Teacher Protests Are Student, Worker Advocacy

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, I was a public school English teacher, and for part of that time, I was also a coach.

I taught more than 100 students each year, meaning I responded to about 4000 essays and 6000 journal entries every academic year along with thousands of other assignments and mountains of paperwork. I was responsible for preparing students for state testing, Advanced Placement testing, and the SAT.

While coaching, and during the soccer season, I would run to the gym between classes to wash and dry the soccer uniforms. Most days, I had to find time to go to the bathroom, and rarely had moments alone even during lunch.

I have never loved more deeply anything than teaching, and I so deeply loved all my students that is often overwhelming to think about no longer being a high school teacher. Facebook has provided me some connection with those students, but I miss intensely being that teacher and that coach.

When I left high school teaching for higher education, I was wearing a wrist brace because I could barely move my right hand from almost two decades of marking essays and trying my damnedest to teach young people to write well.

If you have never taught, you cannot appreciate the psychological and physical toll of being on throughout the day and in the service of dozens of young people, children and teens who depend on you. It isn’t the same as roofing or pouring concrete; it isn’t being an ER doctor or nurse. But teaching is tremendously stressful, exhausting, and often seemingly fruitless work.

And here are two facts I think you should read carefully and take seriously: Teachers are workers, and teaching conditions are learning conditions.

Following a pattern across the nation from West Virginia to Colorado and Los Angeles, including non-union states, South Carolina teachers are poised to march for their teaching conditions May 1, 2019, organized by SC for Ed.

South Carolina historically and currently represents some disturbing realities: SC is a politically and religiously conservative state (straight-block Democratic and then straight-block Republican when the parties shifted their conservative cores in the 1960s); SC is a high-poverty state with significant stratification and concentrations of poverty and affluence (resulting in the infamous Corridor of Shame identifying a stretch of high-poverty schools running diagonally along the coast); SC is a right-to-work state (the Orwellian misnomer for being non-union, thus anti-worker); SC is a high racial minority state when compared to the national percentages.

The state, in fact, is a poster child for the self-defeating South.

Once the teacher march gained momentum, with thousands of teachers poised to march and several districts closing, the governor and superintendent of education, both Republicans, have verbally slapped in the face the teaching profession and students once again, reinforcing the hard truth that Republicans in the state are anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-student, anti-worker, and anti-woman.

Nationally, teachers are significantly underpaid when compared to professions with comparable education. A recent analysis has found:

  • Average weekly wages of public school teachers (adjusted for inflation) decreased $21 from 1996 to 2018, from $1,216 to $1,195 (in 2018 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of other college graduates rose by $323, from $1,454 to $1,777, over this period.
  • For all public-sector teachers, the relative wage penalty (controlling for education, experience, and other factors known to affect earnings) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher weekly wage penalty was 5.3 percent in 1993, grew to 12.0 percent in 2004, and reached a record 21.4 percent in 2018.

The wage penalty for teachers in SC is -18%. And SC teacher pay is in the bottom 10 of the U.S.:

SC teacher salary rank.jpg

While salary and benefits are essential aspects of what makes any profession gain respect and thrive, teachers have called primarily for the type of teaching and learning conditions that allow them to be the best they can be for their students.

Teaching conditions include student/teacher ratios, the amount of bureaucratic obligations imposed on teachers, adequate time and space to plan and respond to student work, reasonable opportunities to eat and go to the restroom during the work day, administrative and parental support, and professional respect and autonomy.

We are approaching forty years of high-stakes accountability in education since SC committed to the accountability movement in the late 1970s and 1980s. And with No Child Left Behind in the early 2000s, the pressure and blame on teachers as failures has steadily increased, peaking under the Obama administration that doubled-down on teacher accountability and scapegoating teachers.

And, yes, the economic downturn during the bridge between George W. Bush and Obama profoundly impacted all public services and institutions. But as the report above explains, the decrease in funding, the lowering of respect for teachers, and the eroding of teaching conditions across the U.S. are not simply a reflection of a bad economy over a decade ago.

In SC and the U.S., we must finally admit that our schools are mostly reflections of our society and communities. Schools cannot alone change the gross inequities that impact our children and their families.

And we must also stop demanding that teachers be martyrs and missionaries. School teachers are mostly women, and these demands that teachers sacrifice themselves for their work while remaining passive and quiet are driven in significant part by sexism.

Teachers are great American workers. Most of us will spend our entire lives as workers.

Being a worker, especially in the service of others, is not only noble, but also worthy of the highest rewards and the greatest opportunities to excel.

Teachers are the only profession that serves all other professions.

