Category Archives: education reform

Chapter 12: Yankee Trader

Yankee Trader

 

Randy Doyle was swimming. Strong, rhythmic strokes. Over and over again. And with each stroke he felt better. With each stroke he felt more alive, more excited. He could hardly wait to get to the other side. But as he swam, the water grew colder and thicker. It became more and more viscous, like swimming in a pool of 10w30. The oil was everywhere. It stuck to everything. His arms, his face, his feathers. The more he tried to get rid of it, the more it stuck to him. He crawled out of the water and tried to run. It was so hard to breathe and he was being chased. At first he didn’t know what was chasing him. He was in a maze, a corn maze, no it was made of football players then the football players turned into percentage signs and he could see what was chasing him. It was the numbers 25, 35 and 45. Why those numbers he didn’t know. But they were evil. They had claws and sharp teeth. They were getting closer and closer. He tried to call for help but his mouth wouldn’t open. Finally it did and he yelled “Bunny, Bunny” over and over again. Bunny appeared dressed as a rodeo clown. He came right up to him. But instead of diverting the numbers away like a rodeo clown was supposed to do, he looked Doyle right in the face and laughed “Give it up” over and over again.

Doyle started to wake up. He was aware that something was different. The bed felt different. He was naked and he never slept naked. The room felt different. Still with his eyes closed he reached around the bed as if he was looking for something. His left hand stopped up against something soft and round. It felt good. He stroke it. Then came the voice.

Morning, Tiger. Don’t tell me you’re up for another go? You know I am if you are.”

Oh my god thought Randy. I know that voice. It was Kathleen. He remembered being with her in the restaurant…Then the rest started to come back to him.

She pulled herself closer to him, kissed him on the forehead, the cheeks, the lips. He felt the warmth of her body. She was older than him, maybe by 5 years, yet she had kept herself in shape. He was starting to get excited.

At little while later, he looked at the radio-alarm clock on the night table.

Holy shit.”

What?”

We missed breakfast. “

I’m not hungry. Are you?”

No, it’s not that. The keynote speaker was supposed to be there to discuss his latest book.”

Who’s the keynote speaker and what is his latest book?” asked Kathleen. Then she added “And why should I care?”

William Vandonkersgood. Author of ‘Reinventing the School: Tearing down to Build up’ and founder of the Phoenix movement.”

Phoenix movement?”

Yeah, Phoenix as in the bird that rises from the ashes, not the city in Arizona. He believes that the whole education system is rotten at the core and can only be changed by tearing everything down. “

So he’s an anarchist.”

They never use that term. But they have bulldozed a few inner-city schools in New York and Philadelphia.”

How do you get away with bulldozing a school?”

Apparently they show up on a Sunday morning. The neighbours assume they have permission. Any way they do it in neighbourhoods that aren’t in the habit of calling the authorities. And they have official looking papers on hand if anyone asks.”

What would he put up in its place?”

That’s the beauty of it. He doesn’t propose anything. He thinks the new system should just rise up from the ashes of the old. It should be created co-operatively.

Let’s grab something for breakfast before the first session.”

Thought you weren’t hungry.”

That was a few minutes ago. Now I am.”

*******

In the coffee shop downstairs they went over the program for today.

Let’s see what I should go to,’ said Kathleen as she perused the program.

Didn’t you pre-register?”

Of course I did. But I never go to these things unless they look good. Let’s see…

From Caterpillar to Butterfly’, ‘Making your Staff Do the Crap Jobs and Thank you for it’, ‘Literacy: ItsEverybodies Business’, hmm a couple of mistakes in the title. No irony there. ‘Liberation Teaching: Releasing the Inner Guerrilla in all of us.’ ‘The Hip-Hop Principal’, ‘No one fails: Modern Assessment andEvaluation’. What do you think, Randy?”

I signed up for ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom up.’ I think I should go to that.”

That’s sounds a lot like ‘From the Classroom to the Director’s Office in Ten Years’ I wonder what the difference is.”

You know what sounds good ‘Fromthe Whip to the Jelly Bean Jar: a History of Persuasion’’

I’m going to ‘When Teachers Go too Far: How to Deal with Unwanted Staff’. It sounds useful.”

Do you have problems with your staff?”

Doesn’t everyone?”

Look at the time. Tell you what, let’s meet for lunch and compare notes about the sessions.”

Sounds like a plan.”

