COVID FATIGUE & OUTRAGE FATIGUE

Recently my neighbor Barry asked me how I was doing. Sighing, I responded, “I think I have Covid Fatigue. The months and months of confinement, uncertainty, bad news, and fear have worn me down, and I don’t have much energy or enthusiasm,” I told him. 

“It might not be Covid,” Barry said.  “Maybe you’re like me and have Outrage Fatigue.”  Because so many bad things are happening every day, he said, he and his wife were shutting out the news as much as they could, to keep from shutting down completely.

Barry is not a doctor, but I think he diagnosed my problem perfectly: I have both Covid Fatigue AND Outrage Fatigue.  And perhaps some of you suffer from this dual affliction as well.

Covid Fatigue is easy to define and understand, because we have been locked down for nearly 20 months.  Ennui is the most common sign.

As for Outrage Fatigue, I suspect that it is confined to active Democrats, Independents, and old style (I.E., Pre-Trump) Republicans.  To figure out if you are suffering from it, just ask yourself how you respond to any of these news stories:

The rising death toll among the vaccinated; 

Covid’s disparate impact on the poor and minorities; 

Republican-led efforts to restrict the votes of people of color;

Anti-vaxxers;

The media’s distorted coverage of anti-vaxxers;

Governor Ron DeSantis’ insistence on keeping Florida ‘open;’ 

The Texas abortion law; 

South Dakota Governor Kristi Hoem’s sending her state’s National Guard to monitor the Texas/Mexico border; 

Florida Senator Mario Rubio’s daily Biblical platitudes; 

Maine Senator Susan Collins’ regular expressions of ‘concern;’ 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to negotiate with Democrats on anything; 

The GOP’s refusal to condemn the January 6th insurrection; 

Or anything coming from Trump or his sons.  

If your internal temperature rises and your dander is up and you have to force yourself to calm down, you already have Outrage Fatigue, or soon will.

The outrageous ones have a distinct advantage, because they are focused on making us angry and impotent. They know how to push our buttons. They have been doing it long enough to put us on the sidelines. Because these are largely single-issue folks, they don’t get tired. They wake up every day pumped to defend the January 6th insurrectionists, or to protest mask mandates, or to work to suppress Democratic votes, or whatever their cause happens to be.

Unfortunately, most of us care about ALL of these issues.  And because most of us have a limited capacity for outrage, that’s putting our country at risk, as I see it. We care, and right now it hurts to care–but if we shut down and let the outrage triumph, we stand to lose our country to these quasi- or neo- or actual fascists.

Turning off the news may work for my neighbor, but if we all were to adopt that strategy, the bad guys would win.  I think we have to pick our issues, focus on two or three, and trust that others on our side will take care of the rest.

I hope some of you will decide to focus on what’s happening in public education, because public schools are in the eye of this hurricane we are experiencing and their survival is threatened.  Radical conservatives have always hated the notion of public education, and COVID-19 has offered them numerous opportunities to undercut the enterprise.

For example, Republican legislators in most states have introduced some form of voucher/tax credit, ostensibly to give public dollars to parents to spend on education as they see fit.  Of course, the amount isn’t enough to cover private school tuition, so the benefit would go to families whose children are already in private school and to families who can almost afford it already. Left behind would be the poor and those with disabling conditions, IE, the children who are most expensive to educate.  Many scholars and observers have raised concerns over the equity impacts of pandemic-era private schooling trends, with the situation in San Francisco providing a stark example: A year after schools first closed due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the one-third of students in the city enrolled in private school—disproportionately high-income or white, or both—by and large have the option to attend school in-person full-time. Meanwhile, public school students—disproportionately low-income or students of color, or both—remain in full-time online instruction.”

Organized rabble-rousers are focusing on School Boards that are considering mask mandates, often attending and disrupting meetings and threatening violence. Here’s one example from California.   US school board meetings have become battlegrounds for culture wars this year as schools debated how to resume in-person classes amid the pandemic. Parents have disrupted meetings, refused to wear masks and threatened school board members. A school board in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that was considering a temporary mask mandate cancelled its meeting last week after a crowd of 200 protesters surrounded the building, banged on doors and shouted at police.” 

Here’s another example from North Carolina.  Here’s another, from Florida.  

This situation has gotten so bad that the National School Boards Association has asked President Biden to intervene“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat,” reads the letter signed by NSBA President Viola M. Garcia and NSBA interim Executive Director and CEO Chip Slaven. “The National School Boards Association respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation.”

Teachers are horribly stressed, as are parents.  Kids need to be with each other–that’s a critical part of growing up–but they need to feel and be safe.

So, if you want to control your own Outrage Fatigue and at the same time be a force for good, please support your local public school system.  A national organization that is trying to coordinate supporters is the Network for Public Education, a non-profit entity. 

Thanks, and stay safe…but also stay active!

