Hey, Look at How all that Rah-Rah Paid Off!

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For the past month or so, I’ve been the big old meanie who could love the messenger, but hate the shallow superficial condescending message of the wonderful Dallas Independent School District 5th grader and web video star burning up the YouTube charts.

You can read my concerns and see me flamed by educators deeply moved by the performance despite it having been created by the school district’s cynical desire to exploit a talented young child for central office propaganda purposes here. Can anyone else recall a school district writing a script for a kid in which he admonishes professional educators, rehearsing him for months and then placing the video on the district’s web site along with a calculated public relations campaign?

I wonder if Dalton Sherman’s appearance on the Ellen Show was an approved school absence?

Well, guess what? Young Dalton’s performance was indeed – dare I say? – lipstick on a pig.

While I still receive emails telling me that I MUST watch this amazing video on YouTube, the Dallas Independent School District is laying off 1,100 employees, including 400 teachers lectured by the fifth grader.

According to Education Week:

More than 400 of the lost jobs include teachers in the core subject areas of math, science, social studies and English.

Perhaps the school district would be well-advised to focus on fiscal management and education, rather than stagecraft. At the very least, Dalton’s next speech could be to the legislature asking why his teachers are prohibited from union organizing.

Comments

5 Responses to “Hey, Look at How all that Rah-Rah Paid Off!”
  1. Kent Chesnut says:

    Gary,
    And very well flamed you were!

    I have 2 quick comments:
    1. If, perhaps, education is the young man’s passion and the whole incident was initiated by an essay or speech he wrote (and the adults in the district have built on this passion), you may have been a little harsh. (I didn’t see anyone claiming this… it’s just a thought.)
    2. Assuming #1 is not the case, I suspect that the young man does have a lot of subjects he is passionate about – a favorite sport, hobby, video game, or whatever. I suspect that the adults gushing over his accomplishment wouldn’t be nearly as impressed with a speech about Pokemon or Airsoft guns (nor would they have been willing to invest the summer helping him refine its delivery) – although tuch topics may have been much more authentic.

    Keep stirring the pot,
    Kent

  2. Kevin Jarrett says:

    Gary,

    Thanks for posting this, and, thank you very much, I *WILL* continue to love Dalton and his message, and let me explain why.

    First, let me say that I think I get where you are coming from, essentially that Dalton’s speech is the height of hypocrisy in light of the district’s decision to lay off 1,100 employees. I don’t agree with your characterization of it being a ‘publicity stunt’ but that’s just the beginning of where our views diverge.

    Let’s be clear: neither of us saw Dalton’s performance (and could gauge the reaction of the audience), neither of us work for Dallas ISD, neither of us are impacted by the district’s decision to cut staff. Thanks to the wonders of the blogosphere, we can sit here in our comfortable chairs, from a safe distance, and argue about the merits (or lack thereof) of a young man’s speech in front of 17,000 teachers (I think that’s the right number). What a country… :/

    Anyway, have you ever worked for a large, troubled organization or school district? I know you’ve CONSULTED (and done outstanding work) for several, but I mean have you WORKED for, as in have you been EMPLOYED BY one? Have you ever witnessed, firsthand, what it’s like to be a cog in the wheel of an organization struggling to maintain forward momentum despite difficult operating conditions, low morale, and a bleak forecast? I have, and I’m going to assume you have (thanks to your bio), perhaps as a member of the organization’s leadership/management team, if not, as an employee in the trenches (I’ve been both). Accordingly, let me ask you some questions…

    How should an organization, struggling with day-to-day operations, not to mention an unfavorable view of the immediate future, best manage its stakeholder communication strategy? What messages are appropriate, and what messages are not? If you’re a member of the leadership team, do you focus on the positive? The negative? Shoot for the middle, aiming for some sort of balance? It seems to me that considering Dalton’s speech in isolation does little to help us understand the overall picture of what is going on in the district communication-wise … but then again, does that really matter?

