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Michael Vey and Glenn Beck

  • Posted on July 5, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Michael VeyAs a middle school teacher, I am interested in my students.  Our school has devoted the first 15 minutes of the day to reading in an effort to get more students devoted to reading.  I often ask the students what they are reading to see what interests them.  A couple years ago, I decided to read what some of them seemed to like reading.  I’ve read many different books such as all of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Divergent series.  Recently, many of the students were telling me they were reading “Michael Vey”.  Since it seemed to be popular, I decided to read it.  It actually “Michael Vey:  The Prisoner of Cell 25”.  As I was nearing the end of the book, I discovered something that shocked me.  There is a connection between Michael Vey and Glenn Beck.

I went online shortly before I finished the book to see if it had been made into a video.  It seemed like the logical progression for the book.  Many times, I have read a book and then watched the movie.  It was natural for me to investigate this.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered one, that Glenn Beck has a publishing company and two, that his company, Mercury Ink, published Michael Vey.  Mercury Ink’s partner is Simon and Schuster.

The Michael Vey series is about good, evil, and making right choices.  I actually enjoyed reading the book and could see why students like it.  I am not going to say much about the book, as I don’t want to spoil anything for someone that might like to read it.  I will say it is about teenagers that have a special connection with electricity.  Something happened to them when they were born and now as they are coming into their teen years they have unusual abilities.  Michal Vey seems to have the most powerful ability.  The book takes the reader on an adventure from combating bullying to building friendships and developing an understanding of what makes people good and bad.  The underlying theme is good triumphs over evil and that sometimes-good people do bad things to help.  There is much more to it than the simplistic ideas I am mentioning here.  However, listening to Glenn Beck tell the story should create caution in all of us.

 

Is there an underlying agenda from the far right to infiltrate the minds of our youth?  Glenn is trying to find ways to reach the youth and he thinks these books might do it.  I know many students like the Michael Vey series.  Whether these books will have any dramatic impact on their worldview remains to be seen.  My concern is the effort that has been put into public education by the far right in the last many years.  It seems to me that there is a far-reaching goal to control public education and perhaps this is just one more puzzle piece that is being put in place for the greater good of the right’s influence on education.

I always say, “I learn something new every day.”  Today I learned about Glenn Beck’s goals.  I never would have connected him to the Michael Vey series unless I researched it.  I am sharing this because I think we all need to keep one eye open for understanding the manipulations that the media does to our children and to ourselves.  As an educator, I would be remiss if I didn’t investigate and share these things when I learn about them.  It certainly has made me wonder what else have I been reading that has an interesting back-story.

 

Teaching, Testing, and Creativity

  • Posted on December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Blue Angel Wings by Katherine Svoboda

I encourage creativity in my students. I cannot imagine a life without making something new.

Where I am teaching I see a high emphasis on test scores.  Since I teach in an area that we are not able to “score”, I find that the administrators and teachers don’t really understand the value or creative aspects of art.  Consequently, the course is treated by some as a “filler” so that they can have their planning periods.  If we are to educate children for the future, we will have to begin by first educating the educators. Since there hasn’t been a clear-cut way of gauging creativity, it has been grossly over looked in the schools.  Even the physical arrangement of our classrooms does not support creativity.  I sense that “learning for tomorrow” is learning how to be a creative individual that can handle a variety of situations, whether they be emotional, physical, mental, or whatever.

Strangely enough, I wrote these words way back in the early eighties when I was teaching at my first teaching job and attending graduate classes.  I recently came across an old notebook that I use to write in.  When I came across these words, I couldn’t believe it.  Test scores?  My how things don’t really change after all.  We are living in a high stakes time of testing but the push for testing has been going on as long as I have been teaching.  The thing I find frustrating is how unimportant creativity seems in all of this.

However, my perspective on creativity has never really changed.  I have always felt that the most important thing for learning is creativity.  Students need to have time to explore when they are learning.  This exploration needs to involve the student in ways that force him/her to create something new, to come up with new ideas, to think outside of the box.  Most people are not aware of the many known cases of creative people that were not recognized in regular school education, but somehow through their own creativity became successful.  Of course, Thomas Edison comes to mind right away.  However, are you aware that people like Ben Franklin, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, John D. Rockefeller, George Burns, Colonel Sanders, Charles Dickens, Elton John, Harry Houdini, and Ringo Starr all quit their formal schooling at young ages?  Some went back to school, like Einstien, but others flourished by finding something they really were interested in doing.  I think the way we school students today we do not allow children to discover what truly interests them.   If you can find something that you are interested in doing and you spend countless hours perfecting your abilities at getting better at it, you may become an expert in that field.  I often think about the first time I threw a pot on a wheel.  Of course, I could hardly center the clay, let alone create a worthy piece of pottery.  It actually took years before I felt like I was somewhat of an expert, and even that meant that I could not necessarily throw huge pieces of clay.

Why have we, as parents, allowed schools and government to take our children and push two subjects at them as though that is all that is important?  It is reading or it is math.  These two areas count for everything these days.  Of course, I think these subjects are important and obviously, if you cannot read, your opportunities will be limited.  However, the next Einstien may be sitting in a classroom where a teacher thinks he is “slow” or dim witted because he doesn’t score well on government-mandated tests.  Seriously, we are messed up as a society, when all we care about are test scores.  As human beings, we are more than our last test score.  The measure of a man or a woman is not what they scored on their ACT or SAT but on how they live their life.  I worry about our society as we elevate the students that score well on tests and ignore the students that may be daydreamers or late bloomers.  We cannot discredit the different ways people learn and we should not treat students as a one size fits all mentality.  We should embrace their differences and encourage creativity and original thinking.  People that are willing to make mistakes and try something new will be willing to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.  Those new ideas may be the next invention or innovation of an old idea.  No one knows what the future is going to hold.  I didn’t have a clue almost thirty-five years ago when I wrote that paragraph about testing that it would hold true today as well.   As a society, we say we appreciate creative people but we try to put square pegs in round holes every opportunity we get when we ignore the natural creativity of children.  Ken Robinson explains in this video how our formal education system does everything it can to undermine children’s creativity.

http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

In the end, we must teach our children to discover their interests and really follow their dreams.  What is it that is going to take to make them better people?  What is going to make them reach their full potential?  Should it be just about making money or is there something more?  What is going to make them truly happy?  We all want to produce something.  We want to feel joy and nurture our interests.  I have to agree with Alan Watts when he asked a simple question:  What do I desire?  What if money were no object?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_sbcSRMsOc
As a society, what are we teaching our children to value?  Is it all about making money or is it about something more creative than just that?  How do we stand out in a world where we are asked to all conform to that square peg?  The artist in each of our children wants to stay an artist.  Why are we happy when our children put away what we deem to be “childish” things such as art?  Art is our humanity.  It is what differentiates us really from all other life forms. We should embrace our creativity, nurture it, and develop it.