My Advice to Angry Trump Supporters

Danger is all around you from Democrats, but you can prevent disaster, both personal and national, by taking four simple steps.  Prevention is the best measure in these dangerous times, and these four steps will insulate your mind and heart from dangerous ideas and values and keep your body free from dangerous air.

  1. Prevent mind pollution.  Watch only Fox, OAN, and NewsMax television and listen only to Rush Limbaugh’s old radio programs.  Most of you do this already, but this one step is not sufficient.  You must follow the other three steps to save yourself and our country.
  1. Prevent lung pollution: Because there are more of ‘them’ than there are of you, it is literally impossible to avoid breathing the air that they breathe, except in the sanctity of your own home.  So in order to prevent your lungs from being polluted, always wear a mask whenever you venture outside.  (Some of you, no doubt, wear hoods on special evenings when your secret society meets, but occasional hood wear is not sufficient protection).
  1. Prevent  heart and soul pollution:  Join the right kind of Christian Church.  While some Christian Churches open their doors to immigrants and people with conflicting values, you can avoid them by doing a little bit of research.  Being among real Christians will keep your heart pure.
  1. Prevent body pollution:  This may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to keep your vital bodily fluids from being corrupted by the China virus that Democrats call COVID-19, you must get vaccinated.  

These four simple steps will protect your heart, your soul, your lungs, your vital bodily fluids, and your mind from Democrats, liberals, progressives, and others who don’t understand what it means to be a real American.

God Bless You All….

“Tucker Carlson Has Blood On His Hands”

Some people–quite a few, actually–are saying that Tucker Carlson has blood on his hands because his words have led directly to COVID-19 deaths. Well, I am here to vigorously defend the Fox News personality against that accusation.  How on earth could anyone prove that Mr. Carlson’s words, however inflammatory and false they might be, could have led directly to deaths from COVID-19?  That’s tantamount to calling Mr. Carlson a murderer!

In defending Mr. Carlson against accusation of manslaughter/murder, let me first stipulate five facts that I believe we can all agree on: 

1) Mr. Carlson is a vainglorious twit;  

2) He is a self-centered manipulator with a near-total disregard for the truth;

3) He knowingly broadcasts misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19;

4) He regularly provides a platform for charlatans peddling false and sometimes dangerous ‘cures’ for the disease; and

5)  He is a spoiled rich kid who has never worked at a real job for a single day but who is, no doubt, “laughing all the way to the bank” with the money he rakes in.

Nonetheless, none of this makes him a murderer.  To prove that assertion, you would have to find someone who died from COVID and convincingly link his or  her behavior to Mr. Carlson’s statements.  

I have been examining death reports and looking for links to Mr. Carlson, seeking to determine whether his fans are dying of COVID at a greater rate than among the general population. Are his fans less likely to be vaccinated, and can that be attributed to Mr. Carlson?

Take, for example, Leonard Vole of Laughton, Tennessee, who almost literally worshipped the ground Mr. Carlson walks on.  He watched the show religiously, taping every segment so he could watch them again during the day.  He steadfastly refused to get vaccinated, citing ‘evidence’ provided by Mr. Carlson and some of his guests.  And he also bought every book mentioned by Mr. Carlson, especially those written by the TV personality.  

Mr. Vole died of COVID-19 last month, but is that enough to bring charges against Mr. Carlson…and convict him?

Not even close.  Mr. Vole’s wife will testify that, while her husband bought the books, he could not read them because he was illiterate.  And Mr. Vole’s friends at Charlie’s Bar in downtown Laughton will swear that Lennie told them that he relied on other sources, including Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and former President Trump as support for his decision not to get vaccinated.

It should be obvious by now that Mr. Carlson need not fear indictment for murder or even manslaughter simply for spreading lies, distortions, and misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic,, and so he is free to keep lying, night after night, to the American public, because that’s just talk….

Now as for Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis, that’s a different kettle of fish….

ANOTHER NATIONAL EMERGENCY: NOT ENOUGH BIKE HELMETS

Is your home town or city suffering from a critical shortage of bike helmets, a situation that is nothing short of life-threatening. We live on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and we are desperately in need of bike helmets.  According to my own painstaking research, approximately 47.6% of on-island bike riders have not been able to buy, rent, or otherwise obtain bike helmets  and thus are forced to ride with their heads unprotected.  

In hard numbers, Martha’s Vineyard needs as many as 5,000 bike helmets for adults and children because that’s how many bikers are riding around with their heads unprotected. If–as I suspect–there’s a national shortage of these life-saving devices, then the US could possibly have as many helmetless riders as we do unvaccinated citizens.  That would be 93,000,000 people….and perhaps there’s a significant overlap among the two groups.  

How can I be sure that people riding without a helmet here on the Vineyard aren’t just being cavalier?  Well, for one thing, no one willingly rides without a helmet, because that’s risking a serious and possibly life-altering brain injury. Riding without wearing a bike helmet is something only willfully ignorant or desperately poor people do, and because Martha’s Vineyard attracts well-educated, financially secure people, we can reasonably assume that everyone would be wearing helmets if only they were available.

