Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech to those assembled at the conclusion of the march from Selma to Montgomery.   He told the audience “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” Then he added, “no lie can live forever.”  King also reminded the crowd: “because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The driving force of Martin Luther King’s philosophy was the certain idea that Jesus is the truth. He believed that and he spoke of it in most of his public speeches.  King wasn’t a politician arousing a crowd with inferences to God, he was a minister evoking Christ to connect to issues facing the world.  Whether or not you agree with his worldview, he was who he was—a believer in Jesus Christ.

Like Dr. King, I don’t pretend to be anything I am not.  I have lived a full life and made mistakes.  I am comforted by my own faith in Christ.  I see the moral and earthly struggles faced by others and understand but by the Grace of God, there goes I.  It shows up in my work as executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee.  It shows up in my drive to make our organization the best association for educators in Tennessee. I have compassion for our members and the difficult job they do, and have the empathy that educators need.  But it is a two-way street.  So many teachers and administrators call and encourage me.  They appreciate our work for them and they share their success stories in education.  It cannot help but inspire me, as well as others.  Educators see miracles every single day.

Too many in our state and nation believe the lie that public education is failing.  Do we have failures?  Yes, there are things that go wrong every single day.  But looking at the big picture, the arc of the universe, as King may say, it is a beautiful success story.  Children are dropped off at a school, unable to read and write, growing up in some of the worst conditions possible.  They come from crime riddled neighborhoods, drug infested homes, often being raised by single parents and some, with no parents.  Many have no responsible adults in the picture.  Food and shelter are uncertain.  Yet teachers, some who may be unconnected themselves, make an impact that helps that child survive for a day, a week, a month and then a year.  Somehow, those children grow up.  Then the miracle they see is that the child becomes a productive citizen capable of thinking for themselves.  They didn’t become a statistic.  They didn’t die.

We all get angry.  Even God repeatedly describes himself in Scripture as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  However, too often anger produces in us, “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” It also produces “enmity, strife . . . fits of anger [i.e. tantrums], rivalries, dissensions, [and] divisions.” We must balance that personally and professionally.  We must avoid the negative.  There is no perfect anger.  We should allow mercy to triumph over judgment for others, and we must remain committed to love.

When I deal with angry teachers I am reminded frequently of another lie, that anger solves problems.   We see that manifested when administrators are angry at teachers or vice-versa.  We see it on full display from teacher unions.  They really believe dissension and division resolves issues; it doesn’t. That is why we see hostility, anger, slander and gossip on frequent display from them.  I have been subjected to regular attacks personally, often based on little or no truth by paid union stalkers.  Because of my faith, I am able to persevere.  I get to witness the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice.  Truth will eventually prevail.   It is a beautiful reminder that no lie can live forever.

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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.

Bill Lee

I am excited about the future of public education in Tennessee.  Many critics like to point out some of the shortcomings of our system, and rightly so.  A one size fits all system does not work for everyone.  It never has, and never will.  The system will continue to evolve, albeit slowly, and adjustments will always be needed.  We should welcome debate on public education, which remains our greatest priority.

In order to attract and keep industries and business that we need for a global economy, we must build and develop a quality workforce.  A quality education system ultimately provides economic mobility for all of our citizens.  It is imperative that taxpayers understand that education is an investment for our state’s future, not merely an expense to bear.  It is also a constitutional requirement in our state.

As a businessman, Governor-elect Bill Lee understands that higher salaries will encourage more people to join the teaching profession and hopefully entice current educators to remain in the field, resulting in better outcomes for Tennessee students.  Lee has stated his three major priorities: 1) Getting our students ready to enter the workforce; 2) Strengthening the foundations of a quality system; and 3) Encouraging innovation.  It is a K12 education agenda we should embrace.

Tennessee’s business community has expressed increased concerned about workforce development. In the future, people with solid, transferable skills that are open to continued learning will be critical for our workforce.   To get our students ready for the workforce we must better link state and local efforts for economic development and job creation.  This will also necessitate expanding post-secondary vocational training. Many occupations are developed through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. That does not always mean expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.  In high school, Tennessee may want to consider giving students the option to use the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate examination, rather than the ACT/SAT in the 11th grade year.

Strengthening the foundations of our public-school system, begins with support for local control of public education.  It is also critical to look at how we fund our schools.  The methodology we use to fund our schools has constantly been litigated by school districts.  These lawsuits prove we must incorporate and take into consideration the dramatically different cost of living and doing business in different counties across the state. We must update our school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs.  At the state level we have to improve the teacher pipeline.  This means we must identify and develop a community of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession.  Any investment we make in education must be high quality, and position our children for success in the classroom, career and life.  We have much work to do.

