You didn’t listen to us in 2016 when we said Hilary Clinton was unelectable. You didn’t listen to us when we said Donald Trump had a real chance at winning. But you blamed the entire catastrophe on the handful of us who didn’t vote for your candidate.
And now the second Bernie Sanders suspends his 2020 campaign, you’re all over us to commit to your boy, Joe Biden.
We’ve been here before. We have a pretty good idea how this story ends. Maybe you’d do well to listen to us for once.
We’ve spent years of intense effort changing the narrative of politics in America. We’ve held live streams, phone banked, knocked on doors, overfilled arenas. We’ve pushed Medicare for all, raising the minimum wage, universal college, a Green New Deal.
And the only thing you can say is “I told you so”?
All you have to say is “blue no matter who”?
It’s just “Get in line or you’ll be responsible – again.”
Let me ask you a question: what are YOU responsible for?
In addition they have been found to increase racial segregation, cherrypick students, increase administrative overhead and discriminate against students with special needs.
But the state passed a law in 1997 allowing charter schools and there is nothing Pittsburgh Public Schools can do but continue to pay for them.
School directors, administrators, teachers, students, parents and concerned citizens can lobby their representatives in Harrisburg to fix these problems, but until they do there is little local districts can do.
However, the fact that charter schools increase local taxes is beyond doubt.
Basically, the legislature stopped paying the bills for nearly two decades.
The state government, local school districts and commonwealth employees are responsible for paying into the pension system. Districts and state workers made all their payments. Employees put aside 7.5% of their salaries every year to pay for their retirement.
But the legislature didn’t make its payments. It pushed them off to the future, and now that the future’s here, a larger percentage of the cost has fallen on local school districts.
It’s a problem of Harrisburg’s making and – frankly – the legislature should be buckling down to find a solution.
What they should do is increase taxes on the wealthy and pay their damn bills.
We had a contract with employees when they were hired. We can’t renege on it now that they’ve retired.
Once again this is something Pittsburgh Public school directors and administrators have no control over. It will take a combined effort by local communities across the Commonwealth to lobby Harrisburg to get off its ass and fix the problem it made.
Now that the city is out of financial distress (and has been since 2018), Dr. Hamlet has suggested the city should return that money – not back payments, just stop taking the additional tax revenue. Administrators estimate that would bring in another $20 million for the city school district.
It wouldn’t heal the budget shortfall all by itself, but it would certainly help.
The proposed tax increase would mean paying an additional $23 for a property valued at $100,000.
This is not an unbearable burden.
Some complain that it would push city residents to move – but really anywhere else you move will have higher taxes! Anyone who packs up and moves away will not be doing it for financial reasons.
I am thankful that board members Veronica Edwards, Pam Harbin, Devon Taliaferro, and Sylvia Wilson understood that by voting for both the proposed budget and the tax increase.
Kevin Carter, at least approved the spending plan, but he abstained from voting on whether the district should raise taxes, explaining later that he promised his constituents that was something he wouldn’t do.
Board members Cindy Falls, Bill Gallagher, Terry Kennedy, and Sala Udin voted against both measures.
Here’s hoping they find the courage to do what’s right after the holidays.
But even if they do, there is much more we must accomplish – and it requires everyone.
City residents need to rise up and demand their representatives put out the raging dumpster fires they keep lighting.
Businesses are on every corner, but they aren’t set up for the convenience of those living there.
Ethnic isolation – whether caused by poverty, legal coercion, safety in numbers or white flight – often puts the segregated at a disadvantage. It creates a quarantined economy set up for profiteers and carpetbaggers to get rich off the misery of the poor.
The system is set up to wring as much blood as it can from people forced to live as stones.
These businesses aren’t located in the suburbs or wealthy parts of town. You find them typically in the inner cities and poor black neighborhoods. They promise temporary help with one-time purchases and unexpected expenses, but in truth most are used to pay for necessities like rent or food.
They end up trapping users in a debt spiral where they have to take out payday loans to pay off previous payday loans. This is mostly because these loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations.