It’s heart-wrenching to see entire families riding around the Vineyard without helmets.  Sure, they are smiling bravely, putting on a good show of enjoying themselves, but it’s clear to me that they know they’re risking serious head injuries.  I am pretty sure that I’ve seen helmetless riders cycling with their fingers crossed, and I can easily imagine the adults lying awake at night worrying about the next day’s bike ride.

It’s particularly poignant to see cycling families where the children are wearing helmets while the parents are not. How Mom and Dad must have anguished about that decision.  Imagine their conversation after the children have gone to sleep:

DAD “Dear, we can afford only two helmets.  If the kids wear them and we have an accident, who will take care of them while we recover from our brain injuries–if in fact we recover at all?”  

MOM: “But if we wear helmets and the kids get badly injured, we’ll never forgive ourselves.”

DAD: “We can’t cancel biking because we promised the kids.”

MOM: “We have to protect our children.  So let’s give them the helmets. We must just smile and pretend nothing is wrong.’

This desperate crisis can can be solved here on the Vineyard (and perhaps in your community) in three ways: 

1) Cooperative helmet-sharing in which the ‘haves’ willingly loan their helmets to the helmet-poor on alternating days of the week.  We can create a Facebook page, and those who have helmets to share can list their names and town of residence.  And shame on any helmet-rich individuals who refuse to share!

2) A Steamship Authority surcharge of at least $5 per bike on all bikes arriving on ferries, even those on bike racks; and 

3) An EZ Pass toll system for those using our bike paths.  Toll booths can be set up at popular bike path junctions and on the roads to charge $10 for a day of biking. The booths can be manned by summer workers, and Dukes County can issue the EZ passes.

Steps 2 and 3 should raise enough money to have helmets shipped from helmet-rich countries like Portugal and Ecuador, while helmet-sharing, if we all pitch in, should see us through the crisis. 

One piece of contradictory evidence is troubling me: All the bike shops on the Vineyard say they have plenty of bike helmets in all shapes, colors, and sizes, and that suggests that perhaps the riders who are going helmetless are not desperate. Perhaps they are either willfully ignorant or desperately poor.

And they all seem to be pretty well-dressed.  Hmmmm…..

Thank You, Tucker Carlson

I am coming out of retirement to help Tucker Carlson save American public education, our children, and, by extension, our way of life.  But this is not about me; it’s about the brilliant campaign created by America’s premier ‘uber journalist,’ Tucker Carlson of Fox.  (I put ‘journalist’ in quotes not to disparage Mr. Carlson but to indicate that he stands head and shoulders above his pedestrian counterparts.)

Mr. Carlson has recognized that the greatest threat to America’s future is NOT climate change, the rich-poor wealth gap, Russian cyber warfare, or China. No, the greatest danger to our way of life is Critical Race Theory, which simply cannot be allowed to be taught in our schools.

Mr. Carlson’s solution is nothing short of brilliant: Cameras in every public school classroom so that teachers who try to subvert our youth by filling their heads with dangerous ideas can be identified, publicly shamed, and fired.

There are nay-sayers, of course: Short-sighted critics who maintain that cameras are an invasion of privacy. And some studies indicate that academic achievement suffers when everyone is under surveillance, but Mr. Carlson is not swayed; he keeps his eye on the prize: protecting young minds from getting in the habit of asking questions or even expressing doubts.

Putting cameras (and microphones) in every classroom will be expensive.  The U.S. has about 100,000 public schools, and, while some have only 10-15 classrooms, most of our 25,000 high schools probably have 100 or more classrooms. My best guess is that we have, in total, about 3,000,000 classrooms.

Because the typical American public school is at least 50 years old, wiring them will add to the cost.  For example, my old high school, P.D. Schreiber HS in Port Washington, NY, has 99 classrooms, including the gym spaces. When I taught there in the mid-60’s, the school was already 10 years old.  Face it, wiring a school that was built in 1953 for cameras and sound might require some serious (and expensive) work, just to get it ready for the high-tech equipment.

It will cost somewhere between $1,000 and $3,500 to install one camera in a classroom; microphones will be extra, of course, and full surveillance will probably require at least two cameras per classroom.  With discount pricing for large purchases, we should be able to bring the full price of fully equipping one classroom down to $4,000, for a grand total of more than $12,000,000,000.

Every school will also need a large room full of monitors and DVR’s, to watch and record all the goings-on.  Let’s say it’s about $100 for an adequate monitor and $200 for a DVR that can record 10 classrooms at once. Again factoring in discount pricing, that will cost somewhere between $160,000,000 and $200,000,000.

One minor downside: We will probably have to buy the cameras, microphones, and DVRs from Chinese, Tiawanese, or Swiss companies, because American companies missed the boat when it came to creating effective security systems.

But even if more than $13 billion leaves our shores without benefiting the American economy, Mr. Carlson’s plan will still create prosperity because it’s going to create several million jobs–the men and women who will spend their days watching our teachers, taking careful notes, and, inevitably, bearing witness against those teachers who are polluting the minds of our children.

