Friday, August 12, 2011

Chapter 18: Bronx Kids Sacrificed in Unholy Rite!

 Chapter Eighteen: Sacrificial Lambs

“Mr. Haverstock, what are you trying to do?  Ruin my grade?”
Here is how the best students in the Bronx are being sacrificed as a means of destroying the public school system altogether.  The plan is to get rid of public education and replace it with a system of private schools.  Charter schools are the “missing link” in this process.  They masquerade as public schools but they are not public schools.  They are a ruse to distract us from the reality all around us, the move toward privatizing public education.  If you are not prepared to consider this possibility, stop reading here.
The two-pronged assault on public education comes in the guise, of course, of pedagogy and methodology.  One prong is known as “differentiated instruction”; the other prong is known as the “workshop model”.  Together these semi-legitimate concepts are being used to justify and rationalize the sacrifice of the best students in schools like those in which I’ve taught and there are many such schools.  Over the past 10 years these two prongs, as I call them, have become a virtual mandate to all teachers and they are wielded against teachers as deceptively as they are wielded against students.
“Differentiated instruction” means teaching each individual student at his/her own level.  The need to do this is as obvious as the need for a goal to be “specific” and “measurable”.  In a classroom with reading levels that vary from 2nd grade to 12th, for example, the teacher is expected to give each student work appropriate to that student’s level of ability while teaching the same lesson to the entire class.  An English teacher can assign texts at each student’s level in order to move them forward from wherever they are.  Nevertheless, they all have to reach the level of the same test, the Regents.  Some of these Regents come at the end of freshman year, usually U.S. History, algebra and a science test.  Others come during or at the end of the next 3 years.  The English Regents usually arrives sometime after sophomore year.
Differentiating instruction in a math class is more complicated than in English.  Since students cannot progress without learning basic concepts, if the understanding of these concepts is not consistent among the students, it is impossible for a math teacher to teach the same lesson to an entire class.  Nevertheless, they all have to reach the level of the same test, sometimes in a single year but at least by the end of four years of highs school since high schools are rated and graded on Regents pass rates and graduation rates.
It may not be in the best interest of the student to attempt to move him/her through 3 years of work in one semester but it is often in the best interest of the school to do that, especially if the semester in question is the student’s 8th and he/she still hasn’t accumulated enough credits to graduate.  Hence during the summer of 2011 there have been many stories of various ways of getting around the accumulation of credits.  I recently read about a school where students were allowed to go on line to look up answers to tests while taking the test.  This would have been strictly to increase the number of students gaining credits in order to increase the graduation rate.
For many the one-room schoolhouse is a quaint reminder of days long gone.  Imagine, at one time they only had one teacher for an entire town; they only had one small school building for the entire town; they had no choice but to bring all students together.  The teacher had no choice but to differentiate among 1st graders and 6th or 8th graders in the same room.  It was a quaint idea brought about by dire necessity.  Today this same one-room schoolhouse approach is going on in schools all over the city, justified and rationalized by the education shills preaching the “concept” of differentiated instruction, most of them unaware of what they are being used for.
The necessity for this modern version of the one-room schoolhouse, however, has nothing to do with lack of teachers or school buildings and everything to do with the necessity of creating failure in the public school system.  How often are charter schools touted as out-performing regular public schools?  How often is it admitted that these “objective” statistics are culled from groups of students who are screened for entrance into these schools and therefore do not resemble the demographics of the populations of the regular public schools?  No wonder they need so many data analysts.  It’s no easy task creating a specific, agenda-defined illusion for such a mass of numbers.
The 2nd prong of this attack on public education is called “the workshop model”.  This is meant to replace the outdated “chalk and talk” method of teaching.  “Chalk and talk” is where the teacher lectures, writes notes on the board, refers to the text as students follow along and expects students to mostly listen, think and reflect, usually through written homework assignments.  Homework is critical to the “chalk and talk” method because most class time is taken up by the teacher.  The teacher spends class time explaining, instructing, modeling and at times encouraging discussion.  A homework assignment then is meant to give students more practice for the skill that was the subject of the lesson or more in depth reading and understanding of content.