And these are just two of the most common features of this predatory economy – capitalist enterprises designed to enrich businesses for exploiting consumers beyond their ability to cope.
Others include high priced but limited stock grocery markets, fast food restaurants, gun stores, inner city rental properties and charter schools.
Think about it: (1) charter schools disproportionately locate in poor black communities, (2) offer the promise of relief from inequality but end up recreating or worsening the same unjust circumstances and (3) they are often owned by rich white folks from outside the neighborhood who profit off the venture.
Who attends charter schools and where are they located?
The charter sector represents only a tiny fraction of students attending public school.
This doesn’t come close to a majority for any racial group. Consider the fact that authentic public schools enroll approximately:
•7 million black students (14% of the total)
•12 million Hispanic students (24% of the total)
•24 million white students (48% of the total)
More students of all ethnicities attend authentic public schools than charter schools – by orders of magnitude. However, those that are enrolled at charter schools are not distributed evenly. Charter schools do educate a disproportionate percentage of students of color – especially among Hispanic students.
Why? Do black and brown families seek them out or is it just the opposite – charters seek out melanin abundant children.
So like liquor stores and payday lenders, charter schools are disproportionately located in highly segregated, urban communities often with a majority black and Hispanic population. And since they are businesses (unlike their authentic public school counterparts), they literally target this demographic because it fits their profit model.
These are the people they think they can sell on the charter model. And they often do.
How do charter schools disadvantage the students enrolled there?
Like other vulture capitalist enterprises, they exploit the students they purport to serve by convincing people of color to accept fewer services than they already get at authentic public schools.
Charter schools are permitted to run without elected school boards. Decisions are often made by appointed bureaucrats behind closed doors. They are not required to hold public meetings or present school documents as public records. Parents have no way of having their voices heard except that they can take it or leave it.
Authentic public schools have to accept all students who live within their boundaries.
Charter schools are not required to accept all students who live in their coverage areas or even all who apply for enrollment. They can and often do cherry pick the easiest students to educate. The can dissuade special needs students or students with less stable families from applying by forgoing special services and/or requiring prerequisites like costly uniforms and parental voluntarism. Or they can simply choose whomever they wish from the applicant pool and claim the decision was based on a lottery that never needs to be audited for fairness.
But that’s just academics. There are even clearer economic indications of how charter schools squander the tax dollars that fund them while authentic public schools are more stable and provide better value for the money.
•In 2011 and 2012, the federal government gave $3.7 million in taxpayer dollars to 25 Michigan “ghost” schools that never even opened to students.
•In California, more than $4.7 million in federal taxpayer money was handed out to create charter schools that subsequently closed within a few years.
•In Ohio, out of the 88 schools created by planning and implementation grants under the federal “Charter School Program” (CSP) for state education agencies between 2008 and 2013, at least 15 closed within a few years; a further seven schools never even opened. These charters received more than $4 million in federal taxpayer dollars.
There is even more evidence that charter schools are not nearly as stable as authentic public schools.
So charter schools provide fewer services, worse results, and a greater chance of closure or wasting limited funding without even opening at all – not a good return on investment for students of color.
And who owns and operates these charter schools?
There has been very little research on this topic.
The most detailed information I could find comes from the charter school industry, itself, specifically the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), a nonprofit that describes itself as “committed to advancing the public charter school movement.”
According to the NAPCS, about one-third of charter schools in 2016-17 were operated by management organizations that run multiple schools. This includes KIPP, Success Academy, Green Dot Charter Schools, Uncommon Schools and Rocketship Charter Schools.
The remainder (57%) are owned by what they call freestanding charter schools – which just means organizations that run only one school.
These institutions can be run by a wide range of groups including religious organizations and local business organizations such as chambers of commerce or economic development authorities.
They are a kind of “false consciousness,” an extension of the segregation economy exploiting black and brown children.
They are disproportionately located in poor and minority neighborhoods because operators think they can sell their educational model to people of color fed up with the inequality of their neighborhoods.
