Want to Make a Difference? Canvass for Local Candidates You Believe In

 

 

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Knock! Knock! Knock!

 

I stood there on the porch staring at my own knuckles in disbelief.

 

My 9-year-old daughter was looking up at me with a look like “What did you just do?”

 

But there was no time to say anything.

 

The door was opening.

 

An older gentleman stood in the entryway looking like he had just been stirred from sleep.

 

“Hello! Is this…” I began and Pam, who was standing next to me filled in the name.

 

“Yes,” he grumbled.

 

I introduced the three of us and told the man that we were canvassing his neighborhood for two local candidates running for state legislature.

 

And then I stopped because I wasn’t sure what to say next.

 

Luckily Pam jumped in and told him what our candidates stood for – education, healthcare and working families.

 

“Are these Democrats?” he groused. “I’m done with them. After what they did to that judge, I’m done.”

 

“You mean Kavanaugh?” I said.

 

He nodded.

 

My mouth opened to say something but what do you say?

 

Brett Kavanaugh was accused by multiple women of sexual assault but was saved from a thorough FBI investigation by his buddy, Donald Trump. He cried, whined and spouted partisan conspiracy theories yet still was confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

Really, what was this guy’s problem? Did he think we shouldn’t investigate Supreme Court Justices when credible accusers hurl accusation of abuse? Did he think Kavanaugh’s chief accuser – Dr. Christine Blasey Ford – made the whole thing up so that she could have her reputation forever tied to an attempted rape and her family displaced from their home and forced into hiding because of constant death threats? Did he think we should give privileged white guys lifetime judicial appointments based on what? Political affiliation? Skin tone?

 

 

Pam tried to bring up a few other topics – about how Republicans in our state of Pennsylvania are actively working to cut this man’s healthcare, calling this man’s generation “the greediest generation” and other topics.

 

But it did no good. Fox News had gotten there first.

 

So we handed him our campaign literature, thanked him and went on our way.

 

Sometimes that’s the best you can do.

 

And it’s not nothing.

 

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If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re a lot like me.

 

You see the madness of our modern age and wonder what the heck went wrong?

 

A reality TV show clown is President of the United States of America. And all over this country, the conservative clown car is spitting out candidates for major office.

 

Even here in the keystone state, we have Scott Wagner running for Governor on the leftover promises of our previous GOP Governorslashing education funding, firing teachers and lower taxes for the wealthy.

 

Meanwhile, the world is falling apart. The U.N. just released a major report finding that we have about a dozen years to make significant changes to our energy consumption or else global climate change will be irreversible. Yet our leaders complain there’s nothing they can do!

 

It’s enough to make one lose hope in the future.

 

As a father and a public school teacher, I can’t afford that despair.

 

There needs to be at least the slimmest glimmer of the possibility of a new day.

 

And I’m here to tell you, friends, it’s out there.

 

It starts with you.

 

If you want real progressive change, you have to go out there and make it – one day at a time.

 

We can turn back the tide of self-destruction. We can beat back the politics of bread and circuses. We can take back this country and build a better future.

 

But it will take more than one day.

 

It will take all of us, doing incremental good, every day we can.

 

So my suggestion is to make a commitment to voting this Nov. 6.

 

I know our electoral system is a mess. I know many people are being purged from the rolls and our districts are gerrymandered and the entire system is set up against us.

 

But if all of us try to vote, we can still win.

 

Find a candidate you can support and go out there and campaign for him or her.

 

I know there are a lot of phonies running for office. There are an awful lot of fake progressives who will talk nicely to your face and then sell you out to corporations and the wealthy at their first opportunity.

 

Just know that they’re not all like that.

 

Find yourself someone you can trust – probably someone new to the game coming on the scene to change things.

 

In the Pittsburgh area I found Lindsey Williams.

 

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Lindsey Williams and Me

 

She’s an amazing lady with real conviction running for State Senate in the 38th District – that’s most of Northern Allegheny County from Franklin Park eastward, as well as Highland Park and sections of East Liberty in Pittsburgh.

 

Her number one priority is the same as mine – education.

 

That should come as no surprise from a candidate who’s also the communications director for the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.

 

But Williams actually lives her values.

 

Before coming to Pittsburgh, she was fired for union organizing at the National Whistleblowers Center. Ironically, she was working there to tell the story of people who were retaliated against for reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, and found herself a target for attempting to organize a staff union. She eventually won the resulting case with the National Labor Relations Board.

 

When her campaign literature says she “won’t back down” fighting for working families. That’s what it means.

 

And her priorities – education, healthcare and labor – aren’t pie in the sky promises. She has a fiscally responsible plan to support them by creating a severance tax on natural-gas drilling and closing a loophole that allows businesses headquartered in other states to avoid state taxes. She wants to keep taxes low for homeowners while making sure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share.

 

Perhaps that’s why a conservative dark money organization aligned with her Republican challenger, Jeremy Shaffer, has created knockoff campaign signs that look just like Williams with the word “Socialist” emblazoned on them.

 

It’s a desperation tactic.

 

Shaffer is down in the polls. The district – once a Republican stronghold – went to Hillary Clinton in the last election.

 

Even Shaffer, a Ross Township supervisor, is a throwback – he’s a far right extremist who primaried incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) in May.

 

And his platform is nothing but tax cuts for the rich and school privatization for the rest of us. In effect, he’s a mini-Trump come to bring the circus to town.

