Monday, September 9, 2013

"What the Thunder Said . . . ."

This morning I was greeted with the good news that Russian president Putin is leaning on Syrian president Assad to give up his chemical weapons and play nice on the world stage.  Hey, I'll happily let Putin claim the next Peace Prize when he pulls this off, saving all of us from a wider conflagration, especially the Syrian people.  I mention this amazing turn of events because today marks a new era in some indescribable way, as though we have passed the halfway point in our race, as though we have reached a tipping point, and in many ways, we have:  The American people have overwhelmingly spoken out AGAINST an attack on Syria and, by extension, against war, not only because we are tired of war and of the billions of dollars that drain away into its big black hole, but also because we are FOR peace--and most dramatic of all, we have ignored party lines to make this statement.  We are FOR humanity, and for a peaceful resolution through negotiation, and for policing of chemical weapons by the United Nations.  We are FOR a resolution for Syria that does not create more death and suffering and that, ladies and gentlemen, is a huge step forward for America on the world stage.  

I am encouraged by the appearance of such forward thinking organizations as YES! magazine, which this week featured a cogent article by its executive editor, Syria: Six Alternatives to Military Strikes, an article that I have made my family read, enumerating the steps all of us out here on the ground
have been talking about all week, as though someone has finally heard us.   Such is the power of the alternative media to report what is really going on outside the rarified enclaves of New York and Washington and other media hubs.

At the same time today, I received a notice from A World at School, a new international organization committed to education for every child, everywhere in the world, following the work of the heroic Pakistani girl who stood up to the Taliban and survived their attack, Malala Yousafzai.   Having already been recognized by the United Nations, the organization will on September 23rd present their plan for funding education for the 1.9 MILLION children between grades 1-9 who have been displaced by the ongoing Syrian civil war.  This is activism on a united, global level, unprecedented for a grassroots campaign anywhere in the world.  What each of us can do to help is enumerated, including a petition to sign and a well structured plan that you can read on PDF.  Their plan is brilliantly called Education Without Borders and nothing could be more important to the achievement of real and lasting world peace than this new effort to unite children through a commitment to their education.

These and many other signs--the Occupy campaign, Elon Musk's cutting edge technology, the joining up by the millions of people all over the world through the internet, the proliferation of global businesses that further shrink the world into a malleable size--point directly to the new millennium's dawning at long last.

Having fought our way through thirteen years of horror, war, violent political infighting, a glut of bad movie remakes and comic book heroes, we seem just about to walk through a new door, at the end of that tunnel of light forming at the edge of the world.  But don't be afraid.  It is the door we've been seeking for hundreds of years or perhaps millennia, where our intelligence and our emotional commitment are finally mature enough to create real change in the real world, the moment when the universal pendulum stops going backward into the past, pauses at this exact moment of time, and begins its forward swing again. 

For decades I have been saying Forward to the Future as the antidote to the reactionaries who drew public education Back to the Basics and began a forty-year downward spiral of American education and of American intelligence on the broadest level.  I am happy to proclaim that, at this moment, the forces of good, humanism, intelligence, and compassion seem to be pushing back the darkness and making it possible for the voices of the people, all over the world, to be heard.  All of us are now charged with the responsibility of continuing this movement, of extending and expanding this change of consciousness, and of speaking up at every opportunity to change the world into that dream that each of us holds in our heart of hearts.   It is ALL possible!

As for me, I am taking a long break from years of web posts, newsletters, radio interviews and all the other ways I have tried to drop new memes into the zeitgeist so I can concentrate on writing my second novel, which will, indeed, be all about those changes of consciousness that change the world.  If you haven't read my first novel about a school leader's death and the corruption of public education, ANGEL PARK, I hope you will buy it and read it soon, since it tells the true and fully fictionalized story of what's really going on in our schools and the mystery the heroine solves to discover her own new world.   Yes, I have called it a philosophical mystery at times, and here are the acclaim and awards it has won, along with the responses of real readers on Amazon and Barnes and Noble sites.  In the meantime, you may be interested in what I have to say on my website, which will be staying as is for now, showing the many ways that Changing the Schools Can Change the World.   You will find a wealth of articles and links to point you toward ways you can take part.  I'll be back next summer with a completed manuscript in hand (I say, urging myself forward) and we'll see how the world is doing then . . . . "Shantih.  Shantih.  Shantih."

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Education Gold Rush is ON . . . .

I keep thinking that I'm going to be leaving education behind and writing another, more inspirational novel, and I'll probably do that, too, but I just can't turn my back on the biggest single issue on my mind:  If we don't lead toward the future and prepare the way for an EVOLUTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS, then what will become of the Earth and all its people, what will become of the American experiment, what will become of all our hopes and dreams? After all, the whole world is watching how we handle our appalling gun problems, our political infighting, our racial divides, our growing levels of poverty while the rich get richer.  What are we doing about human progress?