A high percentage of students in schools like those in which I’ve taught, however, do not do homework.  The breakdown is similar to the breakdown I’ve made repeatedly throughout these pages.  There is about 30% who will do homework.  There is 30 – 40% who will do no homework under any circumstances and most of these do little or no class work.  Then there is the middle group, 30% - 40%, who will go either way.  If the do-nothings capture the imagination of this middle group, then the teacher is faced with up to 70% of the class homework-less.  If homework is essential to reaching the goals of the curriculum, this creates a serious problem.
Another problem with the “chalk and talk” method of presenting a lesson is that students are easily bored and distracted.  I like to put up “stop day dreaming” signs around the room.  I place them as high up on the walls as possible.  Above windows is a good spot.  They’re funny but if anything they probably encourage the daydreaming that gets them noticed in the first place.  Hyperactivity doesn’t respond to this; short attention spans pass over it with as much reflection as a hummingbird might give it.  It is certainly true that the attention span of the average Bronx student in 2011 is very short and I don’t doubt that our quick-cut advertising is part of the vicious cycle that has perpetuated and intensified this.  Movies, t.v., even the passing of an advertisement in a magazine or passing taxi cab – these all contribute to shortened attention spans even as they are also a reaction to it.  We live in a very fast-paced world.
Much has been made of ADD and ADHD but the real problem is the 30 – 40% of students who cannot function in a conventional classroom.  The problems with this group go way beyond known disorders.  ADD is a condition that a person can learn how to deal with.  If you know you’ve got a short attention span, you compensate for it if you have a goal that you need to reach.  ADD and ADHD are nothing new.  People my age can remember the students we knew who suffered from them before they were characterized as such.  We can remember how they dealt with their “issues” rather than use them as an excuse for failure.
The use of these as excuses for poor behavior is relatively new.  However most of the disruptive behavior that I’ve seen goes way beyond ADD or ADHD.  Now there is something called ODD.  This comes closer to explaining the sort of sudden, uncontrollable outbursts of emotion that we see.  Even if it is an explanation for something going on internally, however, it is not an excuse for such a student to be placed in a classroom where 30% of the students are functioning normally, can have no positive effect on people exhibiting these symptoms and end up as the victims of these emotionally disturbed people.
So with chalk and talk deemed outdated or too boring or too or ineffectual, the workshop model has replaced it in spite of research that shows that students actually learn better through direct teacher-centered instruction rather than through “cooperative”, student-centered models like the one that is the 2nd prong of the attack on the best students, the “workshop” model.  The workshop model calls for the teacher to make a brief “mini-lesson”.  This is an abbreviated chalk and talk presentation, no more than about 10 minutes of a 50-minute class. The emphasis is on modeling rather than explaining.  The teacher models a skill or a process and then quickly turns the work over to the students.  The students are arranged into small groups – the larger classroom is divided into smaller workshops.  In these smaller groups students practice whatever it was that the teacher modeled during the mini-lesson. The 30% of functioning students are expected to have understood the mini-lesson.  These high-functioning students are then expected to “re-teach” what they learned from the mini-lesson to the rest of the group whose inability to focus prevented them from learning it the first time around.
Creating the groups is an important part of this approach.  Groups usually consist of 4 – 6 students each.  The teacher might group students by reading or math level, according to behavioral characteristics or by taking second language problems into consideration.  Second language learners might be mixed in with native speakers, for example, or they might be put together so that they can discuss the topic in their on language.  Reading levels might be mixed in order to expose the weaker readers to the stronger ones and so forth.  These decisions are up to the teacher who then spends the bulk of class time going from group to group giving help as needed, doing small group instruction, and ensuring accountability.  “Accountability” is ensuring that learning is taking place.  That is, the teacher makes sure that each group is on task and that the conversations that are happening in each group are “accountable” and have more to do with the topic at hand than with Justin Bieber, Beyonce or last night’s basketball game.  As a closing some sort of writing assignment is usually recommended both to increase literacy across the curriculum as well as for accountability purposes.
