Rufus T. Firefly
President: Huxley College

I often explain to graduate students that I don’t play devil’s advocate or any other clever games. Just because I may say something unsaid by others, does not mean that I don’t come to that perspective after careful thought and introspection.

Being an educator is a sacred obligation. Those of us who know better, need to do better and stand between the defenseless children we serve and the madness around us. If a destructive idea needs to be challenged or a right defended, I’ll speak up.

My career allows me to spend time in lots of classrooms around the world and to work with thousands of educators each year. This gives me perspective. I am able to identify patterns, good and bad, often before colleagues become aware of the phenomena. I have been blessed with a some communication skills and avenues for expression. I’ve published hundreds of articles and spoken at even more conferences.

People seem interested in what I have to say and for that I am extremely grateful.

The problem is that I am increasingly called upon to argue against a popular trend. That tends to make me unpopular. In the field of education, where teachers are “nice,” criticism is barely tolerated. Dissent is seen as defect and despite all of my positive contributions to the field, I run the risk of being dismissed as “that negative guy.”

Recently, I have written or been quoted on the following topics:

I’ve also written against homework, NCLB, RTTT, Michelle Rhee, Eli Broad, Joel Klein, standardized testing, Education Nation, Common Core Curriculum Standards, Accelerated Reader, merit pay, Arne Duncan, union-busting, Cory Booker, Teach for America, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, mayoral control, the ISTE NETs, Hooked-on-Phonics, President Obama’s education policies, etc… You get the idea.

The “Jetbow” sandwich at NY’s Carnegie Deli

These are perilous times for educators. When once bad education policy was an amuse-bouche you could easily ignore, it has become a Carnegie Deli-sized shit sandwich. Educators are literally left to pick their own poison, when choice is permitted at all. If I take a stand against a fad or misguided education policy, my intent is to inform and inspire others to think differently or take action.

So why, pray tell am I boring my dear readers with my personal angst? An old friend and colleague just invited me to write a magazine article about the “Flipped Classroom.” Sure, I think the flipped classroom is a preposterous unsustainable trend, masquerading as education reform, in which kids are forced to work a second unpaid shift because adults refuse to edit a morbidly obese curriculum. But….

The question is, “Do I wish to gore yet another sacred cow?” Is speaking truth to power worth the collateral damage done to my career?

In the 1960s, the great Neil Postman urged educators to hone highly-tuned BS and crap detectors. Those detectors need to be set on overdrive today. I’m concerned that I’m the only one being burned.

What to do? What to do?

I don’t know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
No matter what it is
Or who commenced it
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood
Whatever it is, I’m against it!
And even when you’ve changed it
Or condensed it
I’m against it!

Whatever It Is, I'm Against It
by Harry Ruby & Bert Kalmar From the Marx Bros. film "Horse Feathers" (1932) 

 

American public school educators have been insulted, mocked, punished, shamed, blamed and threatened by politicians, Bill Gates, corporations and the media for a decade. Their professionalism has been reduced by name-calling, scripted curricula, “common core” standards and the publication of standardized test scores. Their schools have become the playthings of  billionaire bullies and hedge fund managers with public school treasure being surrendered to shady privatizers and charter school conglomerates. American public school teachers have watched more of their students come to school hungry and without proper medical care. They’ve watched public education be dismantled by unqualified clowns in NY, Louisiana, Chicago, Michigan and Wisconsin. American teachers have seen their benefits cut, right to organize eliminated, working conditions deteriorate, supplies dwindle and pensions disappear.

And what have American educators done about this?

Nothing, aside from a handful of really clever blog posts.

I am writing this really clever blog post from Melbourne in the great state of Victoria, Australia. The new conservative state government here in Victoria wants to introduce a pay-for-performance (merit pay) scheme for public school educators and has offered a raise.

Such a contract offer would be like Xmas in Philadelphia!

How has that offer been received by Victorian public school educators?

THEY SHUT DOWN THE ENTIRE F-ING SYSTEM TODAY!