The answer to this urge for evolution lies solidly within what we give to and leave future generations, and right now, we're just not doing a very good job for them, either in their education or in the example we are setting (for rational debate, for good decisions, for helping others, you name it!).  Thus, the SCHOOL issue, the educating of our children, continues to hold a central place in my imagination as the ONE PLACE where a change of mind can change the world. 

To that end, I offer this article from The Washington Post, on Valerie Strauss' "The Answer Sheet," an article by a teacher who learned about the complexities of changing education and drew some conclusions based on actual research.  Read "Five Basic Lessons on Public Education" and notice the MUCH different story it tells about the viability of the public school system.  I could quote voluminously from the conclusions reached here, since nearly every one is informative, but let me just point out the biggest inequity that makes the system as a whole appear to be failing: Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds continue to regress as they go through school based on outside factors that hamper their lives. POVERTY is the real problem, and people who listened at the time know THAT is the issue that Martin Luther King was ultimately talking about.

This is not to condone the current industrial paradigm under which public education operates, of course, merely to point out real information that gets glossed over in the corporate drive to BUY PUBLIC EDUCATION--from the wily testing companies to the privatizers to the now-legion creators of online "textbooks" that they say will revolutionize schools. Right. Yes, the kids need to be online, so their personalized computer programs can track their responses and adjust for them, but we were doing that with stand-alone programs in 1980 and no one was very impressed. 

What we do NOT need is a public education system that becomes a subsidiary of techno-world, where every developer and his brother is now rushing to promote his program to the multibillion dollar education industry--the biggest untapped Mother Lode since the gold rush. FOLLOW THE MONEY, and speak up!! We need to save our kids not only from faceless bureaucracy but also from mindless corporatization and economic exploitation.

The issue here is that we cannot allow the politicians and CEOs to call the tune.  We cannot allow the privatizers with dollar signs in their eyes to raid our school budgets.  We cannot allow yet another round of new "textbooks"--online this time--drain our money and homogenize our kids' brains and fit so neatly into ever-useless "standardized tests."  Somewhere in this mess of mass media manipulation (such GREAT alliteration, yes?) is the real story:  We need talent in our teacher pool.  We need a  growth model that supports our talent.  We need creative approaches that focus on real work in real time so our kids don't drop out from sheer boredom.  We need to lift the bureaucracy off the backs of teachers, students, and parents and create a nurturing environment for the good of those involved as well as the rest of the world and the planet.  All of this moves us toward the aforementioned EVOLUTION of CONSCIOUSNESS which will take us racing into a better future, leaving the old paradigms and old arguments and older wars behind.  Speak up, about a world worth working for . . . .

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Texas Superintendent Takes on the Legislature

Every once in a while, someone will make a speech that transcends its direct purpose and speaks to a universal need and a common understanding.  That is the case in a speech made in a rally held last month to Save Texas Schools, by a superintendent with whom I have corresponded, the leader of a small Texas school district beset by the financial and cultural issues that are strangling all of our schools right now.  His name is John Kuhn; remember it.  You will be hearing it again, because he truly understands, as an educator, as a taxpayer, and as a parent why PUBLIC schools (despite all their warts and deficiencies) must be saved.  They are one of the only touchstones left of the American way of life and even of the American Dream, the dream that you can become what you dream, that you can make it real.  John is talking to an audience of Texans, who have a proud history of standing and fighting, and that's what he encourages them to do . . . parents, teachers, kids, all together, fighting to save our heritage and our future:

John Kuhn's Rally Speech
By John Kuhn - Supt

Are there any teachers in this crowd?

I want to say something to teachers that our lawmakers should have said long ago: Thank You! Thank you for keeping our children safe. Thank you for drying their tears when they scrape their knees, for cheering on our junior high basketball players, for going up to your room on Sundays to get ready to teach my kids on Monday. Gracias por cuidarlos! As a dad, I thank you.

Coaches, thank you for fixing little girls' softball swings and for showing our boys how to tie their ties. Thank you for getting our children safely home on the yellow dog after late ballgames, marching contests, and one-act plays.

Thank you for buying all those raffle tickets, hams, pies, discount cards, Girl Scout cookies, insulated mugs and pumpkin rolls, for buying more playoff shirts than any one person could possibly need and on top of all that spending your own money on pencils and prizes and supplies for your classroom.

