Learning as Exercise

July-29-M-Soccer-Practices-615x327

Hard to believe the summer is already over. It’s mid July and I’m back in meetings to prepare for another school year. Professional development is hit or miss, but I always appreciate talking shop with fellow teachers. You can always glean insights, even from people who teach a different subject.

In a conversation with a P.E. teacher this past week, I was struck by an observation about his course which can and should be applied to academic subjects.

The topic was the use of “choice” to increase engagement in learning. Obviously, students will be more engaged if they have some agency over the topic of learning or the manner in which they learn it. The P.E. teacher explained that, in his high school course, students develop their own exercise program based on personal goals. The teacher helps each student develop a program, and then supervises its implementation.

In the academic subjects, despite whatever choices might be given during a particular lesson, at the end of the day (or the unit, or the year), everyone typically gets the same assessment on the same topics.

Imagine if we did that in physical education. Imagine if the final exam was to bench press 200 pounds. If you can only bench 180, that’s a B+.

That would be ridiculous. Some students are cross country runners, training for endurance. Others are volleyball players who want to jump higher. Others don’t like sports, want to find a simple exercise routine to maintain basic health.

In the academic areas, all students are asked to bench press 200 pounds at the end of the year. That’s what most final exams look like, that’s what all standardized tests look like.

It’s ridiculous.

Even within an academic discipline, each student will have different proclivities and interests and desired outcomes. Not everyone cares to read the same genre of literature. Not everyone needs to learn the same level of math.

So why are we measuring everyone the same way? It makes no sense.

Practically speaking, implementing the exercise program model would be difficult. Teachers would need to drastically change their approach, and they would need access to a versatile toolbox of resources. Administrators and politicians would have to find new ways to measure student and school performance.

But stress levels would go down, everyone would be a lot happier, and learning would skyrocket as students would be free to pursue their own interests. Most resources are available for free at public libraries, or could be accessed through community partnerships.

I guess I’m just tired of pedagogical techniques that reinvent the wheel for how to get more students to bench press 200 pounds. Mental attributes are diverse as physical attributes. We should treat them with the same openness to individual development.

Road Trip Travelogue 2018

If you follow me on Facebook you may have read these already, but I decided to compile all of my road trip travelogue posts here on my blog. Some of you don’t use social media, and others might want to read it start to finish.

I kept an online journal as my wife and I drove from Arizona to the East Coast. First through the southern part of the country, stopping in Austin, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and New York City; then up to my brother’s wedding in New Hampshire; and finally, back to Arizona via the Midwest. 

6/5/2018

Spent the whole morning packing the car. By noon we had everything ready. House clean, doors locked. Audiobook downloaded. Wedding suit folded properly.

Sunglasses on. Get in the car…dead battery.

I thought Wendy was joking at first, but nope. It was really dead.

That’s the way it goes. After a jumpstart and a pitstop we were only delayed a couple hours.

Good timing, though, because by the time we hit the land of enchantment, the orange sky was lit up behind us and we were driving into a thunderstorm. Beautiful.

6/7/2018

The first audiobook we listened to was “Barking to the Choir” by Greg Boyle.

Fr. Boyle is a Jesuit priest who started Homeboy Industries, a gang rehabilitation program in Los Angeles. His first book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” is already a classic in Christian spirituality.

The second book is equally moving.

Greg Boyle is universally praised in Jesuit circles, and now, thanks to his book, in much broader circles as well.

Universal praise makes me suspicious. Red flags go off and I nitpick for criticism.

In Boyle’s case, I have no nits to pick. He practices true accompaniment. He gives no false humility. No false modesty.

He does incredible work, and he knows it. But he doesn’t romanticize the work, which is painful and difficult.

He knows he’s no better than the gang members he works with, and he truly believes that in depth of his heart. It’s what makes him so good at the work.

His nose isn’t in the air. He doesn’t give off a “holier-than-thou” vibe. He doesn’t venture outside his lane, proscribing political cures for gang violence that may or may not actually help the problem.

That balance is hard to strike. Excellence vs. Humility.

But I think it can be captured in a word, and that’s “authenticity.”

Knowing who you are (which takes intentional self-reflection), embracing your true self, accepting yourself, loving yourself, so you can love and accept others.

6/8/2018

When you turn the wheel of a Buick Lacrosse, the steering shaft turns the pinion gear, which moves the steering rack, which connects to the tires.

Why do I know this?

Because a new steering rack is currently being shipped from Dallas to Austin, and will soon be installed in our vehicle.

In related news, Wendy and I have decided to spend a couple days sightseeing in Austin, Texas.

The capital of the lone star state, Austin feels a lot like Phoenix … hot.

Austin is named after Stephen F. Austin, an American settler who moved out West around the time Mexico gained independence from Spain.

There’s a long, bloody history behind Texas becoming part of America. Remember the Alamo. The Battle of San Jacinto. The Mexican-American War.

