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.

Your report from the principal’s office has arrived!

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

The Book is available on Amazon:

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_1?crid=3KEL25MH28J0N&keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647450093&sprefix=report+from+the+principal%27s+office%2Caps%2C830&sr=8-1

The RFTPO Book: The second work in a unique series of school leadership books by a former teacher, science center director, principal, and superintendent; these books seek to explore, explain and propose solutions to the present challenges of identifying and creating great schools and (most likely led by) great school leaders. RFTPO combines the creative task of daily journaling with critical daily commentaries reflecting on the art, craft, talents, and skills required to be a successful PreK-12 educator, specifically, achieving success as a highly-effective school-building administrator.

Readership: Although specifically designed for current serving principals or assistant principals and professional educators who are aspiring or studying, or are presently serving in the capacity of a school-building and/or district level administrators, superintendents, district-level directors, coordinators, and supervisors, the language is structured to allow broader access to a diverse non-school based leadership public education stakeholder audience (e.g., parents, college professors, journalists, senior public education policymakers, elected officials, and tax-paying citizens) to find this Book accessible and “eye-opening” helpful in understanding the often “forgotten,” “unclear” or “hidden-from-public-view” inner workings of public Pre-K-12 schools. And the unique challenges the leaders of those schools are forced to correctly problem-pose and successfully problem-solve daily.

Why the focus on the principalship?

This Report From The Principal’s Office (RFTPO) book, in many ways, presents a concise daily compilation
and an extended explanation of my professional interpretation of why some school-based administrators are incredibly successful (Day-103: “The highly effective principal’s toolbox will always contain these seven critical leadership skills tools”). And why, unfortunately, others are tragically unsuccessful. While still, others are committed to pursuing a mediocre/status-quo path, which is another way of being unsuccessful! (Day-152: “The not-so-good, the good, the great, and the highly effective school-building leader”).

Why focus on the need for better school-based leadership professional development?

First, because the emotional and educational well-being of students, staff members, parents, whole communities, and our nation is at stake, but also…
Unfortunately (Day-47: “It’s not a matter of if it will happen; it’s only a matter of when will it be your turn!”) every year in the US, thousands of principals and assistant principals are either verbally or in writing (both are long-term career-damaging) disciplined or sadly in some cases removed for lack of knowing the “unspecified job requirements” expected of a school building administrator. (Day-54: “What you don’t know will hurt you: The hard truth about the “soft-skills” knowledge required for the principalship.”)

Leadership standards matter, and leadership quality matters the most at the operational core of a school’s success (or failure)!

Let’s face it, we are a ‘standards-based’ profession, so why would standards only apply to students and parents, but not professional educators, and specifically for the purposes of my work —School-based and district office educational leaders! So I start the RFTPO book off with two consecutive days of resolute affirmations:
“Day-1:The Principal is the single most influential difference-maker in a school’s success or failure.”
And then on,
“Day-2: The Principalship is a singularly unique position in PreK-12 education.”
These two opening chapters are in no way an attempt to minimize or dismiss the critical work of the other skilled essential personnel (custodians, cafeteria staff, teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.) required to operate a school; for even the best practicing principal could not function in a highly-proficient capacity if they had to (an impossibility) teach every class, prepare every lunch, as they kept the building clean and well-maintained; instead, my focus (and my intellectual interest), is based to a large extent on my experiential principalship praxis work; but, I am further inquiry-incentivized by my work-experience questions that were ‘planted’ and grew out of my time as a supervisor of principals, a superintendent. (Day-55: “Are highly effective principals born, or can good leadership skills and talents be taught and developed?”)

The Book is available on Amazon:

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_1?crid=3KEL25MH28J0N&keywords=Report+From+The+Principal%27s+Office&qid=1647450093&sprefix=report+from+the+principal%27s+office%2Caps%2C830&sr=8-1

Bad People are Afraid of the Study of History—And they should be!

In the midst of a horrible pandemic: 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 time and energy frantically trying to restrict the teaching of a graduate/law school level “theoretical approach to teaching history” that does not exist in any state’s PreK-12 curriculum standards or requirements.

A partial simple answer in explaining their motivation is that they are cynically appealing to the limbic base of their voting base’s racial-tribal emotions. But an additional larger political objective is that they know “liberals/progressives” (as is their history) would not be able to resist snacking on a distracting bait hooked to a non-existent problem.
Alas, all good and true pedagogy, in all content areas, is questioning, probing, revealing, and yes, analytically critical “by nature.” This intellect-building way of teaching and learning is designed to act as an agent of knowledge progress and as an upsetting force against anti-progress ignorance.
However, pro-incognizance is a losing political strategy because, in our internet age, every historical fact is easily electronically searchable (e.g., Smithsonian’s Digital Archives, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, etc.); and for every book that is banned and burned, that same book is read and shared in exponential numbers by people who may have otherwise not picked that book up.

Human History (there it is) informs us that we are “organically wired” to explore every unknown internal and external space we encounter. When there is an informational “discovery,” we are inclined to explore further into other unknown but needing-to-learn spaces. History (there it is again) also teaches us that many have tried to legislate against human enlightenment and intellectual evolution in the past. Yet, they have all eventually failed.

Recently, for the first time since I retired as a school superintendent, I actually found myself (while watching a YouTube video) feeling sorry for a group of school board members who were pleadingly and desperately trying to explain to an angry crowd that was raining accusatory curses and denunciations down on their heads; that they could not vote against a “Critical Race Theory Curriculum” in the district, because such a curriculum does not exist in the district! The good news is that the unscholarly mob at that school board meeting and similar mobs nationally can’t stop (remember the “teaching evolution” wars; see “Scopes Trial”), those highly-effective teachers, specifically history, science, and english teachers, from teaching the truth about the world and the world of truthful human history.

This extra-energy of information suppression (interestingly paralleling voter suppression) efforts against a theoretical form of historiography raise an essential question about the motives of the history-deniers: “What are they hiding?” The answer to that question is perhaps summed up in two words the truth! The truth is the antagonist enemy of the lie, the anti-falsehood, the natural opponent of inaccurate and inauthentic past storylines. The truth points out past unfairness, bad behaviors, and moments of individual and national moral cowardice. There is a K-12 pedagogical authentic approach to the teaching of American history that bravely engages (with grade and age-appropriate methods) the complex and perhaps “uncomfortable” truths of US history. And then there is the cowardly low-expectations approach to misteaching history by using deceitful dodges and unpleasant (to some) omissions. The true and honest history approach holds a high level of academic expectations by assuming that if students are presented with historical facts that suggest that their country is not perfect, and like all nations, is a work in progress, they will not become unpatriotic citizens or “lose a respect perspective” for a historical figure who was revealed to be, well, like all of us—human.

A nation’s history is complex, and human beings are complex; therefore, any serious study of human beings and human history will often be complicatedly “messy” in an interesting and thought-provoking way; consequently, these studies require a systematically analytical approach.
Then there is the problem of young people at some point (and they surely will) uncovering the history-of-lies we’ve taught them, but then not having the “scaffolding” guidance of a classroom teacher, who can knowingly, sensitively, and professionally ease them into a more productive and nuanced understanding of historical events and people. Historical life was complicated, present life is complicated, the future life our young people will engage in will be complicated, so don’t we want them to be properly prepared for that future?
For example, presenting “historical figures” like: Abraham Lincoln, Margaret Sanger, Martin Luther King, etc., as uncomplicated, flawless models-of-perfection not only removes the humanity of these individuals, but it also removes the opportunity for students to gain access to a deep and rigorous understanding of the complexity of the human species; and thus a better understanding of their own complex humanity.

Legislating “backwardness” in the vast scope of human history is a doomed effort in the long term, even as it can inflict severe short-term intellectual damage on many children. But it is also a failed effort because it undermines the very reason and purpose of education, which is to draw the innate personal wisdom out of students, as we also draw them closer to the wisdom of the world.
Any legislation designed to ban, for example, the teaching of the “Scientific Method” (observation, inquiry, hypothesis, investigation, experimentation, etc.), would require a simultaneous banning of the teaching of all science itself; since the methodological behavioral approaches to practicing science can’t be separated from the operational activities of acquiring the conceptual knowledge of science. This is also true in historiography (the study of history); one can’t separate critical analytical research methods from the information and knowledge that these intellectually authentic inquisitorial approaches produce. All PreK-12 professional educators (should) know that poor or inaccurate teaching and learning methodologies used in the study of any academic subject area will produce poor and inaccurate learning outcomes.

