Off Duty Mom

Thoughts from an exhausted mom who is NEVER really "off duty"

Archive for the tag “education”

Education and Innovation

For a long while, we’ve been in a rut where we’ve tried to shove a metaphorical square peg into a round hole. The way most kids learn today doesn’t look tremendously different from how I learned in the 80’s and 90’s which didn’t look all that different from how my parents learned in the 1950’s. That is both good and bad.

By nature, I am a traditionalist. I believe in the importance of canonical literature, for example, but that is a very controversial and (these days) unpopular opinion. I can’t help it, though. I can’t help but see the value in art, history, philosophy, literature, and a whole mess of other stuff that has kind of been pushed aside. I’m an English teacher and these days this means “get your kids to pass a standardized test” and “get kids to have basic literacy skills and that is all they need” (in other words, if kids can read, that’s good enough). There’s long been a push (at least as long as I’ve worked in the industry) to help kids gain “21st Century” skills, but I am not sure everyone is on the same page as everyone else on what that actually means.

Original Artwork by Casey Reynolds

My anecdotal conclusion is that when folks generally think about 21st Century skills, they think about technology. Cool. Yep. Technology is completely important and fundamental these days. No doubt.

But, I’d like to argue that real 21st Century skills are not so black-and-white.

I’m not sure it makes much sense to divide up learning into separate subjects like we’ve always done. I’m not sure that Readin’, Writin’, and ‘Rithmatic are all that different or should be all that separate anymore.

Educational startup, Edalex published a cool infographic that demonstrates the most-often needed skills in modern-day workplaces. They include the following soft skills:

  1. Creativity
  2. Persuasion
  3. Collaboration
  4. Adaptability
  5. Emotional Intelligence

The Edalex website also includes these “hard” skills:

  1. Blockchain
  2. Cloud computing
  3. Analytical reasoning
  4. Artificial intelligence
  5. UX design
  6. Business analysis
  7. Affiliate marketing
  8. Sales
  9. Scientific computing
  10. Video production

You might notice that, indeed, the “hard” skills mentioned are tech-heavy. But, one thing I notice is that NONE of the skills on either list is a class taught to teenagers and only some are taught at colleges and universities. So, my argument is that “English I” and “Algebra” and “American History” and “Chemistry” aren’t necessarily best-suited to exist within their own little corners of education alone. They need to be a part of a larger conceptualization of learning where multi-faceted problems must be solved by considering a variety of lenses, areas of expertise, and “subjects.”

In the biz, we refer to this as “interdisciplinary” or “cross-curricular” education. It isn’t the norm in most places, though there is a cadre of organizations doing this sort of thing online. Most brick-and-mortar schools still have “periods” in a day where student shift from one classroom to another doing work that is largely taught as being completely separate from what they learned in any other classroom that same day.

But, the world doesn’t typically exist within these confines. If I need to plan community infrastructure or evaluate best practices in marketing or build programming for veterans or create solutions to political conflicts, I won’t just use “math” or “English” or even “engineering.” I’d need an interconnected and collaborative team of folks who have more than just niche knowledge in a sub-subject. So, why do we pretend, still in schools today, that music class and geometry class and biology class are so…different?

When I was in school, I was “not good at math.” I was, instead, “good at English.” But, what does that even mean? Now, as an adult, I realize that it meant, at the time, that I struggled to conceptualize theoretical figures and information and that visual forms of data were easier for me to digest. If I had not had English and math separated out and instead had curriculum that intertwined them, imagine how different my understanding would have been not only in those subject areas, but also in my own sense of self-worth.

I encourage you to look more into organizations who are innovating in education. I am not suggesting that you pull your child out of public school right now and send him to a fancy and brand-new cyber academy. But, I mean, you can if you want. But, I actually very much believe in the power and importance of society-building public education. I just wonder if the long-held beliefs about how the public school system as a whole operates might not benefit from taking a look at some alternate ways of doing things.

Some cool folks to check out:

  1. Astra Nova
  2. Prisma
  3. Remake Learning
  4. You Media Learning Labs Network
  5. Quest to Learn
  6. Fuse Studio

On “Saving the Children”

What do we even want from kids?

What is the end goal of parenting and schooling and churning out adult humans…like…at ALL?

“If the answer were simply to push more and more kids into college, the United States would be entering its democratic prime,” writes George Packer for The Atlantic on March 10, 2022. He asserts that the function of school in this country has shifted considerably throughout our history. He writes, “what is school for? This is the kind of foundational question that arises when a crisis shakes the public’s faith in an essential institution. ‘The original thinkers about public education were concerned almost to a point of paranoia about creating self-governing citizens,’ Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth-grade teacher in the South Bronx and a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told [him]. ‘Horace Mann went to his grave having never once uttered the phrase college- and career-ready. We’ve become more accustomed to thinking about the private ends of education. We’ve completely lost the habit of thinking about education as citizen-making.’”

Photo by Emily Ranquist on Pexels.com

So, sincerely, what is it that we are doing as parents and teachers and…adults? What’s the point of educating young people?

It’s been reported widely that attitudes about how much community members and other non-educators ought to have a “say” in how and what schools teach. Rather famously, a school board in Tennessee banned the inclusion of the World War II graphic novel, Maus, due to NUDITY, of all things, though the book is about the goddamn Holocaust and depicts the true realities of what millions of human beings experienced. The book doesn’t depict any of this as GOOD, mind you. In fact, it recognizes the atrocities of the historical events, yet that context didn’t seem to matter to a 10-person school board in McMinn County who voted unanimously to remove this “offensive” book from its school’s shelves.

WHY?

A great framing of the incident is that “people with the power to shape the education of kids looked at content without context and made a decision rooted in anti-intellectualism and ignorance. Education isn’t about shielding kids from painful truths,” writer Ryan Britt claimed in an article at Fatherly.com. “It’s about helping contextualize those truths. Maus is one of the best examples of how horrible moments from history can be sublimated into profound, life-changing art. And, decision-makers who feel otherwise are edging toward the horrible book-burnings of the Nazis themselves.”

So, I ask again: WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Photo of Birkenau gate by Frederick Wallace on Unsplash

I guess I can at least accept that “protecting kids from scary or grown-up stuff” is AN answer to the question of “why did you perform an Orwellian action of dictating what young people should and shouldn’t know about actual, real history?” But, in the long run, when these young people become older people, what is the hope of who those people will BE? Do we WANT folks who do not have any context for what happened to close to 10 million human beings, 6 million of whom were tossed in the air as infants and shot or sent to die choking, bleeding deaths in gas chambers because of their positions on how to recognize and worship a deity? Like, are we HOPING to create a populace who is “protected” from history to the point that they are not aware of it? British statesman Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” And, ya know, he was THERE for World War II, so maybe he knows things or something? Or, like he did know things. He was born in the 1870’s, so he’s not around anymore, but you get the idea.

Packer’s article in The Atlantic continues to assert that “education is a public interest, which explains why parents shouldn’t get to veto any book they think might upset their child, whether it’s To Kill a Mockingbird or Beloved. Public education is meant not to mirror the unexamined values of a particular family or community, but to expose children to ways that other people, some of them long dead, think.” So why in the name of all things big and small would anyone be so arrogant as to contend that THEIR PERSONAL feelings about nudity in a freaking Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the planet’s most horrific war should be taken into account, especially when those arrogant people are not, themselves, educators?

If you have ever been an elementary school teacher, you know that even the youngest of kids can learn to get along with others. Elementary school teachers, in fact, demand that as a fundamental rule in their classrooms. So, it is possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. Just ask your average 5-year old. Peaceful coexistence does not happen without some effort, though, and whether you’re trying to cooperate to complete a morning routine at the kindergarten daily calendar or discuss the merits of a certain political system in a college classroom, such collaboration can only be found through mutual respect, common ground, and a desire to behave like civilized human beings.

The banning of books and the takeover of American schools by ignorant and ill-informed, power-driven non-educators is a cyclical nightmare. The less and less people read, discuss, debate, and think, the more and more they will find literature, discourse, disagreement, and contemplation “dangerous” or undesirable. And, in turn, the less and less people will read, discuss, debate, and think.

Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but as far as I am concerned, reading is one of the most important activities for the human mind and reading about ideas different from your current ones is paramount to building better citizens of humanity.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Reading is different, perhaps, for those skilled in the art of doing in than it is for laypeople. As a long-time English teacher, I get that. I know that I see things in literature that kids don’t see at first. One of my favorite tools is a book called How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. In it, he actually discusses what the purpose of both sex and violence are in books. One of my favorite quotes of his from that book is: “When they’re writing about other things, they really mean sex, and when they write about sex, they really mean something else.  If they write about sex and mean strictly sex, we have a word for that.  Pornography.” This is where the breakdown happens, I think. Maus is NOT pornography. If it were, it would deserve to be banned. But, a NAKED CARTOON MOUSE is NOT pornography and now here we are: a book banned in a backwards school district for what is, really, no good reason whatsoever.

In fact, the delineation between what is LITERATURE and what is a BOOK lies in this differentiation between sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) and that which sex (or violence or nudity or journeys or wars or relationships or meals or rain or marriages or…well…you get the idea) represents. I created a lesson on this very idea some time ago and I phrased it well then, so I am not going to reinvent the wheel here, but rather quote myself, I guess: “Thomas C. Foster explains, ‘Violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it can also be cultural and societal in its implications.’  Think of Macbeth ‘unseaming’ the traitor in Act I of Macbeth.  He must get very close to him.  He can undoubtedly smell the blood.  He’ll get plenty of blood and bone on his own body.  Organs will burst.  He’ll watch life drain from his eyes.  This is personal.  It says something about the kind of man Macbeth is and the kind of patriotism he had — the loyalty he had to his king — before meeting those witches.” So, while some non-educators might attempt to protect teenagers’ virginal eyes and pure minds from the scaries one might find in Shakespeare or Spiegelman or Lee or Huxley or Rowling or Steinbeck or Walker or Morrison or Fitzgerald or Angelou, what they’re protecting those kids from is LEARNING.

Whether it is fiction or nonfiction, literary works — even the “mature” ones — have a deeply important place in schools that hope to build better thinkers, better debaters, better collaborators, better citizens, and better humans. It is only if you are NOT trying to build those things that it makes sense to keep kids from reading To Kill a Mockingbird or Of Mice and Men or The Color Purple. A 2019 survey by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation demonstrated “why a greater emphasis on American history learning is essential to the nation. The Foundation found that in the highest-performing state, only 53 percent of the people were able to earn a passing grade for U.S. history. People in every other state failed; in the lowest-performing state, only 27 percent were able to pass” (Source: Woodrow Wilson Foundation Finds Only One State Can Pass U.S. Citizenship Exam) In Tennessee, where that ban on Maus was, the study found that 62% of people earned a 59% or lower (a failing grade) on that citizenship exam. Only 3% of testers in that state earned an “A.”

Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

“Amid the GOP’s national campaign to purge ‘leftist ideology’ from public schools, local officials across the nation are now banning certain books that deal with race, sex, and gender, from school shelves, writes Jon Skolnik for The Salon in a January 2022 article. In addition to the well-publicized ban on Maus in Tennessee, Missouri and Mississippi have ramped up their book-banning of late. That citizenship test I mentioned before? Nearly 70% of Mississippians failed that. The folks of Missouri fared better but still 61% of them failed. Do we need kids in these places to be learning LESS?

The Humanities (literature, history, art) have a place in society-building. Packer’s The Atlantic article goes on to assert that “the best way to interest young people in literature is to have them read good literature, and not just books that focus with grim piety on the contemporary social and psychological problems of teenagers. We sell them insultingly short in thinking that they won’t read unless the subject is themselves. Mirrors are ultimately isolating; young readers also need windows, even if the view is unfamiliar, even if it’s disturbing. The ability to enter a world that’s far away in time or place; to grapple with characters whose stories might initially seem to have nothing to do with your life; to gradually sense that their emotions, troubles, revelations are also yours—this connection through language to universal human experience and thought is the reward of great literature, a source of empathy and wisdom.”

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are, of course, incredibly important for young people to have access to in education. These areas are where we, as a society, build DOERS. These STEM subjects create problem-solvers, and critical thinkers. But, the Humanities are where empathy, understanding, communication, diplomacy, maturity, and wisdom are built. And, BOTH areas — those appealing to the left-brained AND the right — are responsible for helping folks test ideas, support claims, evaluate thoughts, and draw meaningful conclusions.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

So, again, at the risk of being a bit of a broken record here, I ask: WHAT DO WE WANT FOR OUR KIDS? What is the goal of education? Despite my rant in my tiny corner of the internet, “well-meaning” (mostly white, cisgendered, straight, “Christian” adults) will continue to rail against naked mice, schools of witchcraft and wizardry, and learning that American history is –whether you want to talk about it or not–built on a fundamental foundation of white supremacy. I don’t imagine that Arkansas, Louisiana, and Kentucky (the three worst-performing states on that US Citizenship Exam which, by the way, demonstrated that a huge number of Americans don’t know what a Constitutional Amendment is) are going to start to suddenly embrace Walk Two Moons and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but they should.

It can start with you, though. Consider buying or borrowing one of these books. Read them with your child. Talk. Think. Share ideas.

Most frequently banned books for elementary-aged kids:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  4. I am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
  5. The Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
  6. New Kid by Jerry Craft

Most frequently banned books for middle-school kids:

  1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  3. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
  4. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  5. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  6. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  7. Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Most frequently banned books for high school kids:

  1. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  3. Native Son by Richard Wright (one of my personal favorite books ever!)
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  5. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  6. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  7. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Or, if you’re interested, check out these book-ban lists and information about what some states are currently working on:

  1. TEXAS
  2. MISSISSIPPI
  3. OHIO
  4. ALABAMA
  5. GEORGIA
  6. OKLAHOMA
  7. ARKANSAS
  8. SOUTH CAROLINA
  9. FLORIDA
  10. NORTH CAROLINA
  11. UTAH
  12. ARIZONA

It’s Toxic?

I blame Britney Spears.

At some point, and I think it is her fault, the word “toxic” entered our lexicon in a way that provided youth culture with a new way of finding things to be offensive.

“Toxic parenting,” “Toxic Masculinity,” “Toxic Social Media,” “Toxic Culture,” everything was “toxic” and, apparently, remains so.

