We Say “Gay” in My Classroom

 
 
There are some giggles you dread as a middle school teacher.  


 
Like when one of your students loses all control over a line of poetry. 


 
It happened most recently over these lines of Dylan Thomas


 
 
“Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 


 
 
There it was. The G-A-Y word. The one thing with which adolescent boys and Florida Governors cannot contend. 

One of my 8th graders thought it was the height of hilarity. 


 
“You know that word here just means ‘Happy,” I said.  


 
And he lost it some more.  


 
I tried logic. 


 
“I’m gay. You’re gay. Sometimes we’re all gay.” 


 
A renewed outburst.  


 
“You’re probably the gayest student in my class.” 


 
And the laughter stopped.  


 
“No, you come in here laughing and gay just about every day,” I said.  


 
The frown on his face was serious.  


 
“Me, too. I’m hoping to have a really gay weekend.”  


 
Which seemed to break him. He got up, walked to the other side of the room and sat silently in the corner.  


 
Not exactly the reaction I was hoping for


 
Some people just can’t take the truth. 


 
Like the fact that there are gay kids in middle school.  


 
And, no, I don’t just mean “Happy.” 


 
There are gay kids. 


 
 And straight kids. 


 
 And trans kids


 
 And all kinds of kids.  


 
There are black kids and white kids, Muslim kids and Christian kids, Latinos and Lithuanians, Italians and Iranians, girls, boys and all genders in between.  


 
There are tall kids and short kids. Fat kids and thin kids. And, yes, some kids who like other kids in ways which all adults might not approve. 


 
However, some people are too juvenile to deal with it – they can’t even say the word or can’t even endure someone else saying it!  


 
That’s not so bad when you’re 13 and terrified of your own sexuality, anxious that anyone might question your cis privilege.  


 


 You still have time to grow out of such sophomoric hijinks.  

 
 
But it’s worse when you’re a counterfactual zealot like Ron DeSantis passing laws like the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” 

I’m glad I don’t live in the Sunshine state, but you know ALEC will bring their own copycat version of this fascism to the rest of us sooner or later.


 
Forbid teachers from talking about gender identity and sexual orientation?  


 
Allow parents to sue schools for any comment they take offense to? 


 
Things are tough enough in middle school simply because we’re not such cowards. 


 
We say “gay” and embrace all its multiple meanings – often at once.  


 
 “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” but we talk about everything else.  


 
And we have to! 


 
It is incumbent on teachers to acknowledge the reality before them.  


 
We have to recognize our students for who they are.  


 
That doesn’t mean labeling them. It doesn’t mean trying to convince them of anything in particular about their identities.  


 
But it does mean admitting that identity exists. And it means refusing to accept the intolerance of those who refuse to accept others for who they are. 


 
When a student tells you their pronouns, you listen


 
When a student draws a pride flag on their notebook, you tell them it’s beautiful.

When a student tells you in confidence that they feel ugly, hurt or broken because of what their pastor or parent or classmate said, you tell them they’re marvelous and not to change a thing!

Because we don’t have the luxury to be judgmental. 

It’s not in our job description.

We teach our kids no matter who they are. We love them for who they are. And if DeSantis or any other adult has a problem with that, they can just fuck off! 


 
Silencing the grown-ups in school won’t change who the kids are. It will just forbid us from mentioning reality. It will permit us to recognize only the tiniest fraction of who our students are and leave a de facto shroud over the rest.   


 
I refuse to turn my classroom into a closet.  



 
It might make the most bigoted adults feel better. It might relieve grown-up fears that just talking about other ways to live is enough to mold someone into something against their nature.  

 
 
As if such a thing were possible.  

But it won’t help the kids.


 
People don’t become their sexuality. They discover who they were all along – and ultimately no piece of legislation can stop that. It can make that search more difficult, painful and riddled with guilt. But you are who you are.   


 
It’s regressive shame-based norms like these that encourage little boys to bash those who are different.

 
 
That make them feel the only safety lies in violence against the other so no one questions who they are, themselves.  


 

That scares them enough to giggle at a three-letter word embedded in a poem.

 
 
And speaking of my giggle goose, eventually he got himself under control.  


 

Before the end of the period he came back to the table.

Silently, swiftly, and soberly, he sat down with the rest of us ready to continue discussing “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight.” 

Not a titter or laugh. 


 
It wasn’t until a week later that he turned to me with a smile and asked: 


 
“Mr. Singer, did you have a gay weekend?” 


 
I did, Buddy. I did. 


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Every Teacher Knows

I tried to compile a list of things that every teacher knows. I thought it might be helpful to see what kinds of things all teachers understand but that the general public probably doesn’t grasp.

Here’s my list.

Every teacher knows:  

You can’t force students to learn.  

You can’t control what students learn or think. You can only encourage them to learn and think. 

All students can learn something. Most will not learn everything you’re trying to teach

Relationships are more important than curriculum. 

Race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, identity all matter in the classroom.  

Students who feel safe and cared for engage more in the process of schooling than those who don’t. 

Home life affects academics – positively and negatively. 

Almost all parents want the best for their kids, but most are struggling to achieve it. 

The best teacher cannot make up for an absent or abusive parent. 

It is important to differentiate instruction but there is only so much differentiation a single person can do effectively. 

Special education is vitally important but it is an unfunded mandate that demands teachers and schools provide services without providing the funding or tools to get things done. 

Class size is important, and most classes would be better with fewer students. 

Education is more of an art than a science

Learning is not quantifiable. It cannot be measured like a physical quantity.  

Standardized tests are poor ways to assess learning. Teacher created tests are better ways to assess learning. Student projects are often the best way to assess learning. 

Student test scores are poor ways to assess teachers. The best way is peer observation of teachers in a classroom context with the nonpunitive goal of improving instruction. 

Per pupil spending has a positive impact on academic outcomes. And in general the more per pupil spending, the better. 