 

So not only is Williams a candidate I can believe in, her race really matters to the overall state picture. If the Democrats only pick up her seat in November and don’t lose any others, we’ll crush the GOP’s veto-proof majority!

 

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But I didn’t come out this weekend just for Williams.

 

I also was there to canvass for Betsy Monroe, a Fox Chapel medical professional at Highmark running for State House in the same North Hills area.

 

She was inspired to get into politics after Trump’s election and the subsequent 2017 Women’s March.

 

She noticed that state Rep. Hal English (R-Hampton) had run unopposed in the last two elections, so she decided to run against him, herself.

 

Monroe was particularly angered by English’s vote to criminalize abortions after 20 weeks for all women in the Commonwealth. (The bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf back before the GOP had a veto proof majority.) She thought it was unfair for lawmakers to decide what adult women can do with their own bodies.

 

However, there was one other woman I was there to support – my own daughter.

 

For someone in elementary school, she is incredibly interested in politics. I caught her on Saturday literally writing political stump speeches for her stuffed animals. Let me tell you, Eeyore the donkey from the Hundred Acre Wood has some mighty progressive views on women’s rights!

 

I wanted my little one to see real women in politics, fighting to make a difference.

 
The news is always so grim. I wanted her to see that there are people out there fighting for the good.

 

And you know what? It helped me, too.

 

At this point I need to pause and give a huge “Thank You” to two people – Pamela Harbin and Jodi Hirsch.

 

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Me and Pamela Harbin

 

Jodi is an amazing organizer who put together the event in the first place.

 

I wanted to get more involved in the election and Jodi knew exactly how I could do that and which candidates I’d be most interested in.

 

Pam is a local activist I’ve known for years. I fought with her side-by-side against the statewide education budget cuts, charter schools, standardized testing and a host of Corporations Gone Wild shenanigans.

 

I was new to this whole canvassing thing, so she agreed to go with my daughter and me to show us the ropes.

 

I couldn’t have done it without her.

 

Thankfully, not every door we knocked on went like the grumpy gentlemen described above.

 

Frankly, most people weren’t home or didn’t answer the door.

 

Some people – especially young folks – proudly responded that they don’t vote or have no idea what’s going on.

 

Others were energized by what was happening and were looking forward to going to the polls and being heard.

 

“You know I’ll be there!” said one gentleman. “I’m straight Dem. Right on down the line. I’ve had enough of this Trump crap.”

 

But more people than I’d expected took pride in their nonpartisanship.

 

They wouldn’t commit to anything – just took our literature, heard us out and said they’d decide at the polls.

 

I always wondered what an undecided voter looked like. I saw a lot of them this weekend.

 

But that’s why we were there – to help nudge the uncommitted.

 

Hopefully on Nov. 6 they’ll think of Pam, my daughter and me.

 

Maybe even the Fox News fan who thought Kavanaugh got a raw deal will have his resolved softened.

 

Maybe he’ll think of my daughter’s chubby cheeks and innocent eyes as he considers voting for people who’d gladly steal her future for the prospect of more tax cuts for the rich.

 

Then again, maybe not. But who knows?

 

We tried.

 


If you live in Pennsylvania and want to get involved, click HERE.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Kavanaugh Confirmation Begs the Question – Does Truth Matter?

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“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

-George Orwell

 

 

Does the truth matter?

 

It seems to be one of the central questions of our age.

 

We just held a Senate confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

 

And despite multiple women making credible allegations of sexual misconduct against him…

 

Despite an FBI investigation so grossly limited in scope that investigators couldn’t even interview either the accusers or the accused…

 

Despite the withdrawal of support from some of the most conservative organizations including the National Council of Churches representing more than 100,000 congregations, the magazine of the Jesuit religious order, and even former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens…

 

Despite all that, the Republican majority gave their wholehearted approval.

 

 

Only Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski bucked her party and voted against him – while Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia was the only Democrat to vote for him.

 

 

The result was a forgone conclusion – a Republican majority who blatantly ignored any evidence and made a decision based purely on party politics.

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified in front of these people only a week earlier about a drunk Kavanaugh’s attempted rape when they were both in school.

 

She put her life, her security and her family’s happiness on the line to come forward. She still can’t return to her home after multiple death threats.

 

Yet those in power chose to ignore her.

 

They looked at the facts presented to them and chose to interpret them in a way that allowed them to do what they wanted to do in the first place.

 

Many said that they believed Ford was accosted but not by Kavanaugh.

 

Yet they refused to allow the kind of investigation that might have gotten at the truth.

 

These are not the actions of lawmakers interested in what happened all those years ago between Kavanaugh and Ford – or between Kavanaugh and multiple other women who they didn’t even give a hearing.

 

These are not the actions of lawmakers concerned about picking the best person for the job.

 

Instead, they are the actions of partisans who put power over objective reality.

 

They’d rather craft a story that fits their desires than the other way around.

 

It is craven, cowardly and disrespectful to their office and their charge.

 

This article began with a quote from George Orwell, author of 1984. Let me offer another:

 

“Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become tolerant or intellectually stable.”

 

That is what happened here. A ruling class resorting to force and fraud to broaden its power.

 

 

Republicans already have control of two branches of government. Now they have stolen a third – a power grab that will echo down the halls of history for decades to come.

 

 

This is a senate majority representing fewer people than the so-called minority, lead by a President who lost the popular vote.

 

It is not democracy or a just republic. It is a coup.

 

 

As Orwell warns, when we ignore an inconvenient reality, we are on the road to totalitarianism.