That’s right. 25,000 teachers stayed home, 10,000 marched on Parliament and they closed 150 public schools. Parents were politely alerted in advance to make other plans for the day. Many principals supported the strike and even marched with their colleagues.

Click above for news coverage of the strike

Teachers here in Australia are not human piñata or professional victims. They stand up for themselves, their students and their communities.

Teachers here have medical insurance, secure pensions and enjoy long-service leave.

Aerial view of teacher protest

 

Please take a look at this news clip where teachers swarm the city and speak of how they feel insulted by the government.

They have promised more strikes in the future.

Striking teachers fill arena - This is what democracy looks like!

From the ABC

TEACHER: It’s very divisive to talk about performance pay cuts, particularly when you’re dealing with children. They are not products; we’re not part of a corporate empire and I’m here to support my colleagues and really to get justice for the students.

TEACHER 2: There’s no research basis to performance pay and really what we’re trying to do in schools is work as teams to improve student outcomes. It’s not going to work with performance pay.

 

Walking distance from where I write this article is a memorial to the 8-hour workday being codified into law in 1850. Melbourne has a proud tradition of labor rights and rights enforcement that American educators could learn from. As an Aussie friend reminds me, “The refusal to withhold one’s labor is a fundamental human right. Otherwise, we are slaves.”

I published this (IMHO) important article, “First We Kill the Teacher Unions” exactly three years ago today in The Huffington Post. I am enormously proud of the article and extremely sorry for being so prescient. After you read the text of that article below, you might take a look at my December 2008 article about Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Obama Practices Social Promotion. That’s the story that caused the CEO of Hooked-on-Phonics to issue global press releases condemning my comparison between their product, Arne Duncan and Shamwow.


First We Kill The Teacher Unions

September 3, 2008

Then What?

Slate recently reported on the latest public demonstration of enmity towards public schools and their teacher. Teacher bashing is hardly novel, but what makes this gathering particularly noteworthy is that took place during the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The voucher, excessive testing and privatization fantasies of the GOP are well documented, but Democratic big shots have now joined in the chorus of anti-teacher karaoke.

The complexity of how to “fix” America’s public schools reduced to a single objective. Break the teacher unions. This is particularly ironic given the AFT and NEA’s timeless support for the Democratic Party. Hell, AFT President Randi Weingarten, was seated behind President Clinton during Senator Clinton’s address to the Convention. In almost any jurisdiction, support of teachers can mean the difference between election victory and defeat. Yet, many Democratic officials are eager to bite the hand that feeds them, regardless of the consequences for children in their communities. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek called this week’s betrayal of the DNC’s supporters, “landmark.”

It especially saddens me that Cory Booker of Newark, a man of privilege and extraordinary education at Stanford and Oxford, would attack teachers with the level of contempt reported by Slate. He’s upset that teachers had the audacity to fight him on school choice schemes for Newark. Aside from wondering how magically wonderful schools would spontaneously bloom in Newark it is worth mentioning that Cory Booker didn’t need school choice when he grew up in affluent Bergen County. What sorts of choice does he advocate – taxpayer funded religious schools or the urban obedience schools funded by Eli Broad (another Democrat). Broad loves schools where poor kids spend their days barking answers to scripted curricula – schools Mayor Booker’s parents would never have tolerated for their son.

At the recent Ed Challenge for Change event, Booker denounced the “insane work rules” of teachers. Perhaps he should meet the teachers in his district that I know.

Newark, New Jersey, an economically deprived city, which for decades had neither a supermarket or movie theatre, does have some of the most dedicated capable educators I’ve ever encountered. For a decade, I led professional development in the Newark schools and had countless teachers attend workshops I led elsewhere. Newark was known for its innovative uses of computers in education, despite little local funding and the Newark teachers I worked with demonstrated a level of commitment and skill rivaling the best of their suburban counterparts. Newark is one of the rare school districts where dozens of teachers would voluntarily attend a daylong workshop on a hot humid summer day. The Newark educators I know love the children they serve and do their best to educate some of the poorest children in this country. They deserve our support and respect.