Teachers get no respect

Politicians are afraid of the power teachers have over the next generation. 

Education is a pawn in the culture war. Most things politicians and policymakers say about education are untrue. 

Decision makers rarely listen to teachers

There are very few bad teachers who last beyond 3-5 years in the classroom. There are many bad administrators who spent very little time in the classroom. 

Public school teachers with 4-year (or more) degrees are generally better at their jobs than teachers with emergency certifications, Teach for America temps and uncertified charter school teachers

Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions. 

Teachers absorb student trauma. Whether intentionally or not, students often hurt their teachers – emotionally and/or physically. Teachers sometimes hurt their students. 

Teachers’ safety, well-being and health are not valued by most school districts. 

Teachers are not paid a fair wage for the work they do, the amount of education required to get the job, and the impact they have on the lives of their students. 

Teachers are not able to use the bathroom during most of the school day

Teachers do not have enough time untethered to students to plan, collaborate and speak to parents effectively. 

Most paperwork teachers are required to complete, most meetings teachers are required to attend, and most professional development teachers are required to undergo is meaningless. 

Teachers are expected to put their students before their own children and families. 

Teachers are expected to take work home every day, and they often feel guilty if they don’t. 

Teachers are expected to correct the wrongs of every level of society – and accept all the blame. 

Teaching is one of the most important jobs in the world. 

Teachers make a difference every day. 

Many teachers who love their jobs are considering leaving at the first opportunity


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Hope Grows as Argument Ends in PA School Funding Lawsuit 

Is it safe to hope?

That’s what I’m wondering as closing arguments are set to begin tomorrow in the historic Pennsylvania school funding lawsuit.

In my home state, public schools have had to band together and sue the legislature for adequate funding.

Though a final decision may not come until summer or fall, it actually seems possible that things could change for the better. 

I feel cautiously optimistic that Commonwealth Court will decide in favor of the state’s schools and not the legislature. 

But frankly I am also disgusted that it has even come to this.

The schools had to take our own government to court to force lawmakers to pay for kids to get an adequate education.

Can you imagine the kind of person who refuses to care about children?

As a public school teacher and father, I just can’t.

Pennsylvania is one of seven states with a Constitution that specifically requires the state to provide a sufficient education. Some of these other states – like New Jersey – have used similar Constitutional requirements to force their legislatures to increase state funding to public schools.

Specifically, our state Constitution says:

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” 

“Thorough and efficient.”

Not lavish. Not extravagant. Just complete and productive.

Yet for nearly 8 years getting to court and for three months, 13 weeks, 48 days in court, the state has argued that it already does that.

It’s one of the most absurd assertions I have ever heard. They might as well argue that water is not wet and fire is not hot.

Walk into any wealthy school in the Commonwealth and look around. You’ll see the equivalent of the Taj Mahal. Now walk into any poor district and look around. You’ll see the equivalent of a slum.

One has brand new facilities, marble columns, and wood paneling scrubbed to a shine with a bustling staff moving to-and-fro. 

The other has badly maintained structures, exposed insulation, dusty corners, leaky ceilings and animal droppings while a skeleton crew of adults try their all to do the impossible without the tools to get it done. 

The Pennsylvania legislature has been paying less and less of public schools’ budgets over the last four decades. The state used to contribute 54% of all public school costs in the early 1970s. Today it pays just 38% of the cost. Only five states cover a smaller share with the national average at 47%. This leaves local taxpayers to take up the slack. Since districts are not equally wealthy, that increases the disparity of resources between rich and poor districts.

During the trial, the state had tried to argue that money doesn’t matter. Yet poor schools can spend $4,800 less per student than wealthy districts. What’s worse, impoverished students have greater needs than rich ones. They often don’t have books in the home or access to Pre-kindergarten. Poor students often suffer from food insecurity, malnutrition, a lack of neonatal care, worse attendance, are less well rested and have greater special needs and suffer greater traumas than wealthier students. Yet we provide them with fewer resources!?

According to a benchmark written into state law, public schools need $4.6 billion in additional funding just to give students a shot. And 277 districts – whether they be in cities, small towns or suburbs – need $2,000 in additional funding per student to get up to snuff.

This affects the great majority of our children – 86% of students attend schools that don’t receive adequate resources.

But it’s even worse for children of color. Half of the state’s Black students and 40% of the state’s Latino students go to schools in the bottom 20% for local wealth.

John Krill, a lawyer for the state, sees no problem with this disparity. In fact, he argued in favor of it.

In perhaps the most revealing moment of the trial, Krill, who represents GOP Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, asked:

 
“What use would a carpenter have for biology? […] What use would someone on the McDonald’s career track have for Algebra 1? […] The question in my mind is, thorough and efficient to what end? To serve the needs of the Commonwealth. Lest we forget, the Commonwealth has many needs. There’s a need for retail workers, for people who know how to flip a pizza crust.” 

So the Commonwealth actually argued that inequitable funding is okay because all kids don’t need a thorough education. Some just need the bare minimum to do whatever menial jobs they’re destined to have while the elite kids need more for the high skilled jobs they’re going to get.

I wonder which kids Krill and his defendants in the legislature think deserve less funding. I’ll bet it’s the black and brown kids already suffering most from this disparity.

Luckily, the school districts asking the courts to intervene feel differently.

Six school districts – William Penn, Lancaster, Panther Valley, Greater Johnstown, Shenandoah Valley, and Wilkes Barre Area – filed the suit along with the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, the NAACP PA State Conference, and families whose children attend under-resourced schools.

Essentially, they are asking for two things.

First, for the court to declare the current funding system unconstitutional.

Second, for the court to order the legislature to create and maintain a fair funding system.

You might say, wait. Didn’t the legislature adopt a new Basic Education Funding formula in 2016 that already provides a fairer way to allocate money based on need?

