By Simon Tang
The ensuing conflict between parents and teachers over the response of the school systems across the nation, and in Loudoun County, make evident one fact: both facilitators of our education are part of the bigger problem.
In a way, the teachers and the parents are really one in the same. To contextualize this, consider two powerful politicians: Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In short, both are politicians who influence and conduct policy in 280 characters or less, both are polarizing figures within their respective political parties, both appeal to a specific base in their political party as opposed to the entire party at large. Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are basically the same people a few generations apart and on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
Why does that matter in a discussion about education and school reopenings?
Because teachers and parents are essentially fulfilling the same roles in a different conflict: while parents are calling for in-person schooling for their children, the Loudoun Education Association (LEA) and its members have called for 100% distance learning. Both, however, ignore larger problems just as Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez do in the political sphere.
Where is student input in any of the positions that parents and teachers have taken?
Parents are concerned about their children’s education, but what about the kids themselves? Where do they find themselves in trying to answer this challenging question? And what about the concerns for teachers’ children?
This negligence works both ways.
In a statement released on Monday, July 6, the LEA said, "As the voice of employees, LEA conducted an all staff survey and provided the results to LCPS Administration and the School Board in early June. Unfortunately, vital employee input was not incorporated into the development of LCPS’ presented plans."
"As the voice of employees... Unfortunately, vital employee input..." It sounds like LEA’s concern for students is minimal.
While the educators’ concerns are important, if "academic growth, physical safety, and emotional well-being of our students" is most important, doesn't it make sense to consider the students’ own concerns?
What is incredulous is that neither parents nor educators seem to understand the fact that their conflict does not help students, but neither did their “partnership” in pre-coronavirus times. Both parties subverted students' autonomy and their ability to become learners together. Now they are just doing it apart.
In the background of racial injustice, the killing of George Floyd, the shooting of Breonna Taylor, the sexual assault of Vanessa Guillen, it is important for us, as a society, to come together to ask and answer the questions surrounding racial violence. These events are not isolated; they are part of a larger problem in this country. In the same way, the challenges we face in education – of helping students become the agents of their own education, of addressing racial inequity within schools, of services for students who need special accommodations – are not isolated problems. They are part of a larger failure.
Now, I am challenging you to realize that today’s social and political ills are connected with flaws in our education from yesterday. The problem is a lot bigger than a simple comparison of Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or the names of those fallen in the cause for social justice.
In a political climate such as this, is it not important that the next generation receives the highest quality education? The students of today will be the policymakers of tomorrow; serious changes to our political system and status quo must start with how we educate students.
Educators and parents playing the role of politicians in our homes and in our schools does little to empower students; they are the same as politicians focused on reelection in the fall. Just as politicians are seemingly interested in challenging the racial status-quo in this country, educators and parents are seemingly interested in the welfare of students. But how much is self-serving, posturing, and virtue signaling?
For this – our education system – to work, students must be the driving force of their own education. Students must be empowered to think and act of their own free will. What we have now are options – and no solutions – just as in the real world where there are options but no clear solutions to our social ills.
I realize that this writing does not provide an in-depth answer about the question of race in the United States, nor about the many questions about schools, but my conclusion is this: the only solution to the social and educational problems we face today is to convert students to life-long learners, and it starts with changing the minds of parents and educators in our homes and our learning environments. They must recognize that students should be included in the solutions, not ruled over and compelled.
Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” The only solution now is to take a shot.
By Jonathan Walthour
Jonathan Walthour is a 2018 graduate of George Mason University and 2014 graduate of Heritage High School. He is a business systems analyst who enjoys spending time with friends, trading on foreign exchange markets, and has been getting more involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Jonathan wrote this short essay and shared the videos (scroll down) to help others get a more personal, less media-centered view of the BLM protests in Washington DC.
The date was June 2, 2020, and the time was around 5:00pm. A few friends and I got out of the car on Vermont Avenue and walked toward Pennsylvania Avenue, The White House. We eagerly moved toward the energized protesters. I noticed a family of five (father, mother, and four young children) with cleaning supplies trying to scrub profane anti-Trump graffiti off a nearby wall. No one said anything as we walked by, but I thought to myself: “Why bring little children to this type of atmosphere where there’s going to be a riot?”