You Can’t be a Democrat who Quashes Democracy!

Fueled by the shaming and humiliation of No Child Left Behind, billionaire “philanthropists” and simplistic management theories recited from business books sold at airport gift shops, many big city mayors have staged bloodless coups of their city’s school districts. (Each of the mayors is a Democrat with the exception of “democratish” Michael Bloomberg of New York) Their theory suggests that the Mayor has ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the public schools and is uniquely prepared to triumph where others have failed.

The reality is that publicly elected school boards are disbanded, chaos is introduced into the bureaucracy, the curriculum is homogenized, classrooms become Dickensian test-prep sweatshops, parental involvement is diminished, the arts disappear and with term limits, there is no actual consequence for mayoral failure. All of the benefits of dictatorship accrue to the mayor and innocent children feel all of the consequences.

It is worth noting that cities with mayoral control of schools – Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and the mayoral control wannabe, Los Angeles – employ Superintendents and Chancellors woefully unqualified for the job. This new generation of mayoral dictators first suspends democracy, and then installs obedient ideologues lacking experience or independent thought to carry out their mischief making.

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is the latest educational fascist of the month. His self-appointed killbot, Chancellor Michelle Rhee enjoys glowing profiles in Fast Company and gets an hour on the Eli Broad-funded Charlie Rose show (representing perhaps 10% of all television time dedicated to public education annually).

Rhee occasionally makes sense and may even be committed to doing the right thing for D.C. kids, but the majority of her public focus seems to be on busting the teacher unions. Mayor Daley of Chicago and Michael Bloomberg are equally vocal fans of sowing the seeds of teacher discord and powerlessness.

Unions are Democracy!

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees unions. The right to organize is the embodiment of our cherished Freedom of Assembly. Unions built the American middle class while building our roads, bridges, cars, schools, hospitals and other institutions we cannot live without.

American teacher unions are not too powerful and they do not have a stranglehold on our democracy. The fact that teacher unions are so readily used as political piñatas by shameless demagogues is proof of their weakness. The fact that major urban districts are run by unemployed generals, accountants and prosecutors challenges the notion of the union’s unchecked power. The fact that the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest school district, couldn’t manage to pay some teachers for nearly a full school year, yet the teachers continued to work while losing their homes or cars is evidence that the unions are weak, not powerful. Governor Schwarzenegger uses constitutionally guaranteed school funding as his personal piggybank. The union can’t stop him.

Former Secretary of Education Rod Paige survived calling the National Education Association a “terrorist organization” while his pal, Reid Lyon, called for colleges of education to be “blown up.”

It doesn’t take a very tough politician to beat up on teachers. That’s why teacher unions are such perennial targets. I’d like to see Democratic politicians talk such trash about teamsters, cops or firemen. Schwarzenegger was terminated when he messed with the nurses union a few years back. The nurses weren’t quite as genteel as the teacher unions.

A Few Facts and Even More Questions

America is not the only country with unionized teachers. Many of the countries that beat us on the ridiculous international comparisons politicians quote are more heavily unionized than us. It’s hard to imagine No Child Left Behind leaving the starting blocks in a country like Australia where the teacher unions would have shut the schools down at the first hint of NCLB.

Blaming educational problems on teacher unions is even more absurd when you consider that states like Texas have no teacher unions. Is Texas immune from student achievement challenges? Hardly.

The larger question is a matter of leadership and employee relations. How does reducing teacher creativity, independence and responsibility for decision-making help instill those qualities in the children they teach? How does alienating teachers, placing them in rubber rooms or attacking their motives make them a partner in school reform? How does insulting your base and violating a fundamental American liberty create a wise and more just society?

Do you want your children taught by defensive or depressed teachers who feel assaulted by the community they serve? How does that state of affairs contribute to educational excellence?

If the educational neocons succeed and break the backs of teacher unions, what do they think would happen? What would magically occur the next day? How are schools expected to improve? I demand that these Democratic tough guys and gals tell me what they will do next.