And the answer is – yes, it did, BUT this funding formula is hardly ever used. Lawmakers only apply it to distribute new money, and increases have been few and far between. So the lion’s share of education funding is still inequitably distributed. We need to change that, to make sure everyone is getting their fair share AND that the money is adequate for the task.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposal has already begun to address this.

He suggests a $1.75 billion down payment to schools on the $4.6 billion gap.

The state has the money to do this. It just needs to cut wasteful spending elsewhere and close tax loopholes.

For example, the state throws away $240 million a year to The Race Horse Development Fund. These are taxpayer funded subsidies to wealthy horse racing enthusiasts and hobbyists. Since 2004, the legislature has lavished $3 billion on the horse racing industry. Shouldn’t we prioritize school children over cash prizes and inflated pensions for wealthy horse owners, breeders, and trainers? Aren’t kids more important than paying to drug test horses and for racetrack marketing?

It’s these kind of shenanigans that forced 57% of school districts to increase taxes this year.

If the state was doing its job and looking after kids instead of giving handouts to wealthy oligarchs, you and I wouldn’t feel as much pain in our wallets.

Moreover, local school districts will pay $2.8 billion in charter school tuition this year. Why does the state keep opening these expensive privatized institutions that have less fiscal accountability than our authentic public schools? Again the ideology of far right lawmakers is funded by you and me with our tax dollars.

So what’s next after closing arguments this week?

Both parties in the case will file a series of post-trial briefs saying what they believe they proved during the testimony, the “conclusions of law” they are asking the judge to reach, and their analysis of the legal questions presented—such as the meaning of the state Constitution’s “thorough and efficient” education clause.

The final post-trial brief is due on July 6. Then — after oral argument on legal issues at a later date — the court will make its final decision weeks or months later.

In the meantime, the budget is supposed to have been approved by the legislature (one way or another) and signed by the Governor by June 30. If not, funding for some state programs may be delayed. But you never know. The legislature has been late on this before.

So what am I learning from all of this?

The value of hope?

The evil of lawmakers who want to continue shortchanging our children?

The bravery of public school districts that challenge the state to follow its own darn rules?

All of the above.


 

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I’ve also 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!

 

Teaching the War in Ukraine is Fighting the War at Home 

 
 
How does one teach about war?  


 
With pictures or words? 


 
With speeches or documentation? 


 
With prayers or curses? 


 
With laughter or tears? 


 
I began my class like I always do – with a question


 
“Has anyone heard about what’s happening in Ukraine?” I asked.  


 
A few hands, but they had only heard the words. They didn’t know what was happening.  


 
So I showed my 8th graders a short video that summarized events so far. I drew a map of Europe and Asia on the board. I outlined Ukraine, Russia and the European union. I explained about the Soviet Union and its collapse. I explained about NATO and the struggle for power and prestige.  


 
When I was done, there was a moment of silence. They were all staring up at me. It was one of those rare moments of stillness, a pregnant pause before the questions started raining down.  


 
A patter at first, then a storm. 


 
They asked about what they were hearing at home. They searched for corroboration, explanation and/or other viewpoints. 


 
One child asked if this was NATO’s fault. If it was President Biden’s doing. 


 
Another asked how it would affect us and why we should care. 


 
And yet another asked about nuclear proliferation and whether this war meant the end of the world.  


 
I couldn’t answer all of their questions, though I tried. When there was something I couldn’t say or didn’t know, I pointed them in a direction where they might find some answers.  


 
But it led to some interesting discussion.  


 
Then I asked them if they had talked about any of this in their other classes – perhaps in social studies. They all said no, that a few teachers had promised to get to it after finishing the 13 colonies or another piece of mandated curriculum.  


 
I was surprised but not shocked. I know the tyranny of the curriculum.  


 
I was only able to talk about this, myself, because of the scope and sequence of Language Arts. You see, it was poetry time and I was about to introduce my students to Alfred Lord Tennyson and “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” 


 
For those who don’t recall, the poem tells the true story of the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. A cavalry regiment of British troops charged Russian gunners and were mostly shot to pieces.  


 
It’s a pillar of English poetry and a perfect opportunity to talk about warfare in general and Ukraine in particular since the battle took place in the same general area of the world. 


 
In the poem, a general mistakenly orders the soldiers on horseback armed only with swords to charge the enemy armed with cannons and guns.  


 
Tennyson writes


 
“Theirs not to make reply, 
   Theirs not to reason why, 
   Theirs but to do and die.” 


 
And after the result is graphically portrayed, the speaker extols their virtue: 


 
“When can their glory fade? 
O the wild charge they made! 
   All the world wondered. 
Honour the charge they made! 
Honour the Light Brigade, 
   Noble six hundred!” 


 
So I ask my students what they think about it. Is it a soldier’s duty to follow orders no matter what? Should they question those orders?  


 
Typically, most of them back up Tennyson.  


 
And then I present them with an 80s heavy metal video by Iron Maiden of the song “The Trooper.”

 
 
The video uses images from a silent movie version of the Tennyson poem while singer Bruce Dickinson wails the story of a single soldier of the Light Brigade being senselessly gunned down and dying alone, forgotten on the battle field. 


 
It certainly gives them something to think about as they watch black and white horses flung in the air and our spandex clad narrator commenting on the situation with hairspray piled locks.  


 
Students end up leaving the class continuing the debate with each other about heroism and the waste of war.  


 
I certainly have my own opinions on the matter, but I keep them to myself.  


 
The way I see it, this isn’t the time for me to insert my opinion into the class. It’s an opportunity for my students to think through the problem, themselves.  


 
And, frankly, that’s really the point of most of school.  


 
It’s not the transmission of knowledge. Teachers can’t magic information into children’s heads.  


