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.

Who Will do the Work of Upgrading America’s Infrastructure?

Part 1: Why our public schools are in serious need of more enhancing technology capacity infrastructure upgrading.

Recently I was honored by my former school, Science Skills Center High School (SSCHS), in a ribbon-cutting ceremony recognizing the major technological upgrading of the school’s library to a Research and Media Center (R&MC). This new resource-rich facility will give students access to a vast world of reading and study resources covering high school students’ intellectual, inner-attainment/enjoyment, and social-emotional needs. At the same time, the R&MC will offer study research resources for term papers and projects in all academic subject areas, especially science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The R&MC will also complement the student’s in-school Advanced Placement classes and outside of school university-based college-level courses. This powerful project was championed and received ($1 million in) funding from Brooklyn Borough President (soon to be NYC mayor) Eric Adams.

The good news for the entire city looking forward is that in my conversations with Mr. Adams, I strongly sense that he understands the need for the technology-based R&MC model to be available to all children, not just at SSCHS or NYC, but indeed, throughout our entire nation.
This understanding by Mr. Adams is critical for NYC children, because, to be honest, I have not always been successful in getting elected officials, civic leaders, and sadly, even some educational leaders, to be able to wrap their brains around the crucial need to combine STEM education, research skills, personal resilience capabilities, good self-discipline/study habits, academic knowledge, information, and algorithmic competencies; and further, students having highly-adaptive performative skills (in classwork and on standardized assessment instruments). And then having all of these student scaffolding conceptual and behavioral qualities delivered by a highly-skilled and high-efficaciously gifted school staff. Equally important is that this high-quality ‘teaching and learning experience’ is fairly given to all students, without prejudice, bias or neglectful malice; a zip code should not be a quality-future life-determining number.
Finally, this approach to building students’ intellectual and emotional empowerment capabilities can only be accomplished through the determined work of a strongly ethical school building leader and a committed staff that is strategically smart and morally compassionate in the application of the principles of equity and equality.

America, our public schools, have a technology infrastructure problem.

I am happy that President Biden’s “Infrastructure Bill” passed, and for sure, it will do much good for our nation.
To fix and build our economy, we must build and fix bridges better, expand and upgrade roads, and improve the many modes of human and commercial transportation. But, we must also build better technological learning access bridges and roads that could transport our young people into a highly-skilled, competent and confident workforce prepared future.
And of course, there’s some irony in play here; because based on my professional work, observations, and travel experiences in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia; the political leaders from those states should have been the legislation’s (with Biden’s original proposal format) greatest champions; but such is our present political state of national self-destruction.

Unfortunately, the Infrastructure Bill, in my view, was nowhere close to what is needed for upgrading the technology infrastructure in the most technology-framework deficient school districts in our nation. This bill would need to be twice as large to begin to address the tremendous educational technology and internet soft and hardware upgrading that many of the school districts (and public libraries) in those states mentioned above (and many others) so desperately need.

Further, for US rural public educators, there is a never-ending struggle to match the present and future American workforce competencies demands that could be solved in part by those school communities having access to state-of-the-art, high technology capacity learning environments that could provide their students the access to research/library services links, online/virtual courses, particularly in those subject/content curriculum areas where there is an acute shortage of certified teachers (STEM, foreign languages, the Arts, college-level/AP courses, etc.). In addition, and specifically, on the high school side of the equation, having better hard and soft internet technology infrastructure could allow students to gain access to Career Technology Education (CTE) certification courses for private sector companies like Microsoft, CISCO, and governmental agency job opportunities in skilled technical areas like robotics and cyberforensics.

The ‘endangering-our-future-economic-growth’ technology capacity gap between rural and urban America and the secondary and equally deleterious lack-of-access-to-opportunity gap that separates communities inside urban localities is one of the greatest threats to the US being able to maintain and enhance its international competitive and international cooperative favorable economic development status.

Finally, we have painfully been taught (but have we learned?) by our Covid-19 school years’ experience that the technological capabilities and infrastructure gaps between school districts, and the enfranchised students versus the students of disenfranchisement access to technology resources gaps existing between cohorts of students inside of school districts, has most-likely led (by way of learning loss/learning gain factors) to an unfavorable increase in an already severely existing academic learning and achievement gap situation.

We have met the #1 enemy of our future national economic development capabilities…and that enemy is our inability to employ all of our national human resources!

I found it strikingly symbolic that Presidents Joseph Biden and Xi Jinping held a summit the day after the signing of the US Infrastructure Bill. I, for one, don’t buy the many current fear-mongering commentaries making the news media rounds proclaiming that China is the greatest threat to America’s future social, political, and economic success; after all, China is not passing US state-level voter restriction laws, and it does not direct or manage the dismal academic achievement outcomes of US public school systems. But educationally interesting, the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to its credit, does clearly understand that closing their rural/urban, poor/more affluent families STEM structural/infrastructural divide is an essential key to any plan for a PRC national economic development strategy that would lead to future “first-world” status success.
Now I know this because PRC regional commissioners of education, superintendents, and principal delegations visited both (SSCHS/PHELPS) of my high schools. And so, why would the PRC invest so much in sending education delegations to visit two US urban Title 1 high schools? First, I understood their unstated objective as an educational leader who appreciates an effective information gathering plan for gathering valuable information.
It appeared that the focus of all of their questions could be reduced and framed into one fundamental question:

“How are you able to get students from communities that were traditionally excluded from STEM learning opportunities and representation to embrace, succeed and exceed in their STEM studies?”

One of the critical parts of my answer to them was this:

First, you must challenge any anti-STEM cultural beliefs that may exist in the minds of the students (their parents and the community), by affirming that STEM is historically and presently very much a part of universal (everybody’s) culture; STEM learning, achievement, any real or imagined “STEM-giftedness” is not the restrictive territory of any particular social-economic class, nationality, ethnicity, gender, or geographical location.
Secondly, ‘nail early’ (elementary school) the student’s ability (prerequisite arithmetic skills) to take and master that critical ‘STEM-gateway’ algebra course. You must have (our high school program) four years of lab science courses and four years of mathematics. Design STEM electives (e.g., computer-assisted art and design), teams, and clubs (e.g., robotics, meteorology, game design, etc.). You must surround and immerse students in highly-effective STEM instructional practices (and then continually professionally develop those teaching talents); make sure students have access to modern college/industry level STEM equipment and building structures (supported and strengthened by the necessary external infrastructure); insist that the students are being engaged with a robust and rigorous STEM curriculum and standards-based assessments program that reflects and ‘rehearses’ the students in those advance STEM technological knowledge and application skills you want them to learn and later practice as graduated (STEM professional) adults… Essentially, what the PRC presently succeeds at doing with their specialized professional athletes’ development schools!

