bald eagle and american flag

So grateful for all the freedoms we enjoy on this Independence Day and every day! A special thank you to all those that have made those freedoms possible and continue to sacrifice to preserve them to this day! Happy 4th of July everyone!

 

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Jefferson Memorial with Declaration of Independence 

Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th in the United States.  “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison.

Thomas Jefferson, known for his expressive writing style, was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.   Ben Franklin reminded delegates of the Continental Congress of the importance of the occasion by telling them: “we must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  While we often focus on the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

It is the final sentence of the Declaration of Independence that has always remained a powerful reminder of a promise among the signers of the Declaration to: “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” These men thought liberty was more important than their own lives or their very possessions.  By risking everything, signers of the Declaration of Independence, men of wealth, many of whom the ultimate price—either through loss of life or prosperity.

Ronald Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”   What sacrifice would we be willing to make today for freedom?  That is a question we should ask frequently.  Benjamin Franklin would likely respond “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

The last letter Thomas Jefferson ever wrote was about the celebration of Independence Day and missing the 50th anniversary of America’s independence.  He was 83 years old and would die within ten days of penning a poorly punctuated letter in 1826, that still contained brilliance within.   It’s good to know he wrote that “our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made.” Jefferson wrote:

“I should, indeed, with peculiar delight, have met and exchanged there congratulations personally with the small band, the remnant of that host of worthies, who joined with us on that day, in the bold and doubtful election we were to make for our country, between submission or the sword; and to have enjoyed with them the consolatory fact, that our fellow citizens, after half a century of experience and prosperity, continue to approve the choice we made. May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

Freedom should never be taken for granted.  Today we are debating the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.  While many citizens are very passionate about our country, others seem disillusioned and some openly hostile.  It is why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document. It expresses what it means to be an American.  We would be wise, as a state and nation, to teach the next generation of Americans what the words of the Declaration of Independence mean.  We must remind ourselves and children that there once lived men who mutually pledged to each other their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the love of freedom.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Freedom should never be taken for granted. Today we are debating the very concept of what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America. It is why the Declaration of Independence is such an important document. It expresses what it means to be an American. —JC Bowman, Professional Educators of Tennessee

Independence Day is celebrated on July 4th in the United States.  “Ever honored will be the day which gave birth to a nation, and to a System of self-government, making it a new Epoch in the History of Man” according to James Madison.

Supreme-Court

The United States Supreme Court has been busy this week.  I have only been focused on the Janus Case.  The justices ruled 5-4 to prohibit unions from collecting fees in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31. The justices also ruled that workers must affirmatively opt into the union before fees can be taken out of their paychecks.

It will effectively break the cycle where government unions can collect compulsory fees from government workers and then use it to help elect pro-union politicians to achieve and maintain political power — who then empower and enrich the government employee unions.  Think about this for a minute, the unions were arguing in this case: “that government has a duty to financially prop up a private enterprise.”  “In what universe?” the Supreme Court Justices must have thought.  The legal rationale was questionable at best.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote in the majority opinion and addressed that directly: “It is hard to estimate how many billions of dollars have been taken from nonmembers and transferred to public-sector unions in violation of the First Amendment. Those unconstitutional exactions cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.”  Justice Alito then added: “We conclude that this arrangement violates the free speech rights of nonmembers by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

The opinion added: “The First Amendment is violated when money is taken from nonconsenting employees for a public-sector union; employees must choose to support the union before anything is taken from them. Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.”

The Tennessee branch of the National Education Association is already saying the ruling will not impact them.  They have already lost almost 35% of their members in the last five years according to the Education Intelligence Agency.  However, the Janus ruling will have an indirect impact, as the unions will have fewer resources, and will undoubtedly be focused (in the short-term) on simply keeping the members they have. The NEA has projected a loss of some 307,000 members over two years if the Janus decision went against public-employee unions, with an expected $50 million two-year budget cut, or 13 percent.  Today’s decision will ultimately reduce the political activity of public sector unions.

Referenced by the Education Intelligence Agency, former Tennessee Education Association employee and Uniserv Coordinator Chris Brooks wrote about the unions: “Many state associations are run by their staffs. Rarely do they engage in meaningful fights at the school or district level. Annual lobby days mobilize a tiny fraction of members. Teachers and school support staff feel only loosely connected to the union.”  Brooks’s former union bosses cannot be happy with his comments.  However, it proves that educators need more effective voices and other organizations to speak up for their interests.