I mean, I’m not saying that these things don’t exist. I’m a pretty staunch feminist. I am certain that toxic masculinity, for example, is very real. But, like anything else, there’s been an extremification or a bastardization of the term. It is worth less than it once was. And its definition lacks legitimacy anymore.

Let me get more to the point of what is really burnin’ my biscuits here…

I’m a teacher of teenagers. I have been for a really, really long time. And, in that time, I have noticed a severe cultural change in the way young people see and understand the world around them.

It is my contention that we are living in an amazing time where young people are activists, and are interested in justice. That’s great. In my humble opinion, though, it can delegitimize serious struggle to assert that slight inconveniences or hardships are, in fact, traumas.

Let me give you an example. A student takes a test after a 10th grade unit on poetry. The teacher’s unit of study was aimed at showing students how to analyze poetry and respond to it, thoughtfully, in writing. So, the test itself required students to demonstrate that they could analyze a poem they’d never seen before, but that was on-grade-level. The student fails the test, then asks the teacher, “what can I do to get my grade up?” That has become SUCH a common question lately. I am not sure I hear it daily, but I definitely hear it at least a few times every week. Now, let’s say that the teacher asks the student what he thinks went wrong on the test. The student says, “I’m just not good at understanding poetry.”

HMMMMMM…

If you’re NOT a teacher, I’d ask you how you’d respond to this. Would you tell him to retake the test a second time? Give him some extra lessons or support to help him understand poetry better then offer a retest? Would you offer an alternative assignment? Would you tell him he should have studied better? Or does something else come to mind?

In this hypothetical situation, let’s say the teacher says the the student, “Okay. I’m willing to hear you out. What can you do to demonstrate you’ve mastered the learning?” The student’s reply is then something along the lines of “I don’t know. I just need to get an ‘A’.”

NOW what do you do?

See, here is the thing — the kid in this scenario is not interested in learning. He could sincerely not care less about that. I mean, that’s not surprising; he’s a kid. But, what I can infer from this situation is that this kid just wants to find away AROUND his problem. He’s not interested in actually solving the problem itself which, in this case is having a weakness in a skill in English class.

15 years ago this wouldn’t have been a question. The teacher would have been like, “sorry. Guess you should have studied, paid attention, taken notes, asked more questions, etc.” and that would have been the end of the discussion. But, today, that attitude is “toxic.”

I’d love to know, for those of you who are not teachers, how you think you’d handle this particular situation. I’d also love to know how you think you’d fare in the education industry if you were to change jobs. I can say that I have DEEP respect for nurses and others in healthcare, for example. I could NOT do what they do. I would be terrible at it and I think they should all get a serious pay raise. And snacks. And, like, just whatever they want. JUST GIVE THEM WHATEVER THEY WANT.

And, if you’re interested in getting ME whatever I want, I would like better working conditions for teachers and a bunch of Andes candies ‘cuz those are the best.

What am I supposed to do now?

Social media is an interesting beast.

On one social media site, I am a part of a “group” of folks who are now trying or have recently tried to leave the teaching profession. There are a TON of such groups all over the interwebs and mostly they are comprised of people who are exhausted, terrified, sad, and traumatized and they’re generally trying to support one another as they transition out of the only job they’ve ever wanted to have. Their stories are eye-opening and important and I’d like to give some more public voice to their plights here.

If you talk to teachers about what their biggest problems are in their schools all across America, very few have the same “talking points” as the media has presently. They don’t lament the lack of public school funding or the “learning loss” of kids post-pandemic. They don’t habitually complain about low pay, though they acknowledge that dealing with what they’re dealing with might be more reasonable if they were paid a fairer wage. They don’t gripe about being low-staffed. In fact, most are happy for their colleagues who “get out” of what they refer to as a toxic system. Their complaints, almost exclusively, revolve around poor leadership and a sense of entitlement from both students and parents within the system.

What follows in red is written ENTIRELY from the words of current and former teachers since COVID changed their lives. These are the words of educators in an online group of nearly 15,000 members from all over the world, but our focus here is on the US education system. These are their words. These are their stories. >insert Law & Order sound DUN-DUN here<

“I am at my breaking point.”
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I am at my breaking point. One of the biggest issues is that we are having kids with more and more issues and we are getting no help with that . We are seeing kids with serious psychiatric issues yet there are NO new classes, professionals, etc. to help with this even though it’s increasing every year. There is very little support from anyone in a position of authority whatsoever. Violence is not merely tolerated, but it is, at times, rewarded. In the name of “PBIS” (an edu-babble term that stands for “Positive Behavioral Intervention System), students actually get rewards like lollipops and stickers after they’ve struck a teacher or a fellow student. In an effort to teach them that those behaviors are wrong, they go to a “safe room” after a violent outburst, acknowledge that violence is “bad” and are thus given a treat for that grand revelation. It happens all the time. This is kindergarten through high school seniors, by the way.

I don’t feel I have support when it comes to inappropriate and disruptive or disrespectful behaviors. The kids are given all the power. Parents are the worst part of the equation. Coupled with administration that have no backbone and are terrified of parental lawsuits – the students are allowed to run the show! There is no support for teachers! None! Administrators refuse to treat teachers as professionals and are demeaning, insulting, and completely lacking in empathy or care for us as human beings; they are bullies who retaliate against us when we try to stand up for what’s right; they play favorites with their buddies on staff. There are so, so many reasons just from the admin angle that make me want to get out. That’s not even touching the surface of parent and student issues, workload issues, fair pay and retirement issues.

If I had a nickel for every time I got one of these from a kid…
Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

[Since the pandemic began], the biggest shift I’ve seen is the developing culture of disrespect and sense of entitlement. I’m tired of being yelled at, ignored, and undervalued [by administrators]. Schools do not discipline kids anymore. Behavior is out of control and we are supposed to teach the willing-to-learn kids while the others misbehave and disrupt learning for all. There was such a huge push for an end to the school-to-prison pipeline that the pendulum swung so far in the other direction that there is not just no more “policing” of student behavior, there is no attempt to address the behavior AT ALL. So, kids who were violent, disrespectful, abusive, or otherwise out of control five years ago did so and were suspended or expelled or dealt with. Kids do the exact same things today but are just sent back to class. Kids have literally physically assaulted teachers and classmates and they just…go back to class like nothing happened…because everyone is afraid we’ll be called out for “over-policing” kids. No matter what I do or say they carry on [because] there is no punishment. They are allowed to behave this way and we just have to take it.

[I want out because] teachers [are] being forced to retest failing students until they pass [which] seems like setting children up for real world failure. As a parent, I do not want my kids given multiple chances. We LEARN from failures. Not allowing someone to fail, in my opinion, is stunting that person’s growth and development as a human being. [There is a real] lack of support from colleagues, bullying from admins, and children passing regardless of their competency and ability to actually complete the work. A woman told me recently that her daughter just graduated from high school and only after that did she realize that her daughter couldn’t read. And, she went the whole way through the system – passing year in and year out.

I’m finishing the school year and never looking back. The combination of abysmally poor leadership and the fact that parents and kids run the schools these days has created a work environment that is inhospitable. This is a change that I’ve watched happen over the past 3-5 years. It started before the pandemic, but that trying time absolutely sped it up and exacerbated it. I can’t take it anymore.

As I compiled the words of the nearly 50 teachers who responded to my request for their thoughts, I was interested in seeing where the trends were in their responses. I found that a few concepts were repeated more than any others. The single most common word I saw was the word “bullying,” though. But, that term was not used in reference to how the kids interact with one another, but was in reference to how their bosses treat teachers.

If you don’t work in education, you might be surprised to hear about how the hierarchy works there and how, historically, teachers are not treated as professionals by their administrators, nearly all of whom were once teachers themselves. It operates in many places like a fraternity where the teachers are the freshman pledges and administrators are the seniors who haze them.

Of course, low pay (in some parts of the country, the starting salary for the 2021-2022 school year was under $20,000 a year), job insecurity (again, in some parts of the country, teachers are on year-to-year contracts where administrators can decide to renew — or not — at any time), standardized testing, and teacher shortages (I spoke to one teacher who had FOUR coworkers all quit last week from a single high school building) are all problems. But, as the saying goes, people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses. So, the epidemic of this teacher exodus is largely related to just not getting what they need from their leaders. Teachers are not well-respected, not treated with compassion, and are not physically or emotionally safe in their workplaces. This is a nationwide epidemic, mind you. Current statistics say that nearly 60% of teachers in this country will leave the profession by the end of this June if they can.

Something has to give.
Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels.com

What’s tragic about this is that every single one of these folks I spoke with is devastated by the idea of leaving. Not a single one of them got into teaching for any other reason than being called to it. The overwhelming concern for them all is: What do I do now? as they all evaluate their options. Most of them feel trapped, unqualified for any job other than teaching, and are terrified about what walking away from a lifetime dream and calling will mean for them. This is traumatic.

It’s an abusive relationship. These folks, mostly women, have loved their students, their subject areas, their coworkers. All they’ve ever wanted to do was share wisdom and guide young people and change the world. And the head of the household (so to speak) keeps berating them, gaslighting them, and generally treating them like absolute shit.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to fix any of this. I don’t know what to say or what to do or where to go. But, this is big, people. We have to start doing better by the people who care for our kids on the daily.

Before there aren’t any left.

Parenting During the Death of Public Education

I am going to put my ‘mom” hat back on today, but I still have my “teacher” glasses on for now.

My kids are in 5th and 8th grades. They’re pretty awesome kids. But, that’s not why you’re here.

I firmly and whole-heartedly have always supported public education. It is the way in which we build a society. It is the method by which we grow our citizens into thinking, problem-solving, collaborative adults.

That’s not to say that private schools don’t do this. But, public schools do it — for free — in your own neighborhood — while also providing a myriad of learning and support services — with fully certified teachers. As a mom, this is important to me.

Photo by Ivan Bertolazzi on Pexels.com

But, there is a shift happening in public education and it will impact our children. You may not be aware of it because you are not as far down in this rabbit hole of information as I am, so let me get you up to speed on a few things going on right now in America that are changing the way our children get their learning.

First, let’s talk about some of the absolutely bonkers stuff that is going on at the government-level. The Indiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would require teachers to submit and publish a year’s worth of lesson plans on June 30 of the year prior. This is a nicely-written article about this issue if you’d like to learn more. But, here’s the thing: if you didn’t know anything about how the work of teaching happens, this might seem ok to you. What’s the big deal? Don’t you KNOW what you’re doing? Why don’t you want to make it public? What are you hiding, you peasant public servant?

But, it is pretty impossible to do this without a pre-packaged curriculum at your disposal. I mean, I don’t know next year’s kids on June 30. I haven’t met them yet. I don’t know what their needs will be. And, honestly, there are a bazillion other reasons why this is nuts. Do you know what project you’ll be working on and exactly what your day will look like…say November 14 of this year? Most people don’t. You can give an estimate, likely, but for you to fill out a detailed agenda for every day of the next year of your life might be kinda hard.

The simple answer to this is for a school to purchase a curriculum from a company like Pearson or Cengage Learning. This is a bit of a “hmmmm…” moment for me. If legislation makes it nearly impossible NOT to purchase a product, then I am forced to buy that product, thus I make some company more money. Whose best interest is being served here? As neither a mother nor a teacher do I believe the best interest being served is my kids’.

I might add that lesson plans are not fast or easy to write. I can spend hours on one lesson for one class period of one day. There is research involved, connection to standards, inclusion of multimedia, design of projects or assignments or quizzes associated, plans for enrichment for the high-achieving kids, plans for remediation for struggling kids, the material I’ll present, how I’ll present it, what my objectives are, what ultimate goal I’m aligning this all with…seriously — I don’t just sit down and go “ummm…Hamlet. I’ll just, like, talk about Hamlet things” and that’s all there is to it. And, when you think about Hamlet as an example, you might realize that I’d have to be an expert on it before I can even start writing that single day’s lesson which, ya know, might take a minute or two. Now, multiply all of this by the number of different classes I have in one day. That can be upward of 4 or 5 for some teachers. So, they’ll do all of that for 4 or 5 different classes, for every day, for 180 days. AND have it done before they leave for the summer on top of all of the stuff that needs to be done to close out a school year: paperwork, grades, reports, etc.

Similar bills are also in places like Arizona and North Carolina where the primary concern is that teachers might talk about issues relating to race, gender, and LGBTQIA+ folks. More on that in another post. So, the quick fix, again, is to BUY a curriculum from a company whose politics you like and just deliver the content as it is packaged. I ask again whose interest we’re serving here. Watch where your money is going, folks.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, there are some great curricula out there and just because it comes from a major corporation doesn’t necessarily make it bad. Similarly, just because a teacher wrote it doesn’t make a lesson good. But, it does take away the need for an actual professional in the classroom. If all you need is a warm body to read from a text book, assign questions to answer, and just facilitate stuff that is in a script, you don’t really need ME. My 23 years in education, my Master’s Degree, my experience and knowledge, and understanding of students– well, none of that matters really. It’s always nice to have a seasoned veteran deliver packaged content, but it certainly isn’t necessary. It is just another brick in the wall. Your kids are just ground beef churned out by the system then.

Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone.
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash

The Washington Post reports that public school changes are alive and well across the nation and these changes are with the express purpose of privatizing education, something I thought was only a problem while that jackass lady who used to run the Department of Ed was in power. Remember her? She who shall not be named. As of this writing, there are sixteen states that are in the process of increasing their voucher programs or are fighting to otherwise shift allocation of public funding to private educational facilities. If you’re not up on all of this and aren’t sure why charters and “school choice” is actually not what you should want, you can check out this article to learn about the deliberate dismantling of public schools.

All-in-all, when we privatize education, we are putting it in the hands of FOR-PROFIT companies. Maybe this is capitalism at its finest and will increase competition which will increase results. But, here’s the reality: a private school does not HAVE to take your kid. It doesn’t have to teach your kid. It doesn’t have to keep your kid when he screws up. It doesn’t have to provide services for your kids’ special needs. It doesn’t have to DO much of anything except generally keep their numbers where they want them in order to keep the money where they want it. In some places, it doesn’t even have to hire certified teachers.

