While I am not currently a principal (I miss it so much---does that count?), I belong to a couple of forums on Facebook for principals. I feel like these sites and the topics that are brought up help me tremendously in informing my work as a professor for teachers who are getting their degree in Educational Leadership as well as the work I do as a consultant who facilitates learning for school leaders.
This is not (I repeat "NOT") a political forum, nor is it supposed to be really controversial, although people often have differing points of view about how they would handle certain situations in their schools. Every once in a while, though, it seems like people are just ready and loaded for a fight. Wait, what? These are supposed to be helpful groups for administrators that can often provide levity to what seems right now to be one of the most difficult times to be an educator or educational leader. I am so very proud that I currently am able to observe, coach, and work with student teachers who cannot wait to get their degrees and begin teaching, despite the complexity of the job. This week, someone posted a meme. The gist of it was about indoctrination, but it was a joke saying that if we, as educators, were going to indoctrinate students, it would be to turn in their work on time, get to school on time, etc. It was meant to be funny. I got the humor in it, as did most people in the group. One person, however, had to turn it into something political. The person stated that they felt that teachers were, indeed, indoctrinating their students to feel guilty about being white. He got a lot of backlash about, "What happened to your sense of humor?" "Why make this something it's not?" and many other comments in response to his inability to simply take this as a meme that was trying to make light of what has become, for many, a very gloomy outlook on what people outside the education world (or outside the school walls, for that matter) think teachers are "doing" to their students. And so it began....
There began a quite nasty thread of people arguing about Critical Race Theory (CRT) with people saying that most people who talk about CRT don't even know what it is (possible? I would believe so); people arguing about Common Core with people who are trying to say those people don't even know what Common Core's purpose (possible? I would believe so) and why it might be helpful for students to learn how to reason through multiplication problems rather than simply memorizing facts; and even people arguing that teachers shouldn't be TEACHING anything but facts with other people (I may or may not have gotten into this one as well as the others above) who believe we absolutely have to teach our students how to agree and disagree respectfully (we clearly didn't come out of the womb knowing how to do this, as evidenced by the filthy ways people talk about people with opposing views from their own), how to reason through a prompt such as: 'Members of a society should always have freedom to do what they want to do', and how to read a book then discuss it with others who might have opposing opinions about the subject matter of the book.
Is any of the above striking a chord with anyone? It sure does to me. I'm not afraid to say that I believe that we have, in our schools, students who do not all learn the same way, students who are so entrenched in generational poverty that they are going to have to be pretty good at climbing to get out of that trench, and that we can do a better job with teaching students how to reason. Regarding students who don't all learn the same way, in Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns,
Christenson (2011) says, "...schools have a very interdependent architecture, which mandates standardization" (p. 23). This standardization makes it really difficult to customize learning for individual students, but effective teachers often work day (and night) to figure out ways to make the differentiated learning not just a possibility but a reality. Christenson also says, "...the children of lower-income, poorly educated, inner-city parents are trapped in a multigenerational cycle of educational underachievement and poverty" (2011, p. 153). The cycle includes parents not knowing how to talk with their children about issues in a mature, adult way because they, themselves, weren't taught how to do so (remember what I said about not coming out of the womb with certain skills? This is one of them, I'm pretty sure); these students start out school already at a disadvantage and only fall further behind and become less self-confident and less enthusiastic about school. And the cycle continues on and on and on (In a quick moment of levity, Dave had surgery on his right foot this week. In pre-op, the doctor came in to talk to us, and he wrote "no, no, no" on Dave's left foot". From Dave's vantage point, it looks like something from a Stephen Bishop song (for those of you a bit younger than us, Bishop sang a song entitled "On and On")), making it tremendously difficult for traditionally marginalized kids to catch a break unless they find a mentor who might coach them along the difficult path to successful adulthood. Finally, in the area of teaching students how to reason, I saw a huge difference when we began teaching students HOW multiplication worked versus simply learning our "times tables" (as many of us were taught and many still believe "if it was good for me, it should be good for students of today"). But was it really all that great? We all learned to memorize our multiplication tables, typically up to 12 X 12, but I know many adults who cannot tell you why it makes sense that 25 X 3125 would more likely be closer to 75,000 than to 750,000. Today's students learn how to look at an answer to a problem and note its reasonability (or not). Is this such a bad thing? Having context with this type of problem even furthers its ability to make sense for many students. For instance, if I create a word problem that says: "A small high school has 25 students who need mental health counseling that will cost $3125 per student per year. How much will the total cost be for one year?", this not only allows students to figure out the reasonability of it costing closer to $75,000 than to $750,000, it makes it okay for students to talk about mental health issues and how there is help for them. I ask again: is this such a bad thing?
Florida governor's press secretary recently said, “If you want to teach your kid Woke Math, where ‘2+2=4’ is white supremacy, you’re free to buy any CRT math textbook you want. You just cannot force Florida taxpayers to subsidize this indoctrination." Wait, what???? I visit a LOT of schools in a LOT of districts. I watch a LOT of teachers teach. I have never once, in my history as an educator, heard any teacher try to indoctrinate students about White Supremacy through an addition fact or, frankly, through any other method. This statement, in itself, is bat guano crazy. Why do we have to be so combative, unreasonable, and think teachers are indoctrinating students because they teach them how to debate respectfully then might facilitate a point/counterpoint discussion on whether it is possible we could wind up in another Civil War in today's day and age, basing the student-led debate on past history, current events, and the students' own opinions? I ask again: is this such a bad thing? What if we, as adults, were no longer afraid to talk about our inherent biases regarding race, ethnicity, religion, political parties, sexuality, etc.? I don't know why "WOKE" is such a negative term for people coming to realize that perhaps what we believed when we were younger might not be an absolute truth, and we are now "awakening" and "open" to new beliefs and opinions.
Many times, I have talked about the sentence Dave and I use (I was taught it almost 24 years ago, and it has served us well) when we disagree. One of us, in the middle of the disagreement, will often say, "You know, you might be right about that." Now, this doesn't mean we have abandoned our principles; in fact, I believe it means we have held tightly to the principle of our integrity, that we are WILLING to admit that we might not have all the answers.
Let's go back to the beginning in which I talked about why some people find humor where others cannot. The film-maker, Taika Waititi said a good film "doesn't take itself too seriously, but it does believe in itself." I think this is a pretty cool line. I'm wondering if we might, just for today, take a lesson from it and reflect on finding humor when ours seems to be hidden under a rock for defending our "position" on something so tightly, we forget to laugh.
And for Heaven's sake, can we please just agree to disagree without "unfriending" each other, calling each other names, or taking something so personally, we create a chasm between ourselves and so many others?