 

 

It didn’t matter to those senators whether Kavanaugh was a blackout drunk, whether he still drinks to excess, whether he engaged in sexual harassment or attempted rape.

 

Heck. He could have attacked Ford on the floor of the Senate, itself, on live TV.

 

None of it would have mattered.

 

He was simply a means to an end – the increased power of the Republican Party and the donor class it represents.

 

GOP senators (and even Kavanaugh, himself) complained about dark money influencing the nomination process, yet the overwhelming majority of that money came from conservative backers!

 

They raved and foamed at Democrats for stalling the nomination yet refused to take responsibility for sabotaging Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.

 

Instead they offered bad faith distinctions between what you can do during an election year vs. a presidential election year – as if it made any difference.

 

It is not just the spirit of the Constitution that lay in tatters on the Senate floor – but the fabric of reality, itself.

 

Thankfully, voters have an opportunity to have their voices heard in a few weeks.

 

We can take to the polls and let these people know how we feel about it.

 

Honestly, this may be our last chance.

 

I am absolutely devastated by these events.

 

I find myself at the ripe old age of 44 chiding myself for being naïve.

 

I watched the hearing as if it were a TV show or a Frank Capra movie. At the last minute, goodness will prevail.

 

That didn’t happen.

 

I, too, was blind to reality.

 

Well, the blinders are off.

 

Like so many of you, I am in mourning for a country that never really existed.

 

But the wake is in November.

 

Let’s hope it will be the start of a rebirth.

 


Click here to find ways to get involved in the November 6 midterm election.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Brett Kavanaugh is the Link Between Rape and Abortion

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I think I will always associate Brett Kavanaugh with the taste of vomit in the back of my throat.

 

I couldn’t watch his sham of a confirmation hearing without my gag reflex going into overdrive.

 

Here was one of the most privileged of people on the planet alternatively weeping and raging that he was being denied his due.

 

Here was a man bemoaning that no matter what happened, his reputation forever would be ruined, but who likewise refused to call for an investigation to exonerate himself.

 

At least three separate women have accused him of sexual assault, yet Congressional Republicans are still planning to ram through his nomination to the Supreme Court – a lifetime appointment where he will almost certainly be the tie breaking vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

 

How fitting.

 

What perfect symmetry.

 

You couldn’t have planned it any more poetically.

 

A man accused of multiple attempted rapes who is doing everything in his power to make abortion illegal.

 

An overgrown frat boy crying into his beer that we can’t take away his God given right to take away women’s rights.

 

A confederacy of almost exclusively male lawmakers ready to discount women’s reports of violence so that they can limit women’s freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.

 

If there is one good thing to come from this farce, it is the spotlight it has shown on the relationship between rape and the movement to recriminalize abortion.

 

These two things are essentially intertwined.

 

On the one hand, we have sexual intercourse carried out under threat of violence, sex without consent or in direct violation of consent – a crime invariably perpetrated by men on women.

 

On the other hand, we have the removal of female consent from the birthing process.

 

They are almost the same thing, or at least two sides of the same coin.

 

In both cases, we’re removing or ignoring female permission, agreement, approval, agency. We’re saying it doesn’t matter what the woman wants. It only matters what men or a patriarchal society wants.

 

And the justification is an ancient text – the New Testament – that doesn’t mention abortion once. And the Old Testament actually gives instructions on how to conduct an abortion (Numbers 5:11-31).

 

Not that it really should matter. The United States is not a theocracy.

 

But it IS a patriarchy.

 

That’s what this is – an attempt by the most insecure, power hungry men to control women.

 

It is about keeping and strengthening a caste system where men are allowed to be fully realized people and women are allowed only secondary status.

 

It is about dehumanization clothed in piety and false morality.

 

All those people crying for the lost lives of a cluster of cells in female uteruses care not a wit about the thousands of women who will die from unsafe abortions once safe procedures become unlawful.

 

We’ve been here before. Abortion was illegal in the US from the early 1800s until 1973, and we know what will happen. There is actual history on this – back alley procedures conducted by quacks using sharp implements to pierce the womb – and there is no reason to think it won’t repeat itself.

 

Changing the law won’t stop abortions. It will just make them unsafe for everyone except rich women who can afford doctors willing to take a chance on going to jail for a big payday.

 

If these people really wanted to stop abortions, they’d support handing out free contraception. They’d turn every orphanage into a palace. They’d each adopt as many children as they could. They’d make neonatal care free, expand services to help women raise children, increase maternity leave, pay for free childcare, expand education funding.

 

But they don’t do any of that because despite their crocodile tears, their objection has nothing to do with unborn children.

 

It has to do with mature women making decisions for themselves. It has to do with conceptualizing them as people equal to men and with minds capable of consent.

 

It’s about allowing women the right to choose – choose whom to have sex with and what exactly the consequences of that sex will or will not be.

 

I am so thankful that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her testimony. What bravery! What grace under pressure!

 

To be able to share with an entire nation her personal trauma at the hands of Kavanaugh. Such courage boggles the mind almost as much as those who refuse to accept her story as genuine.

 

They say that this is political. That it’s a hit job. Yet they pound their fists onto their ears to drown out Kavanaugh’s words in self-defense where he makes it entirely clear how partisan he is and will be once he takes the bench:

 

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. And millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.”

 

These are not the words of a fair arbitrator. They are the ravings of someone with an axe to grind.

 

But they do well to point out the elephant in the room – Donald Trump.

