I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 5

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

April 1, 2020

The plague is forcing us to listen to each other more…

“Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” —Rebbe M.M. Schneerson

A plague offers us the opportunity to learn better and more.
In the pre-plague era I was growing a serious dislike for communicating on the social media site Facebook. I tend to perceive the entire world as one big learning classroom. Meaning, I didn’t like the many anti-learning behaviors I saw on Facebook’s conversational platform. Often when people “responded” to a post, it seems that they didn’t even read the post or the article it was referencing, before they shifted fully into attack mode. I often ask after reading a ‘response-comment’: “Did this ‘responder’ and I read the same post; that’s not what the original posting person said!” Or, perhaps there is that irresistible ugly urge to negatively ‘troll’ or put down another human being, by writing something you would not dare say to their face; at least not without expecting a physical fight as their response!
The question is: “Why can’t we read, study and/or think about another person’s idea; even if we think we disagree with that idea?” But lately it seems that Covid-19, has taken the hostility edge off of a lot of keyboards. Are more Facebookers now listening and learning more? I sure hope so…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 4

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

March 31, 2020

Collecting a work of personal art in progress…

“Solitude is the place of purification”—Martin Buber.

Now, I would make a film, but I am not like two of my favorite film directors: Akira Kurosawa or Ousmane Sembène, and so I don’t know how to star in and direct a quarantine-isolation movie. And so instead I am working on collecting a lot of pictures of me engaging in social closeness. Carefully putting these silent pictures together in tender concentrated togetherness allowed them to speak loudly to me without the use of words. These images are very much close and closer memories of the power and sacred purpose of touching. Some of them are people who the plague brought me back in touch with, although I can no longer touch them; seeing them again still touches me deeply.

Quarantining alone under the siege of a plague separates you from other people; and yet it also brings you much knowingly closer to yourself. You are drawn to pay extreme attention to so many of the small taken-for-granted parts of yourself and the world where that self resides.
It’s the separating out of those things that are really important from those that or not-so-important; the constant counting and counting down of life-items that came so easy to acquire in the pre-plague period; “will I run out of…?”
But we are always in a state of running out of something—-time. Ultimately we all die alone, that is with ourselves only, even if two people die at the same moment, or from the same disease, we still only die to ourselves alone.

At the end the still living are in charge of our no-longer lives. This idea leads to the last right operational thought of: “What do I do if I die alone in this place?” And me of course focused on and thinking: “How can I best managed that (the dying thing that is), without being a troubling inconvenience for too many people!” Since life seems to be so hard and complicated, then why not also death?

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!… Part 3.

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

March 30, 2020

“You can come close, but not too close”

“Nothing is too much trouble for love”–Archbishop Desmond Tutu

My entire adult life (except for a small group of folks) I have basically defined ‘closeness’ and ‘socialization’ as service-work: “OK, tell me what you need, or what you need me to do?” As a principal and superintendent my staffs managed the art of getting to the point quickly and without the usual standard/required introductory social pleasantries. There are some bio-historical reasons for my pre-covid-19/life-long social-distancing techniques, but I’ll spare you readers all of the psychotherapist couch chatter.

I think that this is why NYC Chancellor Harold Levy and I got along so well; as he was a “get to the point without the preliminaries”—“Just the facts I need to know” type of guy. At times in my superintendency, by necessity, we had to speak by phone almost every day; but thankfully these were the most “striped-down” efficient and productive conversations I ever had in my life (Michelle Rhee was second and J. Jerome Harris was third; and that’s because I was close to JJH’s wife, and so I always ask how she was doing.) I know Harris and Rhee’s discourse methods drove some people crazy; and even I realize when I employ that dialogical approach it does not always work well in every situation; but personally I love the “no frills”, ‘keep them at a distance’ conversational style…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again! Part 2.

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.
(10) March 29, 2020

II.

When choosing is a non-choice…

“The greatest happiness in life is in knowing that others love us, for ourselves, or rather, they love us in spite of ourselves.” –Victor Hugo

Strange how the mind manages the power of choice based on the level of an existential threat. (pre-plague) Every day I wanted the right to be alone, to discourage any forms of random ‘drive-by’ visitations. The “I just happen to be in the neighborhood, and so…..”— Well, just keep on going Mr. or Mrs. Rogers, and don’t stop here! Oh the joy of dwelling in the quiet peace of reading, writing or just thinking , day dreaming, imagining; all without being distracted by a human voice.