That teachers in SC and all across the country have begun to stand up for their profession is a harbinger of our societal need to shift our allegiance away from the rich and the privileged and toward the working class, the working poor, and the poor.

If all the CEOs in the U.S. did not go to work tomorrow, how would that affect any of us?

If all the service workers in the U.S. did not go to work tomorrow, how would that affect the entire nation?

The latter would be devastating so service workers are trapped not only in hourly wages, but also slave wages linked to tips. Most workers in the U.S. cannot afford to advocate for themselves while the wealthy enjoy salaries and the freedom to work as they please and advocate for themselves when needed.

Teachers are increasingly in non-union states where they have the same sort of obligations to work regardless of conditions.

Hourly wages and non-union laws are designed to control workers and benefit the wealthy.

The U.S. has long ago abandoned the worker; the working class, middle class, and working poor have been reduced to fodder for the wealthy.

Our political leader class comes from and serves the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

When political leadership fails us, we have a moral obligation to organize and to demand that we matter.

In SC, the governor and superintendent of education speak for the ruling class, the wealthy, and are effectively spitting in the faces of our teachers and our students. It is unconscionable and inexcusable.

Teachers marching in Columbia, SC are advocating for students and workers.

How are our students supposed to respect and learn from professionals who refuse to take a moral stand for those students?

How can we continue to pretend our public schools are in the service of our democracy if our political leaders deny teachers and students their rights and freedoms as citizens?

It is a cynical lie to accuse teachers of selfishness and “being political” when those making those claims are the ones being selfish and political.

To call for anyone else to not be political is an act of being political—the worst kind of political that silences democracy and freedom.

SC teachers by the thousands are joining a rich tradition of free people and reinvigorating a deteriorating foundational value in the U.S.—what many used to claim was part of American being great—honoring and valuing the American worker.

We cannot emphasize this enough, then: Teaching conditions are learning conditions, and the work of the teacher must be honored because that is also honoring the right of our children to learn.


See Also

In anti-union South Carolina, May 1 teacher protest could make history, Paul Bowers

“Click, Clack, Moo”: Why the 1% Always Wins

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Education Reform: Warnings Confirmed, But Lessons Learned?

Soon after I began my career as an educator in 1984, I became a serious cyclist. An unexpected hobby sprang from that newfound activity—being my own bicycle mechanic. In fact, over the past three-plus decades, I have built up dozens of road bicycles from the parts for myself and my friends.

In the last 1990s, I bought my first titanium road frameset made by Litespeed. Not long after I began riding it, I noticed an irritating creaking sound and soon learned that the different metals involved in the various parts often created such problems, notably mating aluminum bottom bracket cups with the threaded titanium bottom bracket.

Several times, I rebuilt that bottom bracket fitting, cleaning, changing greases, and even using thread tape. I worked on the bicycle while mounted on my indoor trainer, and each time, when I tested the bicycle there, the noise was gone.

However, once on the open road, the same creaking returned.

Frustrated, I resigned myself to taking the bicycle to a shop mechanic. Like I did, he rebuilt the bottom bracket, multiple time, but each time he went out to test the bicycle, the creaking noise persisted.

After spending an inordinate amount of time fruitlessly working on the bottom bracket, the mechanic called me to report that he eventually discovered the noise was coming from the quick releases on the wheels. In fact, he also shared in exasperation that the mating of aluminum quick releases to titanium dropouts was a common noise problem.

The moral of this story? The mechanic and I were so focusing on a solution that we failed to properly evaluate the problem in the beginning. For the professional mechanic, this was particularly disturbing because he obsession with one solution clouded his ability to properly diagnose the situation.

For me, there is an added lesson: My process also failed because the bicycle was mounted on my trainer, which clamped the quick releases and created a false environment for testing the problem and the solution.

Overlapping my career as an educator and avocation as a cyclist have been nearly four decades of education reform in the U.S.

Recently, an interesting phenomenon has occurred, well reflected in this commentary from Education Week, Education Reform as We Know It Is Over. What Have We Learned?, that proclaims:

The education reform movement as we have known it is over. Top-down federal and state reforms along with big-city reforms have stalled. The political winds for education change have shifted dramatically. Something has ended, and we must learn the lessons of what the movement got right—and wrong.

Contemporary education reform in the U.S. has followed a pattern typified by those driving the reform wearing blinders and ear plugs. Around the early 1980s, with the publication of A Nation at Risk, the accountability era began, grounded in standards, high-stakes testing, and a laser focus on holding students and their schools accountable.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when I was a public school English teacher, that accountability movement marched forward, driven mostly by state political initiatives that seemed more committed to the next-generation standards and tests than to any sort of goals (which changed perpetually also).

