Category Archives: Personal Passions, Interests and Stories

Is Your School Producing “Copy and Paste” Kids?

Something special happened to me last week, y’all:  I was at school late on Wednesday trying to get myself above water after three days with a brand new group of sixth graders.  I was equal parts exhausted and frustrated.  Schedules were wonky, the air conditioning in my room wasn’t working, and I had a thousand signed parent information forms to file.

That’s when Stephen walked in.  

He’s a senior in college now.  Going to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — one of the toughest schools in our state to get into. Majoring in finance and set to make a bazillion dollars over the course of his life.

But he’s got the same energy and spirit and smile that he had when he was my student almost a decade ago.  A kinetic energy.  Constantly moving.  Constantly thinking.  Constantly riffing on ideas and finding humor in situations.  Constantly questioning — questioning rules and limits and expectations and ideas and people.

I’ve always loved that energy and spirit — and I knew it would make Stephen remarkably successful someday.  But it didn’t make him all that successful in school.  Instead, it got him in a ton of trouble with teachers who didn’t see value in a kid who couldn’t sit still and who was just as likely to blurt out 37 times a class period as he was to turn in a piece of work that showed a depth of thinking far and beyond grade level expectations.

I watched teachers try to crush Stephen — and it broke my heart.

They’d sign his behavior tracker for talking out of turn.  They’d call him out in front of everyone when he wasn’t sitting down.  They’d grumble ABOUT him and grumble AT him, wishing that he would “just follow the rules.”  I’d point out that everything that he’d blurt out in class was brilliant and they’d point out that blurting is disruptive and disruptive kids should be punished.

One woman was more than a little open about her dislike for Stephen, going as far as to argue that tolerating his actions would send the wrong message to all of the rest of our students about “what is acceptable and what is unacceptable” in school.  To her, he was intolerable — and she wasn’t willing to apologize for her opinion.

That sucks, doesn’t it?

But it’s a sad fact:  Kids who don’t conform — who aren’t quiet and well prepared every day and willing to raise their hands and take their turns and walk in straight lines — can become outcasts in our buildings pretty darn quickly.

I asked Stephen if he remembered the teachers who had such antipathy for him — and more importantly, if their actions had left him with a bad taste for schools.  He laughed.  Wanted to know WHICH teachers I was talking about.  Turns out that in Stephen’s mind, MOST teachers had a sense of antipathy for him!

And then he shared a piece of slam poetry with me describing his take on his time in classrooms of all shapes and sizes.  His argument:  School is mostly a joke.  A trial.  A test of conformity instead of creativity.  Some people commit to playing the game and they  “succeed” — if obediently producing and repeating thoughts, meeting other people’s expectations, and answering other people’s questions is what you mean by “being successful.”

Stephen wasn’t buying it.  Never was.

Here’s what he wrote*:

COPY AND PASTE

Who are you?

If you answered, they wouldn’t listen

You’re given your name and identification through the perpetual system

Where you’re not you, you don’t exist, and you have no personality

You’re nothing but a name on a piece of paper, a product of formality

For individuality is the fatality

Of conformity’s brutality, it’s the new reality

Where they don’t care about your past, present, future, and they don’t know your face

They just do their very frickin’ best to press copy and paste

To breed and grow you like the rest, what they believe works the best

But nevertheless this is why we get depressed

Because our creativity’s suppressed, our ingenuity oppressed

Because you’re not going anywhere if you don’t know how to test

Now, I must confess, this is a particular skillset that I possess, I study a little less, and get lucky when I guess, but nevertheless I still don’t believe we should attest our success

To our ability to retain and return the bullshit facts that we learn about things we don’t care about – and in ten years won’t know about – but I digress

Learn to love powerpoints, forget about hands-on

Turn on the radio, you’ll keep hearing the same damn song

The world’s foundation is falling, we have nothing to stand on

When everything you are lies in a bubbled-in scantron

This is our handicap, not just something to rant on

If they heard my words they’d laugh hand a tampon

Some of you might too, because you’ve already been stamped on

Our anthem is void, it’s now nothing but a phantom

Damn son, you may say, you seem pretty upset, I say

Upset? I’m frickin’ livid, given the world in which we’re livin’

Where we’re missin’ the frickin’ point, back practicing fast facts and cold religion

Where we’re told not to speak and only to listen,

Where teachers laugh at unique ideas, diss ‘em and dismiss them,

Where school isn’t a place of learning, it’s a clone factory and prison

Where we all get tested under the same curriculum

The rules have been set for you, and you better learn to stick to them

It simply makes me sick, we’re replicated and sent through the reticulum

You try to picket the system? Ridiculous, that’s it, your done

Just find the sum, write the essay, circle C, prepare for test day

Busy work and study dates, up until we graduate

But my friends, that’s not the end, only one cycle complete

Go back to school, go back to rules, apply, dry, rinse, repeat

And then get a job, stabilize, work every day from 9 to 5

Then go home to your kids and wife, don’t disagree, it causes fights

How has it ended up where we all live the same life?