 

 

It Takes a Village and Other Thoughts

  • Posted on October 5, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I have deliberately not spent much time writing about the politics of D.C. this year because it is just so depressing.  However, I must clarify that the D.C. is not really the District of Columbia when it comes to politics; it is disastrous corruption.  This week, it appears we are on the brink of disaster once again.  The focus now is on the blame game, but I am tired of the unreality of the Tea Party movement.  If you just do a little reading on the internet, it is not hard to see that much of the financial backing of this “movement” is from the Koch brothers.  What is going on in politics is about money, not from the little people but from big business and influences that have nothing to do with the masses.  We are fed information from corporate owned media that wants to perpetuate their own purposes.  I notice on Facebook the Tea Party is alive and well, infiltrating and rotting the minds of people by making them more concerned about some person on welfare than the corporate welfare that permeates Washington.  There, I got that off my chest.  Now, I can write about what is really on my mind and that is children.

Global Children

Let’s Embrace the Creativity in our Children

 

I recently reread Hillary Clinton’s book, “It Takes a Village” and I feel a need to share what I am thinking about politics, children, and how it all fits together.  Hillary wrote this book long ago and some of the data is outdated, figures are probably even worse today, and of course, she wrote it before the technology revolution of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, iPads, iPhones, and everything else that kids are exposed to today.  I have a couple of brothers that think “It Takes a Village” is funny and they have made sarcastic remarks to me about this, but I don’t think most people understand how important it is that we all are part of creating the next generation of adults.  I think if we start at the top, and I mean the politics in Washington D.C., it isn’t hard to see how uncivil our country has become.  How could this hatred and bullying not permeate down into the minds and thoughts of our children?  People seemed shocked when some kid takes out many people at a mall, theater, school, or any place else where an opportunity is presented.  I think it isn’t hard to understand the pain and the suffering that these young people are going through.  Mental health is just not there, but mentally is there anything right with what is happening with the politicians that are in Washington supposedly leading our country?  I believe the political discourse has much to do with all of the negative things that are happening in our country.  Since Barack Obama became president, there has been an unprecedented amount of blatant racism.  Obama was not my first choice by far, but he is president and he was even reelected.  It is time that the party of “no” started to understand that what they are doing is destroying this country.  As far as the “Affordable Care Act” goes, it is now the law of the land.  I say, “Get over it.”  I wanted single payer.  I didn’t get my way but it is now time to see how it works.  The Tea Party Republicans have turned into nothing but bullies.  They want their way and nothing else.  They don’t really care about people, it is just about the next election.  Seriously, I care about my job, just like the next person.  However, I am not going to destroy some children in order to get what I want with the ones that are going to help get me a better evaluation.

It’s time our country started caring about their most important resource and that is our children.  Politicians battle it out while kids are suffering in homes where stressed out parents are out of work, where money is a constant source of frustration, and where affordable, good daycare is difficult to find.  If these politicians would focus more on getting the economy going instead of worrying about who can cut the most fat out of the budget, we would all be better off.  These are the same people that in one breath tell you, “You can pry my gun out of my cold dead hands.” but in another will be telling a woman whether she can have birth control or not.  If that isn’t crazy, I don’t know what is.  The Tea Party wants less government control but actually, they want to control everything that happens in our lives.  They want to keep the government out of their lives but want it when they want it for their own gains.  They can give government funds to churches to feed people but not to people to feed themselves.  Our children today are growing up in a society filled with hate, so if they hate, it is understandable.  I am the most positive person I know and truthfully, it has caused me pain at times because I tend to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe that’s naïve of me but I think I’d rather have a heart than be heartless and I see the Tea Party Movement as a heartless, soulless, creature that cares for no one, least of all the children.

When I was a kid, I became involved in politics because my family was into politics.  My parents were FDR Democrats.  I can remember some very heated discussions with different members of my family.  Many of my brothers today are staunch Republicans.  I think my parents would wonder how they could be so far from their roots.  However, we know our children are not cookie cutter reproductions of us, so it is understandable when some change from their roots.  What I don’t understand is how today there is so much hatred for both parties with each other.  There is a lack of respect for the president and the Democrats and there is a lack of respect for the Republicans.  I think the Tea Party Movement has brought out the worse of both parties.  They have decided that they are not going to negotiate anything which means absolutely nothing is going to be done.  From my point of view, it seems like there should be more being done to get this economy moving.  All that is happening is fighting.  How much money has to be wasted on the countless number of times the House has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act?  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted on it.  It must have cost many trees and hours of work for that legislation to be re-voted on in the House.  They don’t mind wasting that money but as for some person out of work hoping to get an extension on unemployment well, he/she is just a lazy bum looking for a handout.

Our children deserve better.  We had a better country when I was young.  We cared about each other.  I went to college and my school loan was $3600, something I didn’t have to kill myself over to pay back.  Kids today come out with unbelievable stress from school loans that would break the back of anyone.  It seems that education is for only the rich these days or those willing to live in a debtor’s hellhole for most of their lives.  We promise them that if they do well in school, they will get a good job when they get out.  Then we send those good jobs overseas or bring workers here because “We don’t have enough qualified people to do those jobs.”  Most of us know that this is just another way for business to get cheaper labor.  We send our kids off to fight wars that are made up of faulty intelligence only to act like, “Oh, my bad!”  Peoples’ lives are manipulated, so when one of them comes back and shoots up something, should we really be surprised?  Our children deserve better.  We send them off to school, which used to be fun, but is now turned into some kind of testing nightmare, should we really be surprised when they’re turned off and tuned out?  Our children deserve better.

We put kids under an unbelievable amount of stress from the constant talk about being fat, to what not to wear, to how they are constantly failing in schools, and how we were so much smarter than they are today.  I am so tired of the way we treat our children.  We tell them that they don’t measure up at every turn.  “Oh Johnny, your test scores really do suck.  I didn’t mean to say you are stupid but…..”  When does this abuse of our children end?  When are we going to look at children and see them as the gift they are?  When are we going to look at a child without measuring how fat or thin, or stupid or smart, or whatever other label we have deemed to put on them but as a person to nurture and help grow into a productive adult?  If we want a better country, we had better start taking care of our children.  We cannot simply drop them off at daycare or at the school door hoping that something better will appear.  We have to all nurture these children.  If you are a storeowner, do not act as if that child is there to steal from you.  Show some interest in the children in your community.  If you are a teacher, try to figure out why some children are misbehaving for you, maybe you will be the only real friend they have that day.  If you are a politician, think about how your actions are destroying our country and causing the nightmares of today for countless children across this country that go to bed hungry, poor, and tired, and wake up to the same nightmare they had when they went to bed.  I feel strongly that if a child lives with hatred, he/she learns to hate.  Do you remember this poem?  It is time we thought about how to take care of our children.

CHILDREN LEARN WHAT THEY LIVE

Dorothy Law Nolte

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.

If a child lives with fear,
he learns to be apprehensive.

If a child lives with pity,
he learns to feel sorry for himself.

If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with jealousy,
he learns what envy is.

If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns to be confident.

If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with praise,
he learns to be appreciative.

If a child lives with acceptance,
he learns to love.

If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with recognition,
he learns that it is good to have a goal.

If a child lives with sharing,
he learns about generosity.

If a child lives with honesty and fairness,
he learns what truth and justice are.

If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith in himself and in those about him.

If a child lives with friendliness,
he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live.

