The 2020 US Census Report: Presenting critical challenges for US public education and the American political-cultural mindset.

In my Bernie Mac voice: America, don’t say I didn’t warn you!

As a principal and superintendent, I’ve learned that uncomfortable “facts on the ground” are difficult for many people to work with when those facts painfully shift them out of their emotional comfort zones. Intelligence embraces facts. Education, at its core, is a force of radical disruption in the process of the peaceful surrender to ignorance and the ignoring of facts. The formal act of growing intelligence (schooling), when done right, can produce thinkers, and those thinkers can become questioners of the status quo: “Why must it be like this?” — “Why must we continue to do something that is not working?” Formal educational learning can stretch the learning modalities intelligences of children and thus produce students who can be effective analyzers of objective facts, which will lead to them becoming first-rate formulators of reasonable hypotheses. The present intellectual power drain on our nation, and the cause of much painful social-psychological trauma, covid-19 illnesses and related deaths, is the rejection, lack of appreciation, and diminishing power and influence of factual (aka scientific and mathematical) information.

The 2020 US Census Report presents us with some very excellent sociological and numerical facts. One, in particular, is the nation’s demographic projected calculations of birth rates based on race and ethnicity. This exciting body of data could lead us to arrive at several hypothetical possibilities. Our response (or lack of) to these hypotheses could very well determine America’s international competitiveness capabilities, national economic strength, and the US global influencing-events power status in the future.
Let me go straight in: One objective fact of the 2020 census is that the White American percentage of the population is shrinking and is projected to continue to shrink over time. So, putting aside that the assumed classification of “White Person” is problematic from a genotypical and phenotypical scientific analysis point of view, let’s work with its present commonly understood social-political construction of what being “White” means in America.

The numbers are what they are…
#1 Challenge: The national ability to face facts; and then act as if those facts mattered. Honestly, a major fairness and justice for all paradigm movement shift and the ending of a biased-based belief-system culture are required if the U.S. citizenry is to succeed and prosper in the future collectively. And even the ugliest legislative actions of the shredding-of-the-constitution through voter suppression laws is a false permanent fix for maintaining an unfair advantage; for no acts of denying voting rights, or the most creatively designed gerrymandered maps, will, in the end, affect the present and projected low birth rates of US White citizens. The problem is that if your survival plan is dependent on you permanently keeping your knee on another person’s neck, then you can’t move and walk forward down a life path to a full and fulfilling future human experience. Therefore, if America is to survive and thrive entering the upcoming decades, then she must liberate herself from the dependence on separate and unequal high-quality educational opportunities; not an easy thing to do when the simple suggestion to teach U.S. history accurately is seen as an existential threat and generates a major national rhetorical slugfest.
And to add additional painful awareness, insult, and political injury to the cause of the deniers of equal opportunity gang’s game-plan, as well as others who want to conserve racial segregation in our nation; is the fact according to the 2020 census, that there is a rapidly increasing number of Americans who probably stayed awake in their high school biology class, and thus they know that the designations of “Black” or “White” people are political inventions and not the descriptions of two-separate species; as a result, more and more of these U.S. citizens are getting married and having children (Who knew, science education inspiring romance!). But, what is public educational systemic racism to do with this growing phenomenon? Because they can’t create schools that can deny a quality education to only the black-side of these children! And even if the children of “mixed-race” parentage self-select or, because of systemic societal racism, are forced to identify as “Black,” their mere tremendously growing presence is going to change all of America’s (ready or not) thinking about this unscientific thing called “race” and how it’s discriminatory applications damages America’s capacity to be genuinely powerfully great!
I am afraid that more bad news is coming for those for whom “American Greatness” seeks to exclude Black and Latino students. Wearing my school district superintendent’s hat, and therefore knowing that student behinds in seats drives a district’s budget. As we hit the 2030’s, 40’s…, school districts will not be able to financially sustain school buildings (there is a high operational expenditure-cost “floor” whether a school building has 500 students or 1,000 students) full of phantom white kids; this means that school integration, based on demographic reality pressures (not political or social reasons), will eventually become a budgetary imperative. In addition, the high cost of living in many areas of the nation (mainly cities) will probably remove the private school option for a lot of working-class (or even middle-class) white parents.

There is a statistical birthrate price to pay for financial well-being and a college education…
This White birth rate decline phenomenon should not surprise anyone who took a college economic or sociology 101 class and probably learned that as factors of wealth and education increase, those women who are the beneficiaries of that increased wealth and education tend to have fewer children. Therefore, let us accept that the present birthrate trend outlined in the 2020 census holds steady, and going forward, the socio-psychological laws of finance and education and their effects on the number of children born to a family stays true, then that means America is possibly heading for a series of troubling hypothetical events. And so, here now are two additional theoretical warnings that the 2020 Census Report offers.

#2 Challenge: As we advance into the future and think about our nation’s necessary employment skills and workplace competencies requirements. America will not be able to prison-its-way out of the problem of providing poor quality public education for massive numbers of Black and Latino children, who will represent the majority of our public school population. Presently the US utilizes its international record-breaking (in the number of incarcerated persons) Criminal Justice System (CJS) to primarily serve as a place-holder-station for those citizens who fail to master the required ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ market-able, marketable skills and knowledge that would allow them to function in a highly professional and competitive job environment. These grossly uneducated and under-skilled individuals will often get cyclically caught up in the CJS for the duration of their lives.
Secondarily, the CJS serves the purpose of being a civil service, good-paying, benefits-rich, relatively secure employment outlet for millions of US citizens. And the primary survival rule of any government civil service bureaucracy is never to undermine and raise reasonable questions that might eliminate its reason for existing, even if those questions could be helpful to the practical success of that bureaucratic organization’s primary mission. A U.S. public education system that does not successfully educate its majority Black and Latino student population (soaring rhetoric notwithstanding), is essentially in a philosophical and operational partnership with the CJS that requires a continuous flow of failed public education recruits.
Unfortunately, this humanity-destructive bureaucratic partnership has worked well for many years because the economically poor, “American Promise” disinherited, and the politically disenfranchised populations of our nation are the communities who are offering their children as the “raw feed” of this failed-education to successful-incarceration process?
But, here is the problem that the 2020 Census Report forces us to confront. What happens to the nation when these CJS feeder population children become the numerical foundation and primary participants for the country’s future economic development skilled-workforce needs? Simply throwing them away (by throwing them in prison) won’t work in the nation’s best economic and internationally competitive interest.
Over the years, I’ve had, both as a principal and superintendent, enjoyed very positive and productive partnership relationships with the corporate sector and with many national governmental agencies (e.g., US State Department, NSF, USDOT, the Office of Naval Research, etc.). Those partnerships were so successful and extremely helpful for my students because I always framed my ‘ask’ request (proposal) in the language they spoke and understood. But I have come to accept that many people who want to help Black and Latino students succeed may or may not share my moral rationale for effectively educating those children. However, beyond the moral imperatives of expanding educational opportunities to diverse cohorts of children in this nation; it’s also true that for practical reasons, the country can’t succeed or survive based on its current trajectory practices of the successful incarceration of so many of its citizen-children, and thus losing out on the gifts, talents and potential contributions of these quality-education-denied children.
A nation will undercut its own social and physical infrastructure development; stifle economic expansion possibilities; weaken any response to national health or environmental crisis; limit technological capabilities and innovation; comprise its national defense; incapacitate international business cooperation and competitive efforts; if the plan starting-off includes a strategy to exclude the majority of its student population from high-quality liberal arts, the creative and performing arts, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) and a skills trades Career Technical Education (C.T.E.) learning opportunities.

#3 Challenge: As we advance into the future, our nation will require more, not fewer, professional S.T.E.M. and Career Technical Education (C.T.E.) skilled labor (electricians, solar/wind power technicians, allied health professionals, roboticians, welders, etc.) trained personnel.
On the S.T.E.M. high-tech level, many of these job positions face ‘state security challenges’ (e.g., in the military, the nation’s numerous security organizations, the many U.S. intelligence organizations; and in private companies with military and intelligence organizations contracts); these entities will require a U.S. citizenship status from their employees and managers. In a practical case of numbers not lying, the 2020 National Census informs us of the racial and ethnicity profiles of the growing numbers currently attending or will enter our public schools in the 2022, 2023, 2024,….2030 years ahead. If in the future we plan to prepare Black and Latino public school students for careers in S.T.E.M. or C.T.E., the way we are presently preparing them, then we are in serious trouble as a nation. Our only rational option is to radically change our thinking and methods for preparing (our majority) Black and Latino PreK-12 public school children population. As a superintendent, I warned principals of the “Lake Woebegone” defective vision syndrome. “You must,” I said, “work and succeed with the students and parents you have, not the students and parents you wished you had!” America is about to face a similar significant decision-making moment in the area of future PreK-12 S.T.E.M./C.T.E. education.
There is a very straightforward question I kept asking for so many years in the past (1970-90s.) while speaking before groups like the New York Academy of Science or the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “Who will do science in a future America?” I would ask. And of course, my audiences being in many ways, numbers-driven thinkers, were perhaps not alarmed by my question because back then and to a large extent now, our hospitals, corporate, and university research vacancies were being adequately filled by huge numbers of S.T.E.M. practitioners arriving from other parts of the world (e.g., Asia, Africa, Europe, Central, and South America, the Caribbean, etc.) And in the spirit of full and honest disclosure, even those of us working in the K-12 public and private education systems community, in cooperation with U.S. Emigration Agencies and The State Department, we worked with many foreign nations to facilitate the fast-track recruitment and hiring of their nationals to fill our S.T.E.M. and other critical content area staffing shortages. But my question of: “Who will do science in a future America?” was not based on the U.S. demographical data of the 1970-90s, but rather on future demographic profiles. What happens as nations like China become hyper-S.T.E.M. competitive with the U.S. and at the same time they build their own powerfully modern S.T.E.M. governmental and commercial infrastructures, research facilities, K-12 and university programs that can teach and absorb their own homegrown S.T.E.M. professionals (or maybe some Chinese S.T.E.M. professional might, wait on it— just enjoy living and working in China!). America needs to get its S.T.E.M. education act together and rely more on our public school K-12 home-grown, very capable but presently ignored and disempowered S.T.E.M. career able Black and Latino future stars. Just take a glance at the long list of the last twenty years of Noble Prize wining stars in science, where we see that the gap between American and other nation’s S.T.E.M. labs “sophistication” has closed dramatically. For example, even a small country like Israel is amazingly over-performing (despite the American GNP/GDP, population and the number of U.S. universities differential advantage) in advanced chemistry research and the wining of Noble Prizes in chemistry.
And then there is the family and quality of life issues for many of those internationally recruited S.T.E.M. professionals we Americans have grown accustomed to receiving. Perhaps you wonder why a S.T.E.M. scientist-researcher practicing in their home country of the Netherlands, Scotland or Japan, might want to live and work in labs there; after all, what’s not to like about those beautiful environments and rich cultural experiences? And, (I don’t know why I am feeling the “Wiz” this morning) there’s no place like home!
I remember doing a science education workshop for teachers in Trinidad & Tobago; while there, I was introduced to a Trinidadian civil engineer who worked for the government and studied and received his engineering degree from an American university. I will never forget his comments as he had me over for lunch at his house (and large surrounding land), for which I can’t think of any other descriptive words except a lovely small mansion. He really did not need to say what he eventually said because his beautiful home (a short distance from a stunning beach) said it all. “Of course, I could make more money in the U.S.,” he said, but I could not enjoy the quality of life there that I enjoy here. And that quality-of-life included things like professional educators and the society in general not having low expectations of his children, and not worrying about someone calling the police if he was working in his garden, bird watching in the forest near his house, or jogging in his own neighborhood. “Further,” he continued, “I am near my aging parents, friends, and other family members (particularly the young folks still in school), and my being here means that I serve as a role model for young people who travel abroad to acquire skills, and should think about coming back to help develop our country.” And so, how long will we be able to convince people like my young Trinidad & Tobago engineer to sacrifice the quality of life issues, quality high-expectations education for their children, personal racial safety, and the ability to fulfill a patriotic duty to their nation, in exchange for an American high price tag living expenses residency? I get that (and am a proud product of) our “nation of immigrants” story narrative, and it is indeed a powerful potential admirable strength. But it becomes a national weakness when we let life-success blocking bigotry and discriminatory denial practices drive public educational decisions. At some point, motivated by either moral or demographic realities, we will need to stop discarding our American-born talent simply because they live in the ‘wrong’ neighborhood, look like the other-than-my-child, or don’t have access to political or financial power.

And let’s be completely transparent about the “facts”…
Since we are in the being-totally-honest mode and speaking of real deleterious facts-on-the-ground; we will specifically need to confront and dramatically change our way of doing things in those school districts/localities with majority Black and/or Latino students, where the local civil governmental political leadership (consistently Democratic), school district leadership, and the school governance control is in the hands of people who look like and share the ethnicity of the children. And yet, the Black and Latino students in those public schools chronically fail, underperform, drop(pushed)out at an amazingly alarming high rates, and suffer from gifts, talents, skills and intellectual under-stimulation and discouragement. Too often these already struggling school districts are (wrongly) primarily focused on: Engaging in personal self-serving, hurting, or ignoring students’ needs political behaviors (aka shenanigans); acting as educational mission distracting local economic development projects; the overreliance and over-indulgence on annual highly-expensive poor-outcomes “school improvement” and “closing achievement gaps” consultant services and programs; and functioning as local community employment centers. Further, many of these (Black majority-controlled) districts have an unbelievably high, quick, educational progress damaging and destructive turnover of their superintendents, usually for political reasons only. Ineffectual educational policies or practices inflicted by elected or appointed leadership persons of color are not less educationally devastating to the deserved opportunities, high hopes, and future dreams of Black and Latino students.

“Don’t nobody bring me no bad news!” — Evilline; Job Title: Wicked Witch of the West (of the “Wiz” fame) before the eventual dramatic end of her reign.
Ignoring the factual data of challenge #1 will lead to a series of miscalculated acts of unpreparedness that will produce too little or too late responses to address the #2 and #3 challenges. I genuinely want to be optimistic and believe that as a nation, we will see the light that the 2020 Census Report’s statistical data is shining on our present and future demographic reality. But then there’s that troubling recurring histography curriculum knowledge problem that suggests former empires and people who were in positions of an unearned and unprincipled power advantage, even when passionately and continually warned, will predictively fail to listen and act in a proactive, positive, and productive way. They only get it (or they don’t) when the angry teeming masses are at and ripping down their protective gates, or the guillotines of history are being rolled out to separate their delusional heads from their body politics of false entitlement. Always tragically too late because as conditions worsen, there is the strong inclination to ignore or reject all factual information; it’s that fateful historical self-defeating moment when great efforts are made to silence or kill their patriotic prognosticators and truth-producing prophets; eventually, there are the last-ditch delusory verbal affirmations of braggadocios exceptionalism pride, and an overabundance of overconfident sloganeering pronouncements; all before the final, fatal and dramatic fall.

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. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

How to teach students good humanitarian habits that will last them a lifetime —A personal story.

“…If responsibility for ills can be pinned down, then the possibility of attacking and uprooting them is very real. This possibility is in the profound confidence that a structure of moral integrity undergirds all of life…” —Howard Thurman.

I recently read a news story with incredible sadness while asking myself: “who are these people?” And, “who raised them?”

“As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations surged in Alabama, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) mentioned the state’s lowest-in-the-nation vaccination rate at a political fundraiser, eliciting cheers from the audience in a video posted this week. Days after the video surfaced, the state’s health leader said officials have tossed out more than 65,000 coronavirus vaccines that expired, citing low demand that experts have partly attributed to the politicization of the vaccine. Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country, followed closely by Mississippi, according to data compiled by The Washington Post…” —Source Washington Post.

Suppose you wanted to permanently establish some humanitarian core values, ideals, and behavioral inclinations into a young person’s personality. As a professional educator, I can think of no more efficient pedagogical delivery system than that child having a 1950-60s Caribbean-American home upbringing and 12 (yes, K-high school) years of Anglican-Caribbean-American weekly church Sunday school classes ( ST. Augustine—Bed-Stuy Brooklyn). After so many years of reading the great works of people like Gwendolyn Brooks, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, W.E.B. DuBois, Sonia Sanchez, Franz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Dennis Walcott, Amílcar Cabral, Aimé Césaire, et al.; and listening to the words of Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hammer, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela; it seems that all of their wonderful and enlightening words are captured, compressed and expressed in those basic fundamental teachings I received from the Caribbean-American instructional team of my church Sunday school teachers and the moral instructions I received at home.

The simple, standardized ethical messages that my childhood ‘teaching-elders-experience’ gave to me has held consistently true for my entire life (including professional) time; they are: be honest and upright in your dealings with others, walk in purposeful righteousness, assist, and do no harm to the less fortunate, fight for the weak and oppressed, and just basically resist evil and be a good person.
All of the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate school learning I received could only reinforce but never erase those fundamental humanitarian habits that were planted and nurtured in my subconscious childhood brain and spirit. And I always suffer a great deal of emotional and psyche pain when I did not go all in, that is 100%, on any of those moral virtues I was taught as a child. So I knew early in my career the type of professional educator I would always be and how that “Augustinian” (choosing between the City of God and the city of man) choice I needed to make would close many appealing and enjoyable doors to me. And at the same time, open me up to situations that could bring me great disappointment, pain, and suffering.
One always has a choice, but that choice is not totally removed from a personal experiential, psychological, and philosophical adult thought encounter we must have with an upbringing that is inseparably linked to our early ethical ethological imprinting.

It did not matter if none of my church and home adult instructors were college-educated, read Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, or Vygotsky, or if, like me, they took a large number of professional education courses and collected multiple educational degrees, licenses, and certifications. Instead, their instructional practices were based on the moral example of their personal lives, the consistent time and place repetition and replication (year after year—home and church) of their lesson objectives; and how these learning objectives were always wrapped in either biblical or a personal overcoming difficulties story narratives.
For example, one Sunday school recurring theme: “What is meant by humans as an act of evil (e.g., Daniel in the lion’s den, Joseph and the cruelty of his brothers, etc.); will cause a powerfully ‘turning-it-around’ responsive Divinely responsible act of justice and good(ness) to emerge!” A human disappointment could be, in actuality, a transcendent moment of a supernatural appointment.
And one of my mother’s favorite exhortation (I guess on one level you could say inspirational) stories:
“You must never take free school in America for granted because I remember as a small child how poor we were and our parents could not afford the school fees for all of the children to attend school at the same time, we had to take turns attending school, and I remember crying my eyes dry when it was my year to stay home!” I would have no idea if that tale was even accurate. But to a young adolescent, especially one who possessed an early, albeit ideologically immature sensitivity for the plight of the poor and who also passionately loved school and learning, you can imagine how these emigrant autobiographical story-telling-sessions could serve as extremely powerful, moving, and motivating teachable moments.
But then there were those many other maternal spiritual/moral lessons:
“God does not rest, nor does he slumber, He sees and knows everything!”(and there was a subtle sub-context suggestion: “And so do I!”)… “I know that you will behave when I am present, but I am training you to behave properly when I am not present!” … “The devil only pretends to be your friend, but he is the enemy of good!” … “Better to go without, lose or suffer, then to cheat or steal!”… “There is never a good reason or a right way to do the wrong thing!” … “Jealousy is the first step on the path to thievery and sin!” …
My mother was not a university trained theologian (or university trained anything), but I was totally convinced that at the core existence of what it meant to be human was to fearlessly practice goodness, justice and mercy; and that I could commit no wrong act or action that would go unknown or unseen by God; and further, that there was a universal principle that led (forced) every person to eventually confront the resultant reality of accountability and the severe cost and consequences for every evil or wrong deed that was done by them in their life-time.

And so, here we are in 2021, where I find myself a long way from my 1950-60’s Brooklyn home and church moral, educational learning system and reading: “…Alabama state health officials tossed out 65,000 coronavirus vaccines that expired, citing low demand that experts have partly attributed to the politicization of the vaccine…” And, I’m wondering, who are these people and who raised them? And further, did they have Sunday school lessons that were different from the ones I received?
How could something like this happen with so many of our planetary neighbors in the world suffering, dying, and desperate for covid-19 vaccines? And will this dastardly collectively cruel act of a resource-rich nation generate a ‘cursed’ response from the universe? (Oh yeah, that’s another one I heard over and over again as a child: “If you don’t properly use the blessings God has given you, then those blessings are either given away to someone else (more deserving) or turned into curses!”)

Throwing away those precious 65,000 coronavirus vaccines may not meet The International Criminal Court in The Hague definition of a crime against humanity. Still, it indeed achieves the status of a crime of indifference and insensitivity concerning the suffering and death of other human beings. And equally educationally tragic, what long-term moral lessons are the children of Alabama learning about their sacred duties and responsibilities toward other members of our human family?
Wait, I seem to remember something… Now, how does that go?… Oh yeah, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21)! That’s pretty straightforward.
Ok, I think I got it; perhaps the problem is that the vaccine discouragers/destroyers are using a different (new pro-covid translation) version of the Bible than the one I used in my childhood Brooklyn church Sunday school classes. Oh well, the quality of one’s humanitarian learning is always a matter of time, the teachers and the terrain.

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. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Our COVID-19 public education ‘Lesson Plan’ is badly flawed, and our instructional delivery system is equally ineffective.

As every principal who has observed a sizable number of classroom lessons knows, it is impossible for a teacher to “nail” a lesson if the conceptual and behavioral objectives are a set of ‘moving targets.’ The challenge of educating the public about a presently existing, highly infecting harmful microorganism, going through its natural seeking-to-live life cycles, e.g., advantageous adaptation and opportunistic reproduction, is not like teaching a lesson on World War II. Not only will the information change rapidly and often seemingly contradictorily; e.g., some vaccinated people will still get infected, but do amazingly better recovery-wise than the unvaccinated who get infected. Further, this public health lesson is not like some abstract pedagogical exercise; indeed, COVID-19 is negatively (in one way or another) affecting all of us student-citizens daily. Also, we scream at people that they should “listen to the science,” but that implies; and I am not proud to say this, that those of us in the K-12 public education community have adequately provided the majority of our citizens with the tools to effectively apply science knowledge and methodology to all of the real-science or pseudo-science information being thrown at them every day (just count the number of “likes” and “commentary endorsements” for the strong-but-wrong assertions of the many “Facebook and Twitter Scientist”; people who would not recognize the ‘Scientific Method’ if it sat down next to them at their breakfast table!).

We started this COVID-19 public education process wrong from the start. To add to this problem, we are (not learning from our mistakes) continuing down that not appreciating the rules-of-education path to this present day. Here in the US and in other places like Brazil and India, the public education problem was exacerbated by the ‘bad luck’ of having the worst possible leader at the initial moments when we faced one of the worse public health crises in our national history. Bad leaders make bad situations much worse. When I first began as a superintendent, I had to stop some principals in mid-explanatory sentences when they started with: “Well, we are outperforming such-n-such schools…”— Me (channeling the Motown Supremes: Stop! In the name of educating children): “Don’t even try it!”, I responded, “the performance of schools x, y or z are not the measuring criteria by which I am evaluating your school leadership capabilities!” For sure, Donald Trump did a lot of damage to our Covid-19 response and recovery efforts; but this is where we are. It follows then that Mr. Biden must do much better and go beyond “just not being Trump” I’m sorry, I like Mr. Biden, but that Trump-leadership-bar-standard is way, way too low!

I get that people are in love with the idea of bipartisanism (well, at least the Democrats are). Still, we need to face the reality that we are fighting both a highly-efficient virus and a high-powered and well-organized, pro-virus spreading elected and public leadership movement in our country…
In an email to two of my dear friends (Medical Drs. Sweeney & Walker), I recently proclaimed that the ‘mask mandates’ and ‘healthy social distancing’ battle is lost and over; they both sadly agreed. Unfortunately, the right-wing “business or bust” cynical Darwinian forces have succeeded in convincing a lot of people in the world (i.e., Germany, France, America) that there is some ‘natural’ or constitutional right to expose oneself or to potentially expose others to a deadly viral disease. In England, they marketed their largest-to-date COVID-19 exposure and spreading moment in the worst possible phraseological way: “Freedom Day!”
One British conservative commentator said in a PBS interview (I paraphrase here): “We can survive the small number of global deaths due to COVID-19, but the economic destruction and dislocation will be more devastating and long-lasting if we don’t fully open up now!” … I guess it’s good when you and your family have privileged person options! Perhaps, we should share his ‘uplifting message’ with “the small number” of the dead, dying and destined to die in the future, millions of people who live in those parts of the world where they don’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines or adequate medical treatment and facilities.

Republicans may not believe in science, but it does not mean they don’t believe in arithmetic!
Even though we now see some Republican elected leaders backtracking on vaccinations as they watch ‘their voters’ (the politically hardcore unvaccinated) bear the brunt of new deadly accelerated infections. But this vaccination epiphany they are displaying is not based on any principles of religion or human compassion; instead, they have come to realize the mathematical reality that a lot of GOP unvaccinated voters could very likely die before the 2022 or 2024 election cycle, thus possibly nullifying any expected advantage gained by the massive Black voter suppression laws they are putting in place nationally. If a politician can only do one thing, that one thing is count voters, or sadly, in this case, dead voters. The problem, however, is that they have taken their followers so far down the “ignorant-and-loving-it” path, I am not sure that these millions of people who think that Mr. Biden stole the election can now turn it around and believe that the COVID-19 virus is devastatingly real and not some “story” that was invented by the “deep liberal state.”

An effective response to an extraordinary public crisis requires extra-ordinary, unorthodox, and working outside of bureaucratic boundaries types of actions. (what those highly effective principals of successful Title-1 schools do every day!)…
Living in a nation with massive numbers of COVID-19 disease and vaccination deniers, the countless number of social media medical “experts” dispensing vaccination advice without conducting or bothering to reference peer-reviewed clinical trials data. And when you throw in the vast number of “don’t tread on my right and freedom to be covid-19 infected and to infect others!” folks, we can see how our present situation might look a little bleak. However, this challenging health crisis place we now find ourselves I believe logically presents us with the best and perhaps only viable option in fighting this COVID-19 viral siege; and that is to create the highest number of vaccinated citizens in the fastest, most efficient way possible; that objective should drive our pedagogy and all of our efforts.
Operational logistics aside (actually the easiest part), this extraordinary effort sounds to me to be, in large parts, like a major educational initiative. And, of course, professional education provides many models for achieving the greatest success in this type of mass teaching and learning effort.
(#1: “Know when your lesson plan isn’t working for some or all of your students!”) One of the attributes of a master teacher is having the ability to ‘decenter,’ assess student comprehension by observing student body-facial language and utilizing good questioning techniques during a lesson. Clearly, for reasons previously mentioned, our current vaccination information/convincing plan is not working. If too many states and localities like Alabama (34% vaccinated) have below 50% of their population vaccinated, then we are in for some challenging and troubling national health times ahead. And then there are also those citizens who are resisting taking the vaccine who live in those states and communities with higher general numbers of those vaccinated, e.g., Vermont 80% vaccinated; and yet, these vaccine resisters may be traveling locally or nationally, and therefore can serve as human petri-dishes of virus spreading. It seems to me that a national ‘one-size-fits-all’ vaccination education strategy won’t work here, and even worse, our present approach misallocates resources, people, time, and money.
Therefore, we need (#2: A differentiated methodological reaching people and teaching people process). This problem-solving methodology must include a standards-based, rubrics defined, pacing calendar vaccine education curriculum based on local infection and vaccination rates, geography, history, social and political science, anthropology (local customs), social-psychology, and demographical researched data. This qualitative/quantitative data-driven approach might sound ‘too technical’ to non-professional education readers, but it’s something the best educators do every day by putting efficacious scaffolding and supports in place for different cohorts of children (meeting them at the place of their learning need), and thus placing them in the best conditions and in the best possible positions to succeed educationally.

Part of this differentiated analysis is to separate those Americans who have legitimate concerns about vaccines in general and/or the COVID-19 vaccines in particular from those who are motivated by political anti-vaccine movements. Distinguishing between unvaccinated citizens who make great prophylactic lifestyle efforts not to get infected and not infect others and those immorally reckless citizens who are unvaccinated and don’t care if they get infected and if they infect other people. People who believe that some billionaire or the ‘government’ is inserting software data into the body of everyone who is vaccinated should not be blended (in the same Q & A information sessions) with people who in many situations are simply afraid, confused, and overwhelmed by an overabundance of both good and bad information.
And to be fair on the topic of providing information, the well-meaning, well-informed, and science-driven ‘explainers’ have not always been clear, unified, and ‘on-the-same-talking-points-message’ positions concerning the explanations of the ‘behaviors’ of microbiological organisms, infectious diseases specifically, covid-19 infection prevention protocols, and crucially, the pro-vaccine taking encouragement campaign. Another public information/communications problem: Pharmaceutical firms should be part of the “conversation,” but they should not frame and lead the conversation due to financial conflicts of interest. In my humble opinion, the natural leaders of this national health crisis response team, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), needs to ‘step up’ stronger and in a more (better expressed) transparently focused and definitive way, provide good and practical “laywoman-layman-friendly” information in all of their pronouncements and recommended actions!
And my message for the CDC I take from my principal and superintendent years; there are times when you just can’t ‘hedge or hint’ around a problematic issue. These are those moments when you must just tell folks the truth (as sensitively and gently as the situation allows), even if it’s a truth they don’t want to hear.

Time is not on our side…
We also need to keep in mind that ‘time’ is not an innocent bystander in a pandemic. So, how should we focus our vaccination educational efforts and resources? Should we first invest a lot of time on those whose hesitancy could be more easily removed by having access to small sessions with an excellent local information provider in their homes, a community-based organization center/site, or meetings in their affiliated religious institutions? A place where they can feel safe and comfortable in raising difficult questions and concerns.

Professional educators don’t see questions as the enemy…
True professional educators want more, not less ‘asking for clarification’ questions from students. And what educators really don’t want is for students to sit quietly in (and eventually walk out of) a classroom without fully understanding the lesson’s objectives or finding out that the students have carried their lesson ‘misunderstandings’ into the standardized testing exam room. As I have warned principals as a superintendent, a staff person raising a ‘difficult’ but fair question or requesting clarification on an initiative should not automatically be interpreted as someone who is in hostile opposition. We need (for time and limited resources reasons) to separate the unclear, questioning, reluctant vaccine taker from the unrepentant pro-covid-19 disease spreader. Understanding the underlying motivations for a concern is the leader’s responsibility, not necessarily those who are raising the concern; that’s the teaching/mentoring part of leadership. For example, Black Americans can’t be mistaken to have concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine based on their love of or faith in right-wing or Republican propaganda (even as these negative actors having extensive news media access are not helping the Black infection rate situation); rather, their mistrusting of America ‘operating-in-their-best-interest’ with a vaccine or anything else, is framed by centuries and up to the present days of horrible racial mistreatment, abuse, discrimination and denial (think of those Republican voter suppression folks trying to “clean-up” the voting process). I would go further in saying that as far as not trusting White America institutionally to do the right, just, and fair thing as it applies to the lives of Black people in America, is, in my view, perhaps a sign of a healthy Black psychological profile. And so, any pro-vaccine-taking educational approach with Black Americans should respectfully start from that understanding. Therefore, (#3: “Get the right instructional practitioners in front of the students who need them the most!”) Black Americans will, in my hypothetical view, only respond positively to those Black American pro-vaccine advocates (not just any black face presently in a prominent place), who they
genuinely trust to represent their best interest and well-being. Why not invest federal outreach funding in organizations and institutions like: The National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association; Meharry, Morehouse, and Howard University medical/nursing/allied/public health schools to do a massive national on-the-ground (literally door-to-door, block-by-block, religious institutions-to-religious institutions) COVID-19 information campaign in Black communities across this nation? Employing an anti-rightwing/anti-vexers message or debate is less effective with Black Americans since they are already profoundly suspicious and cautious of any GOP (Trump-like or Trump-lite) motives. We need to stop sending the wrong messages to people and start sending the right messages to the right people.
For example, please, news media, stop ‘ambushing’ random professional athletes and celebrity entertainers and asking them if they’ve been vaccinated; beyond this not being any of our business, it’s not helping. Instead, let those self-selecting, highly influential celebrities, who choose as a service-to-humanity to publicly share their vaccination story, be part of an organized information campaign where their messages are vetted, professionally managed, and filmed/recorded in a strategically smart targeted way to specific audiences.

This targeted differentiated COVID-19 teaching method could also work for many other cohorts of Americans who live in places where I have spent a lot of time, places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a profound respect for Dr. Anthony Fauci, and I think that future historians will designate him as one of our great national science-medicine heroes for this historical period. But the truth is that in places like Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi, for a large segment of the population in those states, Dr. Fauci’s “approval ratings” (believability-credibility ratings) are in the same ‘statistical neighborhood’ as Hillary Clinton’s favorable ratings. This means his message, no matter how well articulated, scientifically sound, or life-savingly clear, won’t be heard. These are the places where we need a new and different set of instructional personnel to take the lead in the vaccine ‘message delivering mission’; people like famous NASCAR drivers, college Football and Basketball coaches, country & western music stars, etc. In fact, I suspect that Nick Saban, Alabama University’s famous football team coach, if given a major state-wide professional PR, print, radio, TV, and social media communications campaign platform, could single-handedly significantly raise the vaccination rate numbers in the state of Alabama! (My apologies to Auburn fans—sorry everyone else, this is an inside Alabama conversation:-)

The right tools for the job and the right professionals for the job…
Finally, if you need electrical work done in your house, you don’t call a plumber; in need of a new roof, you probably won’t hire a brick mason. If America is going to embark (and it must) on a major vaccine-trusting-taking educational project; which I now believe is our only getting-out-of-this with the least amount of people dying option, then there must be a recognition that the word “education” is the center and centering objective and activity of such a campaign. Then why are we not utilizing professional educators as primary, not peripheral planners in this national COVID-19 response and recovery effort?… Just asking for a lot of very brilliant PreK-12 professional educators in this nation.

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. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).