The Colin Kaepernick/NIKE Story a Teachable Moment for Educators!

There is an important and powerful message for educators in the Colin Kaepernick/NIKE Story; and that is if you work with an open and giving heart, everything will turn out fine.

My lesson objectives take-aways from the Colin Kaepernick/NIKE story are:

First, disappointment is often linked to a wonderful and profound reappointment; that everything happening to you, even if it feels ‘bad’ in the moment, is supposed to happen. I suspect that in some quiet and alone moments, Mr. Kaepernick thinks about the joys of playing football; something that he is gifted and talented to do at the highest and most competitive level. The key is to be true to your life’s calling, and to a cause that takes you out of your zone of material and emotional comfort. For a life lived in fear that you will be denied something ‘shinny’, is a kind of hell. You ask yourself: “What will become of my life, will these ‘shinny’ things be taken away, or withheld from me?” And yet being a slave to them is not really having a life at all.

Second, a lesson in scholar-athleticism is being displayed by Kaepernick; as it has also been recently represented so well by LeBron James in building a school. It’s not, as some coaches, student athletes, and sadly often parents, mistakenly believe to be only about: ‘having the (sadly too often minimum) passing grades for participation’. Scholar-Athleticism is also about developing and displaying character, a compassionate concern for people and issues who cry out for a champion to champion their struggles with the unfair obstacles of life. The great myth that professional athletes like Colin Kaepernick are exposing and destroying; is that there is something called “Sports”; and then there is something allegedly unrelated called “Politics”!

Third, for those high school economics teachers, this is a perfect ‘lesson starter’ to teach how capitalism can ‘brilliantly’ (that’s brilliance, not ethically moral), turn even protest into profit. One of many ‘interesting’ things about capitalism Karl Marx did not foresee. (And yes, in many high schools both regular and AP economics are offered as courses, is that true in your child’s high school? Just asking for a friend.)

Fourth, the wonderful rewards of study, planning, research, and then acting. These three procedural-process, conceptual and behavioral skills are what we want every high school student to graduate having them secured in their ‘life-long-learning tool box’. This was not an impulsive move for NIKE, and it seems ‘the plan’ was in the ‘works’ for a long time. Clearly, NIKE has done its marketing research, and concluded that going forward with people like the two pitiful plantationeers Jerry Jones (Owner Dallas Cowboys) and Donald Trump (Unfit POTUS), was a losing long-term market building strategy. Trump’s core supporters; the old, unreflecting and angry (as opposed to the young and more flexible and thoughtful), are dying off as they represent a shrinking demographic, they either don’t buy NIKE, or won’t be able to buy NIKE products because Trumps policies are impoverishing them.

Fifth: How many times in a principal’s career will they need to have a ‘bad timing’ conversation-lesson with a student in their office? NIKE’s timing was perfect here, as the NFL/NCAA college football season has just started, and sponsorship contracts stretch far into the future; which means they have analyzed and concluded that the upset members of the public will have ‘short attention spans’ (or die off); and so once the ‘Tide’ and other teams get rolling, the fans will focus on what is really important, not the ‘swoosh’ symbols on the athlete’s uniforms, but rather on the games themselves!

And lesson #6: “I need to ‘like’ that teacher, that teacher’s ‘style’, in order to learn the lesson, or to do well in that class”; sound familiar middle-high school principals? Your ‘help’, what you may need, may not show up in the ‘package’ you have designed in your mind! We should not live in presumed anticipation or prejudge from whence our help and support will arrive; it may not be the person(s) or places you assume who will, ‘bring it’! Perhaps your help won’t look like, and/or how you think it should look. I mean like NIKE, really? NIKE promoting a hero advocate of Black lives having meaning and mattering in this nation, who knew! The interesting thing about a book authorship journey, is that you never know who and how the book will connect you to people. I spend some wonderful moments each day communicating with new and interesting people in person, by phone and writing, from all over the world. You never know who will come ‘knocking’; but like some of my 1950’s Brooklyn elders would say: “Sometimes, you just have to throw a ‘rent party’ and see who shows up!” NIKE showed up, and so let them dance!

Finally, lesson #7: Educators, if we remain brave and true to our calling of serving the disenfranchised, disentitled and disregarded children of our world, we may at times be disappointed, feel abandon and/or marginalized, we may suffer, and we may even appear to lose, but we will not fail. If this divine promise is not true, then the entire transcendent ‘arc of justice and goodness’ of the universe, is also untrue; and if that is so, then we are doomed anyway to the eternal rule of evil; and so why not: Just Keep Doing It on behalf of our children!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

Yes, I think we should arm teachers!

I understand that our Secretary of Education, Ms. Betsy DeVos would like to allocate funding to school districts so that they can arm teachers with deadly force weapons.
Was she misquoted, or a victim of Russian fake news ‘hackers’? As a professional educator, I am always searching for a way to correct misunderstandings.