Despite the disconnect between the promises and outcomes of accountability-based education reform, there were huge political benefits to accountability, best represented by George W. Bush translating the “Texas miracle” (which was thoroughly debunked as no “miracle”) during his tenure as governor of Texas into No Child Left behind as a signature feature of his two-term presidency.

Education reform shifted from a state initiative to a federal one with NCLB—but the outcomes remained quite underwhelming when compared to the promises associated with ever-new standards and tests as well as market-based solutions such as school choice, charter schools, and teacher evaluations linked to testing.

The presidency of Barack Obama may have best captured the failure that is education reform committed to accountability since Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan embraced and expanded the policies and ideologies begun under Bush—Common Core as the next-generation standards and concurrent next-generation testing, teacher evaluations linked to those tests and the Brave New World of value-added methods to identify the best teachers and remove the worst, and the rampant expansion of charter schools (although research repeatedly shows that type of schools—private, public, or charter—is not correlated with outcomes).

Throughout these four decades, political leaders and the media have pounded the same drum none the less—schools are failing in the U.S., teachers and administrators practice the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” and ratcheting up accountability with better standards and more testing will create schools that are “game changers,” proving finally that “ZIP codes are not destiny” in the U.S.

Education reform in this accountability era became mostly hollow sloganism—”no excuses” and “zero tolerance” as a couple more examples.

Yet, all along the way, educational scholars/researchers and classroom teachers firmly and consistently refuted nearly all of the claims of crisis as well as warned political solutions would not bear fruit.

And we were right.

In 2019, the crisis rhetoric of the Reagan era is no different than the complaints about U.S. public schools today.

Four decades of in-school only reform focusing on accountability have accomplished very little except to insure that children are left behind and to drive away legions of professional educators who can simply no longer labor under false narratives and impossible teaching and learning conditions.

The history of public education combined with the current accountability era of schooling in the U.S. has offered, in fact, some sobering realities about universal public education in the service of democracy.

Those sobering realities are simply so harsh against the myths that many in the U.S. embrace that we refuse to start our education reform by carefully identifying the problems and the causes of those problems—much as the bicycle mechanic and I wasted our time and energy on my bicycle creaking, much as I worked in a false environment to try find a solution.

Here’s one slogan you won’t hear too often: Public education has not failed its promise to U.S. democracy; we have failed public education.

And here’s another slogan you won’t hear, maybe at all: Public schools do not change society; public schools reflect and perpetuate all aspects of the communities and societies they serve.

Tax-funded community schools reflect in almost every way the challenges, flaws, and advantages found the communities they serve. Schools, regardless of the idealistic rhetoric, do not change their communities, or the children who walk their halls.

For just one example, my foundations in education students tutor in a nearby high-poverty majority-minority middle school. As we debriefed today on the last day of class, several students noted that they felt frustrated in the classes they were assigned because those students have had a revolving door of substitute teachers and spend many days without lesson plans or a clear focus on what they are doing.

I noted that high-poverty students often experience a great deal of transience and instability in their lives outside of schools, and were then having the same sort of unstable experiences at school.

That is not a game changer—but a game perpetuator.

In my 35th year as an educator, with over twenty-five as a scholar/researcher, I am deeply skeptical that anyone with the power to reform education or to reform the education reform movement has in fact learn the lessons I lay out above, or the ones addressed by Van Schoales in EdWeek.

The accountability paradigm was destined to fail because the problems with our schools had little to do with a lack of accountability. But this current era of reform has also done immeasurable harm to students, teachers, and public education.

Not only must we finally admit that education problems are a subset of social inequity, but also we must find ways to address that unnecessary harm done during decades of misguided reform—including billions of tax dollars wasted.

Those of us ignored during these times had the problems identified all along—gross inequities grounded in systemic poverty, racism, and sexism.

The education reform needed, then, is a herculean task that involves policies addressing social inequities along with educational inequities, and frankly, I doubt we have the political courage in the U.S. to acknowledge this or to do anything substantive about it.

I envision education reform 2.0 with blinders and ear plugs still firmly in place—and an annoying creaking providing the soundtrack.


See Also

An Alternative to Accountability-Based Education Reform

Thomas, P. L., Porfilio, B.J., Gorlewski, J., & Carr, P.R. (eds.). (2014). Social context reform: A pedagogy of equity and opportunity. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lost in Translation: English Learners, One Study, and the Dangers of Translating Research into Practice

Minus 5: How a Culture of Grades Degrades Learning

About midway through my first 18 years in education as a high school English teacher, I had mostly de-graded and de-tested my courses except, of course, for having to comply with mandates such as midterm/final exams and course grades.