What these history-deniers are doing is not just the act of producing an inauthentic and delegitimized view of the American history story, the white-washing, wishing-away and watering-down of the reality of the US and global human historical events; is, in essence, a “dumbing-down” of the critical, complex and conceptualization learning skills that all children need to become intellectually empowered adults.

But there is a second malevolent motive on the part of our history-deniers, which is the weaponization of history.
We saw this on frighteningly full display with a nuclear-armed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bizarre, twisted, and grossly inaccurate presentation of a pre-and post-World War II European history lesson.
Putin’s “fictional history project” was strategically designed to justify a barbaric act of aggression against a sovereign nation (and no threat to him), Ukraine.
The actual 1930s Nazis (not those Ukrainians Putin claims are Nazis) perfected this art of creative history telling to justify one of the most devastatingly horrific periods in human history. The modern German people (unlike our US “confederacy worshipers”) to their moral and sensible credit, have gone to great lengths to denounce and restrict any modern movements, expressions, or symbols promoting Nazism; after all, that critical historical analysis taught them that they don’t want to go down that terribly destructive road again.

Ironically, a non-Putinistic, theoretical comparing and contrasting critical analysis of Russian history might, in fact, suggest that Mr. Putin and his enablers have more in common with the WWII Nazi forces and the Ukrainians look a lot like those heroic Russian forces that defended Stalingrad!

But Putinism, Nazism, bad acting autocratic dictators, dictator worshipers, and the proto-fascist or reactionary leaders in “democratic nations” all have much to fear from the accurate and analytical truth teaching and learning of history, after all, so much of their ideological reasoning, their personal and political survival, depends on lies. And so, the question is, not only what are they hiding, but also, what are they hiding from?

The Gilded Age: You can’t judge a TV series by its time period.

Why the study of history matters for young people…

I saw a trailer ad for The Gilded Age (TGA) before watching some other HBO film I can’t remember (don’t judge me, for I embrace my seniorhood). This was around the same time I read that a White police officer Kim Potter received a two-year insignificant prison sentence for killing an African-American named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. It seemed that the low-level severity of her sentence matched the low-level of sensitive recognition of Mr. Wright’s humanity.
Her excuse for summarily executing Mr. Wright was that she mistook her gun for a taser, which led to her fatally shooting the victim.

Her rationale and the way the court system essentially excused her actions is a long-running tragic national series that we Black American’s have lived and watched, season after season, in horror since our first forced roles as enslaved persons in this country; and so, don’t mind us if we don’t buy Ms. Potter’s lame excuse or respect a judicial system that essentially exonerated and applauded her actions.

It’s hard enough to be a Black person (regardless of prominent stature, education, accomplishments, celebrity fame or money) in a 2022 America where you receive daily doses of subtle and overt denying dismissals, acts of demeaning disrespect (modern versions of the 1800s), and ultimately a potential or actual death by driving, walking, jogging, standing, or simply bird watching in a natural park. And so, I was in no mood to watch the more severe not-so-gilded age of suffering and trauma Black people faced twenty-five years or so after the civil war.
But my excellent NYC public education, and in particular my great high school history department experience (My 1960’s high school principal wrote the American History Regents State Exam Review Book—And, we had an African-American history elective course), triggered my historiography curiosity; it also helped that I (born in Harlem, raised in Brooklyn), found myself geographically curious about the many NYC places and landmarks that would be referenced and displayed in the show.

I cautiously watched season 1/episode 1 with my hand not too far away from the remote to be able to quickly switch it off at the first hint of a cringing “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies” scene.
To my educational nostalgia delight, the TGA was, in many ways, an exciting dramatic relearning of my high school NYC history and civics classes, and it did not hurt that the acting, writing, and cinematography were excellent.
But something else that was very interesting happened; I discovered that the Black characters in the 1880’s TGA were portrayed as complex, creative, dignified, and respectful people, and even more surprisingly (but sadly) strange, these TGA Black character portrayals were in many ways vastly superior to a lot of the modern stereotypical black minstrel-monstrosities we see on too many current TV shows.
And most importantly, because I can be a super-critical non-professional critic of all things art, I realized that I actually liked The Gilded Age’s artistic storytelling and visual presentation!
It seemed that I made a prejudgment error I’ve spent forty years warning students not to make; the proverbial mistake of “judging a book (art form, experience, person, etc.) by its cover or title”; only in this case I was the one making the wrong premature judgment about a TV program based on a “time period.”
In the after-episode “inside the episode” segments, I also learned that there are Black women who hold real influential power in the “behind-the-cameras” production side of TGA. For me, this “real-power” they exhibited is the real “representation” we so desperately need more of on TV and in films projects.

Well, I redeemed myself by binge watching every episode of TGA’s first season on Saturday evening (again, don’t judge my not-so-social life); and then the next day, I watched a modern expression of determined perseverance; with the concentration at every level, and not mere “representation” of Black women with the South Carolina University Women’s Basketball Team (SCUWBT) in action against Tennessee; they did not disappoint. And, oh, by the way, the critical lesson for this life-long learning educator is, in my professional and personal practices: Work hard and consistently well like the SCUWBT; and with things like The Gilded Age, always seek to understand fully; and when there is not a full or, there is a misunderstanding, seek to first Pedagogically Heal Thyself!

The Gilded Age; HBO drama series; Monday-9:PM— For educators: The TGA website contains some excellent history lesson “lesson resource prompts”… https://www.hbo.com/the-gilded-age/timeline

Principals, (let’s start with this) if you really want to raise the self-esteem of Black students, then make them proficient academic performers!

“Change the joke and slip the yoke”—Ralph Ellison.

An often news media quoted “liberal education professor” once remarked “that what I was doing was not progressive education” in response to a very positive NY Times article on my (getting kids to successfully pass NYS Regents exams) work as a principal of Science Skills Center High School, Bklyn NY. Of course, many people took offense to his remarks, but my favorite “apologia” was offered by one of my esteemed mentors Dr. Asa Hilliard who said: “Michael’s students are always progressing academically, and so why is it not “progressive education!”

It’s very easy for school-based educators to get distracted and taken “off mission” by outside gibberish. Part of the problem is that everyone who had a K-12 experience is thoroughly convinced that they absolutely know how public schooling should be executed. For sure, we have opened this “everybody has the answer door” by refusing to adopt an ethical “prime directive” that places student needs over adult comfort and employment needs, a no excuses, no blaming parents, communities, or poverty for the reasons we fail to effectively educate so many children (and yet succeed at sending so many of them to prison).

We can also get distractedly caught up in the larger societal political debates (e.g., integration) that have nothing to do with what a school-based team of educators is facing and are required to do for those students arriving to their school building every day. We educators can’t bring societal racial integration into reality, solve the problems of a broken national immigration system, eliminate poverty, etc. All that we can do is educate the young people sitting in our schools to the best of our courage and abilities. But for too many “liberal” or “conservative” actors, public education is a platform for political war games; however, for the dedicated professional educators working in the trenches, it’s their life work and sacred called service. After all, real (not theoretical) children’s lives are at stake, and we must protect them from the collateral learning damage that various political warring factions would inflict on them.

This is why I say let the governors and state legislative opponents of human progress pass all of the anti (does not exist in any state curriculum) “Critical Race Theories” (CRT) laws they want. Let these same lovers of history ignorance seek to block the analytical teaching of our nation’s complex (sometimes joyful and sometimes painful) historical story. Teaching historical “lies” or omitting “unflattering” or uncomfortable for some citizens events; means removing the necessary scientific approach to the study of history; this action will ultimately educationally damage all students regardless of racial identity or ethnicity and destroys public education’s credibility. And just like we can’t help if some folks are unnerved because we can’t “low-ball” the age of our planet to fit their theology; we also can’t construct a historiography that avoids the “difficult” to acknowledge events of the past. Further, historical-truth-telling builds moral character; learning about those horrendous Japanese internment camps of the 1940s can lead students to not repeat such an act when they become policy-deciding adults. Educationally speaking (as is the case with mathematics education), any acquisition level of content knowledge can’t be built on a previous premise of untruths incorrect or false information.