 

The man who nominated Kavanaugh has had at least 19 women accuse him of sexual assault. He even admitted to it on video in the infamous Access Hollywood tape.

 

Yet a minority of Americans elected him President through a legislative loophole kept open by centuries of neglect, apathy and moneyed interest.

 

I don’t know how this all will end. The FBI will conduct a limited investigation this week – probably stymied as much as possible by the Trump administration.

 

But the road that lead us here is achingly clear.

 

This is a tantrum of the patriarchy.

 

It is the weakest, most twisted men and their Stockholm syndrome suffering accomplices.

 

It is not about defining when life begins.

 

It’s about defining who gets to count as fully human – who gets the freedom to choose.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The Best Way to Prepare for School Shootings is to Reduce the Chances They’ll Happen at All

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I participated in yet another active shooter drill at my school this week.

 

“Death to the infidels!” shouted Mr. O’Grady, one of my fellow teachers, as he stormed the classroom with a Nerf blaster rifle.

 

I had stuffed myself under a table in another teacher’s reading nook.

 

But it did no good.

 

One of the soft yellow balls came sproinging out of the gun and bounced off the carpet into my groin.

 

Then someone blew a whistle and the scenario was over.

 

The classroom full of teachers collected ourselves from behind overturned tables and under desks before uncertainly getting to our feet.

 

“Who got hit?” asked the principal as he poked his head into the room.

 

A flurry of hands went up including mine.

 

The students had been dismissed about an hour earlier. The body count was made up entirely of faculty and staff – teachers, administrators, security guards, substitutes, lunch ladies, etc.

 

The lesson we were supposed to take away from the activity was that hiding was a losing strategy.

 

“Do something,” one of the police officers conducting the drill said.

 

They wanted us to swarm the shooter, throw things at him (Nerf balls in our scenario) or make a run for it. Anything but simply staying put and being sitting ducks.

 

It made me wonder why our lawmakers don’t heed the same advice.

 

Do something?

 

Yeah. Why doesn’t Harrisburg do something? Why doesn’t Washington?

 

That’s where you can make a real difference to keep our schools safe.

 

Instead of making the world safer for our kids, we’re trying to lock them up in a castle and keep the violence out.

 

But it’s impossible. You can’t keep out human nature.

 

The same things that cause shooters to enter the school and go on a killing spree are already in our classrooms.

 

O’Grady may have imagined he was a member of Al-Qaeda as he pretended to blow his co-workers away, but if a shooter ever enters our building, he’s more likely to be a co-worker, parent or student.

 

We don’t need more ways to keep them out. We CAN’T keep them out and still do our jobs!

 

All we can do is try to alleviate the pressure, to counsel mental distress, heal physical trauma, guard against societal hurts.

 

And if that doesn’t work, we can lower the stakes and limit the amount of damage done.

 

Turning the school into a prison will not help. Turning teachers into guards (armed or otherwise) will not solve anything.

 

Back in 1999 in the wake of the Columbine school shooting, the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education warned against all the things we’re doing now – police officers in the schools, metal detectors, cameras, etc.

 

Instead, they advised us as follows:

 

“Specifically, Initiative findings suggest that [school] officials may wish to consider focusing their efforts to formulate strategies for preventing these attacks in two principal areas:

 

  • developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack; and,

 

  • employing the results of these risk evaluations or “threat assessments” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.”

 

 

That means prevention over disaster prepping. Homeland Security and education officials wanted us to pay close attention to our students, their needs and their struggles.

 

We keep our schools safe by looking to the humans in them and not new ways to barricade the building or watch the whole disaster unfold on closed circuit TV.

 

The fact is that our schools are actually much safer than the communities that support them. Numerous studies have concluded that students are more secure in school than on the streets or even in their own homes.

 

If we want to make the schools safer, we need to make the communities safer.

 

And, no, I’m not just talking about high poverty neighborhoods populated mostly by people of color. I mean everywhere – in our society, itself.

 

There are too many guns out there. We have more firearms than people!

 

According to the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Americans now own 40 per cent of all guns in the world – more than the next 25 countries combined. And with every mass shooting and the hysteria trumped up by gun manufacturers with each surge in profits, that number continues to climb.

 

You can do whatever you want to the schools, but you’ll never increase safety until you deal with THAT problem.

 

The fact is countries with more guns have more gun deaths. States and Countries with more rigorous gun control have fewer gun deaths.

 

(If you doubt it, see Florida’s “The Geography of Gun Deaths,” and a 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews.)

 

We need sane, sensible gun regulations. We need government buyback programs. And we need to smash the NRA’s stranglehold on our political process.

 

These ridiculous safety drills are simply whistling in the dark.

 

They’re not harmless. They’re HARMFUL.

 

They actually make our schools less safe.

 

Metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and resource officers do not create safer schools. According to a study released by the National Association of School Psychologists :

 

“There is no clear research evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence (Addington, 2009; Borum, Cornell, Modzeleski, & Jimerson, 2010; Casella, 2006; Garcia, 2003). In fact, research has shown that their presence negatively impacts students’ perceptions of safety and even increases fear among some students (Bachman, Randolph, & Brown, 2011; Schreck & Miller, 2003). In addition, studies suggest that restrictive school security measures have the potential to harm school learning environments (Beger, 2003; Phaneuf, 2009).”

 

At this week’s active shooter drill in my school, one of the student aides asked the principal when he thought the state would be arming teachers.

 

For him, it wasn’t a matter of if. It was a matter of when.