It’s because we’re taught how to find x, and told not to ask y

I couldn’t stress how much potential we waste

When we highlight, right-click, and select copy and paste

When we generalize instead of work case by case

This will be the downfall of the human race

I mean, sure we’ll survive, maybe we’ll even evolve

But if you don’t live your own life, did you really live at all?

Learn your lesson, society, you’ve really dropped the ball

You can either pick yourself up, or continue to fall

But you’ve committed an unspeakable sin, murder in the first degree

For you killed individuality when you pressed “control c, control v”

Stephen told me that he’d written his poem for a college class.  Just something that he’d whipped up because he was tired of the parade of PowerPoint presentations that substitute as learning products in class after class, year after year.  He figured he’d mix things up a bit.  Challenge the norm and watch what happened next.

#awesome

As he recited it for me with all of the cadence and rhythm and emotion that defines a master poet and artist, I couldn’t help but wonder what his university classmates and professor thought when he stood in front of them “presenting” a product that they’d probably never seen before.  Did they respect the risk that he took?  Admire his willingness to stand out — or maybe even apart — from them?  Did they see his choice as foolish — why poetry when PowerPoint was good enough?  Did they knock points off of his grade because he didn’t do what was asked of him?

I also couldn’t help but wonder what the teachers who had tried to squeeze him into their boxes so many years ago would have thought of his poem.  Would they have finally seen him as a deep thinker?  A kid with opinions worth listening to?  A person of reason and rationale instead of as a person who just couldn’t follow the rules?   Or would they have been offended, realizing that he was poking fun at the traditional classrooms they’d created?

But most importantly, I couldn’t help to wonder if we are ever going to get to the point where our schools value something other than creating copy and paste kids.

That’s a question worth asking — and I’m so glad that Stephen is willing to ask it.

#wrestlewithTHATchat

 

*I’ve asked Stephen to record himself reading this for all y’all, Radical Nation.  Leave him a comment down below to let him know how much you would dig that.  I don’t think he realizes how powerful his words can be!


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Can the Quirky Kid Thrive in Our Schools?

Too Many Kids ALREADY Hate School.

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

 

How Uncomfortable Do Your Learning Spaces Make You Feel?

A really interesting email landed in my inbox this week.

It came from someone who described themselves as a long time follower of my Tweets and reader of my blog.  They said something that caught me a bit off guard:

“I want you to know that your Tweets about things like our current President’s policies and your posts about climate change or how transgender students and Muslims are becoming targets make me feel really uncomfortable.  I wish you’d just stick to sharing things that I can use in my classroom rather than sharing things that hint at your political viewpoints.”

I wasn’t TOO surprised to hear those thoughts.  In fact, I’ve had two other really close friends tell me that they thought I was making a mistake by tackling “those kind of issues” in my Tweets and my blog entries.  Both agreed that my posts were powerful and important and well-reasoned — but both also told me that I’d have WAY better luck with building an audience and finding potential consulting clients if I avoided anything that could be perceived as controversial.

And I really DO write a lot about topics that can be perceived as controversial.

Here’s the posts the author of the email that sparked this bit is talking about:

Climate Deniers Sending Sketchy Science to Every Public School Teacher

After _______, What’s Our Role in Promoting Peace?

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?

Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids Who are Different?

#Ferguson

As I tried to figure out how to reply to the email, a thousand different thoughts ran through my head.  

For me, writing about controversial issues is, in many ways, a professional obligation.  We DO have gay and Muslim and transgender kids in our classrooms and we DO live in a world where those kids are being bombarded by messages that they aren’t the equals of people who lead lives that fit into more traditional norms and social expectations.  By speaking out, I’m hoping to give language to every teacher and voice to EVERY kid.  And if you can’t get behind the notion that EVERY kid — especially those from groups that are being actively marginalized by our society — deserves to hear their teachers speaking out on their behalf, I’m not sure that we will ever be able to get along.