We would do better in our public discourse about immigration by remembering that our Southwestern territory was purchased with the barrel of a musket.

Anyway, Austin seems like a fun place. Good friendly vibes. We swam in a river. We ate hamburgers with donut buns.

Hoping to be back on the road by this afternoon.

6/9/2018

Some thoughts on the sharing economy.

One of the biggest upsides of digital technology is the ability to rent and lend personal property.

I can stand on a street corner in Austin, press a button on my phone, and within minutes a car pulls up to give me a ride. I can go online, press a button, and book a stay that very same night in someone’s guest house.

Airbnb, Uber, and the like are certainly disrupting the hotel and taxi business, but it increases efficiency and turns ordinary people into mini-entrepreneurs.

The review system holds strangers accountable. Each party has an incentive to leave a good impression, knowing that a bad review will hurt one’s ability to rent or lend in the future.

I also appreciate the culture it encourages, especially with Airbnb. Hosts take pride in adding local flavor to their space, recommending eateries and activities, and sometimes interacting with their guests. Traveling feels more communal this way.

Mix-ups sometimes happen, though, as we learned two days ago.

After dropping off the car for repairs, we hastily booked a room for the night. Exhausted, we got to the room and took a nap…

Only to be woken up by someone unlocking our door to enter. I opened the door and saw two people carrying bags. We looked at each other with confused faces.

After studying our surroundings more closely, Wendy and I realized our mistake. Turns out there’s two rental spaces on the same property. We were in the wrong Airbnb.

Luckily, our host responded immediately by phone, and the parties worked out a solution. We stayed put. The intruders took the other rental.

6/10/2018

Our Airbnb host was mystified we were staying such a short time in New Orleans. Now I understand his feeling.

Nothing I write would do justice to the city, but here’s an excerpt from the guest book, written by ‘John and Bri’ who stayed August 13th – 17th, 2015:

“We LOVED this city.

It’s grittiness. It’s chaos. The friendly locals, telling us we’ll love the food. The lovely architecture, the music, the energy!! We felt like we were not in the Caribbean, not in the U.S., but somewhere, someplace lost in a parallel oasis where rules are ambiguously defined and seldomly enforced.

We love the contradictions, the people, the fact that you can walk or bike the entire city; the unpretentiousness, the food…this place is an assault on all the senses and we welcomed it.”

6/11/2018

Last night we listened to an episode of “WTF with Marc Maron.” It was a repost of a 2011 interview with Anthony Bourdain.

Maron is considered a founding father of podcasting.

This interview is what podcasting is all about. It was a raw, real, wide-ranging conversation about ambition, addiction, politics, success, and of course, food.

I didn’t know much about Bourdain before this interview. I can tell why people were so drawn to his style.

Food most definitely brings people together and opens up connections between diverse peoples. The proverbial breaking of the bread.

Nothing brings this into greater clarity than travel, which is something Bourdain seemed to embody and bring to life for his audience.

Our favorite meal so far was a Tex-Mex joint in Austin. In the spirit of randomness and adventure, we walked there from the Airbnb before picking up our car from the shop. The waiter recommended the Al Carbon Taco Plate, which came with juicy steak, frijoles, spanish rice, and a chip con queso.

Delicious.

6/13/2018

About half the time, instead of renting an Airbnb, we’ve been car camping at a KOA, a nation-wide network of campgrounds. Even if you don’t know KOA, you’d probably recognize the yellow KOA logo from the exit signs on highways.

Before this trip I didn’t know much about them, but they’re pretty cool. You park, set up a tent in your designated area. They’ve got bathrooms, showers, etc. Much cheaper than a hotel or an Airbnb.

Setting up and tearing down a campsite, even a small one, can be tedious. All the equipment has to be folded up properly. If you rush the folding process, the sleeping mat won’t fit into its container, and you’ll have to do it again … carefully … to get it right.

This is a good practice for me. I don’t like tedium, but I appreciate the mindfulness it encourages. Focus on the immediate. Stay in the moment. Step by step.

When we camped outside New Orleans a couple days ago, we noticed a familiar squeaking sound from our steering wheel.

Wait, didn’t we just get a new steering rack?

We rationalized: This must be a different sound. No worries.

We did a psychological investigation: Did we get ripped off? Did they misdiagnose the problem? But it wasn’t squeaking when we left Austin…

We had to continuously refill power steering fluid to make it to Washington, D.C. There was clearly a leak, but why didn’t they fix it before?

According to the D.C. mechanic, the Austin mechanic installed a tube improperly. The tube rubbed against the axel, causing a leak.

In fairness to the Austin mechanic, our Buick is unusually designed. Every repair takes longer, and costs more, due to the intricacy of the engine and everything else involved.

The moral of the story: Practice mindfulness.

And don’t buy a Buick Lacrosse.