Pedagogically the workshop method is justified in various ways.  It is a way of encouraging teamwork, something that is said to be very important in the workplace.  It is a way of encouraging independent and creative thinking because students spend most of the group work time without direct oversight from the teacher, who is making the rounds of all 4 or 5 or 6 groups in the room.  It is up to the groups and the individuals in the group, who are assigned roles like discussion leader, presenter, time keeper, scribe, and so forth, to figure things out for themselves before resorting to the teacher.  In theory it is a way of focusing the attention of students who have difficulty listening to a teacher’s “chalk and talk” on academic work.  In practice, of course, it is often a way for the non-working students to ride the coattails of the working students.  The hope is that in doing so, something will be learned.
Of course, the workshop model ultimately is predicated on – as is the chalk and talk method – the students’ ability to stay on task for 45 or 90 minutes.  The 30% of functional students in the typical Bronx classroom are as comfortable with chalk and talk as they are with the workshop model and for them it’s nice to vary things some to give the class a bit of unpredictability in order to avoid the rut of the routine.  Establishing routines, however, is very important.  It is important for the students to know generally what to expect and what is expected of them.
The 30% to 40% of dysfunction students are as uncomfortable with the workshop model as they are with chalk and talk.  The problems experienced by this group are not addressed by routines, methodology, standards, lesson plan formats or even visits to the dean’s office.  If a student is unable to control his/her own behavior, nothing in the structure of the class or in the teacher’s behavior will address that.  In the minds of many in this group, the workshop model is nothing more than legalized cheating.
“You mean, we present together?”
“Yes, you present as a group.”
“You mean I get to turn in the same work as our group leader?”
“Yes, you get to turn in the same work as everyone else in your group.”
“You mean, I can … copy?”
“No, you’re working cooperatively.”
“Mr. Haverstock, what are you trying to do?  Ruin my grade?”
When one of my best students said this to me, I had to admit that something was drastically wrong.  I was attempting to follow recommended procedure with a 10th grade class – aim (focus of the lesson), “do now” (something relevant to get students started), mini-lesson, group work.  For this particular lesson I decided to use mixed-level groups.  That is, I decided to mix some of the high functioning students with some of the lower functioning students in terms of reading level.  (This was an English class.)  So I came into the class with groups that I’d written into the lesson plan with this purpose.
One of the “low” functioning students was actually non-functioning.  This student had done no work at all over the course of about 14 weeks.  He certainly suffered from ADHD at the very least but that was the least of his problems.  When I instructed him to sit with group two, he flatly refused to move his seat.  He was used to spending a great deal of class time in the hallways was not interested in being grouped with anyone.  He had problems with authority; he had problems with male authority figures; he had problems focusing in any situation that was larger than one-on-one.  His skills were so low that he frequently acted out as a ruse not so different from the sort of ruse used by Michelle Malkin as described in Chapter 16 – a way of diverting the teacher’s attention from the fact that he was reading at a 1st grade level in the 10th grade and he was overage for 10th grade.
This, by the way, is a common excuse for misbehaving students – they act out because they can’t do the work.  No doubt this is frequently true, although for the student in question this wasn’t the primary issue.  No doubt, it is good for the teacher to understand this about the student.  Understanding the problem, however, is not solving the problem.  Understanding that a student is acting out because he is well below grade level does not stop the student from acting out and wasting the time of the students who are not so far behind.
For pedagogues to justify mainstreaming dysfunctional students with functional students as a means exposing a student with weak skills to students with strong skills is to do a great disservice to those students with strong skills and that is the point of this chapter and this “memoir”.  We have done a great disservice to the best students that we have.  More than that – we have used this sort of pedagogical new-speak to rationalize sacrificing those very students in the name of … what?  What can be the justification for asking a high functioning student to spend his/her class time instructing, modeling, tutoring, helping – whatever you call it – a student with problems too serious to be addressed by teachers, let alone by other children?
I spent 5 minutes trying to get this student to sit in his assigned group – the best group in this particular class.  I was trying to help him, which was in my mind the purpose of this form of the workshop model.  I wanted this weak student to work with the stronger students, to expose him to their work ethic, their ability to focus and stay on task, their approach to solving problems independently and their ability to organize their team.  In short, I was trying to help this student for all of the right reasons, for all of the reasons preached by the pedagogues about the benefits of the workshop model.
Pedagogy, of course, meant nothing to this student.  He was ruled by the forces inside of him that forced him to confront authority and oppose it.  In his mind these actions gave him his identity.  These actions somehow gave him a sense of dignity.  I don’t know if this was clinically ODD; symptomatically it was.
I called in the dean.  Again he refused to change his seat.  The dean called in the A.P.  Again he refused to change his seat or perhaps even more did he refuse to budge from that seat for the higher the authority, the more successful the opposition.  This is another form of “successful failure”, a syndrome that I described in a previous chapter.  Finally when confronted with a teacher, a dean and an assistant principal who were as adamant about moving him as he was about not moving, he left the room.  This took up about 15 minutes of valuable class time.
At that moment I was l looking upon this unfortunate turn of events as a lost opportunity for this low-skilled student.  This student failed to take advantage of something that would have been highly beneficial to him.  It was his loss; therefore it was my loss and a loss to the class since we try to create a sense of community with classrooms, particularly with the “self-contained” classroom, the one where students spend the day in the same large group, in the same room.  It might even be described as a loss to the school since the school will be judged in part on this student’s ability be helped and to help himself.  If he doesn’t get the credit and doesn’t graduate, that will be another crack in the wall.
“Mr. Haverstock, what are you trying to do?  Ruin my grade?”  This question came to me at the end of that class.  It came from one of the best students in the class, one of the students in that top group to which I was trying to assign this low-functioning student.  It came from one of the leaders of the class, the one who every day set the best example for anyone who cared or was able to notice.  It came from the student whose name I had penciled in – for all these reasons - right next to the name of the student who had stormed out of the room, unable to grapple with a situation that didn’t fit into his sense of who he was, unable to overcome the forces aligned against him – benign as they were and with his best interests in mind – but also unable to overcome the forces within himself that were driving him to deliberately fail.  This was a spectacular case of successful failure.
“Mr. Haverstock, what are you trying to do?  Ruin my grade?”  This student did not have successful failure in mind; she had success and nothing but success in mind.  It came to me that I was looking at the situation from the bottom up rather than from the top down. As this student stood there in front of me with these words ringing in my ears, it came to me that the top down view was as legitimate as the bottom up view.  As this student turned and walked away from me because I couldn’t think of a meaningful response, it came to me that I had swallowed the reform school propaganda, which insists that that we look at things from the bottom up rather than from the top down.  I came to me that while I might have been trying to help this low-functioning student, at the same time I was trying to hurt the high-functioning one.
It wasn’t intentional but, as Paul Simon said, “One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.”  In trying to do good, I was also doing harm.  It was thoughtless.  Of course, it’s good to expose someone with poor work habits to someone with strong ones.  But at the same time the opposite isn’t merely bad, it’s wrong.  Why should it be the responsibility of the hard-working student to sacrifice his/her time to help someone else?  How can a teacher ask a student to take responsibility for other students?  How can a pedagogy be touted as the rule for methodology when it demands that one student give up his/her time and work and energy – time, work and energy that ought to be devoted to that student’s own progress and education?  The student who asked me that question was the most responsible kid in the class, the one who did the most work and always took care of herself and that was the only thing I could reasonably ask of that student or any other – that she do the best possible work she could and if she had time and energy left over because she worked faster and more thoughtfully than most, why shouldn’t that time left over be hers?  She earned it.  It should be for her, not to be sacrificed for someone else.
