A Millstone Around Our Necks
By: Thomas Spellman May 31, 2014 — May 11 2015 – February 3 2017
I will use RIGHT as a broad description of those forces who have orchestrated the placement of the millstone.
The NEA and the AFT and most, if not all, of the state education associations have a millstone around their necks, and they have not be able to figure out what that millstone is nor how to get rid of it. They know it is there because of the incessant Legislative Action taken against public education and Teacher Unions in particular. There is a history about the placement of the millstone, but because it has been a slow and systematic process, it is hard to pinpoint when it started.*
The current phase of the effort to place the millstone started by their own admission in 1989 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with just a few hundred children who were poor and black (other minority children were included but few participated). It was represented to the public that these poor black children did not have the same “advantage” as the white children in Milwaukee, and so the Parental Choice School program* was created by the Wisconsin State Legislature to allow poor minority (black) children to attend a school of their parent’s choice which in essence meant attending a Religious school if it was going to be a better school. All those children already had the right (with just a little luck) to go to any Suburban School through the Court desegregation order. Thousands of children graduated from those Suburban School but no follow up on their success has ever been published. The program was killed by Walker and the Republican Legislature almost without comment in the Local Press.
As with all “big” City school systems, in 1989, the poor black children who attended Milwaukee’s Public Schools (MPS) did not do as well as their white counterparts. In fact, a disproportionate number of the black children, primarily young black male children, were not learning, were not graduating from high school, and so this became the MORAL basis for the Parental Choice School program. The Parental Choice School program would provide poor black children a chance to attend better if not good schools. It is important to understand that the black children NOT LEARNING, NOT GRADUATING was the MORAL basis, the foundation, of the Parental Choice School program. It is CRITICAL to understand that black children NOT LEARNING, NOT GRADUATING, TODAY, STILL IS the MORAL basis for, not only Wisconsin’s Voucher, Charter and Parental Choice School programs, but, the whole National Charter School movement as well.
The RIGHT (accidentally or by design) has successfully tied the millstone not only around the necks of the teacher’s Unions but also around the neck of Public Education itself! Yes the millstone can be seen as the failure of Public Education to graduate tens of thousands of young black males, who as we know do not have good outcomes in their lives if they do not graduate.*
Dr. Howard Fuller (Milwaukee activist) and others claimed that it was the FAULT of Milwaukee’s Public Schools (MPS) that those poor black children were not learning, and it was also the FAULT of the Milwaukee Teacher Education Association (MTEA) that kept “bad” teachers teaching, so both Public Education and teachers and the Teacher’s Union were BAD, and the millstone was attached to all!
And so here we are today trying to figure out WHAT TO DO. Mind you that we have been trying to figure out WHAT TO DO for the past thirty plus years.
This begs the question of WHO should have figured out what was happening and WHO should have directly addressed the MORAL issue of black children (young black male children) not learning. Not only were they not learning but their failures were being ignored as well!! To be fair there surely have been efforts made to address young black males not learning, not graduating and yet as we all know much of that effort have been for naught.* I will leave for others to figure out the exact history of who did or did not make the critical observations that you will see are, in the final analysis, relatively simple and very basic.
Now that we know what the millstone is – the MORAL concern that black children not learning, not graduating, is the BASIS for “change.”
Before we examine the ways to remove the millstone let us first understand WHY the millstone has been attached to the necks of the Teacher Unions and Public Education itself.
Now the RIGHT does long range planning and the millstone around the neck of the Teacher Unions and Public Education is the perfect example of their planning. It either starts with Howard Fuller efforts of creating Voucher Schools for Milwaukee’s black children or sometime before but as Fuller admitted in 2013:
“When I (Howard Fuller) got into this battle in 1989, standardized test scores showed Milwaukee was failing to educate poor black children. That’s when state Rep. Annette Polly Williams courageously stepped forth to make sure that poor families were afforded some opportunity to choose schools in the private sector for their children. She shepherded the pioneering voucher program through the Legislature.”