And so, I think that maybe she meant something different, perhaps she was speaking in a metaphorical context, meaning something more positive when she said, “arm teachers”; after all no thoughtful, serious and experienced educator would suggest giving school teachers guns. And that is because our ‘professional memory’ allows us to envision all the terribly tragic things that could go wrong. There is some historical sense-making for designating the areas in and around schools: ‘gun free zones’, except for trained law enforcement personnel.

This is the classic wrong response to a problem by the faux ‘re(de)form’ crowd. Like: if you can’t improve a school, just close it. And then move the underperforming children to another school building without improving their academic performance. This is what you get when you put an amateur in charge of a classroom, school, district or governmental education department; wrongly giving them a ‘positional-power’, that really requires the knowledge and expertise of a professional.

But make no mistake about it, particularly for those of us who have chosen to spend our professional lives working in Title 1, urban and rural poor schools, with children of color, with poor children of any color; fighting for these children, and against the societal forces (inside and outside of the school system), that want to deny them a quality education, it has been something like a ‘war’! And for those reasons then yes, I think that we should arm our teachers with:

• Adequate supplies so that they don’t have to take money from their already insufficient and inadequate paychecks to purchase classroom materials, and student educational, health and grooming supplies.

• The necessary student and instructor technology equipment and technical support that would make teaching and learning more enjoyable and successful.

• A housing-homesteading subsidy program to bring them within some reasonable range of professional pay that reflects their importance to our society. And it would be nice, a community asset, and inspiring to students, if teachers, particularly in many of our urban school districts, could afford to live where they teach.

• Free ridership on public transportation (this would help with traffic congestion and reduce the negative stress on our environment and ultimately on our health).

• Schools fully staffed with guidance counselors, clinical psychologists and social workers; and school-community-based organizations partnerships that could provide greater social support services.

• Certified Elementary Reading Specialist at the middle school level. (I found as a superintendent that my request in our Readers to Leaders Program to have middle schoolers read: ‘Lord of the Flies’ was problematic because too many of the students could not read the words “Lord” or “Flies”; and so that’s when I decided to send elementary reading teachers into the middle schools!)

• More full inclusion classroom based Behavioral Modification Specialist (not necessarily linked to an IEP), English Language Learners Dual Language Immersion Paraprofessionals, and classroom Educational Support Paraprofessionals (again, not just for students with IEP’s).

• A teacher instructional support center and full-time instructional coaches in every school. (The number of coaches based on a school’s Title 1 status, and the number of 1-3 years of teaching staff members).

• Smart, flexible and strategic approaches to professional development that can respond to the individual teacher’s level of need, skill and ability.

• Every K-8 classroom (and high school ELA classes) with a ‘leveled’ in school reading and take home lending classroom library.

• A full service (for parents and students) school-based medical, dental, (eye exam to glasses) ophthalmological services, and clinical psychological counseling, clinic.

• An end to the silly, uninformed and unprofessional “check-off” boxes classroom teacher observation forms; professionally develop principals to write serious and thoughtful narrative lesson plan-presentation observations. And the necessary complementing instructional coaching follow-up procedures.

• Districts and Schools that allocate the resources to close the: “parent resource and student access to opportunity gap”.

• A Better first year (like a professional learning internship e.g. medical doctor residencies) teacher mentoring-support program, rather than the present “jump in, sink or swim” system we presently use with first year teachers. (Yes, I am proposing the radical idea that first year teachers ‘team-teach’ for a year with an experienced master-proficient teacher. And although expensive in the beginning, my hypothesis, is that over time this approach would be more cost-effective then the price we pay, educationally and financially, for our present annual teacher staffing ‘churn-over’ system).

• More teacher collaborative planning time; for team-taught SPED/Regular ED inclusion classes, across classes, subject areas and departments.

• A system of ethical and performance standards that could quickly, and cost effectively remove the incompetent, the criminal, the emotionally and morally unfit, and the ‘immune’ to professional development ineffective; as the pay of the remaining good practitioners is raised dramatically. This could have the effect of attracting higher GPA capable college undergraduates into pursing an education major, as well as attracting more Science, Mathematics, Computer science, and Foreign Language majors to the field of K-12 education.

• Well stocked and budgetarily supported school libraries, staffed with a licensed school librarian.

• A professionally trained and specialized Substitute Teacher Corps (and program). The present system in most districts leads to: ‘coverage teacher burnout’ and missed lesson planning time, the loss of student learning time and quality, and the deterioration of discipline conditions in schools.

• Art, music (vocal-instrumental), dance, drama programs and teachers in every school.

• Serious high school summer school, not the present “if they have a pulse, pass them!” credit recovery a.k.a. ‘credit giveaway’ programs.

• A free lunch, since public schools throw away tons of edible food every day any way!

• An end to the misuse of standardized testing. That means teachers being able to use standardized learning assessment exams for their true educational purposes; that is to improve instructional practices, and raise student academic achievement.

