Book Banning: Why It Matters

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In the interest of full disclosure, as an educator with undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature and teaching literature, book banning enrages me.

But this post isn’t about me. It’s about why everyone--yes, everyone--should share the outrage.

Ho hum, you say. Book banning isn’t new. In pockets around the country, self-appointed defenders of morality have been removing books from library shelves and from school reading lists for as long as I can remember. Cloaked in virtue, book banners assert they are protecting impressionable minds. Damn right. Keep the kids away from Atticus Finch and Harry Potter and Anne Frank and the Joads. Don’t forget about the menacing messages in Lord of the Flies and 1984. Oh and yeah, what about that Shel Silverstein? His poetry is really dangerous.

What seems different today, though, is that the book banners aren’t easily dismissed as fringe extremists: overzealous evangelists preaching fire and brimstone, undereducated prigs. In 2022, the people warming their souls around book-stoked bonfires are people we know, people we may have talked with, ordinary folks who go to work every day at jobs that have nothing to do with literature and/or learning but who suddenly feel compelled to protect and defend.

The people who tell me they don’t think kids should read The Outsiders or Madame Bovary or The Crucible are almost always unable to explain why these stories shouldn’t be told. When I was still in the classroom, a parent objected to John Steinbeck’s allegory about greed and exploitation, The Pearl. Her argument? Steinbeck was “a kook” and a baby dies in the story. When asked who should make the decisions regarding banned books, proponents suggest clergy, politicians, parents. When further asked about the criteria for banning particular books, most can only cite vague references to language, behavior and theme. Ironically, these are also often the same people who assert their freedom to disregard mask mandates because such public health initiatives infringe on their freedom.

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Make no mistake, in the current climate of anti-intellectualism and populism, book banning is gaining favor. It is a loud and proud movement to quiet voices in literature, to subvert critical thought, to maintain a tenuous grip on a lifestyle perceived to be threatened by so-called elites.

In Tennessee last month, the McMinn County School Board unanimously voted to ban from the curriculum Maus, a 36-year-old graphic novel about the Holocaust. The board’s decision was based, in part, on a drawing of a dead, nude mouse.

It should arouse your anger. Book banning is an assault on democracy. It is one of the first steps despots take to silence dissenting voices. Convincing constituents that censoring the arts is in the moral, patriotic, religious best interest of the country is manipulation. That manipulation becomes easier when the public is under educated and afraid and book banning is part of that process.

Do I believe that some books are inappropriate for younger kids? Sure. That’s plain old common sense, though I do confess that my own two kids were reading the works of John Grisham and Michael Crichton in the intermediate grades when they were probably too young to get the nuances of the books. That said, it doesn’t appear to have hurt them. Both remain voracious readers and are successful in their personal and professional lives.

Having spent 25 years in public secondary school classrooms, I would also tell you that kids will get their hands on books they want to read and the more someone tells them they cannot read a text, the harder they will work to get it. Case in point: Maus is now a best seller in Tennessee and beyond.

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So, the next time you hear someone talk about banning books in any way, consider it your democratic duty to question them, consider it a defense of the framework of the nation, consider yourself a patriot.

Education for All

The posts are all over social media, that crafts people do not need a college education.

In the broadest sense, this is true. Would-be plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, heating and AC specialists learn and refine their skills through vocational training and apprenticeships. They learn on the job. So, yes, they don’t necessarily need the university to earn a comfortable living.

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However, I say everyone benefits from an educated populace. Everyone.

I also assert that this type of thinking is a degradation of the skilled trades, a means of sublimating an entire class of workers. These workers are essential and even if earning potential is the only criteria applied to the value of education, devaluing education promotes the two-class system.

And I say this not just because I am a teacher. When a culture values education, citizens reap social, political and yes, economic rewards.

Education opens doors and opens minds.

Education lessens the chances that people will need long term social and economic support and it increases their personal and financial contributions to their communities.

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Learning facts of history, patterns in science and math, the beauty and importance of the arts fundamentally changes how we think

Do I agree that college debt is crushing several generations of Americans? Yup. True story. However, the escalating cost of four years at an elite private institution doesn’t negate the benefits of an educated populace, especially since there is more than one route to becoming educated.