“Since then, I, along with many others, have fought tirelessly for parental choice for low-income families throughout the nation. The governor’s plan (Governor Scot Walker) would turn Milwaukee’s program into something it was never designed to be.”
Please note that Dr. Fuller says he started working with Rep. Polly Williams in 1989 but he does not become the Superintendent of MPS, the largest Public Schools system in Wisconsin, until 1991 and holds that job for 5 years while cutting all of the manual arts classes out of the High Schools and not dealing with black males not graduating.
So in the name of black children who were not learning, (the MORAL failure of society) Dr. Howard Fuller began the systematic attack on the Teachers Unions and on Public Education itself. The RIGHT supported Dr. Fuller, and Representative Annette Polly Williams and they became the mechanism to attack the MTEA and MPS. That was a step (the first step?) in the plan to privatize Public Education*.
It needs to be noted that research addressing why young black children and young black males in particular were not learning would have been the MORAL action to take but the RIGHT made sure that institutions (Public Education and Teacher Unions) that are the people’s voice would be systematically attacked and destroyed.
It has been pointed out, by others, that while privatizing prison is a major source of cash for corporations, Public Education is the real CASH COW.* Not only is the RIGHT looking at the primary and secondary schools but at the Public Universities as well. If WE and that includes those closest to the battle, the Teacher Unions and Faculty at Public Universities, do not wake up we will see an education system as it was in the 1800’s. Oxford, Harvard and the like for the rich and not much else for the rest of us. While in the 1800’s servants were needed to support the life style of the rich, now they will have robots who do not need sick leave and are always clean, so who will need the workers. That is the direction we are headed and that is how the cards are currently stacked. The corporations of the world are salivating and just waiting for the right time to take over the Public Education system of United States.
Thirty years ago when Dr. Howard Fuller spoke and when Annette Polly Williams spoke everyone understood that the basis for the attack of the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) was the FAILURE of MPS to
educate young black males.
Yes, and what has been the response of those being attacked by the RIGHT? The teachers themselves and the Teacher Unions have rightly claimed that they are not the cause of the failure of young Black males not learning not graduating and by any applied logic* they are NOT. Recently as an effort to support Public Education the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) ran a campaign calling for “Great Schools” for all children in Wisconsin. They DID NOT address the MORAL issue of black children not learning, not graduating and hence the campaign fell on deaf ears because everyone knew that the black children DID NOT HAVE and WOULD NOT HAVE “great schools” and NO ONE was addressing the fact that a significant percentage of black children were not learning were not graduating.
While the Teacher Unions have Presidents and public relations staff to express the views of their members, WHO SPEAKS FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION? Yes as Dr. Seuss asks, WHO speaks for the trees? The concept of “Public Education”, has been commandeered by the RIGHT, to mean Central City Black Education. The simple proof of that is that there are thousands of high performing schools in the U.S. that are PUBLIC SCHOOLS. PUBLIC SCHOOLS WORK and yet the RIGHT has convinced many Americans that PUBLIC SCHOOLS and therefore PUBLIC EDUCATION is broken, and therefore needs to be FIXED and SAVED, by associating public education with central city education which is equated to the education of black children.
Most unfortunately, for the children, there has been lots of hand wringing but NO RESULTS. While the numbers of black children who fail may be lower today than 30 years ago, the effects of today’s failures still haunts not only the immediate community but the cities themselves. The violence, the senseless deaths, in our large cities is horrifying and YET there is NO VISION of how to address the MORAL FAILING that young Black males are not learning, not graduating! The one seems to be unconnected from the other when in fact they are JOINED at the HIP!
How do we proceed? We know that the millstone is a MORAL concern, the failure to educate black children primarily young black male children. Yes that is the millstone but what causes black children and in particular young black males to fail? That is the question that Dr. Howard Fuller and our Universities, Public and Private, should have addressed 30 years ago and it’s still the question that needs to be address today.