Maybe I’m crazy but I think that diversity is a good thing. I think that certified teachers are a good thing. I think that teaching critical thinking and challenging kids’ minds beyond what’s “in the book” is a good thing. I used to talk with my students about existentialism and literary critical theory. Now, we read mini-articles written two grade-levels lower than expected and regurgitate information on standardized tests. My current packaged curriculum (which is a basis for my teaching, basically informing the sequencing of units, but is not the majority of my teaching) includes ZERO novels. I’m a high school English teacher. Did you know that your child could go through four years of high school and never read a book? I won’t name the company whose curriculum includes no books at all for high school kids, but they’re one of the highest-earning, well-known educational companies on the planet and their stuff is in thousands of schools.

This is not what I want for my children. I want them to disagree with me. I want them to think. I want them to criticize and evaluate and read a damn book. Hell, THEY want to read books.

For what it’s worth, you might want to check out this article that is titled, “Are You Learning at School or Just Bullshitting Everything?” And, for fun, try Googling “why >insert curriculum company here< sucks.” It works for any of the companies. The results are terrifying and maddening and hilarious and depressing.

So, my fellow parents, if you have chosen private education for your children, cool. Whatever. That’s fine. But, please be aware that the public school system is still an important element of our nation’s functional growth. And, remember: if public school dies, all the riff-raff you’ve been trying to keep your kids away from will have to go somewhere and it might be your private school.

The Death of Disco…and Public Education

Look: you probably don’t know what is going on behind the scenes at your child’s school. You’d have no reason to. Schools only tell you what they want you to know.

But, things have changed… a LOT.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

They’ve changed since you were in school. Hell, they’ve changed in the past 3 years and those changes are significant.

I miss a version of my job that no longer exists. It’s kind of like really liking disco. At one point, I am sure somebody was like, “man, I really love disco” and then the 80s happened and there was…I don’t know…punk music and yuppies and cocaine? I’m not sure, I was like 3. But, anyway, disco died and that person was probably like, “but I LOVE disco!!! What am I supposed to do now?!?!”

That’s how I feel. In the early 80s there was a lot of other cool music to like. Blondie? I mean, yes, please. But, Blondie is not pure disco and if you really loved disco it just wasn’t the same. So, too, is the state of teaching. Schools still exist and they are kinda the same in that there are still kids and tests and detention and the cafeteria and lockers and stuff. But, it isn’t disco.

I follow all kinds of people and groups on social media. These folks are all also searching for some solace in all of this. They are teachers or soon-to-be-teachers or recently-retired/quit teachers and they share their thoughts online. Let me share with you a few things they’ve been saying lately.

“This is for all of the newer teachers out there: Leave while you still have professional confidence.”

ANONYMOUS

The more you see what your children’s teachers are feeling and experiencing, the more you might understand the sincere crisis in education there is at the moment. These are things you likely would not know at all if you were not in education and I am assuming you are not, but what the hell do I know?

“I sit here on a Sunday night and am deeply saddened. Tomorrow I have to go back to that place.”

ANONYMOUS

If you didn’t know what these folks were going through, I suspect your instinct would be to say, “well, leave then.” If teachers hate it so much and are so miserable and your “glorified babysitting job” of “only 10 months a year” is so shitty, you should just quit, right?

Well, they ARE. In enormous numbers, in fact. I just took a look at a document published by the US Department of Education. They cite the MetLife Survey of American Teachers as they report, “Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009…the lowest level in over 20 years.”

From the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, report date: February 2013

A publication from the Brookings Institute reported in September 2021 that “In March 2021, 42% of teachers declared they have considered leaving or retiring from their current position during the last year.” That’s a huge number of people. If you’re not a teacher, do you have a 42% turnover rate…ever?

My guess is that, well, no, you do not. According to EdWeek, this past fall saw about 3.2 million teachers actively working in the profession. I just used that calculator that I keep in my pocket that my middle school math teacher said I’d never have and that little machine told me that 42% of 3.2 million is 1.3 million…give or take. That’s huge.

Add to all of this the fact that colleges and universities are seeing enormous decline in enrollment in teaching majors and several are closing their doors. On February 5, 2022, CNN ran a story which noted that Oklahoma City University was suspending its education program. The article goes on to report: “While some say it’s too early to know the specific impacts of the pandemic, Lynn Gangone, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) told CNN the numbers already show Covid-19 further dissuaded Americans from going into teaching. In fall 2020 and 2021, about 20% of institutions surveyed by AACTE reported the pandemic resulted in a decline of new undergraduate enrollment of at least 11%. Roughly 13% of institutions reported ‘significant’ declines in the number of new graduate students.”

With fewer teachers coming into the field, I realize that the system has got to change. As I look over my social media accounts, what I’m noticing, anecdotally, is that a large number of teachers who are leaving the profession are doing so with absolutely no backup plan whatsoever. That might seem stupid. Most of them know it is kind of bananas, but this is how bad it is for them. Here are a few reasons I’ve seen cited in just the past few days:

  1. Students are chronically absent and expect teachers to “catch them up” – sometimes from a zero percent or having submitted zero work or learning literally 0% of the material AND ADMINISTRATORS ARE ALSO EXPECTING TEACHERS TO FIND A WAY TO “ALLOW THESE STUDENTS TO HAVE SUCCESS.” (i.e.: pass even if it is a lie)
  2. Student behavior is out of control: fights, disrespectful talk, refusal to follow any rules.
  3. Remember school shootings? Those are still a threat. So, everything sucks and we might get shot, so…
  4. Unsupportive bosses who don’t care when teachers are drowning and only care about their nonsensical initiatives and statistics.
  5. The increasing threat of privatization of public schools (more on that in our next post)
  6. Overbearing parents, many of whom were praising teachers just two years ago when they had to deal with their ONE child at home but who now find teachers, yet again, to be useless wastes of space and, delightfully tell teachers: “I pay your salary.”
  7. A salary that qualifies teachers as “working poor.”

“I talked to a gentleman with no college degree today who makes more in two weeks than I made in one month with 20+ plus years experience AND a master’s degree.”

ANONYMOUS
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I do not propose any solutions here. If I had any to offer, I’d be at work right now implementing them instead of typing this. But, I do know that something has to give.

The number of teachers we’re hemorrhaging as a system is not sustainable.

I guess the one thing I can suggest is: please be kind to your children’s teachers. There is so much they’re going through that you don’t even know about.

It’s actually really a scary time in education.

Aside from the obvious woes and the ones listed above, teachers are also facing incredible political pressures and shifts. Depending on the area and the district, teachers are also battling mask mandates (either for them or against them, depending on where you are), whether or not to teach about racism, class sizes of 30-35 students, an overall poverty rate for kids in American schools to be at 25%, unreliable technology to do their jobs, poor student attitudes toward learning and no help with that from their parents, budget cuts, an obesity epidemic among American kids, and much, much more.

So, again, if you can consider sending a nice note to one of your children’s teachers today to say that you know things are hard and you support him/her/them, it would really be appreciated. Trust me: there is not a single teacher in the nation right now who would not welcome such a message.

Please. We miss our disco.

The False Equivalence

In 2020, I missed being in my classroom as an On Duty Teacher and decided to create a series of lessons for anyone who felt like learning them.

Our series on How To Be a Better Arguer continues…

Lesson #10

The False Equivalence: what are we to do when someone suggests that two things, people, or ideas are the same while ignoring their differences?

I hate this one. People use it ALL THE TIME. And those people suck.

Consider this:

Person “A”: “I think it’s morally wrong to unleash a secret police force on peaceful protestors and it’s a classic indicator of Fascism in the making.”

Person “B”: “what? We should allow a bunch of thugs and rioters to lock people in public buildings and set them on fire? Lock ‘em all up. They deserve what they get.”

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com

Insert eye roll here.

The logical fallacy here (and, remember, a logical fallacy is an ERROR. It’s a sign of weak arguments. It’s invalid.) is in the suggestion that the actions of armed military forces deployed by the US government are EQUIVALENT to citizen protestors.

Frankly, there’s an Ad Hominem attack in there, too. Did you catch it in Person B’s statement?

Anywho…

To have a valid argument, Person B, you’ll have to either use two equivalent entities in your message or prove (remember your data and warrant) that the two entities you use in your statement are actually already equivalent.

Now, for two entities to be equivalent, they have to have more characteristics in common than not. And the similarities you suggest have to bear equivalent weight, severity, or importance. For example, people call both Joe Biden and Donald Trump “sexual assaulters.” But, are the allegations, instances, and types of assault truly comparable? For you to make the argument that they’re both terrible choices for President because they’re both rapey, you’ll have to show that they are. (Please note: this article was originally written in the summer of 2020)

So, in our previous example, armed secret military police physically injuring unarmed protestors MUST be equally wrong, frequent, severe, deplorable, harmful, and “bad for America” as are the actions of people exercising First Amendment rights and speaking out (ironically) against police brutality.

Frankly, in the initial example, Person B focuses on one PART of a revolutionary movement: rioting and destruction. In fact, Person B referenced one specific day within one specific part of that revolutionary movement: the fires set at a police headquarters following George Floyd’s death. So, the qualifications for equivalency aren’t met: Person B’s example is not similar in duration, in number, in degree, or in value. So, this doesn’t work.

When an internet troll comes at you with “men get sexually assaulted, too!,” or “Auschwitz’s existence is proof that Confederate statues must remain intact,” you’ve got a False Equivalencer (probably not a word) on your hands.

To combat it, you point out how their argument does not apply an appropriate analogy, or how their statements do not represent equivalent subsets of information.

Good lord. “Subsets?” “Equivalent?” “Degree?” “Data?” My 11th grade Trig teacher was right: math concepts are used in other fields.

Damn.

At any rate, if you’re interested in learning more about this from people smarter than I am, check this out: https://effectiviology.com/false-equivalence/. They do a super nice job of explaining this in much more academic and think-y words.

Until next time, friends, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

“But, I don’t really have a point.”

Lesson #9 in our series on How To Be a Better Arguer

Today’s lesson: Prove it.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

I was reading a thread in the comments section of a local newspaper today. There are many interesting things you can learn about your fellow locals when you check out these comments sections. You may lose your faith in humanity, though.

In a thread about whether a Christopher Columbus statue in my city should or should not be removed and put into a museum, one delightful lady was enraged by how, in her opinion, this would be destroying history.

Oh. Lordy.

Two things stuck out for me in her comments: she had no backing for her thoughts, and she said at one point that everyone she’s talked to (not sure why she felt it necessary to note that she’s gone off on this topic with other people, too) all know that she’s “not going to budge” on this. No one can convince her to change her mind.

See… that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.

Let’s take each of these issues separately. First, let’s consider her comments. She stated, repeatedly, but in slightly different terms each time, that her position was that removing statues like this one was a futile and irresponsible attempt to ignore history and was even creating a societal problem where people would no longer learn about important moments and figures of the past.

But, ya know, just some lady saying so doesn’t make that true.

For any real intellectual debate on a topic, you, minimally, have to have what we in the biz call a CLAIM, DATA, and a WARRANT.

Photo by Marcelo Barboza on Pexels.com

A claim is a statement of assertion. In this case, I suppose it would be something like, “The local Christopher Columbus statue should not be removed to a museum because doing so would lead to fewer people learning about historical moments and people, even if those moments or people do not represent history about which we are proud.”

Then, you have to have some data to back that up. Statistics, examples, expert opinions, quotes from reliable news sources…these are the kinds of things that you need to have. Karen comes close when she says that Auschwitz was left standing as a reminder of history we’d rather not repeat, so this should, too, and for the same reason.

But, that’s a pretty weak example. I’ll dig into this more next time when I discuss the “False Equivalency Fallacy.”

But, third, you need to have a “warrant.” That’s where you connect your data and your claim, explaining HOW your data supports your claim.

She’s missing this entirely. She’d have to explain how Auschwitz and the local Christopher Columbus statue relate and thus how the Auschwitz example proves she’s correct about the local Christopher Columbus statue. But, see, she can’t logically do that, because as one of my teaching colleagues pointed out to her, these two things do NOT connect. This, she does not dispute, saying then only that nobody will ever change her mind.

So that leads to my second problem. If no one can change your mind, why are you in a conversation at all? Here are the only options I can think of. Feel free to help me add to this list if you’d like:

1. You came to the comments section of a local newspaper to “school” everyone on the “right” way to look at an issue. You’ve decided to bless the readers with your glorious, unfounded and unsupported gobbledegook.

2. You thought everyone was going to agree with you and this was going to be a celebration of how awesome we all agree you are because you share our inexpert opinions.

3. You don’t understand the issue but aren’t smart or educated enough (or are too stubborn to) recognize that.

4. You aren’t willing to admit that issues do have two (or more) perspectives.

5. You think people should listen to and agree with you, but you’re not interested in extending them the same courtesy.

Photo by Afif Kusuma on Unsplash

6. You like fights.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the point of debate was to hear each other out and (hopefully) persuade the opposition to consider (not AGREE with necessarily) your perspective. A statement of “La La La La! I’m not listening!” doesn’t exactly say, “let me explain where you’re wrong so I may persuade you to see things my way,” ya know? It also outrightly refuses to be open to considering the opposition’s ideas or where you both may agree, even if only in part.

So, what do you do in this situation? I feel like there’s not much you can do.

Photo by William Krause on Unsplash

If somebody says, “there’s nothing that will get me to change my mind,” there’s no real point, right? You’re arguing with the wind.

You can, however, try to present your side rationally. Perhaps others witnessing your discussion might still be persuaded by your words and that’s not nothin’.

Or, you can just duke it out, call her names, and let it be juvenile and ugly. I mean, you won’t get anywhere, but if you needed an anonymous victim for your verbal assaults because you just feel like getting belligerent, then, ok, I guess. I mean, I don’t officially and professionally RECOMMEND this, but, like, you CAN do it.

So, next time I’ll get into that issue if the false equivalency. I think you’ll agree that it’s all too common of a tactic used in disagreements.

Stay tuned.

As usual, I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk

Try not to suck, ok?

In our ongoing series of How to Be a Better Arguer, I bring you Lesson #8

If you’re new to these lessons, scroll down. Start with the first one and then work your way back here. These lessons were originally posted on social media in 2020, but they were beloved — BELOVED, I TELL YOU! — and so they’re being reprinted here for your viewing pleasure…

Ok. Here we go…

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Don’t be the bad guy.

This is probably the best advice I have when it comes to arguments. It works in a myriad of scenarios and is applicable to numerous parts of your life.