There are those poor deluded souls who say you take more than you give, and I disagree with them with everything I am. Don’t let them get you down. They wouldn’t last a day in your classroom. You are NOT a drain on this economy; you are a bubbling spring of tomorrow’s prosperity. You’re a fountain of opportunity for other people’s children. As educational attainment goes up, crime, teen pregnancy, unemployment, and prison rates all go down. Squalor and ignorance retreat. Social wounds begin to heal. Our state progresses; our tomorrow brightens. What you do, teacher, is priceless. You don’t create jobs. You create job creators.

Some people don't understand why you do what you do. They think merit pay will make you work harder, as if you're holding back. They don’t understand what motivates you. They think the threat of being labeled "unacceptable" will inspire you to care about the quality of your instruction, as if the knowledge that you hold the future in your hands on a daily basis is not incentive enough.

Maybe these sticks and carrots work for bad teachers, but they only demoralize the great ones, and there are thousands and thousands and thousands of great teachers in our public school classrooms today.

Some people have forgotten that good teachers actually exist. They spend so much time and effort weeding out the bad ones that they’ve forgotten to take care of the good ones. This bitter accountability pesticide is over-spraying the weeds and wilting the entire garden.

You stand on the front lines of poverty and plenty, on the front lines of our social stratification. You are the people who shove their fingers into gushing wounds of inequality that our leaders won’t even talk about, and you aren’t afraid. You’re the last of the Good Samaritans, and you aren’t afraid, even as they condemn you for trying but failing to save every last kid in your classroom. You aren’t afraid, and you keep trying, and you haven’t faltered. You deserve to be saluted, not despised. You deserve to be acclaimed. You deserve so much more than the ugly scapegoating that privatizers peddle in the media and our halls of government.

Teacher, bus driver, coach, lunch lady, custodian, maintenance man, business manager, aide, secretary, principal, and, yes, even you superintendents out there trying to hold it all together—you serve your state with skill and honor and dignity, and I’m sorry that no one in power has the guts to say that these days. History will recognize that the epithets they applied to your schools said more about leaders who refused to confront child poverty than the teachers who tried valiantly to overcome it. History will recognize that teachers in these bleak years stood in desperate need of public policy help that never came. Advocacy for hurting children was ripped from our lips with a shush of “no excuses." These hateful labels should be hung around the necks of those who have allowed inequitable school funding to persist for decades, those who refuse to tend to the basic needs of our poorest children so that they may come to school ready to learn.

They say 100,000 kids are on a waiting list for charter schools. Let me tell you about another waiting list. There are 5 million kids waiting for this Legislature to keep our forefathers’ promises. There are 5 million children, and three of them live with me, and they’re all waiting for somebody in Austin, Texas, to stand up for them and uphold the constitution. There’s a waiting list of 5 million kids and this government says they can just keep waiting. How long must they wait?

If you support public schools I want to tell you about a new website. Go to and add your child's name to the public school waiting list, the list of kids waiting for this government to provide adequate school funding. That's

Our forefathers’ promises must be kept. We want fair and adequate resources in our kids' schools. We want leaders who don't have to be dragged to court to do right by our children.

It’s not okay to default on constitutional promises. It’s not okay to neglect schools until they break, to deliberately undermine our public school. These traditional institutions have honorably served their communities for generations. It’s not okay to privatize a public school system that strong and generous people built and left to us; it's not okay for Austin to confiscate buildings built by local taxpayers and give them away to cronies and speculators.

These buildings aren't just schools, they're touchstones. They're testaments to our local values. The Friday night lights that have illuminated our skies for decades, the school gyms that have echoed with play since the Greatest Generation was young—these aren’t monuments to sports. They’re monuments to community. They’re beacons of our local control, of the togetherness we cherish in our hometowns and city neighborhoods. We don’t want education fads imposed on us by Austin or, even worse, out-of-state billionaires.

What we want is simple, tried, and true. We want what this state promised in 1876. And to those who want to take away that promise, I know some moms and trustees and local businesspeople who will say what brave Texans have said before: “Come and take it.”

Two years ago I asked state leaders to come to our aid; they responded by cutting school funding by billions. But help did come: it came from you. The people of Texas are the cavalry that will save Texas schools. Two years ago may have been the Alamo; but this year may well be our San Jacinto.

I will end by saying this to the advocates who are bravely defending public education: thank you. And one more thing: do not go gently into that good night. Stand and fight, and save our schools.

Thank you.

(Ed. Note:  Yes, I thought the same thing that you are thinking now . . . Why can't we have a Secretary of Education like John, who actually BELIEVES in public education as a philosophical construct and who is not selling our entire system to the most vocal billionaire?   We need massive improvement, modernization, reorganization--all true--but at the end of all that, we need a strong PUBLIC education system that stands for EVERY child.)