I might suggest that there is a tinge of Christianity in this – if I thought it was anything at all like that.  It is changing, particularly with the influx of African students, some of whom are Muslim, but most Bronx students are still Christian and many of them are fundamentalist or evangelical.  Sacrifice is not alien to them.  In fact, it is something that has been instilled in their worldviews both consciously and subliminally.  This may be the reason why it has not often occurred to them that the sacrifice of their own lives ought not to be asked of them.
But this is what this vicious, two-pronged attack on our best students does and it is driven by something far different from a religious – any religion – agenda.  It does, in fact, involve sacrifice – the sacrifice of the best students in the Bronx for the worst – but the agenda is purely secular.  Differentiated instruction and the workshop model – what are these but rationalizations for the crime – sin? – of demanding that students give up their own lives in order to help someone who may need it but is not even likely to appreciate it and certainly doesn’t deserve it, though it has nothing to do with forgiveness either?  What is this forked “methodology” but the excuse for the abdication of responsibility by an entire school system?  By what right do we take away a person’s time and work and give it to someone else?  By what right do we sit an exceptional child down with a perfect stranger with the expectation that this exceptional child will give up his or her time and thought and ideas and work for this perfect stranger who has no right to it and has done nothing to earn it?
So this is my answer, finally, to that’s student’s rhetorical question: “Mr. Haverstock, what are you trying to do?  Ruin my grade?”  It’s the well-adjusted, well-functioning students who are being led to the slaughter by a system that cares nothing for them and everything about making itself look good by raising graduation rates, i.e., getting semi-literate kids to score 65s and graduate even though a 65 means next to nothing and if it predicts anything, it predicts that the student is not “career or college ready”.  It’s the well-adjusted, high-functioning kids that are being led to slaughter by being placed into rooms where high percentage of their “peers” are dysfunctional and in desperate need for some of that work ethic and ability to focus and learn to rub off on them although this never happens.  Having spent a decade observing and encouraging this sort of miracle osmosis, I have very rarely seen anything like it happen.  Instead what I’ve seen are the well-adjusted, high-functioning students being used by desperate school administrators to keep their schools open and keep their jobs and a despicable school system to undermine the very concept of public education.
These are the questions we ought to be asking: How much of the time of these exceptional kids is wasted?  How much work that ought to be completed is actually completed?  How much work that ought to be completed isn’t even arrived at for these exceptional students?  How much further could these kids be going if they weren’t forced to waste their time on dysfunctional kids?  Why can’t a school system of over a million students group students according to their abilities so that they can progress at the quickest possible pace?  Why can’t the school system itself differentiate between these high-performing kids and the dysfunctional ones?  Why isn’t the NYC school system tracked from top to bottom in order to save these kids, in order to stop them from being the sacrificial lambs that they are now?
We’ve gone so far at this point as to reward the dysfunctional.  A well-meaning program in one school decided to try to raise the self-esteem of the do-nothing kids by having an awards ceremony for them.  Students who had not passed a single class, students who rarely came to school, students who came to school but rarely came to class, students who slept through class, students who refused to sit in an assigned seat, opting to do nothing in the back of the room, students who spent their class time throwing things around the room from paper balls to books and pencils, students who found it appropriate to inflate a condom and bounce it around the room like a beach ball at a ball game – these students were being “rewarded”.
What were the “awards”?  “Best effort”.  “Most improved”.  “Most likely”.  One of the more notorious of these award-winning students ran into a colleague known for his no-nonsense approach to instruction and learning.  The do-nothing student flashed his “award” and stuck out his hand, expecting to be congratulated for being rewarded for behavior that ought to have gotten him expelled on any number of accounts.  What do you think this colleague did?  What would you have done?