Yet they provide fewer services at greater cost to black communities – they convince impoverished minorities to give up the few educational guarantees they already have in favor of a worse situation. And the result is a continuation or worsening of the status quo while enriching vulture capitalists.
It’s a scam, a flimflam ripoff, a bamboozling hoax.
Like the liquor stores and payday lenders that dot the inner city landscape, charter schools are yet another way to exploit black people for the crime of putting their faith once again in capitalism to break their chains.
If you take a walk through any Costco on a weekend afternoon, you can see that Americans LOVE to get free stuff, no matter how small it is. Why else would we wait in line for a morsel of food that likely has lots of germs on it?
Because, it’s FREE.
So, what if I offered you the chance to send your child to private school, for free? You’d likely jump at the chance, right? After all, our perception is that private schools are exclusive. Private schools are much better than public schools, right?
You must pay for private schools, which puts them out of reach for many families. So, the chance to attend one for free? Sure!
But much like you might regret eating that bite of bacteria-laden food from the sample lady at Costco, you might want to really examine that “free” private school before you send your child.
Because that “private” school is not a private school at all. It’s a charter school. And charter schools are public schools. Besides, except for a few exceptions (that charter supporters never miss an opportunity to point out), they do not perform as well as traditional public schools. In fact, right here in Pennsylvania, we do not have one cyber charter school that is performing at an acceptable level per our own Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) reports.
First, let me be clear. I have never once heard a charter school say that they are a private school. However, they use smoke and mirrors to trick parents into thinking that they are a private school. And, they usually refer to themselves as “charter schools” instead of “public charter schools” and many taxpayers do not even know what a charter school is.
So, the lack of the word “public” combined with a few tricks leads parents to believe that they are getting something special, something exclusive, when in fact they are not.
School Uniforms: Now, mind you, I’m not against the idea of school uniforms. There certainly is a lot of value in the concept. But I think we’d all agree that school uniforms are not a public school kinda thing. Right? If I say the words “school uniform” my guess is that the first vision that pops into your brain is dark blue, dark green, maybe even plaid….but the vision of a Catholic/private school uniform.
“Tuition Free”: Look at any magazine or TV advertisements for charter schools, and you’re likely to see the phrase “tuition free.” Wow! Free! I love free! But guess what? It’s a public school. There never was any tuition. Again, another trick to make parents think that they are getting a private school for free.
Advertising: When was the last time you saw a television commercial for your local elementary school? Yeah, me neither. The very fact that they advertise on TV, billboards and magazines leads you to believe that they are private schools. After all, a public school wouldn’t spend millions of dollars on advertising, would they? No, traditional public schools wouldn’t, as the community likely would have a meltdown over it. But it’s standard practice with the public charter schools. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on advertising, much of it deceitful to attract students. And take note: one thing that is absent from the advertising is mention of how well that charter school is performing. Because it’s nothing to brag about!
Tricky Words: In their advertising and promotions, charter schools use tricky words to persuade parents into believing something, without outright saying it. Here are a few examples.
The most obvious is the lack of the word “school” in many of the names. I perused a list of all the charter schools in Pennsylvania. Almost a third of them contain the words “preparatory,” “academy,” “institute” or “center” in their name. When you see or hear those words, you don’t think about public education, do you?
“Specialized” or “tailored” curriculum are a few others. The words are actually pretty meaningless, but lead parents to believe that this school must be better than a public school, right?
Admissions Process: When you want to put your child in your local public school, it usually is called enrollment or registration. Charter schools call it an “admissions” process, which gives it an air of exclusivity about it. Truth is, they do get to pick their students. The lottery admissions process they use are not transparent, and they’re not accountable to telling anyone how they enroll students. But using the word ‘admissions’ is very much a loaded and slanted word, compared to enroll or register.
Marketing Exclusivity: Some charters like to promote themselves as exclusive or only being for a select group of students. Again, these are public charter schools using taxpayer dollars to operate. Allowing taxpayer money to promote exclusivity in our schools is a dangerous path to go down, in my opinion. After all, minorities and disabled children have only been in public schools for a few decades. Excluding groups of children, or insinuating that you do, is backwards progress.
