Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Suicide Should NOT Be A Child's Solution to Bullying

Have you ever read a 12 year old's suicide letter? ....  I have. 

And all I can say is, there is nothing easy about it. You want to throw up and cry simultaneously. Tears well up in your eyes and anger fills your gut. There are few things more heart wrenching then hearing a child lose hope and joy.

Bullying... it's no big deal, right. It's just kids being kids. We got made fun of as kids and we're fine. We tell kids to grow thicker skin and walk away...

Even though there is some truth to learning how to walk away and grow thicker skin (when coupled with a solution that works towards stopping the offense), a child doesn't hear help in that wisdom. They hear, "You're being a baby. You're weak. You don't have a real reason to feel what you're feeling." 

This is why school culture is so important. Having expectations/norms that foster community, inclusion, respect, courage, compassion, and conflict resolution are vital to the emotional and physical safety of our children. 

I know high-stakes testing doesn't care about these character skills but these skills are the very things that keep our children alive and healthy, so they can learn. 

If your school doesn't address character in its curriculum please reach out to Tribes Learning Community Character Counts or Stopbullying.gov. I'm not a big fan of things that are taught in isolation, like a program of sorts. I like approaches that are strategies for ways of organizing your class and enhancing and integrating your existing lessons/curriculum with character concepts. Character isn't its own class, it's a way of being. A way of learning in all we do. It's a way of interacting. 

We need to address skills, behaviors, attitudes, and environmental factors that prevent bullying and negative peer relationships. We need to focus on creating the environment that prevents bullying, not just disciplining it, like Zero Tolerance policies do. If your school addresses character, please leave a comment sharing your approach/curriculum to help other educators and parents. 

If we all work together to stop this, I may never have to read another suicide letter again or see the permanent scars of self-mutilation and "cutting". 

Learn more about the benefits of SEL. (SEL = Social Emotional Learning)
Learn more about selecting an SEL program for your school.
Learn more about SEL and bullying prevention.
Learn more about the film “Bully” and The Bully Project.

Character sets our kids up for healthy friendships and relationships and honest ways of living and working.

Note: this child is still alive but we have a lot of work to do to make sure we prevent this cry for help from happening again. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Children see Cheerios... not race.

Children see Cheerios... not race! Maybe the grown-ups in our world need to be the ones who grow the f*#k up.

Watch this and feel your heart swell with relief that there is hope for our future. I'm glad the children "don't get it." That's a sign of humanity, in my opinion.

I wish I could hug every one of these kids, their parents, their teachers, and friends. What awesome kids! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VifdBFp5pnw

I still have not recovered from the George Zimmerman verdict. I struggle with Stand Your Ground (& Castle Doctrine) laws and the subtle and not so subtle racism in this world.  I just don't agree that this aggression was not racially motivated. In case you want to get a little enraged, do a little twitter search of "Boycott Florida" and you will see horrible tweets like these:

For those unaware what an EBT card is, it is the benefits card given to people receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps). Even though racist, Jeannie McBride, intended this to be a racial slur, she should know that according to demographic data 43% of SNAP participants are white, 33% are African-American, 19% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian, and 2% are Native American. Can I get an "oh snap" ... yeah. bad joke.

Let's continue to teach tolerance so we end up with more kids like we have in the Cheerios video! Watch it again so you can get the ugly tweets out of your head. Check out this link http://www.tolerance.org/ for teaching tolerance and follow Teaching Tolerance (@Tolerance_org on twitter) and the Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org/ (@SPLC on twitter).

Monday, July 8, 2013

Today in History: Sandra Day O'Connor

Thirty two years ago today in 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor was nominated to be the first female Supreme Court Justice. (July 7, 1981)

Let's take a moment to celebrate progress in women breaking the glass ceiling. Let's even go so far as to acknowledge that President Ronald Reagan (Republican - "Tear Down the Middle Class Security Wall") did something right by nominating the first woman for the nation's highest court. Although Reagan is also the reason Clarence Thomas made the big screen in 1991. Fail. Reagan nominated Clarence Thomas in 1982 for Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, irony huh, where he served until President George H. W. Bush (Republican- "The Great Recession") nominated him for the US Supreme Court in 1992.

On August 19, 1981, the Senate confirmed Sandra Day O'Connor on a vote of 99-0. Yes, you read that right. Unanimous. That was before the oppositional days of Congress where Mitch McConnell and John Boehner  were trying to make a president a "one-term president" along with not allowing votes on appointments. You know, back when politicians weren't pouty children on a playground.

On September 25, 1981 O'Connor officially took the oath and made history. She added another brick to the path of equality and officially put a crack in the glass ceiling for women. While on the Court, she tended to align with conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist for the first half of her tenure. However, when Justice Clarence Thomas arrived on the Court she started to shift away from the conservatives. In fact, if Thomas and O'Connor happen to vote on the same side, she'd typically write a separate opinion of her own, refusing to join his dissent. 

