A School Leadership (staff & students) Teachable Moment: The Dave Chappelle theater renaming ceremony debacle –There’s a strong possibility that many things went wrong on multiple levels.

As a superintendent, I’ve told principals in an after-crisis review session: “Well, we might as well put this painful situation to some good use by turning it into a reflective leadership learnable moment!”

“Comedian Dave Chappelle unexpectedly announced Monday that a student theater at his alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington, will not bear his name… in a surprise move, Chappelle, who attended the dedication ceremony, declined the honor amid controversy over his Netflix special last year that many blasted as transphobic. Ellington students had also raised concerns…”—Washington Post

It is that rare (as in a live woolly mammoth sighting rare) decision that a principal will make where all the internal and external school family stakeholders are happy. This is why a principal should probably avoid making a decision that will result in everybody (for some reason or another) being unhappy.

So now, on this Dave Chappelle issue, I can wear multiple perspective hats (1) Principal, (2) Superintendent, and (3) A recipient of being honored by having a library (now state-of-the-art media center) in the school where I was a principal named after me.

Most public school districts I am aware of have a standard prohibition against naming a school or any part of a school after a living person for many good reasons, all predating and having nothing to do with Mr. Chappelle. One good reason is that the person is still alive! This means that by being a living person, there is always the possibility that they could say or do something that would bring shame or dishonor to the institution, a lesson you don’t want children to learn and endure. This is why I was so honored (noticing that I was still alive) to have a section of my former NYC school named after me; which meant the present principal, superintendent, the school district’s legal department, and the Chancellor all felt confident that I would not “lose it” (and do something crazy like storm the US capital to overturn a presidential election…) before I finally bow out of this world, thus forcing them to go through the ugly process of rescinding the honor bestowed upon me, and the even uglier painful process of having to explain their actions to my family, the public, press, staff, and students. And we could double down on their trust-in-me factor since the primary funding ($1-million) source for the new Media Center was the then Brooklyn borough president, who had just won the primary, and soon-to-be mayor Eric Adams.

But with all that, my “renaming ceremony” took more than two years before it was publicly mentioned. This amount of time was needed even with me being a person who is well-known in the NYC/NYS public education community. I joked with a friend that at this pace (I was 70 at the time), I could be dead soon, thus making the investigation phase move much faster!

Although I was the subject of the process, as a former NYC principal and superintendent, I know how much preempting “Due Diligence” investigative work is performed when a prohibition-waving decision of this magnitude is made; any mistakes and political “heads could roll”! This “intense vetting” process is especially important in a hyper news media place like NYC (I’m not kidding––when the NYC Mayor eats at a restaurant, reporters actually report on his menu choices!) or in the case of a celebrity like a Mr. Chappelle, in a “hot” news media place like Washington DC.

After the rigorous research and internal discussions period have concluded, the next step is to ask the honoree privately and informally if they would be opposed to this honor being bestowed upon them and to answer any questions they might have. This is also when the potential honoree is politely invited to voluntarily offer any possible problematic information for discussion. You then wait (still no public announcement) for a while to allow both the honoree and the school system to think through and about this decision. During or at the end of this period (months), either party can back out without any public embarrassment or negative conflictual situation.

I don’t know the precise details of the Dave Chappelle –Duke Ellington H.S. (DEHS) situation, so I am not blaming any one person, but several issues/questions come to my mind (now wearing my superintendent’s hat) when I think about the possible contributing causes of the crisis. I also think back as a superintendent to those many situations when I had to prevent (fortunately, without any news coverage) a principal from entering into or had to pull a principal’s behind out of the fiery pit of serious self-destructive trouble!

Facing this particular Chappelle renaming issue, my first question to the principal would be the “still alive” question and our having a conversation (before Mr. Chappelle is contacted) about why (or why not) in this case, we should wave the prohibited naming regulation for a living person; and specifically, the why should we wave it for this living person. And further, honestly exploring one of my favorite leadership questions: “What could possibly go wrong?”

So many people think of Chancellors and Superintendents primarily as ‘pedagogical agents.’ And yet, their educational work efforts can be highly affected by and highly susceptible to the results of ‘political problems or issues.’ So a principal must always be alert and prepared to protect their supervisor from unnecessary, politically harmful situations.

But back to my superintendent’s hat discussion with the principal. We would need to have a focused conversation on Mr. Chappelle’s particular art form –comedy. The comedic arts and tradition specialize (and for good enlightenment and entertainment reasons) in pushing audiences to what could be “uncomfortable places.” What I would see as simply an insightful and thought-provoking joke by a comedian (or an actor in a comedic role or scene), another person could take as a serious offense. Further, in our present era of ultra-political-correctness, it is challenging, even outside of stand-up-comedy, to get through an ordinary non-controversial public speech and not “offend” somebody in some way (“oh wait, she said mankind instead of humankind!”).

But professional comedians, not necessarily seeking to offend, will purposely use controversial language to push the audience members ‘intellectual buttons’ to get them to think about something they would rather not or are afraid to think about or speak out loud. In many ways, comedians speak for (and often take the heat for) our unexpressed inner questions, ideas, thoughts, and, to be honest, our unvoiced and silenced sense of humor.

Let’s face it, as tragically harmful a Donald Trump or Herschel Walker storyline, there is a comical aspect to their behaviors! And perhaps, it is that funny buffoonery exhibition of their lives that keeps many of us from becoming totally cynical and/or depressed–but clearly, many others in our nation love and adore these two individuals! When Dave Chappelle said in one of his shows that “Black people supported Jussie Smollett with our silence,” many Black folks, I’m sure, got the joke’s cultural, historical, and inside political brilliance–but others (including, I suspect, some Black folks) may have been offended by it. My point is that one person’s acceptable joke could be another person’s unacceptable offense, so where does that leave us? (hopefully not in no jokes about the ‘great leader’ North Korea land!)