Charter schools are public schools. Many parents and taxpayers do not know this due to deceptive marketing tactics. Charters in PA have been allowed to play by their own set of rules, and that has to stop.
I’ll be the first to stand up and say that our traditional public schools need some assistance. But diverting funds away from them and to charters with little accountability is not the way to improve our schools.
The Democratic primary process was a mess, the media gave free airtime to the most regressive candidate, and our national teachers unions – the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) – endorsed a Democratic challenger too early and without getting membership support first.
1) The AFT executive board invited all of the candidates to meet with them and submit to an interview. No Republican candidates responded.
2) Democrats including Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley and Clinton were interviewed in private.
3) The executive committee voted to endorse Clinton.
4) THEN the interviews were released to the public.
How can the AFT claim its endorsement was a result of membership opinion when the organization didn’t even release the interviews to members until AFTER the endorsement?
Ostensibly, the executive council used these interviews to help make its decision. Shouldn’t that same information have been available to rank and file members of the union before an endorsement was made?
Which brings up another question: were AFT members asked AT ALL about who to endorse before the executive council made the final decision?
“The AFT has conducted a long, deliberative process to assess which candidate would best champion the issues of importance to our members, their families and communities. Members have been engaged online, through the “You Decide” website, through several telephone town halls, and through multiple surveys—reaching more than 1 million members.
Additionally, over the past few weeks, the AFT has conducted a scientific poll of our membership on the candidates and key issues. The top issues members raised were jobs and the economy and public education. Seventy-nine percent of our members who vote in Democratic primaries said we should endorse a candidate. And by more than a 3-to-1 margin, these members said the AFT should endorse Clinton.”
So the AFT claims union members said to endorse Clinton on-line, on telephone town halls, surveys and a scientific poll of membership.
But did they really?
I’m not a member of the AFT but I know many teachers who are. Very few of them have ever been surveyed.
The press release says AFT members preferred Clinton 3-1. Yet to my knowledge they never released the raw data of any polls or surveys of membership.
This can’t happen again.
She said the executive council passed a four step process just last week to ensure members were behind whoever the union eventually endorsed this time around:
“Our Executive Council just passed a process last week which has four components. Number One is what do the members want? What are their aspirations? What are their needs in terms of Presidential candidates? And so we will be doing a lot of listening and engaging with members.
Number Two – There’s a lot of candidates that want access to our membership. What we would like them to spend a day with our members. We would like them to see the challenges in classrooms. The challenges that nurses have. [The AFT also represents nurses.] Listen to the challenges of adjunct professors who have student loan debt that is well beyond what salaries they get per month.
Number Three – People are really active these days. So we don’t want them to wait until there is a nationwide endorsement to involve or get engaged with candidates. So there’s going to be an ability to be involved or engaged as delegates to do these kinds of things.
Number Four – At one point or another we’ll get to an endorsement.”
Frankly, this seems kind of vague to me. I hope this new process gets better results than the last one.
So NEA and AFT leaders, your members want to know:
What is your process for selecting our next U.S. presidential candidate?
What questions will you ask potential candidates?
How will members have a democratic voice in the process?
Please be transparent and publish your process to share with members through multiple sources.
And my union brothers and sisters, get involved. Engage in the endorsement process now! Call on our NEA and AFT leadership to invite early and widespread, as well as transparent, involvement in the endorsement process.
It’s another way marketing and advertising is forced down our throats and into our leisure hours.
Not only do the multi-billion dollar corporations who fund these entertainments want to convince us we need this pill, that appliance, those technological doo-hickeys — they need to cajole and inveigle us that we need school privatization, too.
And what better way to do that than to give us heroes that – what-do-you-know – just happen to go to charter, voucher and private schools?
It’s refreshing to see the iconic Spideysuite worn by a character of color, but why change his alma mater, too?