At some point, my students and I began to openly parody grade culture in a sort of wink-wink-nod-nod way that included my saying “Minus 5!” any time a student offered an incorrect answer during a class discussion.

We all smiled and laughed.

As I approach the same amount of time in the second wave of my career as an educator, now a university professor at a selective college, I continue to use that skit, adding at times a “Plus 10!” with exuberance when someone offers something really thoughtful.

My college students are hyper-students, having been very successful in school for many years while receiving as well as expecting high grades because of the student-skills they have developed.

Despite my careful and detailed explanations upfront that I do not grade and do not give tests, these college students struggle, some times mightily, in a de-graded classroom. Once, for example, a student emailed me about how to make up the “minus 5” I had taken away in the class discussion.

This semester in my educational foundations course and an upper-level writing/research course, many of the greatest flaws with grading culture have sprung up once again.

Even as we approach the end of the semester, I have had several students email me asking for extensions on submitting their major essay. I have to carefully reply that the concept of an extension isn’t relevant in a course that doesn’t grade and is grounded in the requirement that all assignments must be completed fully (and ideally on time) and resubmitted in a final portfolio.

In all of my courses, essays must also be submitted in multiple drafts or I cap the final course grade.

I explain repeatedly to my students that we are here to learn and that if I focus on artifacts of their learning while requiring that all work be completed fully, I have no option other than accepting late work, and they have no real option except to submit work late if they cannot meet deadlines.

Yet, my college students often cannot fathom any other system except the culture of grading that they have navigated quite well for many years.

Broadly, as an educator, I am daily disturbed by witnessing my students trapped in a grade mentality and not a learning mentality. As I have explored many times, the rewards/punishments elements of grading discourages risk and even effort in students and thus weakens the learning process that often requires a series of flawed efforts by students combined with mentoring from a teacher who requires and encourages informed revised efforts.

School at all levels, however, is just a statistical wrestling match between students and grade culture in which some students persist, hoping to excel, and many students simply try to survive in order to find some sort of freedom at the end.

Over the past couple of weeks, my educational foundations students have been submitting their major essay. I purposefully scaffold this assignment by having students present in groups earlier in the semester; those group presentations include focusing on students finding high-quality research for their topics and (for many) learning some basics of APA citation (the preferred style sheet in education).

I refuse to provide groups feedback on the group presentations until the group submits a correct and adequate references list for their sources used. This strategy lays the groundwork for each member having a start on sources for their individual essay and for my students to become somewhat acclimated to my minimum requirements approach to assignments (contrasted with grading).

Major cited essays are powerful windows into how a culture of grades degrades learning.

Students are provided a sample APA cited essay with notes and several checklists for preparing and revising an essay using APA citation; much of this is meticulously covered in class as well.

I also schedule some workshop time in class to help students with both trivial and significant elements of preparing a document in Word (headers can be a nightmare using APA). Then, as the first submission due date approaches, I stress that I will not provide feedback unless students submit a full first draft that includes some fundamental elements of formatting and citation [1].

However, as I experience every semester, several students submitted essays that were unacceptable (let me emphasize here, that when I reject these essays, the only recourse is that students address this problem by submitting a minimally acceptable draft as soon as possible, and I will meet with them if they are unsure how to do that despite the ample support I have already provided).

This included essays submitted without adequate sources (I stress the need to use peer-reviewed journal articles as the foundation of their sources, but also encourage a variety of sources), without a references list on the document, with a reference list but no citations in the essay, with some jumbled hybrid of MLA (usually the references list labeled “Works Cited” and then the bibliographies a wild Frankenstein’s monster of formatting), or as a document clearly in an early stage of brainstorming—what they would consider drafting—such as huge gaps between paragraphs, different colored fonts, and their own comments to themselves scattered throughout.

I have this happen despite stressing repeatedly they should submit the first draft of the essay as if they can never revise.

These dynamics in a degraded class that emphasizes authentic artifacts of learning and provides students ample opportunities to revise their work with my feedback in the form of comments on their work and conferences highlight that many students are unable to break free from a culture of grading, even when provided the opportunity.

Most students simply have their grades lowered when they fail to format and cite properly; that process tells them that these things really do not matter.

Yet, in my work as a scholar, I know that part of the authority a writer gains if from the trivial (formatting documents) and the essential (finding, understanding, and incorporating high-quality sources).

A culture of grading allows both students and teachers to be lazy about the things we claim to care about the most, such as authentic learning that translates into the so-called real world.