    This is the essence of the disconnect between us here. Dalton’s message (the words he spoke, I know they were not his own) touched the core of why I became a teacher, because I believe in the children that come into my classroom every day. I separate the issue from the individual, the performance from the person. I could care less that Dalton is from Dallas ISD; he could be from any district in any state in the country and his message would still resonate with me. Why? Because I don’t view Dalton as a product of his district (even though he is), I don’t look at him and think about the efficacy of his district administration team, I don’t hear his words and wonder if all 17,000 people in the audience feel the way I do about them. His words spoke to *ME*, and, perhaps selfishly, that’s what matters to *ME*.

    In fairness, I think I titled my post incorrectly (as you well know, I’m prone to overenthusiasm at times). Perhaps I should have titled it, “Dalton Sherman speaks … to me. Does he speak to you?” or something like that. Asserting, dictating, demanding that “Every. Educator. Must. Watch. This. NOW!” does seem a bit over the top, even for me, but I wrote it in the heat of the moment immediately after seeing the video. Mea culpa.

    Getting back on track, does the fact that layoffs were imminent when Dalton spoke diminsh the value of his performance? Surely, the 1,100 employees in the audience that will lose their jobs might think so, as they are likely bitter, angry, frustrated and upset (my thoughts go out to them; the prospect of being unemployed in this economy is frightening). But WHAT ABOUT THE OTHER 15,900 PEOPLE WHO REMAIN? Have you considered that Dalton’s message is perhaps what these teachers needed to hear most? See my comment above about stakeholder communications strategy. The organization must maintain forward momentum. I think Dalton’s speech helps in that regard, but again, I don’t work for Dallas ISD. They are the only ones qualified to say it does or not.

    The biggest difference between us, Gary, is one of perspective. Watching the video, I see a young fifth grader giving a powerful performance and delivering an inspirational message. I don’t see his district, its leadership, its operating budget, its test scores, its award-winning teachers (or its low-performing ones), its curriculum, or the people who coached Dalton. I see the performance and I hear the message, and perhaps it’s shallow of me, but it resonates. We can agree to disagree, but in my experience, the way forward in a troubled organization is often illuminated by people who can somehow find the positive in world of negativity. That’s how I roll. How about you?

    -kj-

  3. Ed Darrell says:

    600 teachers to be laid off — down from a high projection of 750.

    The damage to morale is far beyond anything I could have imagined before hand.

  4. Simon Robinson says:

    I’m with you on this one Gary. Maybe there’s a cultural gap (posting from Australia) but it seem a bit contrived and OTT to me. Knowing it’s a script that is not his own does make a difference.
    Let’s not even get started on the Ellen thing..

  5. A. Mercer says:

    I’m was never on the bandwagon of this video. My principal fell in love with it, and showed it to our staff, but if it had been my choice, I NEVER would have chosen that video.

    That being said, having worked in urban districts with sizable minority populations (when I worked in Oakland, CA I was the ONLY white person in the room, and the teachers were the only whites in the building) I hear the underlying accusation that is being put forth in Dalton’s speech a bit differently. Context is everything, isn’t it? Part of what he is expressing (or the adults who have written this for him) I have heard expressed by parents, and students (although the students are usually not very articulate about it, and are lashing out in an angry self-destructive way). It usually goes, do you give a rat’s behind about me? and can be expressed as, “I don’t care, why should I care? You white teachers always pick on me!”

    Now, I thought it struck the wrong note at my school because we are about caring about the kids, and not shuffling them off to somewhere else, BUT I’ve heard some mighty disturbing statements in staff lounges in my time. Things like Special Education teachers saying that “…black students are doing poorly on tests deliberately.” as if they knew the best way to mess things up for teachers (that was ironically expressed at an elementary named after Abraham Lincoln). Other teachers “dumping” black students into other teachers classes saying, “Well, they do better with African American students”. Some of the kids figure this out. Some parents figure this out. Sherman’s mom is a fifth grade teacher, I’m sure she’s figured this out. Frankly, kids don’t need a script to express this frustration. Every time they say, “I don’t care, why should I bother?” they are really asking us, do we care. I think we can dismiss Dalton Sherman’s speech as a “cute” presentation of a speech by adults (it’s part of a very old and honorable genre in the African American community, as you pointed out), but I don’t think we can dismiss the question he asks, “do you care about me?” because I hear it from kids often. If you can answer yes, then you have nothing to explain, but if in some small part of your mind, you are feeling that his question may hold some uncomfortable truth, you might want to think about it.