The original webslinger, Peter Parker, was an everyperson teen who went to a public school. But Morales goes to a private school in the movie and a charter school in the comic books on which the film is loosely based.
Then we have “The Kid Who Would Be King” a modern day retelling of the King Arthur legend. In the film, Alex finds Excalibur and becomes king – while attending a British academy, the U.K.’s version of an American charter school.
And let’s not forget “The Hate U Give.” In both the book and the movie, the protagonist, 16-year-old African American Starr Carter, deals with a white police officer murdering her black friend. And her struggle is worsened by the incomprehension she meets at her mostly white, privileged private school.
Why are all these stories taking place where a tiny sliver of kids are educated?
What happened to all the public school students?
It’s not like privatized education has ever been starving for representation in the mass media.
If anything, private schools have historically been overrepresented – Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Dead Poets Society, Catcher in the Rye, etc.
It’s not about representation for the 10 percent enrolled in privatized schools. It’s about expanding the market to get more children and families to abandon public schools and pony up the dough (or siphon off the taxes) to enroll in these institutions, too.
Or at least TRY to enroll.
Back in 2011, when writer Brian Bendis and artist Sara Pichelli created Morales for Marvel comics, he was a reaction to the election of Barack Obama. As such, even his schooling had to reflect that.
Speaking of which, let’s examine the strange case of “The Kid Who Would be King.” The movie is technically not out yet, so it’s hard to see if it will make much use of its apparent Academy setting.
However, the trailer includes lots of shots of kids in traditional prep school dress with a stylized formal crest on blazers and pants. It almost seems like the setting is little more than an excuse to embrace a certain aesthetic in the costumes more than a plot point.
Or perhaps the marketing department just wants moviegoers to associate the film with the Harry Potter movies.
After all, Hogwarts is the ultimate in quasi-privatization. Special kids go to a special school where they are taught special classes. It’s never quite clear how it’s all paid for, though the kids do have to buy their own supplies.
Would “The Kid Who Would Be King” be any better if the kids in it went to public schools? They certainly would be more relatable to the average child.
“The English government has radically restructured its school system under an assumption that academisation delivers benefits to schools and students. There is neither any sign of a positive effect nor any suggestion that benefits might be increasing with years of exposure. If anything, the opposite is the case.”
Oh whatever! The blazers look nice!
THE HATE U GIVE
And that brings me to “The Hate U Give.”
Starr’s private school does at least seem to be important to the plot. After her best friend is gunned down by a gangbanger, a 10-year-old Starr is sent to Williamson Prep, a private school in the white suburbs. The family remains in the neighborhood and even takes great pride in living among other black people. But for some reason the idea of public school and the trauma of this event are entwined in their minds. They want more for Starr than just a public school experience.
Consider this bit of narration:
“The high school is where you go to get jumped, high or pregnant. We don’t go there. Williamson is another world. So when I’m here, I’m Starr version 2. Basically Williamson Starr doesn’t give anyone a reason to call her ghetto. And I hate myself for doing it.”
Years later, she’s one of very few African American students at the private school. When another black friend is subsequently murdered by the police before her eyes during a traffic stop, her white privileged classmates don’t understand what she’s going through.
I wonder if things would have been different at a public school. I wonder if by enrolling her in private school her parents hadn’t taken away the kind of support system she could have used to help deal with the tragedy.
Starr overcomes it all, and symbolically pulls a “Rest in Peace Khalil” T-shirt over her school uniform signaling her refusal to be a divided person any longer. It might have been even stronger had she re-enrolled in her public school, too.
Let me be clear: I’m not saying these are bad movies, books or comics. I actually quite like most of them. But I wonder if most people realize that when they consume this stuff they’re getting something a little extra with their entertainment – corporate propaganda.
It doesn’t seem to be an accident that so few schools are being so overrepresented in the mass media.
The global conglomerates are always looking for a way to make a buck, and product placement has always been a surefire way to do it.
Unfortunately, such underhand tricks can have a large impact on the cultural landscape.