As we continued to walk, the roaring chants grow louder, and the electric atmosphere rose as well. I did not know whether to feel scared or excited; little did I know what I was about to see. As we finally turned the corner on Pennsylvania Avenue and merged into the crowd, I could not believe my eyes – Thousands upon thousands of peaceful protesters chanting the names of those brutally slain by police. There were people handing out snacks, water, sanitizer, posters, gloves, masks, eye drops – you name it; it was most likely there. The most shocking revelation was the number of demonstrators who were NOT African American marching alongside us. As a black man, it gave me hope to see people were advocating for a problem that was not necessarily “theirs” but who realized the OVERALL problem and made it theirs.
By no means will anything change overnight. But day by day, more and more people become educated and aware, whether they agree to advocate for BLM (Black Lives Matter) or not. A change is going to come… in due time. We, as Americans, have the right to speak up, and we must make our voices heard. We MUST stop the brutality of law enforcement. Not all protests are riots, and not all cops are bad. But there is one common enemy: racists. We need political change and change to policing policies; cops must be held accountable when they commit a crime.
The date is now June 12, and Breonna Taylor’s murderers are STILL free and getting paid…Yeah, something is not right. If you do not know the story, today’s a great day to do some reading. And if you really wish to make a difference, keep in mind it is your civic duty to vote and let your voice be heard. Reposting on social media can raise awareness and funds, but voting and expressing your own morals have even more impact.
By Ryan Tibbens
Check this out: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/performance-artist-eats-120-000-banana-duct-taped-wall-calls-n1097696?cid=sm_npd_nn_tw_ma. It's funny, right? An artist, previously best known for creating a $1million solid gold toilet (recently stolen from a British palace), created a new piece called “Comedian,” which is composed of a real yellow Cavendish dessert banana duct taped to a wall. Someone paid $120,000 for it. When stories of this “art” sale hit major media outlets, those media outlets also reported the public’s “outrage.” Then, two days later, the same media outlets reported that a man claiming to be a “performance artist” ate the banana, without permission, in a performance piece he calls “Starving Artist.” Again, we were told that people were outraged. People can act outraged by the money wasted, the people who could have been helped, the degradation of art, or even the general stupidity; but reality is even more outrageous.
First, we are asked to believe this is newsworthy – some jackwagon tapes a banana to a wall; then some rich idiot pays the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree worth of tuition, room, and board for it; then some other jackwagon eats the banana. Then the art gallery curator “replaces” the banana – new banana, new tape. Their spokesperson said, “[The performance artist] did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea.” If this is newsworthy, then we have two options: we're all idiots, OR the artists are geniuses because they are forcing us to reflect on what art is, what money is worth, what people are worth, and how to deal with idiots.
Consider the absurdity of the following screenshots from NBC and Fox News:
Second, in terms of wealth, the top .01% of Americans (~200,000 households) own as much wealth as the bottom 90% (~110,000,000 households). The top 10% own as much wealth as the entire middle class. I’m not a communist, but when there are nearly 500,000 unconvicted people sitting in jails, most because they can’t afford bail, and some wealthy paint-sniffer buys a banana and eight inches of tape instead of freedom for thousands of people… Well, ready the guillotine. 12.4% of US households live below the poverty line (and a whopping 48% of people in Puerto Rico). There are tens of thousands of families who earn less than $15,000 per year, and all those families know that bananas cost about 60 cents per pound – PER POUND. They also know that an entire roll of duct tape costs about five bucks. Some people don’t know what things cost because they don’t have to pay attention. The current Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is massively wealthy – her family controls more than $5,400,000,000 (BILLION) dollars, nearly all of it inherited. Despite the fact that she’s never held a regular job, DeVos could buy “Comedian,” the taped banana, 45,000 times and still live like a middle class person. When the people running the country live like THIS (seriously, click the link – you will be amazed and nauseated), while the median American home is approximately 2,300 sq.ft., we have a problem, and it’s bigger than some banana art.