“The unions will call this tortious interference with their business expectancies. Disinterested people will call it an affirmation of individuals’ constitutional rights” according to Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist George Will.  No American worker should be forced to become or remain a union member. People should be free to join, or not join any organization or union they want, without losing their job or be forced to pay for political agendas with which they disagree based on political or ideological purposes.

The Janus Decision will not create drastic structural changes to unions.  It will simply make them more accountable to their own members.  And in the case of teacher unions, this greater accountability should focus on making the quality of education front and center, help public education rebuild support from the public for issues like raising teacher pay and school funding, and work for the common good of all students and educators. There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.  The Supreme Court Decision in the Janus Case was the right thing.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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The lives of our citizens are enriched through public policies that enhance economic opportunity and freedom. However, some policymakers lack basic understanding of sound economic principles, as well as the fundamental principles of our free enterprise system which include individual initiative, personal responsibility, limited government, respect for private property and the rule of law, economic freedom, and an educated citizenry –the same shared principles that inspired our Founding Fathers.

Most citizens have now started to fully understand that as government growth increases, liberty decreases. They agree it is a shared responsibility of all, stakeholders and policymakers alike, to ensure our tax dollars are wisely spent. In education we need to make sure tax dollars are utilized on programs that benefit students and those who teach them. An essential objective in public education is, and must be, an educated citizenry that creates an informed electorate.

Many have attributed to Thomas Jefferson the genesis of the belief that an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people. Whether Jefferson ought to be given credit is arguable. However, it is a worthy goal to have an educated citizenry to both secure the future of our democracy and for our citizens to be competitive globally.

To some extent, in education we have abandoned Jefferson’s advocacy that an “enlightened people and an energetic public opinion” should keep the “aristocratic spirit of the government” under control. Jefferson feared the power of the federal government. Government is not the driving force for excellence. The motivation that drives excellence comes from within the individual. Jefferson understood that in order for citizens to lead in the future they must have virtues and talent. It should be by our achievements in life, not an accident of birth, that determine our future. Education is and was the great equalizer.

Jefferson, who is embraced on both the left and the right politically, certainly understood that it was essential that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens. In fact, Jefferson expressed to James Madison, as early as 1787, “Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” Jefferson virtually echoed the conviction of Montesquieu in Spirit of the Laws, that “virtue may be defined as the love of the laws and of our country” as a principal business of education.

There is no dispute that Jefferson, as a Founding Father, understood the need of public education. He wrote, “a system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.” As if peering into the future, Jefferson also wrote, “If the children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

A current catchphrase in public education is “college and career ready.” In contrast, in 1814, Thomas Jefferson used a similar comparison, “the laboring and the learned.” He detailed to Peter Carr, “The mass of our citizens may be divided into two classes — the laboring and the learned. The laboring will need the first grade of education to qualify them for their pursuits and duties; the learned will need it as a foundation for further acquirements.” We really have not changed the identified groups; we just use different labels.

Understanding Jefferson’s view challenges the principle that a number of policymakers have embraced that education is merely about job readiness and employment (laboring class). Unmistakably, the imperative of being educated (the learned) is exceedingly indispensable in a knowledge-based economy and for dealing with an evolving interdependent, multipolar world.

In 1816, Jefferson sent a letter to Pierre Du Pont de Nemours in which he favored an idea he thought might secure education without compulsion. It was, according to Jefferson, a Spanish proposal that nobody “should ever acquire the rights of citizenship until he could read and write.” Jefferson said, “It is impossible sufficiently to estimate the wisdom of this provision.” However, Jefferson did not support making parents put their children in school, suggesting that “it is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”

By every account, it is clear that Jefferson approved of a tax-supported, public educational system that would enable citizens to express their opinions and understand complex issues that can inform decisions the electorate must make as they cast their votes. In 1824, Jefferson added “a republican nation whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.”

How public education is to occur and the financial mechanism to leverage those tax dollars can be debated as they were in Jefferson’s day. However, we believe in public education, and when local school systems work in partnership with communities they serve, they can and will educate students successfully. Public education enables students to access opportunities in a rapidly changing, diverse, global society.