And so my superintendent’s question to the principal: “After you have reviewed hours of Mr. Chappelle’s work, do you believe your staff, parents, external supporters, and students will be overwhelmingly able to endorse and support this effort?” And, (a front-end process) “Have you discussed this with your school leadership team and key parents, faculty and staff members?” (And principals, I do hope you know who those key ‘sounding-board’ parents, faculty and staff members are in your school building! In high schools this can include feed-back from some mature and thoughtful, or highly/directly affected, and ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ student leaders.)

I have (full disclosure) visited this great school (DEHS) in question on several occasions and knew a little bit about its culture. Even from my outsider’s view, I could imagine some members of that extended school stakeholding family would have serious problems with some of Mr. Chappelle’s jokes.
And because the physical and emotional safety of children must be a priority in public education, we should always error on the side compassionate protection. Perhaps, a better route would have been to honor Mr. Chappelle with a prestigious alumni scholarship named after him, as opposed to a space students would have to enter, study and perform in. College scholarships are consistently named after not-so-perfect and sometimes controversial people (e.g., people), and students can choose to apply for them or not.

Finally, I think that the entire school, particularly a performing arts high school, should turn this unfortunate event into a teachable, learnable, critical analysis (there, you see, some people will be offended by my use of a “critical analytical approach” to study) moment. The students are going to engage in many (on and off campus) discussions about the incident; and so, why not have those discussions be staff-led, positive and productive? Some topics for discussion (consistent with the school’s mission) could be:

“When does speech become violence?”

“What does it mean to feel safe and humanized in a space?”

“What is the comedic art form and tradition?”

“What is artistic freedom?”

“What is acting or performing? Can we separate a ‘performance personality’ and dramatically professed beliefs from the performer’s real (life) personality and beliefs?” –Is Denzel Washington a heroic (Malcolm X) Black leader or a (Training Day) brutal and corrupt cop? Or, maybe he’s just Denzel Washington playing a role!

“What people, and how many of them must be offended by an art presentation for it to be banned or canceled?”

“Who has the political power (in any society) to determine acceptable/appropriate or unacceptable/inappropriate art expressions?” –or in this case, what’s funny and not funny?

And finally:

“Why and would the students want to attend a post-high school performing arts training institution with a complicatedly ‘bad’ historical connection (e.g., as in Yale and its benefiting connection to American slavery), accept a fellowship or scholarship program named after a horrible person (e.g., a Rhodes Scholarship named for a racist mass-murdering imperialist), or perform at a venue (The Jefferson Performing Arts Center; named after a rapist and unrepentant enslaver of human beings!)…
(Among the ethical and credibility problems with the entire “cancellation” movement/process are the numerous unspoken and hypocritical economic-financial, opportunistic, racial, gender, and power-differential factors involved.)

These are difficult but necessary questions that must be addressed by all young people, but especially by the Duke Ellington High School students, many of whom could be entering the world of further art study and/or professional performance after graduation. Therefore, we high school educators must help students to think strategically (helping guide them to avoid as much societal and self-harm as possible) about successfully navigating through a world full of complicated contradictions and imperfect options; a place where things will rarely (if ever) be an ideal choice between a perfect good and a perfect evil.

And suppose “offensive” in the eyes of anyone who feels offended becomes the standard evaluative rule in comedy. In that case, we should just be honest as a society and ban all comedy. For why should one person’s self-interpreted offense be less pertinent and uncomfortable than another person’s self-interpreted offense?

Are we as a nation taking ourselves too seriously? I have of late discovered and enjoy immensely with my other senior citizen friends the joy of laughing at our present and younger (so solemn and serious) selves!

But seriously, as an African-American man, I would very much like to ban what I consider to be some of the most degrading and insulting modern-minstrel-shows on television (I’ll admit, they are often enjoyed by many Black Americans). Then there are those newspaper, TV news, and magazine articles that daily assault and seek to ignore and diminish my humanity and personhood. Still, I’m not going down that canceling-censoring path because there are probably many people in this nation who are offended by many of the artistic, creative and informational sources and performance things I cherish and enjoy, so where would that lead us?
If everyone decides to slay everyone else’s sacred beliefs and then impose their own sacred beliefs on everybody else, we will then be left to live in a world where the belief system that ultimately triumphs will do so through the cynically cruel mechanisms of either political (SCOTUS) and/or physical (Taliban) violence.

From Bad Pedagogy to a Buffalo Mass Shooting Part 1

Why the intense efforts devoted to stopping US public schools from teaching Critical Inquiry Thinking and Analytical Skills is dangerous!

Part 1: An uncorrupted, rigorous, rich thinking, and mind-expanding education is essential for a human and humanity’s moral and intellectual evolution!

During a horrible pandemic and the terrible possibility of a spreading to multiple countries war in Europe; a former US president, several national political congressional leaders, some US governors, and several state legislators seem to have a lot of time on their hands because they are expending tremendous amounts of obsessive energy (e.g., book banning’s, dumbing-down learning standards, attempts to ‘make-disappear’ non-white and LGBTQ Americans from past and present history, engaging in movements to misrepresent and delegitimize K-12 curriculum, etc.) And on one particular topic, frantically and falsely trying to restrict the teaching of a graduate/law school level theoretical approach to studying history (“Critical Race Theory”) that does not exist in any state’s PreK-12 curriculum standards.