Some of the cases in which O'Connor was the deciding vote include (some are not so honorable, but they are what they are):

McConnell v. FEC, 540 U.S. 93 (2003)
This ruling upheld the constitutionality of most of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill regulating "soft money" contributions.
Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003)
O'Connor wrote the opinion of the court in Grutter and joined the majority in Gratz. In this pair of cases, the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions program was held to have engaged in unconstitutional reverse discrimination, but the more-limited type of affirmative action in the University of Michigan Law School's admissions program was held to have been constitutional.
Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002)
O'Connor joined the majority holding that the use of school vouchers for religious schools did not violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, 530 U.S. 640 (2000)
O'Connor joined the majority in holding that New Jersey violated the Boy Scouts' freedom of association by prohibiting it from selecting its troop leaders on the basis of sexual orientation.
United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995)
O'Connor joined a majority holding unconstitutional Gun-Free School Zones Act as beyond Congress's Commerce Clause power.
Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000)
O'Connor joined with four other justices on December 12, 2000, to rule on the Bush v. Gore case that ceased challenges to the results of the 2000 presidential election (ruling to stop the ongoing Florida election recount and to allow no further recounts). This case effectively ended Gore's hopes to become president. Some legal scholars have argued that she should have recused herself from this case, citing several reports that she became upset when the media initially announced that Gore had won Florida, with her husband explaining that they would have to wait another four years before retiring to Arizona.[31]

O'Connor played an important role in other notable cases, such as:

Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989)
This decision upheld as constitutional state restrictions on second trimester abortions that are not necessary to protect maternal health, contrary to the original trimester requirements in Roe v. Wade. Although O'Connor joined the majority, which also included Rehnquist, Scalia, Kennedy and Byron White, in a concurring opinion she refused to explicitly overturn Roe.
Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)
O'Connor wrote a concurring opinion contending that state laws that prohibited homosexual sodomy, but not heterosexual sodomy, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although she agreed with the majority in holding such laws unconstitutional, she did not join in the opinion that they violated the substantive due process afforded by the Due Process Clause. Under a ruling under the Equal Protection Clause, states could still prohibit sodomy, provided they prohibited both homosexual sodomy and heterosexual sodomy.
On February 22, 2005, with Rehnquist and Stevens (who was senior to her) absent, she presided over oral arguments in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, becoming the first woman to preside over an oral argument before the Court."

In 2009 President Barack Obama awarded Justice Sandra Day O'Connor the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor of the United States. 

So cheers to Sandra Day today! For all she has done for justice and women.

All girls should learn about strong women. So do our future a favor and teach your class and children about women making history. If you're interested in teaching a lesson about Justice O'Connor, check this out for one idea: http://teacherlink.ed.usu.edu/tlresources/units/byrnes-famous/oconnor.html

One of my favorite websites is Project Vote Smart. You can research all of your elected officials positions on issues and their votes on specific bills. Please share this will all your friends and reference it often. You can also research SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) positions here. The data that's available at this site is: Key Votes, Public Statements, Ratings, Campaign Finance, and Political Courage Tests. Note, there isn't much listed for Clarence Thomas. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

You Can Be A Racist and Never Say the N* Word

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we live in a decade of Paula Deen, George Zimmerman, regression of the Voting Rights Act, etc… but here we are.

Recently a friend posted a Facebook status that said, “Just throwing it out there, George Zimmerman is innocent.” Just so we're clear, my blog post today isn’t about whether Zimmerman is guilty or innocent, although I have a definite opinion on that. This is about how racism exists in this world, sometimes cloaked in folksy ‘simpleness’, sometimes cloaked in religious righteousness, and sometimes blatantly in a white hood.

Either way, let me be very clear, whether you say the n* word or not, you can still be a racist and or just a person guilty of stereotyping. But even innocent stereotyping leads to discrimination. The friend who originally posted this status isn’t a racist. He was intending to start a legal conversation. But the thread that followed was riddled with racism, and it’s all too prevalent in our society. No matter how much technology we acquire and no matter how much innovative progress we make, somehow our human intellect and hearts regress. As I see it we have three options, accept that some people are jerks, perform lobotomies on adults, or fully address in our schools and homes social and emotional education, sometimes synonymously referred to as character education, and try to nip in the bud this incredibly ugly reality of our culture.

Let’s play a little game:

#1 Is this an example of “Blame the victim” or “Blame the perp”…

If you guessed ( c ) Blame the victim, you’re correct. Obviously, anyone who isn’t a choirboy doesn’t deserve to live, which at points in my life, I'd fall into this deviant category and I'm a good human being. Yup, the gunman who shot and killed someone and who stalked this situation, is not to blame here. And how much power does Al Sharpton really have, anyways? Wow. So much racism here I can’t decide which of his points to use to make my point.

 #2. If you are on vacation or more than one mile away from your house, do you deserve any death bestowed upon you or to have your safety compromised?

Apparently if you are black, and “Joe” is the one deciding, the answer is yes. So I guess listen up you “white folks”, if you drive through the inner city, be prepared to assume any ill harm or death that may occur. Those are the new rules in our society. God help us if this sets a new precedent that you can now pick a fight, shoot someone, and get off all because the victim doesn’t own a house in the immediate vicinity. Stupid logic. Period.

#3 How do you “show those whites” you are angry and wronged? 

Just maaaybeeee “Joe” and I know a different Rodney King. Maybe his Rodney wasn’t ganged up on and beat by 15 cops during a time in LA where police brutality was all too prevalent. And during a time when a targeted community had every reason to be afraid and angry. How quickly we forget history and how quickly our minds and hearts become hardened.

Of course "Joe" ends this thread with a long rant of how he isn't a racist. Here's an excerpt:

"I do not care if a person is black or any other color as long as they act like responsible human beings. Some of the people I admire most are black people. For example, Condoleza Rice, Charles Payne, Alan West. All are smart well spoken and admirable. When I see people who can't put a sentence together, use profanity every other word and act like the world owes them a living I don't care for that person."
The classic, I know black people, excuse. Of course he picks republican, well off African Americans and cites "well spoken" as his criteria, although he forgets Charles Payne dropped the f' bomb on FOX last year. "Joe" also inserts a judgment of, "the world not owing THEM anything"... it's so subtle but even in his defense he oozes racism. 

I’d like to go on record as saying a potty mouth doesn't require swearing. Nor does being a racist require using the n* word. Some of the biggest racists and offensive speakers have been people who don't swear or name call directly but rather say things like, "THOSE people don't get married because they get more money from the gov't being a baby mama." "THOSE people don't want to work, but they also don't want to take care of their kids. That's why we're here." (said by a conservative religious leader) Yes, I've had average people say those things to me in conversation. And they're racist. Period.

This kind of racism scares me. It’s not eccentric where you see it a mile away. It’s not Paula Deen playing dress up and talking explicitly like a bigot. No, this stuff is scarier. It creeps into social conversations. It invades little minds, figuratively and literally. Kids immersed in households and social circles that talk like this and stereotype turn into George Zimmerman’s who justify their heinous actions and judgmental thinking. This self-righteous stereotyping is dangerous.

Here’s why this is concerning. Because kids who learn to stereotype, judge, and hate grow up to be employers who refuse to hire or in turn treat poorly the employee who is a minority. They grow up to be politicians who make laws that disenfranchise minority voters and or make laws burdening them with food and housing choices. They grow up to be the Sikh Temple shooter or a George Zimmerman who target to kill and justify “standing their ground” by calling them “thugs”. Or maybe they just grow up to be everyday citizens like “Joe” who perpetuate stereotypes and justify murders and crime in social conversations and in turn teach their children to judge and hate further perpetuating a primitive, self-righteous way of thinking and living.

h/t to Monologues of Dissent for bringing this video to my attention! Thanks. This teacher is amazing.

Either way, narrow-minded thinking grows up to be harmful to our civilized, inclusive society. Kids who are immersed in casual stereotyping and or directly taught to be judgmental and hateful grow up to be racist adults who exercise power in the world. We need to take the social and emotional learning of our children seriously, because at the end of the day THAT will be the lens through which our children see the world and exercise their tested content knowledge, character, and power. 

Until we focus on respect, conflict-resolution skills, compassion, self-regulation, self-confidence, and resiliency as much as we focus on high-stakes test scores, we will continue to have kids like Columbine and Sandy Hook who use violence as a way of solving internal and external conflicts. High-stakes testing kids may be bright 'regurgitators' of facts, but they’re not whole. They’re not creative thinkers. They’re not compassionate. We have to educate the whole child. This blog is long enough already, but I will extensively cover character education as my blog develops. 

When I teach in the classroom, I read Dr Seuss every chance I get and no matter what you think, no age is too old for Seuss. The Sneetches is a great book for teaching diversity, acceptance, and community. But by all means, this is just one of many items to teach this concept. But don’t rely solely on Dr. Seuss or some other author to teach your child this lesson. The power of this lesson comes after reading the book, during the discussion with your child afterwards. So engage, talk, listen, and model compassion. It’s a priceless gift you can give to your child. Kids need to know that they don’t have to change to be like the oppressor, rather the oppressor needs to change how they think and diversity (color, ethnicity, the specific looks of traits, behavior, choices, gender, sexual preference, fashion trends, thinking, etc) need to be valued.