It seems every time I hear a debate over refugees and asylum, somebody says, "It's not that I'm opposed to helping, but we can't even afford to take care of our own." But that's not true. We can take care of our own. We can take care of every person in the country if we want, and substantially more than that too. We choose not to.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that this artwork isn’t the real story – wealth inequality is. You don't have to be a communist to agree that something is wrong, and you don't have to be a communist to see that massive wealth inequality is bad morally and economically. If you’re outraged by the banana art shenanigans but don’t connect the absurdity to excessive wealth, then your outrage is misplaced. The banana art is just a symptom of the problem. And who knows? Maybe the artist was trying to make this point all along. For now, eat your bananas, and eat the rich.
by Ryan Tibbens
More school. That is Senator Kamala Harris’s suggestion to help working class families struggling with childcare bills. Harris, who built her career by putting more people into more government institutions for more time, is now vying for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and as her campaign loses steam, she panders harder and harder to her base’s concerns. Unfortunately, Harris does not share many of those concerns, and when she does, she is so far removed from experiencing the problem on a personal level that her solutions seem tone deaf.
A few weeks ago, Harris suggested that, as a measure to ease childcare costs for working class families who pay for after-school care, we should keep public schools open for three additional hours each day, approximately 8am through 6pm. The senator, previously a successful lawyer, married for the first time at the age of 50 and now has two step-children. Regarding the difficulties of raising children on a budget, Harris shared personal experiences from her own childhood: “My mother raised my sister and me while working demanding, long hours, so I know firsthand that, for many working parents, juggling between school schedules and work schedules is a common cause of stress and financial hardship.” Interestingly, after somewhat-almost-kind of-supporting universal basic income, Harris now promotes a supposed working-class measure that actually benefits businesses. It is astonishing that, reflecting upon her own family’s situation through a child’s eyes, her solution is to make childcare cheaper, not to make parents get home sooner.
If America’s leaders are concerned about burdens on families, why not try to reduce the work day rather than lengthen the school day? School's primary purpose is not childcare, but politicians, parents, and social reformers conveniently forget that, again and again. Children need more free time, not more school; parents need more time with their children, not more time at work. Harris's bill is yet another example of how America's priorities are misaligned and of how good intentions in school legislation too often yield bad outcomes. While some companies and school systems are having success experimenting with a four day work week, others (and others and others and others) are finding benefits in a shorter work day. Given low unemployment rates and historically low birth rates, plus the oncoming wave of automation, modern economies will soon need to come to terms with the fact that few employers and fewer employees benefit from a long work week. But here we are – a serious presidential candidate for a major party “helping workers” by misusing schools as daycares so that employers can continue archaic eight-hour expectations.
The very real, very current problem is that she says she's helping young, working class families, but what she's really doing is subsidizing employers who don't pay their employees enough to afford decent childcare or those who require impractical, inconvenient work schedules. It's like how Walmart and McDonald's pay many of their workers far below the wages necessary for quality, independent living, but they get away with it because taxpayers pick up the deficit through a variety of housing, food, and healthcare assistance programs. Those programs are generally good, but we should oppose offering too much assistance to someone who has a real job because we're really transferring money from taxpayers to the corporate stockholders, using that underpaid worker to mask the transaction. If we want to help those workers, we should find ways to increase their wages rather than subsidize their employers.
Educationally and developmentally, most young people need more free time, more independent play and inquiry, not more time in the classroom -- particularly the elementary school-aged children that this program would target (high school kids don't go to babysitters after school). Plus, we already can't adequately staff our schools, so why on earth would it be a good idea to extend the hours and hire more people, further diluting the quality of the candidate/worker pool everywhere? Families need more time together, not more time working or being housed in government facilities. If you want to help working families, give them more time together, not a cheaper way to spend time apart.
Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
(Order information available at the bottom of the review.)
Simply put, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is one of the most important books written in American history. Widely regarded as the best American slave narrative, it was written by Frederick Douglass at the age of 27, just a few years after gaining his freedom. Like most slave narratives, it includes testimonials and introductions by prominent white abolitionists to lend ethos to the author, but upon reading, modern audiences can scarcely imagine that Douglass needed a boost in credibility. His narrative structure is sound, imagery is vivid, diction is impeccable. His appeals to human decency and justice are cries we can't unhear. An early review in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper proclaimed, “It will leave a mark upon this age which the busy finger of time will deepen at every touch. It will generate a public sentiment in this nation, in the presence of which our pro-slavery laws and constitutions shall be like chaff in the presence of fire. It contains the spark which will kindle up the smouldering [sic] embers of freedom in a million souls, and light up our whole continent with the flames of liberty."
