A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, October 22, 2012

What exactly is a statesman? The Jefferson Conundrum

Eventually, I promise to get back to Mr. Five, a middle school counselor who brings Positive Behavior to a whole new level with his raw enthusiasm, but as Dan Pink has suggested in Drive, when minimum needs are not being met, motivation has nothing to hold onto, and my motivation for blogging has been, well, in the toilet. Here's why: while I made the decision to try to become a teacher in 2003, with two years of classroom teaching experience and a Master's degree earned last June, after nearly 10 years, what do I have to show for it? Daily substitute teaching gigs.

While I would love teaching without pay if I could afford to do so, I cannot afford to continue to be doing what I am doing much longer -- to do so would be selfish and irresponsible to my family and my creditors. Moreover, since I am still pursuing a teaching position, despite having made the tactical decision to focus on preparing myself for my next opportunity rather than preparing myself for "selling myself" in an interview, an approach that hasn't worked, or "getting help" from my university professors, an approach I refuse to try until after I have completed consolidating my "Master Teacher's Tookkit, (a.k.a., "Master Mechanic's toolkit"), which was my primary goal in earning a Master's Degree, which is something the pace of earning a Master's Degree in a year did not allow, I have a hard time justifying the investment of time in blogging, beyond the cathartic aspect of venting, which makes the effort seem almost worth it.

The most frustrating thing about being, essentially, an unemployed teacher -- which is what a substitute teacher really is -- is that I know how to teach and recognize so many needs. When a student is asked to round 78 to the nearest ten and is asked to find the number on a hundred's chart, I can immediately spot the misconception when he identifies the number as seven, eight. When that same student is asked to go along the side of the chart and is asked to count by tens, and he goes "10, 20, 13, 14, 15," I immediately recognize that the child does not understand the base-10 number system. When a student is learning how to write words, I know that teaching word families is best practice, e.g., if you know "ball," you also know "fall" and "tall." When a student is in the "trigger" phase of the "acting out cycle," I know how to look for signs of "agitation" and use "high probability requests" (HPR) or "differential reinforcement of low rates of behavior (DRL) strategically to change the trajectory of behavior and get some momentum in the right direction, and head off behavior problems before they "accelerate" out of control. These are not the kinds of things raised in interviews. Instead, interviewers seem to only be looking for flaws in past performance. My motivation to write about my experiences with Mr. Five and his passionate approach to Positive Behavior just is not there now, because my minimum needs are not being met, even though the Mr. Five story deserves to be told because this wonderful man makes me wonder how he is able to remain so incredibly positive, while remaining so incredibly real with middle school students when they need to hear a little reality. I'll probably run into Mr. Five later this week, so maybe the spirit will move me later, but the motivation to write about Mr. Five is just not there today.

Here is something that moved my motivation meter enough to blog today: a history lesson that popped into my email inbox via my dad. My dad sent me an article about Thomas Jefferson that raises important questions about what and how students learn about this enigmatic figure who famously authored the Declaration of Independence. What bothers me about the teaching of history is how few difficult and open-ended questions are raised in curricula that are a mile wide and an inch deep. Facts, schmacks. When we talk about statesmen, Thomas Jefferson for example, rarely does anyone ask the question, "What is a statesman?" Answer: "a statesman is a dead politician." Here is a link to one of my favorite Bloom County cartoons, where Opus discusses statesmen. Considering the portrayal of Jefferson in

“Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves” by Henry Wiencek, commented upon by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post's book section, the real Jefferson was a terrible person, which is too often the case with brilliant people who become famous. If I ever become brilliant, I promise not to become a terrible person.

The issue of slavery raises so many interesting questions, it makes me wonder why the social studies is not studied in more of an exploration format. The method of evaluation by which "essential knowledge" of social studies is typically measured, with predominantly simple right or wrong answers, communicates the subtle message that the source of truth is the all-knowing state, which knows which facts to include, and more importantly, which facts to leave out. Given the complexity of 21st century decisions, including the decision about who to vote for in the Presidential Election, the perpetuation of a view of history that involves simple right or wrong answers is exactly the wrong way to prepare students for a post-industrial future, where tough choices loom right over the horizon. In a country where elementary school band classes, in poor schools, are conducted in the teacher's lounge, something seems a little lacking in our nation's priorities. Oh, and by the way, playing musical instruments has been correlated with higher math scores, which remain so low, we have no time or money to teach music.