I hope Mr. Carlson will support giving employment preference to devoted viewers of the Fox channel, because their antennae will be sensitive to what matters.  They will be able to spot “Critical Race Theory” easily, because Mr. Carlson and his colleagues have educated them.

We will need to hire at least a million of these “Watchers” at a cost of roughly $40,000 per year, for a total of $4,000,000,000.  This will be an annual expense

Let me be blunt about what’s at stake: If you are not willing to spend more than $17,000,000,000 to save our nation from subversion, I think you should leave the country now.

Because I believe I can help Mr. Carlson save America, I am coming out of retirement.  I have created an on-line training program for “Watchers,” which provides basic training in recognizing the educational subversion known as Critical Race Theory.

Those who enroll will learn in a few short lessons how to spot the seven signs of probable CRT.  Just to tease you (and hopefully persuade you to sign on), one CRT-associated behavior to be on the lookout for is Enthusiasm--Students raising their hands, talking excitedly, and even expressing happiness.  That alone isn’t definitive proof of CRT, but it constitutes ‘probable cause,’ in my experience.

I am calling the program, which costs only $100 per adult learner, the “Critical Race Aggressive Pedagogy Trap,” or “CRAP TRAP.”  You can sign up here, or you can meet me on the corner of Morse and Fuller Streets and hand me the cash.

One unexpected benefit of Mr. Carlson’s inspired campaign to save America will be a surge in  popularity for Mr. Carlson himself.  He needs the boost because he has been losing viewers recently to COVID.  These unfortunate now-dead viewers, known colloquially as “Tucker’s Suckers,” refused to get vaccinated, contracted COVID, and died. 

Apparently all those who died had received bad advice about vaccination from unidentified trusted sources.  

Journalistic Integrity, Thy Name is FOX!

The George Foster Peabody Award is broadcasting’s highest honor, and so, when the Peabody Committee announced the creation of a Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity, I naturally assumed that it would go to either Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, or Laura Ingraham, the shining lights of the Fox Television empire.  The only challenge for the Peabody Judges would be to choose among the three. 

I suspect that most of you had the same thoughts.

After all, integrity is a straightforward concept. The dictionary defines it as “The quality or state of being complete or undivided.”  I ask you, who better fills that bill than Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham?   To say that the trio may not technically be ‘journalists’ is nit-picking of the worst order.  After all, millions of Americans turn to them for advice on what to believe.  And they deliver a world-view that is also a rallying cry that tells them they are not alone.  

Again, integrity means structural consistency that can be relied on.  Imagine, if you will, a building that lacks structural integrity. Parts of it could collapse at any time.  Most of us want the same in our journalists, and the Fox trio provides exactly that: no ambiguity, no gray areas, and no contradictions.  Like their spiritual father Rush Limbaugh, they help their loyal viewers navigate a complex world by bringing clarity and eliminating nuance.  That’s award-winning journalism!!

Integrity also means incorruptibility, and any objective observer of the Fox trio must acknowledge that their presentations are never corrupted or even influenced by anything outside their own reality.  Or by facts.

For example, Tucker Carlson is unwavering in his assertions that immigrants and the Black Lives Matter movement pose a threat to America. Even in the face of evidence to the contrary, Carlson has maintained his integrity.  

Sean Hannity is also a pillar of integrity and consistency, telling his devoted followers that the January 6th insurrection was staged by anti-fascists with the covert assistance of the FBI, even though there’s no evidence to support him.

And Laura Ingraham is their match for incorruptibility.  She asserts with unwavering certainty and near monotonous regularity that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen from Donald J. Trump, ignoring the 60+ lawsuits that went against Trump and strong evidence that the election was the most secure in our nation’s history. 

That is integrity, structural consistency, and incorruptibility.  No silly arguments, no wishy-washy “On the one hand/on the other hand”’ garbage, and no confusing back-and-forth debating with people who might disagree with them.  

I can only assume that the Peabody judges could not bear to choose among Ingraham, Carlson, and Hannity and opted for a compromise.  As you probably know, they gave the coveted Peabody Award for Journalistic Integrity to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour.

Frankly, I don’t get it.  Woodruff is anything but unwavering. If anything, I would say that she is consistently wobbly.  For example, she regularly gives air-time to people with opposing viewpoints and lets them argue, and she never steps in to tell us who is right. In fact, that seems to be a fetish of hers.   

Worse yet–unlike Carlson, Hannity, and Ingraham–Woodruff never tells us how she feels about the issues.  I have been watching the PBS NewsHour for decades and still have no idea of her politics.  

What kind of journalism is that?  How on earth are we to proceed without direction?  

80 Years, 83 Miles!

The good news: Yesterday I managed to bike 83 miles, the day before I turned 80.

The less good news: This morning I am an aching 80-year-old.