6/14/2018

We spent two days in D.C.

We wanted to see a couple museums, but since our car was in the shop until the next afternoon, we decided to keep those for day two.

Little did we know, day two was the day of the Stanley Cup championship parade. The Washington Capitals won the NHL championship, and the city was primed to celebrate.

Our taxi dropped us off near the Smithsonian museums. As we approached, we ran into a sea of red shirts, people screaming and chanting, chugging beers. It was a Tuesday morning.

We couldn’t even cross the street to get to museum we wanted. The roads were barricaded for the parade.

We ducked into an art museum to wait out the chaos, and eventually hit our destinations. As we left that afternoon, though, we could still hear chants echoing through the capitol mall.

I don’t even think everyone at the parade was a hockey fan, but as someone who took off work was quoted in the Post, “I’m a Washington D.C. fan.”

Goes to show that sports have a psychic and emotional bond with cities.

Even when players and coaches and owners change, the city holds love for the team. Something carries on beyond the individuals who pass through. We hold common stories. Shared triumphs and struggles. Hopes and desires.

When our teams lose, we feel the sting of defeat. When they win, we feel a thrill of accomplishment. We identify with teams. For better or worse.

The exuberance in D.C. was a release … from the expectations of polite public behavior, from the obligations of work, from the daily political drama …

The city had been waiting over 30 years for a title. I’m glad I got to witness their jubilation.

6/15/2018

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

These words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

New York City is incredibly diverse. A kaleidoscope of humanity. You can see it and you can hear it. We walked around for two days and probably overheard 10 different languages.

America was originally a land of misfits. Convicted bandits and vagabonds, outcasts from Europe, came to America’s shores. The New World. People came for a new start. People came to practice their religion in peace.

Of course there’s contradictions in our national identity. Disputes about what it means to be American. Dark histories of slavery, theft of Native lands, cruel nativism.

But still inscribed in our founding documents is a noble vision. Freedom. Inalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

This is self-evident. All people are created equal.

This is who we are. This is what America stands for, despite its flaws, despite the ugly nativist rhetoric and authoritarianism that gets loosely thrown around these days.

We the People…

6/16/2018

My grandfather was a dairy farmer in New Hampshire.

He and my grandmother raised six kids, now grown up to be parents and grandparents themselves.

Growing up, my family used to visit New Hampshire every summer. I have fond memories at the farm. Playing capture the flag with my cousins. Watching Grandpa Jones and Uncle Gordon milk the cows.

It was a wonderful experience for me and my brothers, and I am grateful for it.

City boys getting a taste of the country. In many ways we were fish out of water, but it didn’t take five minutes before the fun and games washed away those cultural differences.

It’s been over 10 years since I last visited New Hampshire.

Life comes at you fast.

I always thought being grown up would feel different. Like you go through some metamorphosis where you know everything and what to do.

I keep waiting to feel grown up, but I’m starting to realize that adults are just older kids. You don’t really change. There’s no before and after.

People act differently, sometimes.

We internalize our external societal badge…job, salary, status, political affiliation, hobbies…

We internalize successes and failures. We suffer from emotional scars. We pile up our shortcomings, measure them against others, measure ourselves against our idealized selves. Life is complicated.

Strip everything down, though, and we’re all just kids who grew up.

6/19/2018

For some reason I kept thinking basketball was invented in Indiana. Turns out I was wrong. James Naismith invented the game at a high school in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891.

Indiana wasn’t the birthplace of basketball, but I guess you could call it the incubator. A year after Naismith raised his peach basket in Springfield, Mass., the game spread to Indiana, and by 1911, they held their first state-wide high school tournament. Lots of innovations happened in Indiana, like using a metal ring and allowing dribbling.

Larry Bird grew up in Indiana, as did famed UCLA coach John Wooden, born 1910, who learned the game from some of basketball’s original coaches.

We’re driving back after my brother’s wedding (shout out Danny and Mary!!), dropping through to see some of Wendy’s family in the Midwest.

Wendy once told me that I can’t really know her unless I know her family.

At first I thought that was her thing, since she grew up in a small town with a big family.

I’m tempted to think of myself as an individual, shaped by my own decisions, my unique experiences.

Upon reflection, though, the same adage holds true. I’m just as much a product of my roots and upbringing as everyone else.

Millennials often wonder about the purpose of marriage, and rightly so. It’s a tradition with a spotty history in our lives. It seems like people chart their own course these days. They take ownership of the tradition, make it their own, modify it, or flat-out reject it.

So be it. For us, wedding/marriage is a lot about family. Bringing two families together to celebrate and know each other.

Very grateful to spend time and celebrate with family on this trip.

6/21/2018

I spend a lot of time thinking about Abraham Lincoln.

He was a visionary. “A house divided against itself cannot stand. This nation cannot long endure half-slave, half-free.”