If “professional commentators” want to duel-it-out on the editorial pages of major newspapers and on cable news programs about a topic (e.g., CRT) that again does not exist in any state’s curriculum, let them have at it! Professional educators need to stay focused on what we need to do with and for our in-the-present-moment students. We can start with staying out of the “mess” that other people create. As a principal, I shut out all of the “political posturing” outside noise that most often had nothing to do with why my Title 1 school students showed up (and their parents sent them) every day, which was to improve their life chances through the formal educational experience. Our first professional, ethical task then is to ensure that our students are academically “whole,” viable, and proficient by providing them with a (yes, standards based and beyond) rigorous learning foundation that we efficaciously make happen. This means that they are proficient and above in all academic content areas, from reading skills to research skills. And any school that fails at that primary objective is sadly engaged in some form of miseducational theater.
My position as a superintendent vis-à-vis my principals was this: “Yes, by all means, have nice Black History Month programs, but I also want your students to make their own “modern history” by becoming high academic achievers!”

Principals should listen to their own professional-pedagogical instincts, suggesting that: The quickest, surest, and most sustainable path to raising any student’s self-esteem is to help them become strong practicing proficiency participants in this experience we call schooling. You then double-down on their high academic capabilities by approaching all curriculum content areas by way of authenticity, diversity, honesty, and truth. The best principals know how to accomplish this feat without using “fancy” slogans or phraseologies that could become the political weapons of any outside-of-the-school-building battle groups, whose conflicts are often the enemy of real educational progress and success.

First, they went after the uncomfortable truths of US history related to Native, Latino, and Black Americans… Then they went after the uncomfortable truths of my own history.

“A school district in Tennessee banned the use of “Maus,” a Pulitzer-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, in its middle school classes, citing the work’s profanity and nudity in a 10-to-0 vote.”—Washington Post

The problem of proto-fascist movements as they evolve into full fascist movements is that they ultimately have no limits; in the end, there is them, and then there are victims. There are no “prior agreements” they feel honor-bound to respect. Their normal routine is the extreme acts of personal and the people’s democratic rights disqualification. Their ideology is the full universal expansion of horrific ideas. Book banning paves the way for book burning. Book burning is the rehearsal stage for people burning. Honest historical deniability is linked to economic exploitation and will always lead to some form of human negation. Today it’s the otherization of Mexicans; the next day, it’s the next in line “others” who will be relegated to a place of denigration and dismissal. It’s not a matter of if; it’s only a matter of when your turn will arrive.

The national GOP effort to deny and restrict Black voter participation is a rehearsal to expand those disenfranchisement efforts to those segments of White America who have maintained some ethical concerns about wanting to see their nation “Great” (pre-civil rights era) again. Doing the right thing should not require that the evil being done is being done to you.

There is a reason that history is both a target and tool of depraved and diabolical leaders. They are highly skilled in the art of transforming a real or imagined “grievance” into organized and politically sanctioned self-destructive acts of hateful hooliganism and malicious mob violence, and ultimately, verbal and physical violence as a vehicle to obtain (by legitimate or fraudulent means) elected political power. History will expose them in their earlier historical iterations and could serve as a moral inoculant that could prevent these proto-fascist from philosophically reinfecting us in our own historical periods. But a collective courageous and principled personality is needed as opposed to a “not-my-problem” attitude.

False glorification (a right-wing personality disorder) can, if not countered, be an effective tool of human nullification. The symbols of the southern confederacy are, in fact, symbols of false hope for those who wish to see the official authorization of discrimination, exploitation, and no consequences acts of violence against Black Americans. One then is forced to ask: “What exactly is it that ‘conservatives’ are trying to conserve?”… If it’s an age of exploitation, then the only rational and righteous response of the targets of exploitation is resistance!

The great myth of this world was tragically explained by the words and sacrifices of people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship). The lie we are told and sold is that we can look away from the suffering and pain of the “not me,” not my family, nationality, religious affiliation, community, or nation. That I can somehow strike a separate peace bargain with the human elements of evil. The dynastic nature of evil (did we not learn anything from the history of German Nazism) is not satiated until all of humanity is under the power and pain of its wicked rule. And thus the reason they seek to prevent the positive power of true-history-telling; which provides every one of us with a way into realizing our full compassionate humanity; we only need to read (and be moved to action by) the words of a contemporary and fellow 1930’s German clergymen of Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

A Dr. King history and current events teachable moment…

A Dr. King history and current events teachable moment…

Listening to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s (D-Arizona) speech yesterday caused me to slip into educator mode. So here is my imagined compare and contrast teachable moment for her and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) lesson-plan prompt: Sen. Sinema’s call for “regular order” is similar in either (or both) tone or substance to the same one made by (allegedly sympathetic to civil rights aims) White Alabama Christian ministers to Dr. Martin Luther King.

And so, I think both Senators should read Dr. King’s response to those ministers in his: “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” where he offers a counter perspective that asserts that “regular order” will not work in the face of evil forces that thrive on the hypocrisy of ‘irregular-disorder-order’ as it enables the mistreatment and disenfranchisement of other human beings (e.g., slavery, segregation, discrimination, voting rights suppression, and violent “officially sanctioned and excused” oppression).

And in my teacher notes-to-self: It would seem that history and human moral progress (e.g., stopping Nazi Germany, ending South African apartheid) clearly align with Dr. King’s perspective. Extra-ordinary actions are needed to address extra-ordinary inhuman and immoral behaviors.

I am presently reading a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy), and it occurs to me that the operational definition of “public” (not private) courage is standing up (regardless of the consequences) and standing against the normalization and the regularization of the ugly acts of dehumanization.

Part 5 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: Recruiting and building a highly-effective CTE teaching staff; and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate.

Part 5 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: Recruiting and building a highly-effective CTE teaching staff; and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate; both are reflections and manifestations of the school’s philosophy of CTE education.

Successfully recruiting and developing a highly-effective CTE teaching staff. Start with a strong strategic professional development plan in mind.

One of the critical components of a successful CTE high school program or school is the expanded commitment that must be invested in instructional coaching. In almost every situation, a CTE program/school will need (depending on its size) to employ a few or many non-traditional teachers. These teachers may have spent a previous work life in a particular career field or industry (e.g., plumbing, carpentry, nursing, EMT tech., etc.). However, the best CTE teachers to recruit are those presently or who have taught in the past, in a skills trade apprenticeship or professional preparation program (they will at least have some “teaching experience” upon which to build on).
But the school must still craft a comprehensive pre-teaching assignment training and ongoing professional development plan for these teachers. This is particularly true since teaching in a post-high school adult program is very different from teaching teenagers in a high school. I understand a popular US notion that is held by many outside of professional education, is that anybody can teach. For sure, the myth that anybody can teach (or be a principal, superintendent…) has done great harm to the profession and even greater damage to our most vulnerable students. Teaching is a complex and challenging craft, even for those “new teachers” who have graduated from a conventional 4-year undergraduate teacher education program. Obviously, the long-term and sensible plan for the development of “non-traditional” CTE teachers is to provide ongoing professional development that covers (in a condensed and concentrated way); many of the fundamental knowledge and skills of a professionally trained, “certified track” teacher, such as lesson planning, instructional (delivery) practices, questioning techniques, developmental psychology, pacing, classroom management, executing during-the-lesson and post-lesson student assessments, etc. This intense pre-appointment professional development must continue throughout the first few years of teaching, in-school, after school, and on weekends to the greatest extent possible, mirroring the essential course offerings found in traditional teacher education programs. This formal teacher training must be combined with (depending on the size of a CTE program) a dedicated Teacher Instructional Support & Resource Center with an F/T (dedicated to the CTE teachers) instructional coach. Ideally, these “uncertified” CTE teachers can earn official teacher certification if the project is done in partnership with a local college that offers an “on-school-site” teacher education program in partnership with a district. Perhaps the “financial-tutorial-agreement” between the seeking to be certified CTE teacher and the district could be something like: For every tuition subsidized year the CTE teacher spends in the joint district/college teacher education program, they must, in turn, commit to work in the district/school for a year or repay the tuition. And “super-ideally” in a proactive way it would be very helpful for public education for colleges to set up a 4-year teacher education program specifically focused on producing a teacher certification program for (STEM and) non-traditional CTE teachers! But in the present and immediate future, CTE schools more than likely will need to recruit CTE teachers who have no prior training in K-12 pedagogy or instructional methodology. And so, the school must set up an “in-house” concentrated professional development series of “mini-courses” if these teachers are to be successful. These courses should start over the summer before the fall semester of their teaching assignments. The prospective CTE teachers will need to be paid (another necessary program cost) for attending the “for credit” summer teacher training institute. And it would be beneficial for those prospective CTE teachers to earn college credit toward an undergraduate education degree during their summer months of classes.
A little later, I will discuss the best approaches to finding and recruiting these teachers, which is not separate from the school’s overall philosophical thinking about how the principal operationally should effectively manage a CTE program, department, or school. But first, as things should proceed (but often does not) in public education, the learning needs of CTE students should frame (dictate, define and determine) the skills and knowledge capabilities required of their CTE teachers.

The profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate reflects and manifests the school’s philosophy of CTE education. With high school CTE programs, we can, academically and operationally, both bake “bread” and contemplate the artistic and poetic beauty of “roses,” which is why it’s essential to integrate CTE courses and the school’s other rigorous and enlightening academic offerings to create a “dual-diploma” graduating CTE student.

As with any effective high school academic department, the place to begin the forming of an overarching departmental philosophy, standards, objectives, structure, staffing needs, and operational strategies is to ask this critically essential question: “What are the explanatory competencies and characteristics (rubrics) that describe and define a graduate of our CTE department?” You cannot separate teaching and learning and organizational practices from programmatic and student achievement objectives/outcomes; pedagogically speaking, there is an “equal-sign” situated between and links program function/structure and program end-products/production. Therefore, for that student who completes a four-year CTE major program, the following brief bulleted outlines describes the primary programmatic and student conceptual and behavioral objectives that should be (necessarily) jointly realized in a four year CTE program or school:

• All CTE students must take and pass a first (ninth grade) full year CTE rotational survey of CTE “majors” class. The rationale and purposes of this class is to allow students to become familiar with a wide spectrum of CTE areas of study, and ultimately careers. Students were surprised at PHELPSACE* (a STEM-CTE school I designed) that during the ninth grade CTE survey class they discovered an unknown passion for a heretofore not-very-interested-in or not aware of an interest in CTE course of study. Anyone who has spent any considerable amount of professional or parenting time with teenagers, will know that they will often announce (demonstrably) that they “don’t like” something until they “do like” that something; that is, after being exposed and experiencing it! Thus, one of the teaching and career guidance objectives of the CTE survey class (and schooling in general) is to help students to clarify, sharpen and expand the perimeters of their “like” perceptions. The CTE survey class also offers students a “time and transcript-safe” chance to re-select their area of intended CTE concentration that was stated on their 9th-grade application and in their admissions interview (Yes, applying CTE students must be interviewed; the programs are educationally fulfilling and wonderfully engaging, but many of these programs carry a higher degree of potential safety-danger; and therefore, you must “lay eyes and ears on” every prospective CTE student to ascertain their level of attitudinal commitment and safe behavior discipline and comportment capabilities). The CTE survey class also offers students the chance to see the interaction and inter-relatedness of seemingly different CTE “specialties” and careers. For example, how a building, a bridge, tunnels or any other structure is built by applying multiple skilled tradespersons (practice officially utilizing school-wide, the term: “tradesperson” rather than the commonly used “tradesman”). It also gives students the opportunity to think about combining two presently existing career objectives, e.g., construction trade + engineering = construction (civil) engineering, creating a completely new job description, or pursuing an entrepreneurial opportunity. A ninth grade, one-year CTE survey class will allow students to rotate and take an introductory class in each of the CTE content specialty areas (electrical, masonry, plumbing etc.) of the CTE program. Based on this one-year experience, at the end of the year students will be asked to select a CTE “major-concentration” path of study. This survey class can take place in a normal forty-five minute class period, and the credit earned in this class will go toward satisfying the CTE graduation “diploma” requirements. This will of course add an additional class to every ninth-grader’s schedule (one of many reasons a longer school day is required). The only exception would be the engineering CTE sequence; this should start in the ninth grade, preferably with students who have taken algebra 1 in the eighth grade or algebra 1 in the high school’s pre-school year Summer Bridge Program. The reason is that high school students seeking to be admitted to an undergraduate engineering program should have taken calculus (and physics) no later than the twelfth grade (you don’t want students to encounter that first year daunting engineering major college course: “calculus for engineers” without having a high school calculus course “under-their-belt.”). Also, the pre-engineer college sequence will take the full four years of high school study because it covers a diverse syllabus objectives of the student learning about and experiencing many engineering specialties (e.g., civil, mechanical, chemical, electrical, traffic/transportation, etc.)
Back to the general CTE survey/rotation classes, which can last anywhere from two days to 2 weeks per career area, based on the information and skills requirements for that study topic ( e.g., drafting, CAD/CAM will take a couple of weeks of syllabus time). The CTE course should include a broad spectrum of presenters from specialty areas within that CTE career category. For example, carpenters who make furniture and those who work in building construction. Or masons who work on general housing-related structures like retaining walls and paved walkways, and stonemasons who do historical building restoration. The key here is to expose students to CTE careers they may not even know exist (e.g., theater: set design, construction, sound, lighting, and costume design). In this way, the students can be exposed to the full diversity of job categories in a wide spectrum of CTE fields. All of these ninth-grade introductory classes can be co-taught utilizing a skilled (working or retired) practitioner in the particular CTE job-category along with a traditionally licensed teacher or paraprofessional working in the CTE department; or, the “introductory survey classes” could be part of a school-building assigned CTE teacher’s course assignments if there is room in their schedules. All outside-of-the-school visiting instructors should receive a brief orientation to familiarize them with the school’s practices/procedures, rules, and regulations that govern public school education (all should have a “co-teaching” certified teacher or a very good and experienced paraprofessional in the room at all times).
Outside of school, trips to actual CTE work-sites are a necessity. Therefore, the success of this survey class also depends on the school/CTE department building strong outside-of-the-school collaborative partnerships with the organizations and trade/professional unions and associations that will supply the “teaching venues” and volunteer teachers. Although these professional expert presenters are volunteering their time, the school community should appreciate the tremendous donated sacrifice and cost these individual’s companies and governmental agencies are making by providing their paid employees time off to teach on-sight or at a public school.
As you seek to raise the necessary extra-funding for a CTE program or school, there is something you should know principal, and that is the vast majority of governmental and non-governmental organizations/institutions, their executives and employees, actually want to see public schools succeed; the “brake-down” in the “relationship” is on the public school end because after acquiring massive amounts of tax money from individuals and businesses, we continue to send so many “half or poorly prepared” high schoolers into the adult world of work or unemployment (the exception, of course, would be the Criminal Justice Industry, which benefits greatly from, and is sustained by, our ineffectual practices). For example, one large electrical firm in partnership with PHELPSACE donated a professional master electrician full-time to teach our sophomore-senior electricity courses for an entire school year; which saved me the cost of a whole teaching position, and the fact that he was an African-American male in a school that was 90%+ Black American was an added inspirational plus! This brings me to my next point: Although it is not a qualifying criterion for the success of the CTE survey course, if, at all possible, the school and CTE department should “hint carefully” that diversity of professionals (e.g., presenters of color and women) would be greatly “value-added” appreciated; but the “who” these presenters are should not be a “deal-breaker” after all their services are free to the school; but it has been my experience that all of the “sending volunteers” organizations, trade unions, professional associations, and institutions have all been sensitive and positively responded to our “representation and diversity” learning objective concerns.
Finally, in the construction trades sections of the CTE survey class, many girls will discover how talented and gifted they are in areas often identified as “male careers” (and their male peers will also learn how skillfully good these young ladies are and will begin to “put-some-respect” on their names!). I have seen girls excel in areas like welding (see the picture of the young lady top welder-of-the-class on this blog page’s platform), masonry, carpentry, plumbing, etc., in sections of the yearlong CTE survey class and then continue to excel as they move into the concentration phases of their sophomore-senior school years CTE “major” studies. The principal, CTE director, and AP of guidance must be ever vigilant in making sure that girls are unconsciously (and perhaps not maliciously) excluded, “self-exclude,” or discouraged from pursuing a construction skills trades career pathway. Making the CTE work-study space “gender-neutral” (same standards and expectations for all students) is a necessary volunteer and CTE staff orientation and departmental meeting conversation since many of the male survey class volunteer instructors and even the school-based full-time CTE construction trades/mechanics faculty members may not have extensive (or in some cases any) experience of either teaching/training or working in the profession with women.

• There must be a link between program “student profile” objectives, program functionality, and the physical structure of the instructional spaces. For example, if a district is building a brand-new CTE high school or refurbishing an existing school building (e.g., PHELPSACE), the investment must be made to make the architecture and construction of the building itself a significant part of the CTE teaching curriculum and that would include putting the school in a position to pursue and achieve the ultimate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum status.

• There is a required dual-certification graduation goal (a high school rigorous academic diploma & the appropriate CTE certification), which will mean that the student has met all of the academic requirements for gaining admission to either a two-year or four-year college. All CTE students should apply to a college program (perhaps closely related to their CTE major); the school should cover all application fees, even if they don’t plan to attend college or have decided to delay college attendance for some date in the future. It’s always better (and some former “reluctant” CTE students thanked me for “pushing” this mandate years after they graduated) for a student to have a 2 or 4 year college acceptance letter “in-their-pocket” and then communicate to the college that they are delaying the start of their college studies for a post-high school work-study CTE program (e.g., a construction trade apprenticeship school); then to “scramble” 1-2 years after their high school graduation to acquire (a now more difficult) admission to a college.

• A CTE student must be emotionally disciplined, highly organized, and “highly-efficient” academically. The school’s CTE four-year course of study follows a prerequisite (required classes) and cohort-track format. Ninth graders, in particular, generally face that “standard” challenge of mastering the organizational skills to navigate any high school academic program successfully; CTE programs will present additional challenges for those ninth-graders who are in pursuit of dual-diploma graduation status. High schools too often assume wrongly (or under assume) the degree of “mental-preparedness,” and the required high school culture “soft skills” awareness capabilities of ninth graders. The CTE program must set aside some time (possibly the first week of the 9th grade school year) in the CTE survey class to teach students organization skills “best practices,” productive study techniques, general (all subject areas) study prioritization/optimization skills; test-taking skills, how to manage short and long-term projects and assignments, and academic time management; or these students are going to struggle (and perhaps fail) in a high school CTE program; a sequence of study that is highly rewarding, but leaves little room for course failures, especially in the case of CTE courses where there is most likely no summer school make up classes.

• Students should be exposed to the many different CTE employment “promotional” skill levels, “soft” and “hard” skills and knowledge requirements (e.g., “trainee,” “extern-intern,” certified, “mastery,” and supervisory/managerial job categories in a given industry or trade. And also, be exposed to the numerous present and possible future “sub-specialties” inside various CTE professions (e.g., underwater welding and robotics, nurse anesthetist, electric cars maintenance, etc.)

• The CTE program must utilize the (costly) actual tools and equipment used by professionals working in the CTE field they are studying; and where that is a challenge (e.g., heavy construction vehicles and equipment), field trips and computer simulation technology should be employed.

• A senior CTE project should always be required (and evaluated) in any CTE program. For example, a creative performance/art work, culinary presentation (with invited professional chefs and food critics), original fashion designs, architectural “green building” design, or engineering innovation service projects. Or, the students could do a group/team senior-year CTE project across multiple (4 is the best working and assessment number) different CTE major areas of concentration, like designing and building a school campus greenhouse.

• Students should successfully pass the CTE major certification exams (e.g., CISCO), end-of-course assessments, written and practicum qualifying exams for admission to a CTE post-high school training program, and/or a specific construction trades apprenticeship school.

• Outside of class, program, and school enrichments. Optimally, a CTE student will be able to spend at least one school-semester, or during the summer, in an applied project mentorship program, on-site extern or intern-ship, work-study experience, a summer job connected to that student’s CTE area of concentration. (In cooperation with a wise city administration, the SYEP program could be integrated into this objective).
In addition, CTE students (in developing their portfolios) should engage in a CTE career-related school team or club. For example, for the pre-engineering students NSBEjr and/or the FIRST Robotics team; for CISCO or Microsoft certification students, the Cyber Forensics-Security Competition Team. In that CTE course of study where there is no national high school club, association, or competition, the school should create an in-school or inter-school expression of competitions, clubs, or junior professional associations.

• Students will be proficient in thinking and linking CTE “conceptual” and “behavioral” skills competencies. The CTE program’s instructional model will challenge, but ultimately empower students to be equally proficient in theoretical and performance-based learning. There is no learning they engage in that is not connected to practice and no practice disconnected from the theoretical learning they study. The CTE department is essentially the praxis heart (reflective model) and the practiced art (creative example) of the entire school’s pedagogical commitment to a Project-Based-Learning-Approach for schooling generally, and operationally for teaching and learning in all academic areas.

• All CTE students must complete (a CTE diploma requirement) some community/school service project before graduation, for example, serving as an assistant coach for a middle school robotics team; technical support for the drama club, a mentor for ninth graders joining the computer club, membership on the school’s LEED team; beautifying, upgrading, renovating, and restoring parts of the school building and the school building grounds, etc.

• All CTE students must build a 4-years in the making, electronic and paper senior portfolio (expanded CV/resume). Including information highlighting the student’s participation in both CTE and non-CTE school activities, programs, or teams. This senior portfolio should reflect the intellectual and skills capacity of a “well-rounded” student. Don’t be shy about building a dynamic “CTE-PR Package” (senior portfolio) for students; after all, the best high school athletic programs do it all of the time!

• The model CTE student will be thoroughly grounded in non-STEM-CTE subject areas such as fictional literature, poetry, history, plays and essays, creative design, and performance arts. (again, for reasons to create a “rich senior portfolio profile”). In other words, a “well-rounded” and rigorous-rich transcript. In addition, given the financial resources, schools should offer “CTE/Liberal Arts” elective courses, e.g., “computer-generated art,” “history of technology,” “archeology and architecture,” and “biomedical engineering.”

• Work force-place-site experiential knowledge. Over four years, the school’s CTE graduates would have participated in many individually assigned or school-sponsored/organized CTE careers-related trips. “School Trips” as a learning tool have fallen out of favor (especially in high schools). But with good school leadership organization, this teaching and learning vehicle can be of tremendous academic achievement and career enlightenment value, particularly for those students who don’t have the opportunity to interact with a diverse spectrum of successful professionals and have access to informal education institutions.

• CTE graduates will be well informed and well-rehearsed in resume writing/job interview standards and techniques. The CTE department will also familiarize students with the professional work environment “soft skills” and “cultural-linguistic code-switching” skills required to succeed in an internship or future employment setting. The CTE departmental objective is to have the student psychologically and attitudinally “job-ready” by graduation.

• (And here is where the Entrepreneurial Principal must show up) All CTE construction skills (and some other CTE programs, e.g., EMT,) trades students should receive a complete set of personal, professional tools (from the culinary arts to carpentry) upon graduation.

High School Career Technical Education (CTE) allows us to move away from disempowering dueling diplomas and move into empowering dual diplomas.

In closing, it is unfortunate that too often in public education, in too many ways, and with too many students, we fail to establish a positive, adaptive, and valuable after graduation path for students to achieve short-term motivational career accessibility and long-term societal financial sustainability. The high School CTE dual-diploma graduation objectives allow us (starting in the 9th grade) the opportunity to provide ourselves and students with a 4-year end-of-process plan that equips young people with the knowledge and skills to confidently take the next step in the adulthood and career maturation process. Even if a student chooses at the end of 4-years of high school to delay or completely abandon a CTE career option, it will not hurt their chances of utilizing the CTE skills they learned in other career endeavors; and it surely won’t hurt their resumes since they will have the profile-resume advantage of being a highly-effective dual diploma achiever. And besides, if public schools provided their CTE graduates with more and not less post-high school graduation options to choose from, then that is a “problem” that our nation and our children are in dire need of having.

*Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, DCPS, Washington DC.

Part 4 of: “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?”: The Basics For Establishing or Reimagining a High School Career Technical Education (CTE) Program or School.

The organizational commitment and foundational work required for establishing or the revisional re-establishment (upgrading) of a high school Career Technical Education (CTE) program or school.

All CTE program students should face three critical challenges on their path to high school graduation. Yet, at the same time, these “3-challenges” will double as better life-after-graduation favorable advantages for learning options, and further, produce highly promising future professional career opportunities.
The first challenge is to satisfy the state and school district’s “general” credit linked to grade promotion guidelines, standardized exams passing, and high school graduation requirements.
The second challenge is to successfully pass all of their CTE “major” (area of concentration) requirements of a sequence of courses, navigate written and performance CTE certification standardized exams, earn a community service credit, and finally, develop, complete, and present a final senior year CTE project.
And the third challenge is that all CTE graduates must go beyond the state/district standard “general graduation” requirements and be transcript “college-ready” eligible to gain admission and be able to successfully complete a two- or four-year college program, even if they choose to not do so.

The school must establish these three CTE graduation requirements if they expect to operate and function as an authentic and highly successful CTE program or school in deeds, not just words. This academic profile and departmental objectives automatically demands that a CTE program/school not be bound by the stifling-standard staffing, labor, and work schedule agreements and restrictions that burden many existing public school districts. The most obvious reason is that CTE students can’t possibly complete all three of those graduation requirements in a “typical” school daytime schedule. Also, the 10th-12th grade sequence of CTE classes requires a minimum of 90 minutes to be meaningfully (educationally) productive, when combined with a maximum class size of twenty-four students; principals should immediately be able to hypothetically calculate (class size/minutes/personnel), the higher than regular classroom cost involved; clearly a great deal of “rules and regulations” relief + extra-funding is required for any CTE initiative to work effectively.

An additional operational requirement of a CTE program or school is that they must have the flexibility to employ CTE departmental teachers with specialized skills that may not fit the public school official licensure requirements or professional teacher pathway. Optimally, a CTE program/school with a department of many “non-traditional” teachers should have a director, chairperson, or AP with a certified teacher (strong instructional) background, and if budgetarily possible (highly recommended), a dedicated CTE department F/T instructional coach. Why is it essential to provide extra-instructional support for “non-traditional” CTE teachers? Because PreK-12 teaching in general, but in this specific case, high school teenagers, is not as easy as many who are outside of the profession imagine it to be! (Real principal talk: You must prepare for the possibility that a “non-traditional” CTE teacher may quit before the end of the semester or year, as they encounter the natural “full beauty” of the adolescent attitudinal worldview!).

A further administrative hurdle to overcome in establishing an exemplary CTE program/school is that generally, they cost more money as “start-ups” and are more expensive over the long-term than non-CTE programs and schools; this is based on their unique and essential operational, organizational and structural requirements. This extra cost includes the beforementioned class size maximum of twenty-four students for optimum safety and learning purposes (24 also works for instructional reasons as a great deal of CTE classwork is paired and quartet group assignment projects). In addition, CTE programs/schools must meet many unique but necessary architectural (specially designed learning spaces) requirements. Further, CTE schools require specialized teaching stations, tools, furniture, specialized machinery, structural safety designs, and CTE course-specific safety equipment, and often unique (and extensive) electrical wiring. There are machine and equipment servicing contracts that are needed. In addition, there are costly teaching/learning materials annual replenishment supply costs. Also, the expenditures for CTE programs and schools are higher because of the building operational schedule (extended school day) and maintenance (custodial extra-cleaning). Alas, there is just no way around this financial investment reality, which is why it’s critical to any CTE programmatic success that the school district make a serious long-term pedagogical and budgetary commitment to the program or school.

Additionally, any school district hoping to create or redesign a CTE program/school must include for both academic and financial reasons a strong industry partnership program, the school’s (501c3 foundation) must have access to a grant writer who could also help coordinate multiple fundraising campaigns, a resource, and materials acquisition Rolodex of supporters and donators, and help in the recruitment of ongoing external human resources volunteer-mentoring efforts.
The (Entrepreneurial) principal assigned to the school must have (along with a lot of other CTE-specific leadership abilities) extraordinary fundraising capability skills. The funds raised by the school’s internal and external fundraising efforts should not substitute (a bad public school habit) for the district’s long-term additional funding for the school; all funds raised by the school (and necessary for the program’s success) should supplement and not replace the required district’s “special allocation” for the program or school! (Real principal talk: As a principal, I never told any central district office person the amount of funds we raised outside of my official district budget allocation; this was not illegal since the annual reports of my 501c3 foundation were filed with the state and therefore was public information. The reason for my not providing that information is that in public education, we can often get the concepts of “equity” and “equality” mixed up and confused to the determent of students).

And then there are the final “heavy lift” political/communication issues for creating effective CTE programs/schools: It is critically important that a board of education (local school district), district leadership officials, unions, elected officials, parents, and the community at large understand how CTE schools/programs are and why they must be very different from “regular programs or schools,” and importantly what that difference means for prospective students admission requirements, graduation requirements, summer and weekend programs, staffing, organization and scheduling, school building leadership, budgeting, labor-contract agreements, instructional and non-instructional staffing support, and professional development.

The good news about all of that extra start-up cost, extensive planning, professional development, “rules-regulations-relief,” and additional annual higher operational expenses (e.g., classroom materials replenishment costs are subject to increases in national/international building and construction “market forces” cost increases), will more than pay for itself with more-better student: attendance, punctuality, “course passing rates” (avoiding costly “credit recovery” programs, e.g., summer school) good behavior, academic achievement outcomes on report cards and standardized exams; and additionally, higher, more meaningful and “societally adaptable” graduation profiles and rates. Finally, a good CTE school (as is the case with any highly-functioning public school), will partly “pay for itself” by having the ability to “pull” students away from private schools and thus increase the district’s per/pupil local, state and federal funds allocations (not to mention making those presently “double-taxed” parents happy to be free of paying a private school tuition cost). All of the things that are not accomplished by the many much, much more expensive “school improvement,” “closing gaps,” and “raising achievement” habitually bad high priced schemes* that school districts are so fond of engaging in.

And by the way, if this counts for anything, CTE initiatives will produce happier and more satisfied parents and students (and employers). In addition, it will, to a great extent, deprive and diminish our criminal justice system of its “poor education recipients” human material supply. And finally, CTE programs, when done right, offer the beautiful possibility of young people who live in our most employment-challenged communities the ability to have a better job and entrepreneurship options and opportunities future.

*These programs essentially don’t work (despite their often sexy/well marketed and worded acronyms) in major part because:

(1) they don’t dare infringe on the politically sacred zones of adult job guarantees, comfort, and the comfortable assurances of no consequences for failure (only designated students, their parents, and specific communities suffer a loss).

(2) Secondly, these doom-to-fail “distraction programs” (some of these bad ideas are pushed by the pedagogically asleep “woke” crowd) don’t really get at the core challenge of creating and expanding the sustained quality of teaching and learning opportunities for larger populations of students.

The NYC mayor-elect Eric Adams correctly asks the question: “How can a system spend so many billions of dollars and produce such poor outcomes?”… Well, there it is (a large part of the answer), summed up in those previously stated #’s (1) and (2) assertions!

Part 5: Building a highly-effective CTE staff and the profile of a successful CTE high school student and graduate; all are the ultimate reflections and manifestations of the school’s philosophy of CTE education.

“Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?” Part 3: Creating the theoretical foundation for building effective Career Technical Education (CTE) high school programs.

The “shop” classes at my 1960s Brooklyn middle school taught me an early lesson about public education’s approach to “physical” and “mental” work. “Shop Class” was an opportunity for the gifted and talented students to connect our academic and creative educational experiences into some innovative, practical application (e.g., building bird feeding boxes). But for some classes (and students) in the school, the shop class experience was seen as an entry portal into some kind of vocational field characterized by physical, not mental, skills.
That experience reflected the terrible and destructive divide that existed and still exists in public education to a lesser damaging extent. This is the false divide between the work people do with their hands as opposed to the work done with their brains. This artificial division has severely limited the emergence and development of a promising effort in the educational field that recognizes that “hands” and “minds” can’t be disconnected.
That idea is one of the core assertions of an excellent Career Technical Education (CTE) program. I realized painfully in one city school district how hard it is to move the public’s (and professional educators’) misunderstanding and collective belief system away from the traditional “vocational educational” model into the modern ideas of Career Technical Education. At this very moment, professional “experienced educators,” working and retired, all over this nation are saying, with good intentions, that for those students who are struggling academically, poor readers, unable to pass standardized exams, etc., that we need a program that will allow these students to “work with their hands!” This is basically the modern version of the 1960s vocational educational thinking era.

Part of the problem is that the overwhelming majority of us working in the education profession are more than likely the products of a liberal arts education with a strong emphasis on the humanities. Now, I actually believe that an educational program rich in the arts and humanities is essential for the education of all students. But often wrongly and quietly embedded in this approach is a pronounced bias that falsely favors mental labor over physical labor, the “speculative-imagined” over the “practically-applied.” In public education, our primary currency is books and reading (in all subject areas), theoretical math algorithms over functional math applications—the “college track” has always been the “major leagues” of public high school learning, despite our pronouncements to the contrary.

And we professional educators are also probably the products of a private or public school system that promoted the idea that “smart kids” should focus on academic classes (working with their brains) and “slower kids” need to focus on shop/vocational courses (working with their hands). Notice that “smart” is linguistically juxtaposed to “slow” instead of “slow” being measured against its true opposite “fast.” And despite the passionate protestations of our current national anti-authentic histography movement, race and class are always in play in American educational history; therefore, the kids who were more likely to be better at working with their hands than their brains, and assigned to a vocational program track, would, of course, be students who were poor/working class White, Black, and Latino kids. But ironically, we now find ourselves in a position of asking for an authentic CTE learning approach that would rescue our nation from a severe applied technical skills readiness “shortage” hole in which our public and professional misconceptions of how academic knowledge is expressed have placed us.

We have dug ourselves into a pedagogically destructive divide; now, how do we get out?
In public education, the false division between “brain” and “hands” work has hurt our efforts to successfully educate all children by ignoring the different biophysio-modalities and multiple-intelligences that students use to receive, process, and demonstrate curricular information and knowledge effectively.
We have also lost all sense of the many ways in which art, science, and mathematics are utilized to solve real-world, day-to-day problems. As a teacher taking students on a 1980s college tour, I fully appreciated the tremendously applied STEM-CTE work of those 1890s Tuskegee University students in designing and building the still-standing structures on that campus. But my experience of seriously learning about the unbreakable link between theoretical and practical work would fully emerge when I became principal of a STEM-CTE high school, for there is no better classroom for an educator to better understand and appreciate the level of complexity found in many educational initiatives than when you are responsible for a young person’s future life success or failure. At that moment, I came into a complete understanding of the pedagogical mess we professional educators made of “vocational education.” We wrongly sent out mixed and wrong messages that are still deeply embedded in our professional language, which means that it is fully embedded in the cultural-linguistic thinking and speaking of the general society. For example, a common phrase voiced by educators, “All students (re: the “dumb and dumber”) need not or should not go to college!” This statement is dangerous because, on the surface, it appears to address individual students’ needs and interests (which is an essential concern of any high school career-guidance program). However, the concept is really motivated by an underlying belief that the primary reason for not being “college worthy” is due to a “natural lack of academic capability.” This is why this assertion is always connected to “expectations,” which again, is always connected to class and race. The entitled and wealthy parents of our nation are not recommending that their children become plumbers or electricians, although they might want to reconsider that advice given the amount of money I spent each time I needed the services of either of those two tradespersons!

And then what is also often connected to that “not college material” assertion is a second well-meaning, but poorly thought out belief, that we need to provide “academic” programs that would allow the chronically truant, “intellectually slow,” SPED, ADHD, and the persistent and incurably misbehaving students the ability to have a pathway to graduation and a useful work-life after high school. But two central problems emerge from these two wrong thinking assertions. (1) Pursuing a professional career in any applied technology-construction skills field does, in fact, require high school-level mathematics and reading literacy skills, the ability to apply (even if it is not named) the scientific method, discipline, creativity, and thoughtful problem-solving skills. And with computer-related technology entering every aspect of the construction trades, there is a requirement that skills trades’ persons also grow their technical skills, as the role of technology increases in their profession. (2) With such a negative recruitment criteria (the “academically slow,” or the behaviorally/disciplined challenged) for admission to vocational education, it should not be a surprise that a large segment of parents and/or students would not find these programs attractive.
The hope and promise of CTE programs going forward are that we can revisit, restart, and revolutionize our entire thinking and approach to “vocational education.” And based on my previous experience with this effort, no CTE program can be truly successful in a school district (or school) unless that superintendent (or principal) engages in a system-wide (school-wide) and community-wide explanation and education process as to what CTE is and what it is not.

Clarifying the differences between vocational and career/technical education!

One of the great challenges we face (and too often fail at) in public education is the organization of our pedagogical practices and curriculum theory in such a way that it matches up with the world and the society the student will be facing in the near and far future after they graduate from our school systems. It is challenging to identify new careers that will be added, or in many cases, modified and/or completely eliminated in the next five to ten years; so, projecting twenty or thirty years into the future is really difficult. This is why an effective school’s academic program will seek to equip students with a bank of conceptual and behavioral (tactile) skills and competencies that are flexible enough to transfer over time to many different possible career opportunities. Further, for many of us, former school based/district leaders, who are now possibly in college teaching or education policy formation positions; our “baby boomer” way of thinking might prevent us from fully appreciating the incredible seismic shift that has occurred in the world of careers and work. My professional work life-path of entering a specific profession early in life (’20s); following a particular career ladder (e.g., teacher to superintendent), in essence, sticking with that same career until retirement, may, in fact, become a societal behavioral artifact; indeed, most of the young people in the 2022 high school graduating class will probably face a future where employment is translated to mean being engaged in multiple and perhaps radically different assignments on a single job and/or being employed (including self-employed) in numerous ways simultaneously, as well as completely changing careers several times throughout a work-lifespan.
This “new employment profile” requires the ability to transfer and translate a “survey” of diverse applicable skills in multiple employment settings. As a result, there could be a declining interest (or need) to stick with one specific undergraduate and graduate/professional school degree. Instead, a greater emphasis could be placed on how well individuals can creatively “stretch” their degree or prior training to cover multiple new and rapidly developing job requirements. For sure, specialized training (e.g., nursing, carpentry, computer coding, forest ranger, environmental biologist, anthropology, or civil engineering) will still exist. However, individuals may decide to take advantage of longer and healthier life spans by spending a third or half of their employment life in a particular field; and then switching to a completely different field, where the skills and competencies of both areas can be either integrated or expanded upon. It is also clear that technology will continue to assert its ever-growing presence in the world of “all” work-spaces.
The great present danger we face in public education is not only that we send too many unprepared and under(soft & hard)skilled students into the present job market, but it’s also our failing to graduate students equipped with a set of skills and competencies that will make them “employment relevant” for future job markets.

Science, Technology, Applied Engineering, Mathematics, the Creative and Liberal Arts; will continue to exert their innovative and formative influences in many present and future careers.

Think of all of the diverse “job categories” that are engaged as “teamwork” in a Kanye West production or in Rihanna’s multifaceted conglomerate projects that stretch across multiple business enterprises. Narrowly “knowing” one thing (even if you know it well) and not being able to at least have active and functional conversations across professional fields could make any potential employee or manager a liability rather than an asset.
Science, technology, applied engineering, mathematics, the creative and liberal arts will continue to influence and drive the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness in many fields, including the traditional construction trades like plumbing, welding, HVAC/R, electricity, and masonry. The above curricular learning principles and practices will also gain a more significant theoretical foothold into the training (e.g., use of computer simulators) of skills trades apprenticeship students and the day-to-day (CAD/CAM) operational procedures of the construction career fields. And further, “outside” of skills trades learning will be required to respond to ever-expanding connective/intersecting areas of health, politics, public safety, law, and environmental studies/concerns; the invention and innovative ideas for tools and equipment. The use of laser technology and robots; sophisticated technical probes and measuring instruments; and the almost universal expansion of computers in construction equipment; and the “on-the-worksite” computer usage by desktop, laptop, and handheld machines.
Further, for those CTE students who want to translate their CTE skills trades knowledge into an opportunity to serve in a supervisory and/or an entrepreneurial role; this will require a strong “liberal arts” academic foundation to expand into other applicable competencies, such as job proposal writing (“bidding”), business management, human relations psychology, customer service, effectively working with architects and engineers, the ability to read, interpret, and respond to codified labor agreements as well as governmental laws and regulations; and mastering the rubrics of budgeting; time management; and cost analysis. It is also probably true that the best creative, dynamic managers and entrepreneurs are those individuals who have been exposed to the arts, literature, philosophy, psychology, history, and ideas, people, and cultures other than their own. As international (and national) communication and human interaction increases, a leader’s success in the business world could increase the need for managers who have high levels of cultural-literacy skills.
Finally, there is without a doubt a growing societal and economic need for the development of a cohort of people in our labor force whose knowledge, abilities, and capabilities consist of having a full academic spectrum (“liberal arts”) of a high school education, a CTE program high school education, and a two-year technical/community college skills professional certification degree. In addition, there is a tremendous need for applied engineering technology manufacturing positions in STEM product or performance companies that cover everything from biomedical engineering, construction materials, machine and tool making, computer-aided manufacturing, automated farming, and food production; and further, for employment in computer-based delivery of information and products services corporations and service with governmental agencies. Even with the introduction of more computer-aided automated manufacturing production lines and robotics, we will still need a lot of humans who can code, develop, maintain, improve the performance, “troubleshoot,” and repair these semi(not wholly)automated systems. Needless to say, all of these high-demand employment opportunities require students to have more than the basic “hands-on-only” skills. For example, in medicine, our rapidly expanding (and longer-living) senior population could mean that we may want to expand the number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to meet our growing medical needs (particularly in our rural areas); but that would require high schools to establish and strengthen existing pre-nursing school CTE programs. The positive growth of complex technology-based solutions to everyday human needs will also require greater problem-solving skills from technical support and maintenance practitioners. As our society creates an environment where more and more US citizens find themselves (voluntarily or involuntarily) in an expanded integrated relationship with “hard” and internet technology, outsourcing “technical support” to foreign nations may not be a viable (proximity) option, customer-friendly, customer-satisfaction desirable, or even in some cases, “legally feasible” for personal or national security reasons. So, where will these skilled US workers come from?

Career Technical Education should not be a “fallback-backup” or a “failing-falling-off” of the academic capability track option.

As a STEM-CTE principal, I was once invited to speak to a group of middle school eighth-grade students; and to my disappointment and horror, the principal gathered what could only be (keeping-it-professional) described as an “interesting” cohort of students. The group was made up of (primarily Black boys and a few Black girls) who had a collective “school profile” consisting of chronic absenteeism and lateness, multiple suspensions, fighting and bullying behaviors, the repeated disregard for school rules, and continuous disrespect for school staff, below proficiency performance on standardized exams, and academic classroom and report card grades. These are the middle school students we systemically/cynically cause to eventually “age out” of middle school (but in reality, they are not prepared to do high school work). Many of them have already repeated a grade in elementary school. These were the students presented to me by the well-meaning administration and guidance counselor, who thought that these young people were best suited for a high school CTE program. In other words, students who needed to: “work with their hands.”
I did not walk out, only because it would have been disrespectful and unfair to the students. Instead, I gave them (and they deserved) my standard-best middle-school/high-school “articulation” presentation. But the next week, I invited that principal and a few of his (I suspect, equally under-informed) middle school principal colleagues to meet with me after-school in my school.
Since most of what you need to know for your school leadership life you learned in your teacher-life, I thought this was a great time at the beginning of the lesson (meeting) to employ visual aids as a lesson motivator.
In my office, I pulled from the bookshelf the various high school “CTE majors” textbooks our students would utilize during their four years at the school. I also shared a few texts used in the post-high school trade union apprenticeship programs. I also informed the group that our students would also need to complete the district’s “college-ready” requirements for graduation; thus, the shock and awe began.
Because they were professional educators, there was an immediate, enlightened awareness of the required reading level of the high school pre-apprenticeship CTE textbooks, the extent of necessary safety information (and behavioral safety standards needed) to be learned and performed, the massive amount of technical knowledge being taught to students studying welding, carpentry, and the electrician, or plumber’s courses sequence. And further, the amount of general science and mathematical, conceptual (e.g., decimals, fractions, percentage, place value, etc.) knowledge that is needed. In addition, the algorithmic (e.g., competency in applying the rules of multiplication, division, etc.) skills that are required of the students.
I spent that day, and many of my days, in Washington, D.C., explaining to people that preparing young people to be successful in a high school (where they essentially had to earn “two diplomas”) and at the same time being ready to enter a post-high skills trade apprenticeship program was a serious and challenging task as students had to master a vast body of both theoretical and practical (application) learning objectives. Students who chronically failed classes had poor attendance and punctuality, exhibited a lack of discipline, and engaged in chronic behavioral problems were not the standard requirement profile for a high school CTE candidate. An individual student with severe control and behavioral issues constituted a greater danger to themselves and other students if they pursued a CTE program. I then took my principal guest on a tour of our CTE labs. They saw the very complex (and potentially dangerous) machinery and the many tools students used daily, tools for which a student in another high school would be suspended if they brought that item to school. I finally explained that standardized assessments work in the CTE world are equally divided between written Q&A short and extended answers exams and the individual demonstration of practical proficiency in their trade; the CTE students are required to pass all of these different and challenging assessments tools before earning a “CTE diploma” and being admitted to a post-high school 2-year technical/community college CTE program or a construction apprenticeship school. They were in such a saturated state of shock that I did not even bother to share the CISCO/Microsoft certification programs part of our CTE career path course offerings with them; alas, I did not want to “pile-it-on” as I compassionately sensed that they had seen enough! I believe at the end of our CTE “lesson,” those principals left with a better understanding of what CTE is, is not, and what CTE, if done right, requires of students. But how many educators in our nation were absent from my “lesson” on that day, and what does that mean for US students?

Admission to a CTE high school program should be a “gift,” not a “punishment” for students.

The greatest gift of CTE programs to students is that, unlike the old vocational educational model that existed on the outskirts (in exile) of the public education mission, Career Technical Education, if done correctly, forces itself to be placed in the center of the school’s academic work and mission. Students who are enrolled in CTE courses and programs, more likely than not, have a strong sense of what they want to do after high school graduation. Linking high school work to a career in the world after high school is that critical connection every effective high school educator is passionately working hard to establish. And having a “CTE-major” team of teachers and fellow students gives the CTE student a sense of camaraderie, shared purpose, and mutual support on the high school path to graduation. The special presentations and lectures, internships, industry-related summer jobs, and CTE-focused field trips, along with the continual exposure and interaction with powerful and influential industry leaders and skilled professional practitioners, provide students with a daily reminder of that goal they are pursuing. I would even go further here and say those students I observed who were seriously focused and fully engaged in a CTE program were the most goal-orientated and “end objective” minded students in my high school! The structure of the CTE program positively affected their punctuality, attendance, and behavior during the school year. The CTE program was also an excellent incentive for the enrolled students to successfully pass all of their academic subjects since the CTE classes are rigidly and sequentially structured for each of the four grade levels, and CTE students move along a 4-year path as a cohort. Any student failing a class and then being forced to take that class the following semester when a CTE-required course could be scheduled at the same time could cause havoc on a student’s schedule and even create a danger of not being able to acquire the CTE certification by the twelfth grade. I have employed many techniques over my eleven years as a principal to get students to pass classes; however, one of the most powerful influencing factors was when the students exhibited a self-directed and self-managed response to the high school experience. And no one was better at this than that CTE student who feared falling out of the CTE program completion sequence by failing some non-CTE course. Failing any class on their schedule placed a CTE student in danger of not receiving a CTE diploma, thus weakening their chances of admission to the competitive post-high school trade skills apprenticeship programs.

Technological progress and international economic realignment need not be the enemy of US employment…

The challenge is for our political leaders to have a brave and honest discussion with the American public (and thus their children), and say that those factories that have moved to places like Mexico and Viet Nam (and paying those nations workers’ salaries unrealistically feasible in the US) are never coming back; and further, in the case of some jobs like coal mining, where for multiple reasons (worker health, market forces, and environmental challenges/changes), won’t offer American workers a promising future job option. But a parallel version of that “brave and honest” conversation must also take place in our public schools; we must ask ourselves: “How do we best prepare our students for the “real” world that is and not the world we nostalgically imagine to exist (if it ever fully existed); and most importantly the world-of-work that is to come?”

The U.S. will need to step up its public schools CTE game to stop the denigration, degradation, and loss of CTE employment skills required to meet the needs of “Build Back Better Act” type infrastructure projects that the US must undertake in the future. Let’s face it, many of our national bridges, clean water delivery systems, shipping/receiving ports, roads, tunnels, rail lines, etc. have reached their “maximum-time-usage-capacity”; at some point, we are deciding (and in some places like Flint, Michigan have already tragically decided) to put the citizenry at safety and health risk. At the same time, we are seriously harming ourselves economically.

President Biden’s Build Back Better Act (BBBA), although “wounded” ironically by elected officials whose states and citizens could have significantly benefited by the bill’s original (2.3 trillion dollars) tremendous scope, is still a potent job-producing project. And despite the undermining efforts of some political forces to reduce its efficacy, the 1.75 trillion BBBA will still create a long-term national need for a significant number of applied technology and construction skills trades trained and certified workers. The question (I’m going to keep asking): “Who will be trained, certified, and qualified to perform those jobs?”

In Part 4 of “Who Will Do The Work Of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?” — With high school CTE students, we can, academically and operationally, both “bake bread and contemplate the artistic/poetic beauty of roses”: Why it’s essential to integrate CTE courses and the school’s other academic offerings to create a “dual-diplomaed” graduating student.