 

And if you listen to the cowardly garbage spewing out of our lawmakers mouths, you can certainly understand why he believes that.

 

However, arming teachers or even adding more armed police to the school will not make our classrooms more secure.

 

There is overwhelming evidence that it will do just the opposite.

 

As Melinda Wenner Moyer reports in Scientific American, “guns are associated with an increased risk for violence and homicide”—but not with greater safety.

 

Just look at the facts.

 

Security cameras were present at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. They didn’t stop anything from happening.

 

Armed resource officers were present at Columbine and Parkland. That didn’t stop anything from happening.

 

All these measures do is criminalize our students. It turns them from prospective learners into would-be prison inmates – and as we know, our prisons are not exactly the safest places to be.

 

“How’d I do?” asked Mr. O’Grady, my co-worker who had posed as the shooter during the last scenario.

 

“You shot me in the dick,” I said.

 

He laughed. And I laughed.

 

But it was the kind of laugh that dies in your throat and leaves a taste of ashes.

 

School safety is a joke in 2018. Not because of what teachers and districts are doing.

 

When society fails to meet its obligations – as it does time-and-again – it’s our schools that continually step up to take the slack.

 

The problem is that we can’t even pretend to do this one on our own.

 

We can’t keep the schools safe if you won’t do anything about the community – if you won’t reduce poverty, violence and trauma.

 

We can’t keep the schools safe, if you won’t do something about the river of guns that flow through our nation like a high caliber Mississippi.

 

Do something?

 

Take your own advice, America.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Disowning the Lie of Whiteness

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The most vivid memory I have of my great-grandfather is the tattoo on his arm.

 

It wasn’t an anchor or a sweetheart’s name or even the old faithful, “Mom.”

 

It was just a series of digits scrawled across his withered tan flesh like someone had written a note they didn’t want to forget.

 

Beneath the copious salt and pepper hairs was a stark number, the darkest stain on his skin.

 

Gramps is a kindly figure in my mind.

 

He died before I was even 10-years-old. All I really remember about him are wisps of impressions – his constant smile, a whiff of mothballs, how he always seemed to have butterscotch candies.

 

And that tattoo.

 

I think it was my father who told me what it meant.

 

When he was just a young man, Gramps escaped from Auschwitz. A guard took pity on him and smuggled him out.

 

His big European family didn’t make it.

 

My scattered relatives in the United States are all that are left of us.

 

Those are the only details that have come down to me. And Gramps isn’t here to add anything further.

 

But his tattoo has never left me.

 

It’s become a pillar of my subconscious.

 

The fact that someone could look at my kindly Gramps and still see fit to tattoo a numeric signifier on him as if he were an animal.

 

A little reminder that he wasn’t human, that he shouldn’t be treated like a person, that he was marked for erasure.

 

If I look at my own arm, there is no tell-tale integer peeking through the skin. But I am keenly aware of its presence.

 

I know that it’s there in a very real sense.

 

It is only the American dream that hides it.

 

Coming to this country, my family has made a deal, something of a Faustian bargain, but it’s one that most of us have accepted as the price of admission.

 

It’s called whiteness.

 

I am white.

 

Or I get to be white. So long as I suppress any differences to the contrary.

 

I agree to homogenize myself as much as possible and define myself purely by that signifier.

 

White. American. No hyphen necessary.

 

Anything else is secondary. I don’t have to deny it, but I have to keep it hidden until the right context comes to bring it out.

 

During Octoberfest I have license to be German. When at international village I can root for Poland. And on Saturdays I can wear a Kippah and be Jewish.

 

But in the normal flow of life, don’t draw attention to my differences. Don’t show everyone the number on my arm.

 

Because America is a great place, but people here – as in many other places – are drawn to those sorts of symbols and will do what they can to stamp them out.

 

I learned that in school when I was younger.

 

There weren’t a lot of Jewish kids where I grew up. I remember lots of cracks about “Jewing” people down, fighting against a common assumption that I would be greedy, etc. I remember one girl I had a crush on actually asked to see my horns.

 

And of course there were the kids who chased me home from the bus stop. The scratched graffiti on my locker: “Yid.”

 

The message was clear – “You’re different. We’ll put up with you, but don’t ever forget you are NOT one of us.”

 

There were a lot more black kids. They didn’t get it any easier but at least they could join together.

 

It seemed I had one choice – assimilate or face it alone.

 

So I did. I became white.

 

I played up my similarities, never talked about my differences except to close friends.

 

And America worked her magic.

 

 

So I’ve always been aware that whiteness is the biggest delusion in the world.

 

It’s not a result of the color wheel. Look at your skin. You’re not white. You’re peach or pink or salmon or rose or coral or olive or any of a million other shades.

 

Whiteness has as much to do with color as Red has to do with Communism or Green has to do with environmental protection.

 

It is the way a lose confederacy of nationalities and ethnicities have banded together to form a fake majority and lord power over all those they’ve excluded.

 

It’s social protection for wealth – a kind of firewall against the underclass built, manned and protected by those who are also being exploited.

 

It’s like a circle around the wealthy protecting them from everyone outside its borders. Yet if everyone banded together against the few rich and powerful, we could all have a more equitable share.

 

But in America, social class has been weaponized and racialized.

 

You’ll see some media outlets talking about demographics as if white people were in danger of losing their numerical majority in this country in the next few decades. But there’s no way it’s ever going to happen.