I spent the bulk of my adult life in constant communicative service: “ Mr. Johnson I need… Can you…Will you please?” I honor and cherish a life without never-ending verbal request (principals will understand this).
My doorbell was not working for 5 years, which led my (‘can’t by nature and vocation stand broken things’) exasperated fix-it guy to frustratingly say: “Yo Mr. Johnson, let me fix that doorbell for you; I’ll even buy the parts and won’t charge you for labor!”—-Me: “Nope” . No uninvited visitors, everyone must call first!
But these Coronavirus isolation days have changed everything, meaning that I now leap to the door when the UPS guy arrives to bring my Amazon packages and boxes. And even though we both carefully practice safe social/commercial distancing; I am just happy to experience a human face and voice…

I’ll never take hugging, closeness or compassionate touching for granted again!

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

(9) March 25, 2020

I.

A work of art and memory in progress…

This pictorial collection of social closeness I am putting together will have to do for now. The Covid-19 virus, like all rabid segregationist is cold and heartless. And so I must navigate this pandemic in mandated aloneliness, and creatively alone. Like my Yoga teacher has been trying to teach me, I can (while doing my daily Yoga practice) now listen intently and intentionally to my breathing, because it is really the only consistent human sound I now hear in my house. Most of the time I just talk and hold both sides of a conversation inside of my head, instead of out loud. Unless of course I end up, as I often do, in a room clueless as to why I am even there. I will then ask the ‘no one’ who is listening: “Now, what did I come in here to do or get?
I like to spend a lot of time alone; but I want my aloneness decision to be my choice, and not something that is imposed on me by either a macro or microorganism. Before the plague there was an option to touch or not touch, and I want that option back so that I can return to a self-determining touching existence…


With Marilyn Nance pre-quarantine days, a real Photography/Artist; I just play one on my blog.

Next: “When choosing is a non-choice…”

Fake praise won’t cure the ‘Mad King’, and it won’t save us; we need science.

I understand (and actually have some sympathy for) the “Jedi Mind Trick Thing” the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General is trying to use on Donald Trump: Praise the ‘Mad King’ so as to limit the amount of damage he can inflict. Dr. Fauci and Gov. Cuomo continue trying to use this same technique daily; and for the most part they are unsuccessful; e.g. Trump keeps holding daily press conferences where he undermines them by providing dangerously bad, wrong and counter-scientific advice to the public.

But the problem with the ‘mad king’ praising and fawning approach, is that basically it does not work; (just ask Jeff Sessions) because (1) No amount of contrived complimenting will cure the king of his mental depravity affliction; that ‘cure’ will require the use of psychotherapy and the removal from a position where he can inflict his psychopathological urges on other people. (2) Faux effusive flattering for deeds not done or done badly, also won’t cure his loyal rabid followers and supporters, (and there are many of them in America; if we are to believe recent polls), of their fervent belief that he has, and is continuing to do a good leadership job in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic.

If Fox news and other right-wing talking/public communication sources can cite the WHO’s chief , Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (who by the way is a brilliant scholar), as proof that Trump is “doing a good job”; then the majority of those 60% approving citizens who elected him primarily to fight to save white privilege and not a virus, are going to run with every anti-scientific idea he spews at his press conferences, thus making all of us less safe (e.g. like the ‘Easter opening date’ that he has ‘forced’ the Coronavirus to end its deadly work).

History (and the reason we study it in K-12 schools) is a great teacher here. And as many in the past have painfully learned; that living under a crazed and unethical leader like a Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot, means that the ‘worshiping’ method, offered sincerely or insincerely, of a narcissistic lunatic, only buys you time, not a cure. The problem with the Covid-19 virus is that time is an important variable in its ability to do great harm and damage; or, hopefully in time through good scientific thinking and practices, be stopped from doing that damage.

Civil leadership in a great health crises requires both an ethical and wise human being to be ‘in-charge’. Someone who will manage both time, and the finding, by deferring to the expertise of others, the cure for the crisis. This must be done by taking (and sticking to) a path of morality, compassion, civility, comity, science and reason.

A ‘mad king personality’ does not have the emotional and intellectual capacity to engage in those essential good leadership thinking and applicative tooling skills. And so, no amount of strategically cute, undeserved and disingenuous exalting homage heaped on a mad king’s head, will ultimately stop him from doing great harm to large numbers of people; including his most ardent and delusional followers.