#sorry

#notsorry

I also thought about the fact that everything that I write and share on this blog and in my Twitterstream is for ME.  

I’m jazzed that other people learn from me and find the content that I share to be useful and helpful and energizing — but that’s not my primary goal.  My primary goal is to reflect — and reflection is personal.  My buddies are right:  If I’m trying to build a client base or a bigger audience, then I’d be far more filtered about what I share with you.  The needs and interests of my audience would take precedence over my own needs and interests.  But I’m not trying to use this space to build a client base or a bigger overall audience.  I’m using this space to wrestle with ideas that move me.

What does that mean for the people who DO follow me?  You’ve got a decision to make:  If reading posts every now and then about climate science or institutional racism or the responsibilities that teachers have to gay and transgender students rubs you the wrong way, mash the “unfollow” button.

That’s the beauty of the world we live in. You really CAN personalize the streams of information that are coming at you.  You really CAN filter out voices that bother you.

What you CAN’T do is control the content and/or ideas being shared by individual authors.  The power that creators have is choice over what they share.  The power that followers have is choice over who they follow.  As a creator, I’m comfortable with what I’m sharing because it moves ME deeply and that’s my goal for participating in these spaces.  If people decide to walk away from the content that I’m sharing because they don’t see value or purpose in it, I won’t be hurt.  That’s how information streams work in today’s day and age.

My final reply, though, took a different tack.  I decided to nudge my reader around the idea of “feeling comfortable.”  Here’s what I wrote:

So I’ve been thinking a lot about your email today and I want to push you for a minute.  You mentioned that my posts lately have made you feel uncomfortable.

Isn’t that a good thing?  Doesn’t the best learning and thinking and reflection happen when we feel uncomfortable?  Isn’t that why we try to push kids “out of their comfort zones?”

I get that sometimes my posts don’t solve an immediate problem for you.  I hear you when you say that what you most want out of your learning spaces are materials and/or ideas that you can implement tomorrow.  And if that’s your only goal, I’m probably not the right guy to follow.

But I’d encourage you to stick around and get comfortable being uncomfortable!  While it’s POSSIBLE to surround ourselves with friendly ideas that fix problems, I’m not sure that it’s intellectually healthy to do so.  Growth comes when we are forced to wrestle with ideas that we don’t agree with.  That’s impossible to do when we filter sources of discomfort straight out of our information streams.

So what about YOUR information streams?  Do they ever make you feel uncomfortable?

I’d argue that you are missing out if they don’t.

#trudatchat


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In One Word, I Will Challenge.

Three Tips for Novice Bloggers.

Do We Value People, or Just the Content they Share?

 

 

 

 

Climate Deniers Sending Sketchy Science to EVERY Public School Science Teacher in America

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bit about a book filled with sketchy science titled  Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming that showed up in my school mailbox.

My thinking was that the book had been dropped there by a parent, colleague or community member who was opposed to my argument that teaching science had become a form of political bloodsport.

But the truth is that my book came from a far scarier source: It was sent to me directly by the Heartland Institute — a group heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry that actively questions climate science.

And what’s even scarier is that the Heartland Institute has just started a campaign to send a copy of this book to EVERY science teacher America’s public schools.

The authors of the book and the leaders of the Heartland Institute want teachers to “consider the possibility” that climate science is not settled, which is simply not true.  They also argue that even if human activity is causing climate change, it “would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

#sheeshchat

Now I know what you are thinking:  Why are you still writing about this, Bill?  We want you to point us to some really great tech tools or to share a few free lessons with us.  We don’t want political mumbo-jumbo about climate science.

Here’s why I’m still writing about it:  If you are a teacher or a school leader in a public school in America, these books are going to start to roll through your schoolhouse doors en masse over the next few weeks.

Some of your teachers will see right through the title and chuck their copy straight into the trash where it belongs.  But some will fail to fact check the source and fall for the fake science that fills its pages.  Then, they will start pushing the flawed notion that the science around climate change really isn’t settled yet to the kids sitting in your classrooms.

That ought to concern everyone in Radical Nation.  As my buddy Joe Henderson — who has learned a ton on this issue from his colleague Randall Curran — pointed out to me recently:

“1. A sound climate science education is so basic for understanding the world we live in that students are entitled to it.

2. Such an education is also a fundamental aspect of civic education, because it is foundational to the most consequential collective decision humanity has ever faced.”

So what should your next steps be?  

If you are a principal, my argument is that these books should never make it into the mailboxes of your classroom teachers.  Find them and filter them out.  Can you REALLY defend a decision to place a piece of political propaganda from a group funded by the fossil fuel industry in front of the people who are supposed to be educating the kids in your classrooms?