• K-8 dedicated Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) laboratories and certified teachers.

• After school, weekend, school break and summer enrichment and tutorial programs that compliment, reinforce and strengthen classroom learning.

• Visionary and ethically strong Principals, who are instructional leaders, ‘chief professional developers’, good operational managers, thoughtful and strategic planners; and who are also able to create a safe and respectful school environment where teaching and learning can go forward in the most positive and productive way.

• Having, “educational decision-makers”, on the national, state and local levels who actually know and understand what the heck they are doing!

Teaching is hard enough, and so don’t give teachers the added responsibility of having to inflict deadly force on an intruder; or, by accident shoot an innocent parent who mistakenly got lost on their way from a parent conference to the school building front door exit!
Rather, arm them with: effective district and school based leaders, a positive and peaceful school environment, professional knowledge, good methodological coaching, better and focused instructional professional development and the resources to inspire the life, light and love of learning in their students.

And just an interesting life-long working hypothesis of mine; growing more and more effective K-12 schools, by improving the quality of teaching and the teaching profession, might actually succeed in producing more young people who as students or as adults, don’t become the kind of people who want to go into a school (or anywhere else), and shoot other human beings.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

Support Bill for New Gifted and Talented Programs

A new bill could throw a lifeline to large numbers of underrecognized and underserved NYC students. It requires the NYC Department of Education to create more Gifted and Talented (G&T) programs and classes and New York parents need to contact their state senators right away to urge them to support it.

As a former NYC Superintendent, I expanded G&T classes in my district. An anxious bureaucrat from the central office called me: “You can’t just open up G&T classes on your own,” he said. “Really?” I feigned ignorant surprise: “I did not know that. If you could send me the regulation that restricts the expansion of G&T classes, it would be helpful when I explain to the parents in the new G&T schools why I must dismantle their G&T classes!” It’s 2018, and I am still waiting for that regulation memo from that nervous NYCDOE bureaucrat!

An opportunity can emerge as the result of a crisis—in this case, basing an 8th-grader’s admittance (or not) to one of the NYC Specialized High Schools (SHS) on a single exam, the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT). One problem is the small number of Black and Latin students who are admitted to SHS and the test is being portrayed by some as the culprit. I made my position clear in an earlier OTP column as to why I see Black and Latino poor performance on the SHSAT as a symptom and not a cause. So I won’t repeat that argument here.
But I do believe that state Sen. Tony Avella’s bill (S9141A) is an opportunity for parents living in neighborhoods where the schools are not meeting the diverse academic needs of their children. Those students who are performing on or above grade level, including non-wealthy white children, may also want to read this bill and get behind their state senator on it. It’s not ot early to become an advocate!
All students need to be pushed to their academically “personal best” selves and struggling learners need all of the support that the school system can muster. But students who are meeting, and/or above grade level learning standards are students, too! And it must be frustrating for their parents to not see their children being pushed to their personal intellectual best.

S9141A, at the very least, honestly gets at the real causes of the SHS diversity problem (and it’s not Asian students!). The 800-lb. political problem in the room is the inequality of access to quality K-8 school learning experiences, the absence of G&T programs in designated (“G&T deserts”) parts of the city, and individual Title 1 schools not effectively responding to the Educationally Savvy and Informationally Rich Parent Resource Gap!

I am not a NYS Senator, but I do have a few recommended “amendments” to the bill:

That the state and city seriously (not symbolically) fund a comprehensive K-8 SHSAT Pipeline Program:

Allow for “quality numbers” of on and above grade level students in all elementary and middle schools in the city to be exposed to classes taught by G&T teachers professionally developed and eventually certified in G&T techniques. Invest in a resources-rich G&T Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STREAM) curriculum. I would send the best of these teachers to serve in the lowest-performing schools, the schools producing the smallest number of viable SHS candidates, those districts and schools with the highest number of Title 1/ELL/ESL students. I would pay all G&T certified teachers a bonus pay scale above their regular pay!

Provide these students with the type of after-school, weekend and summer SHSAT test Prep Programs (academies) we developed in CSD29Q in partnership with Princeton Review. There are a lot of test-prep companies which already have a bank of knowledge on the “technology of test-taking.” There is no mystery to helping students to do well on standardized exams. You combine good test-taking techniques with a rigorous and standards-based daily school instructional program and administer in school-classroom exams that mirror the standardized exam (in this case the SHSAT) in difficulty and language, then the student’s test performance scores will predictably improve.

Create (don’t rely on parents) opportunities for these students to engage in quality informal (out-of-school) educational experiences including such things as: independent reading for fun, creative writing, visual, graphics, instrumental, dance and the performing arts classes; STEM, chess, “nonstereotypical” sports (e.g., gymnastics, fencing & archery) programs; weekly trips to cultural institutions, museums, the opera, dramatic plays, dance and music performances.
Passing Senate Bill S9141A, along with my “amendments,” would allow Black and Latino students to hold their “academic own” with any and all students in the city.