I said that the Covid-19 school closure situation would greatly help some students, while badly hurting others, well…*

One standardized exam that won’t be cancelled…

College Board on this year’s AP exams: “We’re investing in the development of a new at-home testing option.”

Giving this year’s AP exams in the present Covid-19 school-closure format, advantages some students and disadvantages others. This is one Standardized exam (the liberal woke-folks are not fighting to get rid of by the way), that will not be eliminated.

Allowing students to take “home-based” AP testing options raises a lot of questions about the validity of the resulting grades. After only a small section of the national college admissions scandal was exposed recently; I wonder how many well-educated parents are going to “play fair” and allow their children to not score high enough to earn college credit? Yes, in a perfect world (we don’t live in), everyone would take the test fairly and honestly. And for the disenfranchised AP students who takes the exam, how many have access to ‘experts in the field’ if they even chose (as they should not), to cheat like their advantaged peers? Also, students with documented (IEP’s, 504 plans) disabilities will most-likely not be able to get the “accommodations”, support and assistance (e.g. adaptive technology) they need to have a fair shot at taking or even doing well on an AP exam.

I get that (and have used) these AP exams as an important tool to reduce college student’s debt and to quickly move students up to more advance classes in their college majors, but the testing conditions must be fair to all students regardless of their parents access to financial and human educational resources.

The College Board’s “test security measures” are a joke and can be easily circumvented. Either cancel the AP exams completely, or these AP exams should be given in places like a sports arena, where the seats could be safely placed far distant from each other. Or, the colleges could offer presently enrolled AP students a ‘cost free’ for credit college course in that student’s AP subject area.

The College Board is correct in allowing AP exams like Studio Art and Design to be submitted digitally; but I also see this as a problem. Many schools (I have) put up the money parents don’t have to pay for the AP Art materials and equipment; what if parents can’t afford to pay for their child’s AP art supplies? A further reason why poor kids, kids with parents who are not highly educated, parents who lack financial resources, or don’t have connections to a highly educated and specialized content/subject contact person(s), are at a distinctly severe disadvantage.

Finally, (and this may do the trick) I suspect that many white middle class/working class families are, due to the Covid-19 virus crises, are presently in economic hardship status and can’t support their child’s AP educational needs (e.g. Test prep classes and materials). I get that the College Board is a business and does not want to refund money to districts (or not get paid for exam fees); but they need to fall back here and do the right thing on behalf of American children.

* “Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers: Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap… http://majmuse.net/2020/03/24/notes-from-in-house-exile-sadly-the-u-s-covid-19-virus-pandemic-will-expose-and-expand-the-prek-12-educational-learning-opportunity-gap/

“Trump Wants U.S. ‘Opened Up’ by Easter, Despite Health Officials’ Warnings.” But what he meant to say…

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.
(8) March 25, 2020

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” ― Horace Mann

“Trump Wants U.S. ‘Opened Up’ by Easter, Despite Health Officials’ Warnings.” But what he meant to say was something else… Despite his support from the faux-christian right wing bigots; he does not seem to be a Bible reader; and his ugly behavior definitely does not reflect an understanding of the foundational tenets of Christianity. Perhaps he is confusing the “Resurrection” with the “Crucifixion”.

Being Black in the ‘stop-the-spread of Covid-19 virus’ isolation mode, feels a little like being Black in America isolation; only the pathogen in the later is racism. Just like U.S. racism will daily/hourly make you exhaustively aware of your traumatized ‘otherness’ and second-class citizenship; Covid-19 is making me daily and hourly aware of its ability to inflict pain, trauma and death on all of us. The Covid-19 virus is a racial sensitivity learning opportunity for our white brothers and sisters…

“I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired”: Being able to choose the very manageable slight discomfort of isolation, over catching and/or spreading the Covid-19 Virus. “I Won’t Complain”: Because there are so many wonderful and brave food service, maintenance, health care, pharmacy, TV, radio, website managers, journalist, educators, postal workers, sanitation, utility workers, fire & police, transportation, etc. people; who are risking their health and lives for all of us every day. The least those of us who can stay home can do to support them is to keep our behinds in the house! Blessing and protective mercies on all who are working in the midst of the plague!

Separate/Unequal and Economic Inequality, even during a plague. It seems that some folks get a sniffle and that same day they get a Covid-19 detection test; meanwhile…This White House has completely given leadership malpractice a work-in-practice example of how not to respond to a viral epidemic.

Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” Got it, but right now I am going to go with the gospel according to the medical science professionals; stay home (alone if you must) if you can, this disease is not playing with you’ll!

Stupidity as an affirmative defense. A core Trump-MAGA club value is the craving and worshiping of ignorance: There is this powerful narrative march away from science, enlightenment, modernity and progress; powered by hatred, anger and a retreat into rabid nativism…

Something to cheer about in this Trumpian Plague season… (“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” ― William Shakespeare, The Tempest) In November ‘white independents’ (is that like being neutral on the topic of drunk driving), will be forced to show their true hands. Let’s see if white America has learned its lesson, or will the frogs and locust be sent next?

Notes from In-house exile: Taking Notes on the Plagues Teachable Moments.

(7) March 24, 2020

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers: Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap… http://majmuse.net/2020/03/24/notes-from-in-house-exile-sadly-the-u-s-covid-19-virus-pandemic-will-expose-and-expand-the-prek-12-educational-learning-opportunity-gap/

• There is the Story of the two Revelatory Plagues; Donald Trump and Covid-19. How someone responds to either or both, tells you everything you need to know about that person’s moral character…

• Rand Paul gets the Covid-19 Virus, is advantaged by his position in government; the hypocritical and immoral Ayn Randian (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged,etc.) philosophy of callous selfishness…

• I guess economic privilege drives politics in a circle: If you go far enough to the right or left you end up in the same place. The ‘woke’ folks who say that Trump = Biden; but unlike most struggling Americans they have financial options and probably health insurance…

• Whiteness sure has its privileges; I can’t imagine Barack Obama getting away with this level of dangerously ignorant leadership. Initially the ACA website malfunctioned and folks (friends and foes) went crazy with criticism. And now under Trump when people are actually getting seriously ill and dying…

• The futility of hoarding. The history of plagues (for real and in science fiction) suggest that starving desperate people, will most-likely fall-back on their Limbic pre-pre-historic system instincts; which means that they are not going to allow you to stay in your home well-fed, toilet-paper rich, safe and sound while they and their children starve to death…

• The proposal to end the necessary social distancing, and let large numbers of people die in time for businesses to reap the highest Easter shopping profits; reveals the cynical and evil nature of capitalism…

• They keep talking about the “high-risk-elderly”; and I have to keep reminding myself that they are talking about me! Age is sometimes nothing but a number in your head!

• Trump’s still strong approval ratings during what is clearly incompetent leadership behavior in response to the plague; and the way he is normalized and tolerated by those white Americans, including Democrats, who claim to disagree with him; suggest to me that the rest of us need a plan “B”; and I don’t mean reparations; something closer to self-reliance…

• Thoughts on being in ‘so-low’ isolation: (1) I’ll never take hugging for granted again. (2) Thank God for 90 day medication prescriptions!

Notes from In-house exile: Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers

(6) March 23, 2020

Sadly, the U.S. Covid-19 virus pandemic will expose and expand the PreK-12 Educational Learning Opportunity Gap. It seems that many school districts around the nation are closing, for perhaps the entire school year. Let’s just be honest for a moment in stating that even during non-pandemic times, there is a huge formal (things learned in school) and informal (things learned outside of school) Educational Learning Opportunity Gap (ELOG), existing between school districts, schools in the same or different district(s), and even different students inside of the same school building.

This ELOG can amount to conceptual-knowledge and performance-skills learning differences that can stretch over many years, even though two students on either end of the gap spectrum are ‘technically’ in the same grade. Thus, two students in the same 8th grade, but in different schools, could mean that one student has not yet received or is not proficient in the 5th grade curriculum learning standards; while the other student has mastered the 8th grade curriculum learning standards and could in fact be taking high school courses in middle school e.g. Algebra; and yet officially both of these students are referred to as being “8th graders”.