But, unknown to them or cynically known by them since many of these bad actors are themselves graduates of some of the most elite and educationally entitled K-12, undergraduate, and graduate school programs in our nation; which means they would know (by experience), that all good and faithful pedagogy, in all content areas, is foundationally based on questioning, investigating, probing, truth-seeking, all driven and undergirded by a scientific-systematic thinking process, and delivered through critical-analytical research-based teaching methodologies.

All good pedagogy (historiography, scientific methodology, mathematical reasoning, literary analysis, etc.) will ask students to critically analyze environmental and theoretical data and information.
This intellect-building way of teaching and learning approach is intentionally designed to act as an agent for advancing the scope and depth of human advancement knowledge, with a hopeful by-product of producing in the student a guiding ethical and moral compass for their participation in a future chosen professional practice; and in an additional hope, to grow the learner’s compassionate “caretaker” concern for our planet and its inhabitants.

But, another good intention of a good analytical based education is that this information-knowledge rich learning experience could present the individual learner with a set of intellectual-inquisitorial-investigative skills that can serve as a reasoning-rich inoculant against our sometimes (as demonstrated by the study of human history) terrible fear-of-the-unknown, our primal sub-reasoning defensive behaviors, our underdeveloped inclinations to harm people we have ‘otherized’ (dehumanized) and disempowered (e.g., witch burnings, human sacrifices, infanticide, slavery, women’s reproductive organs serving as the property of men, etc.).

And so, a quality learning experience is a type of thinking-reasoning pro-evolutionary educational exposure process that stands in opposition to those things that have historically encouraged and produced so much painful anti-progress human ignorance in world history and ultimately created massive expressions of political, cultural, psychological, and physical terror and violence against the designated disentitled “other” members of our human family.

Part 2: What could possibly go violently wrong when we allow the denigration, diminishment, and/or the destruction of the teaching of a core pedagogical value of Critical Inquiry Thinking and Analytical Skills in the public educational experience? —Well, everything!

Michael A. Johnson is a native New Yorker and a proud product of NYC’s public school system. He served as a school: Teacher, Principal and District Superintendent. He led in the designing and building of two Science Technology, Engineering & Mathematics-Career Technical Education (STEM-CTE) high schools. Michael also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education, in the School of Education at St. John’s University.
His two books are:
Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.
Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal.

From Bad Pedagogy to a Buffalo Mass Shooting Part 2

What could possibly go violently wrong when we allow the denigration, diminishment, or destruction of PreK-12 instructional methodologies that focus on the core pedagogical values of Critical Inquiry Thinking and Analytical Skills? —Well, everything!

The problem for the ethically guided professional educator is that a necessary learning objective that essentially defines a PreK-12 quality learning experience is to teach students how to conceptualize and apply critical thinking skills in every subject-content area, including history. Historiography (the research-methodological-analytical approach to the study of history), in its most authentic form and application, is not structured to serve as a racial cheerleading exercise, nor is it designed to erase the anxiety of those citizens who (real or perceived) see their racial entitlement power slipping away.

The use of history as a tool of cultural aggression or as a way to negate the humanity of disenfranchised others is not ultimately beneficial for the “losing entitlement group,” as the overwhelming majority of them are, in actuality, experiencing the commercialized exploitation of their own humanity. The hurting-the-other ‘game-plan’ they are offered is a fake and fleeting hope that by focusing on race, reproduction rights, “critical race theory,” sexual orientation, ethnicity, or nationality dominance, they’ll find a path to authentic peace and personhood—they won’t.

The enraged citizens are not offered a pedagogy of positive possibility, a chance to see themselves growing their human capacity, not by being instinctively against others, but by humanely being with others who share their intrinsic suffering. It’s the act of educationally engaging in quality growth opportunities based on equality, fraternity, and the liberty of being separated from self-destructive, anti-diversity, and anti-inclusionary thinking. But instead, they are being taught that they are the ‘wounded-uncounted,’ their concerns unheard, and ultimately, they are in danger of being “replaced” by the ‘darker others’! They have been convinced that evolutional thinking-change-thinking, progress, modernity, and even the movement of time itself is their existential enemy. But demographic trends don’t lie; human progress and the passage of time can’t be stopped. And all of those desperate Brexit-like acts, no matter how good they make the ethnically bitter members of the British white working (middle or upper) class feel, they will never restore Great Britain to its previous highly-lucrative grand colonial master status; alas, “that colonial train,” as they say, “has left the station!”

The collective anxiety of losing unfairly acquired entitlements: “Why can’t things stay the same?”

Over time, that is generational, things like economic disparities, governmental and private sector discriminatory practices, the immoral use of national, state, and local power against the politically marginalized, having an unethically acquired advantage, violence (emotional and physical) as an appropriate terrorizing and subjugation tool to be applied to the disenfranchised members of the nation by official state agents and unofficial citizen ‘aggrievement-actors,’ the accepting (taking for granted), that public schools should (that is, must) work for some (entitled) children in the society and not work for other (disentitled) children, can come to feel, well, like the “normal” way things should be. And this deeply rooted collective conscious and unconscious belief system of evil inequality normality can, when it is threatened, feel like an attack on the “natural” (and even divine) order of the personal and larger universe.
Thus, desperate and highly damaging violent behaviors could be internally (psychologically) understood as a justifiable defensive and suitable pro-survival response posture. Unfortunately, violence driven by desperation is always dangerous and dangerously in play (“beware the last deadly kicks of a dying bull”) whenever empires or a special-privileges ‘pass’ approaches their expiration date.
The end-product of falsely created anger can easily be demagogically turned into ugly and painful violent actions. And (here’s the scary part) this loss of racial entitlement power and the fear of displacement anger can be transformed into actionable violence that will make ‘perfect sense’ to the perpetrators of that violence. It matters not if the “enemy” is praying in a South Carolina AME church or peacefully going about their lives in a Buffalo, NY, shopping mall; their murders are covered under a twisted (but fully believed) self-actualization writ of justification.