But suppose any nation’s (US or the PRC) leaders want to produce more and better specific categories of students, e.g., STEM competent, from the ranks of the “traditionally” ignored, excluded, or underserved populations. In that case, there must be a profound (game-changing) pedagogical/political thinking shift in how they will make investments in technological institutional structures and the necessary supporting civic infrastructures that will lead to the growth in the qualitative and quantitative numbers of those dispossessed and disconnected students; it won’t happen by accident. A public civil service educational bureaucracy left to its own job justifying/persevering “playing-it-politically-safe” inertia culture will naturally incline toward predictively producing unimaginative, uninventive, and mediocre educational outcomes.

The critical question for America is: Will we finally realize too late (by ignoring the recent demographic predictive math of the 2020 census) that the denial of STEM school structural learning opportunities and infrastructure enabling capabilities to the disentitled children (the majority population) of our public school systems, will eventually inflict serious economic, social, and psychological harm on the country’s future developmental aspirations; a situation that will cause even the nation’s children (and adults) of entitlement to be rendered unable to avoid the resulting collective psyche pain.

In Part 2, I discuss a second major public school (and the nation’s) infrastructure upgrading problem. And that is the problem caused by US public education’s “stuckness” in an old and timely-unsuitable “vocational school” model. Our current approach is not imaginative, robust, or dynamic enough to meet the country’s modern need to produce skills trades apprenticeship-school-ready, allied health career prepared-for-internships, and applied technology certified industry and governmental agencies work-force ready high school graduates. For these reasons, we need to upgrade from the traditional “vocational education” model to a modern version of the Career Technical Education (CTE) model, intellectually, pedagogically, and structurally, and do it expeditiously.

The 2020-21 Coronavirus—a painful, teachable moment for professional educators.

What shows up as leadership in a crisis is already present in the person who occupies the leadership position. COVID-19 didn’t make our educational leaders into ineffective leaders; instead, those who performed inadequately brought their gross ineptitudes and disqualifying leadership qualities into the deadly reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A plague exploringly invades, probes, and reveals the fragile parts of our personality. A plague, any plague, invites and requires an individual response from all those upon whom the epidemic imposes its ugly omnipresence. The microscopic world’s impact, like the unseen mind, is demonstrably expressed in the macroscopic world of our words and actions. The plague does not “steal” bravery from the heart; instead, it allows the already present, dominant spirit of cowardliness in the individual to emerge. Plagues “smoke us out” of hiding those artificially crafted representations we offer as “us” to the world and what self-deceivingly we present falsely as ourselves, to ourselves.

And like a viral plague, the plague of horrible educational outcomes won’t let us hide in rhetorical rifts, “slogan-isms,” and false, insincere affirmations of how “we care about all children!” Public education can however, “hide” our failures from a less attentive and poorly informed public citizenry. Still, we can’t hide our negative results, as everyone can see U.S. prisons overflowing with public education’s failures. Further evidence of our failure is that large segments of the U.S. public who can’t wrap their brains around the most basic middle/high school grade concepts in environmental science and the behaviors of microorganisms (e.g., a virus). The plague of poor education produces, in too many brains, an underappreciation and a disregard for knowledge, logic, science, and expertise produced information.

Contrary to popular belief, a quality education is not only for employment purposes. An academically diverse, thought-provoking, and sound PreK-12 educational experience is required if we hope to enjoy a good society, and a peaceful and healthy democracy. Science, logic, thinking, and problem-solving skills must be enhanced, or how will those presently in our schools deal with future political, health, and environmental crises?

Further, our civics education can’t be some half-a-semester course students take when they have one foot out the high school door. Our civics curriculum must reach down to PreK-8 grades expanding in intellectual rigor as it reaches high school. Students should not leave high school thinking that the right not to wear a protective health mask during a deadly pandemic is one of the amendments to the US constitution.

It’s also making sure students have a better understanding of topics that already exist in the present biology syllabus. “What is a virus?”, “How and why does it reproduce?”, “What is a vaccine, and how does it work?” Why is there such an information gap on the efficacy of vaccines in “defeating” many of the world’s most debilitating and deadly diseases (e.g., polio, smallpox, malaria, diphtheria, etc.) And how the shortage or absence of these vaccines means that “previously defeated” diseases are currently starting to devastate countries (especially the children) in many less-wealthy nations in the world.

And then there is the PreK-16 deficient teaching of the scientific method; how could so many of our high school (and sadly) college graduates not be conversant with what constitutes a legitimate scientific process or a “peer-reviewed” research study? I’m happy that so many people are “doing their own vaccine research,” but shouldn’t they know something about science and the scientific methods of research?

The massive lack of understanding of how scientists think, inquire, hypothesize, experiment, problem-pose, problem-solve, and eventually “peer-review” each other’s research has opened up a path for many death-causing “faux-experts” to dominate the societal (especially on social media) science and health information conversation. Biological viruses are harmful, but the vast amount of physical and emotional harm caused by our national ignorance virus is a major problem that professional educators must study and solve, or we are in severe future trouble as a nation.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized science educator who served as an expert peer-review panelist for the National Science Foundation. He was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. Johnson led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (S.T.E.M.—C.T.E.) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, N.Y.C. and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He has served as an adjunct professor of science education in the St. John’s University School of Education. Mr. Johnson is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

The fight over “Critical Race Theory” helps us to forget the race that really matters.

“The key at the art and heart of a magic trick is distraction,” so explained a former colleague of mine who had more sense than I (still focused on educational concerns) to take up a rewarding and fun retirement hobby of learning “magic.” He continued, “I just do this for my grandkids and the neighborhood children, and once I get them hooked into the act; I deliver a small educational lesson like the importance of studying hard at home and in school” He would not explain the precise “technical truths” of these magic tricks, only speaking generally of the importance of ‘distraction’ as a method of “fooling” the audience into believing their “eyes” and not their brains.

Whether you are sympathetic to the ideas of either Carl Jung or Karl Marx, you should agree that the weapons of mass-distraction (e.g., a stolen election lie) can effectively be used to get people either consciously or unconsciously to march in a direction that is detrimental to their well-being, and ultimately to a place that is not in their personal or the collectives best interest. I feel that way about these distracting Critical Race Theory arguments, that will probably end up being a very lucrative enterprise for a small set of Black wokeness acolytes; leading to a flood of talk show appearances, create a lot of journal and newspaper essays, and produce a New York Times bestseller list of books that will race-shame white folks into seeking solace and redemption from an Amazon book purchase. But forgive my lack of heavy wokeness, perhaps driven by my having spent eleven years as a public title-1 high school principal and observing year after year the number of US native-born Black and Latino children arriving in the ninth grade who can’t read, decipher, explain or express in writing, the meaning of the individual words Critical, Race or Theory. For many of these young people, a high school textbook is of no use to them; which means that we must then come up with creative ways to teach high school vocabulary level subject/courses matter through alternative methods, as we critically race to get their reading and writing skills up to 8th grade standards comprehension levels. The reading weakness problem is also not helpful in their unreadiness to take on other academic subjects like the heavy language-dependent algebra-1 course, which negatively combines with their K-8 algorithmic processes and conceptual knowledge pre-algebra skills deficiencies. The only thing that saved us was my excellent and efficacious mathematics and english department teachers, who performed their own form of pedagogical magic to push and pull these young people up to a functional high school student learning level.

We need a theory that would compel us (convince us?) to critically race to get our children up to academic and grade proficiency learning levels.

When (I’ve wondered for many years), do we begin to focus on the quality of our collective children’s learning and get those basic educational things right! Those non-sexy and social media non-trending actions to make sure that by the time a child gets to high school, they can read, write, do science and mathematics on a ready-to-do high school work level. Every day it’s one distracting issue or another that takes our attention away from a real primary mission of a community’s adults; and that is, the educational success of their children. Today it’s Critical Race Theory, and tomorrow it’s a professional track athlete who is correctly sanctioned for smoking weed. Anything that takes our eyes and hearts away from the real issues; perhaps because those real and meaningful struggles are too painfully hard to undertake; better to not focus on our inner-community educational needs, but instead, focus on making segments of the white community angry; as if our path to progress is dependent on white upsetness (or happiness), and not on our own independently focused and purposeful efforts.

As a supervisor of a history department for many years, a department who in parallel cooperation and support from the english department’s 9-12 fiction literature reading list, took its own unique path to apply a curriculum approach that balanced standardized test readiness (City, State or AP exams) with teaching the truth arrived at by scientifically applying critical historiographical analytical techniques as championed by people like Allan Wilson, Cheikh Anta Diop, and John Hope Franklin. We also utilize other curriculum areas, i.e., dance, art, music, foreign language, and technology, and (yes for a high school) went on a lot of cultural institutions trips and invited many visiting scholars to broaden students understanding of the many complicated and nuanced expressions of the worlds culturally diverse perspectives. We did not ask permission or agreement from outsiders when we decided to teach world and US history critically and honestly in its full complexity (achievements and disappointments). We did not define “exceptionalism” or “development” solely in the context of material wealth or military power; rather, how does a nation treat the emigrant seeking a safe asylum, the politically and economically disenfranchised, the children of the disinherited, its elders, etc.; in other words how exceptional is that society’s kindness, caring and compassion standards? And ultimately that every nation in the world is essentially a work in (more rapid or less rapid) progress.

We did not have a special “phrase” that would have caught the attention of outsiders for whom we did not want to waste time explaining to non-educators (who probably would not understand anyway) our philosophical approach to teaching historiography.
And principal, if you don’t know how to clandestinely “bend” the curriculum to help your students to be more ethically enlightened, morally sensitive, intellectually enriched, and emotionally empowered, then you need to ask somebody who does know or probably get another job title.

One of my former colleagues remarked once to my extreme pride and joy about Facebook postings: “I notice that your former students are very politically thoughtful, astute, sensitive and articulate when it comes to current and past political events” Yeah (I think he was also suggesting progressive), as I even smile today reflecting on his words, I realize that we got a few things right because they are basically decent human beings, great critical thinkers and skilled analytical readers!

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. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Principals, 2021-22 School Year Priority Assignment — Assessing Student’s COVID-19 School Year Learning Loss.

On the question of standardized assessments…

Unfortunately, and to the learning detriment of many students, professional commonly accepted content and skills learning curriculum standards and their related standardized assessments (test, exams) have of late fallen on hard times (and why even bother to have standards if they will never be assessed; we can simply declare anyone a plumber, lawyer, or a dentist!). This is due to a convenient coalition of adversaries who have managed to maneuver themselves onto the public education center stage conversation on standards and standardized assessment. One group has used “standardization” and its related assessments as a tool to deny access and opportunity to those disentitled citizen-children; aka Black, Latino, or poor White children who are exposed to a below standards pre-assessment educational learning experience, thus making them non-competitive when they take any exam based on the curriculum standards materials they never had the opportunity to learn. The second part of the anti-standards coalition (in oppositional response to their coalition partners) are admittedly well-meaning, even as their opposition to the principle of standardization and standardized assessments is pedagogically uninformed; and to be painfully honest, they are also hypocritical because many of these individuals (usually themselves part of the US entitled class), provide a high-standards option to their own children, and further, to my knowledge, tend to engage the services of a “certified” (taught and tested) plumber, seek the advice of an attorney who is licensed and has passed the bar exam, and only offer their teeth to dental school graduated and common core dental curriculum standards assessed dentist.

Now, with that out of the way, let me speak to the chief professional educators of the school building who have formally studied pedagogy, pursued the learning of graduate-level school leadership theories and practices, and were required to pass a state standardized school building administrator’s exam to receive a principals license. Therefore, you principal should understand the critical role of commonly accepted content standards and their ‘pacing structures’; for there is much child developmental learning sense-making in the sequential organization of grade-level content standards that allows us, for example, to take a PreK child from basic conceptual numeration to 12th-grade calculus. And we see the present terrible results, primarily affecting poor children and children of color, of what happens when individual states, school districts or schools, ‘make-up’ their own standards. You (certified) principal should also have a deeper and better understanding of the role and purpose of standardized assessments. You know, because you’re an ethical school administrator, that these important evaluative ‘tools-of-the-trade’ should never be used for:

A way of denying access or opportunity to students.

A way to lower the self-esteem or injure the psyche of students.

A way to ‘discipline’ or punish teachers.

A way to marginalize and dismiss the hopes and dreams of parents.

A way to put down, ‘negatively label,’ or ‘test-results-shame’ schools.

A way to punish school administrators.

A way to lower-the-expectations and denigrate particular groups of students or communities.

However, you should also know that standardized assessments should always be used for the purposes of:

A way to diagnose student deficiencies and strengths.

A way to identify the specialized support or educational enhancements needed to ‘grow’ student(s) learning.

A way to expand student(s) quality learning access and opportunities in opposition to socio-economic and political barriers.

A way to improve the methodological performance and efficacious quality of a teacher’s instructional practice.

A way to get Title-1 schools the necessary raising academic achievement resources and the social-emotional health and counseling personnel and support they (and their students) so desperately need to succeed.

A way to give disentitled parents and disenfranchised communities confidence in a fair and equal opportunity “playing-field” academic competition process.

A diagnostic data tool that principals use to determine the policies, procedures, and professional development ideas, interventions, and themes that they and their school staff require.

Ok, since we have addressed the unprofessional inauthentic use of standardized assessments versus the authentic professional use of standardized assessments, let’s move on to the main idea of this essay.

All informal educational (outside-of-school) learning is not equal, and all outside-of-school learning loss is not equal…
We need to start with the above hypothesis in a highly professional, compassionate, and ethically honest way, which means not bringing a denigrating and condescending attitude to the problem. The reality is that a great deal of the quality of a child’s informal-educational experience is driven by parental-push-power (PPP), e.g., financial assets, political influence, connectional human resources, level of education, access to information, and time. Morally speaking, professional educators should do nothing to diminish (instead enhance it) the amount of PPP a student receives at home. But we also have a moral obligation to step in as parent substitutes —In loco parentis, in supporting students who don’t receive adequate amounts of quality PPP at home. And to be clear (for our non-professional education readers), this lack-of-access to those beforementioned learning enhancing parent PPP resources and skills should not be confused with a parent not lacking in having a powerful passion and desire of wanting their child to be educationally successful, even if they personally lack the financial resources, english language skills, political connections, formal education, or “system” information to be more effective in making that happen.

So was the pre-COVID-19 School Year (SY) ‘education world’; so was the COVID-19 2021 School Year (SY) ‘education world’…
The COVID-19 SY did not ‘invent’ learning quality disparities in America; instead, it simply exposed the vast divide in the access-to-learning-resources gap that has always existed between social-economic groups of children in our society. However, COVID-19 did produce the undeniable public exposure conditions that would prevent us from hiding from the fact that our public school systems are, in reality, two separate and unequal, of have and have not systems. The technology access gaps between students, school districts, schools, and communities were fully displayed during the COVID-19 SY. We also realized that most public education systems could not neutralize (and democratize) technological advantages in a severe public crisis school year. In addition, they were incapable of dismantling learning disabling disadvantages. Although the COVID-19 SY was not helpful to any US student who was physically unable to attend school, what is also true is that the COVID-19 SY inflicted different degrees of educational harm on different cohorts of students. Principals must keep this factor in mind as you plan your “undoing-the-damage” 2021-22 school year strategy. This is (wearing my former superintendent’s cap) that school leadership defining moment when I believe that a principal must on a fundamental level “earns-their-stripes”; and on a higher level, symbolically earn those “above and beyond the call of duty medals” by developing an ‘all students’ educational reconstruction plan that contains the smart applications of balancing equity and equality in developing and applying schoolwide learning-support mechanisms.

The 2021-22 SY is what it is…
Just as I told many of my principals as a superintendent, “the students you have are the students you have, the parents are not hiding and keeping a better behaving and higher academically performing group at home!” So it is also true with this upcoming 2021-22 SY, the conditions are what they are, and you principal must deal with them. Make no mistake about it, things will be very challenging, but you must face these challenges in a strategically-smart programmatic way. And you should plan with the idea (if public education history is true to itself) that you probably won’t get all of the financial resources you need to be successful. As a principal facing these kinds of emergency learning-loss situations I assumed nothing; essentially I operated with the belief that all of the help I truly needed was not coming from the school system. It’s always easier to adjust to receiving “extra unanticipated” district resources support, then to plan-to-fail by designing a strategic response to a learning blocking crisis based on anticipated outside help that ends up never arriving. Every one of my 11 years as a high school principal of a Title-1 school I received a sizable number of students who in no knowledgeable educator’s estimation were prepared to do high school work. It was my job (not the district, chancellor or superintendent) to get them to a graduation ‘finish-line’ in four years and onto a positive and productive post-graduation career path. Therefore it is you (yes you!) principal, who must lead the charge in the 2021-22 SY to save your children!

The present and future COVID-19 SY educational danger…
I know after many years as a public educator that a lot of people would prefer that I get on board with the rosy “Good-Housekeeping” image many public (relations driven) education systems seeks to project to the public; but I can’t do that because that would mean selling out students, parents, and disenfranchised communities. Therefore, here is my not-happy-to-report 2021-22 school year hypothetical projection:

The approaching reality of the public education 2021-22 school year is that those entitled public school districts (and entitled schools inside any district) with rich tax bases; school districts that serve primarily as a community educational and not adult employment resource; districts (and schools) having the most well-informed and properly engaged elected officials (including those districts under executive-mayoral or elected school board governance control); those districts (and schools) enriched with well-endowed financial and ‘human-connection’ resources; the districts (and schools) with a financially well-off parental support system, will respond more effectively and positively on behalf of their students in the 2021-22 SY; and therefore the students attending those enfranchised public schools (and districts) will enter a school learning environment year where children will academically ‘recover’ faster from the COVID-19 SY, and as we advance into subsequent school years these fortunate students will out-learning-perform those unfortunate students who attend non-enfranchised school districts and schools! After forty+ years, I’ve come to the consistently observed conclusion that: In both “good” times and “bad” times, the schools that serve the entitled children of our nation fair better than the schools that serve the children of disentitlement. The schools of entitlement are the least negatively affected by any significant school district governance or superintendency change. And further, in a severe emergency, we don’t have a national public educational ethos that demands that “all boats rise equally” during an education-loss flood; the facts are that some boats are better constructed and situated than others to deal with the natural (ex. Covid-19) educational storms of life.

Make no mistake about it, Title-1 schools (and students) face grave educational dangers in the 2021-22 SY…
I have every reason to believe that most Title-1 schools in America will not have what I had as a principal; and that is a 501c3 extra-funds-producing foundation and extensive powerfully rewarding partnerships with major corporations, universities, national-state-local government agencies, federal and foundational grants, and philanthropic giving individuals; and without naming names, I also had a large number of district central office leadership staff that often ‘gifted’ me with a lot of extra resources. Having access to a large amount of financial and human resources far above my official school budget allocation would have allowed me if I were facing a 2021-22 school year, to put in place the necessary comprehensive and extensive, during the school day, extended and after-school day, weekends, holiday and summer break academic programs to get those students who suffered the most from COVID-19 SY learning loss up-to-speed academically. But I don’t think that our average Title-1 school will have access to such resources. And, unfortunately, an ‘ordinary’ or ‘normal’ 2021-22 SY will mean that a lot of students who are on or above grade/performance level will be permanently left behind in their present academic underperformance status while also facing future negative possibilities for engaging in advanced (specialized schools, gifted & talented programs, AP courses, etc.) learning opportunities. But a much harsher reality is the plight of the many disentitled and academically struggling children in this nation who absolutely cannot afford to lose any major part of, or definitely not an entire school year of learning. Those students must be ‘triaged’ to the front of the 2021-22 SY academic recovery line. As I stated earlier, most Title-1 schools won’t have the organizational additional (outside-of-budget) resources foundation and scaffolding help to address the 2021-22 SY challenges effectively. So, school districts will need to intervene in a big way to support those schools.

School districts (with federal assistance) must put principals in a position to win the 2021-22 School Year!
As we move forward, and this is a secondary thought (although with 2021-22 SY implications), principals need to devote some thinking-time, over the next year, for evaluating how their schools performed during the COVID-19 SY; and what do they need to put in place (e.g., creating a 501c3 school foundation, a laptop loan program, a more functional school website, etc.) to be able to address better both the ‘normal’ and abnormal challenges schools will continue to face. But for the immediate situation, any superintendent or principal who believes that the educational crises caused by the COVID-19 SY can be repaired (for all students regardless of academic performance level) with the standard school year approach is setting themselves and their students up for failure.

This brings me to my final point; school districts can’t solve this problem with their present level of financial resources. Principals need to understand (and you will when you become one) that superintendents can’t always publicly say what needs to be said. So I will: Our federal executive and elected national governmental leaders (one of the reasons we teach kids history) need to see and treat the 2021-22 SY as a “Sputnik Response” or “Marshall Plan” moment. School districts will need a 1-3 year special (one-time) massive allocation to get large numbers of US students back on some semblance of a productive educational learning track. Small compensatory ‘tutorial efforts,’ no matter how well-intentioned, won’t get us where we need to go, especially with our most COVID-19 SY negatively affected students; we need to go big!
Further, our 2021-22 SY recovery efforts would be greatly helped by the adoption of President Biden’s bold proposal (Infrastructure Bill) for radically expanding internet access capability (e.g., through municipal broadband capabilities), especially into several states that contain some of the poorest (based on per/pupil expenditures) and least internet-connected rural school districts in our nation (places like West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana…). This expanded internet capability and access in both urban and rural school districts would be extremely helpful in supporting our current efforts to navigate the 2021-22 SY successfully, but long term, it would also provide us with a tremendous technological learning asset for regular school learning, and a learning-loss ‘antidote’ if we ever face another COVID-19 like crisis or any emergency (e.g., illness) where students are forced to spend long periods of time out of school.

The key is to provide the sufficiently right amount of funding in the most efficaciously right way…
The caveat for this COVID-19 SY ‘learning reconstruction funding’ is that President Biden and his on-the-hill colleagues must (a chance for bipartisanship?) prohibit and prevent school districts from using the extra money to do the business-as-usual “school improvement,” “raising achievement scores,” “closing learning gaps” expensive programs that sound and feel good but don’t actually work; employing those past failed approaches would be a terrible loss of money and a tragic loss of an opportunity (I would be more than happy to give Mr. Biden a list of people who are sincere and really good at this work, seriously).
This 2021-22 SY is no time for “symbolic” or fancy-sounding ineffective initiatives. So, perhaps it would be helpful to employ the non-politicalized National Science Foundation (NSF) model for screening Request For Proposals (RFP) potential grantees (school districts, schools, and external school improvement consultants and companies). This means having independent educational expert peer review panels to screen and rank proposals; design RFP’s that require potential grantees to have pedagogical knowledge, professional educational certifications, and school based experience; and most critical, a documented proven track record of past “raising-achievement-scores” success, especially with our lowest-performing schools and students; and finally, having grantees who have a sound theoretical/strategic proposal that would suggest that the grantees know and can produce the promised project’s ‘deliverables.’ When dealing with other major natural or unnatural disasters (e.g., oil spills, forest fires, etc.), we don’t bring in entrepreneurial amateurs who have no proven past track record of success in solving the present emergency.

Real change takes place only when there is real change activity in play...
In those school districts (e.g., NYC, Los Angeles, Chicago, etc.) with a politically powerful teacher union presence, for the 2021-22 SY, there must be some “emergency conditions” negotiated contractual concessions (it’s been done before under less extreme crisis situations) that would lead to improved learning recovery and growth opportunities for both our ‘doing well’ and our most academically struggling students. For example, placing a brand new, inexperienced, or not-highly effective teacher with academically struggling students who have suffered an entire year of some or a lot of learning loss is a recipe for disastrous failure for both the teacher and students. Another option school districts may want to consider is to place their most academically vulnerable Title-1 schools into some form of the district controlled, guardianship and redesigned “charter schools” status (this also has been done on a limited basis before under less severe crisis conditions than covid-19) that would allow for the kind of rules and regulations flexibility-relief, and the necessary leadership authority the principals of those schools will need to make this critical school year work for their most vulnerable students. We will set principals up to fail this 2021-22 SY if we request that they act like the essential executive leaders they need to be and then don’t grant them the executive power to act with formal executive authority. Employment in these ‘district charter schools’ for both school administrators and staff should be by a voluntary application process and consist of the best-of-the-best practitioners, regardless of seniority. These Educational Special Practitioners (ESP) must be reasonably extra-compensated for the more extended school day, week, and school year they will need to work if the students in those schools have any chance of surviving COVID-19 SY learning setbacks. An ESP assignment must also be framed as a ‘resume enhancing’ possible future career promotion/advancement placement. These ESP staffed schools must also have additional funding to address the students’ socio-economic, health, and emotional counseling needs.

The first response for the 20121-22 SY, improve the quality of teaching and learning...
For reasons of child-learning urgency, on the district level as a superintendent, and having the appropriate amount of resources, I would start my 2021-22 SY recovery efforts with a robust strategic plan to drive large amounts of resources into immediately improving the quality of instruction. One area of attention would be instituting specialized and differentiated professional development exercises to improve teacher classroom instructional practices. I would create smaller class sizes, and in struggling schools, expand the daily instructional hours and increase the number of instructional school days (the present SY calendar is artificially short-structured to address a no-longer-relevant need to have children available to do farm work). A ‘struggling schools’ 2021-22 SY ‘Year-Round-School’ format can be innovatively creative (e.g., Summer STEM, computer, art, dance, or music concentrated programs, along with the smart inclusion-immersion of “academic work”). Put in K-8 specialized applied science, technology and mathematics labs and train a school-based team of F/T science specialists to teach in them. Expand music and art programs in all schools (for its own educational value but also because it raises academic achievement in other academic areas). A laptop lending program. A fully funded library and a full-time librarian in every elementary school. Place elementary reading teachers in middle schools (and yes, there is a need for a “teach them how to read” program in Title-1 high schools). Establish a gifted and talented program in every K-8 school, with a professionally developed teacher leading the class. Let elementary teachers “specialized” based on interest and ability to be able to “flip” (Math/Science & ELA/History) and teach each other’s classes (this also gives them fewer subjects to prep for). Fund and design many more SPED/REGED team-teaching classrooms, and in Title-1 schools triple the present number of classroom educational and behavioral paraprofessionals (and not limit this paraprofessional support to students with IEP’s); this will (I found) dramatically increase the amount of Quality Learning Time in classrooms; and further, establish in every Title-1 school a school-based teacher resource center and F/T instructional coaches with the number based on the size of the teaching staff; give all schools without one an Assistant Principal (AP), or an extra AP so they or the principal can give serious and dedicated attention to instructional coaching. For the emergency 2021-22 SY, we need a major concentration of effort on improving the quality of instructional practices district-wide if we are not to lose (forever) large numbers of children.
Most of the above strategies are in part or whole (depending on the needs of the school) what was utilized during the 2000-2003 School Years in Community School District 29 Queens, NYC in many of our schools. This led to our being able to raise academic achievement scores across all grades, student performance levels, and schools; faster and better than any of the other 32 NYC school districts. We did this by maintaining a laser focus approach on improving the quality of teaching and learning. Similarly, principals must be singularly focused for the 2021-22 SY on dramatically improving the learning environment for all students in the school building. All of their attention should be on lengthening the amount of Quality Learning Time (that classroom time that is truly dedicated to learning) while strengthening the ‘technical’ quality of teaching and learning in their schools. For just like it’s essentially and ultimately about the quality of the economy for many politicians; also true for school leaders who hope to survive and thrive in the wake of the COVID-19 SY, essentially and ultimately, it will be all about the quality of instruction!
And as for high schools, where there is already (should be) a school cultural imperative of needing to engage in serious academic reconstruction practices, that must also take place in a short window (4 years) of time, and further not having a next-level public school option to pass ‘unfinished’ students onto; well, I wrote an entire book on how to diagnose, treat and strategically raise the scores of those students who arrive annually and unrelated to any health crises to high school suffering from severe learning loss!

Inaction or weak actions will doom the dreams of many children and parents and damage our nation’s economic capacity...
If our national governmental leaders fail to act in a decisive and adequate resourced way in this COVID-19 educational emergency; then, as those COVID-19 SY learning-loss children reach adulthood workforce age (and for high school students, that will be sooner rather than later), American political leaders will be forced to address a severe and debilitating future skills and knowledge competency gap crisis that will exist between US potential and US production. In addition, large numbers of students, due to no fault on their part, will be robbed of the opportunity to place their inherent gifts and talents in the service of all of humanity; but paramountly, they will be unable to employ their extraordinary personal capabilities in the service of becoming all that they imagine and hope themselves to be.

Michael A. Johnson is a former teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. An internationally recognized science educator who served as an expert peer-review panelist for the National Science Foundation. He was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. Johnson led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. An author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. And he is presently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office (Fall/2021).

Both Trump and the Taliban understand the power of education.

If what they say is true, that the truth will set you free; then the untruth, the nontruth, must set you up to be enslaved!

The recent bombings of schools in Afghanistan (mainly targeting those schools that educate girls) seek to mark a fireworks-like celebration of the exit of US military forces from that war-worn nation.
But they are also the explosive celebratory expressions of the Taliban preparing to end all types of secular study and learning for girls. This carnival of carnage is the Taliban’s joyful anticipation of soon being able to control most, if not all of Afghanistan; which would allow them to intensify and finalize, on a national scale, the targeting of girls being removed from the intellectual growth and skills acquisitions activities connected to school-based educational learning opportunities.

There is a rich collection of analytical and anecdotal data that connects a society’s ability to progress to the quality and quantity (of that quality) of education the women of that society receive. Shared child-rearing ‘leave policies’ not-with-standing (which is essentially a ‘rich’ nation conversation), there is the reality that in our present world, women in the role of mothers will represent the overwhelming number of primary-care takers and primary before-formal-schooling first teachers of children.
And as professional educators, we know how meaningful and powerfully significant those pre-formal schooling informal learning experiences are in functioning as the learning-ready preparations for later academic success once the child enters the formal school setting. This reality would appear to make the women and education discussion an evident and straightforward proposition: Raise the level and quality of education for women in a nation, and you automatically raise the quality level of education for the entire nation!
The additional bonus of having a highly educated female population is that a nation does not enter their internal development problem-solving challenges, and their external international trade and commerce partnerships and competitions, with more than half of their ‘intellectual team’ untrained and unprepared to face the many technological, communications, medical, agricultural, etc., cooperative and competitive challenges all nations face as members of the very interconnected and integrated world economic community.
In a real sense, for a non-western nation (e.g., Afghanistan) to adopt a policy of denying full public educational access to their girls is the equivalent of that country declaring a national ‘developmental death sentence’ on itself.
And when you combine this national ‘developmental-suicide’ act with the many other nation-building disadvantages developing nations face (e.g., lack of access to ‘growth capital;’ industrial and educational technological insufficiencies and incapableness; commercial and civilian transportation deficiencies; healthcare and pharmaceuticals access and production inadequacies; etc.), we end up with a seemingly permanent underdeveloped coalition-of-the-weak nations serving as the major raw-materials providers and the major consumer markets for the further improvement and enrichment of developmentally stronger (aka “western”) nations. This out-of-balanced scenario keeps those struggling-to-develop countries in an exploited-client relationship with those nations who are further along the economic development path.
Say what you will about China, but the PRC leaders have read this ‘developing’ world and ‘developed’ world negative equation of economic exploitation correctly, which is why they are not holding back when it comes to rapidly growing and improving (ex., expanding higher quality education to historically underserved rural areas), the capacity and quality of their national public education programs.
Now I am sure that the Taliban leadership, many of whom have ironically acquired “formal” (what they and their Nigerian Boko Haram colleagues would call “western”) secular education; are aware of this need to: Raise the level and quality of education for women and thus raise the quality level of education for the entire nation and its relationship to national development. But the Taliban leadership has made a conscious and cynical decision to sacrifice national development and societal-wide wellbeing by preventing its citizenry (especially girls) from benefiting from the personal and community benefits that could accrue by providing more, not less public education to girls. The Taliban has made this development destroying decision because of their fear of the other great gift of education. That is the possibility that the educated person would equip themselves with the tools to think!
“Thinking” can be a problem if your national political aspiration is creating a non-thinking population and state. A place where any inspired idea or thought, no matter how beneficial to the larger nation, if not sanctioned by the religious leadership, is forbidden. The Taliban know that the positive end-results of a public education system could lead many Afghanis (pronounced: af-ghan-eez) to acquire skills in the operational arts of inquiry, logic, investigation, hypothesis forming, and thought-experimentation ways-of-thinking, all necessary talents for individual and human societal development. But these thinking attributes and enhancers are also very dangerous in a society that requires unquestioning (no grey areas) obedience to absolute authority.
The Taliban have purposely engaged in a condescending approach to a type of leadership that will always know what is in the ‘best interest’ of the citizenry, including the prohibition against even thinking about thinking about one’s role as a citizen (“why to bother thinking, we will think for you!”).

Education is the enemy of tyranny, the opposite of any hindrance to, and denial of, the emergence and evolution of a fully free, thoughtful, and highly reflective human being. The Taliban know that educated women could ‘poison’ the minds of their children by exposing (reading to them) those virtues building stories found in many children’s books; also bad for ‘religious-despotism-business’ is the possibility that Afghanis mothers would teach their children to practice the skills of creative imagination, invention, innovation, and moral reflections. And lastly (and fatal to any country instituting planned underdevelopment policies through religious totalitarianism); these mothers could insist that their children (including girls) attend school as a way of making them better prepared to enter into a positive future that is focused on self-realization, human emotional growth, and the desire to engage in the ideals of meaningful work, freedom, and democracy. All of these ‘mother wit’ and mothers wishing the best for their children pearls-of-wisdom are the values that promote the best path forward for human and personal progress (hey, on the real, where would many of us be without the interventional educational pushing-power of our mothers!) But what the Taliban want to do is push their society backward in human evolutionary progress time, keep an entire country barefoot and barren of any collective positive, progressive ideas, and prevent the emergence of any unsanctioned individual independent life-affirming aspirational thoughts and dreams.

All societies (regardless of economic capacity or dominant religious affiliation) could be tempted to apply a form of Taliban-lite promoting of ‘ignorance’ as a strategic approach when organizing social and political movements (see the current rise of ‘old-school’ and nouveau fascist movements in European nations—have they forgotten how 1930’s-40’s fascism inflicted devastating damage and great loss-of-life on their countries?).
The counterforce power of public education and learning is that it interferes with the ‘organic’ yearnings on the part of some desperate and uninformed people who want to go back to a prior historical period when women (Blacks, Latinos, Asians and, LGBTQ people, etc. knew and remained in their subjugated, exploited, and ‘legally’ harmed places).

“Ignorance” (as a political organizing tool) can cause ordinarily ‘normal’ citizens (see 1930’s Nazi Germany) to be available and open for manipulation through disinformation and misinformation techniques employed in the worse possible ways (e.g., racial stereotypes), by the most evil-intentioned people, who have either seized by-way-of violence or acquired by other means (e.g., voted in because of that same ignorance factor), state political power.

The anxious-to-be-mislead masses are told that: “All of one’s life problems (no love, no job, no respect, no hope, no hair, no teeth…) exist because of the presence of the hated ‘other’ (than us)!” —And, “If we as a nation could simply Brexit (or, in the case of the US, barricade our southern border!) from these previously colonized and exploited undesirables, then everything in our wretched personal lives will immediately become better!” And of course, such a political promise is a profoundly big lie, for even a brief review (i.e., a high school world history class) of the human past would reveal that powerful exploitation-colonization empires (e.g., Rome) once fallen never rise again to the heights of their previous dominating power.
Political (power) change is always arriving, either dramatically fast by guillotine or by way of dynamically slow but consistent facts-on-the-ground!

Even in our own nation, we are watching these phenomena in real-time, as the ignorance-based “stolen election” mythology has been transformed into a sacred working ideology of democracy damaging violent raids on our nation’s capital and the imposition of racist voter suppression laws being enacted against selective US citizens in states (channeling the old post-confederacy segregation acts) across our country.
White Americans are being sold (for hegemonic political objectives) false bigotry survival lies that our nation can return to a pre-civil rights apartheid social-cultural-political period (the actual “cultures war”) in US history when racism could act in full legal attitudinal, authoritative, and actionable ways. A time when lynching was not limited to local police departments kneeling on the necks of Black men; but instead, they were moments in our national history when Black Lives Mattered so little that Black lynching events became white community/family fun picnic outings.

In this world, the lack of knowledge is not without consequences; education and learning have the ‘natural’ inclination and purpose (even when the study is historiography) to act as a forward-looking exercise. The selling to intellectually challenged white Americans of the hopeless idea that America will (or even could) return to a place and time where Black Americans will quietly sit in their ‘assigned’ seats at the back of the bus is a tragic (for all) false lesson that is emotionally wasteful and prevents the US from being at its best and most productive self for serving the best interest of all of its citizens.
Alternatively, the Taliban’s long-term political survival strategy is not to steal an election; instead, it is to end all elections by utilizing the lack of learning and knowing as a way to reduce and ultimately remove any possibility that Afghanis will ever challenge the legitimacy of their leadership in either ballot boxes or the boxed-in brains of a politically illiterate citizenry; even as that leadership behaves in the most undemocratic fashion, and operates in the most anti-human and anti-civil rights (and anti-civility) way.

Those tragically untouched by enlightened and transcendent ideals, the low-information, non-critical-thinking citizens of any nation; are open to being driven by the politically stimulated primitive ‘instincts’ of the limbic sections of their brain systems; which is why they will amazingly choose leaders (e.g., religious and non-religious fascist or political proto-fascist), who will enact policies and practices that are clearly counter to the greater societal interest and wellbeing (ex., the non-stop attempts to hinder access or permanently eliminate Affordable Healthcare —“Obamacare”) of those who voted for those leaders; as long as those policies and practices being espoused by their unethical/immoral leaders speaks to the most base of human animalistic emotions like fear, anger, dominance, and the protection of genetic offspring!
Some of these nations (e.g., England and the US) may not have reached the Taliban level of banning and burning books; but ‘bad leaders’ even in so-called “democratic countries” can be very efficient in extinguishing any burning desire on the part of their followers to want to use any books or thinking exercises that might inspire, in a thought-provoking way, a different and more nuanced way of looking at the world.

Exiting my elementary school in 1963, and having been efficaciously taught to read far above grade level, I could daily engage the vocabulary of the NY Times in the current events section of my middle school ‘social studies’ class, where I also read Rousseau’s The Social Contract and unlike so many of our current fellow under-informed US citizens, learned the difference between communism, socialism and democratic socialism (ideas that were later expanded on in my high school US and world history classes); learning French language and about French-speaking national cultures; studying earth science (now known as environmental science); transitioning from my elementary school mastery of the applications of arithmetic to the more complex algorithms of algebra; class trips to museums and other NYC cultural institutions; all of these events, activities, and readings, led me to know (and to want to know more) about that vast and substantially more diversely complicated world that existed outside and beyond the reality of my Brooklyn neighborhood. Reading and discussing books in high school English class like: “Johnny Got His Gun” and “All Quiet on the Western Front”—caused me to think deeply about the purpose, meaning, and consequences of waging war on other human beings. And exploring other literary works like: “The Diary of Anne Frank” and “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” —compelled me to reflect on how as a human family, we (and specifically I) should treat the fellow members of our human family. In so many powerful ways, I was theoretically transformed, intellectually inspired, emotionally elevated, and curiosity energized by my K-12 public educational experience, and that’s what a good public school experience will do, can do, and must do, for a society to grow and prosper.

Full disclosure here—As much as I would like to believe it, unfortunately, education is not a cure-all; there is, after all, the ever-present human factor (remember those pesky limbic systems ‘lower’ instinctual behaviors).
For sure, millions of Americans who believe in and (still) follow Donald Trump attended somebody’s K-12 school system or even obtained a college diploma. So education alone cannot always reach and fix some of those deep areas of the human heart that are severely damaged by the presence of bigotry, prejudice, and the fear of losing racial entitlements and privileges. But a No Education policy as proposed by the Taliban is much worse than even having an inadequate K-16 education. At least with the under or poorly K-16 educated individual, there is still a possible redeemable hope that some idea from a novel, poem, science lesson, art or music study, school club or team experience, a kind act by a teacher or administrator, some uplifting biographical or historical story learned, that could when catalyzed by a current event or personal incident, awaken the ‘inherent righteous goodness’ in their beings.
But the total absence of education means a high risk of the vilest expressions of the human personality being enabled, empowered, and encouraged to act in a highly mean-spirited, ugly, and toxic ostracizing way towards those who we have been convinced, are not-us. Ultimately, this demonization of the ‘other’ bad-thinking process could lead to the application of extreme methods of violence (e.g., Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwandan, 1994). And this is why what is happening educationally (and sadly, what will probably happen) to the children of Afghanistan is not just an Afghanis educational human rights problem; it’s a global educational human rights problem. We can’t afford to ignore any attack, anywhere in the world (including inside the US), of any acts of denying, diminishing, or destroying public schooling and learning. Alas, in this world (recalling another one of my high school readings), there is no chance of obtaining “A Separate Peace” away from the consequences of the human-caused societal moral chaos created by ignorance!

Michael A. Johnson is a former NYC teacher, principal, and school district superintendent. A science educator who served as an expert reviewer for the National Science Foundation; and was part of the team that designed the first NAEP national science exam questions. He led the design, development, and building of two Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—Career Technical Education (STEM—CTE) high schools: Science Skills Center High School, NYC and Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School, Washington DC. He also served as an adjunct professor of Science Education in the School of Education at St. John’s University. He is the author of a book on school leadership: Report to the Principal’s Office: Tools for Building Successful High School Administrative Leadership. He is currently completing his second book on school administration and leadership: Report From The Principal’s Office.