If you live with serenity,
your child will live with peace of mind.

With what is your child living?

 

Thinking About Ariel Castro, Women, and Equality

  • Posted on August 2, 2013 at 4:20 pm
Woman of Liberty

Woman of Liberty

Yesterday I watched Ariel Castro claim that he is not a monster, that the sex he had with his victims was mostly consensual, and that he isn’t a violent person.  It is not in his character.  When I heard the word character, I could not believe that he could even speak about it.  What could he possibly know about character?  He wanted us to believe that his problem is a compulsion perhaps for sex.  However, I don’t equate rape with sex, so I had a hard time following his form of logic.  I wasn’t planning on writing about this topic as he repulses me, but I think there is a bigger issue in our nation where women are concerned.  I don’t know the name of the woman on the talk show I was watching on MSNBC yesterday but she was upset that Castro hadn’t been tried for civil rights violations.  She talked about the issue of human trafficking and the fact that these women had their civil rights violated for years.  She said that he targeted women, which indeed made it a civil rights violation.

From my point of view, I have concerns not just about this case, but also with the treatment of women throughout our country and of course the world.  Granted Ariel Castro is a deranged person but he felt that he had the right to do what he wanted with these women.  He said his wife would argue with him and he implied that because she touched him first that he had the right to put her in her place.  Something in his makeup, and I think in the way women are treated by many in our country, made him believe he could do what he wanted with these women, including his wife.

Our society, no matter how much we scream and protest about women’s issues and rights, is still patriarchal.  As a country, I believe we look to men for the answers and give them undo regard when it comes to major decisions whether it is at the local, state, or federal level.  We excuse their behaviors, no matter how crude they are, and we still have that “boys will be boys” attitude ingrained in our minds.  I see this even in school when I am teaching.  I don’t have that attitude but it is there for many.   When I tell some boys to clean up in art class, I still have some boys telling me “That’s women’s work.”   In politics, we have many men that exhibit disrespectful behavior to women on a regular basis.  On the far right wing, there is a constant effort to discount women’s opinions to the point of forcing them to have a vaginal probe if they mutter the word “abortion.”  On the left, we still have to hear about Bill Clinton’s Monica moment in regards to whether Hillary is going to run for the presidency.  The woman that sticks by her man, like Anthony Weiner’s wife, is marginalized as though she isn’t thinking clearly and she has been coerced into accepting her fate.  Maybe she has and maybe we don’t know what really goes on in these relationships.  In these cases, the woman is made to be an appendage to the man, just another “helpmate” for the big daddy that is the boss in the relationship.  In entertainment news, we recently discovered that Simon Cowell is going to be a daddy.  The woman involved is a “gold digger” and immoral because she is still married to her husband.  The last I knew, it takes two to make a baby.  We aren’t hearing what a slut Simon is, it is all about his girlfriend.

The point I am trying to make is that we and I think both men and women, still have different standards for the two sexes.  I received an email last night from Credo action to sign a petition.  The petition deals with the fact that a number of colleges and universities across the country don’t call rape, rape.  It is referred to as nonconsensual sex.  This must be similar to the Republican that talked about forcible rape and rape as though they were two different things.  I don’t know how else to say it but rape is rape.  Women are continually demeaned when their voices are not heard and they are treated like a dog getting their heads patted when dealing with serious issues.

The other day I was talking to my sister and I told her about this video I saw which I assumed was staged but was funny.  A person was showing the excitement his cat had for him after he was gone for six months.  Now we all have witnessed the excitement our dogs show us after even very brief periods away from us.  Cats, however, are a whole another being.  I have two cats and one greets me and the other hides.  I have a dog and he’s always anxious to see me.  The reason I bring this up is that I jokingly referred to women as being like dogs and men as being like cats.  However, I think there is a bit of truth to this.  Men can take or leave us as women.  Much like a cat, they are used to being pampered.  They are used to being at the top of the food chain in respect, expectations, and affection.  They expect women to care for them and love them.  They have expectations of what they want and how they are going to get it.  Women on the other hand are starved for affection and will do just about anything to get that pat on the head, just like a dog.  They will jump through hoops to make sure their man is taken care of and are afraid that someone may see them as not being a good caretaker.  Women nurture and when they don’t everyone notices it!  Women have expectations but they often will subjugate their desires for their mate’s desires.  Obviously, there are exceptions but from my point of view, women are always last.

Now you could say that I have a unique way of looking at things because I grew up with ten brothers and I admit this, but I have noticed many things over the years.  We women were the last to get the right to vote!  Slavery was finally ended and blacks could vote but women were still chained to the concept that they were less than a man.  One of my brothers always talks about the Constitution and I just have to laugh because from my point of view, the Constitution is a living document that needs to change and grow as time changes.  So many politicians want everything to stay the same, don’t rock the boat, and just keep the status quo.  If we do this, half of society would never count for anything.  It still irks me that we could never get the equal rights amendment passed.  Those simple words of equality are very scary to some people.

We live in a time of potential great knowledge for all people.  The internet has opened the doors and the minds of anyone that is willing to learn.  Sure sometimes you have to sift through many websites to find the truth about something, but in all reality if you want to learn about any issue or how to do something the internet is a terrific resource.  I think the more people are educated the more we are apt to all be treated equally in society.  I have found the internet a place where I can discuss issues with other women that are interested in politics.  With this blog, I have an opportunity to get others to think about things.  None of us would have known about the small town in Ohio where high school boys raped a girl and nobody seemed to care until anonymous bloggers got involved.  Today I want people thinking about women and their place in the world.  Women are more than just nurturing helpmates for men.  I think until they are taken more seriously, women will continue to see much physical, social, and emotional abuse by men that think they can have what they want when they want it.  Women need to stand up and make things clear to those men that abuse.  Men that are “evolved” need to help move this issue along.  The women that are abused are their mothers, daughters, and sisters.  If we want to stop people like Ariel Castro, we as a society, have to make sure that little boys grow up respecting little girls and that gender roles are not so defined that women think they are less than men and are willing to accept less pay, less love, and less worth.

Stress and School

  • Posted on June 23, 2013 at 8:29 pm

A Survey by the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy (By the way, if you will click on the link you will see that they are out to protect my "rights" as a teacher. What a joke!)

It has been a stressful year at my school. Between the many illnesses, PLC time, the Common Core, evaluations tied to student performance (Even from areas that I do not teach.), the NOTEBOOK, and other tragedies; it has been a relief to get to the end of this year. I have not been able to post because I have had my time consumed by school related issues and the stress that comes from them. I feel such a sense of relief to be at the end of this particular school year. This is what it is like teaching in Michigan with the constant changing rules and expectations coming from our government. There is a lot expected from teachers today that most people just don’t even realize. Teachers have been beat up by a system that doesn’t respect them and chooses to blame them for all that is wrong with education today. Here in Michigan the push to privatize education is alive and strong. Why anyone could think a “for profit” system is going to be better for children is beyond me. If you think about it, children just become a commodity with a “net loss” value, not worth the effort, because the focus is on raising the profile of the better product. Why would a private organization want to work with a product that is going to cost them more money to put through the system? If they want to make money, they will not be concerned about special education, small class instruction, and doing anything “extra” that might cost them some profit. Our children become merely an incentive for profit. That is the bottom line. America needs to wake up and understand what is really happening in public education. It is about getting more for less and helping some big businesses turn a profit.