If we continue to be bombarded by unsubstantiated images of public schools not being good enough and privatized education as the savior for our children, we will lose our system of public education.
Schools will no longer be funded by tax dollars. Parents will have to pay for them out of their own pockets.
The marble columns, wood paneled studies and ivy encrusted gardens.
It’s never really been a place for everybody. But in rhapsodizing the college experience, our lawmakers have pushed for universities to enroll an increasing number of students. The demand for free or reduced tuition – especially for low-income students – has meant more kids putting on a letterman jersey and giving it the ol’ college try.
Teenagers who wouldn’t dream of higher education in previous decades are going for it today.
That’s a pretty simple axiom. I know business-minded number crunchers will extol the virtue of “doing more with less” and other such self-help platitudes, but much of it is nonsense.
You never hear them explain how cutting CEO salaries will mean corporations will run more effectively. It’s only workers and schools that they think deserve tough love and penury.
Look, schools with less funding mean fewer teachers. That means larger class sizes. That means it’s more difficult to learn – especially for students who don’t already come from privileged backgrounds.
Speaking from experience, I was a C student in math through high school. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to excel in that subject and earned top marks.
I didn’t have to take any remedial courses, but I was forced to take a quantitative reasoning course as part of my liberal arts majors.
I’m not alone in this. Many people aren’t cognitively ready for certain concepts and skills until later. That doesn’t make them deficient in any way nor does it betray any problems in their schooling.
That’s just how their brains work. We can whine about it or we can accept human nature and do what we can to help students cope.
And this brings me to my final reason behind the college remediation trend – a problem that is more insidious than all the others combined.
5) The elitism behind the whole post-secondary system.
For centuries, higher learning has been seen as a privilege of the wealthy and the upper class. Sure a few exceptional plebians were let into our hallowed halls just to “prove” how egalitarian we were.
But college was never seen as something fit for everyone.
As such, the attitude has always been that students are on their own. Many who enroll will not end up graduating. And that’s seen as perfectly acceptable. It’s part of the design.
I’m out to eat with my family and have just taken a big bite of a juicy beef taco.
That’s when I notice someone standing right next to me at the restaurant.
So I raise my eyes upward, a meat filled tortilla overfilled with lettuce and beans hanging from my mouth, and I’m greeted with a familiar face.
“Mr. Singer!” the woman says with a nervous smile on her lips.
“Do you remember me?”
I think for a moment but realize I have more pressing concerns. I couldn’t reply with an answer to the woman’s question even if I did remember her.
So I chew and swallow and then look again.
“It’s me,” she says. “Tamarind.”
And then it hits me like a flash.
The face in front of me ages backward. The adult eyes soften. The taut cheeks become chubbier. And her whole figure shrinks three feet closer to the ground.
“Oh my God! Tamarind! Of course I remember you!” I say.
She smiles and blushes. I’m surprised by how nervous she is. I’m no one to inspire anxiety. I’m just a guy out with his wife, daughter and father-in-law shoving a taco in his face.
“When I saw you here I just had to come up to you,” she said. “I was in your 6th grade class.”
“I think it was 8th grade, wasn’t it?” I said.
“Yes! That’s right! Eighth grade!”
“How old are you now? My gosh I remember you when you only came up to here off the ground.”
“I’m 22. I’m doing really well. I just wanted you to know that you taught me how to write. If it wasn’t for you I never would have made it anywhere. I just wanted to thank you so much for everything you did for me.”
We chatted a bit more and then she left us to finish our meal.
But, of course, the whole interaction got me thinking.
As a teacher, you are something of a minor public figure.
When you’re out and about – especially if you’re somewhere in your district – you’re bound to be recognized and invariably someone will want to chat.
I remember one time at the bakery counter a former student gave me my order and told me he threw in a few donuts.
I remember laughing and telling him he didn’t need to do that.
“Nah, Mr. Singer, you never wrote me up for falling asleep in your class. You knew I was watching my brothers and sisters at home and never gave me shit for it. You keep those donuts.”