He was a brilliant tactical politician. The emancipation proclamation written shrewdly for the moment, delivered at just the right time to win the war. Prosecuting the war not just to military surrender, but to the complete abolition of slavery with a constitutional amendment.

The words of the Gettysburg Address now written in stone in Washington, D.C., next to his gigantic statue overlooking a long pool at his memorial.

In his short speech at Gettysburg he resolved that the soldiers who died there will not have died in vain, because “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Even though we don’t always live up to our ideals as a nation, at least we have these noble declarations to hold ourselves accountable.

When I think about Lincoln, though, I don’t think about his accomplishments as much as I think about his upbringing.

Teachers often talk about backwards design: starting from the endpoint, or objective, and building lesson activities to get there.

I think about the same thing when it comes to historically great people. How did they get there?

Lincoln taught himself by reading books. He went to school for, at most, two years in aggregate.

He struggled with mental health, suffering from debilitating episodes of what they called melancholy.

In our modern efforts to manufacture the intellectual and emotional lives of our young people, I think we’re probably destroying the ability for some creative human spirits to rise to greatness.

6/22/2018

Tomorrow morning we leave the Land of Lincoln for the final leg of our journey — through the heartland of Missouri, Kansas, Colorado.

Thankfully I have no car news to report. We seriously considered trading in the vehicle while we were in Illinois, but didn’t want the hassle. We’ll keep riding this horse. I’ve got some thoughts about lemons, but I’m not going to jinx anything before we get home.

One podcast episode we listened to a few days ago is worth reflecting on. It was an episode of “On Being” (shout out Jimmy Tricco for the recommendation!). The host Krista Tippett interviews social psychologist John Haidt about his theories on personality when it comes to political affiliation.

Haidt sees the idea of conservative and liberal as the yin and yang of our society — neither one has all the answers, both sides value different things, both sides provide important perspectives.

We need parts of us that value tradition and respect for authority. We need parts of us that embrace change and value equity.

These inclinations are intuitive, not rational, and they can healthily coexist in a society.

Traveling the country by car has provided a closeup view of the diversity of our lifestyles. People’s livelihoods depend on vastly different factors. Attitudes shaped by geographical features and shared cultural and economic histories.

The country is massive. To put it in context: Finland could fit inside the territories of Illinois and Wisconsin. Germany is smaller than Montana.

The United States were originally designed to be separate, independently governed territories loosely affiliated with a weak central government. Over time we’ve consolidated. The power of the central government has grown, in step with our military campaigns and economic challenges.

Over time the Unites States became a singular noun.

It feels like we’re in the midst of a cultural civil war … or maybe it just feels like that because of social media.

I don’t have any solutions for any of this except to say I hope we can emerge, somehow, edified. I think it will take a critical mass of people detaching from their echo chambers and genuinely trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives.

6/25/2018

We’re back in the Grand Canyon State, twenty days later. Part of me wishes we could have spent more time, stayed longer in each place, saw more places, but it’s also very good to be home, and the responsibilities of life beckon.

The drive across Kansas was flat, but we were given a magnificent show while driving into the setting sun. Towering walls of clouds on the right. Intense lightning storm on the left. A panoramic show. The sky looked like it was touching the ground.

Then the terrain changed as we drove past the rocky mountains, through Vail, with green trees everywhere and the rivers carving the land, hugging the highway.

Then past the red rocks of Utah, layers of rocks, whittled away by the wind over millions of years.

Finally into northern Arizona, above the Grand Canyon, where you drive past ranches, dilapidated neighborhoods and signs advertising Navajo souvenirs. Past Mt. Humphreys, then down into the Valley.

We made it. The car made it. The journey of life continues.

Thanks, everyone, for reading along and allowing me to occupy your feeds more than usual. Thanks, also, for those who interacted with the posts. Even though I didn’t reply to the comments or “like” any of the comments, I did appreciate them, and the positive feedback I received from the Road Trippin’ blog inspired me to “live-blog” the trip, instead of writing private reflections.

Peace.


Thanks for reading! If you want to read more reflective-type stories, check out my e-book “Heel Fast: A Journal of Recovery” which I wrote over the course of an eight month recovery from an Achilles tendon rupture.

 

Road Trippin’

IMG_1743

One of the biggest benefits of teaching is summer vacation. I’m not a huge fan of this design: I would quickly exchange the long breaks for a more manageable day-to-day life. But I usually make that argument in April, not June.

Teaching is one of the rare jobs that clearly demarcates transition. One year to the next. A new crop of students. A long break to reflect, unwind, and prepare for the next blitz.

Some teachers use their time to work on their classes or teach summer school. For me, the mental space for creativity and reflection is a personal and professional necessity. Recharge the batteries. Remind myself why I’m teaching in the first place.

This year was one of the busiest years in memory. I got married. I moved twice. I started a podcast. My school got bought out. RedforEd happened.