There is nothing wrong with trying to help people who need help – unless it comes at someone else’s expense or unless it is counterproductive in some way.  In the summer of 2011 the New York Yankees announced a program by which students who were truant from school would receive free tickets to ball games if they showed up at school some number of times.  [See chapter “Attendance Scam” for details on what it means to be “present” at school.]  This, of course, is akin to awarding a former drug addict with the “rewarding” career of counseling people at risk for this sort of successful failure.  Once again, they are shooting in the wrong direction.  Why not give these tickets to kids who have already shown a high attendance rate and then publicize this so that the truant kids can see that there is some reward that they can understand for going to school?  Is this scheme ultimately counterproductive, evidence that there really is no point in doing the right thing – that it’s better, in fact, to do the wrong thing because that is what gets rewarded?
How is it that the school system has come to this?  How can so many teachers be willing to sacrifice their best students for their worst?  In one sense it is again an injustice done by people who are “just doing my job”.  Teachers create their own lesson plans but they are observed delivering these lessons.  If the lessons don’t conform to what administrations want to see, the lesson is deemed unsatisfactory (“U”).  Once this happens, the administrator is in a position to dictate the format of the lesson plan.  In fact, it becomes the administrator’s duty and responsibility to guide the unsatisfactory teacher toward a more satisfactory outcome.  In this way the two prongs are wielded against teachers as well as against students.  They’re wielded against administrators as well.  When administrators themselves are being judged on their ability to institute recommendations made to them so they, too, are “just doing my job”.  This doesn’t mean that these administrators and teachers are not working hard.  The problem is that the job that they are working at is not in the best interest of the best students.
Thoughtlessness then is another reason for the sacrifice of the best students for the worst in the Bronx.  It’s easy to assume that the experts know what they’re talking about and there are experts a-plenty in the DOE.  There are consultants, partners, liaisons, coaches, support groups, workshops enough to keep you busy thinking about what they’re telling you rather than what you’re actually doing or what your students might be telling you.
One “expert” that comes to mind is a man who was brought in to coach a small group of teachers in methodology of “ramp up”.  Ramp up was and still is, though not pushed by the NYC DOE as it was a few years ago, an approach to literacy that emphasized independent and in-depth reading of relatively simple texts along with reflective writing and, of course, differentiated learning and the workshop model.  The school system was flooded with “Aussies”, as they were known – ramp up experts from Australia, though the program originated at the U. of Pittsburgh.
An Aussie came to coach us on how to institute this program.  He sat down with us and holding in his expert hands a gigantic three-ring folder that described in detail the ramp up program from another consultant group, America’s Choice.  Our conversation with him went something like this (I paraphrase):
“So, Mr. Aussie, when you taught ramp up ….”
“Actually,” he interrupted in that distinctive and startling accent, “I’ve never taught it myself.”
His candor seemed refreshing.
“Okay, then when you observed the program in classrooms ….”
“Actually, I’ve never observed it.”
This was a little surprising, given that he was the expert and was there to show us how it was done.  We had not taught it or observed it but we were willing to push ahead, though one colleague, known for his hot temper, was already starting to bubble over.
“Well, then,” we said, indicating the large folder at his fingertips, “when you read through the program ….”
“Actually,” he admitted, “I haven’t read it.”
(I am not kidding – this conversation took place.)
It was certainly the hot-tempered one of us who next said something like, “Well then what the hell are you doing here and why are Australians the supposed experts in this anyway?”
“Actually,” he said in what turned out to be his faux-Aussie accent – he’d married an Australian, “I’m from Des Moines.”
Now we find that tens of millions of “Race to the Top” dollars are going to consultants, analysts, measurement specialists and “innovation managers” (see Chapter 19).
Then, of course, another justification for the sacrifice of our best kids is the admitted benefit of differentiated instruction and the workshop model.  As methodologies there is nothing wrong with them.  However, as I’ve described, the insidious underlying premise of these is to use the talents of the best students not for those students themselves but in the interest of other, low-functioning or non-functioning students – a responsibility that ought not to be put on any kid, let alone the best kids who otherwise could be working ahead, doing SAT prep or working on their own special interests.
The UFT held a huge rally at Madison Square Garden a few years ago during the waning tenure of Randi Weingarten.  This was a big event starring Phoebe Snow and the G.E. Smith Band, among others.  At issue, of course, was the next UFT contract then being negotiated with the Bloomberg / Klein administration.  Union leaders from most of the unions with members associated with the DOE lined up to make the speeches to a very large crowd.
The speaker, however, whom I remember best was a young woman, a NYC high school student.  She had one point to make and she made it very well, as well as any of the professional speakers who preceded and followed her.  Her point was simply this: “I want to be taught by my teachers,” she said and again I paraphrase.  “I don’t go to school to be taught by students.  I want my teachers to teach me.”
She then specifically described the workshop model wherein she was being used as I tried to use the student who is the star of this chapter and therefore of this entire “memoir”.  This young woman at MSG, a student at one of the “elite” high schools, as I recall, was being used to teach weaker students.  Instead of her class time being used productively for herself and her needs, her education and her own learning, she was being forced to give it up so that she could be used to help others catch up.  This, she said, was not fair to her.  She was right.  She said it then but it took a more direct experience for me to fully grasp the real consequences of what is going on in the Bloomberg / Klein reform schools.
It’s time for the NYC school system to do the right thing by the best and the brightest.  It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff.  It’s time to track the system so that students are placed with groups whose individuals can progress at similar paces.  It’s time for these best and brightest to be set free from the confines of differentiated instruction and the workshop model, the one-room schoolhouse, so that they can be taught by their teachers.  It’s time, too, to place dysfunctional students in environments where they can be helped rather than pretending that they are being well-served by being placed in general education classrooms where they cannot function and can only obstruct the progress of those who can.  The arrangement as it with its pedagogical, two-prong justifications is unfair to both groups but vastly more unfair to the best and the brightest because their time and lives are being literally stolen right out from under them by the very people who are supposed to have their best interests at heart.  It’s more than mere theft; it’s betrayal.
I’m reminded of Carl Schurz, the secretary of the interior during the 1870’s and ‘80s – simply because while writing and pasting together this “memoir” during the summer of 2011, I’ve also been reading for fun books like Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  Schurz oversaw the final resolution to the Indian problem that had confronted American manifest destiny for the past 100 years or so.  By then Americans had realized that Indian territory wasn’t as worthless as we thought it was when we signed it over “in perpetuity” with laws and legal documentation to the Indians – all the land west of the Mississippi, that is.  Of course, we had yet to steal much of that land from Mexico.  Stealing, I guess, is as American as ramp up, the workshop model and apple pie.
Schuz sat in his office in Washington D.C. as reports of atrocities and massacres of Native Americans came in.  Suggestions and recommendations for kinder treatment also occasionally crossed his desk.  But rather than see for himself what was going on, Schurz stuck to the agenda, the one that he had vowed to pursue at all costs, which vow had brought him that nice suit that you see in the photographs as well as the related amenities of his exalted position in the U.S. government.  The agenda that he’d vowed to pursue to the bitter end, of course, was the final theft of all Indian land and the forced “civilizing” and “Christianizing” of the Natives, a hidden agenda that was never articulated to the victims but which by this time was clear to them nevertheless.
There is a hidden educational agenda, as I’ve described elsewhere in this “memoir”.  The agenda is to dismantle public education, thereby closing this last route to power for so many.  For many of us education has been our only access to power.  Education is empowering and it was for this very reason that even as America was committing genocide during the 19th century, there was also this very altruistic ideal of an educated population and the idea that democracy could only work if the people involved were educated.  There is no doubt about that.  Democracy demands education and education for all.
It is for this very reason that the state governors and education bureaucrats sit in their offices with their agenda, just as Schurz did.  If the sacrifice of children is required to accomplish this agenda, as the sacrifice of innumerable lives was deemed necessary to accomplish manifest destiny, then so be it.  How is it that a school system can come it this?  How is it that school system can sacrifice the very students it’s meant to educate?  By blindly following an agenda set by people who don’t know and don’t care to know about the harm they are causing, this is how it can be and that is how it is.

NOTE: This blog contains an excerpt of the first draft of this book.

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