Recently, our school chose to privatize the cleaning in all of our schools. I don’t know what the result will be but I do know that good people that cared about our school and community lost their jobs. These people live in the district and even have children in the district. The company that will be coming in will be paying less, so they can make a profit. Everything is down to the bottom dollar. I know our school was required by the state to take bids on certain job areas. My thoughts are that it won’t be long when the teachers are summarily replaced, much like the janitors. We have no special power. We have been beaten down by a system that constantly makes us jump through another hoop to prove that we are good at our jobs, that we still love teaching, and that we care about the kids. There is nothing wrong with having to “perform” so to speak but the goal line seems to be constantly moving and changing. Just when one can think they are doing what is wanted of them, another thing is expected. It is like a constantly moving target that no one can quite hit because just as you are about to score, it moves.

The Michigan House rammed through a bill to dissolve school districts without transferring employees. It is rather appalling to see this kind of legislation coming out of the state of Michigan. Michigan used to be a leader in the area of education. Now we are a leader in government takeover of local districts with no thought given to the voting public. It started with places like Detroit and Benton Harbor. These cities have been taken over by emergency managers. Schools are getting the same treatment. The response from the House Education Committee Chairwoman on the House floor was as follows: “Pigs get fat — hogs get slaughtered.” Her statement is so inflammatory and does nothing to help schools at all. The state of Michigan has cut money to schools drastically since Governor Snyder has been in office. This is the “expect more and pay less” attitude that is the new mantra in Michigan. http://www.mea.org/house-rams-through-bills-dissolve-school-districts-without-transferring-employees

I frankly don’t see how local businesses are helped when employees lose their jobs. Unemployed people cannot do much for the local economy. They can’t spend as much money, so less money is circulated. Wal-Mart is part of this equation as well. It just doesn’t make sense to me that the Walton Family Foundation gives money to the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy, a conservative think tank that really has a stranglehold on current education policy in the state of Michigan. All teachers should be made aware that money they spend at Wal-Mart could find its way up to the Mackinaw Center for Public Policy. Yes, I know we all go to Wal-Mart as it is located to make us all shop there. I stay away as much as I can. Truthfully, none of us should be supporting a business that really believes that privatization is the cure for public ills. Maybe Wal-Mart will open a school if the money is right. With the right profit motive, anything is possible. People need to be aware of these connections.

http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/mackinac-center-public-policy

This great debate in education frustrates me as an artist and an art teacher. I am in the business of trying to make people think. The arts push us to a better place. Whether we are painting, drawing, listening or playing music, art feeds our senses. For me it just doesn’t make any “sense” to leave art off the table of the great debate about education. I keep telling anyone that will listen that if you want a job in the future, you are going to have to be creative. If twenty people show up for an interview, I bet the one that stands out for being more creative is more apt to get the job. Of course, this debate really isn’t about the future; it’s about crony capitalism and pushing incentives over to the private sector. It isn’t about the kids, no, once again, it’s just about business.

Art Education and High Stakes Testing

  • Posted on July 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Above are artworks created by some of my middle school art students this year.  Keep all of this in mind as you read on about what I’m thinking about today!

It has been about a month since school was let out for the summer.  I have been busy working on curriculum for a new course I will be offering this year.  It is an animation/film class for seventh and eighth grade students.  I am very excited about the plans I am working on for the course and I have received much needed support from my principal.  However, as I sit here thinking about the excitement I will be creating and developing in this course, I wonder about all of the schools that have chosen to dismiss the arts in their curriculums to give more time for developing test taking strategies.  In the infinite wisdom of our federal and state legislators, the bottom line is how students perform  on a standards based test.  This test is basically a multiple choice test about information that the students will probably never use in the most important parts of their adult lives.  We have become a nation of test takers.

If we aren’t testing our children through these standardized tests then we are testing them for ADD and many other worrisome things to try and “fix” them.  Our children are being judged daily on their fitness.  They are told they are stupid and over weight.  The remedy seems to be to make school even more miserable for them!  In the high stakes environment of test taking our children are the human guinea pigs, chess pawns really, in the ever changing education system that tells them that they are failures on a continual basis.  With each test that tells them they are not proficient how does a child cope with this news?  Even in our adult lives we have become test takers.  For many adults this involves being urine tested in order to get a job.  Teachers take tests to prove that they are intelligent enough to become teachers even though they actually graduated from universities and colleges that gave their stamp  of approval.  We seem to be obsessed with testing.  Unfortunately, our adult compulsion is driving our children crazy.  What child wants to be stuck in a classroom where they are routinely told they are not measuring up?  It is a frustrating time in education.  I have said on many occasions that I am glad my child is not in school at this time.  I just want the insanity to stop!

What I know to be true is that creativity is very important for the development of the whole individual.  Frankly, if you are not able to think outside the box, you will not be able to invent and be innovative.  Our growth as a nation has depended on the innovation and inventiveness of its people.  If we teach our children that the only thing that is important is passing a test,  we do them a disservice.  I came across a document this past year called, “Critical Evidence…How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement”.  The document basically explains that testing has been done and there is proof that the arts, such as visual arts, music, dance, etc., help improve the SAT test scores of students that are consistently involved in them.  I just want to say, “Duh!”  However,  many people don’t understand the value of the arts in the thinking and learning process.  While the document stressed that No Child Left Behind treated the arts as important as the core subjects, the reality is that in order to achieve the adequate yearly progress required of NCLB many schools left the arts and made more time for drilling students to try and get them to “learn” the material.

We have been fortunate here in Sturgis as the arts have been an integral part of our students’ learning and have been supported by the administration, board members, teachers, and the community at large.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling the pressure though.  I have had to become more than the visual arts teacher in recent years.  My evaluations will be based on student’s reading scores just like many core teachers’ evaluations.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but after all I’m just one of those creative thinkers that tends to think outside the box of legislative opinion.  I do everything I can to help my students become better students, better people, and over all better equipped for their future but sadly what the legislative body wants to measure is what a student does on one particular day in one particular year of a student’s life to determine not only the student’s fitness and progress but also the teacher’s fitness and progress.  From my point of view I think this is just basically stupid.  I was at the 8th grade awards’ presentation last month.  I noticed that many students that I had taught that are very bright did not get an award for being proficient on the MEAP.  There has to be something wrong with this test when I see students that are top in their class walking away without that word “proficient” attached to their name.  They have been deemed not proficient.  How sad that we have labeled students in such a manner.  I think most people that are not in the education system might not be aware of everything that is going on in schools all across America.  Parents have been told that it’s the teachers fault that their child is doing poorly in school.  Teachers have targets on their backs and I feel it even on my back although I know how hard I work and how dedicated I am to my profession and my students.  From my point of view, the test making and test preparation companies are making a lot of money off education today.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in education today.  I just think that the future innovators and creatives in our community are at risk when we expect our children to just regurgitate information on a test without regard for the art and music of life’s challenges.  The divide I see in my classroom has more to do with the economic problems than anything else.  Let’s face facts; students that come from economically deprived families have a bigger struggle than students from the upper middle class and wealthy parts of society.  Over the past twenty years this has become even more apparent.  The answer to me seems to be in fixing the economy as well as always working to improve our education system.  Times have changed and with that change we should be embracing the technology of the 21st Century.  Teachers that do this will probably remain relevant.  Those that don’t may be kicked to the dustbins of the past.  In my own teaching, I have embraced technology in my classroom and in my life.  I think that living in today’s society is much more involved than just taking a state mandated test of proficiency.  We will not know what this grand experiment will reveal until the students of today are the adult citizens of tomorrow.  I do believe if we don’t change this high stakes testing we will create a world full of neurotic adults that will certainly keep the psychoanalyst’s sofa warmed up with their compulsions and obsessions and feelings of inadequacy.