 

Today’s xenophobia is a direct response to this challenge. Some are trying to deport, displace and murder as many black and brown people as possible to preserve the status quo.

 

But even if that doesn’t work, whiteness will not become a minority. It will do what it has always done – incorporate some of those whom it had previously excluded to keep its position.

 

Certain groups of Hispanics and Latinos probably will find themselves allowed to identify as white, thereby solidifying the majority.

 

Because the only thing that matters is that there are some people who are “white” and the rest who are not.

 

Long ago, my family experienced this.

 

Before I was born, we got our provisional white card. And if I want, I can use it to hide behind.

 

I’ve been doing it most of my life.

 

Every white person does it.

 

It’s almost impossible not to do it.

 

How do you deny being white?

 

At this point, I could throw back my head and shout to the heavens, “I’M NOT WHITE!” and it wouldn’t matter.

 

Only in a closed environment like a school or a job or in a social media circle can you retain the stigma of appearing pale but still being other.

 

In everyday life, it doesn’t matter what you say, only how you appear.

 

I can’t shout my difference all the time. Every moment I’m quiet, I’ll still be seen as white.

 

It’s not personal. It’s social. It’s not something that happens among individuals. It’s a way of being seen.

 

The best I can do is try to use my whiteness as a tool. I can speak out against the illusion. I can stand up when people of color are being victimized. I can vote for leaders who will do something to dismantle white supremacy.

 

Not because I am some kind of savior, but because I know that my own freedom is tied to the freedom of those being oppressed by a system that provides me certain privileges.

 

But let me be clear: doing so is not the safe way to go.

 

In defending others you make yourself a target.

 

I get threats all the time from racists and Nazis of all sorts. They say they can tell just by looking at me that I’m not white at all.

 

The worst part is I’m not sure what I am anymore.

 

I don’t go to synagogue. I don’t even believe in God. But I’m Jewish enough to have been rounded up like Gramps was, so I won’t deny that identity. It’s just that I’m more than one thing.

 

That’s what whiteness tries to reduce you to – one thing.

 

I don’t want it anymore.

 

I’m not saying I don’t like the protection, the ability to be anonymous, the easy out.

 

But it’s not worth it if it has to come with the creation of an other.

 

I don’t want to live in a world where people of color are considered less than me and mine.

 

I don’t want to live in a world where they can be treated unfairly, beaten and brutalized so that I can get some special advantage.

 

I don’t want to live in a world where human beings are tattooed and numbered and sent to their deaths.

 

Because the Holocaust is not over.

 

American slavery is not over.

 

Neither is Jim Crow or lynching or a thousand other marks of hatred and bigotry.

 

Nazis march unmasked in our streets. Our prisons are the new plantation. And too many of our police use murder and atrocity to ensure the social order.

 

As long as we allow ourselves to be white, there will be no justice for both ourselves and others.

 

So consider this my renunciation of whiteness – and I make it here in public.

 

I know that no matter what I say, I will still be seen as part of the problem. And I will still reap the rewards.

 

But I will use what power is given me to tear it down.

 

I’m burning my white card.

 

I know it’s a symbolic gesture. But I invite my white brothers and sisters to add theirs to the flames.

 

Let us make a conflagration, a pillar of fire into the sky.

 

Let whiteness evaporate as the smoke it is.

 

Let us revel in the natural hues of our faces as we watch it burn.

 


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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The Only Way to Survive Trump is Together

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There are days when I feel like a broken man.

 

And it is Donald Trump who has broken me.

 

Not his political victories. Not the failures of his opposition.

 

But the very fact that this piece of shit is President of the United States – that fact sits on my brain like an insect I can’t swat.

 

On those days my belief in this country wavers and disappears.

 

 

Oh, I’ve always recognized its faults, how our reality hardly ever lived up to our ideals. But I also thought that the United States was populated by mostly good people who knew right from wrong.

 

To run this country we wouldn’t choose an obvious conman, a racist and sexist, a person of low IQ, a man with little to no experience, a reality TV star. We wouldn’t let him pick the next Supreme Court justices. We wouldn’t give him the power to pardon whomever he likes. We wouldn’t give him the ability to write almost whatever he wants into law through signing statements. And we certainly wouldn’t give him the nuclear codes.

 

But we did.

 

We did all of that.

 

Or we allowed it to happen by ignoring a broken electoral system that overturns the popular vote with frightening regularity.

 

So there he sits in the Oval Office – when he isn’t on vacation at Mar-a-Lago – like a smear of feces on the American flag.

 

Therapists call this feeling “Trump Anxiety Disorder” and I have it. Boy! Do I have it!

 

The D.C. Counseling and Psychotherapy Center has identified it as a “collective politically induced anxiety among patients.”

 

Apparently, Trump’s name comes up frequently in sessions with mental health professionals. Patients say they feel on edge because of the President’s ill-chosen, childish and undiplomatic words, fear of his bad decision making, and anxiety over his xenophobic and prejudicial policies.

 

Trump Anxiety Disorder is not yet an official diagnosis, but symptoms seem to include lack of sleep, a feeling of losing control and helplessness in an unpredictable political scene, along with endless negative headlines and excessive time spent on social media.

 

Elisabeth LaMotte, a therapist at the Washington, DC, center, said, “There is a fear of the world ending. It’s very disorienting and constantly unsettling.”

 

I’m not sure I fear that Armageddon is close at hand, but I certainly feel like the world I thought I knew is unraveling.