 
Instead, we provide opportunities to learn. We encourage students to think. We’re more like gardeners than anything else. We water, we weed, we make sure the soil is fertile. But it is up to the child to grow and in which direction to strive.  


 
That’s why far right scare mongers are so ignorant and absurd when they try to constrain teachers from teaching about history or racism.  


 
These campaigns are not aimed at educators. They are aimed at students.  


 
The goal is to offer children only one path in which to grow.  


 
They want to stifle thought, stifle free expression, stifle intellectual freedom by removing the option to think.  


 
They want to remove the opportunity.  


 
It may not be as dramatic as Putin invading. “Shot and shell” may not be flying. But the forces of fascism are equally at work on the minds of our children.  


 
In teaching about the war in Europe, educators are waging a battle against the war at home. 

Zhyvitʹ revolyutsiyeyu!

 
Viva la revolución! 

Long live the revolution!


 

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I’ve also 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!

McKeesport School Directors Investigating Validity of Superintendent’s Contract

A majority of McKeesport School Directors is questioning whether the previous board broke the law in giving the Superintendent a new contract.

In July of 2021, the previous board both accepted Dr. Mark Holtzman’s resignation as Superintendent and then immediately rehired him with a new 5-year contract.

Pennsylvania law does not allow such contracts to be extended with more than a year left before they expire. Holtzman still had two years left on his contract.

Moreover, three of five school directors who voted to extend Holtzman’s hire were lame ducks. They were stepping down from the board. Voting on this matter early robbed new board members of the chance.

So a month after new board members were sworn in, the board voted 5-4 in January to look into whether Holtzman’s resignation and subsequent rehire are enforceable.

His term at the district located just south of Pittsburgh had been set to expire in 2023 and will now continue until 2026.

In response to the board’s request, school directors received a letter in February from lawyer William C. Andrews stating that the measure could be viewed as circumventing the intent of the school code.

School director Mindy Lundberg read from Andrews letter at the board’s Wednesday meeting:

“…this resignation would arguably not be valid and the acceptance of it could be viewed as an attempt to confer a benefit upon an employee in contravention of the legislature’s intent. Here that benefit is a contract extension beyond the statutory limit.”

Dr. Holtzman responded with a letter from his own legal council, Mark E. Scott.

“We are confident that we will prevail in this issue if ever litigated,” Holtzman read from Scott’s letter. The practice of Superintendents resigning and being immediately rehired is common at other local districts, he said.

However, even if the district proved the new contract was void, Holtzman would return to the previous contract, and the district would be liable for all the Superintendent’s legal fees regardless of the outcome in court, Scott wrote.

For his part, Holtzman says he wants to remain as McKeesport’s Superintendent but is willing to negotiate a way out of his contract with the district if the board wishes to pursue that.

He said:

“I will clearly state if they want me to move on, and I’ve said it to them in private, I want a year’s salary and benefits and I will resign tonight. This witch hunt and issue is over, overdone, overstated and we need to move on and once I’m compensated for my attorney fees.”

However, board members were not about to let the matter drop at that.

Both Lundberg and fellow school director James Brown (both of whom were on the board when Holtzman resigned and was rehired) said that they had not been given a copy of his new contract or his letter of resignation before being asked to vote on the matter. That may explain why they did not vote in favor of it.

Lundberg had questions for Joseph Lopretto who had been board President at the 2021 meeting and voted in favor of the new contract.

“Mr. Lopretto, just for the record since you were president… was there a contract presented to the board in the back room to know what we were voting on?” Lundberg asked.

“A Contract was presented. Yes,” Lopretto said.

“No, it was not. It was an outdated contract,” Lundberg responded.

Brown became extremely agitated and stated three times, “There was not a contract presented that night!”

“Nor did we receive a resignation letter,” Lundberg added.

“We never received a resignation letter. I still have not seen a resignation letter,” Brown said.

It is unclear where the board will go from here.

Will school directors seek legal action?

Will they ask Holtzman to resign – for REAL this time?

Will they all be able to move forward together?

Holtzman said the reason the previous board had given him a new contract in the way they did was because he was interviewing at a neighboring district and was eventually offered a Superintendent’s position there.

To keep him at McKeesport, the board needed to offer him more job security and compensation. However, since he still had two years on his current contract, the school code forbade them from just extending it. He needed to resign and then be given a new 5-year contract. Once this was done, he turned down the job at the other district.

According to Holtzman, Scott postulates that the argument against the new contract relies on Holtzman’s resignation being a “sham.” In effect, he didn’t really resign so the new contract was actually a contract extension – which would be illegal this early.

“Obviously we believe that it is not a sham and Dr. Holtzman was fully prepared to move on to the new district,” Scott wrote.

“Clearly the district cannot claim that the resignation was a sham for the purposes of rescinding his current contract but it’s not a sham for the purposes of terminating his employment with the district effectively July 5, 2021.”

In other words, if Holtzman didn’t really resign, then he’s still under the terms of his previous contract.

Scott also took issue with the fact that protests are being made about what the previous board did for Holtzman but not about what that same board did to extend the contract of another district administrator – Assistant Superintendent Dr. Tia Wanzo. She, too, resigned her position and was immediately rehired with a new contract.

However, this was done at another meeting AFTER Dr. Holtzman got a new contract. Cynics might even say it was done for the express purpose of demonstrating that Dr. Holtzman’s resignation and rehire weren’t a solitary case.

At a meeting in September, 2021, Dr. Holtzman even insinuated that objections toward both his and Wanzo’s rehires were racist because Wanzo is African American.

It will be interesting to see what the board does to resolve the issue.

VIDEO OF THE MASD REGULAR MEETING:


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I’ve also 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!

 

A Teacher’s Wish

 

People often ask me what I’d change about education if I could change just one thing.

But they don’t seem to realize that our schools are kind of like Jenga – if you change one thing, you might set off a chain reaction and it all comes tumbling down.