This is video of Dr. Diane Ravitch’s address to the Save Our Schools March, July 30, 2011 in Washington D.C.

Diane Ravitch speaks at the Save Our Schools March from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Other posts from the SOS March:

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“I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.” (Academy-Award Winner Matt Damon, March to Save Our Schools, July 30, 2011)

Matt Damon is one of the world’s most popular action-heroes, but you educators do realize that is make-believe. Right?

Saturday, July 30th, thousands of educators from across the country spent many hours in sweltering heat as part of the March to Save Our Schools. Leading educators, Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol, Pedro Noguera, Diane Ravitch and fed-up courageous Texas school superintendent John Kuhn inspired the crowd.

The demands of the march were unequivocal:

  1. Equitable funding for all public school communities
  2. An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
  3. Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
  4. Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Matt Damon was the day’s final speaker delivering a barnburner that got the lazy media’s attention. [transcript]

I had a front row perch. Matt Damon is a real mensch. He flew all-night from a film shoot in Vancouver to stand with public school educators on behalf of their jobs, dignity and the critical importance of public schools to a democracy.

That is precisely the problem.

Washington D.C. is less than a day’s drive from hundreds of thousands of teachers. Why was Matt Damon fighting for their profession while they stayed home?

Make no mistake ladies and gentlemen. We no longer engaged in genteel academic debates over differing approaches to spelling instruction.

There are well-funded powerful forces out to destroy public education and deprive educators of their livelihoods. Despite this, most educators remain silent and defenseless. The “bold ones” fantasize about Twitter saving the world while their dignity, expertise, paychecks and pensions are being attacked.

Educators, if you will not stand up and take care of yourselves, how can we count on you to care for other people’s children?

If you will not stand between students and the madness of “the system,” who will?

Matt Damon can’t save you. You need to be the action hero for America’s children!

Matt Damon addresses the Save Our Schools March on D.C. from Gary Stager on Vimeo.


Here is another fabulous video clip of Damon responding forcefully to questions from a Libertarian crackpot at the March.


Check out his comments on charter schools at 1:33

I cannot wait to see Bad Teacher, starring Cameron Diaz, Jason Segal and Justin Tinberlake. I will see it as soon as possible.

I fully predict fake outrage from educators across the land because it is never permissible to use the words, bad and teacher in the same sentence. Education is a criticism free zone and dissent is often equated with defect.

I will only be offended if Bad Teacher fails to be 1) funny and 2) fearless. There is plenty to satirize, mock and criticize in education. I have not seen anything in the advertising for the film that is worse than the abuse I witnessed in middle school.

I am optimistic that the public will be made to question some destructive education policies, like merit pay and standardized testing, since the trailer suggests that the film’s “Bad Teacher” wants to raise test scores in order to use her merit pay to purchase breast implants.

If the film does stink or is offensive to teachers, too bad!

Sticks and stones… It’s a comedy! Lighten up! Grow up! You’ll live.

Just in case the fake outrage machine is turned up to 11, might I suggest that educators learn from the example of the Church of Latter Day Saints who have made a concerted effort to not be outraged by the Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon. There are worse things than being made fun of. Appearing humorless is one of them.

Bad Teacher opens June 24th!

Want to see a fantastic film savagely mocking education? Check out the classic 1984 film, Teachers, starring Nick Nolte, JoBeth Williams, Judd Hirsch, Ralph Macchio and Richard Mulligan.

Chris Lehmann’s blog post today, Enough Already, provides further evidence of how public education is being hijacked by corporate assassins, political demagogues, merry pranksters and desperate parents. We need to get mad AND get active!

I responded:

Chris,

I agree with you on the issues, but I’m not sure I agree about tactics.

It is obvious that the mean-spirited name-calling, mockery and condescension is working VERY well for the other side.

The days of Dale Carnegie are over. This is Hannity and O’Reilly time. Failure to accept, embrace and develop the skills required to shout louder than our opponents AND tear down their house of cards is critical.