*********

The big conference room was abuzz with conversation. 500 Principals in one spot all talking shop. 250 Principals telling 250 other Principals what they thought of their morning sessions. 250 Principals trying to listen over the din of 250 Principals all talking at once. Apparently some sessions were very good, some so-so and others a total waste of time. The session entitled, ‘Casting a Broad Shadow: How to Promote yourself to your Superiors’ was very well attended and seemed to be well worth it. ‘Building a Fair and Balanced Timetable’ drew three participants. Normally it would have been cancelled but apparently 35 people had signed up for it and 32 were no-shows. That’s the problem with going at 8:00 a.m. after a night of Principals cutting loose.

Eventually Kathleen and Randy found each other and found seats together, near the back and a long way from the head table.

So where did you end up going?” asked Randy.

What?”

What sessions did you go to?”

I decided on ‘Military Techniques Applied to a High School Setting’ and ‘Speaking Their Language: Howto Rap with the Groovy Kids of Today’Military Techniques’ was good. It focused on the concept on dividing a staff into cliques who spend all their time and energy fighting each other and allow you to do what you want to them. I came away with several ideas I am going to apply when I get back to St. Kilda’s. The second one on the other hand was so bad it was funny. I think that the guy has been doing the same presentation since the 60’s. If we had listened to acid rock and smoked dope, it would have been a complete nostalgia trip. What about you?

I’m just trying to picture you as a hippy.”

Ladies and gentlemen, could I have your attention please. I would like to introduce the head table. On my right are Helga Overmeyer, Principal of Central Winneposis High School and Chairperson of the Conference Organizing Committee and Hugh Really, Past President of High School Administrators’ Association of Canada and on my left is Alma Ludwigshafen who is the current President of the HSAAC and who is going to introduce today’s keynote speaker.”

Polite applause followed as Ms Ludwigshafen walked up to the podium.

I went to ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like I signed up for. Then I took a page out of your book and went to something that looked interesting. ‘Keeping your Ambitions in Check. When the Guy You Work for Leaves Something to be Desired’

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to tell you the background of your distinguished guest. He was born and raised in Cinderella, a coal mining town in West Virginia. He attended many underfunded public schools where he earned marks good enough to win a scholarship to Duke University. There he met many students from vastly different backgrounds than his and realized the unfairness of the public school system.”

What was ‘Growing your Career from the Bottom’ like?” asked Kathleen, who could barely hear the speaker at the podium.

It had a lot of good ideas about the art of what he called sycophantism. How to play your cards right and at the right time. Whose favour you should curry and how. How to maximize your profile in the Board. I would recommend it to anyone with ambitions of going beyond the Principal’s office.”

Throughout his career, first as a classroom teacher, then as an Administrator and finally as a Professor of Education at Slohand College in New Jersey, he has dreamed of finding a way so that every student will have an equal chance at success.”

What about Keeping your Ambitions in Check?”

Total waste of time. The guy giving the presentation had no idea of what it is like to work for a loser. I could have given a better presentation. I know what it’s like.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give our keynote speaker: William Jefferson Vandonkergood.”

Who is this guy again?” asked Kathleen

William Jefferson Vandonkersgood. He’s really big right now. He founded the Phoenix movement which destroys old decrepit schools so that new ones can be built. He’s so big they call him the new Lewis Peacock who created the Oreo Nation and the answer to Jessica Froem. I have all his books and I am hoping to get his autograph.”

Louder applause than for Ms Ludwigshafen followed as Vandonkersgood stood at the podium and adjusted the microphone upwards.

I thank you. I thank you very kindly. But please wait for my speech before you shower me with all this applause. Make me earn it.” The crowd drew quiet then laughed at his last sentence. “It’s true. I started out in a one-room school house.” His accent made ‘I’ sound like a two syllable word. “Well actually we would have been happy if it was a one-room school house. The rain came in through the roof (rhymed with boeuf), the wind came in through the windows and the rats did purty much what they wanted. And that was on a nice spring day. In the winter time we would fight to get into the outhouse, where at least it was warm. I could tell ya that we might of been poor but we were happy. But it would be a lie to say that we didn’t dream of going to a proper school, with a proper roof, with proper windows. You know what I mean, huh?”

Now didn’t I go off to college and see that not everybody went to a school without a proper roof and proper windows . And that set me to thinking what can I do for all those Bobbies and Betties in schools like the ones I knew. I started asking anyone who’d listen why some kids go to fancy schools with all the up-to-date technology, with happy well-paid teachers who are dedicated to their jobs and other have to go to, well let’s call them crap schools, with no supplies and over-worked, underpaid teachers who quit teaching on average after only two years. I asked why in a democracy do we not have equality of opportunity and I am still waiting for a satisfactory answer.”

One good thing from Keeping your Ambitions in Check was the advice he gave about ignoring your boss if he has nothing but stupid ideas. At Lord Byron last year Bunny, our Principal, started a initiative where students who misbehaved were no longer sent to the office. They were told to take a walk and be back in ten minutes. Well, that meant that instead of disturbing one class, they were now disturbing all of them. And kids would try to get kicked out of class so they could wander the halls. It got to the point where there could be twenty or thirty kids in the halls at the same time.”