Education Helps Us All

There is no reason I can think of that these professionals are unable to learn about the society/culture they serve. Their college experiences may look different from those chasing the corner office or from those preparing for careers in medicine, law, or teaching, but post-secondary schooling, particularly community college, offers the opportunity to learn to write and speak clearly, to study history, to understand geography and science, to learn about people who don’t look, act or think like you do.

Education opens the portal to a clearer understanding of yourself and of the various worlds you inhabit.

The community college where I have worked for the past three years provides skills training as well. Our students get hands-on experience in their chosen fields. The faculty here is dedicated and professors share with their students a wealth of concrete workplace experience: business management, HVAC, social work, hospitality, early childhood education, fashion design, journalism, cyber security.

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Free community college can benefit us all

Free community college is a win-win.

For those who believe that their precious tax money shouldn’t be squandered, let me restate free community college–like quality childcare–is a win-win: economically, socially, politically.

Students who enter the job market better prepared will be better able to fulfill their professional tasks. Whether or not they decide to continue their collegiate studies at four-year schools, our grads agree that they have grown during their time here. Confidence. Discipline. Self-esteem. Employers value these traits. These gains may be unquantifiable, but personal growth increases the likelihood of success at work and at home.

Education improves the quality of life for all citizens. Yes, all of us. Among the benefits of education are more precise communication, inspired curiosity, empathy, open-mindedness. Education allows us to see that we are parts of a whole bigger than ourselves and opens us to all potential possibilities. Educated individuals are less likely to be manipulated by false narratives and more likely to contribute to the common good of their own communities. Education helps us to see beyond our individual circumstances, to get past our own prejudices.

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Education is about earning a piece of paper; it’s about learning about oneself and others

However, what I like most about education is that a functioning democracy depends on an educated constituency. Citizens who see themselves in the context of history, who have had exposure to science, who can acknowledge the greater global community are more likely to be informed participants in our democratic process. And if there has ever been a time in our history when we needed informed participants–informed as in fact not social media rumor and opinion–it is now.

Evaluating the “News”

Open your browser. Turn on your phone. FaceBook. Instagram. TikTok. Twitter. Influencers. Beyond vacation photos and food pics, there is a good chance you’ll slug through posts and reposts passing themselves off as “news.” Posts about Covid. Posts about politics. Posts about climate change.

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While the internet has opened the world to us, it has also burdened us with information overload and that information is often neither accurate nor reliable. Yet the internet, including social media sites, remains where more and more people report getting their “news.” We tap on our phones for a fast overview of the topics of interest.

How many times have you heard someone tell you they “saw it on FaceBook” or “heard it on Twitter?” How many times have you said this yourself?

What could go wrong with that? Plenty. Misinformation. Propaganda. Shaming. Hate speech. It’s all out there. And it’s all pretty easy to find. Usually, it finds you.

Adding to the murky waters of on line sources are the openly partisan news outlets that shamelessly exploit today’s polarized, politicized climate. A large number of programs airing on these stations are not, in fact, news, but rather thinly veiled opinion unsubstantiated by real sources. But popular personalities delivering these opinions call what they share “news,” and viewers seem willing to accept opinion as “news” because it jives with their current political positions. That’s what they tune in to hear. They aren’t looking for what’s true, just what fits their current paradigm.

Some of this willing suspension of disbelief is personal; we believe what works for us. But some of it also evolved from media–radio, TV, and now computer sources. It must be true if it’s on the news or if you read it on the computer. Right?

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When I was a journalism student in the post Watergate era, our reporting had to stand up to intense scrutiny. What we reported required speed, but accuracy and truth were the paramount values we lived by. There were no “sides” to take. Our opinions didn’t matter. There were only facts, facts that had to be corroborated by several reputable sources. Several sources. Reliable. Reputable.

News outlets prided themselves on these values, too. Truth above all else.

That’s less true today. Much less true.

Separating fact from fiction, then has to be part of our work in our classrooms. Students must evaluate what washes over them on line, to determine if what they see and hear has been vetted or if it has just been tossed out there by someone voicing an opinion. Everyone may have an opinion, but opinions are not facts; opinions are not truth.

So what’s a teacher to do?

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It is clear that technology is here to stay. Most of my students freely admit they never read a hard copy of a newspaper. Never. Many admit they have never read an on line copy, either. When asked where they get their “news,” they point to their phones. And honestly, the internet has allowed my students to continue their educations during Covid, giving them access to our library from home. But without direction, finding facts, finding truth is a daunting task. It is far easier to let Google send them to the first source that pops up. It is up to us to provide that direction and demand that students use reputable sources.

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Asking students to require facts–real facts, not bias masquerading as fact–in their academic work is a start. There are reputable internet sources and students should know what to look for when conducting on line research. When we acknowledge and validate opinion, we must remind students that opinion is not synonymous with fact, that sound opinions are built on reality, on truth.

I don’t think it is overstating that our democracy depends on an educated populace willing and able to dig for truth. When, despite facts that clearly say otherwise, more than forty percent of Americans believe that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen,” critical thinking is more important than ever. Critical thinking is not rejecting what doesn’t fit into your personal beliefs; critical thinking is evaluating sources, demanding accountability and truth.

Free Community College: Could it Work to Ease College Debt?

Massachusetts needs a student loan bill of rights - The Boston Globe

As a parent, I get it. From Pre-K on, we tell our kids to work hard, promising this can get them into a “good” college. In high school, we say, “Go ahead, try for that ‘reach’ school” So they ace AP exams and write some kick ass application essays and BOOM! The acceptance letters start rolling in. In this moment of parental pride and joy, it’s hard to imagine the unimaginable weight of debt that could crush your kids.

However, an entire generation is suffocating. They are lugging loans that may never be resolved, leaving them unable to buy homes or start families. Parents are in this, too. Some have dipped into retirement accounts. Others have taken out second mortgages.

Yes, I know these debts are the result of individual choices. Families shouldn’t bury themselves in loans they cannot afford. Kids should be schooled in financial responsibility.

We were lucky, so lucky. We were able to send our kids where they wanted to go; it’s every parent’s dream.

I also know that with the cost of college escalating beyond the average family’s means, we will eventually end up in an even more pronounced two-tier society. Fewer and fewer students from working class roots will be able to keep up with college costs while those with money will over-populate the name brand dorms and dining halls.

Will the Costs of College Cause an Economic Disaster? - The Edvocate

When our own kids were applying to college, their high school counselor invited a consultant to speak to parents. He was frank–some called him harsh–about not encouraging kids to apply to colleges the family couldn’t afford. Review your family finances. Know your limits. Don’t expect an on-campus job to pay for much; it doesn’t work that way anymore. Once the acceptance arrives, it will be that much harder to tell your kids they can’t attend. Loans–parental and student–are not the answer.

It turns out this guy was 20 years ahead of his time.

What’s the answer?

Community College Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

I heard President Biden say the other day that community college could be free. Governor Phil Murphy, of New Jersey, just announced that in his state, community college will be free to those who qualify. Here in New York, starting in 2017, the Excelsior Scholarship has offered free tuition to eligible state residents attending SUNY and CUNY institutions.

After spending three years working in an top notch SUNY community college, I think these plans have possibilities.

The community college where I work is part of our state university system: SUNY. A dedicated, respected faculty maintains high standards. Students study on a real campus in up-to-date facilities with the prospects extended opportunities through partnerships with four year schools and local corporations. They refine communication skills and examine the patterns in history and art. They apply mathematics and try out scientific inquiry. When our students collect their diplomas, they have degrees, training, and experiences for personal and professional growth. Some go on to additional schooling; others enter the workforce. All are different people for their time spent in classrooms here.

Westchester Community College LIBRARY - Home | Facebook

What if community college were free? Could families breath a little easier knowing kids were accumulating transferable credits without accruing a lifetime of debt? Would families be willing to take advantage of community college as a first step in the college experience?

Consider Taking Community College Classes While at a 4-Year School | Community  Colleges | US News

I have seen a lot posts on FB that not every one needs to go to college and I see the point. But I would argue that an educated populace benefits us all. Just because someone plans to become a plumber or carpenter doesn’t mean he/she won’t benefit from an affordable post high school experience. Why shouldn’t an electrician read Vonnegut or find beauty in the Impressionists? In large part because of the astronomical price tag on a college degree, we have come to equate education and dollars. Do we want our kids to earn more? Of course we do. I would argue that in addition to the monetary value of a college degree, there is the added benefit of understanding the world around us and our place in it. An education helps us understand the social contract: our interdependence, our importance and the importance of others.

I am a parent, and I know it can be tough to say no to kids who have worked hard hoping to attending the college of their choice. If community college offers an alternative to a life time of debt, you don’t need a Nobel Prize in Economics to see the potential benefit.

The New Opiate of the People

Karl Marx had it wrong. Religion is not the opiate of the people. Ignorance is.

Motivated ignorance” is ruining our political discourse - Vox

Ignorance is the new drug of choice. It validates fear and stokes anger. An ignorant high is all consuming, luring victims into pits of hatred and danger, creating the illusion of righteousness, daring them to do the unimageable. Ignorance presents an excuse–a way out– when the high goes wrong as it almost always does.

Education is the NARCAN for ignorance. Education should be the answer to what ails us as a nation. Yet somehow, it hasn’t.

The life-long teacher in me sees events through the lens of education. This includes the events of not just the past week or past two months, but the past four years. I am not blind to the political, ethical or economic implications of what the nation has seen. I recognize catastrophe for what it is; I know pathology when I see it. But the classroom is my safe space. I keep wondering where education went wrong, and how we fill the gaps that have allowed the country to get to the point where we almost saw an angry mob commit unthinkable acts.

Like almost every teacher I know, I agonize about our part in this. What happened to the ethos and pathos in lessons about slavery, immigration and genocide? What happened to logic in the exploration of scientific theory? What of the history of our democracy? Clearly far too many Americans are operating under the influence of ignorance. Are we to blame?

It’s not that we think we are that; I know better. Other forces are hawking ignorance, denouncing education as the tool of elitists and elitism. But if ignorance is the problem, shouldn’t education provide the solution?

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Schools are supposed to be the universal antidote to ignorance. While they solve for x or conjugate irregular verbs, students are thinking critically, applying acquired skills to new tasks . They should simultaneously understand historic happenings and their places in their own worlds. It’s not self-importance; it’s just our job.

When the dismissal bells ring, students should leave classrooms more able, more confident, more informed than they were when they first took their seats. They should be able to resist ignorance, knowing that what they don’t know can, in fact, hurt them.

How is it then so many Americans are now unable to separate fact from fiction? How is it that so many Americans are now unable to apply patterns of the past to events of the present? How is it that so many Americans are now unwilling to accept proven conclusions of science?

How in God’s name are we in a place where domestic terrorists proudly proclaim racial supremacy clothed in slogans that mock the atrocities of the Holocaust? High on their ignorance, misled by a constant diet of falsehoods and conspiracy theories, these Americans threatened their own government. The paranoia of this ignorance high has led these terrorists to see themselves as both victims and crusaders. The death toll–five– could have been exponentially higher. We got lucky this time.

And while ignorance consumes its victims, dealers perpetuate the cycle. People who should know better–senators, congressmen, even presidents–offer lies and create conflict as a means to their own ends. The courage required to stand against ignorance is lacking in many who could turn this thing around.

I am not smart enough to solve the ignorance epidemic. There are too many forces that lead people into that dark alley where ignorance lurks, feeding on fear and hatred that education could, should dispel. I do know, however, that those we trust to govern should not be profiting from the misery of ignorance and that those who do, should be exposed .

Best Books of 2019 for Entrepreneurs

The immediate danger has passed, but the threat remains. The best that we, as teachers can do, is to keep sharing with students the information and experiences that make them less susceptible to the lure of ignorance. Knowledge is power. Students must know the truth in order to combat the lies. We will read about Anne Frank and Oskar Schindler and John Lewis and Fannie Lou Hamer. We will push the validity of science and the messages in history. We will share the shame of slavery and the heroism of freedom fighters. All in the hopes that our students will not be swallowed by ignorance.

525,600 Minutes

A lot can happen in a year. While it’s hard to say no one saw this coming, a spot at the head of the line for a vaccine wasn’t on my holiday wish list in 2019.

525,600 minutes.

December 2019:

Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know about the virus - The Washington Post

Sure, I read the paper and I heard whispers of a new virus. But it seemed far away, “somewhere else.” I wasn’t worried. We’d done this before: SARS, avian flu, Ebola, H1N1. Deadly, tragic, yes, but always “somewhere else.” Even as China scrambled to construct two new hospitals in two weeks, I was pretty confident in my American arrogance that whatever this virus was, it wasn’t coming to a town near me any time soon.

Well, three months later, the virus was here–and likely had been here for some time. The second week of March — a week that gave us a full moon on Friday the 13th–and Covid was our new reality. Broadway: dark. Sports: Canceled. Restaurants: take out or delivery. Store shelves: empty. Schools: remote. Outside hospital emergency rooms in NYC, ambulances lined up at ER entrances like planes waiting to taxi at JKK. At seven each evening, a sequestered populace emerged on fire escapes, balconies and sidewalks banging on pots and pans in honor of front line medical professionals.

Experts who know so much more about these things than I ever will were telling us about social distancing, masks, flattening the curve of infection. We were learning about intubation, PPE, nasal swabs, essential workers.

Map: Track coronavirus infection rates per capita, county-by-county

Pretty soon, people we knew and loved were sick and some were dying. Yet our president announced Covid was a Democratic hoax, a political ploy created to rob him of a second term. Out of fear of offending the stock market, he perpetuated the fairy tale he knew was untrue: that like a miracle, it [Covid] would just disappear. He promoted false cures and further divided an already self-alienated populace and politicized face coverings. He lost interest in Covid after November 3rd, preferring instead to rant and whine about false claims of voter fraud. Meanwhile, the virus was running roughshod from sea to shining sea.

525,600 minutes.

December 2020:

Millions infected world wide. A mutant strain in South Africa and another in England. More than 320,000 Americans dead. Hospitals in El Paso and Iowa overwhelmed. Lines for food in So-Cal stretching for miles. Giant freezers for the dead in Brooklyn. Front line medical professionals nation wide still reporting shortages of everything from protective gear to ICU beds. Casualties in our black and brown communities have exposed inequities that we had been previously a little too willing, too able to hide. The only good news has been the arrival Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which we hope will help us begin to ease the pain of this crisis. An even in this bright spot, we see people whose distrust of science and government will prevent them from sitting for the shot.

Distance Learning Strategies for Educators: Teaching ADHD Students Remotely

Which brings us to the kids. We have all heard that kids are resilient and I believe this is true. But kids who have lost a parent to the virus, kids who have lost a year of instruction, kids who go to bed hungry will fall farther and farther behind their peers. There are legions of kids without the hardware required, without reliable access to the internet required for remote learning. There are parents who are struggling to keep food on the table. What about our special needs kids whose basic needs aren’t being met? How are we going to prevent the learning gap from widening?

When the crisis passes–and with the vaccine, we can see the distant light at the end of this dangerous tunnel–how will we address the needs of these kids to help them bounce back? How do we sustain the promise of the future for the kids we are leaving behind?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I know we must find solutions.

The next 525,600 minutes will be crucial.

A Million Little Things

A Million Little Things - Wikipedia

A million little things: The number of unpredictable events a teacher must deal with on any given day.

Anyone who has ever been in a classroom—Pre-K through college—can do this math; yes, that includes an English teacher who famously avoids solving for x.

100+ Free School Clipart for your Education Projects | GraphicMama Blog

I can see some of you are not convinced. “Fake news,” you say.

Humor me.   Please.

Before unloading his backpack, Joey announces his hamster, Boo-Boo, died last night.  

Still wearing his jacket, Jeffery remembers he left all his homework at his dad’s house where he spent the weekend. His dad’s house is two hours north.

At 8:05, Debbie bursts into tears because someone posted a picture of her boyfriend with Susie.

At 8:30, Sandy experiences a nosebleed leaving her desk looking like a crime scene.

By nine, all of David’s writing implements have mysteriously vanished.

9:10: the wire on Joe’s braces breaks and he needs orthodontic wax. David is still searching for something to write with.

It’s now 9:20 and Janey returns from the restroom adjacent to your classroom with the news that there has been a plumbing disaster and water and other ‘stuff’ are seeping into the corridor, rapidly approaching your door.

At ten am, a kindergartener realizes he misses mom.  Then, the quiet kid in the back of the room silently vomits at his desk. Half the class is now crying in sympathy. The remainder of the kids are at your side offering helpful solutions.

Third period: Andy’s trusty pen explodes and instantly, he is covered in blue ink.

Recess: Patty sniffs in tears because her besties are no longer her besties and have joined Sarah’s posse.

Every one a true story. The list goes on…and on…and on…

Teacher appreciation clip art free clipart images 6 | Superhero teacher,  Teacher appreciation week themes, Super teacher

By the end of a good school day, teachers have flexed superhero muscles a million times in a million different ways. OK, so maybe I am prone to hyperbole—a literature teacher’s occupational hazard.  But maybe it’s not a million; it might even be more than a million.  Educators all know that  in addition to content area instruction, teachers are stomping out little fires everywhere. Constantly.

“OK, maybe not fake news, but what’s your point?”

The point is that classrooms are not laboratories where variables are controlled. Kids are not test subjects. The laws of physics don’t apply in a middle school. Stuff happens. All. The. Time. Every. Single. Day. And teachers just deal. They get to their lessons and kids learn to factor, to write argumentative essays, to read primary source documents, to play the violin, to master English as a new language. Teachers model kindness and empathy and remain calm in the face of classroom calamities.

No matter how easy it may appear to someone on the outside, teaching is the equivalent of juggling swords, swallowing fire and explaining what it means “to be or not to be” all at the same time.

Circus Acrobat Stock Illustrations – 4,316 Circus Acrobat Stock  Illustrations, Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Now, toss Corona virus into this brew of unstable elements that skilled teachers mix up 180 days a year and there is potential for a theoretical big bang.  Especially when the powers that be—ahem, no names Betsy DeVos and President Trump—have no idea of what it takes to teach and have made it clear they won’t be shackled by science.  

Covid has shown us that we can control only so much. We can do all the right things–mask up, wash up and keep to ourselves– and we can still get this damned bug. The inverse is also true: we can take chances and tempt fate and stay healthy. It is well and good to require masks and to erect physical barriers, to demand social distancing. Under ideal conditions, these precautions might work. But as any teacher will tell you, there are no ideal conditions in any classroom. It’s school.

In the time of Covid, how does a kindergarten teacher comfort a homesick child or a kid who has a meltdown over a dead pet? What about the students who forget their masks or who lose their masks or whose masks break? What about the biohazards that appear out of nowhere?

Teachers have a right to resent political posturing issued by people who know nothing about the realities of daily classroom living.

A million little things and one very big thing.

Thank You 5 Word Art | Squijoo.com

Thank a teacher today. For a million and one little things they are trying to do.

Reopening Schools: Who Do You Trust?

Trust Love Stock Illustrations – 8,046 Trust Love Stock Illustrations,  Vectors & Clipart - Dreamstime

Trust. Abstract. Hard to define. But you know it when you feel it and you surely know  when it’s lacking. Like you trust your mom, but the spokesman hawking the amazing night vision glasses on TV?  Yeah, him, not so much.

As Seen on TV - Night Sight Polarized HD Night Vision Glasses As Seen On TV  - Walmart.com - Walmart.com

 

A few of the people working to reopen classrooms might be like your mom; however, more of them present like grinning infomercial talking heads.  The stakes are high: mom would remind you there’s nothing more important than your health. But the fashionable, $19.99 night vision glasses are scientifically approved, and if you act now–right now— you get an additional pair–for free, shipping and handling extra. Hurry, though, supplies are limited.

 

So, who do you trust?

8 Questions Employers Should Ask About CoronavirusThis country has failed to control the corona virus. That is a statistical fact. In pockets from sea to shining sea, Covid’s wrath is marching on.  It’s harder and harder to dismiss the virus that has claimed 160,000 American lives, especially when one of those lives might be your neighbor, your friend, your brother, your mother.

 

White House response has been loud and glib. Act Presidents Day Coloring Pages | House colouring pages, Inside the white  house, White house washington dcnow. Liberate the economy.  And how has that been working out?  Supplies are limited.  “It’s going to disappear, ” the president said, “One day, it’s like a miracle–it will disappear.” But wait, there’s moreScientifically tested and approved? Oh, that. Sure. Here are a couple of “doctors” describing the hazards of demon sex and face masks. 

We all know what Mom would say. Free Vintage Mother's Day Images | Retro images, Graphics fairy, Clip art  vintage

 

Which brings us to the plans to get kids–and teachers– back into classrooms.

No one denies that kids need the structure of school, that they will benefit from daily instruction delivered by the pros. This is a no-brainer. But managing this safely for all concerned demands more than superficial come-ons.

There is a pandemic that, so far, has not disappeared miraculously. Objectively, we have to admit that the corona virus is currently worsening. Hospitals across the so-called Sunbelt have been overwhelmed. States have scaled back plans for gatherings requiring indoor spaces and imposed travel restrictions on one another. There isn’t a lot that this administration has done to address the crisis that inspires trust. Reopening schools will require honesty, hard work, funding, intelligent design and–yup–science. None of these have been hallmarks of the Trump presidency.

Then there’s Betsy DeVos.  Admittedly, no friend of public schools, here she is Secretary   of Education, making possibly the most far reaching decision about schools nationwide. In July, she and the president insisted that all schools reopen fully: five days a week, full time instruction. Liberate the schools.  They discredit the CDC guidelines as “too tough, too expensive.”  They discount science. Despite the fact that kids are dying and are suffering from a life threatening, Covid-related syndrome, they dangle the dangerous misconception that kids can neither contract nor spread Covid. DeVos inaccurately asserted that children are actually  virus “stoppers.”

Free Vintage Mother's Day Images | Retro images, Graphics fairy, Clip art  vintage Hmmm… Mom?

It’s no wonder that families and staff are gun shy about the whole back to school thing. School personnel have died from the virus contracted in their buildings. Children have, too, and they can unwittingly shed virus at home, potentially infecting vulnerable family members. Questions about social distancing, face masks, quarantines have gone unanswered.

It comes down to trust. So far, this administration hasn’t given us much to go on. The rhetoric, the chaotic response to this crisis, the outright dishonesty haven’t inspired confidence. This isn’t an infomercial; lives at stake.  When the powers that be sound more like the voice hawking scientifically approved night vision glasses than like your mom, the choice is pretty clear.

 

 

 

 

Hey, America, Feelin’ Lucky?

Back to School Items Needed: MissionLink July 7, 2017 | Mission ...  August 1st is the date that my colleagues and I expect “the dreams:” annual nightmares centered on unanticipated observations or classroom tools that morph into neon pool noodles.  Late summer days are getting shorter and engaging ads for backpacks, spiral notebooks and new kicks peal with school bells ringing.   That was then.

 This is now:  Coronavirus: NI schoolchildren to follow 1m social distancing ... Covid-19 occupies us day and night, dominating pre-September angst. 2020  teacher nightmares reflect this new reality: unanticipated PPE failure and hand sanitizer dispensers that morph into pool noodles. For some, strict adherence to new rules will be a matter of life and death. Funding is short and specific plans are shorter still. The prospect of a new school year is fraught with new dangers.

Three years removed from “Labor Day Tuesday,” and I am relieved to be retired, but terrified for my grandchildren and fellow teachers. 

Right now, it feels as if that the safety of my beloved family and friends has been left to luck. They are being offered up as COVID bait in a dangerous gamble overseen by a nasty pit boss whose primary motive is for the house to win at all costs. 

Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR

                                                                                       Feelin’ lucky?

 

 

Confirmed cases are now on the rise in 40 of the 50 states.  Florida saw a record number of new Covid infections in 24 hours. Doctors reporting from Houston describe hospitals reaching the tipping point. In virus hot spots, lines for tests stretch for miles and people wait a week or more for results.    Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR

                                                                                Still feelin’ lucky?

 

It's going to disappear': Trump's changing tone on coronavirus ...  Yet, the president dismisses science and mocks one of the nation’s most respected infectious disease specialists.  The president demanded–on Twitter, of course– that the CDC lower the standards for school safety because what was asked was “very tough and very expensive.”   Guess he is feelin’ lucky, huh?

The Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, insists that kids return to classrooms, but offers What Betsy DeVos wishes she said at her confirmation hearing - Axios  no firm plans because she said, “You can’t plan for something that hasn’t happened yet.”  She asserts reopening schools is a simple matter of hygiene. Simple hygiene?  Good luck with that.

 

Sorry, but there is nothing simple about returning to classrooms.  Nor should it be left to luck. There is too much we don’t know about this virus. In NY, for instance, we saw a cluster of kids– who tested positive for Covid– experience life threatening inflammatory system responses. Do we willingly expose kids to this possibility when we know next to nothing about it?

And what about the adults? Should teachers be expected to risk their own lives? Before you say that this is an overstatement, look at the stats.  More than 140,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid since March, including school employees from NYC to rural Arizona.  Should districts reserve beds and ventilators for school staff because their luck might run out?

Covid-19 | New Scientist And this doesn’t even address the families who live in multi-generational households. Will the virus hitch a ride on those new backpacks and notebooks? Hope Grandma is feelin’ lucky.

 

There are so many questions we just can’t answer. School safety requires more than luck. It demands meticulous planning and jackpot level funding. Federal response so far gives us neither planning nor funding.

The question we have to all ask ourselves is this: are we feelin’ lucky?  Luck, Fortune, and Chance : TED Radio Hour : NPR

 

 

To Class of 2020

June 2001 - Roman Catholic Saints Calendar  Back in 2001, my students invited me to give the commencement address at the high school where I then worked. Finding the right words wasn’t easy, but in the end, my advice was pretty generic: take risks, be the best version of yourself, find ways to make the world a better place.  

In June of ’01,  9/11 was still more than two months away, the US wasn’t engaged in a two-front war in the Middle East, no one forecast the Great Recession. And a pandemic? What’s that?

Class of 2020 Graduation Cap Pin | PinMart  For the Class of 2020, though, there will be no processions, no group hugs, few of the rites of  closure associated with commencement. They will be moving the tassels on their mortarboards in the same isolation in which they finished spring instruction.

Many of our community college students are among those accepting diplomas in cyber space. Their plans vary. For some, the next stop was to have been the workplace. Others had secured transfer spots at four year colleges around the country. And now?  They are all in this vacuum of uncertainty.

What advice can we offer them?  Poets&Quants | The Coronavirus Commencements: MBAs Celebrate In ...

  1. Though you are accepting your credentials in quarantine, you are not alone. The people in your lives who have supported you are still here, proud of what you have accomplished. Let them share this milestone. Send photos. Video chat.  Accept congratulations and encouragement.
  2. A pandemic is new, but commencement is always an event of contradictions: an ending that is called a beginning. You are simultaneously thrilled and terrified, exhilarated and exhausted, confident and cautious. Understand that your experience–amplified in 2020– is at once singular and collective. Embrace your emotions as the fuel you need to take your next steps.
  3.  Anticipated access may be blocked right now, but new entrances are opening every day. Find your own way into your future. That will look different for each of you and will require effort and thought, but look at what you have already achieved; with work and creativity, you can do this.
  4.  And remember, the world needs you right now. No pressure, but you and your classmates represent hope. In what you have learned about your chosen field, about the past and present, about yourselves, see optimism, see potential, see solutions. We see those things and have high expectations for you.
  5.  Finally, trite as it all sounds, define your success in human terms, by the people you love who love you back. Be the best version of yourselves. Fear no mistake. Resolve to do one thing each day to improve the world you inhabit.

 

Class of 2020: What We Lost in the Abrupt End to College | TimeTo the Class of 2020, you will have stories to tell. You will face obstacles and opportunities no other class has seen. But you got this. Do what you have to do and do it well.