Frequently cited as an inspiration by civil rights champions and politicians, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass also functions well in modern English and social studies classrooms. Its historical significance and status as a trusted primary source are impressive, but Douglass's style and advanced, sometimes intimidating, vocabulary provide students opportunities to study rhetoric, syntax, diction, style, and more. Douglass's writings have been cited on the Advanced Placement English Language & Composition exam no fewer than three times and offer an opportunity to become more comfortable with older non-fiction, which is traditionally the most challenging multiple choice reading passage on that exam.
For use in my AP English Language & Composition classes, students focus on (and annotate) the author's rhetoric and style, and they give special attention to content related to education and personal freedom. Douglass's exquisite writing makes the first task easy; his candor eases the second as well. In Chapter VI, Douglass writes that his master once said if he was taught to read, "'there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.' These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood what had been to me a most perplexing difficulty—to wit, the white man's power to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I wanted, and I got it at a time when I the least expected it. Whilst I was saddened by the thought of losing the aid of my kind mistress, I was gladdened by the invaluable instruction which, by the merest accident, I had gained from my master. Though conscious of the difficulty of learning without a teacher, I set out with high hope, and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. The very decided manner with which he spoke, and strove to impress his wife with the evil consequences of giving me instruction, served to convince me that he was deeply sensible of the truths he was uttering. It gave me the best assurance that I might rely with the utmost confidence on the results which, he said, would flow from teaching me to read. What he most dreaded, that I most desired. What he most loved, that I most hated. That which to him was a great evil, to be carefully shunned, was to me a great good, to be diligently sought; and the argument which he so warmly urged, against my learning to read, only served to inspire me with a desire and determination to learn. In learning to read, I owe almost as much to the bitter opposition of my master, as to the kindly aid of my mistress. I acknowledge the benefit of both."
The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is fully deserving of a 5/5 rating. And weighing in at less than 100 pages, even the busiest student can make time to read and annotate it well in just a couple weeks.
For book order purposes, I recommend the Dover Thrift edition because it is accurate, complete, and cheap. The print and margins are somewhat small, so annotations can sometimes be tricky for students who write too much or have large handwriting, but the monetary trade-off usually makes it worthwhile. The other $5-7 versions available on Amazon.com are of varying quality, many having printing errors, binding problems, small margins, or missing prefaces/introductions. Therefore, I personally recommend the cheaper Dover Thrift (which I use) or the Penguin Classic edition, which includes other Douglass writings and speeches. The full text is widely available online, free of charge, but few students have ever submitted quality annotations in an Ebook or from a .pdf. Proceed with caution. Still, it is an option. The book is also available at most major book stores. If you have questions about obtaining a copy, let us know.
ReadThinkWriteSpeak and the ClassCast Podcast are Amazon affiliates. As such, they receive a small portion of any purchases made after clicking links on this page. All proceeds are reinvested into this website, the podcast, or classroom/school supplies for the author/s and students.
Introduction and Review by Ryan Tibbens
Michael J. Sandel's Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? is both a book and a college course. In fact, Sandel's class is the most popular course ever offered at Harvard University. You can watch large portions of the class free of charge at JusticeHarvard.org and on YouTube. A few years ago, a student told me about the class and its videos; she said that parts of his lectures and discussions reminded her of my class and that I might enjoy it. I did. I watched all 15+ hours of video and immediately began thinking about how to implement it in class. Of course, I couldn't show that much video, particularly in a high school English class, so when I found out that Sandel had written a book based upon the course, I was thrilled.
An introduction to moral and political philosophy, Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do? now acts as a cornerstone in my AP English Language and Composition classes because it forces deep thinking, critical questioning, and rhetorical discussions. Without my prompting, students will reference the book all year long in a variety of discussions and essays; they will use it to question their classmates and support arguments in their own essays. Interestingly, several universities now use questions drawn from this book for supplemental admissions essays, in admissions interviews, and in scholarship interviews (including the University of Virginia's Jefferson Scholars program).
Any person interested in moral or political philosophy, or interested in better understanding what they think is right and (more importantly) WHY they think that, should consider this a must read. It earns 5/5 stars and a prominent place in my course syllabus.
ORDER HERE: Justice: What Is the Right Thing to Do?
Other books by Michael J. Sandel...
Because no one else