Sometimes I like to reserve my summers for intellectual or creative projects. Try to learn guitar. Publish an e-book. Noble goals, but they’re partly fueled by a guilty feeling that comes with idle time, probably reinforced by our GO-GO-GO society. Be productive. Get something tangible accomplished.

There’s also a feeling of making up for lost time. Ideally, one would have the space for creative and intellectual projects in their day-to-day life. Practically, that notion is laughable.

***

Tomorrow I will be leaving on a road-trip across the country with my wife. We’re traveling to the East Coast for my brother’s wedding, and we’re taking our sweet time getting there.

No itinerary, no hotel reservations.

Just a general idea of some of the cities we’d like to hit, and a date for the wedding.

Allow me to indulge in some worn out metaphors about roads.

***

People hate uncertainty. We fight against it with data, science, technology, poll numbers. We want to know how many steps we take in a day. We want to know how many grams of saturated fat are in that muffin. We want to do statistical analyses of all the teammates LeBron James ever had.

We fight against uncertainty by planning for the future. In some ways that’s a good thing. It’s smart to plan for the future. That 401k will keep growing, setting you up for a happy retirement. Studying for that degree will set you up for the next job, which will set you up for the ultimate job, which will make you happy.

No doubt — science and technology have made us better, materially, as a society. We live longer. We have more stuff. We know more stuff.

But there’s a burden that comes with certainty. Jesus talked about this in the Gospels. Like how the birds and flowers don’t worry that much. They just chirp and bloom. They are who they are.

***

I get the feeling things will get a lot messier in our society before they get more peaceful. The Donald Trump saga has only begun. The digital takeover of everything has only begun.

The outcomes are out of anyone’s control. Sometimes it feels like the more you fight for a specific outcome, the more backlash and intransigence you confront.

So I’m convinced the better outcomes will manifest not from the result of any specific fight, but in our manner of being.

As we’re caught up in the immediate goal, fight, problem, situation …

We forget we are fellow travelers. Destination unknown.

***

If anyone has a podcast or audio book recommendation, drop me a line.

The Future of Education

IMG_3275

The teacher movements across the country are clearly being driven by a partisan agenda.

If it was truly a grassroots movement, you wouldn’t see cookie-cutter movements happening in targeted red states during an important election year.

If it was truly about education, the movement in Arizona would have played out differently. There was absolutely zero chance of anyone outside of the pre-selected leadership group influencing strategy in any way. If someone disagreed with Red for Ed (read: progressive) doctrine, they were quickly censored.

Noah Karvelis is the Donald Trump of educational politics. He tapped into the emotions of an aggrieved profession, and then manipulated people’s anger into support for a self-destructive strategy.

Teachers don’t need more money to do the same job.

Teachers need to be unleashed. Teachers need creative freedom.

Our students need creative freedom.

We don’t need newer versions of textbooks. We need to stop using textbooks.

We don’t need more school psychologists. We need to stop shuffling kids through a psychologically destructive institution.

Young people have a natural curiosity about the world, and an innate sense of what’s meaningful in their society.

Young people today were born into a digital ecosystem, and they see every adult person immersed, doing important things on digital devices.

Then they go to school and teacher says: Get off your phone. Open up this boring textbook. Read it. Fill out this worksheet.

I’m not saying students should have unfettered access to technology. I’m not saying some schools don’t utilize technology well.

There’s a philosophy of learning called “unschooling” which preaches unfettered everything, free-range education. I’m not preaching that.

However, I think we need an entirely new model for public education in America.

It starts with a new method of evaluation. Right now we measure using test scores. Better test scores means better school. Better test scores means better student.

This method of evaluation doesn’t work. Sure, it makes things easy for a politicians, administrators, and college admissions officers. One clean number to compare schools and students. A clear goal to focus energy.

But it’s destructive to authentic learning, and it perpetuates the current system which is costly and ineffective.

You can’t measure learning. You just can’t. Every student is wired differently, has different proclivities, passions, demeanors, etc.

You can’t measure everyone with the same damn test.

I’ve known brilliant students who were crappy multiple-choice test takers. Young people with the talent to become productive team members or entrepreneurs … punished under this backwards system.

Standardized education causes you to demand the same skill-set from different people. It doesn’t work. Kids rebel.

I know bright students who refuse to do academic work for the simple reason that someone told them to do it. Their fiercely independent mindset is punished in schools, when it could be harnessed into productive outlets.

Instead of allowing a variety of human flourishing, schools reward blind obedience to authority and punish originality. Over time, certain students start to internalize the punishment, and the negative consequences multiply.

Don’t worry, we can evaluate schools and student performance with something other than standardized test scores.

How do we evaluate the quality of music? How do we figure out the best restaurants? How are the Phoenix Suns going to decide who to choose with the first overall draft pick?

