Monday, November 12, 2018

Walker's Legacy: A Divided Wisconsin

An emotional and closely divided election is a fitting end to Scott Walker’s contentious career as Wisconsin’s governor this past Tuesday night.

"HE'S OUT, IT'S OFFICIAL. OMG I'M CRYING," texted my friend's son, who was just 11 years old when Walker dropped "the bomb" on Wisconsin. "My first ever vote helped take out the man who uprooted our family."

An uprooted state will be Walker’s legacy. The formally folksy feel of Wisconsin was shattered by Walker’s “divide and conquer” politics. His policies drove a wedge between families and communities across Wisconsin. Walker's Act 10 and his big money politics upended small family budgets and many lives in big ways.

Walker’s politics are, indeed, personal. He and his GOP cohorts have gutted my teaching profession, sent my aforementioned friend and his family packing, cost me over $30k in take-home pay over his two terms, weakened my kids’ and students’ public schools, and heaped enormous stress on my family. In Walker’s Wisconsin, teachers and their families do more, for less, and with less.

Walker exploited the 2008 recession to scapegoat public employees. He bragged about balancing the state budget on the backs of public educators, like me, and state workers while giving a free pass to the reckless investors responsible for the recession that caused Wisconsin’s budget problems.

Walker abused the power of our state’s highest office for personal political gain and his presidential ambitions. His attacks on teachers and state workers and their unions were mostly payback to his big money donors.

Furthermore, Walker diverted precious tax dollars to a failed school voucher program, his business supporters, and foreign companies.


With gerrymandered GOP control of the state legislature, newly-elected Tony Evers and his team won’t be able to undo the Walker injustices, but this election will hopefully mark a defined turn, turn, turn in Wisconsin's state politics. Enough with the uprooting. It is "a time to plant."

Wisconsin's divisive politics of the past eight years belong to Walker. He can pack them up with his belongings. Together, somehow, we move forward Wisconsin.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Air Still Stinks

After a trail race last winter, I gagged entering a park restroom serving as a makeshift locker room for sweaty, muddy runners.

“It smells like crap in here,” I complained as I contemplated an immediate exit. However, with freezing temperatures outside, I had no choice but to endure the stench. Trying to ignore my odor-induced nausea, I cornered some space for my backpack and quickly got to work cleaning up.

As I went about unpacking, drying off, changing, and eventually packing up my race gear, I seemed to forgot about the foul fumes. I didn’t feel great, but ultimately my nose lost notice of the noxious smells.

When I managed to exit the raunchy restroom, however, a sudden breath of the crisp, clean forest air instantly enlivened and enlightened me. With that intake of fresh air, I realized how lousy I felt and how I had simply acclimated to the cesspool conditions.

I am reminded this week of my cesspool experience as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker officially announces another bid for reelection. Teaching in Walker’s Wisconsin is like being trapped in a noxious locker room. Over the last seven years many public educators have acclimated to Walker’s world and maybe even suppressed memories of the initial bomb, but it still stinks what Walker and his GOP cohorts have done to public schools and professional educators in Wisconsin.

As part of his grandstanding this week, Walker is sure to insensitively boast of how unintimidated he was balancing the state budget on the backs of school teachers and other public employees. Of course, Walker will ignore mentioning that the state budget deficit was largely the fault of a recession brought on by reckless investors, who were responsible for the 2000’s housing bubble and subsequent bust. Teachers were never the problem, yet we were scapegoated for Republican Party gains.

Walker is also sure to mask the stench he’s dealt with filthy lies about how public schools have improved under his reign. In Trump style, the lies are sure to be repeated over and over during his campaigning. Many will acclimate to the lies, yep, like many get used to foul fumes in a restroom.

The truth is, with the passage of Walker’s Act 10, Wisconsin’s professional educators are locked into a crappy system. Working conditions and professional pay have declined. The future security we were promised in collectively bargained and mutually agreed contracts is going, going, and mostly gone. A teacher shortage looms as the exodus of colleagues continues. Teacher training is being gutted and fast tracked for easy licensure. Precious public school monies have been diverted to mostly, less needy private school students in the form of vouchers. And public school funding has been slashed. This stinks for public school teachers, parents, and students.

Personally, I’m down tens of thousands of dollars in take home pay, since Walker’s Act 10 took effect. My school district has not even been able to maintain annual cost of living adjustments for its staff. Rising healthcare premiums and costs have cut into meager salary increases. A financial advisor has calculated that my earning power will never exceed what I made five years ago. I, like many of my colleagues, are back to working second jobs to cover family budget shortfalls. While my professional pay has declined, my workload has increased. In Walker’s Wisconsin, I am doing more for much less. This stinks.

Much like what Trump’s words have brought to America, Walker’s wind has brought in an air of animosity to Wisconsin. Even though many public educators have acclimated, Walker’s divide-and-conquer campaign has become the climate of Wisconsin.

Nonetheless, dedicated educators breathe through Walker’s foul air to keep Wisconsin’s public schools from asphyxiating. But oh, how we yearn for a breath of fresh air to enliven us and enlighten others.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

WWJD to Public Schools?

Public education supporters have legit reasons to be worried about President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.  

Living through the assault on government schooling in my home state of Wisconsin by Governor Scott Walker and his cohorts, I know firsthand how public education is mangled by anti-government types, like Walker and DeVos.

A recent New York Times op-ed correctly connects DeVos to the extreme right wing of the GOP committed to dismantling anything government run. In their binary view of the world, these cult members approach all government-run entities as evil. If government anything succeeds, then everything run by government is possible--so, therefore, the evil government schools must be dismantled. Their anti-government education playbook includes vouchers, private charters, union busting, school choice, funding cuts, and anti-public school propaganda. 

DeVos' family money is connected to all kinds of anti-public education groups, including the Education Action Group. EAG guises itself as a real news agency, but in actuality is an anti-public education organization funded by right wing operatives (like the Bradley Foundation) and works often with other Tea Party-type organizations (such as Breitbart and MacIver Institute). EAG's head demolition man is Kyle Olson, a free market, Christian apologist who makes his living trying to obliterate public education. The Michigan-based EAG asks, "What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) to public schools?" Olson and his DeVos-funded demo crew believe they are simply doing Jesus Christ's work in tearing down public education. EAG's mission is best summed up by this Olson quote:

I would like to think that, yes, Jesus would destroy the public education temple and save the children from despair and a hopeless future. And he would smash a temple that has been perverted to meet the needs of the administrators, teachers, school board members, unions, bureaucrats and contractors.

I know this may sounds paranoid or like "sour grapes" about the election (as Trump likes to say), but the damage done to public education in Wisconsin is real and adding a federal layer of attack is real scary. Since the anti-government Walker and his GOP cohorts have taken over Wisconsin's government, public schools have suffered. Experienced educators have kept government schools afloat, but the cuts have been deep and detrimental to Wisconsin's public schools. 

Under Trump and DeVos, the piecemeal plan of dismantling government schooling state by state now goes national. Does Jesus really hate public schools?

Friday, September 2, 2016

It's Not That Simple

I love this great political and personal weave by Keith Woods of NPR.  It is a worthy read and a better listen
"Love of country can't be accurately measured by whether someone sits or stands or slouches or sings. It's not that simple." ~Woods, NPR
Today I start my 20th year teaching history. "It's not that simple" will be a constant theme through almost all of our historical studies. Student opinions, perspectives, and emotions will swirl in class discussions on Colin Kaepernick's protest, civil rights history, US foreign policy, immigration, the upcoming POTUS election, work history, abuse/use of the environment, politics, and more.
Social studies is often mislabeled as a soft science. In actuality, social studies is tough because it is not a science. In the study of history, 2 + 2 sometimes does not equal 4. History is a complicated conversation, as I once learned, with seemingly an infinite number of variables and usually lacks definitive conclusions of historical happenings.
History (and the present) is not that simple. That is what I love about social studies. 
I'll be using Wood's essay in my opening lesson as a springboard into the messy, complicated, and powerful history of the United States.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

BATs v. Free Market Fairy

BATs v. Free Market Fairy
Here we go again. Once more, the hope and promise of a new year is trashed by more divisive legislation proposed by Wisconsin's Republican Party. To the elation of the GOP's machismo-minded supporters, Governor Walker's divide-and-conquer approach to managing Wisconsin continues.

This new year the first piece of legislation to the floor is a useless school accountability bill designed to hand over school districts with high student poverty rates to the private charter industry for even less accountability. (Wisconsin Soapbox spells out the absurdity.) This, of course, is a national trend just now hitting Wisconsin. For the GOP, it is the free market fairy to the rescue!

Fighting this annual assault on my profession and public education is exhausting. Some days I think, "why bother?" Challenging my pessimism is the persistent advocacy of many of my professional colleagues. Most consistent and persistent in challenging the forces trying to dismantle public schools is the noble-minded, but tough-named, Badass Teachers Association (BATs).

BATs is a grassroots organization formed "...for every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of society to erase poverty and inequality, and refuses to accept assessments, tests and evaluations imposed by those who have contempt for real teaching and learning." BATs combat the false narrative of a failing public school system produced by those infatuated with the free market fairy. It is an epic battle of BATs v. the free market fairy.

Yeah, BATs have an edginess I like, but mostly BATs provide an inspiring and motivating defense of public education for those of us beaten down by plutocrats orchestrating the attack on Wisconsin's public school system.  For example, just a couple days ago, I ran across this beautifully written post by fellow Wisconsin BAT, Allison Pratt.
The expectation by communities of our public schools has changed. It’s no longer “Help us teach our children.” It now is “Raise our kids.” No generation of teachers and administrators in history has had to fulfill this mandate. And each year, the pressure grows upon Educator's shoulders. We carry 500 pounds while trying to balance the twirling plates.
Our country's social and economic conditions demand that Educators develop the full potential of every child. An Educator's future is tied to student success as never before through evaluations, goals and standards. But this is a job for an entire community. Everyone, in every community, must help remove the obstacles to student success. We must recognize our common interests, and do our part to help our schools create the graduates and citizens we need. Our public schools cannot do it alone. Survival of our neighborhood public schools depends on a partnership of respect and problem solving. What are you doing to speak out and save your public school and community?
Thanks for the lift, Allison.  I'm writing again. I'm speaking out for social justice and what is right in my kids' schools.  I join the BATs in fighting back the free market fairy. True to my New Year's resolution, I am #teacherstrong.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Full Steam Ahead: Ignoring the Evidence on Performance Pay

Piles of Education Research
My letter to the editor (below) was published this week in the Janesville Gazette:
Janesville School District officials are pitching a pay-for-performance teacher salary structure not supported by educational reasoning or research. 
The proposed Professional Performance Structure (PPS) will move my kids’ district from a simple, fair, objective and efficient teacher salary schedule to an unproven, complicated, labor-intensive, divisive and stack-ranked pay system. While the proposal may please free-market ideologues, it will not better motivate teachers and improve my kids’ district.
Our local officials, who tout evidence-based leadership, should yield to the motivational and educational evidence related to merit pay. Overwhelmingly, the motivational research shows labor involving highly cognitive skills—such as teaching—does not improve with incentivized pay. Dozens and decades of teacher merit pay schemes have failed to improve student achievement. Local school leaders have yet to produce substantial educational research to support this radical reform proposal. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Teacher Strong

A whopping two blog posts published in 2014.  

What gives?

Loss. Then grief.

There is not much good about grief, Charlie Brown.

Grief dug in and dragged me down this past year. The initial stages of grief--all necessary and normal, the experts say--left me feeling unhealthy in many ways.  Spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and psychologically--I was dribble. Close friends and family did not recognize me. Grief left me despondent, unmotivated, scattered, and self-absorbed.