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

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Unalienable Rights

I just dropped off Ali at home after working at library with him until 9 pm. With binders due for a final inspection on April 2nd, before they are submitted for grading, Ali and I are running out of time. We will work Friday night again in his home. Last Friday night, Ali's mom fed me Ethiopian fried spinach with rice.

This Saturday, since I still need to assess Ali on the Constitution, and still need to teach an assess him on Westward Expansion and the Civil War, I will miss Joe's first baseball game on Saturday. Joe will be pitching. On Sunday, Ali will continue. Afterwards, when opportunities present themselves, I will need to find a way to grade all the papers from the 3rd quarter that remain ungraded. Is it any wonder why I never have time to exercise? When do I have time to hit the gym? How am I supposed to take care of myself?

So far in exhibition games, Joe has pitched three innings of no hit ball. He is able to locate his pitches, and with his bat speed up to 75 miles per hour, his throwing velocity is a little faster. Joe will likely get several hits, many of which will go for extra bases, because Joe has such a polished, mature approach at the plate. If he gets on base, since he is lightening fast, he will probably steal a few bases and score. Last year, Joe rode the bench. This year, Joe will get to be a star on his JV team.

Last Saturday, Joe's hitting coach, Chuck Hoyle, expanded Joe's understanding of the concept of a "hitter's count," where the hitter has a good idea of what pitch he should expect, particularly when the count is 2-0 (two balls and one strike.) In a 2-0 count, the pitcher wants the hitter to "chase" a ball off the plate, generally 2 to 3 ball diameters away from the plate, so Joe did a drill where the pitching machine pitched, first fastballs, then curveballs, off the plate, out of the strike zone, but where an umpire might not see properly because of "paralax". On this difficult drill, Joe was consistently crushing balls to right center -- not a single missed ball. Chuck wants Joe's eyes to light up when he gets into a hitters count, but I will miss seeing Joe's eyes light up when he gets into a "hitter's count." Joe has such a highly trained eye at the plate, and he has practiced his strategies for working the count so effectively, I am certain he will not waste any of these opportunities.

Hopefully, Joe won't be too resentful that, for now, Ali is getting so much of my time. Mabel typically gets what's left. Joe is largely on his own, fending for himself as a student athlete. At least my wife Karen will be there. Tonight, I let Ali know that he better work hard, because I will be missing Joe's baseball game. No playing around. Ali did his part tonight. Maybe it was the Fish Fillet, fries, and a Dr. Pepper, for Ali was on his game tonight.

Last year, somebody made the decision not to place Ali in a "self-contained" class for U.S. History to 1865, I would assume, not because a team-taught environment would allow him better access the general education curriculum, but because the multidisciplinary team who constructed is IEP probably concluded that, because of Ali's severe decoding deficiencies, and difficulties with auditory processing, Ali had little chance of generating enough evidence to construct a "passing binder." In other words, I would argue, Ali's multiple disciplinary team gave up on him, probably because the cost of putting together these binders is so incredibly high, but who is paying the price? For now, I am essentially investing my resources to make it happen. That's what people do when they are desperate, and also a little bit crazy. Truly, what other choice did I have?

When I forwarded to Dr. P the letter I recently received from the Superintendent's office that my contract would not be renewed, he told me not to worry. I told him not to worry, that whatever happens, I would not let him down.

Tonight, as I was explaining that, according to the Declaration of Independence, in accordance to the philosophy of government expounded upon by John Locke, the purpose of government was to protect the "unalienable rights of people," it became clear to me that Ali had little understanding of the meaning of political "power" or more generally the nature of social tools. After some discussion, Ali concluded that having power would be a good thing: "I want power," Ali realized.

Ali was having difficulties differentiating between Locke's wording to "life, liberty, and property," versus Jefferson's change to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," so I explained that America, at it's birth, had an original sin, slavery, and that Jefferson's opposition to the institution of slavery, despite being a slaveholder himself, probably led him to eliminate Locke's emphasis on a right to "property" from the Declaration of Independence. My father, would argue, on the other hand, that George Mason, who incorporated "life, liberty, and property" into the Virginia Declaration of Rights, must have been extremely disappointed in Jefferson's omission of, leading with the means of acquiring and possessing property" as an unalienable right. Many people today, I explained, unlike Bill Gates, have little or no power because most people lack the means of acquiring and possessing property.

All of the other 6th grade history students who are doing portfolio assessment are in Mr. McDuff's self-contained history class. A few other students in Mr. Sherman's team-taught class should have probably been doing portfolio assessment with Mr. McDuff in his self-contained class, but when there was any doubt, where students were passing multiple choice tests, I opted to go with traditional multiple choice state test -- I had a sneaking suspicion that portfolio assessment would be a tricky, costly affair. Although I worry that some of these students for whom I decided not to move forward with portfolio assessment, will most likely not pass state testing, based on declining results in multiple choice testing, I feel comfortable that their placement in a class with Mr. Sherman, probably the best history teacher I have ever come across, has been appropriate, both from an educational and educational resources standpoint.

A few students in Mr. McDuff's class have proven unable to generate sufficient evidence. Peter, a charter member of my unholy trinity from 4th period, for example, cannot handle portfolio assessment in Mr. McDuff's class. Given the trend in education toward increased accountability through tests, tests, tests, we are seeing students like Peter, whose likelihood of earning a high school diploma, despite Special Education Services and accommodations, already in 6th grade, appearing slim to none. With portfolio binders due several weeks before the online state US History test, Mr. McDuff wisely "punted" with students like Peter, who clearly are not going to make it.

When the decision to go forward with Ali's binder, truly I had little idea of what to expect, other than I knew I had my work cut out for me. I wondered why Dr. P wanted me to embark on such a costly, risky assignment. My guess is that Dr. P sensed that I needed a challenge and that taking on this assignment would lead me to rise to the occasion. Or, maybe Dr. P wanted to provide me an opportunity to become more engaged in the process of teaching a "2nd prep" or subject, so as a Special Education Teacher I could develop more valuable skills.

According to the principles under IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) Federal Law that all students are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). The "appropriateness" of a student's placement is largely interpreted in decisions that hinge on what the multidisciplinary team concludes is the Least Restrictive Environment:

To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily. (IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1412)

Tonight, Ali was able to generate "evidence" that he could describe the political ideas that led to the American Revolution, including the political thinking of John Locke, who argued that every person has an unalienable right to life, liberty, and property.

Ali was also able to describe the location of Ghana (300-1200 AD), Mali (1200-1400 AD), and Songhai (1400-1600 AD), as well as explain how these empires rose to power by controlling the salt and gold trade, heavily taxing traders who came south in caravans through their cities and offering protection, through silent barter, and later by trading gold with Portugese traders for European manufactured goods.

But what's the point? It all seems like a huge gamble to me. On the other hand, seemingly impossible challenges invigorate me. If it were up to me, I would fly a Jolly Roger. What do I care if I crash and burn? The thrill is what makes it fun!

After reading my previous post that, because of my lack of sleep, my voice had slurred, my mom was unrelenting until I called Dr. Prinz to report the incident. Mom feared that I might be about to have a major stroke. Personally, I felt my words were blown out of proportion. Because of my diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as my slurred speech, however Dr. Prinz strongly recommended that I have a Carotid Doppler test, sooner and not later, so he could see whether blood flow to my brain was being compromised. Thus, on my birthday, I was at the hospital having my carotid artery examined. The Innova clinic in Franconia, thankfully, made it a relatively painless, hassle-free affair.

My birthday examination revealed a "moderate" build up of plaque in my left side, and a "mild" build up on my right side. My mom insisted that I sign a release so she could have access to my medical records and advocate for me, and provide family historical context, something for which I was a little uncomfortable, but also on some level appreciated. Fortunately, since I was willing to grant verbal access to my information with Dr. Prinz, I was willing to compromise and keep mom happy without granting too much of an intrusion. Mom pushed her way into coming to my appointment where Dr. Prinz rolled out my medications plan and we discussed some medical goals.

Dr. Prinz prescribed a statin and blood pressure medication to address my macro-vascular issues. Diabetes, he explained, affects micro-vascular issues, such as eyes, kidneys, etc., but the more urgent priority is to take care of the plaque buildup in my arteries and begin making lifestyle changes. The Daily Double needs to no longer be literally a daily drive through staple. And I need to find time to take care of myself. Spring vacation cannot come soon enough.

Bottom line: I need to exercise more, eat less, and take new medications. Taking medications is easy. Changing a lifestyle is not.

A mountain of debt, in my mind, makes keeping my job a more urgent priority than maintaining my health -- that was a huge factor in me moving forward with portfolio assessment with Ali. Captain Ahab would be proud of my unrelenting pursuit of the White Whale of education - Adequate Yearly Progress.

Lacking the means of acquiring and possessing sufficient property to have any sense of job security and true independence, with my mom feeling she needs to intervene with me so that I protect my health, I wondered aloud to Ali whether government is protecting the average person's unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property. Alluding to the homeless person Ali noticed recently, I argued that, unlike Bill Gates, who thanks the capital he owns, his property, probably earns a million dollars in the time we drink a soda, the average person has little power and little sense that government is functioning for the people by the people. I reminded Ali of Locke's exhortation, that when government ceases to do it's job, the people have an obligation to work together to change the government. Even a kid with a severe decoding deficiency could understand that. Who knows, perhaps that's the payoff.