Eliminating standardized tests won’t solve all the problems of school, but it’s the biggest first step.

When standardized tests are removed as the method of evaluation, other benefits and reforms will unfold from there. It will change pedagogy, required curriculum, professional development, school culture.

Focus will return to the intangible things that everyone already knows are more important: Love of learning. Discovering one’s passions. Creating something meaningful. Getting lost in a good book. Having a lively conversation. Proving a point. Solving a problem. Going on an internet deep dive.

Maybe my vision is a pipe dream. Maybe standardized tests have some virtue I’m not seeing. Maybe they’re too politically entrenched. Even if we did get rid of them, they’re just one of many obstacles to shaping authentic learning communities.

Either way, this type of conversation needs to happen, and it’s been lost in the manufactured populism of this education movement, which now feels like an old order clinging to the last vestiges of legitimacy.

As Bob Dylan (a college dropout) once wrote, the times they are a changin’.

We need an education system that can keep up.


This was the third and final post in my Red for Ed reflection series.

Part 1:A Red for Ed Reflection — Part 1

Part 2:The So-Called Vote

 

The So-Called Vote

IMG_3194

When I first saw the video announcement for a walkout vote, my heart sank. The Governor’s proposal might not be everything we asked for, but it was a significant gesture. And we didn’t know the details yet. To me, it was bad form to conduct a walkout vote while the legislature was working out details on a major teacher pay raise proposal.

Let’s take a step back for a minute.

Throughout the movement, polls and surveys had been circulated to gauge opinion. For example, the “demands” had supposedly been formulated thanks to input from Facebook polls. The leaders of Red for Ed announced the demands at a rally at the state capitol on March 28th. I was there. 

The thing is, none of us at the rally knew the demands beforehand. Not even the liaisons knew. They told us to show up at the Capitol to rally in support of demands we didn’t know yet.

Formal support for a walkout was already being tallied with a Google Docs survey. The goal was set at 30,000 supportive responses. Those numbers stood at around 23,000 before the walkout vote commenced.

Despite my personal feelings about Ducey’s pay raise proposal on April 12th, I could understand the leaders’ desire to get feedback from the movement. So I paid close attention and followed directions for how to conduct the vote on my campus.

As a liaison, it was my responsibility to communicate to my staff. Immediately, questions poured in.

We’re voting for a walkout? Walking out right now? How long will it last? What can the government do to prevent the walkout? 

I had no answers. All over the Facebook pages, teachers and liaisons shared the exact same concerns. Nobody wanted to “strike” in terms of walking out indefinitely, but most people said they would be willing to walk out for a day or two, and potentially strike next year if it became absolutely necessary.    

Up to this point, the Red for Ed leadership had been fairly responsive on these Facebook pages. They would clarify announcements, answer questions about actions, and interact with the rank and file.  

During this crucial week … radio silence. Complete silence. No clarification, except to emphasize how bad Ducey’s proposal was, and why it was unacceptable, and why we should vote for a walkout.

Was the walkout for a day, or indefinitely? Was it for right now, or potentially next year? 

No clarification, except for how to physically carry out the voting procedures. All it said on the ballot was:

[   ]   Yes, I will participate in a walk out in support of Red for Ed demands

[   ]   No, I will not participate in a walk out in support of Red for Ed demands

On the charter schools Facebook page, I did my best to explain, as I understood it, the significance of the vote. I wrote that “yes” vote to walk out would be a feeling of absolute rejection of Ducey’s proposal, even in its skeleton form. A “no” vote would signify that Ducey’s proposal is a good enough gesture to stay in class. I wrote that a “yes” vote would likely trigger a walkout this year, perhaps even the following week.

While carrying out the voting procedures on my campus, I was on the Facebook pages actively seeking clarification. So were many others. On the liaison page, people were practically begging the leaders for clarification.

On Tuesday night, after the first day of voting, someone on the liaison page posted a detailed plan, laying out a specific strategy: One day walkout this spring as a show of force, followed by a series of scheduled “walk-ins” and rallies to continue visibility and pressure. 

The liaison asked in the post, “Can this be the plan we vote on?”

Liaisons rallied around this plan. The “likes” multiplied and positive comments accumulated rapidly. 

That’s when Dylan Wegela, a leader of Red for Ed and the main administrator on the liaison page, finally started responding. We expressed our frustration with the vote. What the hell were we voting on? He reassured us that there was, in fact, a plan, but that there was “an element of trust” involved.

Q: We’re voting on a secret plan?

A: Well, the plan is continually changing, depending on circumstances.

Q: We’re voting on a secret plan that’s continually changing?

After being pressed, Dylan agreed to release an “explainer” about the vote, which was sent to the entire Red for Ed group on the second day of voting. Basically, it said that a “yes” vote would be a vote of confidence in leadership to decide the course of action.