Once again, I have watched as several students have become angry at me and deeply frustrated by a process that is both requiring and supporting them to learn, in some cases for the first time, aspects of being a scholar that benefits them across their work as students and then in their lives after that.

What some are framing as “mean,” however, is a tenacity on my part that often results in students coming to understand and then apply the very things we sought to learn. But that process is unnecessarily painful because of the culture of grades that, in fact, asks less of students and teachers.

The culture of grades remains incredibly powerful in formal schooling, and as I discover time and time again, it makes the work of teaching and learning nearly impossible.

In the wake of this essay assignment and many of my formerly happy students struggling, my “Minus 5” rings a bit hollow these days among the tense faces of really bright young people more concerned about their grades than anything class has to offer.


[1] From my checklist, for example:

Checklist for Revising Cited Essay

Format in APA

[ ] Entire Word document (including header) is in Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, and double-spaced

[ ] Cover page has “Different First Page” checked, and running head formatted as follows:

Running head: RUNNING HEAD IN ALL CAPS                                                                1

[ ] Page 2 and beyond has running head only, as in:

RUNNING HEAD IN ALL CAPS                                                                                        2

[ ] Except for new paragraphs, do NOT format page breaks (cover page to page 2 and final page to references) with returns and do NOT format hanging indents or block quotes with return>tab.

[ ] Include a few subheads to organize the essay, but a subhead should be several paragraphs (not one), and avoid “Conclusion” as your final subhead (be interesting and specific).

Style and Citation in APA

[ ] Do not announce sources (avoid referring to the author[s] and titles of your sources when citing research) in your discussion.

[ ] Prefer synthesis of multiple sources and discussing the conclusions (patterns) from those sources—and thus, avoid quoting and simply cataloging one source at a time.

[ ] Take care with proper APA parenthetic citation; note the use of commas, page numbers with quotes only, and the placement of periods, for example:

Ironically, of course, we almost never hear a word of protest about the abundant misinformation found in our U. S. history textbooks (Loewen, 1996; Zinn, 1995), primarily because the misinformation better supports the meritocracy myth our schools are obligated to promote for the good of the society.

While Greene (1978) argues that “democracy is and has been an open possibility, not an actuality”—thus requiring “the kinds of action [by teachers] that make a difference in the public space” (pp. 58, 59)—the reality of school’s focus on socialization is that we are committed to capitalism above all else, even at the expense of democracy (Engel, 2000).

Recent scholarship on this concern for diversity and the achievement gap among races and socioeconomic groups has shown that when we attempt institutional approaches to “critical issues,” the result is corrupted by the system itself, resulting in a widespread acceptance of the work of Ruby Payne (1996), work that has no research supporting the “framework” and work that reinforces the assumptions (deficit thinking) about race and diversity that are common in our society (Bomer, Dworin, May, & Semingson, 2008; Bomer, Dworin, May, & Semingson, 2009; Dudley-Marling, 2007; Gorski, 2006a; Gorski, 2006b; Gorski, 2008; Thomas, 2009).

[ ] Parenthetical citation of paraphrased or synthesized sources require including the author(s) last name and publication year the FIRST time in each new paragraph, but multiple uses after that include ONLY the last name. Do not have several in-text citations over multiple paragraphs if all of the citations are paraphrasing. For example:

Greene (1978) is exploring the central dilemma offered by John Dewey, a dilemma that has been misunderstood at best and ignored at worst: Dewey “knew that optimism, demands for conformity, and ‘riotous glorification of things “as they are”’ discouraged critical thought” (p. 62). In U.S. society, and thus schools, critical challenges are popularly viewed as outright rejections. Within critical pedagogy, the challenges to assumptions are seen as fruitful, an essential part of process toward emancipatory practice, toward the ideal of democracy as “an open possibility” (Greene, p. 58).

[ ] Do NOT include hyperlinks in bibliographies in your references lists from your library searches (ebsco, galegroup links) or from jstor for hard-copy sources (includes page numbers).

The Academy: Razing the Old to Raise the New

Since I feel skepticism on the verge of antagonism toward tradition, I have struggled with the responses to the fire consuming Notre-Dame.

I certainly find the lost unfortunate, but I wonder how the opulence of the structure and the tremendous social inequity that spawned it remain mostly unacknowledged as the vast majority of people see this as a tragedy and hundreds of millions of dollars have already been donated to rebuild the cathedral.

Grand tragedy moves us, I realize, while gradual and persistent suffering seems to numb us; those hundreds of millions could better serve the destitute and hungry, human beings and not mere material monuments.

Like Shelley’s Ozymandias, many humans remain too often disturbingly un-self-aware: “‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!'”

But there is more to consider since this grand fire has occurred in the context of three church fires in Louisiana, arson rooted in racist hatred. The attention and responses are of much different scales because the contexts of each are of much different scales driven by tremendous historical inequities that linger, especially in the U.S.

I am drawn to my conflicted feelings about Notre-Dame as I consider the online responses to Rebecca A. Reid and Todd A. Curry’s The White Man Template and Academic Bias. Reid and Curry build on some of my work:

Higher education’s white male template, as P. L. Thomas, professor of education at Furman University, calls it, insidiously produces barriers for scholars throughout their entire careers, disproportionately affecting women and people of color. This template dictates certain research agendas, epistemologies, and methods as legitimate while discarding or marginalizing those that do not fit neatly within this framework. In essence, Thomas says, it “frames a white male subjectivity as the norm (thus ‘objective’), rendering racialized (nonwhite) and genderized (nonmale) subjectivity as the ‘other,’ as lacking credibility.”

And their central argument concludes: “Scholars who focus on critical theory, race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality and identities, qualitative methods and the like are marginalized because their work is supposedly not ‘objective’ science. Rather, it is political advocacy masquerading as scholarship — attractive only to specialized audiences and self-serving.”

This is ultimately a challenge to the Old Academy [1] and a call for the New Academy, suggesting, I think, that the only way to raise the New Academy is in the ashes of razing the Old Academy—something metaphorical against the very real burning of Notre-Dame.

The comments, as well, are parallel reactions to the hundreds of millions of dollars pouring in the from the cultural elite to rebuild Notre-Dame; many of those responses are vigorous and shallow defenses of the Old Academy, masked as arguments for rigor and high scientific ideals.

One of my responses prompted more ire:

Many of the comments prove the points posed by Reid and Curry even as the anonymous posters believing they are disputing them. This is the exact dynamic this article addresses. A total lack of self-awareness by the white/male elites who want to pretend they are the ones being objective and they are the ones meeting high standards. From educated people, these responses are sadly embarrassing.

I do in fact find these comments embarrassing in the same way Ozymandias’s words echo inside the hollowness of his defunct glory:

“…Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Academics posting on Inside Higher Ed should know better, but one thing I have learned over the past 17 years is that the so-called Ivory Tower is just as petty and flawed as the general population; we are just people after all—although one would hope many years of learning could spark a soul in a few more people.

Some of the comments make errors in logic and argument that many of us who teach first-year writing wouldn’t allow: misrepresenting Reid and Curry in order to attack the misrepresentation among the worst.

So I have tried to offer a couple clarifying comments of my own:

…The article above calls for both a critical reconsideration of the imbalance of power and authority allowed for so-called objective research and a more equitable understanding and greater space for so-called subjective research BECAUSE the objective is in fact not any less subjective than the so-called subjective; the imbalances of power in the academy are gendered and racial and the current dynamic of what research counts is both a result of those imbalances and a cause of perpetuating them. The rebukes posted here are often myopic, self-serving, and petty, mostly very shallow defenses of the current power imbalance under a thin veneer of defending rigor and scientific standards.

And:

For example, claims of objectivity and being scientific created and perpetuates scientific racism; the introduction of critical race theory, then, provides the platform for unmasking scientific racism and thus racism. This is an argument for allowing a larger space of what counts so that all types of research have greater fidelity and validity. See The Lingering, and Powerful, Legacy of “Scientific Racism” in America.

I function in two contexts that represent the conflict exposed in Reid and Curry’s article. I am the embodiment of the “white male template” and a critical scholar/activist.

As a result, I recognize that I both worked incredibly hard to achieve my academic success, my degrees and ultimately my tenured position as a full professor along with my publishing record, and benefitted from even greater privilege along all of those paths to accomplishment. As well, left mostly invisible, many of my accomplishments necessarily mean that I inhabited spaces denied to people being marginalized—women, people of color among many others.

I didn’t ask for anyone to be denied or erased, but I mostly failed to recognize those denials and erasures in my zeal for personal accomplishment. And I can attest that very few people have the moral fortitude to tumble the structures that benefit them—myself included.

Winners always think the rules of the game are fair and believe they earned their trophies by being better than the vanquished while never even considering those not allowed in the contest.

There is a great irony in the resistance to the New Academy, the clinging to the Old Academy like Emily sleeping each night with the corpse of a murdered lover who betrayed her: The New Academy will be far more demanding because of the influx of diversity and the expansion of what counts as credible research along with whose voice counts.

The Old Academy and lazy narrow conceptions of objective and scientific are ultimately simplistic and inadequate for the human experience and the pursuit of knowledge.