If you are not comfortable with filtering mail sent to your teachers, AT LEAST point your teachers to this PBS article detailing the Heartland Institute’s efforts or to my recent bit teasing out the truth about just who Heartland is.  While teachers should do this leg work on their own whether you provide them with context or not, the truth is that we are flat slammed with tasks to complete in any given day, so falling for pseudo-science that lands in our mailboxes is more common than you might think.

And if you aren’t comfortable getting involved, AT LEAST make sure that the people in your district who are responsible for science instruction and curricular decisions are aware of what’s going on.  My guess is that they will want to send out some kind of “Heads Up” email that reminds teachers of just what your curricula says about teaching climate change and/or start a conversation with department chairs about how to address these new books popping up on campuses across your county.

Whatever you do, do something.  We can’t just ignore a paid political attempt to influence the thinking of thousands of teachers around the most important issue facing our planet.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport?

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

 

More on Teaching Science and Political Bloodsport.

So something REALLY interesting happened this morning:  I found a brand spanking new copy of Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming in my school mailbox:

That’s a HECK of a coincidence, isn’t it?  

LAST week, I write a post about the lunacy of EPA Director Scott Pruitt — who somehow doesn’t believe that carbon emissions are leading to climate change — and THIS week, someone just so happens to drop a copy of a text designed to eviscerate climate science into my mailbox.

I’m not a big believer in coincidences, though.  

My guess:  SOMEONE — a colleague, a parent, someone from the broader community that just so happens to read my blog — decided that I needed to broaden my views on the science behind climate change.

I have NO idea who sent me the book, but I DO have a few choice words for them.  Here they are:

The Heartland Institute — the group responsible for publishing this book — has taken a TON of money from the fossil fuel industry, including from the Koch Brothers AND Exxon Mobil.  Don’t you think that cheapens the value of ANYTHING inside this book?  Can you REALLY believe that research funded by the fossil fuel industry is going to tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth about climate change?

Need more proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Then whaddya’ think about the fact that they have an entire line item in their annual budget — to the tune of $200,000 — to develop a curriculum aimed at public schools that is designed to “cast doubt on mainstream climate science?”

Need MORE proof that the Heartland Institute is a heavily biased organization?  Try this on for size:  This is the SAME group that created a billboard that compared people who believe in climate change to the Unabomber — and who had ANOTHER billboard ready to go that substituted Osama Bin Laden for the Unabomber.

Still not convinced?  Then what would you say if you found out that the “climate experts” who wrote the book that you sent me were on Heartland’s payroll, making anywhere from $5,000 to $11,000 per month?  Are you REALLY going to believe that guys who are being paid THAT much cash are unbiased and impartial observers that are giving us the whole truth and the nothing but the truth?

Heck — I’d say darn near anything if you want to pay me $11 K per MONTH.  That’s more than double my teaching salary.

Want me to keep going?  These are the same yeah-hoos who were defending Big Tobacco back in the 1990s, arguing that the damage done by smoking — both through first and second hand smoke — were completely overblown.

Seriously.  They said smoking wasn’t all that bad.

#sheeshchat

Now, needless to say, I’m peeved.

This “drive-by-booking” was a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post.  Folks who are living in the Breitbart Bubble — mainlining Alex Jones for hours every day while they scroll through their hyper-partisan Facebook pages — are actively trying to shape the conversations that our kids are having about science by shouting louder than anyone who sits squarely in the mainstream.

That’s frightening, y’all.  

And the only way that we fix it is by pushing back.  Make sure that the science teachers in your lives know that you stand for objective science built on fact and not bought by people like the Koch Brothers, Exxon and the Heartland Institute.  Be louder than the people who have learned that shouting every time a teacher mentions “evolution” or “natural selection” or “global warming” is the best way to stifle facts and to advance a fringe agenda.

Most importantly, quit pretending that this isn’t a big deal — because it is.

I am a real science teacher working in a real science classroom and I hesitate every time I talk about these topics because I know that I’m likely to take more than a little criticism.  I can’t be the only one, can I?

And let’s quit pretending that our kids don’t need to learn that there are TONS of organizations just like the Heartland Institute that are trying to “muddy the waters” on important scientific issues.  Their motives are shady on a good day.  They represent powerful, wealthy interests that stand to lose a lot if “the truth” comes out.