So Bunny gave up on the idea?”

Hell no. I just told the staff to go back to sending people to me and I would deal with them. Bunny is out of the building so much that he is totally unaware. In fact when he is there he comments on how well the program is working since there is nobody in the halls anymore.”

Now didn’t I say to myself: This is America. We all deserve to go to a good school, with happy hard-working teachers, new test books and everything else that some people think of when they think of school. But how were we going to achieve that. There’s so much red tape. There’s so much politics involved in educational change that nothing ever seems to change. It’s not about merit pay and it’s not about vouchers. Other countries seem to be able to reform their schools. Why not us? Well I looked around at our manufacturing industry and I started to see some parallels. American factories are old and rusted out. This is especially true in the North-East, which we now call the rust-belt. For the most part German and Japanese factories are modern and efficient. What do their factories have in common? Well they both had the piss bombed out of them during the Second World World. That freed them to start a new. That’s what we need to do with our schools.”

Your Bunny sounds like a real winner.”

You can’t imagine.

Of course, we couldn’t start a war in order to get our schools bombed. And we certainly couldn’t bomb our own schools. Think of the headlines if ever the USAF bombed poor defenseless school children. I mean poor defenseless American school children. Still there ought to be a way to get the old run down schools torn down and shiny new ones built in their place.”

Now I reckon that some of you have heard that I go around tearing down schools. These are only vicious rumours. Bulldozing a school would be illegal and I wouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man if this were true, would I? Now that is not to say that there aren’t a lot of schools crying out to be bulldozed. And I could probably give you all advice on how to hypothetically bulldoze a hypothetical school.”

Then there’s the idea that the Board had that we should answer all phone calls in both languages. I don’t know about other schools in the Board, but none of the secretaries at Lord Byron speaks French and nobody phones the school expecting to speak French. It’s pretty ironic coming from a Board that takes the $3 million dollar French grant and spends it on anything but French. Anyway our secretaries didn’t bother with that one and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever noticed.”

Now if I knew of a school that needs bulldozing and I can think of a few, the trick would be to act as if you’re part of an official action. Wear all the proper uniforms; have all the official looking papers. People will not call you on it. This is all hypothetical, right? If you do it at the beginning of a summer, then the Board has some time to decide what they are going to do with all those students and no school. But unfortunately the Board doesn’t always notice right away. I’m not sure what things all those Trustees and Admin people do, but paying attention doesn’t seem to be one of them. Somebody bulldozed PS 444 in the Bronx, that’s in New York, at the beginning of July and I guess no one noticed until the middle of August. “

Now the idea behind bulldozing a crappy inner-city or rural school is that they don’t build schools like that anymore. They have to replace the crap with something good. Okay maybe not necessarily good but at least new. Did I mention that all this is hypothetical?

Probably one of the more stupid ideas coming out of the Board is…”

You mean apart from your evaluation policy.” Interrupted Kathleen

Well, that’s a hard call. They’re both in the same league. Anyway the Board has this idea to integrate grade nine English and science. The same teacher would do both. And they only want science teachers to do it.”

That’s a bit of a force fit isn’t it? What sort of activities do they envision?”

I’m not sure. Short stories about amoebas? It wouldn’t be my first choice of things to integrate.’

Is this backed up by any kind of research?’

I doubt it. We don’t do research.’

You would think that all this talk about tearing down schools would be met by a lot of incredibility, shock even. Teachers and Principals are pretty much conservative people. Not the kind of people who destroy things. But something happens to teachers once they get out of the classroom; they don’t want to go back. And they will do most anything to make sure they don’t. From the perspective of a recently liberated classroom teacher there are no bad ideas. At least not those of their superiors. So maybe that’s why no one got up and walked out on this man who was proposing so much destruction. He was the darling of the educational establishment. Or maybe it was just because they were polite Canadians with an American visitor. Maybe most were still feeling the effects of last night’s “conferencing” in the hotel’s Blue Moon Saloon. Whatever the reason, 500 Principals sat there and listened to William Jefferson Vandonkersgood outline how to bulldoze an intercity school.

Now what is important to remember about the Phoenix movement is that entire schools do not have to be torn down. You can start small. You can tear down interior walls. Make sure you know which ones are load bearing ones though. Or you might as well just bulldoze the whole thing anyway. Tear down the interior walls and see what that brings. Force everyone to rethink the school. I know what you’re thinking. We all tried ‘Open Concept’ in the 70’s. But did you really? Or did you just try to teach the old fashion way in a room without walls? I challenge you to redefine what ‘tearing down’ means. Rip all the pictures off the walls and let the students cover them. Throw out the textbooks and let the students write their own. Get rid of departments. Get rid of department heads. Fire the janitors and have the teachers and the students take ownership of their classroom. Fire the secretaries and let the students acquire the necessary office skills.”