The Old Academy is primarily valuable to those already there; it is a security blanket of confirmation bias for the privileged who think they hit a triple when they were in fact born on third base.

Change is frightening for those made comfortable by the status quo. What Reid and Curry are calling for, the New Academy, deserves not the resistance of the white male template but the wonder and excitement of Miranda:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!


[1] The Old Academy, of course, is the current academy:

 

profs-gender

 

The Best Candidate: On Resisting Diversity and Equity

The 2019 version of March Madness has provided two powerful and different images of the passionate coach.

First came the brief controversy over Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, captured in this frame:

Next, despite the typically less well covered women’s game, Muffet McGraw, who coached Notre Dame to the National Championship game, falling a point short, offered an impassioned plea for coaching equity:

When I posted McGraw’s video on social media, the connection between these two moments was highlighted by one of the responses on Facebook: “Just hire the best candidate.”

That plea for something like meritocracy in the face of McGraw’s argument for equity has been repeated often during my time in higher education as I have worked on committees seeking ways to increase diversity and equity among our faculty.

“Just hire the best candidate” is a refrain, in fact, among white men in all sorts of professions. The implication is that what is past, is past, and if we value equity, then we must practice a sort of color- or gender-blind policy now in order, well, to just hire the best candidate.

“The best candidate” response, however, is a dodge because it is overly simplistic and it exposes the lack of self-awareness among white men.

White male privilege is not a thing of the past, as exemplified by Izzo and a large percentage of coaches who are allowed nearly any fault—as long as they win. Izzo is no outlier; the abusive coach, the coach who loses his temper while also admonishing his players to perform with control is the marker for the mediocre white man who glides along on his privilege while also believing he has earned everything he has attained, while believing that he is “the best candidate.”

Etan Thomas explains about the inequity of the coach/player dynamic, captured in stark relief by the tenure of Bobby Knight:

Luke [Recker] and Jason [Collier] had each played two seasons at Indiana University under the legendary but volatile coach Bobby Knight before transferring out to different schools. They spent for two straight hours telling stories about Knight. I was completely shocked by what I heard. The level of torment they both endured: the public and private humiliations, the degrading outbursts, the verbal abuse, the physical abuse, the cursing, the yelling, the screaming, the insults, the attempt to completely break them down and – most of all – the outpour of support their former coach received from all of the adults who worshipped at his throne. Basketball is a religion in Indiana and Knight, who coached the Hoosiers to three national championships, was the pope.

The comparison at the end shouldn’t be ignored since the long and ugly history of abuse of power in the Catholic church and its terrifying consequences for children remain a scar that almost no one seems motivated to heal.

So when McGraw asserts that she will no longer hire men as assistant coaches, that 99%-100% of women’s sports should have women coaches, she is confronting by saying aloud the unspoken reality of white male privilege: Men coaches of men’s sports do not consider women for assistant coaching positions, but never have to utter those words because there is a veneer of coaching hires being about “the best candidate” with the assumption that can only be men.

In all fields where there is gender or race inequity, the solution of “just hire the best candidate” is inadequate because it doesn’t seek ways to investigate that “best.”

Years of experience and success in a field or the education/credentialing needed to enter a field are often aspects of “best,” and those have been gained through, in part or whole, the privilege of white men at the expense of women and people of color.

Coaching, for example, is a real-world example of the “good ol’ boys club,” those coaching trees widely hailed and acknowledged in fact.

How can anyone find fault (and keep a straight face) with McGraw’s argument for women creating their own version of the “good ol’ girls club”?

Ultimately, calls for hiring “the best candidate” is a diversion and a lie perpetuated by those who have for most of history benefitted from unfair advantages while being allowed to pretend that they have succeeded on merit.

Coaching is one of the most glaring examples of how white male privilege elevates the mediocre white man—the hard-nosed point guard who becomes a Division I head coach and then is allowed on a daily basis to yell at and berate young and mostly black men who themselves have no recourse for that abuse.

Those same coaches all go on and on about building character in their players, about the whole athletics scheme being mostly about preparing young people for life after sports.

Part of McGraw’s message confronted the need for role models:

“How are these young women looking up and seeing someone that looks like them, preparing them for the future? We don’t have enough female role models. We don’t have enough visible women leaders. We don’t have enough women in power.”

If we really value merit, and character, I want to ask that for anyone regardless of gender or race, who should we emulate, Izzo or McGraw? Whose message and passion resonate in ways that should guide young people, or any one of us?

The best candidate? McGraw because she offers the voice of real merit and a genuine understanding of inequity.