But there are additional benefits: Students who emerge from a real SHSAT Pipeline Program will be higher academically performing high school students even if they, by test score or choice, don’t attend a Specialized High School. Quality H.S. graduation rates citywide would dramatically increase. Senate Bill S9141A, a response to a political crisis, could actually create the opportunity for the introduction of a real high academic achievement diversity movement in the NYC school system.

Reprint From 8/13/2018, Our Time Press:

Michael A. Johnson has served as a Public Schoolteacher, Science Skills Center director, principal and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently published a book on school leadership: “Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership”…

2018-2019 School Year Attendance Letter to Washington DCPS High School Students (& Parents).

Now this type of talk got me into trouble with some folks at DCPS, but here I am again, for I will always carry a special place in my heart for Washington DC children, especially those whose families and communities are struggling to live a good, safe and decent life. And I am in full solidarity with those DC parents, who like all parents, only want to see their children’s future life opportunities be greater than their own.

And so, let me start with this: The only safe, viable, reasonable, and positive-outcome predictable response to any type of social or economic challenges in life, is to obtain a quality education. If you stop here and get that, and don’t read another sentence, I am good! People who tell you otherwise may appear to be your friend, trust me they are not your friend.

Education is the only tool that places your life success possibilities into your own hands. Education is the best path to ‘earning a good living wage’, that is not hugely risky, dependent on ‘luck’, or the goodwill of others outside of yourself. Education has the proven power of breaking every family negative trend, ‘curse’, low expectation and presumed limitations perceived by you or others. And it is because of education that your family ‘story’ is not necessarily the storyline of your destiny.

I know, many important people in your city are proposing positions that they would never impose on or tolerate with their own children. There is just no truth to the claim that you can both learn the lessons being taught in a classroom, and not physically be in that classroom. I know firsthand that high school is hard for most students, including those who do have good attendance, and so bad attendance definitely won’t work!

I get it, I spent many years, on many different levels working with Title 1 (poor) schools. Some students face a great deal of challenges to get to school everyday and to get there on time. A visionary and strategically thoughtful school principal and staff can do a great deal to help students to achieve good attendance and punctuality. But the other part of the ‘showing up & being there’ success plan is the student! In every case I can remember where the school staff was able to successfully support a student’s consistently good attendance and punctuality, there was the important factor of that student and/or parent, badly wanting an education and a graduation.

Life is not fair. You can’t pick your family or living conditions. Coming from a certain Ward in the city will cause some to wrongly make assumptions about your capabilities. Growing up in a family that is struggling financially, does not speak to your future possibilities. Education has the power to not make your present situation into a permanent condition. In fact, you should ‘double-down’ on your educational efforts to eliminate any negative barriers that stand between you and a positive and productive adult life.

Life did not give me wealthy parents, and at times we struggled. But like the majority of you I did have a good working brain. But to have a successful life, a good brain must be combined with a determined will. I knew growing up that there was no inheritance ‘pot of gold’ waiting for me when I reached adulthood, and so acquiring a good education was my first and only option.

No young folks, life is not fair, you did not choose any difficult situation into which you were born; but you do have the opportunity through your school-going-working efforts to change those difficult situations. The only guarantee I can offer is that without a solid education, starting with at least a high school graduation, your difficult life situations will only get worse.

Now some ‘leaders’ will claim, like being in class and not being in class is the same thing. That lowering standards will help you to meet and succeed against the high standards your national and international competition is mastering, it won’t.

I know this may not be what you want to hear. But I rather upset folks with the truth, then to sell them on a lie that says they can be late to and absent from school and still learn. That students can misbehave and disrupt the school/classroom environment, and the students in that school/classroom will learn better. Or, that students don’t need to put their best learning efforts into class and home study work, to have a positive and productive life after high school.

A school where the environment does not allow teachers to teach, and students to learn, is the same as the students in that class being ‘absent’.
Start by putting your own classroom behavior ‘in check’; you have a duty, responsibility and a right to learn as much as you can, every school day. You must have a purpose and plan for your life, or you will be the ‘fuel’ for someone else’s purposes and plans; and more than likely their life-goals will not favor you or be in your best interest. A good education is the best ‘fuel’ to power you through your plan, and into your purpose.

You perhaps have descended from people in the past (or even in your present family), who could only dream about going to school, or being able to take good advantage of an educational opportunity. By wasting this important time in your life, you betray two dreams, theirs and your own. It will be hard enough to succeed in life based on factors not under your control, like if you are Black or Latino; don’t give anyone an opportunity to reject or deny you, simply because you don’t have the required educational skills.

And for those students living in parts of the city that have not fully experienced the DC economic revival; you should act as if learning is everything, as if your life depended on education, school and a high school graduation, because guess what, it does.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, principal and a school district superintendent. He designed and led two highly successful and richly recognized urban high schools, Science Skills Center high school, Brooklyn NY; and Phelps Architecture, Construction & Engineering high school, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently published a book on high school building leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

Science Skills Center High School -5 Point Graduation Advice Speech Notes-June 25, 2018.

