All of humanity is in the cross-hairs of “Ignorance Snipers.” And so, what can professional educators do?

Donald Trump Test Positive For The Coronavirus… After so many years (K-young adult) of church Sunday school (and forever asking: “what would my mother say about my comments or actions”), I must admit that it worked; for I can’t bring myself to wish ill will on the most evil of persons. But God has mercy even on the wicked. Perhaps, this event will convince his most wicked followers (yes, if you support Trump, you are wickedly supporting an evil racist) to abandon their belief that COVID-19 was a hoax invented by “the deep-state”; and force them to take precautions against getting infected; thus saving themselves from a severe and possibly deadly illness. But as the polls reveal daily, I doubt any event can inoculate them against the power of his immorally contagious driveling.

We all live in the cross-hairs of “Ignorance Snipers.”

These Ignorance Snipers often exist as an extralegal forced imposition on society, or sadly in many places (like 1940’s Germany and modern-day America) as elected national leaders. The Sniper’s talent is in hunting and finding those shallow, base, and empty of empathy places in the human heart and mind. They are necessarily anti-science because science counters their fictional and incomplete explanations of the world, its problems, and its people. Alas, Ignorance Snipers want to keep things simple: The other-than-us is the enemy, they are the cause of your loss of racial privilege, entitlement and the waning ability to jump to the front of the line in any and all human endeavors. The Sniper’s recruits are living contently in insightful, contemplative, and compassionate free zones. Unexposed, underexposed, and free from the richness of intellectual pursuits. There they sit open-targets for the Sniper’s other great weapons of anti-truth and anti-facts; for like science, ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ undermines the Sniper’s explanation of why his followers are suffering and what they must do to end that suffering. His dupes hold on passionately like the last dangerous kicks or clawing of a dying beast, waiting for a coal mine that will never open again or that products company to return to America to pay US salaries that will make their products out of the average US citizen’s financial ability. The Ignorance Sniper’s recruited followers can be driven to such high levels of frothing frenzy that they become capable of the most horrible acts, including supporting The Sniper’s actions that hurt them.

To be honest, over the last four years, I have begun to do something I never thought possible; and that is to doubt the power of education to make people think, act and do right. I’ve always had a (perhaps unreasonable) prejudicial hypothesis; that education is the solution to most of the world’s problems. For example, I somehow believe that if the Ignorant Sniper’s recruits were better educated, they would surely see that their ‘personal-problems’ are not caused by the presence of the ‘other,’ but in reality are connected to larger inefficiencies and unfairness structures embedded in the political, societal, economic, and social inequalities that exist in their nation. They live inside of their social-economic pain and therefore can’t build a wall (even if paid for by Mexico; another falsehood) to separate their suffering from themselves. In fact, Trump’s supporters, and the ‘others’ they are encouraged to despise have more in common by a mutually shared exploitation that seeks to dehumanize and commoditize both of them. But the problem of our species (and thus the problem with my hypothesis) is that academic education without the equal absorption of a moral/ethical education does not prevent the Ignorance Snipers of our world from succeeding.

I eventually get past my frequent doubts about the ‘power of education,’ by remembering that I genuinely believe that with the childhood exposure to a moral/ethical curriculum, a good and sound diverse PreK-12 ‘liberal arts’ education, complete with an extensive world literature and cultural-literacy component, and high STEAM* exposures, are all in conjunction our best chance of thwarting the evil works of those who seek to plant the dangerous seeds of despair in the ‘mind-fields’ of those whose brains are easily tricked by the Ignorance Sniper’s promise of a good and blissful life as the reward for not knowing and not thinking.
As professional educators, we must continue to hope. And maybe this is an irrational hope, but it’s a hope that every professional educator must hold true to and in their hearts, as they carry this promise of a better humanity through educational enlightenment into a school-building every day.

*STEAM=Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.

Michael A. Johnson has served as a teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership: http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/.

For those seeking to re-elect Trump, any excuse will do.

Pauline Johnson: “Son, there is no right way to do wrong!”

As a NYC school principal and superintendent, I always lived in the same community where my students lived (literally next door and across the street). I love, love, love Brooklyn, but once I was appointed a Southeast Queens Superintendent, I moved to Southeast Queens. I also left my baptismal Brooklyn church to attend a church in Southeast Queens. Did students and parents come to my house, stop me everywhere, and at any time, to ask a question or seek assistance with a problem? Absolutely! But so what? I chose a servant-leader’s life, so you must suffer graciously with whatever comes with that title. It was important for me to not hide from the people I serve, and to experience the same living conditions my students and their families experienced. Those shared experiences were not always pleasant, like inadequate shopping options, particularly in the area of fresh food; or suffering daily indignities like being pulled over by the police because according to them: “We saw an expensive car in ‘this’ neighborhood, and we thought it might have been stolen!”

