Saturday, December 12, 2020

School Leaders Who Never Learn Believe Students Can't Either

It's hard to overstate the lack of vision and foresight of Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza, but they continue to trip all over themselves day after day. The mayor just finished announcing that the one-third of students who signed up for in person learning, at least those in lower grades, might be able to attend five days a week. Evidently, that's the only way that students can catch up with Whatever It Is they need to catch up with.

Don't worry about the fact that it's likely impossible. The impossible is no barrier to Carranza or de Blasio. The important thing is to open the schools no matter what, as de Blasio tries to salvage his reputation as someone who is not simply a hapless and bumbling hack. We watched him stumble through a humiliating campaign for the Presidential nomination, one in which he won no more delegates than my dog did. (In fairness, my dog is much cuter than de Blasio will ever be.)

De Blasio spent the early part of this school year dithering with ridiculous, unworkable plans, Now that they've crashed and burned, he's finally opening slots for the virtual content specialists that will likely not be needed at all. He's reopened schools up to grade five in the face of an exploding pandemic. His principled stand to close schools when the city hit 3% positivity now lies trashed with every other principle he's abandoned. The question is no longer whether these buildings will close again, but when. I only hope it's soon.

Meanwhile, he and the chancellor have other genius ideas to tinker with. In Tweed World, no one learns anything from actual events. Take this pandemic, for example. It doesn't actually mean anything, and students will acquire neither wisdom nor knowledge from it. They will not notice that they are at home learning in front of a computer screen. Nor will they see anything different about sitting masked in a socially-distant classroom in which interaction is sorely limited. And even if they did, how would that make them College and Career Ready?

Evidently, in the world of top educator Richard Carranza, there is no such thing as a teachable moment. If that were true, he'd look around, notice that 3,000 Americans are now dying a day, and say to himself, "You know, maybe it would be a good idea not to send thousands of children to school buildings every day when there is a viable alternative." The mayor would say, "Hey, maybe it would be a good thing if we used all resources at our disposal to keep positivity down."

That's not happening, of course. And if our leaders are so patently incapable of detecting the most obvious implications from a crisis, it stands to reason they wouldn't determine others to be more capable. Oddly, a lot of us who actually do the work tend to learn from experience. The longer we do this job, the more resources we have. A lot of us tend to believe that our students also learn from experience, and we try to provide or at least replicate experiences in our classrooms. A lot of us English teachers see fiction as a tool from which we learn vicariously by seeing through the eyes of others.

Of course, we are ridiculed by educational leaders like the visionary David Coleman, architect of the Common Core, who famously pointed out that no one gives a shit what you think. From my perspective, as someone who teaches writing, that seems blatantly absurd. But I'm not in charge, My approach to writing is, in fact, to see what students write and attempt to respond on a holistic or human level. I'm negligent in that I fail to teach the valuable formulas for writing, like those used on the NY State English Regents, unless I'm compelled to help students Pass the Test. In fact, I'd think that living through something like a pandemic would add to experience and give a whole lot of people something worth writing about.

Of course, primitive ideas like those are far from embraced by Tweed. They know things over there that I never will. No teacher would tell you that they don't give a crap about class sizes, but someone from Tweed told me that straight to my face. So they don't care about class sizes, they don't value your experiences, and they don't care what we or our students think. From that perspective, what can they offer students in terms of education?

Well, the mayor and chancellor are in agreement. What we need is more testing. That will somehow compensate for the time students spent without having this valuable testing in their lives. We had to cancel the tests last June, we are canceling them in January, and it very much appears that we won't have them next June either. Now there are those of us who think that the tests are total crap anyway, but we certainly aren't in charge. 

We are fortunate to have visionary leaders like de Blasio and Carranza, willing to double down on testing to make up for valuable time lost. Not only that, but since so many of our students have had class time replaced by time in front of a computer, they're going to pay other geniuses millions of dollars to have kids spend more time sitting in front of computers. Maybe, rather than reflect on the pandemic, our students will dream of Ghosts of Regents Exams Past.

In any case, when we are finally back to safe, in-person, actual class time, rather than learn from our errors, de Blasio and Carranza appear ready and willing to flush millions of dollars away to parasitical entities looking to get rich on the backs of our kids. Some people never learn. It's too bad such people can't credit the abilities of others, like NYC's 1.1 million public schoolchildren. Most of them haven't yet learned to believe that learning is impossible, but tools like Richard Carranza are ready and willing to bore them to death until they do.

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