(Minus the segue jokes!:-)

Good morning graduates, I am able to stand before you this morning, even though I was in the IND Borough Hall train station, and not really sure if I was in the right place. I saw a young lady in a SSCHS cap and gown (Jasmine Braithwaite); and I decided to follow her. And fortunately she led me to this building. If you are pursuing a right purpose, you are never really lost, for a ‘helper’ will always show up to properly guide you. That could be my entire lesson for this morning. (1) Only follow someone who you strongly believe is moving (and showing through example), in the right direction. And (2) be a leader who is moving (and leading through good example) in the right direction. (3) Always assume wherever you go in life that although you may not be aware of it, someone who can provide you with a resourceful blessing, is watching you, and so now I owe Jasmine a spiritual debt, and I am responsible for helping her in any way that I can…

(The author and Jasmine Braithwaite)

5 Quick Points and I will take my seat…

1. No disrespect to any ‘moving up’ ceremony you have attended in the past. But one important significance of your high school diploma, is that it is the only official legal graduation document you can earn that is granted by the NYCDOE. This victory can’t be reversed; neither can the memory of this day be forgotten. It becomes your struggle and challenge transformed into success base line reference. This graduation should be a metaphor for your entire life. It says, I have achieved a great and difficult victory once, and that means I can do it again, and again, and again, and…

2. You are about to enter a world where the rules and consequences are radically different from what you have experienced in the K-12 environment up to this point. The world will not adjust for you, you must make the adjustment. Be excellent in whatever task, job, school, and personal-social endeavor you undertake. Leave nothing to chance, but lean on your own preparedness to effectively respond to any unanticipated opportunity that might show-up. Your parents, teachers and elders are going to get ‘smarter’ as you get older. Meaning a great deal of what they have warned you about will come true. This is a truth that maybe your teenage ‘all-knowing’ mind (as was the case with me), can’t fully comprehend now. Things like an excellent character, stick-to-itness, graciousness, a good name, honesty, reliability, decency, picking friends who are moving in the right direction, etc. will essentially define who you are and what you will accomplish in life….

3. Life is not fair. The sooner you accept that reality, the sooner you will encounter less suffering and more success. You should also develop the proper attitude that will inspire you to ‘upset and overturn’ our nation’s (and world) political culture of unfairness. Build a good reputation— Many in the world outside of this auditorium will make a judgement about you based simply on the fact that you are Black, Latino, Asian, a Muslim, a Women, etc. You can only do your best, produce at your best, give every effort your most sincere and best work. Don’t give anyone the opportunity to act on their pre-judgments concerning who you are and what you are capable of accomplishing…

4. Now this going to sound counterintuitive (does not make sense) based on what I just said about life being unfair. But you must define “wining” in the most positively spiritual, highly ethical, and the greatest of goodness terms. Even as people around you may appear to be ‘wining’ by cheating, lying, mistreating and deceiving and stealing from others. Even if the top most powerful political leaders in this nation advocate for selfish, ugly, dismissive, racist, demeaning and discriminatory policies; you must not lose sight of your good behavior-good works and kindness compass, for it will always, no matter what is going on around you, guide you onto the best path. Practice bad habits and they will naturally become part of your personality; practice good habits daily and they will become a natural part not only of your personality, but they will also guarantee a real and meaningful successful life.

5. One of the most important things you can do in life is to find your unique and special calling; what you have been singularly gifted to bring to the world. No one is an ‘accident’, it does not matter the circumstances that brought you into this world. You are special and important to our species. With the billions of people born before and after you, there is only one you, forever. One definition of the condition called ‘human suffering’ (and those humans who inflict suffering on others), could be explained as never ever discovering your special reasons for being sent into our world. You will know your ‘calling’ because you will be extremely good at it. You really won’t feel comfortable doing something other than what you are called to do. If you only settle for a ‘job’ or ‘career’ outside of your calling, you will feel a never-ending unsettled restlessness. It may express itself in different areas of activities, but your fundamental call-theme will remain the same. Your called contribution to history will be something that brings you great personal joy, as it also brings joy, beauty and peace into the world; it may be hard work, but it will never feel like a ‘job’. Once you find that work that brings happiness, meaning and fulfillment into your life; the next step is to find a way to make a living income for engaging in your works of called-service. In short, find a way to ‘get paid’ to do those things for which you were born-called to love doing…

Good Blessings and Sincere Congratulations on Your Wonderful Achievement!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

That moment as a Black principal when everything changes…

You stepped into that moment when you fully realize that the ‘system’ is ‘rigged’ (philosophically and structurally) to produce winners and losers; and the designated losers look like you!