As an observer of education, primarily Milwaukee and Wisconsin, for the past 40 years I have pieced together a few observations that others have not. What I know for sure is that by not addressing the moral issue, we have now failed two generations of black children.
All learning is individual. While we teach children in groups, each child’s learning is dependent not only upon their cognitive abilities but also on their behavioral abilities. We know that we have various test to determine a child’s cognitive abilities. We will know a child’s behavioral abilities, disposition, by observation. If the child’s behavior is cooperative and inquisitive we know that there is a very good chance that that child will reach their cognitive potential. If on the other hand the child’s behavior is angry or belligerent we know that, that child will probably not reach their potential. Behavior is a/the key to learning. As we know cooperative behavior is assumed of all children attending public schools. Unfortunately many children are not cooperative and the Schools are not prepared to deal with children who are not cooperative and in fact who are angry or belligerent. (As we will see it is this failure that is the basis of the MORAL concern.)
It should be noted that successful schools are dependent upon each child’s success! Schools fail because STUDENTS FAIL, Schools succeed ONLY when STUDENTS SUCCEED!
Because it is often easier to see the differences when using two extremes let us examine and then compare two high schools, one that “works”, and by that I mean graduates almost all of its students 4 year later and many of those graduating students go on to college, and one that does NOT “work”, one that has a high dropout rate and few students go on to college. What do we see? Are there any clues or maybe even answers as to why some schools and again it is the children who determine if a schools is “successful” and why some schools and again it is the children who determine if the school is NOT “successful”?
You can mentally run through all the differences between the two schools.* I ask you to focus on the behavioral differences between the two schools. Yes the “attitude” of the hallways and the number of suspensions/expulsions and that should begin to tell the tale.
The reading ability of the children between those two schools will also be different but that is an indicating that the problem starts at an earlier age and not in the high school. Yes it starts in first grade and yes it starts in the home before that and gradually builds as the behavioral issues are first squashed and then with age become unmanageable. Even though it may start in the home it still is in Society’s interest to address it ASAP and it is that failure that leads us to where we are today. If it is about the behavior then, where and how can it be addressed?
I suggest that there is a direct correlation between schools with high suspension/expulsion rates, and schools that are failing. We need to examine the children who are being suspended/expelled to understand why they are failing, why they are not succeeding and therefore why the school they attend is failing!!
Let us also look at a process that a friend who was a teacher and a principal uses with teachers he is consulting with. After the teachers have had their students for a month or so he asks them to think of the students in their classroom. He then ask them to first identify the ones that are the perfect students. They are always on task and cooperative, they are a joy to be with. Then to see those student who are almost as good and all they need is an occasional nudge. Then to see the students who need occasional reminders to stay on task and maybe help with a subject or two. The fourth group are those who are struggling but respond. The fifth group of students are those who act out who are contrary who at times are belligerent. It is this group that controls the behavioral atmosphere of the classroom. It is this group of students that can determines what the others learn.
When the teacher has completed the reflection they see their classroom in a way that they may not have seen it before. They will see where their energy goes and also where help is needed. As we know all too often no help is available to help those students who are behaviorally challenged.
As I see it, there are two sides of the equation for quality education – the academic side and the behavioral side. As I have suggested above let us examine the behavioral side to see if it bears fruit.
The controlling element on the behavioral side may seem at first not to be that important. I have come to the conclusion that the unresolved abuse/trauma that some children suffer is the controlling element for the dysfunction of the child. We know there is unresolved abuse/trauma because we see the belligerent behavior which results in the classroom disruptions, the suspensions, and the expulsions.
Some will argue that part of those disruptions are the fault of the “ineffective” teacher, but that begs the question because surely not all of the disruption (i.e. belligerent behavior) is the result of “ineffective” teaching/teachers.*
The work of Dr. Lonnie Athens lays out very clearly that unresolved abuse/trauma that leads to brutalization is the foundation to all violent behavior. What Dr. Athens also observed, and is critical for all educators AND ALL OF US to understand, is that all abused/traumatized individuals who have NOT RESOLVED their abuse/trauma will become belligerent – will become so angry that they begin to act out. That acting out is either external – against others – or internal – against themselves. Dr. Athens studies looked at those acted against others, who murdered and raped.
