Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Boot


... and I don't mean, Das Boot.

Today marks the end of my second week at LL Bean's behemoth Return Center, where we "seasonals" learn  the finer points of refunds, exchanges, and dispositions. The latter is not, as you might imagine, a study of outdoorsy people's moods and character qualities. Rather, it describes what the heck you do with all the items from the Bean catalogue people send you when you have an almost No Questions Asked returns policy.

Though I'm still getting up to speed on the various computer--Windows, Ack!--systems and acronyms, known charmingly as Beanspeak, one thing is clear. If public schools fail because we don't do as the corporations do, I'll eat the next gnarly 27 year-old Bean boot that tumbles off the conveyor belt. 

With a dozen people in the newbie section of our class--those of us who have never worked in Returns--we have somewhere between three and five trainers, two will eventually be our supervisors. If public schools reproduce this corporate 12:3 student teacher ratio we would 12 times as many teachers. 

The trainers spend much of their time going over OSHA rules like how to exit the two-story, football field-sized building in an emergency. Sadly, some seem to want us to see OSHA as an onerous overseer rather than a lifesaving entity. In a long and tedious series of PowerPoints, no one mentions the context for these rules. I suggest the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, or say, the Bangladesh factory collapse this spring where over 1,100 people died. In fact, there seems almost an aversion to context.

Although we work in a giant Returns center, made necessary by the company's famous 100 percent guarantee, little mention is made of this anomaly. I wager that the returns center at comparably-sized companies pale in comparison. No one makes even an oblique observation about class or history until we discuss monograms. When a newly-minted high school grad in my class asks why the initial of a customer's last name goes in the middle of a monogram, the answer, instead of a history of monogramming, the trainer starts to give a non-answer like, That's the way it is, when your resident know-it-all pipes up. "It dates back to Greek and Roman times; then it became a mark of aristocracy." The teenager looked interested or at least polite; the trainer, not so much. Making friends every second, right?

The last time I went through this kind of training was in 1984 when, fresh out of NYU, I went to work for British Airways in NYC, as a reservationist. An avuncular, though tough, Welshman led us through three weeks of hard core computer and geography work. It was unsentimental, challenging, and extremely competitive. Ninety seconds of inattention could cost us our jobs. If, by the end of the first week, we didn't know 98 percent of the hundreds of cities BA served, we heard a polite "Cheerio." Good-bye to practically free flights to practically everywhere on earth. Good-bye to excellent union-supported benefits. Good-bye to a living wage in freaking New York City. Partly because we had been screened by an employment agency, and partly because the rewards beckoned, no one washed out. No one.

At the Boot, so far, the OSHA standards and several other skills, require only that we sign ourselves off. Students sign sheets of paper that say we have seen the documentation and can follow company policy, though we need prove that we understand neither the policies nor their origins. We sign not because we are confident that our skills have reached some measurable standard, but rather because we like and respect our "trainers," because we know that they know way, way, way more than we do about how to process the vast number and variety of items from the Bean catalog, and we understand that they too must get credit for providing us with this critical information. Though the real test comes "live" on the floor, we have at least three shots to demonstrate acceptable speed and accuracy.

What is mostly missing from the Bean scene is a sense of humor about the Bean brand. No one seems to find the uber-class-centric nature of the catalog ironic or even interesting. My friend Philip's friend Gail MacColl helped write "Items from our Catalogue" more than 30 years ago. Original copies of this terrific parody now sell for more than 60 dollars. I can't find our family copy and wish it were back in print so I could at least amuse myself.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Maine "Learners"

Here's a link to my op-ed published in our statewide paper, the Maine Sunday Telegram, 23.June.13, about Maine's Department of Education and its profiteering folly.