 

Fox News was quick to frame this story as a joke – those silly “libtards” are losing their minds over Trump. But it’s not just people on the left who suffer from the disorder, says LaMotte.

 

Many Trump supporters feel isolated from friends and family who don’t blindly follow their diminutive Furor. I guess it’s hard to pal around with someone who thinks it’s completely justified to separate children from their parents and lock them up in cages – unless you think the same thing.

 

Even the American Psychological Association (APA) has recorded a rise in anxiety since the 2016 election that increases depending on how political a person is regardless of affiliation.

 

The APA also noted that electronic news consumption increases that risk.

 

In my own case, my symptoms manifested physically on Election Day, itself.

 

I literally had a heart attack in 2016 after casting my ballot. And I had another one a short while later.

 

The first one may have had something to do with depression over the political options.

 

I didn’t know Trump would win. I thought the chances of it were infinitesimal. But I didn’t want Hillary Clinton, either.

 

I wanted Bernie Sanders, and since I thought the Democratic National Convention stacked the deck against him (and therefore voters) in the primaries, I voted for Jill Stein.

 

In the months since, I’ve run that decision over in my mind a million times.

 

Was I right? Was I wrong? Could I have given Trump the margin of victory with my one stupid vote?

 

When I examine all the information I had at the time, it still makes sense.

 

The media was telling us that there was no way Trump could win. Clinton was going to come storming into the White House and continue or worsen the neoliberal policies of Barack Obama.

 

As a school teacher, I was concerned that she would continue to wage war on public education – she would continue to boost charter schools and standardized testing while shrugging at funding inequity, increased segregation and the school-to-prison pipeline.

 

It’s not that I didn’t realize Trump would be worse. It’s that I didn’t think Clinton would be that much better.

 

But had she won, I don’t think I would be suffering the same anxiety.

 

We would have a sane and sensible leader who wouldn’t do anything much to make things better, but certainly wouldn’t be plunging us into an abyss. She wouldn’t betray every single American value while blatantly using her office for personal gain and gaslighting anyone who had the temerity to point out what was happening in plain sight.

 

So maybe some of it is guilt in my case.

 

Maybe I caused all this chaos. But I’ve looked at the numbers and that doesn’t add up.

 

Even if my position as a blogger who criticized Clinton (and Trump) convinced thousands of voters to cast ballots like I did, I could not have significantly affected the outcome.

 

But on those days of doubt and depression, I still feel guilty.

 

This is not the world I want to live in.

 

Things would be different if I thought there were any real hope of change.

 

Sure Trump may be defeated. If there’s a blue wave in the midterms, the orange one may be impeached. Or he may find it increasingly difficult to continue his corruption and be ousted in 2020.

 

But long term I don’t see much changing.

 

The Democrats are almost as corrupt as the Republicans.

 

Don’t give me this false equivalency crap. I’m not saying they’re the same. The Democrats are unequivocally better. But with the exception of social issues, their policies are almost the same as Republicans. The only difference is timeframe.

 

Republicans will destroy the world tomorrow. Democrats will destroy it next week.

 

And the system is just not set up to offer any challenge to the duopoly.

 

I desperately want to believe that insurgent progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Zephyr Teachout will somehow wrest control of the Democrats and steer the party back to real populist goals, but on most days it’s hard to keep that hope alive.

 

On those days it seems like the rich and powerful own our government and will never allow us to take it back no matter how many of us try to vote, no matter how often we take to the streets, no matter what we do.

 

We live in a world of shit.

 

And none of it will ever change for the better.

 

I don’t want to feel this way.

 

I still want to believe that the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.

 

But on most days that feels like an illusion.

 

Is that a mental disorder? Or do I finally see the world for the way it is?

 

I have no answers.

 

Perhaps this article has no point.

 

I only offer it as a mark of solidarity.

 

If you’re feeling this way, you are not alone.

 

There are many more out there like you.

 

I don’t know how we get through this or even if we can. But this much seems certain.

 

If we are to survive, the only way is together.

 

So I send out this missive of hope and fear with all my love and a big virtual hug.

 

Be kind to each other. We’re all we’ve got.


 

For a peak at my views on more positive days, see HERE and HERE.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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Resistance to High Stakes Testing Persists as Media Celebrates Its End

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There has never been more opposition to high stakes standardized testing.

 

Yet the corporate controlled media is pretending that the resistance is over.

 

Parents are refusing to let their kids take these tests at the same or even greater numbers than ever.

 

Fewer states require high stakes tests as graduation exams and/or use them to evaluate their teachers. Across the nation, states are cutting the size of standardized tests or eliminating them altogether. And more state legislatures passed laws explicitly allowing parents to opt their children out of the tests.

 

Yet Education Week published an article a few days ago called “Anti-Test Movement Slows to a Crawl.”

 

I think we have different definitions of “Slows” and “Crawl.”

 

That may not be surprising since we also seem to have different definitions of “Anti-Test.”

 

The Opt Out Movement is not “Anti-Test.” It is anti-high stakes standardized test.

 

It is against the federal government forcing states to use corporate written, corporate graded and corporate remediated standardized assessments.

 

It is against the federal government requiring each state to participate in a corporate boondoggle that not only wastes billions of tax dollars that could be better spent to educate children but also unfairly assesses their academic progress and feeds the push to privatize public schools.

 

Most people against high stakes standardized testing, however, have no problem with authentic teacher-created assessments.

 

Calling these folks “Anti-Test” is like labeling those pushing for stricter gun regulations “Anti-Gun” or smearing those protesting government corruption as “Anti-Government.”

