Day 33 Saturday May 29, 2010: “Shadow Captain”


Today is Saturday, May 29, 2010, John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s birthday, the middle of the Memorial Day weekend, and Day 33 of my time left at the Mont. I never made it to the yard yesterday. Too busy dealing with matters related the Mont, our educational Dirty Dozen, Teachers’ Letters to Obama and a whole host of stuff which sprang up like the dandelions which now cover my neighbors’ backyard—I’ll go mow their lawn later, just to be neighborly and since I have a lawn mower and they don’t.


That mowing the lawn bit was just a reminder to throw your way about merit pay. If I was rewarded by the city, perhaps lowering my taxes or providing me with water at a reduced rate, for having a better lawn than my neighbors, why would I want to help them? By helping them, that lessens the chances of me getting an award/reward. So my yard can look better, and theirs look like crap? Will the crappiness of their lawn make mine look even better by comparison? Yeah, that makes for a good neighborhood, eh? That some place you want to bring kids up in?


That’s what you will have when that SIG grant of six million that the District wants comes to the Mont. A hell of a lot better than 30 pieces of silver. And you just sell out 4600 kids to do it. Like Josef Stalin said (me quoting Stalin—shows you my mad-on): “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is a statistic.” One of the teachers who spoke to Secretary Duncan told me, “Sounds like your faculty is turning on each other.” She also made reference to the destruction of community. We’re doing it to ourselves.


We keep looking at business models to fix education, to model education after; of course we’ve managed to eliminate just about any class at the Mont that has to do with using your hands under the guise that such classes would “track kids” (let’s not mention the cherry-picking of students which some counselors and SLCs had already been guilty of—nah, that’s not tracking).


It’s about balance. Miyamoto Musashi, in “A Book of Five Rings,” wrote “Pen and sword in accord.” Education in Classical Greece involved being well rounded. One of the hallmarks of the Renaissance was to be a “Complete Man,” sorry for the seeming sexism of that phrase. But we want to pretend we are successful “Captains of Education.”


This isn’t “The Deadliest Catch,” with ships’ crews competing to bring in the most crabs. That’s on the open sea, and the success of one boat does not diminish from another. Year ago, I remember a friend of mine, Phil, who said about awards/rewards, “There’s two theories. The universe has an infinite number of cookies, and it won’t matter who gets how many cookies. Or the universe has a finite number of cookies, and you getting more cookies hurts my chances to get cookies.” But a school is a closed system, essentially. The Mont has 4600 students on three tracks. It will not be just superior teaching which will win the day, for you have to assume all kids are equal. It will involve cherry-picking, to get that edge.


And that’s when we’ll stop helping each other do this thing we do.


It’s why I make coffee just to give away to co-workers.


“Why is this idiot talking about coffee?” Give an ear, then.


I make coffee to give away. People come into my room, get a cup, exchange pleasantries or grouse about the state of affairs. Usually, unless I’ve gone feral, they leave in a better mood. My room becomes a hang-out, a gathering place. Kids get used to seeing teachers walk in and out of my room. It’s not unusual for a teacher to sit down and watch a lesson in progress. Gee, you think that might be sharing best practices? Because we do it in each other’s classes, too, even if there is no coffee.


Imagine that! Teachers walking in and out of each others rooms, wantonly observing each other teach—without even writing anything down or placing themselves on a schedule and (gasp) even sharing ideas!


Wait, it gets better. I don’t charge for the coffee. How can that be? How can you just give something to your potential competitors without expecting some monetary return? Sorry, not Ferengi enough; in fact, I’d make a damned lousy Ferengi (sorry, Star Trek Deep Space 9 reference). No, I give coffee away. Without charging! Non-regulars always ask if they can have a cup, which I happily pour. Here’s the key: the regulars share. Kathleen does her Super-Mom thing and bakes for the crew. Mat, Kathleen and others bring me ground coffee. Sometimes people who don’t even get coffee bring me some. People help because they can (by the way we’re out of coffee, if anyone remembers for Tuesday). And we share not only coffee and baked goods, but our ideas on education, even across the curriculum. Guess that makes us coffee house revolutionaries, eh?


Where will it end, you wonder?


Why, this will end July 1, 2010, with the birth of the New Fremont, and its 5 Academies and the cherry-picked “The Mathematics, Science and Technology Magnet”, with merit pay proposed for the teachers who remain. Of course, with only two Academies per track, I totally envision the Magnet getting the better 300 kids. If it does not, what exactly will the mechanism be for making it a Magnet? Quality of teachers? If that is the case, will the teachers in “The School of Law, Justice and Government,” the other Academy, with officially 500 students, but in reality will be 700, be considered to be of lesser quality?


Ah, the business model. Somebody is sure being given the business here.


In case anyone forgot, the name of the game is PUBLIC EDUCATION. But, even though you’ll be asked to “share best practices,” the reality will be that those whose test scores are higher, whose attendance is better, whose grades are better, will receive that “merit pay,” which says I’m better than my co-worker/competitor.


Damned if I’ll play that game, especially with kids’ lives in the balance. Some might say that shows I am afraid to compete. I spent decades getting the crap kicked out of me in the SCA. I’d try a new weapon’s form and my friends descended upon me with wild glee, like sharks in a feeding frenzy. And I deserved it. And I got better.


But I also shared my knowledge with others. I remember how, because others chose to be sexist with a young woman named Rhiannon and cheated when they fought her, I decided to show her how to “kill” me, that is to strike a killing blow in our martial art. The next weekend she’d return to our tournaments, where we practice medieval fighting with rattan weapons and really uncomfortable armor, and pick apart my defenses. I’d have to spend the next week racking my brains on how to stop her. Once I figured that out, I’d see a new hole to exploit, teach that to her—and wait to get the living tar beaten out of my ego. She was my competitor and yet my friend.


That won’t happen with merit pay. $5000 for improved attendance and improved grades replaces the 30 denarii.


Which is why I won’t play that game. Everyone has to decide for themselves.

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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.


    August 2010



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