Friday, April 24, 2015

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


This is not from me. This was eloquently written by a true expert in their field whom everyone should listen to, educator, Gerald J. Conti. I picked it up from an article in the Washington Post by Valerie Strauss. Read it and learn...there will be a test after.

Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession … no longer exists’

By Valerie Strauss April 6, 2013 

Increasingly teachers are speaking out against school reforms that they believe are demeaning their profession, and some are simply quitting because they have had enough.
Here is one resignation letter from a veteran teacher, Gerald J. Conti, a social studies teacher at Westhill High School in Syracuse, N.Y.:

Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that  “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader
Cc: Doreen Bronchetti, Lee Roscoe

Originally posted to Poppa D' on Mon Nov 10, 2014 at 05:36 PM PST.
Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Daily Kos Classics.

How I understand what he is saying. Education in this country has been in free-fall since Bush’s idiotic No Child Left Behind. It had started to struggle a few years before when we were bombarded by frivolous law-suits accompanied by lack of discipline to avoid those law-suits. In my teaching career we went from getting in trouble for chewing gum in class to not getting in trouble for telling the teacher to “F*** off!” Yep, kids can now say that and in many schools, the teacher is asked what they did to provoke the kid into saying something like this. I also remember hearing the speech that using the F word was a part of the culture of certain kids and we basically had to overlook it. Really?

As discipline became impossible, learning disappeared with it. Respect became non-existent, and learning disappeared with that, also. When the day came that we were warned about putting a hand on a kid’s shoulder (as i had done for years to praise a kid or comfort him/her) lest we be accused of sexually assaulting him/her… or be accused or physically disciplining him, I knew it was time for me to quit, too.

True creative teaching had become impossible. Even allowing a kid to ask a question in class that was not included in that class’s curriculum could be considered an offense and grounds for disciplinary action – on the teacher! One teacher got written up because he wrote the name of our governor on the board when a kid asked a question about “local’ government.” It was a World History class. Tom got points off on his evaluation. No merit raise for him that year!

I am not surprised that we are less and less competitive in the global market. I guess I just want to know why the Powers that be think having a stupid workforce is the answer. Obviously, someone profits from it. Not the kids. Not the teachers.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Atheists Rewrite The Ten Commandments

We had a discussion at church last week about whether or not atheists can actually be kind people. I, of course, brought in the Buddhist perspective, and others in the group admitted knowing some atheists and that they were all very kind, thoughtful people, and most of them were basically pacifists. Then this appeared on facebook, and I copied it here to share with you.

Atheists Rewrite The Ten Commandments — They’re Much Better Than The Originals

Author: Joe Fletcher December 22, 2014 12:57 pm

Authors Le Bayer and John Figdor have just completed a very daunting task. The two have created a new list of ten commandments for the 21st century. The two have authored the book Atheist Mind Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments For the Twenty First Century. The authors wrote the book in hopes that it will show that religion does not hold a monopoly on ethical codes of conducts for living life in a virtuous manner. Bayer and Figdor have created a list of ten “non-commandments” that they view exemplify those with a humanist perspective. They are referred to as non-commandments because the authors would like them to be non-dogmatic and have the ability to change based upon new evidence.

They then decided to take the idea of putting together a list of non-commandments and used it to create a contest where people would send in their own suggestions for what the new list should be. The suggestions where then voted on by people online. Those that got the most votes where then selected by thirteen judges who decided the final ten winners.

One of the judges was none other than Mythbusters star and prominent Atheist, Adam Savage.

The Re-Think contest received over 2,800 submissions. Here are the winning non-commandments

1.  Be open minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence.

Why: It is essential in order for us to be able to collaboratively work together to find common solutions to pressing world problems.

Jeremy Jimenez

2.  Strive to understand what is most likely to be true, not to believe what you wish to be true.

Why: We’re more likely to believe what we wish to be true over what we wish not to be true, regardless of veracity. If we’re interested in learning the truth, then we need to actively separate our beliefs from our desires.

Matthew M.

3.  The scientific method is the most reliable way of understanding the natural world.

Why: Every time humans have questions this method is used to solve them. If we don’t know, we don’t know but instead of making up the answer we use this method to reach a conclusion/answer.

Zay Jackson

4.  Every person has the right to control over their body.

Why: This includes a person\”s right to not be murdered, raped, imprisoned without just cause (violating another person\’s rights), kidnapped, attacked, tortured, etc. This also protects a person\’s freedom of speech and freedom to dress and represent themselves as they so choose.

Chris Lager

5.  God is not necessary to be a good person or to live a full and meaningful life.

Why: When one does a good deed it isn’t because God tells one to do a good deed, but because one simply wants to be good person. As Human beings we are capable of defining our own, different, meanings for our lives, with or without a god.

John Roso

6.  Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognise that you must take responsibility for them.

Why: It may sound obvious, but negligence and refusal to take responsibility are an immense source of harm in the world, from interpersonal relations to Global issues.

Jamie Andrews

7.  Treat others as you would want them to treat you and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.

Why:If everyone did their best to carry this out as far as it can go, everyone would get along much better.

Carol Fly

8.  We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.

Why: As human beings, we have great power. As Voltaire noted “With great power comes great responsibility.” To not consider others would be selfish and petty. We have demonstrated the ability to be magnanimous, are rapidly becoming more so, and will be even more so in the near future.

Michael Marr

9.  There is no one right way to live.

Why: If you look, even a little, you find many cultures living in moral societies that are fundamentally different, with only a few very basic principles being adhered to between them. Just because one group is different, does not mean they are wrong.

Eli Chisholm

10. Leave the world a better place than you found it.

Why: The Japanese concept of Kaizen teaches that small incremental improvements can have a profound effect over time. We should all strive to leave the world better than we found it be it through relieving the suffering of others, creating works of art, or passing along knowledge.

Maury McCoy

With 20% of the population of the United States identifying as being unaffiliated with any religion, there is a definite need for people to come together and have a discussion about secular morality. Atheists and secular humanists are often accused of not having any sense of right or wrong. This contest goes to prove that this is a false accusation.