I’m a teacher. I’ve worked exclusively in large high schools for over 20 years and thus have seen my fair share (or more) of hallway fights.

One stands out for me when I think about “bad guys,” though.

It was the time between classes. The bell had just rung and I was standing at my desk chatting with a student. He or she (I don’t remember) was an Advanced Placement student and thus known around town more for brains than for brawn, as were the AP students who’d be coming to my room for the next class period.

Suddenly, two students burst into my classroom, entangled in one another. They hit the floor.

My desk was in the corner farthest from the door and it took me a few moments to hurdle myself over to it. By that point, the fight had slid its way from just inside my classroom doorway to just outside of it. A crowd formed, surrounding the fight and trapping me inside the room. This high school was huge so there were tons of kids to create this barrier so no other adults could easily get in. I was the only adult there, as a result.

I remember throwing a few kids aside to get them out of the way. Later my students would joke with me about hurling people like some sort of monster. I took it as a compliment. But, I was pretty powerless against the two boys I didn’t know who were on the ground trying to injure each other as much as possible.

A student of mine stepped into the crowd, grabbed the kid who was on top of the other kid and catapulted him in the opposite direction ending the bout, then, more or less, walked into my room like, “there ya go, lady, now let’s go learn some shit.”

Not all the AP kids were ALL brains and NO brawn.

But, to get to my point I actually need to tell you about the parent meeting that followed this incident.

I don’t remember everything, but I do remember sitting in a conference room with an administrator and the boy (and the father of the boy) who appeared to be the aggressor. I had never seen this kid before that day; not until he busted into my classroom, so my answer was clearly “no” when the father asked me if I had heard what the other boy had said to his son right BEFORE he stared wailing on him as the other kid curled into the fetal position, trying to protect his face (it didn’t work).

So, some boy said something mean. Alrighty. THAT boy would have been in trouble, then, particularly if it was so evil it might induce a brawl. But, the second kid became the bad guy when he knocked the snot out of Mr. Mouthy. He HAD THE UPPER HAND and just gave it away. What I witnessed that day was not a fight, but was a beating.

And, there IS a difference. If you’ve ever worked in an American high school, you might know what I mean.

If you do things the right way: ask questions, laugh in the face of the bully, use your words, stay true to yourself, take the high road, keep it classy, take pride in yourself—you win. And, you win because you showed BETTER.

If you try to argue with me about geopolitics and I retort with an ad hominem attack, I suck. I may be funny and I may feel good about sucker-punching you with words, but I’ve also shown that I’m an idiot.

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Have you, like, EVER seen an 80’s movie? We root for Daniel-san, Duckie, Veronica Sawyer (sort of?), and Marty McFly. We loathe Cobra Kai, Steff (and pretty much every James Spader character ever—not just Pretty in Pink’s villain), all of The Heathers, and Biff.

Do you trust Draco Malfoy? Want to listen to advice from the kids in Carrie’s class (or her mom, jeez…)? Feel like going to see Aerosmith in ‘76 with O’Bannion? Want to have tea and crumpets and discuss closet options with Joan Crawford?

If you allow yourself to slip into attacking language, condescension, snark and sarcasm (oooh, but I do love sarcasm and admit I too often don’t take my own advice here), Red Herrings, straw man arguments, and fighting language rather than the language of discourse, you become the bully. You’re the one delivering a beating; you’re Bloody Mary, you’re Genghis Khan, you’re DOLORES UMBRIDGE.

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Beating someone into argumentative submission might, on the surface, feel like winning. But, the “winners” of arguments have persuaded others to change their minds. They’re solving problems. They’re championing causes. They’re breaking down the walls that divide man. When you do this, you’re Atticus Finch! You’re Hermione Granger! Padme Amidala! Belle (oooh! A princess…)! Elle Woods! You’re (man, I want to write “Jesus,” but that feels like stepping into complicated territory…).

This really makes me want a Hermione Lego Minifigure…
Photo by Nemes Brigitta on Unsplash

When you see injustice, bullying, misunderstanding, confusion, questions, disagreement, division, hurt, pain, arrogance, and differing perspectives, think about what will get someone on your side rather than push him away. Think about who can see or hear your discussion and consider whether those folks would be turned off by your words or behavior, heading to the opposite side just because of YOU, or if you might encourage people to come TO your side, even if they’re unsure if it, just because you’re someone with whom they’d like to be associated.

This is ETHOS. An appeal to ethos is an appeal to the audience because of your CHARACTER. If you can convince people that you’re worth listening to, your message might carry.

Feel free to let me know what you think. And maybe reread “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #7: A Non-Sequi-whaaaa???

NOTE: Post first written for publication in 2020

Photo by Natalie Birdy on Pexels.com

“BUT…HER E-MAILS!”

Let’s take a look at the NON-SEQUITUR.

I’ve seen this a whole lot lately: someone makes a statement in a post. These days, it’s probably about a political or social issue (or both). Someone responds with a completely different topic, typically something not at all in question.

Here’s an example: I saw on Facebook where a friend of mine posted something about the current US President having a pattern of lying (Note: at time of original publication, this referred to President Donald Trump). One response to this statement was, “Oh, so I guess Biden never lies?!”

That’s a non-sequitur. It’s a statement that does not logically follow the argument in question. Logicians would have a field day with the respondent to that post. Yikes.

See, here’s the thing: a post about one person’s lies is not necessarily an argument that another person does or does not not lie. Its not about another person at all. I might add, too, that pointing out one candidate’s flaws does not necessarily equate to an endorsement of his opponent. AND, stating that Joe Biden lies neither refutes nor proves anything about whether Donald Trump does. They’re two different arguments.

Boil it down to its simplest terms:

Person A: “Trump lies”

Person B: “Biden lies”

Person A: “Sooo…is this a statement of agreement or disagreement to what I said?”

Person B: “Neither.”

You might remember a similar fallacy from an earlier lesson: the Red Herring. The non-sequitur is similar, but the difference is in the motive.

Like the stinky fish for which it is supposedly named, the Red Herring is something a person “throws out there,” purposefully, with the intent of distracting you or putting you off of your track. It’s a diversion; a ploy.

The non-sequitur is flawed thinking. It’s a show of ignorance on a topic, inability to process intellectual discussion, fear, single-mindedness, or an honest mistake. But, it’s not malicious or conniving. Get pissed at the guy who hurls Red Herrings, but feel bad for the bloke who offers a non-sequitur.

Often, you’ll see non-sequiturs used, but it will be clear that those who use them don’t really understand what the conversation is about in the first place. Responding, “Oh, Biden doesn’t lie?” to the statement, “Trump is a liar,” assumes that the original speaker’s argument is: “Trump is a liar and is therefore the man less qualified to be president in a race between Joe Biden and him.” But, “Trump is a liar” does NOT, in and of itself, assert that at all.

So, here’s what you need to do.

Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

This is your response: “What do you mean by that?”

If I say, “Trump lies,” and you say, “Biden lies,” we’re just two people listing names of people who lie. The problem is that you (in this case) think we’re having a political debate whereas I just made a statement. So we need to establish:

1. Is this an argument or debate we are in? Person A didn’t appear to be making one, necessarily, but Person B surely wanted to duke it out.

2. What is your argument? Does Person B even know? What does he think we’re talking about, even?

3. What is my argument? Person B definitely messes this up.

4. Do you understand that your statement is not a logical response to mine? No. No. No, he doesn’t.

It would have been best if Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” had asked Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” What he meant by that. There’s lots he could have meant by that…

-Trump’s ability to fabricate people, events, and cures for global pandemics with household products is impressive.

-All politicians are immoral and the record of Trump’s lies is but one example.

-The rate at which our current president lies indicates that he is an inappropriate choice to lead the Free World.

Etc., etc.

Had Mr. “Bbbbbbut Biden!!!! Aghhh the Dems!!!!!” asked, if he’s Right-leaning, he can respond with something that makes sense.

If Mr. “Trump lies!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Follows up with “what do you mean by that?” to the creator of the non-sequitur, he could let him know that Mr. Biden’s record of truth and lies is a different argument altogether. And, “hey, if you want, we can talk about that — in another thread…” might be the follow-up to that.

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“What do you mean by that?” (Patent pending) is also useful as a response to

-racist/sexist/demeaning/offensive/classless “jokes”

-Ad Hominem attacks

-condescending comments

-a Red Herring (if you can catch it)

-someone clearly uninformed or misinformed on a topic

I wish I remembered to use “What do you mean by that?” more often. I’ll smile if I see you use it in the future. 💛

I’m Off Duty Mom and this is my Masterclass.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Argue Better: Lesson #6

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So, like, what does it mean to be “right” about something?

We’ve been taking a look at formal arguments, how to avoid flawed reasoning, and how to respond to illogical remarks. But, LOGIC isn’t the only means by which something can be right or wrong. People can argue about morality, religion, politics, ethics, and other concepts where “right” and “wrong” might depend on how you look at things, where you’re from, or any one of a bazillion factors.

It is possible for both opposing parties in an argument, or even multiple parties in an argument, to be “right,” if we’re willing to accept that the word “right” doesn’t always have a clear and singular definition.

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Think about this question: If Jesus went to the US polls in November of 2016, which candidate would He have voted for in the Presidential race?

Trick question. There isn’t a right answer to this. At least there isn’t in the technical sense. So, here is where we get back to that idea that nobody cares about your opinion. You can like or dislike a candidate, you can have personal feelings about politics in general. You can call the Bible the ultimate guide to life, or refer to it all as Christian Mythology. But, that hypothetical question about who gets Jesus’ vote? All you can do there is assess WHY your answer might be what it is.

Part of the problem with healthy debate comes from two opposing sides who try to prove that the other is wrong. But, “wrong” is subjective and neither side is willing to dig into WHY it takes the stance it does. And this is where discourse devolves into a fight.

Instead, you really have to take your personal beliefs out of the equation. When you don’t, you end up with an even worse relationship with your discussion partner than when you started. If I used my belief that cats are all demonic furmonsters, but you loooove cats with all of their fuzzy snuggliness, for example, we might as well just not talk. My “opinion” is irrelevant. And we’ll get nowhere.

And, I might add, that my personal experiences are also irrelevant. I might have had nothing but bad experiences with scratchy, hissy, allergy-inducing cat devils, but my experience is proof of nothing. I can talk about it, but what would it prove? Could I get you to care or change your mind? Would any amount of my sneezing convince you to kick out Mr. Flooferton and go get a goldfish?

This is one reason why climate change, racism, the #MeToo movement, healthcare, college tuition, and so many hot-button social and political issues are so disputed. People have vastly different personal experiences and far too many of those people are using those experiences as proof or justification for their arguments. But, climate change can be a thing whether or not you’re personally hot or cold right now. Racism can exist even if you have “a Black friend” or you have not personally witnessed, experienced or perpetrated it.

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So, our arguments with one another have to stop being about trying to convince someone of what is RIGHT. That will never mean the same thing to everyone. You can’t convince someone that your version of right-ness is best. Instead, these conversations should be centered around how to solve problems, how to work together instead of against one another, and how to leave this planet better than how we found it. Often, arguments, unlike fights, are about listening as much as they are about contributing.

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—-“It isn’t right for people to loot and destroy businesses in their own community.”

—-“But, it isn’t right for the community to stay silent as it’s citizens needlessly die.”

—-“But it isn’t right to violently riot and fight with police because they risk their lives on the job to protect us.”

—-“But it isn’t right for someone to be killed by a police officer due to direct force, especially when he’s been subdued and the potential threat against that officer is no longer existent.”

->None of those above people will ever persuade any of the others if they stick with this “right” line of debate.

Instead the conversation should shift to (and YOU can be the one to shift it!!!):

“What would it look like to have a truly safe community where everyone would live without fear of dying OR being looted?”

“What steps should be taken so that police officers can be more prepared for high-pressure situations without bringing harm to other human beings?”

“How can we utilize the system as it is to leverage better results for crimes both real and alleged?”

“How can we make our neighborhood one where law enforcement has positive interactions with the citizens and the citizens are respectful of the officers’ service to them?”

“Without pointing fingers or assigning blame for past problems, how can all have more peace?”

That’s just a start…

Thanks, y’all. Hope you’ve enjoyed my Masterclass. 😉

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Lesson #5

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We want the same things.

Fundamentally, there are some basic things we all agree on (ya know, for the most part). Like, I think we all agree that breathing is nice. And the world can be a better place. No matter your disagreement, there’s always common ground you can find.

In this lesson, I’m going to assume you’re in an argument in its academic sense.

Generally, that’s the perspective for all of the lessons: showing you how to use the power of persuasion. If you’re just shootin’ the breeze about who the best 80s hair metal band is or why cats are better than dogs (they are not, I beg your pardon and thank you very much), seek advice elsewhere.

I’m talking about how to discuss reproductive rights with THAT aunt of yours at Thanksgiving, or how to be taken seriously in a conference room where you’re trying to convince your coworkers that your idea for that new account is the best idea, or how to help someone who has an “opinion” on Black Lives Matter see the error of their ways.

You start with common ground. What is accepted by both sides?

Aristotle is considered the the granddaddy of Rhetoric. His favorite type of spoken rhetoric was called “Deliberative” rhetoric (sometimes called “Deliberative Oratory” when used in speeches).

Deliberative rhetoric focuses on the future. So, you use future-tense verbs as much as you can.

If you dwelled on the past or focused mostly on what has been, the focus is usually to find blame. When we look at an issue, let’s say…institutional racism, we might be inclined to argue about the past. But, statements or claims like “MY family never owned slaves” or “What about all of that black-on-black crime that keeps happening?!?!?!” don’t do anything but antagonize.

When you speak in the present tense, you’re complaining or praising. Examples of this might include that “Many Secret Service Agents [are] just waiting for action” when daring protestors to get nearer to you. Or, another example might be saying, “Laziness is a trait in Blacks” (yep. You read that right. But to be fair, if you did, indeed, say that and a disgruntled and only semi-credible former employee published it in a tell-all book, it would be an example of Demonstrative rhetoric).

Present tense speaking is great for a commencement address or a commendation. But, the biggest problem with it, Aristotle found, was that Demonstrative rhetoric was divisive. It puts people in categories. Consider the difference between the statements “You are an American” versus “You were an American.” Present tense debate is values based: who are you, what do you stand for, how do you identify right here and now?