What is critical to understand is that the belligerent behavior must NOT be seen as an affront to authority BUT SEEN as a child’s CRY FOR HELP. The “CRY” is no different from a baby’s cry. In large part we know how to respond to a baby’s cry. WHAT WE DO NOT KNOW, IS HOW TO RESPOND TO A CHILD’S BELLIGERENT BEHAVIOR. We need to learn how to positively respond to a child’s belligerent behavior!!
This one change has the potential to change many if not most of the abuse/trauma outcomes.
First to see the belligerent behavior as a cry for help and then to understand that the student’s UNRESOLVED abuse/trauma must be resolved.
Also we respond very differently to a person who is crying for help, than one, who seems to us to be challenging our authority or more basically our safety.
Dr. Athens’ work is most easily understood in Why They Kill written by Richard Rhodes. In Chapters 10 and 11, Rhodes explains Athens’ theory. Unresolved abuse/trauma is the underlying cause of violent behavior and all who are first abused/traumatized become belligerent before they become violent. The first nine chapters of the book are a biography of Dr. Lonnie Athens which explains how he came to understand what he was observing, as he did his research with prisoners who had committed violent crimes.
Below are two real-life examples of the effects of abuse/trauma.
A friend who was an assistant principal at a middle school could set her watch when a girl would come into her office. Finally, she told the girl that they needed to have a long talk before lunch. After a long pause the girl blurted out that her brother had died from sickle cell anemia. Before the assistant principal could get her arms around the girl to hold her, the girl further revealed that she, too, has sickle cell anemia. She did not know if or when she would die, and her family had not listened or responded sufficiently to her cries for help. Most would deem this, the family’s responsibility, not the school’s responsibility. But the girl was failing, the girl was disruptive, and so it became the school’s issue. Her UNRESOLVED trauma (loss of her brother) needed to be resolved for her own good as well as the good of the school and MPS itself.
The other story is one told by a social work who took time to listen to a boy who was doing good work, but then in a very short period of time, things fell apart. As the boy talked, it came out that he was homeless in that they had moved in with relatives, and he was sleeping in the basement. But that was not the problem. The real issue was that he did not have a blanket to cover himself. This so upset him (traumatized him) that he became belligerent. Once a blanket was provided, he went back to doing good work once again. It is easy to see how this story could have ended without the blanket.
These two stories represent a far greater number of stories of our children. Some of the stories will be horrifying to say the least. How schools and school districts responds to the stories is key for both the child’s success or failure, and therefore, the success or failure of the schools themselves. What we know for certain is that the vast majority of the children who are being suspended in the elementary grades are children in dire need of social services (i.e. therapy). It is critical to first figure out what is troubling each child and then to find the resources either inside the school or through other agencies to address each child’s issues.
WHO speaks for the children??
Can we all be agreed that a child’s inappropriate behavior – belligerent behavior is what needs to be focused on? It is the inappropriate behavior – belligerent behavior that begins the process of suspensions which for some (many) leads to dropping out and the rest of the litany that leads to violent crimes and then jail or death. Have we ever thought that just maybe the belligerent behavior is not directed as an affront to authority?
The question before us is clear
1) Is, a child’s belligerent behavior, an expression of the child’s WILL (having nothing to do with past abuse/trauma)?
2) Is a child’s belligerent behavior a response to unresolved abuse/trauma that the child has experienced (suffered)?
These two statements are diametrically opposed. Either a child’s belligerent behavior is personal and intentional (mindful) or it is a response to the unresolved abuse/trauma that the child has experienced.
Which is it? How do we determine this?