Change one thing – the RIGHT thing – and you may change all of them.

Maybe even for the better!

Why worry about that now?

Monday is my birthday. I’ll be 48.

Old enough to know that birthday wishes don’t come true. Unless maybe you wish for cake and ice cream.

But I can still see myself staring into the candles as friends and family sing the obligatory tune.


The orange flames wave back and forth atop tiny wax fingers threatening to burn down the whole chocolatey confection.  

But before they do, I just might give in and make a wish – a birthday wish – and….

You never know!!!

So here goes.

Candle burn, candle bright,

Let me strive to make things right,

I wish I may, I wish I might,

Have the wish, I wish tonight…

 
I wish there were no more standardized tests.  


 
No more judging kids entire academic year based on their performance in a few hours of multiple choice Hell.  


 
No more assessments where a multiplicity of nonacademic factors like parental income, childhood trauma and corporate bias are hidden behind a numeric label.  


 
No more evaluations based on eugenics and pseudoscience. No more tests supported by the bottom line of corporations who make money creating the tests, grading the tests and selling us the remediation materials to retake the tests.  


 
That, alone, would make such a difference.  


 
No more teaching to the test. No more narrowing the curriculum. No more pressure to increase test scores.  


 
Just the freedom to teach.  


 
To empirically observe a classroom of students, see what they need and try to help them get it.  


 
And since I’m overturning that stone, I’ll topple another one. 


 
I wish schools were budgeted fairly.  


 
Not equally, mind you, but fairly.  


 
I wish every student got all the resources necessary to meet his or her needs. No! I wish they got MORE than enough.  


 
I wish we funded schools the way we fund the military! I wish schools had money flowing through them like a river of gold. I wish school buildings were marble palaces where the community could come together and learn and play and talk and interact. 

Imagine how that would impact class size.

No more 20-30 kids stuffed into a single classroom with just one teacher between them.

No more trying to differentiate, grade, instruct, counsel, and inspire until there’s nothing left of you at the end of the day.

No more being on stage every moment but instead having dedicated times untethered to students where you can actually think about things – how to teach this or that, what students really meant when they made certain comments, how to best help parents…

But wait there goes another pebble!

I wish there was no school privatization!

And I do mean NO school privatization.

There shouldn’t be schools for some kids and schools for others.

We should differentiate by need but not by income bracket. We shouldn’t divide kids up based on race, ethnicity or their parents biases.

No more prep schools. No more parochial schools. No more prestigious academies. No more charter schools. No more home schools.

Just public schools of every shape and size.

Schools funded by everyone to teach everyone’s kids. No place to hide money for some and deprive it from others.

Oops! There goes another stone overturned!

I wish there were no more segregated schools.

No more districts or buildings or classes focusing mostly on white kids, or black kids, or rich kids or poor kids.

Silly privatizer, schools are for ALL kids. All kids mixed together. Because only then can we ensure they all get equity and that they learn the true face of America.

Only then will they learn how to get along, how to understand where they’re coming from and how to embrace their differences.

Uh-oh! Did you hear that!? There went a whole mountain of stones!

No more profiteering off children!

No more data mining!

No more developmentally inappropriate standards!

No union busting!

Teaching could become a calling again.

Educators would no longer be seen as overpaid babysitters but trusted pillars of the community.

They’d be respected – their opinions sought after in educational issues like diamonds.

And the pay! No longer would any teacher need to work more than one job! They’d be compensated like professional athletes. Maybe there’d even be a draft in each state where the most promising prospects out of college would be fought over by schools with children who they think would best be served by their hire.

Imagine a country like that! One that put children first by putting education first!

Imagine how it would change the landscape. Adults who grew up in such a system would be pretty hard to fool because they’d be critical thinkers.

No political charlatan could come in and bamboozle them with nonsense and charisma. No corporation could trick them into pyramid schemes and tax evasion.

No wars for oil.

No climate denial.

No banning books.

No gun ownership without strong regulations.

No lack of social services, public healthcare, public goods!

Ah! It would be a much better world I think if my wish came true.

But…

Oh…

Sigh!

I don’t see it happening.

No even a little of it.

After two decades in the classroom, the wind always seems to be blowing against such things.

But then again, I have a chance to change the wind come Monday.

We all do.

If you’ll help me blow out the candles.


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Silencing School Whistleblowers Through Social Media 

 
I used to write a thriving blog. 


 
A month and a half ago.  


 
But as soon as the New Year dawned, my readership dropped to the tiniest fraction of what it had been in 2021. 


 
I went from about 1,000 readers per article to a few hundred.

 
 
Overnight.  


 
How does that happen?  


 
I suppose it could be that people are sick of me.  


 
Maybe my writing just isn’t what it was and readers are tired of hearing about the same old topics over and over again.  


 
Education and civil rights. That stuff is just so 60 days ago! 


 
Yet look at the reality. School boards are banning Holocaust narratives like Art Spiegleman’s “Maus.” State governments are passing laws to restrict what teachers can say in the classroom or make their jobs more untenable so even more leave the profession.  


 
I just can’t believe that in light of such a flame dancing ever more quickly down an ever-shorter fuse that people aren’t interested in reading about how to stomp it out. 


 
From conservative scholars supporting standardized testing to local athletic leagues saying racism is a matter of both sides. From the effect on education of constantly depriving teachers of planning time to the continuing trauma of Coronavirus raging through our schools as decision makers refuse to take necessary precautions to protect students and staff.  


 
The readership is there.  


 
It’s the method of distribution that’s the problem.  


 
And that method is social media.  


 
It’s been this way since I began the blog back in July of 2014.  


 
I write an article then I post it to Facebook and Twitter.  


 
The later platform has never been a huge draw for me. But until recently Facebook was my bread and butter.  


 
My work was posted on message boards and in online forums and organizations’ pages focused on the issues I write about.  


 
After the first year, the result was hundreds of thousands of readers annually.  


 
But then as Facebook began trying to monetize the distribution of posts beyond a person’s local friend circle, those numbers started to drop.  


 
I went from 446,000 hits in 2015 to 222,000 last year.  


 
It’s demoralizing but not because of any need for fame. 
 


I don’t need to have thousands of people hang on my every word. This isn’t about ego.


It’s about change.  


 
I write this blog to get the word out about what’s really happening in our public schools. And to try to push back against the rising tide trying to destroy my profession.  


 
Mass media is not particularly kind to educators like me.  


 
Even when journalists are writing about schools and learning, they rarely ask classroom teachers their opinions. Instead, the media often turns to self-appointed experts, think tank flunkies, billionaire philanthropists or politicians.  


 
It’s like they can’t even conceive of the fact that someone with a masters degree or higher in education who devotes her whole life to the practice of the discipline has anything worthwhile to say.

 
 
So many of us have taken to the blogosphere to circumvent the regular media channels.  


 
We write out our frustrations. We tell our truths. We give a peek of what it’s like in our public schools, an educated opinion about the ills therein, and how to fix them.  


 
But as time has worn on, more and more of us are leaving the field. We’re abandoning the classroom and the Web.  


 
We’re giving up.  


 
And even those like me who are still desperately sounding the alarm every week are being silenced.  


 
Frankly, I don’t know what to do about it. 


 
I know Facebook is trying to pressure me into paying the company to more widely distribute my articles.

 
 
If I give them $50-$100 a week, they promise to deliver my work as widely as they used to do when I didn’t have to pay for the privilege.  


 
Actually, it wasn’t Facebook that delivered it. It was people on Facebook.  


 
People who really cared about what I had to say would see it and share it with others.  


 
But now there’s a strict algorithm that determines what you get to see on your page. And if it says you’re invisible, then POOF! You’re gone and the people who would most enjoy your writing and want to pass it on don’t get the chance.


 
It’s undemocratic in the extreme but totally legal because Facebook is a for-profit company, not a public service.  


 
It’s not about the free expression of ideas. It’s about making money.  


 
And so people like Joe Rogan make millions on their podcasts spreading science denial, vaccine disinformation and racist dog whistles.  


 
A guy like me just trying to make the world a better place?  


 
I get silenced.  


 
I guess when money is speech, poverty is the real cancel culture.  


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I’ve also 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!

WPIAL is Wrong! Racist Taunts at a Football Game are NOT a Matter of Both Sides

Don’t look for justice from the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League (WPIAL).

After a referee and a mostly white football team allegedly made racist taunts against a mostly black team, WPIAL decided BOTH teams will have to undergo mandatory sensitivity training.

Players from Steel Valley School District contend that during a November playoff game at their home field, rivals South Side Area School District called them the N-word and “monkeys” as well as purposefully incapacitated their star player.

WPIAL Executive Director Amy Scheuneman said her organization is refusing to take sides and students, coaches and administrators for both districts will have to undergo racial sensitivity training.

It is absurd. Imagine making a gunman and the person he shot go through firearms training.

Talk about false equivalency!

“We don’t want to walk away saying you’re right and you’re wrong, but we need to learn from this,” Scheuneman said. “We need to all work together to make that happen.”

Calls for unity are great but justice needs to come first. It’s nearly impossible for everyone to just get along when you don’t hold wrongdoers accountable for their actions – especially when the victims are mostly black and the perpetrators are mostly white.

Though Steel Valley went on to win the game, their star senior running back and linebacker Nijhay Burt suffered a season ending ankle injury which his family alleges was caused by South Side Players on purpose.

Burt’s mother Shunta Parms says, “…The two players that tackled him, they were pushing off his ankle. They were twisting it as they got up. After they got up they cheered in his face and said ‘Yeah! We got you now!’”

WPIAL board of directors and Diversity and Inclusion Council heard testimony for more than four hours on Wednesday.

The meeting was closed to the public at the request of the South Side District from Beaver County, and WPIAL officials have refused to give specific details of what was said behind closed doors.

However, Scheuneman was adamant that the board did not find any evidence the official used racial taunts.

“…The board did not find that to be accurate,” Scheuneman said.

I would love to know what evidence there was to so unequivocally clear the referee.

Especially since she noted the other allegations came down to a matter of he said-she said.

There were “conflicting reports” about what happened and “direct testimony against” the claims of Burt and the Steel Valley School District, Scheuneman said.

“Based on what we heard, I would say that, while there may be tendencies to lean one way or another, it was inconclusive, specifically, one way, as opposed to another.”

Ma’am, isn’t it your job to lean one way or another?

You need to be impartial at first but then you listen to the evidence and decide who was at fault.

Either South Side Beaver players used hate speech against Steel Valley players or not. Either they intentionally injured Steel Valley’s star player or not.

And if they did not, that means Steel Valley players made the whole thing up.

Do you really find that possibility credible?

“There was testimony on both sides, and there were missed opportunities by adults from both schools, so we do feel that it’s important for everybody to learn from the events that happened and take something positive from it,” Scheuneman said.

The most specific she’d get in terms of blame was to say that the South Side District did not properly handle a previous incident that could’ve prevented this one.

And Steel Valley’s coach did not report his player’s accusations to the head referee.

Therefore, they’re both to blame!?

What the heck are you smoking!?

Steel Valley Superintendent Ed Wehrer issued a statement that shed some light on the previous incident at South Side Beaver:

“The testimony by South Side Area confirmed that a month prior to the playoff game at issue a member of their team had behaved the same way in a game against Carlynton High School, as witnessed by the Athletic Director at Carlynton. Combined with our statements, that admission established a pattern of racist behavior by our opponent, which should have reinforced the trustworthiness of our complaint.”

The only specific mention of wrongdoing on Steel Valley’s part is neglecting to alert the head referee. But the district’s actions make perfect sense in context. Why would the district go to the referees after allegations that one of them was also guilty of making racial taunts!? Isn’t it logical that Steel Valley and Burt waited to file a report against the Beaver County District!?

South Side Beaver district is 96% white. There are so few black students, 2019 Census data puts the number at 0%.

Meanwhile, Steel Valley is 72% white and 23% black with a higher percentage of children of color on the football team than in the district as a whole.

Are you telling me it’s likely that a mostly black team who is already crushing their rivals (they won 20-12) would make up being the target of racism? Are you saying Burt would make up how his leg was manhandled by the opposing team?

And then we have the issue of socioeconomics.

South Side Beaver is a wealthier district than Steel Valley.

Median household income at the South Side district is $69,905. At Steel Valley it’s $42,661.

At the South Side, 7.7% of residents live below the poverty line. At Steel Valley it’s 17.4%.

These make a difference.

More privileged students are way more likely to think they deserve to win just because of who they are. Underprivileged kids have to work for everything they have.

And officials are way more likely to ignore poorer black kids in favor of richer white ones.

Scheuneman said, “Regardless if one side was more wrong than the other, it takes both parties to mend that bridge and get through anything. So we want those schools to work together in moving forward in cultural competency.”

This is a bad idea.

It won’t do anything to stem the increasing tide of racism from whiter, wealthier districts directed at poorer blacker ones.

The WPIAL in 2018 held a similar hearing that Connellsville’s boys soccer team had used racial slurs against the Penn Hills team. The organization required Connellsville to train its student-athletes in racial and cultural sensitivities. Then in 2019, WPIAL held another hearing for the same Connellsville boys soccer team and Allderdice. This time both teams admitted hurling racial and anti-gay slurs at each other. Both agreed to sensitivity training.

These sorts of trainings are not in themselves enough to stop hate speech.

It’s true that having South Side Beaver and Steel Valley go through racial sensitivity training won’t hurt anyone.

Steel Valley students won’t suffer being forced to undergo this measure.

But the fact that they HAVE TO do this will underscore the injustice of the systems they have to live under.

They were the victims, and they got the same punishment as the oppressor.

And at South Side Beaver we can HOPE the training will do some good.

But let’s be honest – this sort of thing is only effective when those attending the training are receptive to its message.

The fact that South Side got away with this will poison everything being taught.

WPIAL is supposed to be about fair play.

They got it really wrong here.

If anyone needs this training, it’s them.


 

Steel Valley’s Statement:


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I’ve also 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!

 

The Absurdity of PROTECTING Kids from the Holocaust Narrative ‘Maus’ 

 
Nudity and bad language.  


 
That’s a Tennessee school board’s excuse for banning Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel “Maus.”  


 
Not Holocaust denial.  


 
Not antisemitism. 

Not a hundred other things they don’t want to admit to themselves about themselves.


 
It was simply a dirty drawing and some curse words. 


 
The graphic novel focuses on the cartoonist and his estranged father. Spiegelman slowly unravels the true story of how his dad survived the Holocaust. All the while, the son draws the narrative portraying Jewish people as mice and Germans as cats. 

It’s a work of literature that looks directly into the unfathomable and recontextualizes it into something we can attempt to understand.

The committee at Columbia University awarded the story a Pulitzer Prize – the only graphic novel yet to win such a prestigious award.

But the Tennessee school board awarded it their walking papers.

And why?

Naughty words and risqué images.


 
In particular, the board objected to eight bad words and the drawing of a nude woman.  


 
On its Website, district administrators posted the following explanation of their action


 
“One of the most important roles of an elected board of education is to reflect the values of the community it serves. The McMinn County Board of Education voted to remove the graphic novel Maus from McMinn County Schools because of its unnecessary use of profanity and nudity and its depiction of violence and suicide. Taken as a whole the board felt this work was simply too adult-oriented for use in our schools.” 


 
Can you imagine living in a community that values refraining from swear words and covering up the human body more than telling the truth about genocide


 
Can you imagine putting a premium on decorum and propriety over an honest portrayal of events? 


 
And who are the McMinn County Board of Education to say these words and this image are “unnecessary” to tell the story!? 


 
It’s the Holocaust! It’s not a Disney theme park! 


 
If you’re talking about the systematic murder of 6 million Jewish people and 5 million non-Jewish people, wouldn’t it be appropriate to use some bad language!?  


 
To their credit, the image the school board objects to isn’t one of mice being tortured and murdered in a concentration camp. It’s not the genitals of naked mice – after all, aren’t mice always naked?  


 
It’s the drawing of the author’s mother who couldn’t live with the atrocities she endured and committed suicide. His father discovers her naked body in the bathtub.  


 
There’s nothing salacious about it.  


 
It’s shocking. It’s disturbing. It’s deeply sad.

But that’s exactly what it’s meant to be.

To react – as this board has – is the height of callousness.

Here we have the story of so many deaths, so many murders, and all they can do is decry the way it is told.

As a person of Jewish ancestry, it hits me hard.

Imagine being told that the story of your family’s murder is only acceptable if it isn’t upsetting.

It’s only acceptable if it doesn’t provoke a reaction in your heart – only if it keeps your eyes dry and your throat unstopped.

But that’s the point! It SHOULD be upsetting! It should hurt your heart! It should make your eyes leak and your throat close up.

However, school director Tony Allman said something that disproved the fiction that the board’s action was limited to pure decorum.

In the meeting minutes he was quoted as saying, “It shows people hanging, it shows them killing kids, why does the educational system promote this kind of stuff? It is not wise or healthy. Being in the schools, educators and stuff we don’t need to enable or somewhat promote this stuff.” 

You’re wrong, Sir.

You DO need to promote this stuff.

Not encourage people to engage in future Holocausts but to promote that it DID happen so that it will not happen again.