The evidence is clear that Jefferson was correct in the importance of public education for the future of democracy and the United States of America. Jefferson believed that “no other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness,” and that failing to provide public education would “leave the people in ignorance.” Our job is to make sure we build on that foundation.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Brentwood, Tennessee.

jc bowman karaoke

I took a few days off to reflect on life, reconnect with family and resurrect my creativity. The daily grind will get you, if you let it.   We all need rest.

While it was a hoax many people found inspiration in the “last words of Steve Jobs” meme currently being passed around online.  So despite the fact that it’s fake, I post it in its entirety below:

The last words of Steve Jobs

I have come to the pinnacle of success in business.
In the eyes of others, my life has been the symbol of success.
However, apart from work, I have little joy. Finally, my wealth is simply a fact to which I am accustomed.
At this time, lying on the hospital bed and remembering all my life, I realize that all the accolades and riches of which I was once so proud, have become insignificant with my imminent death.
In the dark, when I look at green lights, of the equipment for artificial respiration and feel the buzz of their mechanical sounds, I can feel the breath of my approaching death looming over me.
Only now do I understand that once you accumulate enough money for the rest of your life, you have to pursue objectives that are not related to wealth.
It should be something more important:
For example, stories of love, art, dreams of my childhood.
No, stop pursuing wealth, it can only make a person into a twisted being, just like me.

Some folks added:  Material things lost can be found. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost – Life.

Whichever stage in life we are at right now, with time, we will face the day when the curtain comes down.

Treasure Love for your family, love for your spouse, love for your friends. Treat yourself well. Cherish others.

The author of that essay isn’t known, it is still an emotionally-touching read, but the fact is that Steve Jobs never said these words. Not even close.  It is still a good message, but it was not the words of of Steve Jobs.

The fact is we all need rest.  We should all do what matters to us.   We should love more.  We should cherish those we love and care about.

In public education the single most important factor in determining the most successful student learning outcomes possible is the quality of our teachers.  Educators do not serve the public for the money.

One of the best to articulate the impact of teaching was Elliot Eisner who spoke these words:  “But the satisfactions of teaching extend beyond the academic. Indeed, the most lasting contributions come from rescuing a child from despair, restoring a sense of hope, soothing a discomfort. These are the occasions whose memories last longest because they are often the occasions that matter most. They are the occasions whose importance transcends academic interests. They address the human needs that all of us share.”

Get your rest educators.  Recharge your batteries.  You are making a difference.  What you do matters.  Marcus Aurelius wrote:  “What we do now echoes in eternity.”  He could have been talking about educators.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

 

 

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I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at www.jcbowman.com     

testing 6

The Tennessee Department of Education announced at a noon press conference on Thursday some necessary changes to the state TNReady test that teachers, administrators and superintendents have been asking the state to make. Among the changes include rebidding the testing contract, refining the current Questar contract, revising timeline for online testing, and engaging more teachers. These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

Dale Lynch from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and JC Bowman from Professional Educators of Tennessee were in attendance at the announcement. Both praised the Tennessee Department of Education for taking proactive steps to address the issue. Bowman added: “Leadership collects input from those on the ground, makes the process better for all, and then tweaks the product as needed. We firmly believe that changes needed to be made, and we are pleased that Commissioner McQueen and her team heard our message and made the necessary changes to improve student assessment in Tennessee.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said at the press conference: “improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policymakers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.” She added: “Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

  • Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.  The RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.
  • Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
  • Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge.

Tennessee is one of less than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school—and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, the state is adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:

  • Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
  • Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
  • Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.

Further, the department will improve paper administration, as well. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts, and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.

For more information on the additional TNReady improvements  you can visit the Tennessee Department of Education website.

 

I write:  “Without outside assistance, communities across America simply cannot keep up with technology challenges, either from an economic standpoint or an access standpoint. That is why open-source and donated cloud technology has begun to find greater accepted use in classrooms across America.”

I was honored to write a chapter for the book Cartoons in the Classroom, with Ilya Spitalnik an internationally recognized thought leader, keynote speaker, entrepreneur  and technology adviser.  Ilya created PowToon to assist educators.   PowToon’s commitment to provide technology to educators, as well as their customized tutorials can help educators more effectively integrate cartoons into their teaching methods. You can download the book for free at https://s3.amazonaws.com/powtoon/books/Cartoons-in-the-Classroom-Book.pdf  

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