Once I was robbed at gunpoint by a young Black man, and I was actually more upset then scared. I tried to engage the young fellow in a dialogue (I know it sounds crazy). I explained to him that if he were willing to come to my school (without the gun, of course) tomorrow, I would do everything in my power to get him a job and some kind of job-training help to get him off the self-destructive path he was on. Once he got over the initial shock of my offer, he reminded me using words I won’t repeat that (my translation): (A) He had a gun, and (B) He stopped me for my wallet, not a principal mentoring session.
And so now back to those ‘undercover’ Trump voters, some masquerading as ‘independents’ and ‘undecideds'(really, undecided on decency, compassion kindness, and justice for all?).
I was, of course, personally upset and even angry by being robbed, but it never occurred to me to want to hurt young Black men; if anything, my unfortunate incident caused me to double-down in my efforts and commitment to save as many young people as possible. I don’t believe that any child is born a criminal. In fact, it is ‘us,’ a dismissive society, and ineffectual public school systems that drive children to lose their way and purpose in the world.

Love always responds correctly to the other’s suffering, even when it is expressed in ways that we don’t like. If your translation of: “We want to be treated like human beings by the police.” Is “You hate the police!“; then you don’t believe that Black and Latino people should be treated like human beings by the police. My mother always taught me that terrible life events don’t turn you into something that you are not; instead, they reveal who you truly are. So, there is never a good reason to mistreat another human being (“there is no right way to do wrong! she would say.”). Any Americans who will use the unfortunate events occurring in places like Wisconsin to vote for Donald Trump are at heart ‘Trump voters’ and are waiting for any chance to support him. Unfortunately, the Black Lives Matter Movement has been in some places hijacked by Black and White leftist-nihilist-adventurist (simply lacking in revolutionary discipline), who like their right-wing “opponents’ don’t care anything about Black lives. When the “Left” and “Right” go far enough in the opposite direction, they actually meet and find a convenient convergence of interest (see Grenada invasion, Cambodia Khmer Rouge). To be honest, there are a lot of US ‘left-progressives’ (who have a steady/decent income, good health insurance, and their children receive ‘white-entitlement level’ quality education), who actually want Trump to be reelected because they are working under a flawed ideological concept that if the suffering of ‘the people’ is dramatically increased, ‘the people’ will then become more ‘radicalized’; no, ‘the people’ will only suffer and die more.
If white America has taught us anything over the last four years, it’s that the old and tired Marxist hypothesis that suffering raises consciousness is a flawed experiment. Coal mines have not reopened; factories have not returned from places like Mexico; the white working class is hurting badly (as Trump also works hard to take away any hope of them having healthcare); and a substantial number of white Americans are dying and suffering in some way under Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 health crisis. And so, why do they still support him? I’ve told anyone who will listen for the last four years, it’s not a matter of Trump’s poll numbers being ‘low’; the question is, based on his performance, why are his poll numbers so high? Trump is a bigot and racist. Anyone supporting and voting for him (including the Republican Convention black minstrel show performers)supports bigotry and racism. Me, on the other hand, I’m just out here working to end the conditions that cause young people to want to rob you’ll!

I think I am developing Covid-19 quarantine ‘grouchiness syndrome’…

Symptoms: shortness of patience, low-tolerance for Bulls&%$, a propensity to just call things what they are, the inability to suffer quietly; and don’t give a D#&@ what people think! I am going to check-in with my former students in the medical profession to get a proper diagnosis!

34.5 Million, I’m sorry I really can’t…

“Shaun King Keeps Raising Money, and Questions About Where It Goes..”*—The Daily Beast

Note: The Daily Beast is not a right-wing rag; and in fact, I found the article well-researched, fair, and balanced; and offered Mr. King more than (the usual) ample opportunity to provide counter and clarifying narratives and explanations for the many charges leveled against him.

I don’t know if it’s the result of a quarantined life-style or just some naturally age-time acquired “crankiness” (or a combination of the two); but I find that I am losing what little mental-space-patience I had for foolishness. I am so sick of the black traffickers in Black pain and misery industry. Who I believe secretly want a Trump reelection because they have turned Black suffering into a marketable commodity. The other reason is that they are personally financially capable and secure (also having good health insurance) to make it through 4 more years of Trump; meanwhile, a large number of Black folks (especially children) and many of Trump’s targeted for destruction ‘others’ won’t survive or will survive irreversibly broken after 4 more years of his and the GOP’s rule.

I know, I have been told on many occasions throughout my life that I can’t say many of the things I say because: “White people will hear/see it!” (Like ‘white people’ don’t know that public education systems are tragically not meeting the needs of the majority of Black children!) And further, count it as either a strength or weakness, to be honest, my work efforts (no disrespect) don’t take into account what ‘white people’ see, think, or feel about the efficacy or direction of my work. But if I am to step further into honesty, much of the best support I have received over the years (up to today) has come from ‘white people’. I will never stop praising the courage and vision of the late Dr. Donald Scherl (Former President; SUNY Downstate Medical Center), who in the face of a lot of opposition, allowed people like Dr. Gerald Deas, George Leonard, Tiffany Harrison and myself to essentially turn a medical school into a dynamic summer medical science learning program for middle and high school Black and Latino students.

34.5 million!

I am thinking of all of the wonderful public school teachers and administrators who annually ‘donate’ to an unofficial ‘school supplies, materials, and helping students and their families support tax’ out of their own pockets; monies that will never end up as donations on anybody’s IRS tax forms.

If these woken and much spoken on radio, print and cable TV people, who make a career out of Black people’s suffering taught some Black children (other than their own) how to read, bought them a microscope or a computer and then taught them how to use it, and then helped those same young people to master algebra, and thereby unlocking and opening wide the ‘gate’ to a future STEM career; I could half-way respect them, but all of this only ‘telling white folks off’ mess, I find tiring. I was so proud to see Brooklyn’s Concord Baptist Church actually ‘do something’ substantially significant (Paying off $4 Million dollars of Medical Bills Amid the Coronavirus crisis) to relieve the Covid-19 suffering of our people; but if they wanted more ‘news-media-time’ for their wonderful efforts they probably would have done better to have a press conference and call Joe Biden names!

And this is why in my view, that great supporter of education, scholarship awarder, and a builder of schools LeBron James, is statistics and ‘GOAT’ documentaries notwithstanding, one of the greatest celebrities of all time!

*https://www.thedailybeast.com/shaun-king-keeps-raising-money-and-questions-about-where-it-goes-3?fbclid=IwAR3ovD3Du2abtEX-JKZPa7L3uD8emKDBEkgbZjVRrqzU0ZJdCr-mdsFsXgA

It might be up to ‘entitled’ NYC parents to fix this “distance learning” mess; well good!

“…Some parents at highly-regarded Forest Hill elementary school PS 196 said their teacher has gone weeks without personal interaction with their child…” — NY Post

I have spent enough years in public education (at multiple levels), to fully grasp the apartheid of quality educational learning opportunities that form the basic framework of America’s public school systems. Anyone who says different is either an enabler of that discriminatory system, or, well, I not sure what to say that would be nice.

When I became a superintendent in 2000 I inherited an ‘unofficial’ NYCDOE policy. It seemed that teachers who won their arbitration cases (and there were a lot of them), against principals who were trying to rate them ‘unsatisfactory’ were somehow sent to specific districts and schools (you can’t send them back to their original school for a lot of reasons). To be specific, they were sent to Title-1 school districts and schools. I only found out about this ‘process’ because one of my principals called me practically in tears one day saying: “Superintendent Johnson, we are working so hard to turn this school around; and we are making tremendous progress; please, I can’t take a teacher that’s going to hurt us!” She was right, this was a school that had one of the highest concentrations of homeless students in the city; and yet we were making some demonstrative academic achievement progress. I called in the Director of HR and she confirmed that indeed she had directed the teacher to that particular school. “Why?” I asked, “Clearly that’s a school we are investing a lot of resources (e.g. teacher center, extra AP & staff-developer, STEM lab and F/T science teacher, art & music programs, etc.) to turn-it-around; at this point, we can only send good instructional practitioners into that school!” (beside we would ‘own’ that tenured teacher next year!) Her honest and sincere answer was painfully startling as it was enlightening. “I know you are doing everything possible to fix this district and a lot of people are fighting against you, and so if I sent that teacher to P.S X, Y or Z; the parents would raise hell and give you problems.” I thanked her (at times as a leader you must focus on the ‘good intentions’) and then directed her to “send the teacher back”. This led to my receiving a call from an official from central who proceeded to explain to me “how things work in community school districts”; a not-so-subtle dig at my having come from that less politically driven “High School Division”. I listened politely, and then informed the official that: “This process does not work for me, and therefore I am not taking her; and will not take any like her in the future.” I continued, “the Chancellor charged me with turning around what is in everyone’s estimation the most underperforming district (CSD29Q) in the city, and that’s what I am going to do!” “I would be happy to meet with you and the Chancellor, and if he directs me to take the teacher I will!” Never heard from him again and the process of ‘dumping’ (from both bad ratings and rubber rooms) personnel into our district stopped! I did not celebrate over this victory because I was fully aware that my stand meant that my colleagues/friends in places like districts: 9, 12, and 16 would suffer.