And being true to yourself means that you can never turn your back on that knowing…

It’s that identifying, defining and self-realization moment when you understand that you share every under-expectation, the many stereotypical dismissals, and all of the nullifying thoughts that are visited on the children. Perhaps, you realize that when staff persons are ‘making fun of’, or talking negatively about the children, their parents, or the community where they live. They are also talking about you, your parents, and your community where you live (or once lived) with the parents and children.

An under and graduate college degree, professional licenses, and certifications don’t ever seem to certify and officiate your humanity, or justify your leadership position.

There are moments that seem almost hopeless:

In one majority Black school a transferred White teacher with a history of bigotry and discrimination in preventing Black kids from gaining access to his AP classes (the reason he was transferred); was voted in by the Black and White staff in his new school as the building union chapter leader…

It’s the loneliness of the politically aware principal. You set a ridiculous (and ludicrous if it were not sad and tragic) standard of expectations; you want your children to be treated like the entitled children (in the district) of America; and Both Black and White stakeholders work hard to frustrate your efforts…

Maybe it is even your White (or simple-minded Black) principal colleagues who speak of the ‘Principalship’ as an occupation or job; when you are thinking of it as a life-line, a lighthouse in a societal storm, a conscious call to service on behalf of an endangered people for whom society has rejected and forgotten.

It would come early for me as a reminder in my first year as principal, before the start of school. I (dressed in a jacket and tie), standing in the hall talking to the White custodian (dressed in jeans and a T-shirt); when a White delivery man walks over to the custodian for a principal’s signature. My custodian is so painfully embarrassed by his White brother’s behavior, and then he sadly points to me: “He’s the principal”.

It is that ‘tipping-point’ moment when the principal gets that he or she is no different from the Black and Brown students in their school. And after that moment you cannot just be a ‘company-kept’ school leader.

And as with many self-actualizing moments, the price of ‘self’ knowledge is suffering, but it is a redemptive suffering that frames your work with a meaning and purpose.

An excerpt from chapter 2: The Educational Philosophy of the Principal.

“Neither a title nor position will allow me (even if I chose to try) to escape from my own existential American reality. I am Black and born in a nation where my skin color is a societal identifier and constant underestimation of who people believe I am and what I am capable of becoming…”

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…

Traumatizing Children by Violently* Separating Them from Their Parents is an old Winning Strategy.

Trump whisperers Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller as home-grown American neo-fascist have probably read Carl von Clausewitz’s theories on war. (And here it would be helpful to accept the premise held by many including Mao Zedong, that “politics” is essentially war without guns). Von Clausewitz’s writings have served as study guides for many different students of military theory. But sections, translated into use with civilian populations, have become the primary playbook of all evil dictatorial leaders; from Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot in the past; to ISIS, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un in the modern era. There is clearly a political-military strategic rationale here for separating parents from their children, and then cruelly incarcerating these children; and that is to invoke obedience through acts of publicly displayed terror.

Source: Carl von Clausewitz, On War. Excerpts from: CHAPTER I. WHAT IS WAR?

“Now, philanthropists may easily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the Art of War. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as War, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst. As the use of physical power to the utmost extent by no means excludes the co-operation of the intelligence, it follows that he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigour in its application. The former then dictates the law to the latter, and both proceed to extremities to which the only limitations are those imposed by the amount of counter acting force on each side. This is the way in which the matter must be viewed and it is to no purpose, it is even against one’s own interest, to turn away from the consideration of the real nature of the affair because the horror of its elements excites repugnance.”


“The smaller the sacrifice we demand from our opponent, the smaller, it may be expected, will be the means of resistance which he will employ; but the smaller his preparation, the smaller will ours require to be. Further, the smaller our political object, the less value shall we set upon it, and the more easily shall we be induced to give it up altogether.”


“Now this, in itself, furnishes no ground for relaxing our efforts to accumulate strength to gain the first result, because an unfavourable issue is always a disadvantage to which no one would purposely expose himself, and also because the first decision, although not the only one, still will have the more influence on subsequent events, the greater it is in itself.”


“But the possibility of gaining a later result causes men to take refuge in that expectation, owing to the repugnance in the human mind to making excessive efforts; and therefore forces are not concentrated and measures are not taken for the first decision with that energy which would otherwise be used. Whatever one belligerent omits from weakness, becomes to the other a real objective ground for limiting his own efforts, and thus again, through this reciprocal action, extreme tendencies are brought down to efforts on a limited scale.”

If these ‘battle field affirmations’ sound familiar they should, for they are essentially the operational-political strategies of the World War II German para-military forces, the Gestapo.

In summary: To ‘win’ one must not be burden in battle by moral-ethical restrictions. Your ‘troops’ must possess the emotional insensitivity to inflict short and long-term physical and emotional damage on the children (and other non-combatants) of the enemy ‘other’; and as reporter Jim Acosta (CNN) alluded to in his question to White House Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and then be able to go home and hug their own children. Imagine, the amount of human compassion disconnectedness that is needed to pull that off!