Michael A. Johnson is a native New Yorker and a proud product of NYC’s public school system. He served as a school: Teacher, Principal and District Superintendent. He led in the designing and building of two Science Technology, Engineering & Mathematics-Career Technical Education (STEM-CTE) high schools. Michael also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education, in the School of Education at St. John’s University.
His two books are:
Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership.

Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal.

You can find them at:
https://www.amazon.com/kindle-dbs/entity/author/B07DBRHDK8?_encoding=UTF8&node=283155&offset=0&pageSize=12&searchAlias=stripbooks&sort=author-sidecar-rank&page=1&langFilter=default#formatSelectorHeader

The Moral Hypocrisy and Cynical Contradictions Concerning the Sacredness of American Children.

“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.”― James Baldwin.

I’m sorry, but I’ve spent decades observing (and going to battle with) how this nation’s disenfranchised and the American dream disinherited children are treated educationally and societally. I see our dream-canceled young people filling our prisons to overflowing. The many homeless, hungry, destitute, and desperately poor Americans ―Did our interest and advocation for them disappear once they were born? Did the “give birth at all cost” folks ever practice a culture of compassion and caring extending beyond the birthing room walls, or did they chant “build the wall” to exclude the babies born in our neighboring countries? Will they join the Texas governor in seeking to ban non-US born (but once babies who were born) children from attending our public schools? This act of US public educators taking in and educating all children, regardless of where they were born (come just as you are “though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt”); this welcoming principle is one of the noblest attributes of our profession. But, in our present widely popular and politically rewarding zeitgeist of “punching-down” on the less fortunate, who will choose to care about and defend our children nationally after they are born and lose their “political advantage value“?

What does it mean, and what would we be willing to do as a nation spiritually and practically to be truly “pro-life” on behalf of mothers before and after they give birth and for all of the babies who are born; can we continue our sacred caring work at each developmental stage of their lives, continuing as they reach their seniorhood?

If most people who claim some form of foundational religious thinking knew the cost of selecting a “Pro (before and after the child is born) Life” discipleship, they would probably choose a more pleasant path, even if that path was spiritually contradictory and hypocritical.
This challenging and uncomfortable humane call to really and totally be “Pro-Life” is not attached to (and rejects) any rhetorically convenient or political posturing position; rather, it is our genuine, authentic calling and purpose as individual human beings and also our collective purposeful calling as a human family.

And so, you can pardon me if I am not convinced (based on their past and present behaviors) that many of the most passionate advocates for the “sanctity of life” actually believe that all of the children who enter our world and our public school systems are divinely sacred and inherently worthy of our most passionate protection and committed concern. Up to this point, they have given me no evidence that they even have the internal capacity or inclination to think and behave beyond their religion of exclusion and malicious nullification; and therefore, to quote Pauline Johnson: “Both the devil and you’ll are liars, and the truth is not in you!

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NYC Mayor Adam’s Five Borough Specialized High School (SHS) Expansion Plan could be an educational game-changer and save a lot of children.

I do hope that one of those schools will be a STEM-Applied Computer Science CTE SHS!(1)

For many of us veteran Title-1 (poor) schools urban (and rural) professional educators, the questions have never been about our student’s intellectual abilities, their passionate aspirations, or the hopes and dreams of their parents and communities. Instead, it has always been about expanding and extending the empowering exposure of high-quality teaching-learning experiences, “good atmospheric” and enriched resources conditions to larger cohorts of very capable students. This means those students have the opportunity to enter a clean, calm, and productive school environment; having access to adequate health, social-emotional, and counseling services; their teachers have the appropriate equipment, learning-support resources, and supplies, and the school follows a curricular approach that is rich in rigor, and strategically undergirded and guided by a team of skilled efficacious adults, inspired by a love of unconditional high expectations.

Young people have the amazing ability to rise and meet the academic challenges presented to them, often even shocking themselves when they perform at an exceedingly high level. But this can only happen if they are given a chance and learning conditions that will allow them to demonstrate the full range of their innate repertoire of skills, gifts, talents, and one or more expressions of the “multiple intelligences” (e.g., logical-mathematical, musical, physical, interpersonal, creativity, etc.) they possess.
This is why as a former NYC superintendent (CSD29Q), I “broke” the rules and decided on my own to dramatically expand the district’s limited Gifted & Talented (G&T) classroom “allocations,” including adding some of our “underperforming schools” to the list! And, of course, some of the folks who were centrally “in charge” of G&T programs were very upset with me (“turf-protectionism” is a big deal in school-district bureaucracies and can often take precedence over students’ needs); however, the then NYC Chancellor (Harold Levy) wonderfully supported my decision. That decision “paid” for itself by raising the standardized exams proficiency levels of all students, at all proficiency-performance levels, in every newly minted G&T school! You see, (something else the present mayor got right) the mere presence of elementary and middle school G&T classes (like high school I.B., A.P., exciting advanced electives, academic teams, and programs) will cause an entire school to “think-of-itself” and be seen by prospective parents more differently and positively! This is why as a CSD29Q superintendent, I saw a dramatic drop in parent requests for transfers or the parent’s use of “unofficial transfer” methods when I placed a G&T program along with an exciting applied STEM lab in a so-called “underperforming” school building.

But it should also be understood that the unfortunate and imprecise term “underperforming school” can be misleading since in every school, regardless of a school’s lackluster academic performance data, you should know that there are cohorts of students in that school building who are, in fact, performing well and in some cases “overperforming” and so, what are we to do with those children? (There are a lot of students who are actually “underperforming” in so-called “good” or “high-performing” schools, but that’s a topic for another day).

We should stop defining and dismissing students’ naturally high and perhaps undiscovered capabilities based on the neighborhoods where they live, their family’s income, their racial or ethnic identity, their parent’s level of education, or mastery of the english language.
I don’t believe that whoever is “in transcendent charge” of distributing talents to newborns is using any of the abovementioned socio-economic criteria (all out of the child’s control) as a determining factor of who does or does not get a talented gift(s) at birth. And suppose you don’t believe that all children are provided at birth with a special and unique contribution to the world. In that case, I don’t know what to tell you, except that I just hope you are not working or plan to work in the education field!

The mayor has also suggested that the new Specialized High Schools (SHS) admissions process will utilize a more comprehensive inclusionary focused approach rather than an exclusionary focused admissions process. This could mean assessing the multiple modalities (e.g., visual, verbal, touch, hearing, etc.) by which children learn and express that learning. This opens the SHS admissions opportunity door to a much wider pool of students than is allowed with the present SHSAT(2) process; this will further provide NYCDOE educators with a tool to ‘discover’ those young people who are not great at or who are ‘naturally nervous’ test-takers. These “challenged-test-takers” under new and improved screening procedures would be able to demonstrate their high levels of skills and knowledge outside of a “high stakes,” win/lose, one-day, one-chance exam. But that won’t stop those critics who are opposed to any form of standards of assessment from engaging in soapbox sophistry; that is, of course, unless they are talking about the standardized assessments that have enriched their own (or their children’s) personal and professional lives like the: SHSAT, NYS Regents Exams, Advance Placement Exams, SAT, ACT, GRE, PRAXIS, LSAT, MCAT, etc.

Create more successful outcomes on the back-end by creating more opportunities on the front-end.

I believe this expansion of SHS sites in NYC could save a lot of young folks if organized in a strategically smart way. These students will gain access to a high school experience that will push them to their best academically performing selves and raise their competitive academic capacities. Too often, many on or above grade and performance level young people in Title-1 high schools are fighting on two learning-fronts; first, trying to master the academic material and secondly, trying to navigate the very common learning distractions occurring in their schools and classrooms; this is too much to ask of an adolescent.

We need to absolutely improve the quality of education in all high schools in the city and, at the same time, allow academically advanced (especially those who are traditionally disregarded) students to demonstrate and perform in a high-expectations, peer-challenged, less stressful, and “safe-to-be-smart” learning environment. This work must be done as public school systems simultaneously improve (equalize) the quality (and quantity of that quality) of pre-high school learning in all elementary and middle schools. A student’s high school “opportunity-options” (e.g., advance, elective, AP courses, etc.) are ultimately determined and/or significantly influenced in their PreK-8 learning years, thus limiting or expanding their post-high school range of possible choices. Transitioning to a public high school should not be a quality learning survival-obstacle course, especially for children forced to cross an inferior pre-high school learning-less minefield.

(My warning to Eric Adams) The political pushback on this SHS initiative could get ugly and loud.

One of the argumentative attacks will be (and this is solely applied to high performing Black and Latino students): “If you don’t immediately ‘fix’ the entire system (or school), then no (Black & Latino) students should experience an educational program that meets their learning proficiency level needs.” And so, welcome to the club Mr. Mayor, for I have been on the receiving end of this kind of racially selective call for group mediocrity and collective underachievement thinking for many years; this line unfairly paints a lot of children in public education as “deficient learners” when they are not; it just could be that they, unfortunately, live in the “wrong” low-expectations/low-quality learning zip code.

One of the main reasons we in public education don’t do a better job with all children, including those struggling academically, is that we have not even figured out systemically how to do a good job with Black and Latino children who are on or above grade and performance levels; especially our Black and Latino boys who are members of that “on and above” group.
I challenge any leader or public education stakeholder to speak (as I have) at a state youth correctional facility; you will probably share the same alarming and sad thoughts I had as I drove home on that day:
My goodness, those are smart and talented kids; how on earth did we fail them so badly!
Unfortunately, specific segments of the US population send large numbers of their very capable, creative, inventive, and intellectually talented kids into the prison system; this is where they do successfully learn to apply their talents in the most personally destructive and societally harmful ways possible. We need to offer these young people (and ourselves) a more promising and positively productive future.

Mr. mayor, there will be push-back-hell to pay! (or maybe a ‘critical-mass’ of NYC parents will rise up and make their hopes and dreams for their children known!)

Interestingly, I’ve found, as an educator doing this: “equality of quality learning” work over the years, that the vast majority of these politically correct “push-backers” (yes, it purposely rhymes with bushwhackers) on anything relating to Black and Latino students receiving any type of “academically advanced” learning will be people who either themselves and/or their children enjoyed, or are enjoying some kind of public or private “specialized enriching educational exposure” — It’s a cynical attitude of: “what’s good for thee (the masses) is not good for me (the entitled ‘leader’ of the masses)!
But I say push forward Mr. Mayor, because, if this works, many NYC children will win, meaning they will at least have a better chance at having a decent and rewarding post-high school life. And ultimately, regardless of the cost, we must always be in the saving the children “business” and not in the business of supporting adults who want to create hypocritical PC hashtags or who want to pontificate on news and social media platforms, where they engage in meaningless and simplistic soliloquies that have nothing to do with real students in real public schools.
The public high school experience is our last chance in the PreK-12 system to make a significant and lasting difference in a young person’s life; let’s take every opportunity to make that difference powerfully impactful!

(1) See: REPORT TO THE PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership; Chapter 16 on establishing: “An Effective Career Technical Education (CTE) Program”; and Chap. 18 on; “Building the model schoolwide technology program and department”… https://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/about-the-report-to-the-principals-office-book/

(2) SHSAT: Specialized High School Aptitude Test presently in use for screening students admissions to gain access to several (but not all) of NYC’s specialized high schools.

“That idea is crazy!”: In the village of the absurd, any rational response will appear insane.

Recently, I was watching former POTUS Barack Obama speak at a White House ceremony celebrating the latest “upgrades” being made to the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) initiated by present POTUS Joe Biden. And like any former NYC high school student who paid attention during their English Language Arts (ELA) classes, I employed two very important techniques my great ELA teachers taught me:
(1) Treat films, speeches, plays, news stories, and TV programs as “literature” and, therefore
(2) employ those essential good ELA analytical skills of comparing and contrasting events, scenes, words, and characters.

I compared the decency, graciousness, and uplifting language of Mr. Obama with the SCOTUS Senate hearings “characters” (and I do mean ‘characters’ in a clownish-buffoonery context) who were viciously and disrespectfully (and with racial animus intent) publicly trolling now SCOTUS Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. And yet, as I watched these individuals play to the lower brain levels (limbic system) of the human prejudicial instincts, I was reminded that the news media and the “talking experts” class on TV/cable news shows are always touting several of these individuals ( e.g., Messrs. Cotton, Cruz, and Hawley) as potential presidential candidates; along with two governors Greg Abbot (TX) (I so much wanted to write “and Costello” but I didn’t want to insult-by-association, those talented actors/comedians of my youth—Abbot & Costello) and Ron DeSantis (FL).
But why? And in what sane (non-absurd) universe are any of these people presidential material? In fact, these cynical opportunists come across as some of the most lacking in compassion, divisive, dismissive, and disqualifying of the humanity of other people in our public life. (Good teachers always anticipate “the questions,” and so…) I know you will say: “But they were selected by a lot of people!” However, that speaks to the intellectually deficient desire to seek the comforting and secure feelings of satisfying those beforementioned primitive tribal protective (kill the ‘not-our-tribe’) emotions, but for modern assumingly evolved homo sapiens to engage in these endorsing the worse examples of human behavior as our leaders, is a scarily absurd proposition and state of being.

In light of these senators using the important SCOTUS appointment hearings for a pre-presidential-run posturing production, one is compelled to ask (again comparing and contrasting the tremendous task of the POTUS to lead a diverse nation) —Why is being a “decent human person” not a qualifying attribute for leadership at any level (and indecency not disqualifying)? When did “jerkish behaviors” become an endearing leadership quality? And so, I ask myself (hoping others are also asking) why are the words “POTUS” and the before mentioned “clownish-characters” names in the same sentence, unless that speaker/writer is describing “what is not presidential material or defining bad leadership qualities!” Why are the most ethically and morally challenged individuals in the world (e.g., Vladimir Putin or Marine Le Pen ) considered (obviously by many cooperating citizens) the most worthy people for assuming a significant and influential national leadership position?
Now, I am not talking about a morally perfect leader since even the very decent Mr. Obama must be held accountable for his cruel (lacking in discriminating accuracy) use of drone warfare; and voters could be given a pass for not knowing before voting for him that he would use drones in this way. But, for a citizenry to champion a leadership practice that is innately grossly toxic and fundamentally grounded (e.g., Donald Trump) in an ideology of immorality and indecency, that is something entirely different.

A major part of this leadership problem scenario is that we live in the world village of the absurd. Strength is defined as the willingness to invade a sovereign nation and then rain genocidal horror down on its non-combatant citizens. In this absurd world, “leadership qualities” are best expressed in how much you can deny, dismiss, and diminish the humanity of those who don’t look, live, love, or worship like you.
We (the citizens of the absurd world) somehow elect those who are obsessed with building exclusionary walls (those tribal instincts again) instead of compassionate, humane bridges for our fellow suffering human beings. So why are not the most decent, unifying, and morally strong among us considered our first and only choice for a leadership position?

Public Education unfortunately effectively mimics many of the negative qualities of the absurd world.

This national culture of absurdity also exists in our public school systems; since public education is a “face,” form, and function of our political systems and national cultural character. When we elect to do the same not-working things over and over again; or simply go through the motions of renaming and repackaging strategies that fail year after year to dismantle our learning quality apartheid system, this would, in words and deeds, appear on its face to be, well—absurd!

But what if the cycle of public education’s absurd not-working for most kids practices was halted? What if entities like the US congress or the State legislatures (being forced by the guillotine-equipped angry masses) said: “first, we are going to give our schools the legislative and statutory powers and freedoms to do their best (very reasonably possible) work—And then hold their leaders to job-retaining accountability!” This means things like public schools having the ability to match the strongest, most experienced, and best methodological teaching practitioners with our “weakest” students—and then paying those teachers according to their competency and specialty work. A school day, week and year schedule that realistically and efficaciously responds primarily to the physical, emotional and learning needs of students. And further, things like not having our struggling Title-1 schools being overwhelmed by deleterious social-economic factors afflicting the learning quality capabilities of their students; in other words, defining equality and equity in a way that allows schools to off-set and neutralize social inequities and the differences in a child’s access to high-quality parental-push-power.
(
I describe this neutralization of social inequities compassionate operational process in multiple places in my book(1) and specifically reference them in sections like: Meta in loco parentis: “Would I want this for my child?”; The Emotionally Intelligent Principalship; The Empathetic Principalship; The Ethical Principalship; The Passionate Principalship; The Mindful Principalship; The Principalship as Poetry; and The Entrepreneurial Principalship).

What if these same aforementioned legislative bodies, in cooperation with other appointed and elected government officials (being motivated by the same angry masses), also said to public school districts: “we are not going to give you more money every year to produce the same terrible results; instead, we are only going to give you more money to expand projects, programs and initiatives that can concretely demonstrate significant measurable student academic success; especially (but not limited to) our Title-1 students and schools. This would result in public school systems being forced to do the “real hard work” of improving, expanding, and raising the quality of teaching and learning and sincerely building the intellectual empowerment of students system-wide (You know, the kind of “educational stuff” that left-woke, liberal and conservative folks insist that their kids receive!)

These “mandated” actions would incentivize school systems to engage in real significant and sustaining transformational change and to stop doing (because it won’t be rewarded) the ineffective standard faux “school reform” — “school improvement” — “raising achievement” — “closing gaps” and always very costly circus-trick-of-the-year unproductive actions. This would signal the end of the highly symbolic (but practically useless) long list of “politically sexy” initiatives (e.g., “critical race theories,” “guilt-tripping” White teachers’ professional development, blame the Asian kids and their parents, standardized anything is inherently racist, and the many iterations of social integration efforts, etc.) that don’t help schools truly realize the fundamental mission of public schooling; that is to produce graduates after a PreK-12 experience under our care, who could actually read and engage (things like the “1619 project”); confidently manipulate mathematical laws and algorithms; thus, having the potential for taking a real step into a STEM career by being able to effectively learn algebra; the ability to master the various curriculum learning and content areas above and beyond the standards of study; producing young people who can have their unique gifts, talents, and multiple intelligences being fully discovered and fully developed.

What if we equated raising a student’s “self-esteem” with raising their academic proficiency. How about making all students critical and analytical theorists in their daily classroom work and on standardized exams; what if we focused on integrating (not bodies), but quality learning experiences (brain) opportunities for the presently learning-the-least struggling students and the recipients of the least intellectual engagement attention in our public school systems (answering the: “what do we do with the K-12 on and above grade and performance level Black and Latino students” question)?
Now, those affirmative and affirming approaches (taken in the village of the absurd) would indeed be some crazy ideas!

1. Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal: https://majmuse.net/report-from-the-principals-office-a-200-day-inspirational-and-aspirational-school-leadership-journal/

What are the personal and professional attributes of a highly-effective school-building administrator?

Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal: The Practical Tools for Successfully Realizing the Principalship—Supporting Presently Serving Principals in Their Efforts to Realize a Successful Principalship Practice.

The Principal is the single most significant influencer of a school’s quality-learning/learning-quality environment!

The Principal is either the Chief Professional Development Officer in the school or the Chief underminer and the greatest hindrance to the staff’s professional path-to-proficiency development process.

The Principal is ultimately the single most influential difference-maker in a school’s academic success or failure!

The Principal is the inspirational and aspirational model of the school’s mission (assuming it’s a correctly worded mission statement), or they are not; which means that parts of the school’s mission can be realized only with extreme difficulty (aka luck), or most likely no part of the mission is accomplished!

Therefore…
It’s impossible to decouple leadership power from leadership responsibility; and, most critical, from organizational possibilities. Therefore, if these four hypotheses are true, and my experience as a superintendent leads me to believe that they are true, we need to invest more qualitative and quantitative time and strategic planning “energy” into the identification, preparation, and professional development of school building administrators! Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal (RFTPO): This is the second in a series of books that seeks to combine pedagogy, practical school-based experiences, and highly-effective school leadership thinking practices in a way that produces school-wide and sustained high academic performance by all students. Most importantly, RFTPO establishes the standards, their descriptive and explanatory rubrics that offer an answer to the question: “What are the personal and professional attributes of a highly-effective school administrator?”

Report From The Principal’s Office: A 200-Day Inspirational and Aspirational School Leadership Journal (https://majmuse.net/report-from-the-principals-office-a-200-day-inspirational-and-aspirational-school-leadership-journal/)

This book is specifically helpful for:

• Those educators who are aspiring to serve in the roles of school-based principals and assistant principals.

• Professional educational practitioners preparing for the state, local or national “School Principal’s Certification Exam” and the school building administrator’s selection/appointment interview.

• Giving district-level and school-based interviewing teams the criteria (standards) for evaluating and selecting a school principal (or AP).

• Outlining the job requirements and job analysis of the principalship; and most important, those critical “unstated” job descriptions and not “contractually codified” (but yet expected) essential duties of a school administrator. Unfortunately, my experience as a superintendent informs me that some principals fail to fully comprehend the critical importance of the “soft-school-leadership-skills” required for the position; this then leads to situations that often undermine and sadly sometimes result in the tragic end of a principal’s professional career.

• Superintendents who want to raise the management, administrative, leadership knowledge, and instructional coaching skills needed by principals to be highly effective school-building leaders. These “talents” are best characterized (and best demonstrated) by a principal having the ability to significantly (across multiple performance cohorts) and consistently (annually) raise students’ academic achievement performance levels school-wide.

• Serving as an excellent study guide for graduate students enrolled in College Educational Leadership, Administration, and Supervision Certification Programs. And also a good note-taking, review, and resource “docuguide” for those aspiring school and district administrators who are fulfilling the Educational Administration requirements for the school-based field experience course-work (and based on my own experience); definitely a place and time when you should take a lot of notes!)

The Author: Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership (https://reporttotheprincipalsoffice.net/about-the-report-to-the-principals-office-book/). He has served as an adjunct professor of science education at the St. John’s University School of Education. For more biographical information, goto: https://majmuse.net/a-little-about-me/

Paperback edition with notetaking daily journaling pages included: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578916509/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647679684&sr=8-1

eBook edition: (Note: The eBook will not contain the journaling pages):
https://www.amazon.com/Report-Principals-Office-Inspirational-Aspirational-ebook/dp/B09VHCB8WF/ref=sr_1_2?crid=22UNFBHCBE8IH&keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647679855&sprefix=report+from+the+principal%27s+office%2Caps%2C1009&sr=8-2

“The SAT Isn’t What’s Unfair”

“MIT brings back a test that, despite its reputation, helps low-income students in an inequitable society.” By Kathryn Paige Harden; The Atlantic

“…But the income-related disparities we see in SAT scores are not evidence of an unfair test. They are evidence of an unfair society. The test measures differences in academic preparedness, including the ability to write a clear sentence, to understand a complex passage, and to solve a mathematical problem. The SAT doesn’t create inequalities in these academic skills. It reveals them. Throwing the measurement away doesn’t remedy underlying injustices in children’s academic opportunities, any more than throwing a thermometer away changes the weather…”

Our chronic pursuit of the wrong, most likely politically easier and more “sexy” targets in public education’s unmitigated failures (e.g., common core standards, standardized exams, integration, Asian students, White teachers, etc.) always produces inadequate and very expensive but grossly unhelpful corrective efforts.
Clearly, we must go to the source of the problem: Disenfranchised students receive unequal, inferior, uninspiring, and intellectually diminished K-12 quality educational experiences (this deficient exposure includes those disenfranchised students who are on or above grade and performance levels).
Moreover, this pedagogy of unpreparedness provides these unfortunate students with a minimal set of options when entering our national economic life, one major role being the raw material for our widely expansive criminal justice system. But the genuine transformational change that is needed in our K-12 schools would require a type of political courage that champions the cause of our society’s politically weakest and poorest members, not the best career or consultancy resume builder in a systemic structure where maintaining the status quo (only ‘tweaking’ the non-critical outer edges), is the fundamental (unstated) organizational and operational objective.

Full Atlantic Article: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/04/mit-admissions-reinstates-sat-act-tests/629455/

The Practical Tools for Successfully Realizing the Principalship—Supporting Presently Serving Principals in Their Efforts to Realize a Successful Principalship Practice.

This book is for:

Those educators who are aspiring to serve in the roles of school-based principals and assistant principals.

Educators who are preparing for state, local or national “School Principal’s Certification Exams” and the school building administrator’s selection/appointment interview.

Giving district-level and school-based interviewing teams the criteria (standards) for evaluating and selecting a school principal (or AP).

Helping superintendents by outlining the necessary job requirements and job analysis of the principalship; and most important, those critical “unstated” or not “codified” (but yet expected) essential duties of a school-based administrator.

Knowing the management, administrative and instructional skills needed to be a highly effective school leader are characterized by the ability to significantly (across multiple performance cohorts) and consistently (annually) raise students’ academic achievement performance levels school-wide… Everything else is pedagogical performance art!

Paperback edition with notetaking daily journaling pages included: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578916509/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647679684&sr=8-1

eBook edition: (Note: The eBook will not contain the journaling pages):
https://www.amazon.com/Report-Principals-Office-Inspirational-Aspirational-ebook/dp/B09VHCB8WF/ref=sr_1_2?crid=22UNFBHCBE8IH&keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647679855&sprefix=report+from+the+principal%27s+office%2Caps%2C1009&sr=8-2

After you’ve attended a teenager’s funeral, you may think differently about “disrespect-fixing” violence.

When the motivating factor for the murder was a response to a perceived or real “act of disrespect;” not a self-defensive act in response to a physical threat, not an “it-was-me-or-him” moment; and I venture to say that the verbal affront, was, in fact, nothing near worth taking another young person’s life away from their family, this world and their future.
And probably, a life could have been saved if not for the peer (“you gonna take that son?”) audience and the “I’ll-hold-your-coat” so-called friends in attendance.
But, unfortunately, too much of a sad and tragic societally learned logic is in play in these situations: “The deliverer of the disrespect looks like me—my life is worthless—and therefore their life is worthless!

And when you are asked to speak at these funerals, and every comforting word you have creatively crafted the night before feels like it will fall far short of adequate when you look down on the grieving faces of what is one of a parent’s worst nightmares —burying their child. That moment is as far from “meme-worthy” or “entertaining” as Earth is from Jupiter.

I’m standing by my professional, ethical standards, even if I stand alone. As a professional educator and an African-American man, I will never condone violence due to unthoughtful, insensitive, stupid, ill-intent, or mean words. It does not matter if these words are uttered in a school’s classroom, hallway, cafeteria, bathrooms, or in the streets outside of school, or even by “grown folks” on international television.

As professional educators, we also know that children are always learning, in and outside of school. And last night (3/27/2022), and in the weeks and months to come (via social media), many young people would have learned a terrible lesson well, one we educators spend so much time trying to get them to “unlearn;” and that is their “learned understanding” that any actual or perceived act of “disrespect” must be met with crowd pleasing-witnessing violence; no matter the consequences to themselves or the recipient of their violent retribution.

A distorted and deadly definition of “manhood” has, through cultural aggression, been imposed on our most disenfranchised and disconnected from the “American Dream” populations. It’s a graveyard and prison filling violent philosophy of “handle your business” instead of being adequately educated to successfully work in or own a business.

Professional school experiences and events can frame how you think about things, like the LGBTQ issue becoming less religious and political and more painfully personal when a teenager is sitting in your office who has just been kicked out of their home and into the streets or that same or another LGBTQ student is threatening suicide.

And so, for those who say: “it’s only comedy!” Forgive me if this old-fashion retired principal doesn’t get the joke. But, I am sticking with my old-fashioned non-violence standards because the memories of those teenage funerals won’t leave me after so many years have passed.