How Does a Racist Become School Superintendent?

I really do not understand.

Given United States history, after the National Football League Houston Texans’ loss Sunday, it’s no surprise at all that a white fan said, “You can’t count on a black quarterback.”

But it’s surprising and sad that the fan is a school superintendent of a Texas school district with 1,020 children. Also, that when criticized, one of his first instincts was to rationalize his racist thought by saying he was referring to the statistical success of black NFL quarterbacks. “Over the history of the NFL,” the superintendent said, “they have had limited success.”

Oh, okay then, you’re just making an objective statement of fact. If there’s no problem though, why did the superintendent add that he hopes none of the district’s students saw the post?

Is it because the brown and black students and their families might view it as further evidence that equal educational opportunity is a mirage when the top educational official, the one responsible for hiring principals, determining curriculum, and setting the overall tone, doesn’t truly trust them or their guardians?

Educational leadership requires school janitors, office staff, teacher aides, teachers, principals, and superintendents to understand that. . .

  • the history of the United States has resulted in a still lingering institutional racism which makes it more difficult for students/people of color to succeed
  • people routinely succumb to negative assumptions about people of color, including students, based upon woefully, inadequate firsthand experience in diverse communities
  • educators have to be extra conscious of holding historically marginalized students in unconditional positive regard trusting they are en route to becoming young adults that will powerfully defy people’s negative, and too often, racist assumptions
  • students are equals in every way, including intellectually, some just require more support than others to achieve their particular academic and personal objectives

How the hell does a person who doesn’t think you can trust quarterbacks with particular skin pigmentation ever succeed in becoming a teacher, let alone a school building leader and then superintendent? Time after time he was vetted and deemed the best candidate for the job. What does that say about the quality of public schooling in Texas?

Also important to note, the superintendent said that he has not faced any repercussions from the post as of Monday afternoon. No public rebuke. No suspension. No diversity training.

What are the odds the School Board provides the necessary leadership to right this wrong? My guess. About the same as The Texans tapping the superintendent to take over at quarterback.

Yes he’s old, pudgy, and slower than molasses, but very trustworthy.

What We Get Wrong About Honesty

That it’s mostly telling the truth to others. But being honest with one’s self is a more essential starting point, and because we lack any semblance of objectivity, far more difficult.

None of us are ever completely honest with ourselves. Meaning we are loathe to accept our differences which makes self acceptance a constant struggle.

Case in point. I loved, loved, loved this short essay titled “An Emotional Reunion Between Cello and Cellist”. Russell had me after her opening paragraph:

“On a recent Thursday, Matt Haimovitz, the forty-seven-year-old virtuoso cellist, packed an empty instrument case into the back of his car and drove from his home, in Montreal, to a friend’s apartment on the Upper West Side, where he’d be crashing. The case was for Haimovitz’s rare, multimillion-dollar cello, which he calls Matteo—after Matteo Goffriller, the seventeenth-century Venetian luthier who built it. He had played it for thirty years, until, fifteen months earlier, while giving a lesson to a promising Canadian student, he dropped it, and the cello’s neck snapped. Since then, the instrument had been undergoing extensive repairs by a team of five luthiers at Reed Yeboah Fine Violins, near Columbus Circle. Now the shop had called to say that Matteo was ready for release.”

If I’m honest with myself, I want something resembling what those six people have—Haimovitz and the five luthiers—a singleminded focus on one thing that animates their lives. One thing that gives them an overwhelming purpose for being. Even a little bit of flow.

Put differently, I want to love something the way Haimovitz loves his cello. I am fascinated by people with distinct passions, often wishing I was one of them. It doesn’t matter how esoteric or far removed the passions are from my life; interior design, locomotive trains, the Spanish language; I still look on with envy.

This year I’ll cycle somewhere between 4,500 and 5,000 miles. Friends ride 10,000-12,000. I like cycling, they love it. Some people read a book or more a week. I like reading, they love it. Some commit 60+ hours a week to their jobs because they like their work so much they often loose track of time. I prefer being on sabbatical. Some bloggers have huge readerships in part because they are laser focused on a particular topic. In contrast, the Humble Blog, a reflection of my continuously distracted pea brain, is all over the place.

Hiking Burroughs Mountain Trail last weekend, I listened to my friends excitedly discuss plant nomenclature and geology and wondered, “What’s wrong with me?” By which I meant, “Why aren’t I equally curious? Why am I content not knowing the name of the beautiful flower or understanding how the awe-inspiring landscape was formed? Why aren’t I similarly passionate about labeling and understanding the natural world?”

But then I stop to think that my cycling obsessed friends don’t run and swim. And maybe it’s okay that my interests are more disparate, and therefore, less intensive. Wide-ranging interests enable me to ask more questions, connect with more people, create a relatively diverse and interesting social network.

How fortunate that everyone is wired differently. Maybe the singleminded people of the world, the Haimovitz’s, would tell me sometimes there are downsides to being obsessively focused on one thing.

Maybe I’m okay and you’re okay.

 

Thursday Assorted Links

1. The shadowy money behind the vitamin D industry.

2. Washington State teachers—how to quadruple your new and improved salaries.

3. Your chances of dying ranked by sport and activity. It will be dang hard, but I’m going to try cutting back on my hang gliding and Himalayan climbing. And toughest of all, attend fewer dance parties.

4. A negative critique of the anonymous editorial “everyone” is talking about.

“A cowardly coup from within the administration threatens to enflame the president’s paranoia and further endanger American security.”

Washington State Teachers Shout,”Show Me The Money!”

Finally, Washington State teachers are getting paid more fairly given the importance of their hard work. At least in 2018-2019.

Due to increased funding for teacher salaries as a result of a long awaited court decision, all 295 school districts have to negotiate individual agreements with their teachers. Despite school starting tomorrow, 6-7% of the districts still have not settled.

The result has been a serious money grab, meaning teachers are paying no attention to whether the serious raises they’re winning are sustainable beyond 2018-2019. And I completely understand that. “We’ve been underpaid for way too long,” teachers are saying. “This is the time to right that wrong. Let others determine the sustainability and put the pieces back together if it proves not to be.”

Starting teachers will now make 50-65k, veteran teachers, 100-115k. To which I say, right on! I celebrate my teacher friends’ improved salaries not just because of my fondness for them as individuals, but because I think it has the potential to strengthen the profession which would be a significant step toward thriving communities.

But it only has the potential if the markedly improved salaries are sustainable and they most likely are not unless the state legislature loosens limits on levy spending on salaries. Time will tell how sympathetic the state legislators are to hemorrhaging districts. My guess, not very. This is two steps forward, in a year’s time, anticipate one large one back.

Some of the unintended consequences of suddenly improved teacher salaries:

• Unless today’s gains are partially or largely clawed back in subsequent negotiations, college graduates will give teaching much more serious consideration. Teacher education programs will see more applicants, and therefore, be more selective. Teacher candidates will be more representative of their undergraduate graduating classes, meaning stronger academically. Hopefully, they’ll have similar heart.

• Recruiting future school administrators will be much more difficult. Washington State administrators are not included in the large salary improvements teachers are making. Consequently, now, in some cases, top teacher pay equals administrators’ pay. To which some principals in the state are asking, “Why am I working 60 more days a year, with added hours and stress, without any additional compensation?” Fewer applicants to administrator preparation programs means principal certification programs will be less selective, meaning a dilution in the quality of future school leaders.

• Teacher education and Principal Certification programs will have a much harder time recruiting quality faculty. At my university, Assistant Professor’s begin in the low 50’s, which is less than a 23 year-old graduate of any of our teacher education programs will now make. So imagine that 23 year old says to me, “I want your job in ten years, what would you advise.” I’d say, “Teach 6-7 years, then spend 3-4 years getting a PhD (consider not just the cost of tuition, but the lost salary) and then apply. If successful, you’ll make about 60% of what you would if you had continued your K-12 teaching career.” University life has many advantages, but how many people can afford that kind of economic hit?

I’m sure there are other ripple effects I’m not anticipating, but these are important ones. Stay tuned sports fans, should be interesting.

 

 

 

The Art of Code-Switching

John David Washington’s depiction of Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s The BlackKklansman highlights the concept of code-switching. Stallworth, the first African American police officer hired in Colorado Springs, CO in the late 70’s believe it or not, infiltrates the KKK by sounding white on the phone.

What is code-switching? From Wikipedia:

“Some scholars of literature use the term code-switching to describe literary styles that include elements from more than one language, as in novels by Chinese-American, Anglo-Indian, or Latino writers. In popular usage, code-switching is sometimes used to refer to relatively stable informal mixtures of two languages, such as Spanglish, Taglish, or Hinglish.  Both in popular usage and in sociolinguistic study, the name code-switching is sometimes used to refer to switching among dialects, styles or registers. This form of switching is practiced, for example, by speakers of African American Vernacular English as they move from less formal to more formal settings. Such shifts, when performed by public figures such as politicians, are sometimes criticized as signalling inauthenticity or insincerity.”

I was introduced to code-switching before knowing the term in the early 80’s while waiting for a bus on UCLA’s campus late one night with a group of others including an African-American student dressed as UCLA’s mascot, sans the head which he held in his hand. His animated “street” talk was punctuated with profanities, non-standard usage, and related funk. “Wow,” I thought, who would’ve ever guessed that “Joe Bruin is one cool brother.” Until a professor acquaintance rolled up at which point he literally threw a switch and went standard English. The speed and skill of the transformation left me dumbstruck.

Granted, there’s always a risk of inauthenticity or insincerity, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to relate to a wider range of people than we’re accustomed to. For all the academic mumbo jumbo, that’s all code-switching is.

Richard Russo is one of my favorite authors. He has a doctorate and teaches writing at elite universities, but he grew up working class, returning to do manual labor each college summer. His respect for working men and women, and his feel for the speech and mannerisms of construction and factory workers is one of the hallmarks of his writing. Like Ron Stallworth, he’s an expert code-switcher.

Our church’s new “transition pastor” is also a licensed electrician. Which makes me think of the clash of cultures at my university one night a week when youngish electricians suddenly materialize for evening certification coursework. They’re a distinct subculture in that they ALL drive BIG trucks, are varying degrees of dirty, and smell like cigarette smoke. I’m betting Pastor Duane could go from one of our church council meetings to the steps outside my office where they take their final puffs and not miss a beat. Given his varied life experience, I’m betting he’s a good code-switcher.

Interpersonal intelligence requires making constant adjustments in speech and behavior based upon changing group norms. Rather than always expecting others to adjust to us, we watch, listen, and learn to adjust to them. Like Ron Stallworth, Joe Bruin, and Richard Russo.

 

 

 

 

Which is Better, Rewards or Punishment?

Trick question, neither. How to parent. And teach. And coach. And change the world for the better.

“No matter how irrational or difficult a (parenting) moment might seem, we can respond in a way that says: ‘I see you. I’m here to understand and help. I’m on your side. We’ll figure this out together.'”

The book.