Will all of these thoughts interrupt what I do in my classroom?  I will continue to work hard on my plans for all of my classes including my new animation/film course and I will remain fully engaged and thrilled to be working with the middle school students that I feel so privileged to teach.  However, this past year was extremely stressful for me.  It had nothing to do with the students and everything to do with this constant testing.  If I can feel it when I absolutely love being a teacher, think how the students are feeling when they are faced with stressed out teachers that are forced to jump through hoops to get their students to pass a test.  It is a sad state that we surely must change.

Waiting for Superman, Poverty, and STRESS

  • Posted on December 28, 2011 at 4:48 pm

This has been one crazy messed up year.  I think the weather has made everyone slightly crazy.  In many ways the weather has been a sign of the Armageddon to come in the world of education.  We educators are mired down in a political system that is creating more problems in education than thoughtful solutions.  After being home a few days and celebrating Christmas with my son, I have come to realize just how stressed out I feel.  In school I feel like I am doing everything I possibly can as a teacher.  Many people have no idea what I really do as an art teacher, but it is far more than just playing with clay!  This year we have been told to add two new subjects to our teaching arsenal, reading and math.  I already do a considerable amount of writing with my students so this is “doable”.  However, I don’t think most people have any idea what is going on in school today.  By the 2014-2015 school year 50% of any Michigan teacher’s evaluation will be based on student performance.  http://www.legislature.mi.gov/%28S%28etstwt45mdi5h255mrhn50j3%29%29/mileg.aspx?page=GetObject&objectname=mcl-380-1249

The word going around the state is half of the teachers will be let go because they won’t be able to meet this standard.  We basically have been warned to fix the problem or else!  Now think about all of this and ask yourself if you want your child facing some crazy teacher that has to “whip your child into shape”.  Not literally of course, but in some capacity your child is going to be facing a teacher that has much to lose, so he/she better step up.  As I am enjoying my holiday time and de-stressing, I suspect some children are doing the same!

Today I watched “Waiting for Superman”.  The main premise of the movie is, of course, that the problems in education can be traced to the nation’s poor teachers and the teachers’ unions!  Imagine that!  I found this movie to be quick to denigrate a whole population of teachers with generalizations while basically giving no real solutions to any of the problems in education.  While it may be a catalyst for “merit” pay and charter schools it really isn’t going to be the change agent that magically turns the problems around in education.  If this movie was supposed to be the catalyst for changing education, it fell way short from that goal.  I was treated to visions of small children waiting for their number to be called from a lottery system that would determine whether they would get the” ticket” to the golden school or have to face another year in hell at their local school.  At one point, they showed a chart that “proved” that money didn’t help because back in the seventies we were spending $4,000 per pupil and now it’s up to around $9,000 and the testing results have remained flat.  Of course those of us in Michigan know that the true number for most schools is around $7,000.  In the movie this was used to show that adding more money doesn’t make a difference.  Of course in my mind I thought $4,000 in 1970 would be a hell of a lot more money than $9000 in 2011 but then I am not an economist.  I’m just a tax payer who lived through the seventies.  I bought my first new car in the seventies.  It was a Chevette and it was $4000.  In the early eighties I bought a mini pickup and it was $8,000.  You guessed it!  I bought a minivan in the early nineties and it was $16,000 but by the end of the nineties I paid $24,000.  Now I know kids aren’t cars but you have to wonder about the numbers in the movie because if the cost of cars has gone up surely the cost of an education is naturally going to go up as well.  I know that students going to college are feeling that super cost of an education.  I left college in the seventies with a $3600 loan.  I bet many students today would do anything to end college with that kind of loan!  So that little chart meant absolutely nothing to me.

Of course they wanted to assure teachers that they are more than willing to go to a merit pay system that would be a six figure system for the right results.  Michelle Rhee spoke about this in the movie and mentioned a figure of $125,000.  I think these numbers are basically meaningless.  It’s really about dividing teachers and pitting the math and science teachers against everyone else.  The movie showed parents that were willing to cart their child off to a special school that would mean getting up super early in the morning in order to get the child their by 7:45 a.m.  I found that interesting because we all know that the key for most children is the parents.  If the parents aren’t following through at home by setting aside time for homework, reading, sleep time, nutrition, etc. than the child may not perform as well in school.

The other night I watched CBS news and it showcased a state champion high school football team from Georgia. The coach felt that one of the key reasons they won the state championship was because of a special grant from the federal government that fed around 500 students their dinner.  It was set up like meals on wheels.  They delivered dinner to students at risk.  The coach noticed that by Tuesday his football team was plumb out of juice.  He wondered how he could get more calories in his team.  They needed more nourishment because most of them were on free or reduced breakfast and lunches but were not fed at night!  This was in what was said to be one of the poorest counties in the state.  To me this is all tied to education.  We have been told that we must rise above the stigma of poverty.  Poverty isn’t a reason that should stop us from doing our jobs.   Children can learn even if they’re poor.  Yes, I agree that children can learn even if they are poor.  However, if they are stressed and worried about their next meal, mom and dad’s job, or anything else that most children shouldn’t have to worry about, the battle for an education becomes more difficult!

Often times these students suffer in silence.  They are embarrassed or afraid.  They don’t want anyone to know that they are having a tough time.  Leave it to the politicians to spend ample time on putting blame where it doesn’t belong and not looking for real solutions.  Much of the problems in education are tied to the same problems in our country related to the economy.  That 8.6% job figure that is being touted as the new unemployment figure is just a made up number.  There are far more people that have given up on looking for work or have lost all hope.  They get shoved off the figures and the nation gets a false sense that things are getting better for everyone.  I think things are getting better for some people but there are many still struggling and this will be reflected in our education system even if the politicians choose to overlook the reality of the situation.  Our economy has been on a steady decline since the seventies.  Is there any thought that maybe the decline in the economy and education might possibly be related?  If the politicians really want to fix education, they should start focusing on fixing this economy.