Is it nice? No
Is it necessary? Yes
Is it effective? They’re winning

I went on to suggest a small collection of books (and one film) that captures the spirit of the battle we find ourselves in. They may be read by teachers, students and parents – anyone concerned about preserving public education, but the blog would not allow the posting for some reason. So, here is my hardly exhaustive “summer reading” list:

  1. Buck Up, Suck Up . . . and Come Back When You Foul Up: 12 Winning Secrets from the War Room by James Carville and Paul Begala
  2. The Best of Abbie Hoffman: Selections from Revolution for the Hell of It, Woodstock Nation, Steal this Book and New Writings
  3. Rules For Revolutionaries: The Capitalist Manifesto for Creating and Marketing New Products and Services by Guy Kawasaki
  4. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality by Gerald Bracey
  5. Why Is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools? by Susan Ohanian and Kathy Emery
  6. All the President’s Men (DVD)
  7. Not with Our Kids You Don’t: 10 Strategies to Save Our Schools by Juanita Doyon
  8. The Exhausted School: Bending the Bars of Traditional Education by John Taylor Gatto

The list is admittedly ecclectic, but might help us shape our message, strategy and tactics on behalf of young people.

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My latest article is in The Huffington Post. It’s called, “Who Elected Bill Gates?

The article is dense, but that was required to support my my indictment of his dangerous  influence and educational cockamamie schemes. I was thrilled when my article appeared originally  below one by Bill Gates and above an entry by his former deputy, Tom VanderArk, on the Education page of The Huffington Post.

It’s sad to watch a once smart and talented man go mad right before our eyes. There needs to be an intervention for Bill Gates. I fear that he has taken leave of his senses and finally jumped the shark…

…You would think that nothing else could surprise me, but now, Bill Gates has descended into the delusional world of Charlie Sheen.

Read the rest of the article here. PLEASE comment and share the article. It’s important that The Huffington Post know that like-minded folks are out there reading!

Oprah, Barack Obama, NBC News, Arianna Huffington and most other rich & powerful folks keep telling anyone who will listen that the mediocre propagandistic documentary, “Waiting for Superman” is evidence that American want serious change ™ in education policy and they want it now!

NBC, Oprah and other media behemoths have surrendered millions of dollars worth of air time to promote “Superman.” President Obama even had the poor lottery-losing kids to the White House for a photo-op, but there was no talk of them becoming Sascha or Malia’s classmates.

A central message of “Superman” and its promoters is that we need to run schools like a business, with competition, merit pay, etc… That explains their affection for charter schools.

So, how’s that free market stuff working out?

Jackass 3-D made in a single weekend more than 25 times more than “Waiting for Superman” since it opened!

When I saw the film, four of us packed the cineplex.

The market has spoken. “Waiting for Superman” is as big a flop as its ingenue, former” educator,” Michelle Rhee.

On October 4, 2010, I had the great privilege of participating in a webinar sponsored by Edutopia and featuring a stunning panel of experts charged with addressing alternative visions of school reform.

It is this freedom of the teacher to decide and, indeed, the freedom of the children to decide, that is most horrifying to the bureaucrats who stand at the head of current education systems. They are worried about how to verify that the teachers are really doing their job properly, how to enforce accountability and maintain quality control. They prefer the kind of curriculum that will lay down, from day to day, from hour to hour, what the teacher should be doing, so that they can keep tabs on it. Of course, every teacher knows this is an illusion. It’s not an effective method of insuring quality. It is only a way to cover ass. Everybody can say, “I did my bit, I did my lesson plan today, I wrote it down in the book.” Nobody can be accused of not doing the job. But this really doesn’t work. What the bureaucrat can verify and measure for quality has nothing to do with getting educational results–those teachers who do good work, who get good results, do it by exercising judgment and doing things in a personal way, often undercover, sometimes even without acknowledging to themselves that they are violating the rules of the system. Of course one must grant that some people employed as teachers do not do a good job. But forcing everyone to teach by the rules does not improve the “bad teachers”–it only hobbles the good ones. (Seymour Papert – Perestroika & Epistemological Pluralism, 1990)

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Here are some resources related to my presentation: