Black folks please be careful of both the Covid-19 virus and the viral disease of racism…

OK, I have now been made aware of three situations (I know the individuals personally) where three highly educated, smart and articulate African-American men (one a PhD. who reviewed my book) who have entered a commercial establishment correctly wearing a Covid-19 facial protection mask, only to have the store employees and/or a fellow white customer assume that these individuals were there for the purposes of committing a crime. Fortunately, none of these scenarios ended tragically. I suspect that there are other instances in the nation of which I am unaware.

Look, I know that many of you have received, and in some cases adopted the US ‘post(Obama)racial’ story-line. But I am going to give you the same old-fashion Black elders advice I received as a youngster. This is the cautionary instructional lesson that I ‘upgraded’, rephrased; and then gave to all of my Black (and Latino) students over the years; even when they did not want to hear it.

To be honest, I hated as a child every time a family member, neighborhood or a church elder told me that: “Because you are a Negro (or Black), you must work twice as hard as a white person, because of prejudice!” I felt that those conditions were extremely unfair; and since I spent most of my childhood school days at the top of my classes, and ended up being placed in gifted and talented programs; I felt that I was already, “smarter” then most of my white student peers, without having to work too much harder. In fact, I spent many countless days/hours in the Brooklyn Public Library, The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and The Brooklyn Museum, reading books at home; essentially competing against myself (not white kids) in acquiring vast amounts of knowledge. But back then (1950’s) you had to actually listen to adults and could not argue back. But, over the years I have come to be less critical of and more appreciative of the elders of my youth.
Their approach probably did not meet my pedagogical standards for teaching a lesson. But they were doing the best they knew how in trying to protect us from the horrible reality of the societal and US cultural wide practices of discrimination, low expectations (still very much in play in our public schools today) and biased negative perceptions.
The elders of my young days did the best that they knew how to do; and their wise observation and assessment of the true identity of America was correct then, and it is with some small modifications, for the most part still true today.

We should not get it twisted, or confused; whether you like it or not; living in a nation that is built on, thrives in, and is powered by racism and bigotry, your Blackness is your ultimate existential reality. For over forty years I have pushed and supported young people by way of education, to realize their highest aspirational career dreams. There is no record of me ever encouraging a young person to work below their potential; and in fact taking that position has caused me a great deal of personal, financial and professional pain. But let’s be clear, it does not matter if you are a MD, PhD, Ed.D., JD, DD or no D; rest assure at some point, in small or large aggressive ways, you will over and over again encounter the ‘black group treatment’ of prejudice and discrimination. And please note, that many of the pathological racially damaged black persons in our nation, could also be the very individuals who will inflict this racial prejudice mistreatment on you.

I am proud to have served as a public school principal and superintendent; but I can also say that not one day ended without someone, a parent, public or district official, one of my peers or even the people I supervised; failing to remind me that they saw me as no different from any Black person who was at the bottom of the school or district staffing chart.

Two of my best friends are highly accomplished Black physicians; and they both have numerous stories of being on the receiving end of racial aggressive actions, including from white doctors they were training! One, a trauma surgeon was told by a white patient arriving to the trauma center after a car accident: “Can I get a real doctor?” (I told him that he was a better person then I, because I would have said: “Sure, in fact he stared in a James Bond movie and his name is Dr. No-doctor!”)

Every prominent Black American thinker, artist and educator (W.E.B. DuBois, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Lorraine Monroe, Ralph Ellison, Asa Hilliard, to name a few) has made this point: That against our will, and not requiring our consent, awareness or agreement, we Black people are forced, by virtue of our US residency to live in two separate and unequal political world realities. And any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of this edict, will always lead to loss, pain, suffering and perhaps even death.

Remember, that the poor national government response to the coronavirus is very much in part due to the large numbers of white Americans who wanted (and still want according to polls) a president who is clearly unfit and incompetent; but who would work hard to make bigotry and prejudice great again.

Referees warn boxers before a fight: “Protect yourself at all times!” And so, despite the bad ‘medical advice’ being provided by “science experts” on social media platforms, Black people are not immune to coronavirus.
We must at all times, in the best ways that we can (e.g. staying home!) protect ourselves and others from this dreaded disease. But at the same time we must be of ‘two-minds’ and be proactively and protectively aware of that other American chronic and untreated deadly viral disease of racism, for which no vaccine has ever been employed.

There is no Greater Leadership Love…

“Navy fires USS Theodore Roosevelt captain days after he pleaded for help for sailors with coronavirus”

The first question I posed as superintendent/instructor to the participants in both of my (2000-2003) NYC CSD 29Q: “Teacher to AP” and “AP to Principal” courses was: “Why do you really want to be a school-based educational leader, really?” I did not acknowledge hands in both rooms. Because (as I said then) I believe that question is best answered in the private solitude of each aspirer’s heart. (And deciding to go forward, the next conversation you aspiring to school leadership person should have is with your family—For they will absolutely be drawn into/be part of, your challenging school leadership journey!)

I once took a group of students on a field-trip aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier. My first observation was that it looked and acted a lot like a city. And further, as someone very interested in organizational leadership; I hypothesized that there is perhaps no more dynamically and multilayered complex, dangerous (e.g. the nuclear elements) and challenging leadership position that one could sign up for. Unlike what does not happen enough in our public schools; there seem to be a collective understanding in every area of the ship, that the casual acceptance of failure could lead to catastrophic events. ( I experienced that same ‘professional understanding’ on a student trip aboard a USN nuclear submarine–But that’s an amazingly different story for another time!)

On that aircraft carrier visit I met with various members of the flight deck crew and the Naval Tomcat pilots in their briefing room; where they all described to me what sounded a lot like: “a wing and a prayer” plane take off procedure from the ship, and what essentially seem to be a “controlled crash” scenario when those planes returned to land on the ship (fully armed). Personally, having experienced the massive complexity of an aircraft carrier, the multi-skilled and diverse-knowledge required by its commanding officer; I did not then and do not now believe that the Navy would assign a “flake” to be captain of a “Nimitz Class” USN aircraft carrier. And so, any White House attempts to discredit the quality of Captain Crowley’s leadership abilities, somehow rings conveniently contrived and dishonest. And hopefully, a presidential change in November could lead to restoring this brave man to his rightful and well-earned position. But maybe there won’t be a change election in November and instead our captain will be further punished and damaged, at least for four more years.

A lot of folks like to profit from, play at and “sugar-coat” leadership. Many ‘educational leaders’ spout brave and courageous educational rhetoric on social media; but in their daily practice they do nothing to fight for the children and communities who can’t fight for themselves. Bookstores all over the nation have sprouted whole large book sections on the topic of “Leadership”, and I guess in a ‘motivational-technical-knowledge’ way that’s fine. But what a lot of very articulate “personal-power” consultants don’t tell you is that engaging in true and authentic principled leadership, could mean sacrificing oneself for the good and survival of the many. That’s the true nature, of the true and authentic leadership standards of practice that I wanted my CSD 29Q teachers and assistant principals to contemplate. The “price” of seeking to provide the disenfranchised children of our nation, with the same quality learning as their enfranchised peers, is not just an increase in your paycheck; rather it is an increase in the risk of losing everything.

Knowing what I know about the Navy, this man was probably on the “Admiral Career Track”; but there is no greater expression of leadership love then sacrifice. For he found himself standing between the safety of his crew and a crazed US president, who is doing everything in his power (for purposes of reelection), to minimize the horrible magnitude of the coronavirus plague that he so badly managed from the start. And as Captain Crowley watched his crew grow sicker and sicker each day, he made what I believe was the only choice available for an ethical leader—and that was to save a group of people, who despite their military titles, are also human beings and members of families.

As a leader you can easily reject the easy low-hanging ethical-practices fruit, like not stealing; but the challenge is when you consciously give up power, wealth, a cherished position; those ‘somethings’ you worked hard for, those ‘things’ you really wanted and honestly felt you deserved.

There is leadership ‘style’ and then there is leadership substance; and the latter defines the quality (and the quantity of that quality) of your character. That’s why I purposely led off with: “The Ethics of the Principalship” in by book: Report to the Principal’s Office.1 Because if you don’t get the Leadership Ethics part right; then nothing else really matters; since your leadership won’t really matter in the learning lives of children.

The curse of the common-core-careerist…

Without a powerful ethical/moral compass to keep you on the ‘higher best (not necessarily the easiest) path’, then you are just a person solely committed at your core to common careerism. The ‘common-core-careerist’ (public education is flush with them), are like most of those ‘leadership-management books’, they could be technically ‘competent’; but ultimately a leader will be tested and proven at the point of possible personal sacrifice. It is when you either act or don’t act on behalf of those who for whatever reason, can’t defend themselves against a system structured to destroy them. And it is in those character defining moments, that the confirmed common-core-careerist will either run out or sell out.

“Navy fires USS Theodore Roosevelt captain days after he pleaded for help for sailors with coronavirus”… https://news.yahoo.com/navy-fires-uss-theodore-roosevelt-210606455.html


1. Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Leadership. http://majmuse.net/report-to-the-principlas-office-tools-for-building-successful-administrative-leadership/

Note: At Phelps ACE high school, Washington DC, we were able to forge a partnership with the US Navy that included things like trips for students to many different Naval facilities and active duty vessels, support for our FIRST Robotics and Cyberforensics Teams and a hand’s on study experience at the Naval Research Lab with underwater robotics.

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…

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.

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*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.