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Testing I Can Get Behind

Cambridge brings back its entrance exam. This is a test, besides my own, I'd be happy to teach to.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Genius

You’ll never eat crabs again: Barry Levinson’s eco-freakout ‘The Bay’ | Grist

Frontline did the documentary so well, Levinson had to tell the story. Though I loathe scary movies, I love Levinson well enough that I might see this one.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Honing an Argument for Jenn-yoo-wine School Reform

Spurred by a recent "public notice" in the Kennebec Journal seeking bids to evaluate Maine teachers and administrators with an eye toward merit schemes, I started to scratch the surface of the ubiquitous "edreform" movement. As I look to accomplish this possibly Sisyphean task, Dear Reader, I recommend anyone interested in sorting out the vested interests read the recent NYer article on Diane Ravitch, her own blog, and a confirmed corporate ed skeptic, the edushyster.

 For the overachievers, here are the New York Review of Books Diane Ravitch pages.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Going to Bat for Poetry and Real Education Earns Me My First Twitter Block: I'm so proud

Dear Internet,

I love you.

Up until this morning I was a social media block virgin.

Well, at least this was the first time I cared whether I had access to a fellow Tweeter's timeline. I follow plenty of people, and am followed back, by many people and organizations whose politics and positions differ from mine, from Karl Rove to Dick Armey's Freedom Works.

A few days ago I fell over an astro-turf, supposedly pro-teacher association that says its primary goal is to increase pay for the superstars of teaching. The hedge fund manager founder of this group chose a sports allusion, thedraft.org as its URL and has minions posting emo education palliatives about the importance of great teachers.

Several things about the group's website, patter, and facebook page raised red flags. First, the logo bears a striking resemblance to the NBA and MLB.

 

Who is the audience for this look, who are they trying to sell on their ideas? What research are they using that says these images mean anything to teachers? I still have no idea, though I'm certain they mean nothing to this teacher. The perverse use of President Obama amongst the celebrities in the top post, a banal, meaningless bit of PR, on the group's website, raised my eyebrows. Is it designed to convince those of us who voted for President Obama that he somehow endorses this campaign? Though he may, there is no official sign that this group is aligned with any part of a White House plan for education.

 

 Then I watched a video of LPE founder Stephen Duneier.

 

Anyone who has followed the Crash of 2008 for more than 90 minutes can understand Duneier's coded language. It emanates from ALEC, Freedom Works, some branches of the Libertarian corner of the political labyrinth, and the Tea Party.

After a 10 minute google, I saw that Duneier is a hedge fund manager who worked for the London Diversified, then Peloton Partners, until the Crash, then jumped on the for-profit education wagon. His career path gives special meaning to LPE's subhead: Changing the Face of Education, One Million at a Time. Guessing that's his million, not teachers'.

So, then I decided to engage whomever was at the helm at LPE's Twitter page while asking other teachers for their takes.

Notice, the LPE tweep immediately suggests I am against "alternative" methods for improving education. I wrote that the profit motive fails the test of "alternative" method and this Twitter spox makes up a word in response, causing me and another teacher to engage in some mild ridicule.

Then last night, coincidentally, I see Chris Hayes on C-SPAN's BookTV discuss his new book, "Twilight of the Elites: America After the Meritocracy." Chris Hayes discussing his book on C-SPAN, where he discusses the etymology of the word "meritocracy" and the effect of our wrongheaded love affair with the concept and suggest the LPE Twitter spox read it.

Happy with the universe for providing me with such beautifully timed arguments, I headed over to Facebook, where I discovered the LPE geniuses had co-opted one of my favorite poets, Taylor Mali, and excerpted his famous poem "What Teachers Make" on their website. This clinched it.


That whomever is choosing material for this site failed to comprehend the profound irony of using Mali's poem supporting rigor in democratic education and the sacrifices teachers of all pay grade as reflecting LPE's "meritocratic" blather, demonstrated straight-up ignorance and avarice. I posted a comment under Mali's image and poem excerpt on LPE's FB page, and tweeted Mali about this use.