Future tense verbs used in a discussion make the conversation about problem-solving.

PAST TENSE: Judicial rhetoric (sometimes also called Forensic rhetoric: it’s the language of lawyers and detectives)

—What happened?

—Who did this?

—Who is to blame or praise for what’s been done?

PRESENT TENSE: Demonstrative rhetoric (sometimes also called Epideictic rhetoric: it’s the language of award presenters, pastors, motivational speakers, and supremacists)

—Who are we?

—What makes you one of us?

—What are our ideals?

—What good or bad qualities to you/we have?

FUTURE TENSE: Deliberative rhetoric: it’s the language of peacemakers, policy writers, problem solvers, leaders, and decision makers

—What can we do about this?

—How should we solve our problems?

—Where are we heading?

You can control the direction of your argument by shifting the verb tense. Consider this:

Person A: “Life starts at conception (present tense). Women who’ve had abortions are evil.” (there’s a little past and a little present tense there)

Person B: “I have rights guaranteed as a result of Roe v. Wade. (a little past and present tense)

Person C: We all can agree, though, that we like personal liberties and we’d like to see better healthcare and fewer lives lost in general in the future, right?”

***FUTURE TENSE

Person C shifted the argument to be about something other than when life begins or whether women’s bodies are appropriate to legislate. Person C is finding a platform where BOTH sides can look at how to work toward a shared vision. Maybe both sides can agree to advocate for better sex education, more access to contraceptives, better support systems for young and poor and scared pregnant girls, extensions to Head Start programs, stricter laws on men who abandon their families, or longer and harsher sentences for rapists who attack women behind dumpsters and serve only a few months’ sentence because they’re good swimmers who are blond white boys.

So, there’s my advice. When you go to visit Grandma Helga this summer and you just know she’s going to be all “destroying property and rioting is for hoodlums and thugs,” you can retort with something like, “well, Grandma, sure. Neither of us wants people to lose their livelihoods, so what should be done to make sure what triggered these riots, Black men too often dying in police custody, doesn’t keep happening? If we can think of solutions to end police brutality, we’d also stop those riots and demonstrations.”

I’m honored you’ve attended my Masterclass. 😄

#thanksforcimingtomytedtalk

Be a Better Arguer, Lesson #4

If you’re new here, welcome. And, also, where have you been? Took ya long enough…

But, if, indeed, you are new here, let me catch you up:

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I’m a teacher by trade and a mom by choice. Both of these jobs are hard and I write on this here little corner of the internet about navigating the world of adulthood. Mostly, my niche is in motherhood, feminism, pop culture, and being irritable. But, I also help make the world a much better place by bringing my job skills to you, free of charge.

In 2020, I was forced from my beloved classroom due to the pandemic and I became VERY lonely with nobody to teach stuff to. My kids are getting older and think I’m sooo embarrassing and don’t want to talk with me –let alone LEARN from me– if they can help it. And, my students who are expected to sit and learn stuff from me were all different kinds of missing, disengaged, lost, and asleep on Zoom with their cameras off just pretending to attend virtual class.

So, I started sharing some insight about how to use rhetoric and argumentative skills to be a better speaker, arguer, and internet citizen. What follows here is the fourth in a series of lessons on how to be good at arguing with other people. If you’ve missed the first three, please hit the rewind button and go check them out.

How do you know when you can trust a source? If you’re looking to draw your own conclusion on a debatable topic, where can you go for reliable information?

If this were really a class, it would take waaaaay longer than just this post to give this topic it’s fair due. But, we ain’t got that kind of time, so here’s the quick and dirty version:

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First of all, let me be clear: as someone who is in a constant state of her own learning and who is a veteran in the study and teaching of argumentative writing, I have to tell you that

1. The media is NOT the enemy of the people, and

2. “Alternative facts” aren’t a thing. Those are called “lies.”

Let’s start with the media. This is where most of us are going to get our day-to-day fuel for our argument fires. More specifically, most of us are going to get our information from online media sources. And, you likely already know this, but, they’re not all created equal.

As far as news sources go, most American sources will lean at least a little either left or right. But, your goal is to determine which of those sources, despite loyalties to any ideologies, presents information in a means that is as unbiased as possible. If you’re really looking to confirm your position, may I suggest looking BOTH at a slightly left and a slightly right news organization to compare their presentations of the same stories? Attached to this post is a link to what news sources have been determined to be more or less impartial. If you’re looking for a go-to organization who gets about as close the reporting facts without spin, I recommend Reuters and the Associated Press.

There are some other sources that do a pretty consistent job of providing centered news, too. Generally, PBS has a history of balanced published information, and, believe it or not, one of the most even-handed handlers of information is The Christian Science Monitor. Don’t let the name fool you. They’re named as such purposely to be transparent about who pays their bills, but both left-leaning and right-leaning media experts agree that they do a damn good job of being fair.

Let’s now think about some more general advice I can give you. Here’s a short list:

1. Stay in the “news” section of a site, even if you’re looking at media sources that are traditionally a little less-than-center. If the information is from Features, Opinions, Lifestyle, etc., back away.

2. Check to see that your source cited sources. You know how any good argument has data and commentary? (See Lesson #3, if not) Well, news outlets are at their most credible when they, too have data, interviews from industry experts, references to polls, studies, and so on and so forth. If the writer’s “voice” is the only one presented in the article, that’s no bueno.

3. Check to see if the information is recent. What “recent” is depends on the subject matter. Science, medicine and politics, for example, can change fairly quickly.

4. Consider PRIMARY SOURCES first and trust them most. Primary sources are from “the horse’s mouth.” They are the words of the people closest to the story. The information, in other words, comes from the people, place, and time that is the same as the story/event/issue itself. So, Anne Frank’s diary in an article about hiding from Nazis would be a primary source, for example.

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Okay. That’s enough for this quick crash course on media trustworthiness. Let’s quickly tackle “Alternative Facts.”

Coined by Kellyanne Conway when she explained on-camera why Sean Spicer’s claims about the number of people at President Trump’s inauguration were different than anyone else’s account of that event, “Alternative Facts” as a concept was borne out of desperation. But, here’s the deal: there’s only one set of facts. But, there can be different reads of those facts. And one perspective of or interpretation of the facts is not necessarily more “right” than another, so long as an arguer is using good sources for those facts and the conclusions he or she draws are fully LOGICAL. Y’all, “logic” is, like, an entire upper-level college course and you have to talk about Aristotle and Cicero and stuff and I’m not qualified to go beyond what I’ve got here for ya. But, mostly, just ask yourself: does my opponent’s line or reasoning make sense? If not, ask for clarification, support, or a rephrasing. Ask yourself, too: does MY line of reasoning make sense? Can I prove it? If so, cool beans.

Man, I need to come back to this topic and give it an upgrade with more detail later. But, don’t complain. I’m just some lady on the internet. I’m not a machine, people!!!

And, as always, this has been my Masterclass, you know, sort of.

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time? I don’t know. Maybe how to nicely tell someone off online? Maybe how to respond to gaslighting? How to debate with someone who is on a different plane of reality? (Hint: you don’t)

I’ll surprise you.

Be A Better Arguer: Lesson #3

“I read somewhere…”

“Studies show…”

“I’ve heard from reputable sources…”

“They say that…”

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Ahhh… the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority.”

This is a logical fallacy (definition: a flaw in the structure or line of reasoning in an argument that renders it invalid). It’s probably the one I see most commonly on social media…where all the “experts” (wink*wink) are.

People on the internet always have opinions, don’t they? But, see, most people are using that word wrong. An opinion, in its truest sense, is an idea based on an appraisal of available circumstances or data. I mean, anyone can have an opinion in the sense that they can have likes, dislikes, faith, beliefs, or interests. But if you want to be in an ARGUMENT, an “opinion” is different and you just gotta have some sources, proof, evidence…ya know…stuff that isn’t just randomness from your own head.

Here’s what to do when faced with someone whose argument is invalid because of the use of the “Appeal to Anonymous Authority” fallacy:

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1. You fight facts with facts. You fight “opinions” with…facts.

To have a quality, reasonable, logical argument, you need to have evidence or data to support your claim(s). Data/evidence can exist in several forms including, but not limited to:

—numbers,charts, graphs, and figures from recognized experts in the field most relevant to the issue at hand

—conclusions, studies, and opinions (in the true sense of the word) from experts in the field (even better is when you can find the same conclusions drawn by multiple experts).

—quotes from reputable news organizations and written by reputable writers (click on the name of a journalist on any article – you’ll be taken to their credentials. If there’s no writer listed, run away. If there are no credentials listed, run away.)

—scientific studies that are peer-reviewed

2. Comment reasonably and intelligently on your data.

Don’t merely provide a list of facts. Explain simply and clearly HOW those facts support your claim. This is actually tougher than it sounds. I consider myself lucky if I can get 75% of my students (who avidly study and practice this) to write good commentary. But, really, if you don’t connect the dots, clarifying what you suggest the data you’ve presented shows about the claim you’ve made, you’re just listing facts. Lists don’t persuade. They bore.

3. Evaluate the potential holes in or objections to your argument. How would a good arguer respond to my words?

If you can think objectively about defense, you can build a stronger offense. This, in turn, can shorten the duration of the argument as a whole and can make it clear that you just may be the only one who came truly ready to play. However, upon presenting a well-researched, supported point of view that’s pretty failsafe, you might be met with an attack on your intelligence, looks, age, etc. That’s another logical fallacy: the ad hominem attack that I covered in an earlier post. Sometimes people just feel the need to have the last word and, “bite me, donkey face” can feel better to them than letting your claims rest without retort.

So, come to an argument armed with facts, science, expert opinions, news sources, and support. And, most importantly, stay calm, stay on-topic, and keep it classy.

You’ve become so much smarter already from my Masterclass, haven’t you? 🤪

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next time: “No, Becky, ‘The Onion’ is not a Reputable News Source,” or, “How to Bring Good Data to the Argument”

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I Taught During a Pandemic and Then I Ranted About Shit on the Internet

If you’re joining our program already in progress, let me catch you up…

“Off Duty Mom” refers to being a mom who is tired all the time and thus needing to go “off duty” every now and again. It also makes a reference to what I do when I am “on duty” in the sense that I am getting paid to put up with children. I’m a teacher. I taught during the pandemic. I didn’t love it.

When the pandemic forced us out of schools in 2020, I started blowin’ people’s minds on the interwebs via my personal Facebook account. I started handing out free lessons about how to better argue with people since I wasn’t able to teach that content in school, ‘cuz, like, there kinda wasn’t really school at the time.

This is the second lesson in a series I published starting in May of 2020. It is republished here for your viewing and learning pleasure…

Enjoy.

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Lesson #2

The ad hominem attack

The phrase “ad hominem” translates to “to the man.” When someone attacks you personally, rather than addressing your position, that’s an ad hominem attack. Weak arguers use this logical fallacy mostly because they:

#1 hope to hurt or anger you, or

#2 can’t sufficiently argue against your points.

If you’ve been called “snowflake,” “boomer,” “sheep/sheeple,” etc., your opponent has shown his cards: he’s got nothin’.

These attacks can get even more personal depending on age, race, sexuality, gender, religion, and so on.

Yesterday, in response to a dumb joke I made on a friend’s Facebook page, I was called “sweetheart.” Sometimes terms like these (honey, sweetie, etc) are flung at women perhaps- and I don’t really know for sure- because if we can infantilize a woman, she’ll be put “back in her place.” The issues will be left to the big boys. Silly girls thinking they can say words. Haha.

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Another example might be tweeting about a group of people calling them “THUGS.” This word is racially-charged. Culturally, this term has come to mean “Black men who…cause trouble…mostly by wearing hoodies and…looking SUSPICIOUS.” Other racially-charged words (aside from the obvious) might include “homie,” “brother,” and even “boy” which again, historically was/is used to keep someone “in his place.” A “boy” is not a MAN, after all, and “man,” in a weak debate, is the highest life form (according to those who resort to these kinds of tactics).

Slurs, name-calling, and other personal attacks are attempts to suggest that you are weaker, less-than, or too stupid, too uneducated, too uninformed, or too ignorant to be worthy of speaking to the person slinging the insults.

A word doesn’t have to be a slur to be a demeaning ad hominem attack, either. Consider name-calling and “jokes” meant to poke “fun” at stereotypes: Asian drivers, Rural “hillbillies,” etc., as examples. Unless you’re arguing about whether or not Asian people are good drivers (and don’t argue that, come on), bringing a cultural stereotype into the mix is irrelevant and useless.

Look — this guy is smiling. I’m going to call him “Sam.” Sam looks like he’s enjoying being on the internet. Sam is probably being very nice to people online. You should be like Sam.
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What to do about it?

1. Do NOT play their game. If you’ve been attacked personally, rather than your opponent pointing out flaws in your argument, don’t respond in-kind. He’s dragged you down to his level and then you’re fighting instead of arguing if you do. Don’t just make an insult-fest.

2. Know that if someone has gone this direction, they’re either out of things to say that are valid or are more concerned with hurting your feeling than with having a dialogue. It may be best to walk away. This might prompt more name-calling, but remember how Marty McFly’s responses to being called “chicken” didn’t turn out well. Learn from Marty’s mistakes.

3. Realize that bullying and being a general meatball aren’t, you know, GOOD things. So, resist the urge to escalate the situation. Do not threaten to go to the guy’s house and punch him in the throat. This makes you MORE wrong now. Once you become the bad guy, that’s pretty hard to reverse. And, now you’ve lost credibility. Either go back to your point, calmly, or end the interaction.

In the end, pity the man* who has nothing to offer to the world or to your discussion other than insults. And rest comfortably in the knowledge that you’re better than that.

Thanks for your attention to my Masterclass. 😋

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next topic: when your opponent has no sources, just “opinions”…

*”man” used generically in reference to mankind. Don’t come at me with your “you’re a reverse sexist” bulldoodoo.

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher: Let’s Learn How To Argue

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Lesson #1: The Red Herring

In any debate of ideas, it’s necessary to stay on-topic, otherwise you’ll never get to any understanding whatsoever. A tactic sometimes used by individuals in an argument is to shift the subject matter in an attempt to make the argument easier on them. The Red Herring logical fallacy happens when one debater mentions an idea, then the opponent pivots in an attempt to make that argument about something else.