We need our new Governor, our new Commissioner and our new Tennessee General Assembly to listen to educators and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. We should pursue reliable standardized tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing.

We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities.  Governor-elect Lee has promised to “pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles.”  That is a wise strategy to pursue.   Lee, like many other business and community leaders, understands that the solutions to many problems we face in our hinge on a quality public education system.   Our future depends on that success. Let’s all work to make that happen.

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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Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

Bethany Bowman is the Director of Professional Learning for 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.

thomas jefferson

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.

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“To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical” is a quote usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which surfaced in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. James Madison and George Wythe also championed the statute. Wythe was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Madison later played a critical role in drafting the U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights. No doubt that concept was prevalent among our founders.

That position has been one of my guiding principles, as both a classroom teacher in public schools and now as the executive director of our association. Our members continually reiterate to us they do not want their dues money going to political candidates or parties, nor do they want us in the endorsement business. We respect that position. We work with legislators regardless of their political affiliation, and that has helped us build bridges in addressing key education issues.

This election cycle we have already seen an influx of unaccountable cash, known as dark money, which pours into our state. The Nashville Scene’s Steve Cavendish did an excellent article on the subject of dark money in politics. Frank Daniels III of the Tennessean also did a terrific analysis. Daniel’s conclusion: outside money hurts more than it helps. Daniels wrote: “Tennessee voters were not swayed by big spending outsiders.” It is worth noting the message the outsiders bring is almost always negative. The point raised by Cavendish was: “If you don’t think this is an erosion of democracy, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.” Cavendish referenced Walmart and Microsoft billionaires, as well as unions, as the main culprits. We agree.

Our commitment to our members is simple. We are completely funded by the dues of our members. Our members are educators from the state of Tennessee. No other teachers’ association in this state is as well-respected in the legislature as Professional Educators of Tennessee for what we stand for, and how we go about our business on your behalf.

When we take your message to policymakers, understand this: we fight for public schools, because we understand the historical and philosophical basis of why public education exists. If public education is to continue to be successful, it will take all the policymakers and stakeholders working together. And we want to be your voice in Tennessee.

We encourage you to register to vote. We encourage you to vote. We encourage you to campaign for the candidates that reflect your values or beliefs. What we will not do is tell you who to vote for in this or any other election. A strong public education system is a key to our democracy, a foundation to build our economy, and the means by which we can help all Tennessee children achieve their dreams.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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I am unapologetically a fan of the HBO series Game of Thrones.  In the episode, “The Climb,” the overly ambitious character, Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, played masterfully by Aiden Gillen, delivers a speech that is eerily reminiscent of Saul Alinsky:

“Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb; they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.”

Essentially, Littlefinger is supporting a moral code that says everyone ought to be out for themselves. The only purpose in life is to gain power. Sound familiar?  Power can only be accumulated through chaos, by using upheaval to rearrange things so that you gain power.  The speech reads like a paragraph out of Rules for Radicals, with the word chaos replacing the word conflict.  Issues such as patriotism, love, religious faith – are all things to be denigrated.

For Littlefinger, a character loathed by most fans, the tearing of the realm can create opportunities. For people who subscribe to his, or Alinsky’s theories on accumulating power for the sake of accumulating power, what is there left to rule over when you have destroyed the world?  In 1972 as Alinsky was questioned by Playboy, the interviewer asked him: “Do you believe in any kind of afterlife?” Alinsky said if there was an afterlife he would “unreservedly choose to go to hell.” And while further explaining his answer:  “Once I get into hell, I’ll start organizing…”

Emma Goldman, an anarchist in the first half of the twentieth century declared, “Religion, the dominion of the human mind; Property, the dominion of human needs; and Government, the dominion of human conduct, represent the stronghold of man’s enslavement and all the horrors it entails.” That radical response, which is embraced by Marxists, should be alarming to those in our country.

The levels of hypocrisy of most, who seek conflict, rather than attainable solutions to issues facing people, are rarely confronted. People should not be afraid to talk about their beliefs, stick up for those in the faith community who are under attack, and call out bigotry whenever or wherever we find it.  When you want chaos or conflict, your goal is to continue the creation of problems, not find solutions to real problems.   And if problems do not exist, you make them up. That is why some organizations and institutions are increasingly losing members, support and influence.

For example, in our organization and on a personal level we try to map-out a path toward a viable and sustainable solution on issues facing our members. Just recently, we were made aware of school district that had too many students in their class for a teacher.  Our solution was not to go to the media and have the school district on the defense.  We didn’t get on the school board agenda, and send letters to our members to embarrass the Superintendent.  We simply called and talked to the Central Office.  The problem was resolved in 5 minutes.  The Director of Schools was simply unaware of the issue.  That is leadership, and it doesn’t have to be built on pointless or unnecessary conflict.