School systems nationally, not just NYC, have different ‘response modes’ for different communities. I and many others have said from the beginning that this “distance learning” thing was more effective public relations then efficacious public education. And further, this school closure crisis, if not addressed in a radical and strategically smart way, would produce dramatic learning losers and learning winners*.

In fairness to the NYCDOE some of that learning winning and losing can’t be controlled by any school district. Those children who have parents with the financial resources, education, information, and time, will gain during this school closure time. And it would be professionally unethical to ask (even if they would listen) those parents to decelerate their home instruction program. But if the official ‘distance-learning’ program is not working in more ‘entitled’ schools; then perhaps (and unfortunately but true) NYC’s elected officials will be forced to take some affirmatively drastic actions to fix the situation. And this could greatly help those communities where distance learning is also not working and could very much be inflicting long-term educational harm.

*“I said that the Covid-19 school closure situation would greatly help some students, while badly hurting others, well…”: http://majmuse.net/2020/03/26/i-said-that-the-covid-19-school-closure-situation-would-greatly-help-some-students-while-greatly-hurting-others-well/

*“Long-term school closures will produce student winners and losers”: 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/

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.

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

Notes from In-house exile: Feeling the End of Touching…

(4) March 21, 2020

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not”–Dylan Thomas

I’ve reduced intimacy to the constant warm feelings of two hands, covered with warm soapy water, engaged in the act of hand-washing (these days you do what you can). As an educator I guess I have always been able to transform some challenging situation into an exercise of practical problem solving. And with the inept and callous efforts by the leader of this nation, I could imagine seeing the end of my life without ever hugging another person again.

One of my former students who is now an educator and is presently working with a class size of one; and by the way is doing a great job with her child’s preschool remote learning class, posted: “Anybody want a 3 yr. old?” … I wanted so bad to say “Yes, me!”. A plague can separate us from our call-to-service; for alas I have a house with a children’s book library, educational toys, puzzles and games, but I am missing a three year old. I know her mother will probably say: “Yeah right, I’ll give him one day with a three year old and…” (But what I want to know Akilah; is why none of you’ll told me about this D-Nice party thing; I could have brought my flashlight—inside SSCHS joke!:-)

It also just occurred to me once again after (ELA skill) comparing and contrasting the White House and NYS Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s press briefings; that as a nation we are in serious trouble. But then there is a kind-of-good trouble that I have striven to always get myself into. Andrew Cuomo is like that crazy (good crazy): “I can’t let these folks destroy my children” principal, working in a public school system that is structured to destroy certain children. You can’t wait, you can’t fool around, because your children can’t wait. You must speak the truth, even if it makes people uncomfortable, and act audaciously even as those same people want to maintain the status qua. It is probably a matter of taking matters into your own hands; and then when necessary bend, twist, ‘reinterpret’ and sometimes break rules that work well for some kids, but don’t work well for your students. The only chance a Black and Latino child, or any poor and/or politically disfranchised child of any color, ethnicity or religion will have to succeed, is to have a ‘crazy’ educator take up their cause.

I turn everything no matter how bad, into a reading project. I guess in the midst of any tragedy we must all find some individual small space of a peace process that will help us to cope. It might sound morbid to some, but I just completed my second plague (Covid-19) related reading (Edgar Allan Poe’s: “The Mask of the Red Death”). The great myth that the plague destroys, is that we can somehow separate ourselves from the pain and suffering of others.

There is an equality of aspirational dreaming for all children, regardless of race or economic status. I learned that as a superintendent visiting PreK and Kindergarten classrooms, where all of the children will enthusiastically give you a list of things they want to grow up to be: dancer, police officer, doctor, fireman, nurse, teacher, astronaut, air plane pilot… Often multiple professions in one lifetime! And then they move up in the school system and lose large parts of those dreams at every new grade level (especially Black and Latino boys). Public schools should be dream builders, not dream destroyers. And yet we can make sure our entitled kids receive a quality education (and not lose their dreams); and deny that same level of quality education to the children of ‘others’.

But the Plague introduces a kind of terrible equality; those children denied a quality education (and thus an end to their dreaming); will later be the adults who will bring the plague of their lost dreams onto the heads of the children of privilege; for in a social-economic plague there is no separate place to hide.

On Education: Black Child Attending an Alabama School is Bullied to Death: Did Anybody at the School see McKenzie Nicole Adam?

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On Education: Black Child Attending an Alabama School is Bullied to Death: Did Anybody at the School see McKenzie Nicole Adam? By Michael A. Johnson–December 27, 2018 “Pardon me for mentioning McKenzie’s name so often in this column. But I … Continue reading