It’s flawed logic (well, really it isn’t logic at all) and it’s a sign of a weak position.

For example, leading up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump, in a televised debate with Hillary Clinton, was asked about the statements he’d made that were caught on tape. When moderator, Anderson Cooper, asked if Mr. Trump understood that his comments about grabbing women’s genitals were comments about sexual assault, Mr. Trump first said that it was “locker room talk,” but then said that he was going to defeat ISIS. “Defeating ISIS” was off-topic. It’s a pivot away from one idea to an idea the speaker would rather discuss.

When this happens, if you’d like to respond, you need to insist that the conversation pivot back to the issue at hand. Do NOT begin discussing ISIS in this case.

OMG. I searched the word “idiot” on Unsplash for an image to use in this article, and this came up. I am NOT making this up.
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Here are a few things you could try:

1. Play the “I’m just innocently trying to learn” game. —- “I’m confused, but interested in your thoughts. So, does this all mean you do or you do not understand that you were bragging about sexual assault?”

2. Find common ground and let your opponent win just a little—- “I agree that ISIS is a very big concern, but I would still like to know if you understand that your comments were about sexual assault.”

3. Play dumb (this one works particularly well if you’re already being spoken to as though you are actually an idiot)—- “Hmm… I don’t understand. When asked about sexual assault, how does defeating ISIS figure in to that? I’m so silly. I don’t get it. Haha.”

4. This is dangerous territory and I don’t necessarily recommend it because it may lead to a fight rather than and argument, but call the speaker out—- “Excuse me, sir, but I think we’ve gotten off-topic here. Let’s get back to the question of whether you understood your words to be about sexual assault or not.” *note the use of “we” since there are two people in the debate. Sure YOU didn’t go off-topic, but “we” is gentler when we’re trying to have a rational and civil discussion.

This is my Masterclass (my version of it, anyway, but mine’s FREE, y’all!). 🤣

This “Masterclass” I built was the product of my weariness from missing my “on duty” job as an English teacher in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic ripped our profession from us. Check back soon for more!

#thanksforcomingtomytedtalk

Next up: when someone makes an argument personal…

Reflections From a Pandemic Teacher

In March of 2020, you may or may not have heard, a global pandemic made its way to the US and pretty much upended, well, everything.

Within a few months, my life as a teacher was completely unrecognizable from anything it had been in the years prior. In this time, I missed the world as it had been. I think a whole lot of us felt the same way.

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When I am “off duty” as a mom, I’ve mentioned that my “on duty” work is as an English teacher. When I found myself missing that work in May of 2020, I wrote some thoughts on social media. I’ll share them with you in the coming days.

What follows is the first in a series of posts I did then where I attempted to soothe my teacher pain by droppin’ knowledge to my friends. It occurred to me, though, that this information might be useful and welcome for other folks, too, so…here you go…

FROM May 29, 2020:

I’m a teacher. I teach a few different courses, two of which are Debate and a course in argumentation and rhetoric. We’re doing this distance-learning thing and I miss being with my students. So, I thought I’d offer you all some lessons to help me feel as though I’m doing more good in the world than I’ve been able to in these trying times.

On social media, you might see someone write about a crazy idea and then claim something like, “well, that’s just my opinion,” or, “this is a free country and I can say what I want.”

I teach my students that you are NOT entitled to your own opinion. Nobody cares what you think. Like, at all. Maybe, if you were an expert in the field about which you speak, we’d love to hear from you. But even then, you have a burden to bear. Your responsibility in any dialogue is not to have an unwarranted opinion, but to have CONCLUSIONS you’ve drawn after careful consideration of sources, relevant experiences, study, and fact-checking. So, welcome to my MASTERCLASS. 😋

I’ll be showing you, in some upcoming posts, how to argue with others effectively.

Lesson #1 “argument” and “fight” are not synonyms. You fight to win. You argue to come to an understanding. Next lesson: what to do when someone isn’t responding to your views with relevant counterpoints. Stay tuned.

#thankyouforcomingtomytedtalk

Bleeding Out

When I decided to go by “Off Duty Mom,” it was through inspiration from my own mom who, in the evenings of my childhood, would sometimes pick up a book and lie in bed in an attempt to have just a bit of time to herself, declaring that she was “off duty.” As an adult, once I had children of my own, I realized the importance for moms to go “off duty” every now and then.

When not on duty as a mom, I’ve spent a few decades as a high school English teacher. There were days when I didn’t know which job — mom or teacher — was more rewarding, exhausting, frustrating, illuminating, and/or indicative of my very identity. Both jobs have had their ups and downs.

You may have heard through sources such as The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Washington Post, and, you know, everyone you personally know in education right now, that teachers are quitting in astronomical numbers. And, they’re not just quitting their jobs, but they’re quitting the entire profession and giving up on years of training, years of dreaming, and years of just KNOWING that being an educator was their “calling.” Something is happening and it is bad, people.

I first realized that my own mental health was in decline just before the pandemic forced me out of my classroom. I remember a conversation I had with an assistant principal where she and I talked off-the-record about morale being low in our building. This is something that can just “happen” from time to time, though, so at this point, the very fact that she just sort of listened to me, heard my concerns about general dissatisfaction, and tried to be supportive was enough for me. But then a dear friend and colleague of mine quit — perhaps not suddenly, but it did unfold fairly quickly — and on that very last day of his, my administrators came over our PA system to let us know that we ought to take our work home with us over the weekend of March 14, 2020 since schools would be closed come Monday.

As schools closed that spring, many districts across the country took vastly different approaches to how they’d handle serving their communities. “Fairness” was an issue of particular concern for a whole lot of schools all over, especially when it came to taking care of the needs of Special Education students. Some schools realized that Zoom-learning wouldn’t really allow for Individualized Education Programs to be met fully which can violate federal law, so that was pretty bad. In order to have “equity” or “fairness” for all students, some schools chose to push through and go all “CDC-be-damned” and stuff to stay open despite, like, several million people dying. Others decided to educate NOBODY because that, too, was “fair” in that everyone was being equally shafted.

During the multiple months that followed, this “fairness” and “equity” remained pretty buzzy. It isn’t for no reason, either. Teachers had a glimpse into students’ home lives and realized that tons of stuff we never even realized was happening behind those closed doors was causing barriers to student learning. Some kids showed up to classes online with their younger siblings on their laps, being primary caregivers AND full time students at once. Some teachers saw a variety of conditions of homes, relationships, boundaries (or lack thereof), supplies, wi-fi reliability, noise levels, and all kinds of trauma-in-the-making. Some kids went fully MIA for the entirety of the time of remote learning. One parent came to an online meeting regarding her son’s pending failure of a course that was a graduation requirement for him while she was actively moving a table from one room of her house to another — huffing and puffing and screaming at her family members while (sort of) talking with me about whether her child was going to get a diploma or not.

The truth was that kids were dealing with all kinds of shit and teachers had a front-row seat. Of course, teachers themselves also had more than they’d signed up for on their own plates. We had to reinvent our entire profession from scratch, learn technology new to most of us, and figure out how to do the non-academic parts of our job with pretty much no help from anyone. Who could even help if they wanted to, anyway?

Things were NOT “equitable” for kids. They had all kinds of levels of support, love, affection, kindness, peace, responsibility, expectation, money, and ability. We always knew this, but it was another thing to witness it.

What happened was that expectations for school systems rose and accountability for students fell. The general consensus was that kids’ differences in preparedness for school wasn’t their “fault” (and it, indeed was not), so we, as a system, had to level the playing field for them. Makes sense on paper. But, of course, the root issues causing these unfair circumstances weren’t going to change for the better and we weren’t attempting to (or able to) fix any of that, anyway. The only thing we could do was “do better” for kids.

I do NOT disagree that “doing better for kids” is both warranted and vital. But, it certainly is stressful.

Art installation titled “Can’t Help Myself” by Chinese artists, Sun Yuan and Peng Yu

Have you ever seen that art installation of the dying robot? Well, there was this robot that constantly leaked hydraulic fluid and was programmed to sweep it up to return to its own system. At first, as the story goes, the fluid leaked at a rate that was manageable for it to contain and return to itself. Over time, though, the moments of “rest” for the robot became fewer and farther between and it was eventually in a situation where it did nothing but clean up this leak literally at all times. The leak was never fixed. It just kept cleaning up, over and over, never able to stop the root cause but instead just in a perpetual cycle of futile efforts to save its own life.

That robot “died” after the spills and loss of fluid became greater than its physical ability to clean up the mess and carry on. I had heard later that the irony of it all was that it wasn’t even a hydraulically-powered machine. Though it was programmed to “believe” that it had to perform this task to save itself, it actually never needed the leaking fluid in the first place. And yet, it died anyway.

Such is the state of education.

When does stress just become unbearable?

I’ve heard the saying, of course, that you “can’t pour from an empty cup” and so, I’ve decided to take a brief hiatus from teaching. Attempting to sweep up all of my leaking hydraulic fluid has left me exhausted and physically unwell. I’ve had heart palpitations. Depression. Anxiety. Stomach all tied up in knots. Sleeping too much. Trouble sleeping at all. I’m on 6 different medications a day like an old lady and half of them are for issues related to stress. So, I get it. That mass exodus of teachers: I get it.

The system is bleeding out. Hemorrhaging, even. And, there are underpaid, undervalued people who are working to stanch that flow every day. In return for their efforts, they are asked to do more: improve test scores, attend more meetings that could have been emails, close the racial performance gap, provide trauma support, get yelled at by parents, have the public refer to them as “glorified babysitters,” shift effortlessly between online learning and in-person as needed, wear masks, get tested, get vaccinated, break up violent fights, prepare for a mass shooting at their workplace, differentiate instruction so that each individual student gets a unique and tailored educational experience, do paperwork nobody reads, give standardized tests, and, well, you know, I am just tired of listing things so I have to stop.

I might add, though, that to the other teacher-moms out there: I know that being a mother is also unforgiving, thankless, and just damn hard, too. And it is hard in ways nobody ever told you about. I mean, we all knew there’d be diapers. But, when you have to deal with bullying, or mental health problems in your kids, or talking about sex and consent, or online predators — well, that was just not what I was thinking about when I was pregnant and people were all, “It’s hard but you’ll love it!” I do NOT enjoy worrying about an adult pretending to be a 13-year old girl to get a kid to meet him “IRL.” Give me a thousand diapers instead, actually.

What’s the moral to the story here? Hell if I know. I wish I had a perky call-to-action to end this rant. Or, a positive “however” statement to make here. I do not.

How many more empty teacher desks will it take before crisis truly sets in?

The world is changing. I guess that’s all there is to it.

If you’d like to read more about this nationwide teacher crisis, here are a few articles you might want to check out:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2021/10/18/teachers-resign-pandemic/

https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/teachers-are-not-ok-even-though-we-need-them-to-be/2021/09

https://www.forbes.com/sites/markcperna/2022/01/04/why-education-is-about-to-reach-a-crisis-of-epic-proportions/?sh=fcd302178c7b

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2022-01-06/more-teachers-than-ever-are-considering-leaving-the-profession

https://www.wsj.com/articles/teachers-are-quitting-and-companies-are-hot-to-hire-them-11643634181

https://www.forbes.com/sites/petergreene/2019/09/05/we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-teacher-shortage/?sh=472c6924494c

https://thejournal.com/articles/2022/01/19/survey-finds-teacher-shortage-exacerbated-by-bans-on-classroom-discussions-of-race-and-gender.aspx

The Penis: Mightier Than the Sword

I feel as though we live in a culture of “I Want.”

Because “I” want, then I steal, I cheat, I antagonize, I rape, I fight, I bully, I kill, I throw a temper tantrum, I oppress, I hate, I flee, I yell, I abuse, disown, I hurt and I neglect.

Today, I decided that everyone pretty much sucks.

At work, we had a faculty meeting. Teachers totally love those. The only things we love more are professional development sessions and parents who claim that they pay our salaries.

At this meeting a colleague stood up and told a long story about how she had overheard some other teachers
talking badly in the hallway about a student, but, you know, “I’m not gonna name any names.”

Fuck you and your motherfucking passive aggressive bullshit. If you have a problem with an adult colleague, you act like an adult and approach that colleague as if you were an adult.

Also today, a parent demanded to meet with me so I could explain why his son was crying last night over his falling grade in my class. Dude, the fact that your son sleeps in class, refuses to do homework and actively opts out of all class work, indeed, might just be my fault. I mean, most things are. Totally. Let’s meet about it.

Also today, only 60% of my students (high school freshmen) came to class prepared to do the presentations they have been working on for 5 weeks. One even looked at me and said, “What are we supposed to do if we are not done yet?”

Please tell me how you would have answered that question. My own answer was sarcastic and a little pissy.

Also today, a core group of my colleagues were excused from our dreadful faculty meeting so they could meet privately about a course that was being mismanaged and has been, frankly, an embarrassment to our school. I was not permitted to leave this meeting to talk with our guidance counselor about devising a plan to provide homebound instruction for a student who is recovering from a virally-induced heart failure.

Next time I want special treatment, I will be sure to screw up at something first since apparently an acceptable excuse for leaving a meeting is “‘cuz I gotta clean up this shitstorm I caused.”

And finally, today, I found out that I got edged out for some professional perks I had been vying for by a teacher with less experience and who isn’t even fully qualified to receive these benefits.

Fuck me.

And there it is. That’s what I said to myself, “Fuck me.”

In that moment, everything shifted. My worldview cleared like those Claritin commercials.

Why is something that gets “fucked” a recipient, often of aggression or violence? To get “fucked” or even “fucked up” or “fucked over” is to be duped, shamed, victimized or beaten.

If Tupac says, “I fucked your bitch, you fat motherfucker,” it is an insult because it is supposed to be emasculating to the owner of the “bitch.” The woman in the scenario is just an object or receptacle to accept the “fuck.” Very rarely do you hear a woman say that she fucked a man, suggesting that she had asserted her dominance over him. Actually, I don’t know if I have ever heard that.

And here I am. I ponder what it means to be in the world of “I Want.”

“I want to dominate.”

“I want to degrade.”

“I want to show you I am better than you are.”

“I want to do whatever the hell I want.”

“I want to insult.”

“I want to have power– take power– assert power.”

“I want you to know you are beneath me and that I will fuck you, fuck you up, fuck you over, or fuck this shit until I prove it.”