A Gap by its real name…

I prefer the phrase Educational Learning Opportunity Gap as opposed to the more popular “Achievement Gap”; because the “Achievement Gap” suggest, albeit subtly, that the gap is somehow caused by the students themselves. The ELOG however speaks to the inherent capabilities of students who are artificially under-performing academically because they are exposed to inferior school-building leadership and/or ineffective/inferior instructional practices; and of course this ‘under-learning’ is always accompanied by the low expectations of the child’s gifts and talents. And as we now know very well, students will naturally rise or sink to the expectations levels of the adults assigned to educate them.
Now I am sure (having heard it for so many years) that this will send some of my colleagues to screaming about the ‘causal factors’ of: poverty, parent’s level of education, and the level of parent interest in their child’s education.
First, it is my 11 year principal experience that ‘poor parents’, parents who are limited in or speak no English, those who for whatever reason were not able to take full advantage of formal schooling themselves; are in fact, the most clear (not having a great deal of financial wealth to pass on to their children), about the power and necessity of acquiring an education. They may not express it in the ‘perfect-parent’ phrasing format that we professionals want to hear, and they may not know how to effectively play the ‘parent as educational partner’ role; but their desire to see their child succeed academically is absolutely there; and it always depends on how the professional educator ‘reads the situation’.
But educating, encouraging and empowering the emergence of ‘positive-parent-push’ behaviors is part of that highly effective principal’s job, and it is desperately what these students and their parents need; even when those same parents push-back against it.

The most powerful, confidence and competence building service you can perform for a politically and/or economically disenfranchised child, is to make them high academic performers. Which is why that highly effective principal must also strategically design initiatives and programs that can counteract the deleterious effects of poverty and that child’s possible lack of quality informal educational exposures (e.g. museums, cultural institutions, music, dance, art and STEM lessons, etc.) It’s the school-building leadership operationalization praxis of In loco parentis (in the place of a parent).

All of the above leads me to make my unfortunate hypotheses: That those children who already live on the ‘short end of the formal and informal educational stick’, will suffer the most from ‘learning lost’ during this closed down period.
Many parents will have (one or more): the money, time, contacts, information, connections, education and access to hardware and internet technology, that will allow them to provide anywhere from a decent to excellent ‘emergency’ learning experience for their child.
Further, there are vast difference between students in their ‘personality approach’ to the ‘taking of control’ of their own learning concept; you can see it in the eyes and attitudes of incoming 9th graders (others will ‘catch that fire’ in the 10th grade); it is those ‘on mission’ focused eyes that are saying: “OK, I will be here for 4 years, I know where I am going next, I know what I need to do, I’m not here to play, let’s go!” Those students,* who are highly self-motivated, and practice good learning habits will trust me, make a ‘learning feast’ out of this down school time; as they knowledge acquisition sprint pass their less motivated peers; especially in the middle and high schools levels.
Finally, parents exert different levels of authoritative and inspirational power over their children when it comes to home-learning; and so, the school can do a great job in placing ‘school-work’ (and many districts, schools and teachers are doing just that) online; and the child could have an internet computer (or phone) connection; but who is going to make sure that the child is doing the work?

After the plague, what must schools do?

I have given some thought of late as if I was a principal today and what strategies would I employ in this present crises. And of course I always think about how I would be worried-sad about my kids being ‘in those streets’. But when I thought ahead to next year, I imagined my school engaging in an academic recovery and reclamation project on a large school-wide scale; something that we actually employed every year on a smaller scale. And that is how we planned during the summer as to how we would bring students ‘up-to-speed’ who were performing below grade level in middle school; and also how we would address the academic needs of those few students who came from countries outside of the US and were missing significant years of schooling due to war or a natural disaster.
My staff and I would probably come up with some amazingly unprecedented phenomenal plan** to address all of the incoming 9th graders as well as the ‘rising’ 10th , 11th, and 12th graders, who all essentially lost a year of school. The good news is that we would already have the ‘boiler-plate’ plan that was used for those annually arriving under-performing 9th graders; who although they did not physically miss a year of schooling, they definitely arrived missing one, some or a lot of effective learning years of schooling.

________________________________________________________________

*Report to the Principal’s Office:Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; chapter 28; pg. 441: “Profile of a Good and Effective High School Student”.

** The “School access to supplementary financial and human resources gap” is also being displayed during the Covid-19 school closing crises and will be made even more obvious when schools reopen and attempts are made to seal the learning loss breaches, which will cause all students, regardless of performance level or ‘entitlement status’, to suffer academically. Many schools like my own, had a school 501c3 foundation and a fundraising (‘real money’, not cookies, candy and pictures money) plan, which could supplement the school’s centrally allocated (but always inadequate) district budgets. I would be quite surprised (no, extremely surprised) if after facing this major health crisis, that state governments will have the extra money to give schools what they will really need to ‘fix’ a missed year of learning. Particularly for our severe academically struggling students, and those students with IEP’s who really needed, but did not receive, a modified version or the required support for those online instructional programs.