The “I am just following orders” troops of these ‘right-wing’ commanders must be untethered to any belief that suggest the existence of a higher metaphysical force who is monitoring some great justice-righteousness scale. Thus Atty. Gen. Session’s biblical distortion that was so bad that they could not even get it pass their usual evangelical (anti) Christian cheerleaders. The WH administration actors are the philosophical descendants of Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (The Brothers Karamazov). For them there is no intervening just God, no calling to account ‘judgement day’, no heaven; and hell is an America with a majority non-White population. After all, (their thinking), what if people of color do to us one fraction of the evil we have inflicted on them?

We should stop lying to ourselves. At some point we need to cease from saying that ‘X’ practice is ‘un or not American’, when it is actually happening right before our eyes, and is fully sanctioned (explicitly, and/or in a complicitous way) by the executive and legislative government in charge. The truth is that both Native Americans and African-Americans histories prove that violent forced family separations (for selling, rape, death, terroristic and exploitation purposes), is very much indeed, an American practice.

As educators we should be collectively weeping at what is being done to these children. Because we know (having seen it), the devastating long-term psychological and debilitating learning effects of childhood traumatization. And then there is the real possibility that these children may never receive the counseling they need (and must have); which means they may bring their ‘unhealed’ selves into their adult world, with devastating effects on all of us.

Trump said he believed in “winning”; and if winning is defined by appealing to and promoting the worst of all human emotions, then he has won, at least for now, due to our collective lack of courage.

*The primary perpetrator of violence does not get to define what ‘violence’ is. Ripping these children away from their parents, like the mental-physical effects of poverty, inadequate education, lack of housing, no health care, under and unemployment, are acts of violence; and in this case state initiated and sanctioned acts of violence!

Book Event Parking Update!

I know some folks are driving in from outside (and inside) of Georgia. GSU has opened up a parking location for this Saturday event. Parking is available directly across the street from the GSU Student Center Venue in the M-Deck, the entrance is at 33 Auditorium Place, Atlanta GA 30303. The cost is $7.00 dollars.

The new Washington DC Council ‘high school graduation policy’ law is a teaching model of cognitive dissonance…

The devil, as is often the case, is in the details of these two qualifying (in my view logic defying and nullifying) criteria: “Missed more than six weeks of class” and “Would apply only to students who meet all other academic standards.”

(Full disclosure: For 4+ years I led the design, development and leadership of a STEM-CTE school in DCPS—Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School.)

The F. Scott Fitzgerald assertion which says that: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”, can serve to ‘grow’ student smartness.
This particular thinking-methodology is a necessary tool in any area of social and/or scientific analysis and research. As well as an important conceptual skill and key learning objective centerpiece of all high school education.
However, we must also teach students to recognize two ideas that may be: incongruent, incompatible, contradictory, negational, oxymoronic, and sadly in the case of this bill, two concepts that are not pedagogically (science and theory of learning) aligned.

Those two ideas linked together: (1) That one can be absent from class, and (2) Still master what was being taught in that class, is problematic (Beyond the laws of physics which make it impossible to be both physically present and absent at the same time).
And even if this assertion were true, metaphysically speaking, then we are wasting a lot of the tax payers ‘dimes’; since all we really need to do is mail the curriculum and syllabus to every teenager’s house and call it a day; no school buildings, teachers, cafeterias, school libraries, etc. are needed!

The cure the DC city council is proposing here, is not only ineffective, it also guarantees to make the patient worse.

The devil, as is often the case, is in the details of these two qualifying (in my view logic defying and nullifying) criteria: “Missed more than six weeks of class” and “Would apply only to students who meet all other academic standards.” Putting aside for a moment that there is an extensive list of educational reasons for having class attendance serving as one of the graduation requirements (e.g. being part of classroom discussions-group work, you can ask the teacher in-class clarifying questions, or hear the answers to questions from your classmates).
How about this simple criteria: Perhaps, some of my wise professional ancestors arrived at an astonishing conclusion, that a child not attending school on a particular day, did not learn what was being taught in school that day. (tongue firmly in check) Imagine the singular brilliance of that concept!

(I purposely digress here for a note to aspiring principals. This is how you intelligently and authentically manage ‘two opposing ideas”: All high school principals will at some point encounter an exception (to the rule) ‘attendance’ situation, for which we as professional public educators must ethically and compassionately respond. In one of my cases a student was hospitalized with a serious illness, and then needed intense home based rehabilitation services before they could return to school. The ‘time-out’ of school would go beyond the course credit ‘seat time’ requirement. Our response was to enlist the help of the school district’s ‘home bound’ teaching services. These ‘visiting teachers’ were able to communicate with the student’s regular classroom teachers, follow the same syllabus, utilize the same textbook, test the student, etc. We were also assisted by technology where the homebound student had access to a laptop computer (we provided), instructional videos, classroom lecture recordings and ‘electronic class notes’. The student was able to maintain their march toward earning course credits and graduation, despite their temporary serious heath situation. It is not a perfect response, but it does seek to meet the standard of: Doing that which is professionally ethical, reasonably achievable, and in the best interest of the child!)