We have for years approached a child’s belligerent behavior as a personal and intentional act. That the child WANTS to be disruptive enough so they can be suspended from school etc. Schools have tried to control and change the belligerent behavior without realizing that there is something that is causing the behavior. What is causing the belligerent behavior? (A medical analogy – Stomach Ulcers – Always known to be cause by stress No doubt! Then a Doctor who thinks, who scratches his head and takes a known virus that he knows causes stomach ulcers and then cures himself with antibiotics.)
It is not understood that for many/most children, their belligerent behavior is a “cry for help” to resolve the unresolved abuse/trauma that he/she has or is experiencing, not an affront to authority much less a threat to their personal safety.
This one change in how a child’s belligerent behavior is understood and dealt with produces significantly different outcomes for the child, the students in the classroom, the teacher, the school and even the family.
A way to look at this is that the belligerent behaviors is a symptom of a problem IT IS NOT the problem. Another way to look at it is the belligerent behavior is like a fever, we know that if we only treat the fever the person will in all likelihood not get better and in fact may die because the real cause of the fever is not being treated.
So to, today, most of the children who are belligerent, have issues of unresolved abuse/trauma, the underlying cause for the behavior, and those issues are not being addressed and so the anger turns to rage and rage turns to violent behavior.
Understanding Failing Schools,
Understanding Schools that are not succeeding is like learning a NEW computer program. At first it all seems very complex and yet once you have learned the program, it is, hopefully very easy to use but it still will be LOTS of WORK.
What are the elements of this new language?
- A) Suspension – We know about suspensions. Kids do stuff that breaks the rules, disrupt others and or endanger others or themselves and they get warned and finally they get suspended for a few days.
- B) Another name for the “stuff” that kids do to get suspended is Belligerent Behavior. The word “belligerent” is in and of itself very descriptive of the process.
- C) Belligerent behavior is the expression of UNRESOLVE abuse/trauma (This may be new) It is critical to understand this because it is the foundation of all violent behavior
- D) (This is new) It is in the telling of the story of the unresolved abuse/trauma that begins the healing process and brings the help that is needed to address the unresolved abuse/trauma.
- E) The abuse/trauma can be as simple as a young boy not having a blanket or as horrific as a girl of 11 being raped by her uncle for 2 years and then by her cousin for another 2 years. The boy got his blanket because a teacher took the time to ask him WHY he was so upset and to LISTEN to him. The girl of now 25 was not as lucky, she raged all through high school but NO ONE ASKED WHY! NO ONE LISTENED because they ALL KNEW THAT SHE WAS A SPOILED RICH KID.
These are the elements, it is first understanding them and then applying them that leads to proficiency!!
Two additional note:
If I am right that abuse and the honor code (not covered here) are significant issues that must be worked on and eventually resolved for MPS to be successful, then what can be done in a classroom or school to be effective? I know a leap.
William Glasser in his book Schools Without Failure has one specific suggestion which he explains in detail. Chapters 10 – 12 describe what he calls “classroom meetings”. Today they are called “circles”. He provides the detail necessary to have a good understanding of what takes place in a classroom meeting and how it will benefit the individual student, the class itself, and therefore the school. The abuse/trauma issues will come out in these classroom meetings. Some of them will be simple to fix while others will be very involved and more difficult to resolve. Support for unresolved or difficult issues can be sought with the help of the principal, school social workers or outside partner agencies.
The second one is summarized by Jessica Alexander who wrote The Danish Way of Parenting who notes that in Danish Schools there is a time (an hour) set aside each week for the sole purpose of discussing “issues” that are of concern to the students themselves. What the author noted is that “What many don’t realize is that empathy is a learned skill that many of us miss out on in America” She goes on to observe “Notably, in the Danish education system empathy is considered as important as teaching math and literature and it is woven into the school’s curriculum from pre-school through high school”
Yes here is what we can and need to do to begin to be sure that ALL our children graduate from high school.
I am not an academic nor am I Chris Hedges, so please bear with me here.
Thomas Spellman 210 N 2nd St Delavan WI 53115 414 403 1341
* There are a number of issues that I will only make reference to.