The End of Summer Vacation

  • Posted on August 31, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Beautiful Duck Lake in Norhtern Michigan

This year has been challenging for me.  In addition to teaching my regular art classes at school, I chose to take some courses so I could move up on the pay scale.  Originally I was going to take my 20 credits over a period of two years.  However, with everything our governor was busy doing in Lansing, I decided to escalate my goal to be completed in one year.  The classes I took were online courses that were actually very involved and demanding of my time and effort.  This summer I took the final two courses, both involved with using technology in the classroom and developing 21st Century literacy skills.  Now that I have finished my original goal, I have some time for reflection before the students start coming into my classroom.  I am really proud of what I accomplished this year.  While I’m glad I was able to get a pay raise, I was actually surprised at what I have taken away from the courses I took.  I know that I am a better teacher today because of them.  I always thought I was a pretty good teacher.  I have always been very dedicated to my profession and to my students.  What I have learned over this past year were some very useful strategies for helping students to become more motivated in the classroom, better classroom management skills, a greater understanding of adolescent student behavior, and ways to develop and integrate 21st Century literacy skills into my art classes.  That sounds like a lot and trust me it was!

I finished my courses on July 18th and since I hadn’t had a moment from the time school was out until then to have any summer at all, I decided to see if I could find a cottage where I could spend a week on a lake just relaxing.  My online search led me to Traverse City Chalet which is a cottage on beautiful Duck Lake near Interlochen and Traverse City.  As the picture reflects, this decision gave me a peaceful summer retreat.  This was just what I needed to get ready for the next school year!  I even managed to spend some time drawing and painting.  I loved it so much I’m going back next summer.  Two of my brothers, Joe and Paul, reside in Leelanau County so I invited them over for a barbeque.  I really didn’t want to leave the lake but I wanted to see them.  My brother, Bob and his wife, Sue, were also visiting Michigan from Alaska.  The dinner party included Joe’s wife Karin and Paul’s ex-wife Bonnie as well.  I am so happy that I got to see everyone as I haven’t been up north in a couple of years.

Given my families love of politics and discussing political issues it didn’t take long before the conversation turned to politics.  What I noticed was the fact that I was surrounded by political conservatives.  I consider myself to be a liberal.  These of course are just words that we attach to ourselves and most people don’t really understand exactly what they mean so I’ll explain what I mean.  My parents were really FDR Democrats.  They were married in 1934 and lived during the Depression and their experiences were shaped in many ways by the Depression.   They were savers and they didn’t waste anything.  My mom and dad were both teachers and my mom was very involved in the union at her school in Kingston, Michigan.  They supported the Reese teachers during their strike.  I can remember going to Reese as a kid!  In my young life both as a Catholic and as a child of my parents, I learned about caring for other people.  So when I say I’m liberal, the policies I’m talking about are policies to help and lift up people so they can become productive citizens.  I believe in helping people that may not be in the best circumstance to be their own advocate.  This doesn’t mean that I think I know what is best for people.  It just means I believe in finding ways to level the playing field.  This can be done mostly through public school education in many ways because the truth is education is the big divider in most countries.  Those that have a good education can usually attain a more successful job and lifestyle than those that don’t.

So I’ll get back to the dinner I shared with my brothers.  What I came away with was how deeply divided politically my family really is.  My brothers grew up with the same teachings I did but we are a world apart in our views.  Bonnie and Sue both like Representative Michelle Bachmann because she is a tax attorney.  I was shocked because in my mind she has said some crazy things.  My brothers are over the top conservative.  Paul even talked about child labor laws and how they are detrimental to the work ethic for young people.  I said the laws are put in place to protect children.  Of course it made me think about the governor in Maine that is working on changing those child labor laws.  This divide that I witnessed at our dinner really seems to be all across our nation.  It isn’t just my family.  It may be your family as well.  The next day my brother Bob came back because he forgot his hat.  We chatted a little longer and I asked him how he could possibly have become so conservative given our parents and our upbringing.  He said he was a Mormon.  Several years ago Bob became a Mormon and that was his response.  I don’t personally know if all Mormons are politically conservative like Bob, but that was his response.  It felt like that was a standard answer.  I didn’t get an in depth response and of course religion choices are always very personal and I don’t think it’s my place to question him about his decisions any more than he should question me on mine.  This dinner party was relaxed and fun and nobody was fighting about politics.  Paul did bring up my hefty donation to John Edwards and made some snide remark about how I helped pay for John’s mistress.  Of course, I told my brothers that I don’t look to politicians of any type for my moral code of ethics and that I still believe in what John Edwards talked about.  He wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, you know the poor!  Of course Paul says John’s a big old phony and that’s the end of that.  Unfortunately, with Edwards being the constant poster child for scummy politicians that voice for the poor is silenced.  On both sides of the political arena politicians have been all too human.  I wouldn’t put any of them on some kind of moral pedestal.  Some of them have even been fairly good presidents though.  Everyone knows about FDR and his mistress or Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.  Bob said FDR was a terrible president.  Bob said he read some books and I could feel hatred from him for FDR.  My parents loved FDR and they lived during the time.  I have to wonder if Bob’s feelings have more to do with the morality issue than the policies.  It doesn’t matter.  Our country is divided.  We can’t even agree on how to teach our kids.

The conversation moved on to education.  I personally think the push for constant testing is crazy.  Of course we have to meet certain standards but there is far too much emphasis on passing “The” test.  I told my brothers that a test isn’t what any of us remember from our days in K-12 education.  We may remember taking the ACT or SAT as those were memorable days because we were getting ready for college.  However, what most of us remember about our schooling is either some teacher that made us feel great or some teacher that made us feel lousy!  The rest is probably not that important to us today.  What is important for students today is still having great relationships with teachers.  Students need teachers that truly care about them, not how they perform on some test, but about them as children.  Teachers have a powerful position.  They can elevate dreams or crush them!  To me the No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are both programs that have forgotten the key element to a quality education.  Money is tied in both of these programs to test scores.  This is ridiculous.  The push towards merit pay is not a true standard for teaching quality.  Ultimately, what will be retained by the students in the end after all the dust settles is whether a teacher cared about them or not.  Those students won’t remember the test as being important to them.  They will remember the teachers that treated them like an individual with a heart and a soul.

Monday and Tuesday of this week we had our first “teacher days” at Sturgis and our open house at Sturgis Middle School.  Of course I was in my room last week unpacking my supplies that were ordered for the coming school year and working on my room getting it ready for the open house.  Last Friday I invited a couple of seventh grade girl students to come in and help me and we had a lot of fun.  We took a break and ran to McDonald’s to get some lunch.  We brought it back to the room and those two girls had me laughing so hard I could hardly stop.  I know they are going to remember that silly day they spent with Ms. Svoboda and I will also remember it.  They felt special and I felt special to have some time alone with these two girls to get to know them even better.

Last night we had our open house.  I came away from that open house knowing how much so many of my students really do love me.  It is a wonderful feeling to know that I am having a positive influence on a child’s life.  I had a girl come back to see me.  I was astounded to realize that she is a senior this year.  I told her I wanted to show her something.  Back when she was at the middle school she gave me a student picture of herself.  I had taped it inside this swivel draw under my desk.  Whenever I open that swivel drawer, I see that picture and think of her.  I know she was blown away that I really do remember her and care about her.  She told me she is going to bring me a senior picture.  The point I’m trying to make is when these students are treated special by their teachers, they will remember those teachers.  I love teaching and I love middle school students, even the ones that on occasion drive me crazy!  I know they can have bad days but I also know that if I can reach them and develop a positive relationship they can accomplish great things.