So,

  • There’s no way to know how many people voted before this explainer was released. Most people on my campus voted the first day. 
  • They said the total number of votes was 57,000, with a final count of 78% supporting a walkout. But the vote was open to any and all school employees, of which there are over 100,000. Voter turnout was around 50% at best.
  • Due to peer pressure and censorship within the movement, it’s probable that those who disagreed or felt alienated simply didn’t vote.
  • It’s probable that a significant number of people, instead of voting no, wrote-in their preferred course of action.

On the third day of voting, news broke in the middle of the day that Red for Ed leaders had reserved the lawn of the state capitol for the following day, as well as for the entire next week. Back on the Facebook group, we were told that the reservations were made as a “precaution” in case the vote came back yes. No one voting knew about these preliminary plans. 

It should also be noted that “walk-out training” had already been scheduled for Saturday, April 21st, at locations across the state, in case of a “potential” walkout. RSVP’s for this training were sent out on Wednesday, the second day of voting.

On Thursday, April 19th, the final day of voting, the Red for Ed leaders held a press conference at 9 pm.

I heard Joe Thomas say that educators “overwhelmingly support walking out of their schools.”

“This is undeniably, and clearly, a mandate for action.”

I heard Noah Karvelis say the walkout would start the following Thursday, and continue indefinitely. 

“This is a mandate for action as I see it.”


This was Part 2 in my Red for Ed reflection series. Read Part 3.  

To read Part 1, click here: A #RedforEd Reflection — Part 1

I discussed the vote and other issues with Red for Ed on the “Otters Talking Politics” podcast, recorded on April 28th. Listen to it here: RedforEd Teachers’ Strike w/ The Political Notebook

Also, during the walkout I was interviewed by “Vice News Tonight” for a segment on the political nature of the movement. Watch it here: Everything You Need to Know About the Arizona Teacher Walkout

A #RedforEd Reflection – Part 1

 

redfored

When Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced his 20×2020 plan on Thursday, April 12th, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

My relief wasn’t a sign of enthusiasm for Ducey’s plan — the details were unknown at that point.

My relief was that I would no longer have to organize a walkout. Ducey had given in to the movement. We won.

For the past three weeks I had been organizing my charter school campus as a response to the #RedforEd movement — started on Twitter in mid March seeking higher teacher pay and increased funding for public education. We wore red on Wednesdays. We took pictures to share on social media. We rallied at the state capitol. We did “walk-ins” as a sign of unity and a show of our capability to pull off a walk-out. I was a “liaison” for my school. Which meant I received emails from the main leaders, relayed new information to my staff via personal email, and led our school through the planned actions.

There was talk of a walkout leading up to April 12th. Ducey wasn’t budging. Something more drastic was needed — something like what happened in West Virginia, where a strike shut down public schools across the state for nine days. The strike led to a 5% raise from their legislature.

Oklahoma was in the middle of a walkout. Their legislature had already presented a plan for increased funding before they decided to walk out. Was their strategy working?

We didn’t know. People were fixated on West Virginia. Nine day strike = 5% raise.

Ducey wasn’t budging.

It was crunch time.

My colleagues and I were in discussions with our principal and our school’s CEO. Would there be repercussions if we walked out? Would the board be willing to offer a letter of support? What if we did half-days or something? Would we have to extend our school year if we walked out?

At night I was sending email updates to the staff. I was interacting with other teachers on Facebook, staying up to date on the latest possibilities.

It was stressful.

That’s why, when I heard about Ducey’s 20% raise proposal by the year 2020 — 9% next year — I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Of course we would have to stay vigilant, keep pressure so the plan actually materialized. Maybe we would need to write a ballot initiative to pay for it, because we know Republicans don’t like taxes.

But we certainly wouldn’t be striking. Not after a 20% raise offer.

West Virginia got 5%.

We won. Big.

I could get back to planning my classes for the year. My nightly routine would normalize.

***

Shortly after Ducey’s proposal, I watched a video update from the Red for Ed leaders. They were wearing dark clothes. They looked pissed.

This plan doesn’t meet all of our demands.

Unfortunately, this plan falls short.

We don’t know the details.

We don’t trust Ducey.

***

I wrote a post on the Facebook group we made for charter schools participating in the movement.

Hey, even if we got everything we wanted from this proposal, we would still need to stay vigilant to make sure the details materialized and nothing got changed down the line. Let’s start thinking of ourselves as a long-term organization with a mission to improve education in Arizona.

Where do we go from here? Stay vigilant. Stay active. Stay visible. Get ready for more actions. Ballot initiatives. Rallies. Campaigns.

Great work so far. Let’s keep this momentum going.

***

A couple days later, on a Sunday, I watched another video from the Red for Ed leaders. An official response to Ducey’s plan.

Inadequate. It doesn’t meet all of our demands. What about support staff? What about school supplies?

Noah Karvelis is a music teacher. He only has seven pianos. He wants more pianos.