Mali thanked me within hours and the LPE minion scrubbed my thoroughly civil comment and blocked me from both FB and Twitter.

Guess I touched a nerve.

Postscript: Guess they need some people who know how Twitter works. I followed LPE with my teacher-y account, rather than my personal one and saw a Tweet go by addressed to me. I responded--thinking they had lifted my block.  Oy.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Disrupt

NEW Public Player With Switcher

This is not all. We public school teachers are not machines to be replaced by the next new thing.

If this is what the country wants, we deserve retraining. If we cannot embrace the creative economy, who can?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Bullied" not "Bully" for Midcoast teens

Early in May, the high school visited the newly-renamed Oceanside East School in Rockland to watch a film called, “Bullied.” Though this documentary should not to be confused with “Bully”, a new independent film making its way to Maine in the next few weeks, “Bullied” addressed many of the same issues, including school policy and action, or lack thereof. The high school faculty agreed we and the students needed to see it, so we joined area schools and converged in the former Rockland District High School auditorium.
“Bullied” focuses on a gay man, Jamie Nabozny, who won a large settlement in a court case against his school system after its administration failed to protect him from the physical and emotional damage resulting from many years of anti-gay, homophobic bullying. Nabozny attended the Rockland screening, asked the students several questions and also took their questions. When he asked the Midcoast teenagers in the auditorium to raise their hands if they feel safe in school, not one Rockland, Thomaston, Vinalhaven or North Haven hand went up. This reality pointed squarely at Trekkers Executive Director Don Carpenter’s emotional introduction of Nabozny. Carpenter stood before several hundred teenagers and nearly a hundred faculty and staff members and admitted he had been on all sides of the bullying dynamic. “I have been bullied, I have been a bully, and I have stood by and done nothing when I witnessed bullying,” he said. This simple truth resonated with every person in the hall.
All the North Haven Community School faculty, not just high school teachers, administration and staff work every day to create and maintain a safe environment. As a teacher anywhere, let alone in a tiny school where we pride ourselves on personal, nearly one on one teaching, seeing evidence that your students find the climate threatening is uncomfortable at best, shaming at worst. We went to the screening of “Bullied” because we wanted to face reality, not because we wanted to be comforted.
In the film, Nabozny got abuse for being studious and emotional. To many bullies, kindness, nurturing, and concern for others equal weakness. We all have heard a version of this misogyny on the playground when a child gets criticized for playing a sport, “like a girl.” Because my NHCS classroom is adjacent to the high school locker rooms, outbursts from students who imagine they are out of earshot, too often contain epithets using the word “gay” as a euphemism for stupid, ugly, or confusing. Though consequences and conversation have helped, teachers around the country fight this stereotype, so we know we are not alone.
This fall we have an opportunity, with the coming high school grouping: eight girls, seven freshmen and one sophomore; and 11 boys, two seniors, four juniors, two sophomores, and three freshmen, to hear a wide variety of voices from the student body. With Principal-Elect Amy Marx’s leadership, faculty voices may discover new tunes while bringing Marx into the chorus that echoes in the halls of NHCS.
Cooperation, tolerance, sensitivity, empathy, and kindness build trust and personal relationships and give our work meaning. These traits are part and parcel of the NHCS mission exiting Principal Barney Hallowell has given his adult life to promote and embody. The finest appreciation of this legacy we could provide him would be to honor these precepts by living them.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Missed Deadline...gasp! Instead, let's talk about journalism.

So, no North Haven News. I let preparing for April vacation, getting to Florida for April vacation, doing my taxes during my April vacation, deflecting the compulsive overconsumption of my father's partner while on April vacation (does he have to buy everything in the county that is on sale, then talk about it for 10 minutes per item?),  enjoying a bit of April vacation and getting back from April vacation distract me from my appointed duties at the North Haven News.

For that I am sorry. Overwhelmed a bit, and sorry.