 

And that’s just the title!

 

The author Alyson Klein further misdirects readers by conflating opt out rates and test resistance.

 

She implied that the only measure of opposition was the percentage of students who opt out. However, as noted above, there are multiple measures of resistance.

 

 

Moreover, few states advertise their opt out rates. Especially after the movement began, states made that information harder to come by to dissuade more people from joining it.

 

Of those states where information is available, Klein puts the most negative possible spin on the facts in order to make her point – a point that it seems to me is not at all justified.

 

For instance, Klein writes:

 

“At least some of the steam has gone out of the opt-out movement in states such as New Jersey and New York, considered hotbeds of anti-testing fervor.”

 

Really?

 

In New York, Opt out numbers remained at approximately 20% – the same as they have for the past three years.

 

And New York is one of our most densely populated states. That percentage represents more than 225,000 parents across the Empire State who refused to let their children take the tests despite threats from many administrators and district officials for doing so.

 

 

In New Jersey, opt out rates were marginally lower this year than last year. They went from 7% to 5%. But once again New Jersey is a populous state. That percentage represents about 68,500 students.

 

In addition, this is after massive opt outs three years ago that forced the state to change its federally mandated assessment. Testing boycotts pushed the state education association to get rid of four PARCC assessments and allow students who fail the remaining two tests to take an alternative assessment. And this is in a state where there is no law explicitly allowing parents to opt out of the tests.

 

I don’t know if I’d call that running out of steam.

 

Moreover, opt out rates have increased in other states for which we have data. For instance, test refusal is on the rise in heartland states like Minnesota.

 

And it nearly doubled in Utah over the past two years to about 6%. In some schools in the Beehive State, rates are much higher. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, 1 in 5 students in the Park City school district refused to take the tests.

 

 

Though my own state of Pennsylvania has been mum on last year’s opt outs, from my own personal experience as a teacher in suburban Pittsburgh, I never had more students boycott our federally mandated standardized test than I did last year.

 

There were so many they had to be quarantined in a special room.

 

Moreover, an increasing number of parents ask me about the issue, express concern and wonder about their rights.

 

So even when examining just the rate of opt out, I don’t see any reason to assume the movement is slowing down.

 

On the contrary, it is picking up steam with multiple victories.

 

As recently as 2012, half of all U.S. states required high school exit exams in order for students to graduate. Today that number has dropped to 12. The reason? Exit exams don’t raise student achievement – they raise the dropout rate. At least that’s what The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences tells us.

 

Another positive sign – seven states have stopped using value added measures (VAM) to judge teachers. This is the highly controversial practice of assessing educators based on their students test scores – a practice that has never been proven fair to teachers or effective in helping students learn. Six states have dropped this requirement altogether: Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Connecticut still gathers the information but cannot use it in the teacher’s “summative rating.” And other states like New Mexico still use value added measures but have reduced the weight given to student test scores.

 

Moreover, let’s not forget how many states have slashed the size of the high stakes tests they’re giving to students. After the recent wave of opt outs and public outcry, state education departments have ensured that testing at least takes up less time. This includes New York, Maryland, New Mexico, California, Minnesota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida, Washington, Illinois, West Virginia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. Some of this is because the PARCC test used in 21 states was slashed by 90 minutes.

 

And when it comes to opt out, two more states – Idaho and North Dakota – now have explicit laws on the books allowing parents to refuse the test for their children – in whole or in part. That brings the total number of states up to 10. It would have been 11, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed an opt-out bill. The federal government still wants us to penalize these districts for non-participation in flagrant violation of its authority. But as more states respect parents’ rights on this matter, it will be increasingly difficult for the U.S. Department of Education to continue trampling them.

 

And speaking of the federal government, some states are taking advantage of the wiggle room in the federal law that governs K-12 education – the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – to allow students to avoid standardized testing entirely. Some states are implementation performance assessments instead. Kids can use a portfolio of classwork to demonstrate learning instead of getting a grade on a corporate-written standardized test. New Hampshire, for instance, has pioneered this approach with a program that now involves half the state’s districts.

 

These are not the signs of a movement that is slowing to a crawl.

 

It just makes sense that some of the rhetoric of the movement may have become less forceful with the enactment of the federal ESSA.

 

Many had hoped for a better law – one that did away with federally mandated testing altogether.

 

And that could still happen sooner than many think. Next year it will be time to reauthorize the law again.

 

It took Congress six years to reauthorize the federal education law last time. Perhaps our duly elected representatives can be coaxed into doing their jobs a bit quicker this time.

 

There is already some proposed legislation to make positive changes. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced legislation last year to replace annual assessments with grade-span tests. The United States is, after all, one of the only countries in the world – if not the only one – to require students be tested every year. These proposed changes are not nearly enough, but they’re a step in the right direction.

 

One of the biggest obstacles to abolishing federally mandated testing last time was that some of the oldest and most well funded civil rights organizations opposed it. Many of them get their money and support from the same billionaires who profit off of the standardized testing and privatization industries.

 

However, that support for testing was short lived. Already the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has revoked it returning to a call for opposition to testing.

 

If our nation survives the many crises of the Donald Trump administration, there is no reason our future cannot be bright.

 

We have the support, we have the tools, we just need the chance to do right by our children.

 

And the pendulum is swinging back our way.


 

Like this post? I’ve written a book, “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform,” now available from Garn Press. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Badass Teachers Association. Check it out!

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