Every kid in every classroom should be taught to question every piece of science published on controversial issues — and to identify the questionable organizations producing that science.  It didn’t take me long to figure out that the Heartland Institute was biased times ten.  It shouldn’t take kids long to figure that out, either.

#trudatchat

(A final PS to my anonymous, book loving, climate-change denying friendNo matter what the Heartland Institute says, most practicing climate scientists really DO believe that carbon emissions are causing climate change.  There’s no “scientific dispute” about any of this.

And even if you DON’T believe in climate change, can you at LEAST agree that carbon emissions are causing extreme pollution?  

If not, I’ve got a nice condo in Beijing I’d like to sell you.)  


Related Radical Reads:

When Did Teaching Science Become Political Bloodsport

 

 

When Did Teaching Science Become Political a Blood Sport?

Did you see what Scott Pruitt, the Chief Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency said today?

Despite almost a century’s worth of scientific evidence, the consensus of the vast majority of the scientific community, and the scientific opinion of national groups like NOAA and NASA, he made the argument that carbon dioxide ISN’T a primary contributor to global warming.

Pruitt’s argument aligns nicely with the argument of the fossil fuel industry — who he has a long history of supporting at all costs.  “I think that measuring with precision human activity on climate is something very challenging to do,” he said.  “And there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of the impact, so no, I would not agree that it is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

Now, Pruitt is definitely in the minority here:  There’s NOT “tremendous disagreement” about the impact that carbon dioxide is having on our climate.

Need proof?  Then check out the Climate Change Consensus page on NASA’s website.  You’ll find that:

  • 97 percent of actively publishing climate scientists believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 18 scientific associations — people like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America — believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • 11 international science academies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.
  • US Governmental Agencies — INCLUDING Pruitt’s EPA — and other international governmental bodies believe that human activities are having a negative impact on our climate.

So you can either believe the guy who has taken thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations from energy companies and their Political Action Committees OR you can believe thousands upon thousands of scientists who have spent their entire careers researching this issue.

This should make for a PERFECT lesson in my sixth grade science classroom, y’all.  

My standards require that I teach the carbon cycle — which includes the impact that excess combustion (think burning coal to create electricity and oil and gas to power vehicles) has had on the balance of carbon in our atmosphere AND that I teach students how to “distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.”

Think about that for a minute.  Climate change is very public example of how an imbalance in the carbon cycle is having an impact on our day-to-day lives.  More importantly, Pruitt’s statements are a very public example of a place where students can distinguish between facts, reasoned judgment based on research and speculation.  I’d LOVE to let them decide whether or not Pruitt’s argument is believable.

Isn’t that EXACTLY the kind of lesson that today’s students need to learn if they are ever going to be scientifically literate?

After all, we live in a world where politicians let donations govern their decisions — and those decisions end up governing our lives.  We also live in a world where the value of scientific research is regularly denigrated if it stands in opposition to positions that are going to cost businesses money or politicians donations.  Lobbyists whisper in the ear of guys like Pruitt, making promises in order to gain influence.  If kids aren’t prepared to recognize those conflicts of interest and aren’t able to interpret the meaning of scientific findings when making personal decisions about who to support, our planet is screwed.

But here’s the thing:  I won’t mention Pruitt’s comments to my class at all.  

Why?  Because over the past decade — ever since Al Gore started talking about our world’s Inconvenient Truth — I’ve been buried time and again by complaints from angry parents who ALSO believe that there is “tremendous disagreement” over the role that carbon dioxide plays in our changing climate.

It’s the exact same criticism that I get when I talk about natural selection or evolution — topics that are ALSO in my required curriculum AND scientifically settled, but widely panned by a small handful of people in America.

Most of the complaints that I get parrot talking points that you hear on radio programs hosted by guys like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  People suggest that “I’m teaching climate science as if it is fact instead of opinion.”  They argue that, like most public school teachers, I am a part of a “left-wing conspiracy to brainwash children.”  And they ask if I’m going to bother teaching both sides of the story, even when there really AREN’T two sides to any of these stories.

Think about how frightening this all is.  

Essentially, I’m admitting to you that I shy away from introducing my students to scientific fact simply because I know that there’s a good chance that I’ll be attacked when I do.  Maybe I should be ashamed of that.  Maybe I should teach controversial topics no matter how much flak I’m likely to take.  Maybe I’m failing my kids and my community by keeping silent even in a situation where silence isn’t warranted.

But it’s just not that easy.  

Somehow, teaching science became political blood sport — and sometimes, I just don’t have the energy to fight.