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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This book is specifically helpful for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The SAT Isn’t What’s Unfair”

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

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

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

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

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

This book is for:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.