Because on Oct 27, 2018, it happened again at the Tree of Life synagogue in my hometown of Pittsburgh when a gunman killed 11 and wounded six.


 
In August 2017, it happened at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, when hundreds of marchers threw Nazi salutes and waved Swastika flags while shouting “Siege Heil” and “Jews will not replace us!”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recorded more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment against Jewish people in 2021 – an increase of 12 percent over the previous year. This is the highest level of antisemitic incidents since ADL’s tracking began in 1979. This includes five fatalities directly linked to antisemitic violence and another 91 individuals targeted in physical assaults. 


Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2020 hate crime statistics showed not only that hate crimes were up for all minority groups, but crimes targeting Jewish people made up 54.9% of all religious bias crimes. 

According to the American Jewish Committee, nearly one out of every four Jews in the U.S. has been the subject of antisemitism over the past year.


Seventeen percent of respondents in the committee’s survey said they had been the subject of an antisemitic remark in person, while 12% said they were the victim of an antisemitic remark online. Three percent of Jews who responded to the poll said they were the target of an antisemitic physical attack. 

And this school board thinks the problem is a book that merely reports such events in the past.

Your children don’t need protection from the STORY of the Holocaust.

They need protection from the Holocaust, itself.

They need protection from it happening again – from the kind of violence and bigotry on the rise today.

They need protection from becoming the mice.

They need protection from becoming the cats.

They need adults brave enough to take a stand against these horrors.

It’s just too bad that you aren’t brave enough to do it, yourselves.


Like this post?  You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.

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I’ve also 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!

Forget About Quality Instruction When You Take Away Teachers’ Planning Time

Dear Principal, 


 
 
You talk a lot about quality instruction.  


 
We need to do THIS to give students the best quality instruction.  


 
We can’t do THAT because it will reduce the quality of instruction.  


 
Yet once again today I have to give up my planning period to sub for an absent teacher! 


 
Doesn’t THAT impact quality of instruction!? 


 
We closed the entire district last week because COVID-19 cases were out of control. Then we reopened this week to preserve – say it with me – quality of instruction. 


 
There has not been a single week so far this school year when I have not had to lose my planning period and sub.  


 
Not one single week.  


 
EXCEPT when we were on remote.  


 
I’m not saying that’s the best model to teach, but at least I get to stop and think about what I’m going to do with my students.  


 
At least I have time to grade some papers and call some parents and plan out how my next few lessons will fit into each other to form a coherent whole.  


 
At least I’m not flying by the seat of my pants.  


 
Which seems to be the norm in the physical school building these days. 


 
You need to understand something.  


 
Every time you take away a teacher’s planning period – whether it be to cover an IEP meeting, use a teacher as a security guard in the cafeteria, sending someone to a training or otherwise – you are reducing the quality of instruction that teacher is able to provide that day.  


 
And if you do it for long enough, you can no longer fairly judge that teacher’s annual performance by the same expectations you would have under normal conditions. 


 
You need to put an asterisk next to her name for the year.  


 
Meaning this isn’t the best she could do, but this is the best she could do WITHOUT HER PLAN. 


 
Imagine an actor going on stage without having the chance to practice the play? Imagine an athlete playing in the championship game without having the chance to warm up or watch tape. Imagine a pilot flying your plane without being able to contact the air traffic controller or plan the route from one airport to another. 


 
The results would not be ideal.  


 
You would expect them to be sloppy, haphazard and possibly disastrous.  


 
In fact, if most other professionals working under these conditions were able to pull out something even passable, we’d celebrate them as prodigies.  


 
Wow! Did you see Denzel in Hamlet? He didn’t even have a chance to practice! He just did the whole play from memory!  


 
Oh! And when Brady threw that touchdown pass! He wasn’t even warmed up! He rushed right from his car to the field – and he wasn’t even at training camp all week!  


 
You should have the same reverence for your teachers who perform miracles every day in the classroom without having the time to plan. 


 
That’s how amazing this should be.  


 
It should not be accepted as the status quo.  


 
But I know what the excuse will be: this is unavoidable.  


 
There are just too many absences and not enough subs. And to an extent that’s true.  


 
However, what are you doing to alleviate that situation?  


 
Have you reached out to local colleges to find teaching students who would relish the experience of subbing? Have you reached out to retired teachers looking for extra pay? Have you lobbied the school board and the legislature for more money to pay subs and teachers? 


 
Have you done everything you can to support the health and well-being of your staff so that fewer need to take off? Have you cut all unnecessary tasks like formal lesson plans, stopped holding staff meetings unless an urgent need presents itself, refrained from new and unproven initiatives, cut duties where possible to increase teacher planning time? 


 
If not, then don’t talk to me about inevitability. You have contributed to it.  


 
What’s happening in education has been a long time coming. Low pay, lack of respect, gas lighting, scapegoating, micromanaging – no wonder so few people want to be an educator anymore.

 
 
The people who are left want to be in the classroom because we love teaching. However, with all the nonsense heaped on our shoulders, the job has become less-and-less about that and more preoccupied with ancillary concerns – paperwork, endless meetings where nothing gets done, useless trainings so some corporation can get paid, and outright babysitting.  


 
When you take away our planning periods, we can’t do our best for our students. And that’s why we’re here! To give our best!  


 
When you take that away from us, you take away a lot of the satisfaction of the job.  


 
No one devotes their life to something to do it half-assed.  


 
Quality of instruction is not an excuse for us. It’s not a cudgel or a catchphrase or a policy decision.  


 
It is the core of our jobs.  


 
It is the essence of our calling.  


 
Don’t take that away from us. 


Like this post?  You might want to consider becoming a Patreon subscriber. This helps me continue to keep the blog going and get on with this difficult and challenging work.

Plus you get subscriber only extras!

Just CLICK HERE.

Patreon+Circle

I’ve also 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!