Joe Thomas is the president of the teacher’s union. He wants Doug Ducey to meet with him in person.

The plan is not good enough.

We’re going to conduct a vote this week, to see if we should still walk out.


This was the first of a three-part reflection on my participation in #RedforEd. To read about the “vote” read Part 2. I look into the future of possibilities in Part 3

My colleague and I were interviewed by the Arizona Republic for article about charter schools and #RedforEd. The article was published on AZCentral.com on April 12th, the same day of Ducey’s proposal. 

Read the article here: Arizona charter educators find their footing in #RedforEd.”

Additional reading:

The Desert

Good things are going on in Palm Desert. And have been for a while.

I kind of grew up in this desert.

Came out here straight from college to teach at a new high school called Xavier College Preparatory. It was my first full-time job. I was tasked to teach psychology, coach basketball and golf, and be the utility man/administrative assistant, which included everything from substitution duties to keeping track of student textbooks.

It was like jumping into a circus being thrown four flaming sticks and being asked to juggle — when you don’t know how to juggle.

It was overwhelming, but I had the best support a young teacher could have. There was someone asking you about your feelings, someone else helping you with your sub spreadsheet. Someone else making you laugh. Everyone working with mission-driven intensity. Someone always had your back. It was a fellowship.

So I kind of grew up in Palm Desert.

***

Whenever I go back to Palm Desert, I’m reminded of something weird. The streets are huge, like six lanes wide. And the speed limit is 65 mph. But there’s no left turns except for a green arrow. And the lights take forever.

Palm Desert has a population of 50, 000. The median age is 53.

During two weeks of the Coachella Music Festival, however, the demographics suddenly change. The population about doubles. The streets are packed and you feel like you’re living in some sort of hipster alternative reality.

***

My favorite coffee shop in Palm Desert is Starbucks.

I remember one of my first conversations with a student at the high school, I asked him what he does for fun.

He said he goes to the river.

I said, oh, there’s a river around here? Which one?

He said, no, I go to the River. It’s the mall here.

Oh.

***

The mountains here are spectacular. They just surround you. There’s clouds always flowing over San Jacinto Peak.

In the winter the mountains sometimes get snowcapped. So it can be 70 degrees on the ground, you’re walking around in shorts and short sleeves looking up at snowcapped mountains.

San Jacinto Peak is in Palm Springs, which is right next door to Palm Desert. It’s home of the world’s largest aerial tram. You climb 6,000 feet in twelve minutes. It’s like 30 degrees cooler up there. Pine trees instead of palm trees.

When you hike one of these mountains and look across the valley below, you will see pockets of green — and not just the golf courses. There are natural springs with flowing water and vegetation and wildlife.

 

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

***

Xavier is a Jesuit high school.

Jesuits are always doing self-reflection. Examining themselves and their circumstances. Searching for God’s call. Wondering about purpose. As soon as they get a hint of purpose, they spring into action. Action followed by reflection; reflection leading to action.

Jesuits have attempted to systematize the search for meaning. The “retreats” are built into the curriculum, offered as part of the educational experience. They are religious, but also accessible to the non-religious. They create spaces for self-reflection and community-building. They encourage the discovery of meaning, which is usually found in one’s heart. Brought to life by the imagination.

I went through the retreat programs first as a student of Jesuit education, and then again as a teacher in Jesuit education. Both helped lay down a framework for processing new life events and making life decisions.

For this I am grateful.

***

Good things are still happening at Xavier. I just visited their campus and attended a day of their “Summit on Human Dignity.”

The Summit is a week of concentration on a single topic. Looking at the topic from different angles, an examination of purpose and dignity. There are school-wide presentations in addition to student-led workshops or breakout sessions.

This week the topic was digital technology. In what ways does technology dignify the human person? In what ways does it not? How can we utilize technology in order to bring out the best of humanity?

The workshop I attended was called “Media and Politics.” After an informative and engaging lecture on the history of the subject, the students switched gears, led an activity followed by discussion on the topic of Trump’s Tweets. What I heard was the most fair and civil discussion you could imagine on the subject — the consensus being that, although Twitter is an effective and useful means of presidential communication, the way Trump uses it is often immature.

Besides the presentations and workshops, the teachers are asked to weave the theme of the Summit into their curriculum.

As you would expect at a Jesuit school, the week ends with a day of prayer and reflection on what was discussed throughout the week. A culminating Mass.

***

To the casual observer, Palm Desert doesn’t seem like much. As a matter of fact, you can drive past it on the way to Los Angeles from Arizona and not really know it’s there.

But there’s a sense of freshness in the atmosphere.

Geographically close enough to know about the big city, yet far enough away not to be tarnished by the Los Angeles smog.

Whenever I leave Palm Desert, and reflect on my time there, I’m left with a feeling of gratitude and hope.

There’s a lot of good happening in the desert.