Another time at the theater I was almost late to my movie because I was listening to a former student at the concession stand catch me up on her life and what all of her friends from my class were doing these days.
So many students. So many kids that have now become adults.
You lose track of how many lives you’ve had an impact on.
The first few days of school are always filled with endless administrative meetings. The superintendent welcomes you with testing data. Then your principal breaks it down by building and subject.
You find out which diagnostic exams you have to give your students and when. You find out what your Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment Score (PVAAS) is – how good a teacher you are based on how well your students from last year did on the state standardized test.
On the one hand, I suppose I have no reason to feel like much of a good teacher.
Most of my students didn’t pass the test. They rarely do.
The same number of 7th graders (that’s what I taught last year) passed the reading test as in previous years. However, many more passed that were expected to fail.
The state uses a mystery metric based on Classroom Diagnostic Assessment (CDT) data to come up with a prediction of who they expect to pass and who they expect to fail. No one really knows how they calculate this. For all we know, the state secretary of education could examine a pile of chicken entrails before entering it all into the system.
Does all that data mean I’m a good teacher or not?
I don’t know.
But I do know what Tamarind thinks.
And I know what a host of former students have told me. I know how they react when they see me out in the wild, just living my life.
I’m sure there are probably former students who don’t like me. There must be those who hold a grudge for getting a 59% on an assignment. Or maybe they remember me yelling at them for something. Or – who knows – maybe they just didn’t respond to The Singer Charm.
But an awful lot of people come up to me who don’t have to.
Yesterday was the first day of classes for the year.
For the first time, all my classes were looped. I taught 7th grade Language Arts last year and I’m teaching the 8th grade course this year.
When those kids came into the class on Friday, it was like a homecoming.
So many smiles. So much laughter and joy. And, yes, impromptu hugs.
It felt like a family gathering, not a school function.
As I left the building feeling more exhausted than I have in months, another teacher stopped me.
“Steve! I wanted to catch you before you left!” she said.
She told me that she gave her students a survey in her class as an icebreaker. One of the questions was to name their favorite teacher from last year. My name came up a lot.
So there I was standing at a podium in Barnes and Noble before an audience of 25 people who had come to hear me talk about my book.
Speech uploaded to my iPad – check.
Cough drop – check.
Fear that no one would take me seriously – Oh, double, triple check!
Let me just say there is a big difference between sitting behind a keyboard pounding out your thoughts for consumption on the Internet, and being somewhere – anywhere – in person.
I’ve spoken at rallies. I’ve spoken at school board meetings. I’ve spoken in private with lawmakers and news people.
But none of that is quite like being the center of attention at your own invitation, asking people to take time out of their busy lives and drag their physical selves to some prearranged place at some prearranged time just to hear whatever it is you’ve got to say.
I had been practicing my remarks for weeks after school.
I surveyed the audience. A few people I didn’t know. But there was my mom and dad, a bit more grey haired than I remembered yet doing their parental duty. There were a few colleagues from work – teachers, aides and substitutes. There were a few students standing in the back with their parents. One of my old high school buddies even showed up though he lived about a half hour away.
And there in the second row was my daughter.
For a moment, the whole world seemed to be nothing but her 9-year-old face – a mix of emotions – curiosity, nervousness, boredom.
In that moment, everything else disappeared. I had an audience of one.
It was surreal.
I spoke the words I had written weeks before, pausing to look up at the audience when I could.
Somehow I was both more and less nervous. I stumbled over parts that had caused no problems when alone. And I hit other points with more passion and purpose than ever before.
At certain points I found myself getting angry at the people behind the standardization and privatization of public education.
I rebuke these greedy saboteurs just about every week on my blog. But there was something different about putting the words on my tongue in public and letting the vibrations beat a rhythm on the ear drums of those assembled before me.
It was like reciting a spell, an incantation. And the effect was visible on the faces of those in front of me.
I glanced at my daughter, expecting her to be nagging her Pap to take her to the children’s section, but she was as entranced as the others.
And was I kidding myself or was there another emotion there? Pride?