I never had the courage to write." –I Still Love You Julie
There's things that need doing. There's ruts that need breaking. There's extensions and applications, and new ground to be struck. There's been times when I've felt paralyzed by past success (don'tchange don'tchange theywon'tlearn don'tchange), hesitant beyond belief to take what has worked, lay it as the strongest of foundations, but as foundation only, and move forward, ready to build a tower of small-d differences.