I ended the night an hour after open house because I had a long conversation with a parent and a child that I really care about.  I gave them what I felt was some good advice so that this child will hopefully have greater success in her other classes this year.  As they were walking out the door the little girl had to come back to give me a hug!  I know she knows I care about her.  The point I’m trying to get at is not how wonderful I am but at how important it is for all of us teachers to remember that what is most important in our students’ lives today is not some test, but is still the relationship you create as a teacher.  As a teacher, I feel I wear many hats.  I have to teach, sometimes be a parent, sometimes a friend, and sometimes a counselor.  I have to know how to get a student back on track when their having a bad day, or had a fight with a friend, or seemingly doesn’t care about anything.  Anyone that thinks being a great math, science, art, music or any other type of teacher can be scored by a single test a student takes is just plain stupid!  The true measure of a teacher has more to do with what they have in their heart and their capacity to be persistent and patient and loving with the children they mentor and teach.  I don’t know exactly how this can be measured but I do know that when you can see it in action, you can recognize it!  Great teachers are those teachers we all remember in a positive way.  We hold them in our hearts and remember how special we felt because of them.  I have two teachers that I remember the most.  One gave me a briefcase for my books when I was moving away.  I was in second grade.  The other was a teacher that I remember paddling a boy almost daily when I was in fourth grade.  I know which one I have always aspired to be like.

Testing, Matt Damon, and Imagination

  • Posted on August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This was painted by Annalisa, one of my students....being allowed to express herself!

As the summer winds down and I am spending time preparing for the new school year, I find myself thinking about my own potential as a teacher.  I feel blessed to be able to teach art in this 21st Century where politicians seem to think the only thing of value is math and science.  It boggles my mind when I think about my own potential as a child.  I have always felt that I had a deprived childhood because I didn’t have any art classes in my K-12 education.  It is truly remarkable that I have spent much of my adult life as an art teacher.  I would never have pursued art in college, if it hadn’t been for the student friends that happened to see my drawings.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I remember drawing pictures and putting them up on my bulletin board.  I had no training.  I just liked to draw with a simple pencil and paper.

I grew up in a large family with 14 kids.  I have always felt that when you grow up in large families with little money you learn to be creative.  Maybe you have to find new ways to play because you don’t have that fancy toy your friend has or maybe you have to fix something because you don’t have the money to buy a new one.  Regardless of the reasons, I feel my family circumstance contributed to my creativity.  In addition to that is the fact that I had good parents.  They both were teachers, but they also were devoted to their family.  The family came first.  My parents would go without many things to provide for the big brood they had.  I can remember my mom coming home from teaching at the end of a long day.  She would lie down on the couch with a cold compress on her head.  She did this almost daily, but then she would always get up and make the family meal.  Everything would be from scratch.  We never went out to eat!

From very early on, I knew I was going to college.  I’m not sure why I knew this as my two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.  Maybe because I’m the youngest, I had a better opportunity as a girl to go on to college.  My oldest brothers all went on to college.  The four oldest each went on for their doctorates.  The fact that both of my parents even had gone to college was quite remarkable.  They didn’t come from wealthy families and they were born in 1909 and 1911.  Education, obviously, has always been important in my family!  This is one the reasons I find the current turmoil in education about standardized testing so ridiculous.  As I grew up in a family of 14 children, we were as different as the day is long.  We weren’t clones of each other.  We all had remarkably different personalities and interests.  Some of us were probably better “test takers” than others, but taking a test could never really determine who we became as adults! Some of us might have even been considered “late bloomers”.   I don’t think any of us ever would want to remember our K-12 experience in school as being about testing!  However, today students are spending much valuable time preparing for “important” tests.  Much of the school day is designed and structured around that yearly test.  Each school has to make adequate yearly progress.  This test taking business is just going to get worse.  Recently, here in Michigan, the governor signed a new bill into law that will eventually require 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student test scores.  As a parent there is no way I would want my child subjected to this kind of education.

My son is 27, so he isn’t part of this craziness.  I look at my students much like my child.  Since I had my son so many years ago, I have always felt that I should treat my students the way I would want my son to be treated by a teacher.  I always wanted my child to dream big and be creative.  I wanted him to see possibilities and use his imagination.  I worry for the students of today.  Are we doing everything we can to make them into compliant little test takers?  Is that really what a teacher is supposed to be doing?  As an art teacher, I know my job is a big one in this high stakes testing time.  I have to give my students wings so they can access their creativity and play with their imagination.  So much of time in school is spent with the constant pressure in the back of everyone’s mind to improve test scores.  Now, it will even be elevated as teachers discover that their jobs may be on the line, if they can’t get their students to pass the state test!  Now, most of you reading my blog probably have some reservations about all of this test taking and what it really means for the future.  However, some of you may think teachers are just not doing their jobs today, because you keep hearing about how we have fallen behind in the world!  Truthfully, politicians have chosen to go after teachers because many of us belong to the last strong union standing.   Do you really think it’s the fault of the teacher if a student can’t pass a state test?  There are a lot of reasons students don’t pass tests.  One thing we know for sure is poverty plays a part in test taking.  At our school and probably many others we make sure students have a snack before they take the “big” test!  There are many factors that can affect test scores.  These are everything from poor nutrition, to lack of sleep, to inadequate test taking strategies (Yes there is a strategy for this!), attention problems, distractions, to even daydreaming!  Some days are also better than other days.  Maybe you just had a bad day that day.  Who knows what’s going on in a student’s head on any given day?  I remember a young lady that came into my art room that seemed out of sorts to me.  I asked her what was wrong.  She first said nothing and then she told me that she had been in an accident that morning.  The point I’m trying to make here is that teaching shouldn’t be about just taking a test and yet it seems like that is all the politicians care about.

This was painted by another student of mine, Cleanna. Shouldn't we be opening the door to imagination and creativity in our schools?

If you think back to your favorite teacher, I bet you don’t think about the fact that he or she taught you how to take a great test!  You probably think about the day when you felt special, like your teacher really cared about you!  I hope I make students feel special when they come into my art room.  I really do care about them.  The other day I was at the Three Rivers’ Meijer store shopping and an older woman was so upset because of some “screaming brats” in the store.  She thought she had an ally in me.  She thought the parents were terrible that couldn’t control their children!  She also thought they didn’t care that other people were annoyed by them.  I told her I was a middle school teacher.  It was obvious she wouldn’t want that job!  She told me she likes dogs but not kids.  She could tolerate her own children but even her grand children had better behave or she’d give them the boot!   I let her know that I like all of my students even the ones that frustrate me.  So many people that criticize teachers would not ever want to be stuck with thirty middle school students themselves.  Most of the teachers I know really care about their students just like I do.  We realize that at the middle school level students can bounce around with their behavior.  They have good and bad days.  They need adults around them that really care about them and can help them transition into adulthood.  If teachers are left worrying about test taking it gives less time for teachers to really spend caring about their students’ individual needs.  We are not all clones of each other and the students we teach are as different as my brothers and sisters were from me when I was growing up.  At the middle school I always think it’s interesting because there is no one student that can show us what a middle school student is, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and interests!  So, I’m left asking myself the question why we have a government that insists on a test where one size fits all.  Matt Damon gets it and I really hope you take the time to listen to his full speech from last weekend.  It’s not that long but at one point he says, “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.”  Truthfully, none of the qualities that I bring to my art classroom as a teacher can be determined and evaluated by a student test score either.