A buzz had been slowly building as his ideas seem to advocate laying a lot of people off. But there was nothing in that buzz to indicate that anyone didn’t approve of these ideas. In fact wild applause broke when Vandonkersgood reached the logical conclusion of his argument:

Fire the teachers and let the students teach themselves.”

Bravo, bravo,” came the cry from a table near the front. “Give ’em hell, Billy!” yelled a voice on the left. “Show no mercy.” shrieked the middle. Many in the hall had risen to their feet and the mood swept through the room until nearly everyone was up and applauding. Vandonkersgood put his hand up to quiet the crowd, but it was apparent that he enjoyed the applause. he continued:

Throw out the old military-based command structure in your school, put the Principals back in the classroom and run the school collectively.”

With that the crowd grew quiet. What did he say? Put Principals in the classroom? What kind of a lunatic was this guy? Let teachers decide things? What did they know? “Billy, you’re crazy!” cried a voice on the right. The man who went with the voice got up and stomped out. “You should be bulldozed” yelled the table up front and walked out collectively. Tables on the left started chanting “Kill Bill, kill Bill!” One by one people stood up and left the room. Vandonkersgood continued, raising his voice over the din of chairs moving and feet stomping.

Why shouldn’t Principals go back in the classroom? It keeps them grounded in reality. It makes them take ownership of their decisions. I know what you all are thinking. It’s what I hear all the time at home. It’s nothing but Communism. But it isn’t. It’s like Hutterites or kibbutzim in Israel. Don’t. Don’t .’ The crowd was probably a third of what it had been at the beginning. ‘Don’t close your minds to new ideas. Try to think outside the box.”

It was fruitless. No one was listening any more.

School’s have to stop being factories which produce docile obedient sheep. We need to question everything and everyone.” “Schools should not be an agent of the government, but an agent of change.”

Vandonkersgood surveyed the room and realized there was no point in continuing. “I’d like to thank you all for inviting me to speak to you today and thank you for listening.” Vandonkersgood ended without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. Alma Ludwigshafen got up and started applauding. A handful of the remaining Principals joined in, but it really was a pitiful amount of applause. Randy and Kathleen continued their conversation. Since lunch was being served immediately after the speech, most of the Principals who had walked out on the keynote speaker began filing back in, the rest went to the Blue Moon.

Science-English integration is just one in a series of ideas that I have to sell to the staff. They never want to hear it. I don’t particularly want to do it. But Bunny always leaves me holding the bag.’

How did he ever become a Principal?’

Beats me. But there are a lot of things about the Board that I don’t understand.’

Would you like the chicken or the fish?’

Addison! I thought last night was your last day on the job.’

As dippy as ever Addison answered ‘Well it was supposed to be. But Daddy was short staffed and asked me to stay.’

I’ll have the fish.’

Me too’

Poor Randy. You know you shouldn’t have to put up with this crap.’

Yeah, but what am I supposed to do about it?’

Run the school as if you were the Principal. Would Bunny notice? Would he care? You know he might even by glad that he doesn’t have to do anything. The school will be better run with a Principal who’s there in the building.’

Addison was back with the food.

Okay that’s one chicken for madame and one for sir.’

Thank you very much Addison.’ said Kathleen.

I thought you ordered the fish.’

I did. But I assumed that she would get it wrong so I ordered the one I didn’t want.’

Yeah, me too. I guess we’re good problem solvers.’

That’s why you need to take control of your school.’

How?’

Just do it. If you don’t like Science-English Integration, get rid of it. Don’t like Potential Intelligence, get rid of it.’

‘’Whoa, there. Hold on a minute. That’s not taking on an absent Bunny. That’s taking on the Board.’

If you are half the man you were last night, you’ll do it.’

I was good last night? I mean I was good last night, wasn’t I?’ Randy was feeling manly and powerless at the same time. It was one thing to be good in bed. It’s another thing to go against Board policy. ‘Why don’t we discuss this over dinner tonight? What sessions are you going to this aft?’

I don’t like any of them.’

Yeah, they all look kind of lame. How about Keeping Them on Edge. How to Keep your Staff Guessing your Next Move?’

I don’t know. Maybe Delegate, Alienate, Subjugate. You know I don’t like any of them. I think there’s better things to do with our time. How about my room in five minutes?’

Sounds like a plan.’