In lieu of anything intelligent from me, have a look at this Laurie Penney post on Warren Ellis's blog. Ask yourself, what is the traditional media and given what it is today, what good is it doing?

xx

L

p.s. Lest anyone think I would let traditional media evaporate, I have three words for you, This American Life.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

North Haven HS News Column

Though I'm not blogging enough, I am writing this column for the North Haven News. It's (mostly) what's happening.

Mostly the days at North Haven Community School tick over like they do anywhere, at most jobs, in most industrialized countries. Like most people who work inside buildings, we have meetings, lots of meetings. This month, in addition to our usual meetings about policy, students, schedules, standards, and some other things I have certainly forgotten, we had meetings to meet the candidates for next year’s open principal position and meetings to discuss said principal candidates. Thankfully, the eventual news of our new principal, Amy Marx’s hiring came not in a meeting, but in a universally, at least as far as I could tell, well-received e-mail. Her warmth and intelligence swayed us all, and her wish to find the best place in the world to raise her children seems an excellent fit.
Like most teachers, we also spend most of our time with children. In the high school,  though they may be adult-sized, our 13 students remain children, even the seniors. Sure, we give tests,  grade papers, and monitor behavior, but we work hard to demonstrate the respect, even love, we have for the subjects we teach, on the off chance that these children will emulate our curiosity and desire to learn. The good news is, often they do, and their willingness to focus on Knowledge Fair, rolling toward us on the not too distant horizon, proves it.
Whether it is the relatively high adult to student ratio, the manners demonstrated at home, Fresh Pond’s water, or some ineffable quality I am too new to notice, our children grumble, yet they do their work. Though some do it easily, some struggle, some downright resist, I trust that come the Ides of March, every student will present an exploration of his or her topic in at least one tangible way. Here in the high school we have students studying a broad range of subjects, from a 1970s U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Amish education to American courts’ definitions of mental health; diesel engines to modern warfare; testing in schools to WikiLeaks; bass guitars to hydroponic systems.
Advised by high school teachers Courtney Naliboff, Louis Carrier, Janis Jones, Kristen McGovern , Terry Goodhue and me, as well as Librarian Kate McQuinn and Principal Barney Hallowell, students study, write, paint, glue, and draw in the pursuit of discovering what is worth learning about the subjects they are studying. Though long term projects have become de rigueur in many schools, this will be my first experience with one that encompasses the entire student body. The project’s common purpose seems a rich bonding force among both teachers and students and I look forward to seeing these projects fully fruited and on display for the town.
Closer on the horizon looms the Maine Principal Association’s One Act Play Festival, Saturday and Sunday, March 9 and 10 at Strom Auditorium in Rockport, home of Camden Hills Regional High School.  Led by English and theater arts teacher Courtney Naliboff, the NHCS cast members, Kennedy Cooper, Adam Murphy, Craig Waterman, Gina MacDonald, Samantha Sparhawk, Caleb Mao, Maddie Hallowell, Leta Hallowell, Megan Goodell, Natalie Carrier and Adrianna Ames,  have been rehearsing play called “Mostellaria” by the early Roman Plautus wherein the boys play the girls and vice versa. The plot turns on a sociable young “man” whose father leaves the youth in charge of the family home. Apparently young people have been throwing parties in their parents’ absence for more than 2,000 years, and young Tranio is no exception. The parties continue until the father returns and creates the central problem of the play. The house and, in particular, a friend are in such a state that the young people decide to convince his father that in his absence ghosts have come to haunt his house. This ruse proves problematic and a classic picaresque, replete with knaves, rogues, and adventure, ensues.
    Apparently, there has been a plot afoot for years to keep residents of North Haven from attending the One Act Festival, as it is, according to Principal Barney Hallowell and One Act Director Courtney Naliboff, always scheduled during North Haven’s town meeting. This year, the curtain rises on our play at 2:30 p.m., just enough time to make it to Rockport from the middle boat, and the town meeting starts at 9 a.m. Oy.