Self-confidence among other character traits are so often overlooked in education because a test score tells us so much more about a kid. <insert incredible amounts of sarcasm> Without confidence a child, teen, or adult for that matter, cannot build healthy friendships or intimate relationships, cannot take academic risks in class/career for fear of ridicule from peers, cannot be assertive for themselves in times of conflict or when being dominated/controlled. Kids who bully/stereotype/hate, tend to have self-esteem issues too. Yet somehow, we say knowing 2+2=4 is the MOST important thing in education. 

Academic knowledge doesn’t stop the racism in “Joe” or George Zimmerman. Academic knowledge doesn’t save Trayvon. But character education can save the future Trayvon's of the world and other kids discriminated against. This should scare the hell out of you, so start caring about more than test scores. Start caring about the words your adult peers use in conversation. Start caring about our future and how we can reduce aggressive, hateful behaviors. Because these kids grow up. And they can either be a power that helps this world or hurts this world. It’s up to us to focus on the right things to get them there. Teachers matter. Families matter. Public policy matters. 

Let's stop allowing the non-n* word racists from infiltrating this world and our government.   

**More in depth

PBS - Frontline episode on A Class Divided (another reason PBS should be saved from gov't extinction) When you watch the full video, at 8:36 notice Brian's silent mouthing while he's being told he's less than. Then, when they get to throw the collar away, he is the one trying to decimate it. You can see all the anger he has pent up directed at that collar. Chew on that for awhile... watch the video again for the non-verbal lessons. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeK759FF84s)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

What the Hell Does Ringo Have to do with Education?

The Beatles? Outlaw Cowboy Johnny Ringo? Pulp Fiction? 

For those of you who have never seen Pulp Fiction, first let me say I’m sorry you missed a great film 20 years ago. But more importantly, when you miss Tarantino films you don’t just spare yourself from the outrageously over-the-top bloody scenes and razor-like language, you miss out on intelligent and sometimes uncomfortable humor. You miss out on random encyclopedic/pop-culture references along with interesting character development. So when you’re done reading this, please do yourself a favor and rent it. Cover your eyes if the blood bothers you but you won’t regret it. If you truly are weak or just pure, keep reading and take my synopsis as good enough.

Again, what the hell do Pulp Fiction and Ringo have to do with education? See ending scene where Jules, a man who has killed many men for their wrong doings (usually screwing over his boss), has an epiphany of sorts. Throughout the film, Jules recites from the bible Ezekiel 25:17, to each victim while they’re looking down the barrel of his 9-millimeter just prior to him killing them. However, towards the end of the movie one of the men they go to kill unloads six rounds on him and his partner. All six bullets manage to miss both of them. How, I have no idea! This “miracle” shakes Jules to his core and he decides to quit cold turkey his murderous line of work. After the killing spree, otherwise known as the whole movie, the two go to a diner for some breakfast. While enjoying pancakes and hot coffee, although not as good as Jimmy’s gourmet coffee, a random armed robbery unfolds at the diner. Remember, the righteous Jules would normally take matters into his own hands and kill the evildoers. But this time it is different. Jules lets Ringo live thanks to his new revelation of clarity and mercy. Essentially, Pulp Fiction is the murderous journey of a man’s evolution in life and faith. It’s about openness to thinking differently, leaving righteousness behind, and shepherding Ringo out of the valley shadowed by death.

This blog is an evolution of my thinking. I’m making a professional commitment to continue learning first-hand about all systems of education, and leaving both sides of righteousness behind. I’m making an effort to ‘shepherd’ others.

Hopefully you feel led down a path of learning more about all things education - and sometimes not so education – related, so that we as a state/country move towards solutions supported by evidence and not just righteous ideologies. Because digging in our ideological heels gets us no closer to solving problems, just deeper in avoiding them.

You know, they say politics makes for strange bedfellows but given this journey I’m on, I’m starting to think Education Reform also makes for strange bedfellows. (more to come on this in later blogs)

This is my promise to you, if I don’t believe something, I won’t say it. And more importantly, I won’t believe something if I can’t back it up (with a credible source/data).

I won’t believe something just because of an ideology; likewise, I won’t hate something just because of an ideology either.

With all this said, "I’m trying Ringo" (aka conservatives/corporatists/fundamentalists/high-stakes testing lovers) "… I’m trying reeeeaaal hard to be a shepherd…"


**My appreciation for Pulp Fiction should not in any way be considered an endorsement for drugs, murder, bloody films, a hell of a lot of swearing, promiscuous sex… and any other sins that offend you. Although it is an endorsement for gourmet coffee.**