So my trivial pursuit is over, and we can now focus all our energy on saving our democratic republic from the wanna-be fascists who don’t want certain types of citizens to vote and who don’t want unimaginably rich Americans to pay their fair share in taxes.

Last week I asked everyone to consider donating to The Island Housing Trust here on Martha’s Vineyard, the Network for Public Education, the Education Writers Association, the Hechinger Report, and Chalkbeat.  Many of you have done that, for which I thank you.  All of these invaluable organizations are making a huge difference and need public support to keep on doing their important work. 

Shout outs to my good friend and neighbor Joe Frelinghuysen, who biked 27 miles with me, and to my wife, Joan, who joined me for 11 miles AND brought a delicious lunch.

(Incidentally, June 14th is also the birthday of the US Army (founded on this day in 1775), my former NPR colleague Jay Kernis, my former PBS colleague Glenn Marcus, and Che Guevara…..but no one else worth mentioning as far as I know.)

Onward!!!

CYCLING FOR CASH, BIKING FOR BUCKS

Lord willing, I will celebrate my 80th birthday in a few days, and on that day I will once again attempt to bike my age.  I began this admittedly trivial pursuit in 2011, the year I turned 70, and have managed to do it successfully for 10 consecutive years. However, the challenge is becoming tougher as my body ages and the distance increases. 

An athletic nephew has suggested that I switch to kilometers, and that day may be fast approaching….but not this year.  

Because 80 seems like an important milestone and in an effort to make this more than just a personal challenge, I am biking for dollars. Let’s call it “My sore butt for your big bucks!”  

Here’s my pitch:  If I do make it to the finish line, I hope that many of you will open your wallets and contribute $80, $800, or some other multiple of 80 to a significant charity.

At a minimum, I’m trying to divert your attention, for a while anyway, away from all the crises and challenges facing our nation. 

As for what organizations you might consider donating to, I have some suggestions: If you believe that quality reporting about education is important, please consider a tax-deductible gift to the Education Writers Association, the Hechinger Report, or Chalkbeat.  

If you value public education, please consider donating to the Network for Public Education.  

Your local food bank would appreciate a donation, but if you want to help the island that Joan and I live on, please donate to the Island Housing Trust, which is building affordable housing for the island’s teachers, firefighters, and others who keep things running.

And if your donation is going to a familiar group, I hope you will bump up your gift by at least $80. 

Some of you may remember that last year I got tricked into thinking that my ride would be televised on ESPN, under the auspices of a Swedish-based sporting group called ABBA.   Eventually I figured out that ABBA is a singing group and there would be no television.   

Then, because of a technological difficulty that called into question whether my original measurement was accurate, I ended up doing the 79-mile ride twice, three days apart.  Unfortunately, the international rules governing these events do not allow stockpiling of miles. If they did, I could and would sleep in on June 14th!

So, what are the odds that I can bike 80 miles on my 80th birthday?  

BAD: My longest training ride this year is only 36 miles.

GOOD: I will be cycling on a mostly flat course.  

BAD: I’m 10 pounds heavier than I had hoped to weigh on the big day. 

GOOD:I will have company for part of the ride.

BAD: This island is windy

GOOD: I’m stubborn…  

In a few days, we’ll find out what that adds up to. 

But as I write this, I’m feeling confident.  So here’s my pitch: If you will post your pledge on the blog for all to see AND if I don’t make it, I will personally make good on your pledge.  

Do Teachers Matter?

What if you were to close your eyes and picture the people–not family members–who helped make you a better person?  How many of the men and women now visible in your mind’s eye were your teachers? 

For me, three teachers changed my life; they improved my attitude, helped shape my worldview, and strengthened my sense of self-worth: My first grade teacher, Mrs. Peterson; my 12th grade English teacher, Mr. Sullivan; and my graduate school thesis advisor, David Cohen.  There were others, of course, but those three are easy for me to picture. 

This isn’t the first time I have asked people to do this. In a fun bit of reporting some years back, we asked some prominent Americans, including Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Jesse Jackson, Phylicia Rashad, and Edward James Olmos, to tell us about the teachers who changed their lives for the better. To a person, each identified a woman or a man who refused to allow them to do substandard work, teachers who pushed, prodded, and cajoled them.  That’s what most teachers do–when we give them the time, the tools, and the opportunities.

I am hoping to make this issue personal because all across America teachers, and public education more broadly, are under fierce attack. This is an unfortunate and disturbing continuation of a pattern that began years ago and accelerated during the four years that Betsy DeVos was U.S. Secretary of Education.  

As a consequence, public education today is facing a looming teacher shortage, as more veterans (especially teachers of color) are leaving the field, and teacher education programs are struggling to keep their enrollment up.   

I have been posting on this blog for well over a dozen years now, and to my great surprise one particular post from 2015 attracts about a dozen readers every single day, from all over the world.  It’s this one, in which I ask whether teaching is a real profession or just a job?   With the possible exception of my long exposé of Michelle Rhee’s deceptions, it is the most widely-read piece I’ve ever penned.

I’m betting many of the readers are teachers or would-be teachers.  Naturally, I nurse the hope that the current U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, will read it, because I don’t think the Administration is aware of public education’s dire situation.  These times call for aggressive (and progressive) action. Smaller classes, for openers.  

Unfortunately, Dr. Cardona and the Biden Administration seem to be serving up more of the ‘same old, same old:’  More high stakes standardized bubble testing, more close scrutiny of classrooms, more highly-paid supervisors, and ever more crowded classrooms.  

In a nutshell, we ought to be making it more difficult to BECOME a teacher but much easier to BE one.  We ought to raise salaries AND standards. Communities ought to decide on outcomes–what we want our children (all of them) to be able to do.  And then we have to learn to trust the men and women in our classrooms to do what’s necessary to achieve those outcomes.   I wrote about this in some detail in “Addicted to Reform: A 12-Step Program to Rescue Public Education.”   If you are interested in learning more, it’s available from Amazon, although I’d prefer you get it from your local bookseller.

If you had teachers who made you a better, more complete person, shouldn’t you be acting to ensure that today’s children experience the same blessing?

Is Teaching a Profession, an Occupation, a Calling, or a Job?

(Because this 2015 essay continues to attract readers from around the world, I am reprinting it, edited to include contributions from thoughtful readers.)

“So, are they quitting because they’re fed up with their heavy-handed union bosses?” The hostility of the question took me by surprise. I was explaining to my dinner companion, a veteran lawyer, that 40% of teachers leave the field within five years, and right away he jumped to his anti-union conclusion disguised as a question.

No, I explained. Unions don’t seem to have anything to do with it; it’s most often related to working conditions: class size, discipline policies, and how much control and influence they have over their daily activities.

“It’s not money?” he asked, aggressively suspicious. Not according to surveys, I explained.

I described what I’d seen of a teacher’s daily work life. He interrupted, “How can it be a profession if you can’t take a leak when you need to?

While that’s not a criterion that social scientists use to define a profession, my cut-to-the-chase acquaintance might be onto something.

Can teaching be a true profession if you can’t take a bathroom break when nature calls?

(Many teachers were upset by that comment. Teacher Susan Graham wrote, “It seems to me that taking a bathroom break whenever the individual feels the urge has little to do with professionalism and a lot to do with time, context and management of workflow.  Do lawyers take a “potty break” when ever they want? I can’t remember a single episode of Law and Order where a recess was called for Jack McCoy to “take a leak” or “Claire Kincaid to “go to the ladies room.” Of course that’s just TV. A lawyer would tell you that they spend most of their time meeting with clients, collecting information, reviewing case history, meeting analyzing potential outcomes, negotiating with other lawyers, and preparing presentations. The courtroom is just the tip of the iceberg.
The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be an awareness that the time in front of the classroom is the tip of the iceberg of teaching. No, teachers don’t get to “go” whenever they need to. For one thing, teachers are expected to practice in isolation, something neither “professionals” or “knowledge workers” rarely do. Not having “enough time to pee” isn’t as much of a complaint as not having enough time to plan, to assess student work, to collaborate with colleagues, to do or read research, to make meaningful contact with parents. Teachers don’t expect to stroll out of the classroom for a potty break any more than lawyers expect to “take a leak” during the middle of cross examining a witness. What they seek is acknowledgement that teaching is highly complex work.
Whether you call us “professionals” or “knowledge workers”, what we want is enough time to do our job well; the discretion to apply the knowledge and skills we have worked to acquire; sufficient collaboration to continue to inform and improve our practice; and respect for our intention to act in the best interest of our students.”)

Certainly, teachers and their supporters want teaching to be seen as a profession. They’ve won the linguistic battle. If you Google ‘the teaching profession,’ you’ll get nearly 3 billion references, while ‘teaching as an occupation’ and ‘the teaching occupation’ produce only 69 million.

Social scientists have no doubt about the status of teaching, according to Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania. “We do not refer to teaching as a profession. It doesn’t have the characteristics of those traditional professions like medicine, academia, dentistry, law, architecture, engineering, et cetera. It doesn’t have the pay, the status, the respect, the length of training, so from a scientific viewpoint teaching is not a profession.”  He carefully refers to teaching as an occupation, noting that it’s the largest occupation of all in the USA. And growing at a faster rate than the student population.

Jennifer Robinson, a teacher educator at Montclair State University in New Jersey, disagrees with Ingersoll. She believes our familiarity with teachers and schools breeds disrespect for teaching. “We don’t treat teaching as a profession because we’ve all gone to school and think we’re experts. Most people think, ‘Oh, I could do that,’ which we would never do with doctors.”

Robinson suggests that a significant part of our population–including lots of politicians–does not trust teachers. She cites the drumbeat of criticism in the media, blaming teachers for low test scores.

A common criticism is that teachers come from the lowest rungs of our academic ladder, a charge that Ingersoll says is simply not true. “About 10% of teachers come from institutions like McAlester, Yale and Penn,” he says. “Perhaps 25% come from the lowest quartile of colleges,” meaning that close to two-thirds of teachers attend the middle ranks of our colleges and universities.

According to Ingersoll, one hallmark of a profession is longevity, sticking with the work. In that respect, teaching doesn’t make the grade. As noted above, his research indicates that at least 40% of new teachers leave the field within five years, a rate of attrition that is comparable to police work. “Teaching has far higher turnover than those traditional professions, lawyers, professors, engineers, architects, doctors and accountants,” Ingersoll reports. Nurses tend to stick around longer than teachers. Who has higher quit rates, I asked him. “Prison guards, child care workers and secretaries.”

(The always thoughtful Curtis Johnson had a response: “There are now some 75 schools where teachers are in charge, have authority over everything that counts for student and school success. At EE we called them ‘teacher-powered’ schools. In these schools, the teachers are in fact professionals and turnover is very low. For readers who find this interesting, check it out at http://www.teacherpowered.org.”)

(A contrary view came from James Noonan: “Harvard’s Howard Gardner may be best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, but he has spent a far larger proportion of his esteemed career studying the role of the professions in creating a more just and ethical world (see http://www.thegoodproject.org). The framework that he and his colleagues developed would suggest that teaching (in the U.S.) is not a profession, but that’s not to say that its status is inevitable or immutable. Many countries and systems of education (like Finland, as you suggest, and Ontario and Singapore and a host of others) have placed teachers on par with other professionals and they have found great success.
        … Teaching is not a profession currently, but the first step in changing that is envisioning something different and creating spaces (like the “teacher-powered” schools mentioned above) where teachers can experience what true professionalism feels like.”)

Perhaps teaching is a calling? Those who teach score high on measures of empathy and concern for others and social progress, Ingersoll and others have noted. As a reporter and a parent, I have met thousands of teachers whose concern for their students was visible and admirable.

Trying to elevate the profession’s status (or arguing about it) is a waste of energy. That’s the view of Robert Runté, an associate professor of education at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. In a fascinating essay written more than 20 years ago, he wrote,

“Since one needs schools before one can have school teachers, teachers are stuck with their status as salaried employees working within large organizations. Teachers have always been and will always be subject to direction from their school board and the provincial bureaucracy. They are, to that degree at least, already proletarianized.  Consequently, the whole question of whether teaching is a profession, or can become one, is a red herring. The real issue is the degree to which teachers can resist deskilling and maintain some measure of autonomy within the school bureaucracy.”
                           (Thinking About Teaching: An Introduction. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1995)

To some, he may be going off the deep end when he asserts that the construct of ‘profession’ is a trumped-up label created to flatter workers and distinguish themselves from others.

The essay continues: “The only feature that ever really distinguished the professions from other occupations was the “professional” label itself. What we are is knowledge workers, and as such we have a responsibility to both ourselves and to the public to become reflective practitioners. As reflective practitioners we can reassert, first our ability, and then our right, to assume responsibility for the educational enterprise. We must stop worrying about unimportant issues of status and focus instead on the real and present danger of deskilling.”

(When this piece first appeared, reader Susan Johnson responded: A student of history knows that professions evolve over time. There was a time when a barber could do “surgery” and a lawyer could practice after being apprenticed to another lawyer. My own grandmother ran into trouble for delivering babies without the benefit of specialized training and credentials because that practice was fairly common in her place and time.
        When teachers first formed an association, they wanted the authority to make decisions about curriculum, instruction and personnel, but were only granted the ability to bargain for salaries, benefits, and working conditions. And so, this association became a union, which will only exist as long as teachers are not the decision-makers. So it is likely true that union bosses do not want to see professional independence for teachers. However, these unions have the potential to evolve into powerful professional organizations similar to the American Medical Association.
        But change is on the horizon: teachers are starting to take control of the schools in which they teach. When schools are run by teachers who make almost all decisions regarding curriculum, instruction, selection and retention of personnel, then they will be full professionals. When the next teacher shortage hits, and the “captive women” are no longer available to teach our children, I believe districts will start to offer professional autonomy to people willing to staff the nation’s classrooms.
        In the meantime, I hope talented young people who want to be teachers look for positions that guarantee professional autonomy. It’s time.”)

“Deskilling” is the enemy, a concerted effort to reduce teaching to mindless factory work. Remember that awful graphic in the film “Waiting for ‘Superman’” where the heads of students are opened up and ‘knowledge’ is poured in by teachers?  That’s how some politicians and education ‘reformers’ understand the role of schools and teachers. And how much skill does it take to pour a pitcher? Not much, and so why should we pay teachers more, or even give them job protection? Just measure how well they pour (using test scores of course), compare them to other teachers (value-added), and then get rid of the poor pourers. Bingo, education is reformed!

Teaching has taken some big hits in recent years, driven in great part by the education reform movement that argues, disingenuously, that “great teachers make all the difference.” This position allows them to ignore the very clear effects of poverty, poor nutrition, poor health and substandard housing on a child’s achievement.

Most parents are not fooled by this. Their respect for their children’s teachers and schools remains high, which must frustrate the Michelle Rhee/Campbell Brown/Democrats for Education Reform crowd.

So what’s to be done? Professor Lethbridge asserts that teachers should embrace their role of ‘knowledge workers,’ and I agree, sort of.  I believe that schools ought to be viewed as ‘knowledge factories’ in which the students are the workers, teachers are managers/foremen/supervisors, and knowledge is the factory’s product. In that model, students must be doing real work, an issue I wrote about recently.

To show respect for teaching and teachers, I suggest we leave the ‘profession/occupation’ argument to academics. Instead, let’s consider taking three steps:

1) Support leaders whose big question is “How is this child intelligent?” instead of “How intelligent is this child?”

2) Elect school board members who believe in inquiry-based learning, problem solving, effective uses of technology, and deeper learning.

3) Insist on changes in the structure of schools so that teachers have time to watch each other teach and to reflect on their work. These are standard operating procedures in Finland and other countries with effective educational systems.

Oh, and bathroom breaks when necessary….

That is how I ended my original essay.  This time, however, I want to close with this excerpt from “Teaching Ain’t Brain Surgery–It’s Tougher,”  a provocative essay by Richard Hersh, a distinguished former college president and a friend:
        “In 1983, school reform efforts were catalyzed by the report of “A Nation at Risk.” Reform to date has largely failed. Today we are a nation at greater risk educationally but the political pandering about “Leave No Child Behind” will get us nowhere because the issue of quality teaching is ignored.
High quality teaching is the single most important factor in helping students to learn, a truism confirmed by many years of research. This fact has been blithely ignored by critics and politicians attracted to the siren calls for facile remedies such as school uniforms, computers, vouchers, and the latest bromide, high-stakes testing. The result is inadequate student achievement and more than 50% of all teachers who leave teaching in the first three to five years of their career.
The reasons for this state-of-affairs are straightforward and swept under the rug– the training of teachers and the conditions for teaching are grossly inadequate. Moreover, in the face of an acknowledged short and long-term teacher shortage, the imperative for excellent teachers and teaching conditions is profoundly undermined by a patronizing “teaching ain’t brain surgery” mentality–the belief that anyone with an undergraduate degree can teach. Teachers in a very real sense operate on the brain too but teaching ain’t brain surgery–it’s tougher!
How are brain surgeons educated? Four years of undergraduate work, at least four arduous years of medical school, and several additional years of internships and residencies are required to master the knowledge and skills to operate on the finite topography of the brain. With such training, these superbly prepared surgeons are expected by society to operate on one anesthetized patient at a time supported by a team of doctors and nurses in the best equipped operating rooms money can buy. For this we gladly pay them handsomely.
How are teachers educated? They receive a spotty four-year undergraduate education with little clinical training. At best, an additional year for a Master’s degree is also required for professional certification. Teachers are expected by society to then enter their “operating rooms” containing 22-32 quite conscious “patients”, individually and collectively active. Often the room is poorly equipped, and rarely is help available as teachers also attempt to work wonders with the brain/mind, the psychological and emotional attributes of which are arguably as complex to master as anything a brain surgeon must learn. For this we gladly pay teachers little.
Conditions for professional service matter. Contemplate the results if our highly educated and trained brain surgeons were expected to work in the M.A.S.H. tent conditions equivalent to so many classrooms. In such an environment we would predictably see a much higher rate of failure.
                                                                         Or, consider if the roles were reversed-that brain surgeons were educated and rewarded as if teachers. It is virtually impossible to contemplate because it is hard to conceive of any of us willing to be operated on by someone with so little education or clinical training in a profession held in so much public disdain.                       We take for granted that the current professional education, training, rewards, and working conditions for brain surgeons are necessary and appropriate for the complexity and value of the work performed. Not so obvious is that teaching well in one elementary classroom or five or six secondary school classes each day is as difficult, complex, and as important a task as brain surgery. But to do it well, to be truly a profession, teachers require exponentially more education, training, better working conditions and rewards than are currently provided. Unless and until we acknowledge this reality we will not solve the teacher shortage crisis and school reform will inexorably fail.                                                    To guarantee excellent teachers, effective school reform, and ultimately high student achievement, we first need to understand that teaching is at least as complex and as difficult as brain surgery and requires significantly greater education, training, monetary reward and supportive operating conditions. …                     Transforming the education and training conditions is only one-half the solution. The “operating” conditions in schools to enable professional teaching practice must be radically altered. Elementary and secondary teachers today find themselves isolated in their classrooms. Teaching has become professionally stultifying. With the additional school burdens of violence, drugs, multiple languages, bureaucratic impositions, mainstreaming, and the obvious personal needs of so many students across all social and economic strata, is it really surprising to find that so few are willing to enter or remain in this calling? The best trained teachers will fail unless we provide a school setting that enables students and teachers to be successful.”