Resolving issues is about people working together to resolve legitimate concerns. There are no hidden agendas when you build a culture motivated upon collaboration and problem solving.  As an organization, our beliefs are practical and non-partisan, consisting of rational people across a broad political spectrum who will focus on solutions for our members.  A solid strategy is critical in order to solve any problem.  If your problem-solving creates chaos, that is a sign of a serious leadership problem.  This never-ending cycle is not conducive to the adversity most people face.  Solving problems consist of the transparent exchange of ideas, where the concerns and points of view of all people are freely expressed, not just those of the militant minority.

To relate this to my field of public education, we have to engage parents and taxpayers more on the great challenges we face.   We cannot engage in frivolous lawsuits against our own school districts and expect Boards of Education to be responsive to legitimate concerns.  Public education fails, when Alinsky tactics win.  It isn’t hard to figure that out.  We must work together.

In a Game of Thrones episode from this past season, “The Spoils of War,” Bran Stark perhaps mockingly uses Littlefinger’s own words against him: “Chaos is a ladder.”  This statement reveals that Bran understood the very heart of a master manipulator Petyr Baelish.  He knows that Littlefinger is a self-centered, promoter of himself, more interested in power-plays and schemes, and being deceptive.

Petyr Baelish, will never hear the announcement, “Littlefinger, First of His Name, King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.” He may be organizing hell with Alinsky, still in the middle of chaos—and there is no ladder there.

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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. 

 

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“Public Education” is on the lips of every politician, during every election cycle. Yet, the debate continues. It is doing well, it is doing poorly, it needs reform, whatever the narrative needs to be that day or what the audience wants to hear.

Well, there are three sides to every story: “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard truth,” like the old Don Henley song reminds us. Out of the roughly 55.5 million K-12 students in America, 49.5 million of them are in our public schools, which is a little over 89%. If you visit a public education classroom today, you would be amazed at what our educators do on a daily basis.

We must remind ourselves we are not producing components for an industrial and societal machine. We are educating children. We can all agree that an engaging and challenging education is the proven path to prosperity and a life-long love of learning. Teachers consistently tell us that “testing” and “preparing students for a test” are among their top concerns in our internal surveys.

It has long been acknowledged that a strong public educational system is essential not only to the successful functioning of a democracy, but also to its future. That system must provide all children with an equitable and exceptional education that prepares them for college, career and life.

Educators, themselves, must exercise a higher duty of care than most professionals. Teachers face exposure to liability much greater than does the average citizen. Nearly every day, teachers must deal with diverse laws related to issues such as child abuse, student discipline, negligence, defamation, student records and copyright infringement. And many politicians are more concerned with a test score that their children produce than the immeasurable impact that teachers may make on a child’s life.

Often educators must contend with the fact that students do not have a consistent source of high-quality, nutritious food, if they have food at all at home. Issues like hunger and poverty, like it or not, are not imagined and they are prevalent in classrooms and schools across the nation. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA.

It is hard to focus on education when you are hungry. Poverty and hunger also lead to other health issues, which also go untreated. What other profession besides public education teacher is evaluated on their students’ test scores, when students lack the basic necessities of life?

Steve Turner in his brilliant satirical poem “Creed” referenced the state of our culture, when he wrote prevailing illogical thought processes: “This is the fault of society. Society is the fault of conditions. Conditions are the fault of society.” Seemingly educators bear the brunt of the outcomes of children, and society is a given a pass. The problems we confront are larger than the children walking through the school house door.

The solutions are more than a score on a test. So, when the next politician speaks about education when seeking your vote, ask them what their plans are to alleviate poverty and hunger in your community. That is much more important than test scores to a whole lot of families.

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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.  Check out his Blog at www.jcbowman.com.  Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman

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One of my musical heroes, Bono, the singer for the rock group U2, shares the story of the Irish poet, Brendan Kennelly. He relates that Kennelly has a memorable poem called The Book of Judas, and there’s a line in it that says: “If you want to serve the age, betray it.”

Then Bono asks: “What does that mean, to betray the age?”

Answering the question, Bono says: “Well to me betraying the Age means exposing its conceits, its foibles, its phony moral certitudes. It means telling the secrets of the age and facing harsher truths.”

Prevailing wisdom says that it is no measure of mental health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society. Every day in Tennessee, educators are challenged by a wide-ranging mixture of social, psychological, and physical problems that impede the improvement of so many students entrusted into their care.