Conservative’s White Nationalism Dog Whistle: The Political Lie of School Choice

Image result for dog whistle

A dog whistle is designed so that to unintended audiences (humans), the whistle is silent, but to the intended audience (dogs), the whistle is a sharp alert.

Now here comes the metaphorical portion of this post.

Over only a couple years of the Donald Trump era of Republican politics, we have become gradually accustomed—like a live lobster dropped in a pot of water soon boiled—to the gross and bluntly self-unaware language of his leadership of the Republican party—he of “grab them by the pussy,” no less.

But Trump’s race-baiting and race-appeasing of white nationalism/racism is no less ham-fisted.

In the U.S., we are pretty solid examples of Meursault’s dictum that people can get used to anything, but we also represent how short human memory is. I fear we have forgotten something most of us never even recognized: The good ol’ traditional political lie, often wrapped conveniently in dog whistle language.

Do not fret, though, because here’s a little nudge from former South Carolina Representative and Senator Jim DeMint, who did what many good ol’ Republicans have done, parlay the “damned-government” mantra into, ironically, a political career that leads to a cushy position in the so-called private sector, in DeMint’s case that was becoming president of the [White] Heritage Foundation forming his own conservative think tank.

It’s good work—if you are a white man with the sort of wealth and clout that you can negotiate into being among the rich-boys’ club we call the U.S. Senate.

DeMint’s political lie du jour is, hold your breath, an endorsement of school choice, the perennial go-to of conservatives:

Former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint is urging state lawmakers to create education scholarship accounts to foster an expansion of school choice in South Carolina.

The proposal that DeMint outlined during a speech Monday night to the Greenville County Republican Party would allow parents of special needs and impoverished students to spend state-allocated education money to attend private schools. Foster children and military families also would be eligible to take part in the program.

“The only way we are going to save our culture and our society is if we can create an education system that the parents can customize,” DeMint said.

Wow, it really takes your breath away, doesn’t it, when someone of DeMint’s stature speaks for special needs children and children trapped in poverty?

And, he wants them to go to private school. Private. School.

As the dog whistle goes, however, if you aren’t a white nationalist/racist (and chances that you are and reading my blog are really pretty low), your eyes may have become all blurry with empathy tears by the time you got to “our culture and our society.”

If you did miss that, maybe track down a friend or family member who voted for Trump, or is a card-carrying Republican, and ask them who the “our” is all about, or maybe to define the whole “culture” thing.

I have a few ideas, as well, because I am really close to having lived 60 years in the very state DeMint represented—a state that clutches the Confederate flag and believes the Civil War wasn’t waged over slavery. You see, SC is a “Heritage Not Hate” state.

There’s some world-class Orwellian language for you, by the way, because, if you have the time and patience, I suspect it would be illustrative to ask anyone in SC who says “Heritage Not Hate” to explain what that heritage entails. Mind you, the explanation will defy reality, and history, but it will be an experience, and unlike a dog whistle, you will hear every word, but may doubt you are hearing the words you hear.

DeMint has provided for those who see and hear past the veneers the ugly relationship between school choice advocacy and the Republican party’s investment in white nationalism/racism.

First, the political lie of school choice:

In his speech Monday night, DeMint said education scholarship accounts can result in a “win-win” scenario for parents and public schools. He said parents can choose the best educational opportunities for their children while public schools can benefit from a reduction in class sizes.

“It creates a dynamic in every situation that we’ve studied where public schools get better,” DeMint said.

School choice, in fact, and including charter schools, has not improved anything, but has been strongly associated with re-segregating education and proving public funds for more affluent families to flee public schools.

Parents, you see, do not chose schools for academic reason mostly, but for ideological ones, such as making sure their children attend school with people who look like them and sit in classes that provide the sorts of indoctrination the parents desire.

School choice schemes never provide the sort of full support low-income parents need, such as transportation or time that is taken for granted by the affluent.

And what DeMint will not discuss is that the free market, the sacred Invisible Hand, has no incentive toward equity or quality. Market forces are guided by the lever of the customers and their capital.

Private schools are no better than public or charter schools—all of which are mostly reflections of the populations they serve.

And private schools represent a broad range of schooling, from narrow religious-based instruction to almost anything a group of parents may be willing to fund.

So we are left with a really jumbled message to the white nationalists/racists who are anti-government: School choice will provide you public funds to isolate your white children with other white children to receive the indoctrination you want to preserve the sacred white race.

That is the dog whistle that is “‘our culture and our society.'”

This sounds harsh, I know, but that is what a dog whistle is designed to do, mute the ugly for “the best” in order to rouse “the worst…full of passionate intensity.”