I am so excited about this new school year, not because my students will be great test takers, but because I can’t wait to work with my students and push their imaginations and creativity.  Just like any other year, I have a thousand things racing through my mind.  I’m filled with ideas for lesson plans for the new school year.  I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students, so they can take the seed of an idea that I begin and create something totally new and different from any other person.  As the government has us all “race to the top”, I’ll have my students all chart a new path for their own creativity and learning.  They will learn from each other.  They won’t run over each other racing for some golden imaginary ring devoted to test taking.  My students, for the brief time they are with me, will hopefully have an opportunity to access their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  These are skills that will serve them well in this 21st Century!

The Deficit, Brian Williams and the Ivory Tower of Congress

  • Posted on August 2, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Brian Williams "job shadowing" Speaker Boehner.

We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.  The deficit problem has been solved.  If you know me, by now you know I’m being sarcastic.  Sunday night my sister called me as she wanted me to turn on the show Brian Williams was doing on Congress.  He took us on a tour.  I called her afterwards and told her that I thought it was a waste of my time.  She took a different view because it showed such a deep contrast between the average American’s life and that of the people that represent them in Congress.

From my perspective, it reminded me of the Vatican.  I know you’re wondering what that’s about, so I’ll explain what I mean by that.  The men in Congress look rather effeminate.  There is nothing virile looking about any of them.  From Senator Conrad running around with his pet bishon dog, holding it on his lap much like Paris Hilton does her pooch, to Senator Harry Reid showing off the art in his offices explaining how Speaker Boehner cannot have the art in his office because he’s a “smoker”, these guys are all rather “prissy”.  It’s hard to believe that Harry was once a boxer!  Throughout the tour we were shown the activity at this vast institution.  What I witnessed were a lot of well dressed men in Armani suits and of course NBC chose to show women’s feet walking in high heels on the highly polished marble floors.  It reminded me of that view of Sarah Palin’s legs.  While they may have been trying to prove a point, the shot seemed rather sexist to me.  The men wear their Armani suits while they are in Washington and their Mr. Roger’s sweaters or shirt sleeves when they go home to visit their constituents.  I’m not fooled by that attempt to appear like “one of us”.  The women, well there still aren’t that many so about the only one I noticed was Nancy Pelosi.  At one point you could see the unwashed masses, I mean American tourists, were off in an area merely left to be bystanders in this high drama world of high stakes politics.  I witnessed the gratuitous little black girl break away from the pack and run and hug Nancy Pelosi.  That whole scene seemed staged to me.  As an artist, I was thinking about Norman Rockwell’s painting of Ruby Bridges.  Watching Nancy embrace this child was supposed to be a heartfelt moment for the American people to witness, but of course I’m a cynic and figured Nancy had to get some Purell as soon as possible.  I don’t believe for a minute that any of these politicians want to hold our hands.  I’m talking about the hands of their constituents.

Norman Rockwell's painting of Ruby Bridges.

I was shocked by a number that Brian mentioned.  Somewhere in the piece Brian said 30,000 people work in that building, running back in forth between the Senate and the House.  I found that shocking and was left wondering which one of those 30,000 is the dog walker for Senator Conrad and just how much is the running of this place costing the American people? You can  watch this Dateline Special here.  It’s broken down into different parts.  http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30892505/

On Sunday we were treated to the inner workings of Congress, but on Monday we got to see the complete capitulation of Democratic politics.  It seems with this big bill we will have a “Super Congress” that will make decisions that the normal Congress can’t seem to do on their own.  As a voting member of the public, I am appalled by this.  This “Super Congress” will be made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, three of each Party from the House and Senate.  We voted for the people in Congress to represent us.  We did not vote for a “Super Power”.  It seems to me that this whole process is flawed to begin with because Congress has given up their individual voting power to a Super Power.  Years ago one of my brothers always used to talk about the 12 men that run the world.  Now we have the two party system of rule that is going to decide what’s best for the rest of us.  The Independents, Green Party, or any other “party” that may have been trying to be a voice in our politics absolutely has no voice!  Are these Super Congress people going to end up being approached by the Super Lobbyist people?  You have to be wondering by now who is planning on being these “Super Powers”.  We all thought Elizabeth Warren would get the job she was born to do.  However, we all know how that turned out.  Who thought up these super powers, someone that wanted a super job?  We all better hope Representative Paul Ryan isn’t one of the “chosen” ones.

I don’t profess to have the answers to our problems, but I know there are three things we need to do.  First, we need to stop being the world’s policeman.  We spend a tremendous amount of money on defense spending that is really just a policeman for the world.  The defense has grown so big that there is much fraud, abuse, and even lost money.  It’s time that we got out of the wars in the Middle East and used some of that defense money that is used to build bridges and roads over there to build them here.  Second, we need to focus on jobs here.  It takes money to make this happen.  We must invest in our country by fixing the infrastructure that includes our roads, bridges, schools, cities, electrical grid, sewer systems, and transportations systems.  If we want business to thrive in this country, then we must have a first class infrastructure!  We need to develop new jobs for the future which probably can be created easily around “green” and biomedical fields.  Finally, we must invest in education for everyone.  We must have broadband everywhere in the United States.  This is the way business works today.  If you don’t have access to the global network through broadband, you won’t be able to grow your business and expand it as easily and quickly.  The focus in education should not be on ridiculous test taking strategies but on giving students the type of education that they need to compete in a 21st Century environment.  This means that our students today need much different skills than we needed when we were kids.  They still need to read and write but they need much more than that.  While politicians are busy creating new test taking stumbling blocks for teachers to focus on and forcing evaluations of teachers tied to these tests, the world is moving on in education by focusing on 21st Century literacy skills.  Those skills are not about taking some test that was developed by a 20th Century developer!   These skills involve information literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, teamwork and collaboration, information technology, and leadership.  In addition to all of this we want to develop students’ creativity and innovative thinking, self-direction, professionalism, ethics, and social responsibility.  Wow, that is a lot to accomplish and yet it seems like as a country we keep focusing on standardized test scores.

As I sit here today, I keep thinking that we have a Congress that is working like they live in the 18th Century and not the 21st Century.  These guys may think they are 21st Century because they discovered Twitter and Facebook, but the reality is they are still living in the past acting like they are some unique genetic material that cannot be replaced.  They appear to live in an Ivory tower far removed from the toils of the American people.  They have everything subsidized and taken care of for themselves from the walking of their pet pooch to their lunches and even to the art in their offices.  They have nothing to worry about except their next election and that’s what their focus is on.  They are ever the politician looking for votes.  Monday night after I watched the vote in the House, I went on Twitter and I saw a Barack Obama’s tweet, so I went to it.  He was so proud of this event and he wanted money for his campaign!

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