If a penis (real or metaphorical) can do all of this, then indeed..

The penis: mightier than the sword.

Things I Can’t Tell You

I am an English teacher in an urban school with a diverse population of students who are, for the most part, really terrific.  I love my job even though I have been known to complain.  But, I complain because, you know, it’s WORK and that sometimes just sucks because it is, you know, WORK.

I am a mom, too.  This should come to no surprise to you, the person who is reading an entry on a blog titled “Off Duty Mom.”

But, my kids are still pretty small.  My oldest is in Kindergarten.  So, while I work daily (and have for hmfhmghph years) with teenagers (and, yes, actually enjoy the company of teenagers), I haven’t had the privilege yet of raising any teens of my own.

And, you’d be surprised the shit I hear as your teenager’s English teacher.  You’d be disgusted, embarrassed, shocked, terrified, enraged, and/or more than mildly amused at the things I both overhear and am told absolutely directly.

Here are just a few of the things I have dealt with in my time in this line of work:

*A sophomore student was once so high, she couldn’t spell her own name right.  I sent her to the nurse since that is our protocol when we suspect drug use.  She was back in my classroom a few minutes later because the nurse could not determine the cause of the student’s unusual behavior.  She then bragged (supposedly) out of my earshot about how much weed she had run through that morning.

*A group of 18-year old students had never heard of the Beatles.  Or Tupac.

*Last week I tried to get a 14-year old male student to stop cutting himself.  Last Thursday, he e-mailed me at 12:30 am apologizing for not being able to keep this promise.  He was treated at a nearby hospital for his self-inflicted injuries.

*For the past two months, a 9th grade boy I know who is a fabulously top-notch student has been dating one of the worst human beings imaginable.  He is an athlete, he’s well-liked, he is a straight-A student.  He is articulate and personable and handsome.  His girlfriend and her mother have been taken to court twice for the girl’s truancy.  She has failed every single one of her classes every quarter since the beginning of the year.  When she is in school, she does very little actual work and mostly just casts her head downward, looking at teachers and classmates above imaginary glasses the way a Bond villain might.  I can’t tell this boy’s mother that his girlfriend is a bad influence because this would be considered inappropriate and a breach of the girl’s confidentiality.

*A Freshman boy asked me why everyone was so sad in the 20th century.  He was referring to the Great Depression, I figured out from talking with him for a few minutes.

*A 15-year old boy today just proudly announced that he was off his ADD meds.  The class looked at him, puzzled.  He, I think, was hoping for applause.

*A 16-year old boy has been confiding in me for months that his alcoholic mother physically abuses him and his father (the parents are separated) steals from him.  Yes, I have notified my superiors.  The boy and his family have been to court.  The courts have found that the boy is in a “safe” environment.  Since the abuse and thefts have started, the boy has been arrested 5 times for lashing out at others violently.  No one gives a shit if I think that this is a behavior he learned from his mother who beats the living crap out of him when she’s on the bottle.

*I suspect that a student of mine is on the Autism spectrum.  I cannot suggest this to her parents as I am not a certified medical practitioner and cannot legally make any determination or even suggestion about her health.  I referred her to a guidance counselor for evaluation, but because the young lady was already being tutored, the parents chalked up her bad grades to a basic need to step up her tutoring and denied any further evaluations.

*A 9th grade student asked me if the book we were reading took place in the time of slavery.  It was set in the 1950s.

*After spending 25 minutes explaining a research paper assignment in class one day, a student raised his hand and then asked me, what are we doing today?  Ummm… WRITING A RESEARCH PAPER?!?!?

*Today a teenage boy wrote his name on a paper to sign up to do a presentation for the class.  He listed only his first name and his last initial.  The “period” used to denote his initial was placed before, not after that letter.

*A senior student who was a “person of interest” in a crime that involved a throat-slashing sat in the front row of my class a few years back.  For legal reasons, my administration was not permitted to let me know that this young man may have been involved in this attempted murder.  When I found out about it from a colleague who had a relative in the police force, I could not share the information with anyone, either.  She was risking her job secretly warning me.

*Three students in my career have “come out” to me privately.  Since they were not a threat to themselves or others, I was not permitted to share this information with their families or friends, but was allowed to share it with the guidance counselor if that seemed appropriate.  She couldn’t share it with their families or friends, either, though.  Ordinarily, I would say that this type of privacy is a necessary thing, but when a mother called me crying about her son needing psychological care, I had to pretend that I knew nothing and couldn’t let her know that he wasn’t likely suffering from a serious disorder, but was simply gay and didn’t know how to talk to her about it.  She had him go through in-patient therapy and the doctors eventually determined that this was, of course, a complete waste of time and energy, as even the boy had insisted.  He wasn’t depressed as she had insisted he was.  His doctor finally “outed” the kid to his mom.  They no longer speak.

*A significantly troubled Autistic teen openly masturbated once in class.  The girl sitting next to him was obviously fairly traumatized.  The other students went through varying degrees of freaking-the-fuck-out depending on how much they saw/heard.  Teachers were not permitted to discuss the situation with the parents of these children other than to tell them that an “incident” had happened and that it was being “handled.”

*A 10th grader did not know that the following countries existed:  Trinidad, Austria, New Zealand and Tibet.

*An 11th grader did not know that Canada was in North America or that Hawaii was a state.

*Most of my students are shocked to learn that I read books before I teach them.  The vast majority are downright shocked when I tell them that I read most books I teach more than once.

*(I think) I talked a 16-year old out of quitting school last week.

*Today a student asked me if the bike I rode as a kid had one giant wheel on the front and a little one in the back.

*There is a student in my school who is severely depressed, but we are not supposed to know about it.  He only showers maybe a few times each month.  If we’re lucky.  We are not supposed to discuss this issue with him or with his family.  We are not supposed to make contact with Social Services.  We can only notify and re-notify our guidance department.

*I suspect a student is dyslexic.  I am not allowed to say that to her parents, though, because my degrees do not include School Psychology or an associated field, nor have I administered any diagnostic exams to suggest that she has a Learning Disability.  I can refer her generically to our Special Education Department and/or our Guidance or Social Work Departments, but if the parent calls me directly and asks me what I think her child’s problem is, I am not allowed to say.

*A parent called me to ask my opinion on a new girl who has been calling and texting her son.  I cannot tell her that this girl is a whore.  No, really.  She was cited for accepting payment in the form of designer accessories for offering blowjobs to fellow students in school.  I have to let this mother fly blind on this one.

 

All of the world’s secrets are safe with me.  Some should be.  Some are awfully damn hard to keep.

What do you think about all of this?

Guest Post

Why I Do Not Think a Five Year Old Should be Labeled ADD

by Rachel Thomas

Our daughter is seven years older than our son and she started out in public school and excelled pretty much all the way through school. She is a very controlled, structured person and not very social because of it. She found that about grade five things were changing, the boys thought the girls had cooties and no longer wanted to play with her,and the girls just wanted to talk about boys and clothes; something she had no desire to do. So she sort of just pulled herself out of the social scene and generally had one friend at a time.

Our son on the other hand was extremely social and because he was customarily around women (his sister, grandmother, and mom) he knew how to treat the girls from the get go. He had a hard time sitting and staying on task and from the time he was in Kindergarten the teacher were telling me they thought he was ADD. Being the parent of only two children, one which was extremely controlled and calm, I had a hard time accepting this. He was a happy, funny, outgoing five year old who made friends easily. He was not a behavioral problem; he just could not sit in one place for too long.

My solution was to put him back in Kindergarten again to see if he would mature enough to be able to sit still but it did not seem to help. Plus the fact that he was in a private school with an accelerated curriculum did not help. The teachers told me he could not keep up and because they were a private school they did not have any programs or after school hours to give him extra help, which frankly puzzled me. I know there is a lot more to it than I am aware of but you would think that if you were paying for a school there would be extra help.

Anyway, I struggled with what to do about the situation. I was determined to get to the bottom of this myself and not just rely on the opinions of the teachers. I, like all parents, loved my son dearly and upon their suggestion of putting him in public school because they have programs and funding for needs such as his I plotted out a course of action. Since we did not have a ton of money I talked to as many learned people as I could and found out ways I could get help. I found that our local university had a program with professors and students studying learning disabilities. I wanted to be sure what we were dealing with so I decided to take him in for testing. It was such a good experience; everyone was so helpful and kind. They tested his eyesight, his hearing, and checked for any learning disabilities; he was six at the time. They told me he did not have any learning disabilities and was brighter than average in many areas.

Next I took him to see a psychologist to check him for ADD/ADHD. He put him through a series of tests and gave us papers with questions for Mom and Dad and teachers to answer about his behavior and abilities. He came out borderline ADD. I decided not to put him on the medications at the time. He stayed in private school through first grade and part of second when I realized he needed much more. In our area we can put our children in any school in the district with permission from the principal if they are not overcrowded or the student does not have behavior problems. We studied the schools in the area and found the one we thought would be best.

They certainly did make way more provisions for him at the public school. They gave him a quiet place to do his work away from the other students when necessary and gave him more time as well if he needed it. The teachers were more than willing to work with us to help. Again, they were sure he had ADD, something I am not sure of to this day but I can see how they would come to this conclusion. I knew how my son worked, how if he did not want to do something he would not do it, and if that comes under the title of ADD then I guess he is. I would be more likely to put it under the title of pig headed and stubborn but what do I know?

The second grade teacher made sure that he was directed to the best third grade teacher. At least she made a recommendation which the principal accepted. The third grade teacher was a jewel, very strict but very loving, which is something my son needed very much! I was actively talking to the teachers all the time and keeping up with what was going on. I wanted to let them know how very important my son was to me. I believe this is so important when it comes to our children and especially so when they are having trouble in school. She told me that she did not want my son to be pigeon holed into special programs and labeled for years to come. They had been sending him to reading specialists and giving him other tests to try and get him into the right special help groups. This third grade teacher knew he was bright, just like I did, and she also knew he was determined not to show it.

They called me into talk about our son and I listened. They wanted to put him in speech therapy for a slight lisp which was fine with me; that could not hurt. And then they told me they wanted him to go to a special reading class during school everyday, which I was assured was not a special education class. I was thrilled with that as well. When any topic came up on special education classes I told them I was not interested and then I brought in my paperwork from the university studies that were done on my son to show them he did not have learning disabilities. That stopped the conversation post haste and because I had his teacher’s support as well they dropped it. That year his grades came up one to two letters in each subject and his reading improved immensely. The extra help in putting him in quiet corners or going to the library in a cubicle to do his testing really helped. The extra reading help and the encouragement from a strong yet loving teacher was another great advantage for my son.

I am not saying that no child anywhere needs ADD medicine; I just do not think it is the end all and be all of answers for every child that can not sit still and does not want to do their work. I would be thrilled if someday they had a different class for boys than they do for girls or one for active kids versus the ones that can sit and be still because all of us learn differently and at different rates of speed.

What I am trying to say is that as parents we should do all that we can to ensure our children are put in the right programs and taught in the most effective way. If we do not get deeply involved they will get lost in the system. I know that we can not all afford expensive testing for our children on our own but I do know that if you do just a little research you can find free testing like I did at the local university. I did use insurance for the psychologist but I am sure there are ways to get a child tested outside of the school system so that you will have all the information to present to those special needs committees that you may be called in front of regarding your child.

Meeting with their teachers and being a participant in their education costs you nothing but time but lets the teachers know how much you care and that you have a desire to help and not let your child get lost in the system. Sometimes this will require a change of schools or it may require home schooling in parts of the country where there are no other options. But as for me my child is worth all the extra work and investigation into alternatives. He is now a young adult and has successfully gotten through high school and has even thanked me for getting him extra help with reading because he is a beautiful reader and feels sorry for those kids who are struggling. But at the same time he gets a bit miffed at me because he graduated at age nineteen because of his two year stint in Kindergarten. He asked me, “What did I do wrong? Put the wrong peg in the wrong hole?” And then he grins and it makes everything all worth while.

 

**Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and currently writes for babysitting.net. She welcomes questions/comments which can be sent to rachelthomas.author@gmail.com.

The People They Interview on the News Have Children

If you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, why the hell not?

good teacherJust kidding.

Sort of.

But, indeed, if you haven’t read everything I have ever posted, you might not know that I am a teacher in my spare time from being a mother.

I engage in the rampant arguing about the worth of the education professions mostly just in my own mind, but I did want to share something for all of the anti-teacher assholes who troll blogs and websites lurking and waiting for the opportunity to fill up precious lines of “reply” spaces spewing hatred and complaints about “overpaid” “babysitters” and worthless union stooges.

I suppose even those of you who are in support of your local (and not-so-local, too) teachers can listen up as well, though.

Everyone loves to talk about whether teachers are worth their salt.  Opinions are like assholes, though, right?  Everybody’s got one.

Instead of opinion, I thought I would offer you some facts.

1.  Two days ago, I attempted to call the parent of a failing 14-year old student in my class.  She didn’t answer and I left a message.  She did return my correspondence, though, just a few minutes later with an e-mail.  She apologized for not being able to get to the phone in time since she was in the “laboratory.”

2.  In a meeting with a parent about her son’s poor behavior in class this fall, the mother smacked her son in the back of his head and told him to “stop be bein’ so ignant.”  I assume she meant “ignorant,” but even then, I could have used that example to prove the same point.

3.  During a field trip, a local businessperson spoke to a group of high school students, but apologized that she wasn’t normally very good at public speaking.  She said that she wasn’t very “ellocant.”

4.  In a meeting with a parent about why it was important to encourage a high school student to read her English assignments at home, the mother argued that the teacher (a colleague of mine) needed to “settle the fuck down” because there was no point of talking about that “Julia Caesar stuff like it was real or somethin’.”

5. At my former job, two parents were once called in to the main office to pick up their children who had been involved in a pretty nasty fight in the hallway.  In the middle of the office, these two mothers (adults, mind you) got into a fistfight of their own.  They were arrested by local police.

6.  At a park a few summers back, I was near enough to a family reunion happening in a pavilion nearby to overhear a group of what seemed like aunts and uncles teaching a 4- or 5-year old boy to say hilarious things like “back the fuck off me, bro” and “don’t be a pussy.”  They laughed raucously (which was the primary reason my attention was pulled in their direction to begin with).

sign7.  When a coworker called home last week to explain that a freshman student would be receiving a referral to our school counselor for masturbating in class, the boy’s mother yelled at the teacher (a coworker of mine) that her son “don’t do dat.”