Unfortunately for educators, policymakers worry about the results of a test given at the end of every school the year, used so that we can measure the effectiveness of those teachers educating children. We have made textbook companies and test publishers prosperous, while we engage in a rigorous debate over trivial items.

We eagerly listen to wealthy philanthropists (or organizations representing them) that lack the prerequisite background in the policy areas that they are influencing. By virtue of their wealth, they have gained an unfair advantage, as well as access to policymakers. They then promote public policies by the access of their political donations and may not even understand the problems average people face. In education, they certainly do not understand the challenges confronting public school educators.

For example, Tennessee is the 12th poorest state based on the last US Census figures. Even more startling is that the child poverty rate is 26%. So when the philanthropist experiences donor fatigue and migrates to their next passing interest, educators will still be here to do what God has gifted them to do — which is to educate and demonstrate compassion for the children of our state.

The late political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote, “No cause is left but the most ancient of all, the one, in fact, that from the beginning of our history, has determined the very existence of politics, the cause of freedom versus tyranny.” When political donations replace the contributions of men and women from controlling their own destiny, tyranny will gain a stranglehold in our society.

If we oppose state control of the means of production, it stands to reason that production in the hands of a few would also be undesirable. Politicians understand it is much easier to make laws than repeal them. Too often the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum are heard and the majority of people get silenced.

Every age has moral blind spots, with issues such as slavery, discrimination, unequal pay between sexes, and religious intolerance. Still, my Irish heritage compels me to believe in the idea that anything is possible when we embrace freedom.

The question for educators is this: where are we willing to spend our moral and intellectual capital, our money, or our sweat equity outside of the walls of our classroom or homes?

In a field as diverse as public education, we must all collaborate together to foster a more constructive dialogue among education stakeholders and policymakers. We share a common destiny. We have the power to create amazing change in this world and be champions for the vulnerable who cannot speak for themselves when they need us the most.

This is the time for bold measures. This is Tennessee and we are the generation of Educators to bring change, not only to our profession but to all of our society. Betray the Age.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.  His Blog is at www.jcbowman.com 

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Bill O’Reilly has gone on quite a killing spree. He has written books such as Killing the Rising Sun, Killing Reagan, Killing Patton, Killing Jesus, Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. I think he should also write one called Killing Public Education.

Here is what is killing public education:

  1. A Culture of Disrespect is rampant in our schools. This can be created by a variety of reasons. Lack of respect for a profession, which is roughly 80% female. Too many people incorrectly believing that anybody can be a teacher. The very structure of our public education system, as well as the state of our society, often means educators are the major authority figure in many children’s lives. This necessitates that educators are on the frontlines of the culture wars. This result in an ugly fact: teachers provide the only correction or discipline some children ever receive. This leads to a negative perception of teachers and public education in general.
  2. The struggles that most educators face are daunting. Poverty is rampant in our nation and it is particularly obvious in our Southern states. One high school principal told me: “My school has very high poverty and mobility rates. We can’t continue to blame failure on teachers and principals. Families are failing and the evidence of that damage is clear. We love our students and are dedicated to them. Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is anymore. Eradicate poverty seems to be the obvious solution.” However, government has been trying to address this issue for well over 50 years. And it really hasn’t improved the situation. Family structures are being redefined and crumbling.
  3. We have become so driven by standards, testing and accountability that we have lost sight of what truly matters: children and those who educate our children. Testing has become big business; it is no longer merely a snapshot on a child’s progress. Data is the gold standard. We care more about what data tells us, than what a teacher tells us. And what do we know about the people creating the tests and interpreting the data? Data is not more important than children, or those that teach them. British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Perhaps we are not looking at the right statistics.

Educators know what needs to be done to improve education. Unfortunately, their voices have too often been replaced by philanthropists, business leaders and outside organizations. Often these “outside influencers” are driven by poor understanding of the issues, self-serving interests or in some cases greed.

The argument often used to counter the power of educators is that public education needs to be run more like a business and be more efficient. These arguments often fail to consider the “inside influencers” of district policy, state policy, and federal rules, laws and controls which often end up essentially micro-managing our local schools.

If we do not want to kill public education, the teaching profession must be elevated in stature. Educators must be seen as community leaders both inside and outside of the classroom. Far too often the voices of classroom teachers are not included in the decisions that impact their livelihood or their students. Few occupations are given so little say in their chosen field.

Let’s not wait until the autopsy or until Bill O’Reilly writes another book to explain that educators must be given a more active role in determining the policies that concern their students and the teaching profession. It is imperative that that we accept and nurture the teacher-leaders we already have and look to them for the guidance we need to improve education.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman.