While taking my first step towards becoming a teacher, I learned the most powerful lesson in all of my formal education. It is the first rule every educator must learn. “The most important job of every teacher and every school is to keep their students SAFE. Teachers are trusted with our most precious natural resource, children. Student safety is more important than any lesson you will teach, any grade you will give, and any relationship you will form. Your #1 goal in education is to ensure the safety of each of your students that walks through your door. Parents trust you with their most prized possession, and expect their child to come back each day better than they were sent to you. That’s your #1 priority, always.”
I was taught that by a professor and mentor of mine at the University of North Florida, Dr. Cathy O’Farrell. It was the very first class for my major, Elementary Education. The class was EDU 101: Intro to Education. The year was 1997.
American leaders, especially those in charge of our education system, would have failed that class… yet politicians and policymakers still remain in charge of the US Education system, a broken and antiquated system that has failed its students, their parents, the teachers, and the United States of America.
Grading American Leadership
As a career educator, you get the last “F” of my career. As I would tell my students, my two favorite grades to give out are A’s and F’s — because you really have to work hard to earn those grades. They earned this grade… and as I would have to always do to parents of students who earned an F, I will explain to you why, in the most simplest of terms.
American “leaders” fail to grasp a VERY SIMPLE concept, and it’s that #StudentLivesMatter.
I’m not surprised by their lack of comprehension. Many of these leaders don’t understand the phrase #BlackLivesMatter either. It’s the basic principle that yes, All Lives Matter, but right now, for far too long, it has been black lives who were at risk, and that is why it has become a movement.
As of right now, it is student lives and their teacher’s lives that are being put at risk… but sadly, this isn’t the first time we have needed to have this discussion, and our elected or appointed “leaders” have failed the United States of America.
The First Epidemic
The first epidemic (defined as a sudden, widespread occurrence of a particular undesirable phenomenon) to hit the US education system has been around for a long time, even back when I was a student in the 1980s. Bullying. Before the internet, it was easier for the education system to interfere in bullying, but with technology advancing much faster than the education system, thousands of innocent lives are lost every year to suicide.
As a classroom teacher since 2000, I was on the front lines of this epidemic, and I made my first rule (I only had two) that there would absolutely be no bullying in my classroom. The second rule was married to the first, “Be Kind to one another.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until this past decade that school leaders started putting a priority on social & emotional learning to combat this epidemic. It was far too late for America. By the time we started focusing on student mental health, we were already traumatizing them with active shooter drills. Which leads us to the second epidemic, caused by the first epidemic, and far more troubling with our “leaders” failure to act, again.
The Second Epidemic
The second epidemic continues to be the incredible amount of school shootings, the overwhelming majority of which take place on American soil. Once again, the American “leadership” failed to act on this issue multiple times.
I remember discussing Columbine with other education majors at the University of North Florida in 1999. It shook us to our core. Yet, we hoped it was a one-time act of terrorism by a rogue group of kids called the “trenchcoat mafia.” Turns out, they were the victims of bullying, and this became a nasty cycle. Victims turned their tormentors, and anyone in their way to find them, into their victims. The cycle continues to this day.
I was already teaching internationally in South Korea when Sandy Hook happened. It was a sad, emotional day — one that I spent talking with international educators around the world about the absolute destruction of the American education system. I remember telling those teachers that day, “I will never, ever step back in an American classroom.” I never have, and I never will.
While teaching in Baku, Azerbaijan in February of 2018, the Parkland shooting happened. The courageous response by the students of Stoneman Douglas High School inspired me. They organized the largest march on Washington D.C. since 1968, and it took them less than a month to organize it. This generation was demanding change, as their lives were the ones being put at risk. They understood that #StudentLivesMatter!
American leadership failed to act. Again.
That year, I made a very difficult decision. I decided I would retire from the classroom to start a distance learning school. When I handed in my resignation in October 2018, more than a few people questioned my judgement. Many saw it as a mid-life crisis, but I viewed it as a calling. This was going to be the next challenge I would take up in education.
I told my friends and colleagues on the way out the door, leaving Baku, Azerbaijan to return home to the USA. “I have to do this. If they won’t take the guns out of schools, I will work on a way to take the students and the teachers out.” Never did I know what would transpire less than 14 months after my retirement.
As cases surge in the United States, especially in my former home state of Florida, I grew absolutely appalled at the “leadership” being shown, but don’t think I was surprised one bit. Our government, our politicians, our elected officials — they have failed to lead at any point in my educational career. Now, they are willingly putting your children, their teachers, and your own family at risk.
Betsy DeVos, the highly unqualified individual for any position in education, (including janitors, who will be more vital than ever), is encouraging schools to open while in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s a known fact that this highly contagious, deadly virus that has killed 130,000 Americans — spreads rapidly when there are crowded spaces, especially indoors.
But, she wouldn’t know what it’s like to teach in an American public school. The first time she probably ever stepped foot in one was after donating millions of dollars to the President’s campaign.
I have spent time in the American public school system, 27 years of my life as a student and an educator. Every teacher you know will tell you that all schools are mini petri-dishes, even when there isn’t a pandemic killing hundreds of thousands of people around the globe.
At one point in my career, when teaching US Civics and Civil Rights as an elective to middle school students, I had 78 students assigned to my class. My room sat 16, but I usually had 26. Due to high enrollment, we were jammed into a small classroom originally designed for small-group settings. One window, and 4 concrete walls painted a drab grey. I called it Cell Block 29, because that’s what room #29 felt like.
The 78 kids was a scheduling error that was not fixed until 3 weeks later, so I ran it out of the library, the only room big enough to fit 78 students, and still many had to stand. Eventually, my course would dwindle to 44 students for the rest of the year, and I taught it in the band room. Neither the library or the band room had any windows. Landmark Middle School in Jacksonville, Fl, is scheduled to open at full capacity this fall.
My brother, my sister-in-law, my nieces, my friends’ children, my colleagues in education and their children are all being put on the front lines because of allegiance to a man clearly incapable of understanding science. Every American becomes much more vulnerable by reopening schools, at a time when cases are surging and hospitals are reaching capacity. Cue the 2nd wave in the fall.
Big Curriculum Answers the Question: Why open now?
Why are they in such a rush to reopen schools? In my opinion, it’s not student mental health, although that has always been a concern — and they ignored it… why now do they care? It’s not just a concern for the poor in this country not having access to a quality education, because having worked at a school that was 95% free or reduced lunch, they didn’t seem to care a decade ago… or a year ago, for that matter. So, why now do they care?
Here’s my working theory. Testing. (No, not the important kind of Co-Vid testing that our government should be focusing on, but the other kind, the real “Great American HOAX.”
Testing companies lost hundreds of millions of dollars when schools closed in February. I wonder how many lobbyists influenced Betsy DeVos from the Big Curriculum in education, a booming, thriving, but increasingly unnecessary industry, student testing. Testing companies are so valuable, that one of them went for 4.5 Billion dollars in 2001! (In case you’re wondering why testing has increased exponentially over the past 20 years!)
To understand more about testing and why students are forced to take so many, read about their big money industry here. There’s a reason that educators and their students lose so much valuable instructional time, and it’s because of Big Curriculum. Testing companies make a fortune, and they have always controlled the narrative of what is taught in education, because to get better grades, you have to buy their textbooks.
Public schools and Big Curriculum helps to maintain the systemic problem that has led to income inequality in our country. Teach them to be smart enough to work, but not smart enough to think for themselves… that was the goal of education during the industrial revolution, and much of that philosophy has not changed, despite the best efforts of teachers who are handcuffed by a system intent on lining the pockets of the Big Curriculum.
When I was a student in school in the 1990s, we tested the foundational literacies, the core four of reading, math, science and social studies — but in 2001, they tied school funding to test scores in reading, math, and science… but not social studies. Why was that?
It’s my belief that they didn’t want the population to learn how the government works, to learn why history is important, or about world cultures and geography. We are seeing those effects today, after 20 years without social studies education as a priority.
How do I know this? Let me share a personal story of my time teaching in Duval County, Florida. I was certified to teach in Elementary Education and Social Sciences (5-9), and I was teaching 7th grade geography at Landmark Middle School in 2011. I will never forget the words said to me by my former principal, David Gilmore, when he told me I had to stop project-based learning that focused on the human impact on climate change on geography around the world, and I was told, “Stop this project now. Focus on reading. You’re a non-fiction reading teacher now… we don’t get money for your high scores in social studies.” For the record, I ignored my principal’s incompetence when it came to education, and taught the project anyway. To this day, I will never forget his poor and weak leadership.
America is a society living in chaos, and even many educated people can’t tell the difference between what is real news and what is fake news anymore, it’s because the education system never taught them how to think critically. They are consumers of information, but we live in the information age… there’s a lot of it. It’s the social studies teacher that always repeats this to their students, and here it is again. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” See the Pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, and the Civil Rights Movement for further proof that we social studies teachers weren’t lying to you! But, this isn’t an “I told you so” moment, we are in crisis and need to learn from each other, and it starts with education!
Lastly, I do believe that their reopening of schools will also help bring their goal of privatized education to reality, as this issue will finally make families who can afford private education finally make the move. As you will see, I am all for private education, and there’s a very simple reason for it.
Did you know that private schools do not have to follow the same state standards nor standardized testing schedule as public schools? What an advantage for those who can afford it? Having worked in both the American public education system, and at international private schools, the resources and academic and creative freedom given to teachers are vastly disproportionate.
The Distance Learning Option
Data suggests that homeschooling could jump 500% this fall, from 2 million children in the United States to over 10 million.
The questions facing so many parents right now… if teachers are in school, who will manage my child’s education? How will I be sure that my child is getting a rigorous education while I am working? Will I be in compliance with state and federal homeschool laws and guidelines?
Well, that’s what I have been studying and researching for 14 months. That’s the model of Florida International School, a Google EDU School devoted to Distance Learning. I’ve been studying a way to make distance learning easy and affordable for parents, engaging for students, better paying for teachers, and safe for all involved. Find out more about our model at www.floridainternationalschool.com, because I’m not a salesman, I am a teacher, and an innovator of education.
When the pandemic hit, I did not believe that the “leaders” in the US education system would be prepared to meet such a challenge, and as I expected, they continue to let us down.
Let’s be very clear. By reopening schools, they show you that they do not care about your child’s education, nor do they care about your child’s safety (or their teachers’ safety), they only care about the only thing people in politics care about, lining their own pockets with lobbyist money. They are absolutely disgusting human beings, literally putting children on the front lines of a pandemic, while still not being able to prepare our amazing health care heroes with proper PPE.
Donald, Betsy, Ron and any other complicit fool — You get an “F” in Education 101. You earned it. Your incompetence in interviews probably means it won’t be your first, but hopefully, it will be your last.
It will, however, be the last “F” I ever give, because Florida International School doesn’t use your antiquated, stressful, and subjective A-F grading system. It was developed over 100 years ago, and like every failed leader in education, it’s time to go.