Sadlly, I could go on.

But, I feel bad about the world right now, so I am not going to.

When I see a child for 42 minutes a day for 188 days in a calendar year, but he is exposed to all of THAT for much of the rest of the time in his home and in his community, I am not sure how to counteract the damage.  It’s like running at an exploding volcano with a sand pail and then having people traipse all over the internet later talking about what a fucking douche you were for not doing “your job” right in cleaning up the mess.

So, if you will excuse me, I need to go put my feet up, collect a giant paycheck and do my nails while your kids play Candy-Pet-Makeover-Farm-Saga on their iPhones until dismissal.

I Don’t Believe in Special Ed.

I have seen (and heard — and smelled) some weird stuff in my day.

Recently, in fact, I saw two people get married on the floor at a Nine Inch Nails concert.  They wore…um…interesting outfits and took their vows just outside of the moshpit.  Or, rather, they took their vows just outside of the area the moshpit would have been had the average age of the current-day NIN fan not been about 40.

Once the nuptials concluded, Trent could proceed with his signature sound that pulses with noise reminiscent of flak jackets, gunmetal and binary code.

216707-anchorman-2-sequel-image-will-ferrellI go places.  I see things.  I have many leather-bound books.

I consider myself fairly worldly.  I mean, I have been to Europe, people.  And, I have two whole gay friends.

Okay, I have one gay friend.

And, I consider myself somewhat educated.  I have a couple of degrees and a bunch of papers that say that this-state-or-that-commonwealth hereby decrees that I am worthy to, like, work and stuff.

Yet, with my vast set of personal experience and wealth of knowledge and worldly understanding, there are still a few things I don’t understand.

My inability to wrap my giant brain around some of these concepts is very possibly going to piss you off.

I am okay with that.

So, here is the deal:

I do not believe in Special Education.

I know.

But, let me explain.

1.  SPECIAL ED MEANS “WE DON’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO WITH YOU.”  —  Students all too often acquire Special Education designations not necessarily because they have medical or developmental stumbling blocks over which they must jump in order to compete with their peers.  Often, students, and overwhelmingly young male students, are identified as qualifying for Special Ed. due to factors that come not necessarily from their cognitive abilities (or lacking of abilities), but rather from the educational body’s inability to figure out “what to do” about the “problem” of these children.

According to the AASA (The School Superintendent’s Association), a 2005 article noted that “black students nationwide are 2.9 times as likely as whites to be designated as mentally retarded.”  This same article asserts that young black males faces a plethora of other assorted disadvantages in schools.  They claim that members of this demographic “have been found to be 1.9 times as likely to be designated as having an emotional problem and 1.3 times as likely to have a learning disability. Since twice as many black boys are in special education programs as black girls, it is difficult to blame heredity or home environments as the root causes for these figures. In some metropolitan districts, 30 percent of black males are in special education classes, and of the remaining 70 percent, only half or fewer receive diplomas.”  If home environments and family lineage are not accurate indicators, the conclusion seems to be that a portion of the Special Education population is labeled as such not necessarily due to factors that traditionally seem to impact learning, but instead for the “disability” of being young, male and black.

And, as far as SpecialEducationAdvisor.com is concerned, boys of all ethnic and racial background outnumber girls in Special Ed by more than 2 to 1.  Logic and a basic understanding of statistics suggests that any sub-group should reflect the larger populace.  That is, the ratio of boys-to-girls in Special Education should resemble the ratio of boys-to-girls in, you know, the world.  Yet it does not.

Furthermore, the US Department of Education notes that when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was enacted in the 1970’s, students receiving Special Education services grew by about 81%.  Now, some may suggest that this vast growth rate is attributable to the fact that states were finally forced to provide needed services to deserving youngsters.  Or, some may interpret this to mean that the number of students who are not functioning intellectually along with their peers in America has octupled in the past 30+ years.  If the latter is the case, then, one might be able to argue that Special Education identification is fairly inaccurate.

Being black or being male aren’t the only indicators of higher probability of Special Education labeling.  Poverty is a major contributing statistical factor as well.  The Georgetown Law Journal says that “advances in neuroscience research will eventually end special education as we know it. In short, neuroscience research is challenging a number of important assumptions that undergird special education law, including, for example, the assumption that there is a real difference between students with a specific learning disability, who are covered by the law, and those who are simply “slow,” who are not covered.”  And furthermore, they cite research conducted which overwhelmingly suggests that while poverty (and more specifically orphandom or homelessness) may lead a student through a variety of reasons to test at a lower IQ than his same-age peers, the underlying causes of that lowered score are not simply a factor associated with raw intellectual capability.  Therefore, impoverished youngsters may end up in Special Education programs even though their potential levels of achievement may be quite high, but yet untested.

The Washington Monthly reported, too, that “anyone who’s spent time in an inner-city classroom can tell you that the challenges the average poor kid faces are often hard to distinguish from those you’ll find in special ed. This may be the greatest absurdity of the special ed law: It fails to acknowledge ‘environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage’ as disabling conditions. Why should a child with a broken back be guaranteed round-the clock, state-of-the-art medical care, no matter what the cost, while the millions of kids whose difficulties stem from poverty and neglect are left to hope that their teachers will break the rules so they can get some extra help? Should we really be spending $10 billion (at least) a year on ‘learning disabilites’ when we still don’t adequately fund Head Start and Title I, the federal programs that were designed to help poor children catch up with their wealthier peers?”

2.  SPECIAL ED. DOESN’T WORK.  —  Overwhelming data supports the idea that the current American system of assistance for Special Needs children does not increase their achievement, but instead inflates their statistics to give the appearance of achievement.

In an article posted on public station WNYC’s website, teacher Laura Klein notes, “The problem that exists here is related to the way that we lower standards for special education students — a trend that perpetuates the academic inferiority that these students feel.”  If Special Education programs were truly working, then the precious standardized test scores states use to determine both the worth of public school teachers and the achievement of the student body would indicate an even scoring pattern between Special Ed. and non-Special Ed. students.  In other words, if Special Education were truly honoring its promise to families to improve the education experiences of their children, then the proof would be in the puddin’.  But, Special Education students are NOT even coming close to competing with their peers on mandated tests.  But, if grades were an indicator, these numbers would suggest that Special Education students are functioning at a fully acceptable level that is on-par with their Regular Education peers.

In 2012, the New York Times published an article written by a frustrated teacher of Special Education students where he “confesses” to be a “bad teacher.”  He writes, “My students have learning disabilities ranging from autism and attention-deficit disorder to cerebral palsy and emotional disturbances. I love these kids, but they can be a handful. Almost without exception, they struggle on standardized tests, frustrate their teachers and find it hard to connect with their peers.”  But, if the system were working, these things would not be true.  These beloved students would be well-adjusted, academically leveled, and behaviorally normed.

3.  SPECIAL ED. COSTS TOO MUCH TO BE THIS UNSTEADY.  —  The costs of Special Education are well-documented.  It’s really expensive.  Mind you, it is really expensive for a broken product.

And, Special Education programming just keeps morphing itself into new iterations without actually accomplishing much at all.

For example, an acquaintance of mine remembers a conversation with the Special Education teacher in her high school building.  She recalls that the Special Ed. teacher informed the staff that the SDIs (or, Specially-Designed Instruction programming) must be followed to the letter.  In other words, it was mandated that all teachers fulfill the elements of student IEPs.  This can mean anything from teachers being required to provide deadline extensions for designated students, to teachers being forced to offer unlimited attempts at tests, or “modified” grading which can put the minimum grade a teacher may provide for a student’s work at any number determined in the IEP meeting.  When a question was raised to the Special Education teacher that went something like this:  “Ma’am, I am following everything in the student’s IEP and he is still failing my class.  What am I supposed to do?,” the response from the Special Education teacher went something like this:  “If you really have done everything you were supposed to and he is still failing, then we need to rewrite the IEP.”

Now, what this suggests is that when 1 and 1 are added and we get 3, we don’t try to figure out how to get 2, we just change the equation so that 3 is acceptable.

And, what is more interesting is that Special Education students make up just a bit more than 10% of the total student population nationwide.  While hard data relating to Special Education spending is awfully hard to come by, many organizations, including Students First, a group founded by former DC-area Chancellor and sometime controversial public figure, Michelle Rhee, published a statement in 2011 suggesting that about 21% of school budgets tend to be allocated for Special Education spending at the local level.   According to New England Cable News, “One noteworthy aspect of special education is that while Congress enacted the education policy for children with disabilities, states and districts shoulder most of the costs.”  So, indeed, it is expensive, accounting for seemingly far more of school funds than seems statistically logical, and those who pay for it are not those who demanded it exist in the first place.

k-> And, so, I find myself wondering why this educated, worldly (and beautiful!) Off Duty Mom can find more meaning and use in a Keanu Reeves movie than I can find in Special Education.

What say you?  Care to explain why I am a stupid jerk?  Hit up the comments section, yo.

I’m Raising Your Boyfriend

When I first had begun my journey of motherhood, I was insanely frustrated by the fact that nobody was brutally honest about how hard parenting is.

1Now, I am pretty flabbergasted by how many people are coming out of the woodwork to talk about how hard parenting is.

I am actually a little pissed that I am not unique in a way.  But, I am also quite comforted to be reminded that I am not completely alone in my troubles.

I have two children:  two amazing, beautiful, kindhearted boys who are, without question, the most important and the  most phenomenal things in my life.  These two are very different and that always amazes me.  They came from the same gene pool.  They live in the same home.  They follow the same routines.  But, they have their own distinct personalities.

My firstborn is a pistol.  He is fiercely, triumphantly, vehemently independent.  He is also brave, gentle, giving, creative, smart and energetic.  But, for the sake of this post, I am just going to focus on the independence for now.

I am very proud that he is a free thinker.  No, seriously:  VERY PROUD.  As an academic myself, I have very high regard for individuals who pave their own ways.  He is an inventor, not a consumer.  He is a leader, not a follower.  That fucking rocks.

This quality made it difficult for me, though, to learn how to effectively parent.  I was really thrown into the deep end of the motherhood pool and left to sink or swim with this little guy.  As a tiny bean, he rarely wanted to do anything I told him to do:  ever.  This was very trying.  And, it was potentially dangerous as many of things I told him to do were merely for his own personal safety.

He is a little older now, though, and he and I have really gotten to know each other well.  I have always loved him with every bit of my being.  But, we are becoming friends now, too.  And, I can’t explain how awesome that is.  If you have a great relationship with your kid, though, you know just what I mean.

My baby is as happy as they come.  He smiles nearly incessantly.  And, he is so freakin’ laid back.  All. The.  Time.  He can’t be shaken (well, unless he has a new tooth coming in or desperately needs a nap).  He pleasantly goes along with just about any request I make of him.  He isn’t a mindless drone, mind you.  He is just so pleased to learn and discover and be shown the ways of the world.  He is excited to see and wonder and experience.

Toddlerhood is really rough.  If you are a parent, I am not really breaking any big news here.

For one child, the toddler period was filled with “No!” and “I don’t WANT to!” and “Aaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhhh!”

For the other the toddler period seems to be filled with “Okay, Mommy!” and “Hee Hee” and lots and lots of snuggling.

I love both of these children.  One is not better than the other.  I don’t wish one is, was, or would be more like the other.

But, wow.  This should be added to the list of Things They Don’t Tell You About Being a Parent: raising a young child is basically starting a brand-new relationship.  You may not be in love at first.  You each may do things that the other doesn’t understand or pisses the other party off to no end.  You may each say some things you don’t mean.  You may feel like walking out.  You may sway from love to frustration and back again many times in a single day.  You may disappoint one another.  And, it may take you both a very long time to really get to know one another deeply.

When you bring a child into a family, you are meeting a new person and starting a new relationship with him or her.  All relationships have rocky spots.  All relationships have peaks and valleys.  This is no different.

messy handsYou may be blessed with the world’s most wonderful child.  He or she may be so “easy,” as parents say.  This often translates to a child who is generally quiet and obedient; a child who sleeps well and loves to try new foods; someone who never embarrasses you in public or has poop squish up her back while you are in line at the grocery store.  You may also be blessed with a “difficult” child.  He is often boisterous, physical, and messy; he has a mind of his own; he doesn’t care what other people think; he may be a pretty big personality.  Either way, you’re still blessed.

The first relationship our children have is with their parents.  Then, hopefully, they will go on to have hundreds of other successful relationships:  with friends, romantic partners, classmates, teachers, coworkers, neighbors, spouses, families and so on.  What we build with our kids follows the same pattern we’ve forged as we might have built any other relationship of our own in the past.  And, how we build our relationships with our kids helps show them the foundation for how they should create interpersonal relationships with others in the future.

This is yet another way in which we might inevitably to something to send them into therapy one day.

Nevertheless, with our best intentions, we move forward, getting to know these little personalities better and better with each passing moment.

Ways I will judge you

I am not terribly likeable in person.

It’s okay.  I’m cool with that.  People who get to know me learn that what appears to be a proclivity toward stuck-uppitude is actually a little anxiety and a whole lot of self-consciousness.

Just because I tend toward the shy side in small groups doesn’t mean that I am not just a little stuck-up, though.

For example, I will make fairly irreversible judgments about…

1.  Your ability to use “THERE,” “THEIR” and “THEY’RE” correctly in writing.

ttt

2.  Whether you are out in public wearing an anklet.

Anklet under nylons with open-toed shoes= even more judgment.

Anklet under nylons with open-toed shoes= even more judgment.

3.  Whether you open the door for others.

4.  How firm your handshake is.

5.  Whether you drink any type of wine (sparkling or otherwise) that is pink in color.

Even better:  pink wine in a box.

Even better: pink wine in a box.

6.  Whether I can say the words “oligarchy,” “cerebral,” “phantasmagorical,” “echelon” and “fuck” in your presence without feeling either condescending or chastised.

7.  Whether you have read a book – in its entirety – in the past 6 months.

8.  How nice your teeth are.

smile

9.  Whether you ignore your children when they attempt to run around among all the tables at Olive Garden.

10. How much very personal information you post about on Facebook.

tmi

What about you?  Anything you see in others that you just can’t help judging immediately?

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