To be fair to our DC city council persons, perhaps they never served in the capacity of a high school teacher or administrator (pretty scared if any did and supported this bill); if they had, that experience would have caused them to be familiar with two very co-related and codependent items; the curriculum and a ‘pacing calendar’. To fully explain these two important educational items, and how they are related and dependent on each other, would require a separate essay.
But this is the short answer concerning the problem that the ‘bill’ ignores. A great deal of the ‘learning’ that takes place in a high school course, is connected and dependent on topics that were taught earlier (as in yesterday, or a few days ago, last week…); a student missing 6 or more weeks of class, even if it is ‘spotty’ (a day here, two days…) of a geometry, Spanish Language, or biology class will find it extremely difficult to ‘bridge’ prior required knowledge and information, with the present topic they are facing, when they never received that prerequisite knowledge and information directly as a classroom experience.

Further, if the class is a single semester course (approximately 16-18 weeks depending on the district), as opposed to a full year; absences actually become ‘magnified’. The student with too many absences in this course’s compacted schedule (pacing calendar), could quickly find themselves hitting a missed-learning ‘tipping point’; where they are missing too much of the course instruction to have a reasonable chance of passing the class.

Chronic absentees whether in semester or yearlong courses will also have a hard time ‘connecting, organizing and consolidating’ the major ideas and themes (curriculum learning objectives), of the course. And this deficit learning experience will most likely reveal itself in the (ability to pass) course grade, post-course situations, such as: the course final exam, external standardized exams, the next higher level course, job, college, etc.
It takes a great deal of hard work (by both teacher and student), to get academically struggling students to pass classes, when they have relativity good attendance; and so for the chronic ‘no shows’, well…

I am hoping that the mayor vetoes this bill, which will force the school system to be painfully honest with its students and parents that gradation statistics (real or contrived) can’t override a human interest. Students are real people, with real life expectations, and they need a ‘real’ graduation to succeed in life. Let’s be honest with students; no one will be able to practice extreme absenteeism (and six or more weeks minus a crisis event is extreme), and be allowed to keep their job, or succeed in college. And so, the answer to incorrect graduation standards, is not to double-down on incorrectness.

This veto could also signal to her colleagues on the city council that one proven method of improving students attendance is to provide all (particularly Title 1) high schools with the much-needed expanded guidance and counseling support and personnel they need to successfully battle the ‘poverty driven’ reasons that drive students into becoming habitual punctuality and attendance underachievers (In high schools punctuality and attendance are inextricably linked, but that also is another essay). Principals cannot ‘over-budget’; every class must have a teacher; that unfortunately often means that areas like guidance and counseling become tragically understaffed. Schools ‘cheating’ on student support services, worsens the plight of the already ‘attendance challenged’, as it also expands the number of students who desperately need these services in order to maintain their school/class attendance, and thus their academic viability as students.

There are some very concrete and solvable reasons that students struggle with punctuality and attendance. And unless political leaders legislate the end of poverty and racism in America; schools will need strategically smart building leaders, having the necessary resources, if we want kids to come to school, on time, every day!

For the present ‘crises’ DC students don’t need a ‘pass’ to not really pass their required courses. The city invited ‘less then informed-reform’ actors to run their school system. The penalty for that bad decision is for the city’s elected leadership to now find the money to immediately invest in a massive short-term credit-recovery effort that involves afterschool, evening, weekends, school breaks and summers.

This initiative should be linked it to the city’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). Let academically struggling and attendance challenged SYEP high school students do ‘academic school work’ as their SYEP work-site assignment. Not to worry, they will have perfect attendance. Students who were “Sauls” when it came to regular school attendance, will be miraculously transformed into “Pauls” when their SYEP check is on the line. And yes, I know (from my experience as a superintendent) that this won’t go over well in some quarters politically, but this is a crises for these seriously at risk of not graduating students; and so they should receive their SYEP checks for picking up knowledge and credits in a classroom, instead of picking up trash in parks!

The next long-term step is having a comprehensive K-8th grade academic ‘readiness’ program that does not continually (year after year), send unprepared to do high school work students, to a predictably certain ‘educational death’ in those high schools.

The students of DC need, and their parents, and the tax payers deserve, high school graduations that are meaningful and authentic. Meaning that the student can translate their high school diploma into a real representation of that student’s knowledge and skills readiness to be successful in a post-graduation world. We fail students (and fool their parents) when we let them walk across a ‘graduation’ stage, only to fall into a despairing pit of unpreparedness for adult life. Let high school graduations mean something other than a ceremony, or a marketable (albeit false) statistic!

Michael A. Johnson has served as a public school teacher, Science Skills Center director, principal, and a school district superintendent. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He recently completed a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership…