Tag Archives: Bill Gates

Combat Diaries #3: SENT INTO BATTLE WITHOUT A GUN

This is the third entry in Dana R. Casey’s Combat Diaries series.

This morning I climbed four flights of stairs to start my school day. The climb is a struggle, not just because I am not in the shape that I used to be, but because I am lugging three packs of printer paper and half a gallon of water, all purchased by me. I must climb these four flights because, as usual, the elevator is out of order. I must lug these heavy bags because I never receive most of the basic supplies that I need for the school year.

At the beginning of the school year, most teachers across this city receive only one case of paper, a box of pens, a box of chalk, an eraser, a few markers, a box of paper clips, a box of staples, and a roll or two of tape. We get another case of paper at the beginning of second semester. Some of the other supplies may or may not be replenished upon request.

I brought water with me today, because there is no water available to me unless I go down the four flights of steps to the lobby and get it from the one water cooler in the building. There are no water fountains. There is supposedly lead in the building’s pipes. Every water fountain was removed from every school in the school system regardless of the presence of lead or not for fear of lawsuits. There is not even a water cooler in the bare unwelcoming teacher’s lounge for teachers to access. There can be no water coolers in the hallways because the students will take the five gallon water bottle and dump it on the floor.

I only have enough English text books to use in the classroom; there are none to send home. No grammar books at all. I have received novels for the new modules from the school system this year; however, I did not get enough of the second title to send the books home with students. I let students sign them out overnight if they requested. More than half of those were never returned.

I received none of the third title and scrounged the building to find enough for at least a class set. Seven of these books have disappeared (though I can’t fathom why since most students don’t read them), so I currently do not have enough for every student in a class period and students have to share this small paperback.

I received enough of the final novel, but the book is more demanding than most of my students can handle especially with essentially five weeks of classes left, so I will be running off chapters of another more appropriate book, but only a class set since I will be buying all of the paper.

Keep in mind that I only get two cases of paper per year. I have 130 students in five periods. That means that I have enough paper to run off 1.9 sheets of paper per week per student. Without adequate textbooks, I need to run off many more pages per student to provide them with work.

I have an LCD projector and a document reader, which have been a blessing; however, the bulb on the projector burned out a month ago and it has yet to be replaced. A colleague who does not use his projector generously lent me his. The LCD projector can project an image from multiple sources like a computer or DVD player. The document reader has a camera lens under which one can place a book or worksheet and project the image. I use it to review directions or corrections, to have students present work, or to point out specific passages in a text. I use it daily. It is completely useless without a bulb.

My printer was damaged when the room above flooded from a leaky radiator. I had been waiting a month for ink anyway. I asked for another printer; I sent a second request two weeks later; I sent a third request two weeks after that. Finally, I brought in my own printer from home and spent $54.00 to buy replacement ink cartridges.

There are two laptop carts in this building; however, they are dedicated to the math department who must use a specific computer program for their classes, a program which costs a fortune and which the math teachers say is terrible. Scores at the top math school in the system, a school which garners praise and high SAT math scores, dropped when this computer program was added to their curriculum.

There is a “computer lab”. It is padlocked and few of the computers work anyway. There is no printer in there. There is no wireless in the building.

There are two other rooms with 25 computers. These are for the technology classes so they are not available to other classes. There are supposed to be enough computers for every student to have their own; however, there are 32 students in the class and 8-10 computers that are not functioning, so the ratio of computer to student is 2:1 instead of 1:1.

We have a “library”. There are no books in it. I literally mean ZERO books (see photo). There are five computers, but usually no one to supervise them and the library is generally locked.

I could go on, but I think that you get the picture. This is not just my experience; this is the experience of every teacher in my building, in my system, and in too many systems across this nation. The nation keeps calling for holding teachers accountable, but teachers are not provided with basic tools like paper, while they are also battling the culture of Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse (and if that doesn’t work, SUE!).

My first entry of “Combat Diaries”, which is about the chaos that is the norm in many schools, elicited this reply from one reader, “No school operates this way.” When I told my colleagues about this reply, each and every one laughed. My purpose in creating these diaries is to show America the truth about what is going on in the classroom. Those who are not in the classroom don’t have a clue. Liberals have it wrong; conservatives have it wrong; the average American citizen has it wrong. They don’t know the truth of what too many teachers face daily. If it seems too unbelievable, too outrageous to be the truth, my point is made.

There are millions and billions being poured into education. Pearson[i] is making a fortune[ii] creating curriculum, texts, and tests like PARCC[iii] which will be forced on every student in America. Pearson is influencing the style and structure of the SATs so even home schooled students will not be protected. Bill Gates, who also was involved in forcing Common Core onto the states, will earn millions more than what he donated through the sale of the computers that will be mandatory to deliver the tests created by Pearson. Consultants who have never been in a classroom are paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to come up with brilliant gems such as (and this is a true example) “the schools should be kept clean”. Contractors are paid tens of thousands of dollars to paint classrooms that are never painted.

There is plenty of money being thrown at education, but it rarely arrives in the classroom, it is rarely there for teachers to use, and it rarely benefits the students.

I am sure that there are schools in this country where there are beautiful computer labs, libraries full of books, storerooms full of supplies, gymnasiums full of equipment, theaters full of costumes, and students who are more often than not ready to learn, but for most urban students and teachers this is a seemingly elusive dream.

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Post Note: A colleague of mine, fairly new to the system, had an experience this week quite familiar to me. One student was trying to attack another student, but ended up kicking the teacher in the shin quite hard. The teacher is pressing charges; the parents have accused her of racism. I have been accused of the same at least once a year for my entire teaching career. Clearly, the accusations must be correct which is why I have dedicated my twenty years of service to a majority African-American population of students (in case you missed it that was sarcasm). However, for this young lady, it was the first time to experience such unearned vitriol. The parents were more concerned about keeping their child from being held accountable than they were about the truth. This is an example of what I call Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse.

She told me that the experience made her sick to her stomach. I completely understand. When you have considered yourself a kind, sympathetic, and compassionate person your whole life, being confronted by unjust accusations such as these can cut one to the quick, especially considering that she was the victim of his casual violence. The irony here is that she is a member of a protected minority herself; she is a gay woman. But as a gay woman working in an urban system where students are not expected to maintain basic civility she has been bombarded with “faggot”, “lesbian”, “dyke”, “dyke bitch” , and “white bitch”  repeatedly. Too many students and too many of the students’ parents who are so concerned that others respect their humanity have little respect for hers. She has gone home beaten down every day when she started this year full of enthusiasm for teaching. I weep for her; she genuinely bleeds. I teach my students (when I can teach) that we don’t have to agree with other people in order to respect their humanity. Her humanity, and the humanity of many teachers, is daily degraded; the whole of the nation tells us we are worthless all of the time.



[i] Pearson is an education publishing and assessment service to schools and corporations, as well as directly to students. Pearson owns leading educational media brands including Addison–Wesley, BBC Active, Bug Club, eCollege, Fronter, Longman, MyEnglishLab, Penguin Readers, Prentice HallPoptropica and Financial Times Press. (Wikipedia)

[iii] Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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A Monstrous Story for a Monstrous Curriculum: The Ugly Heart of #CommonCore

Photo by artur84 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo by artur84 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is a guest post by Dana R. Casey.

I am a high school English teacher. I became a teacher because I believe that literacy, which goes beyond just reading the words on the page, is an absolute necessity for maintaining our Republic.  Proof of that is found in the many laws against reading certain texts, or against reading altogether, that have been passed down by every tyrant since literacy became available to the general population. A few examples of such tyrannical laws are the Taliban banning reading for any female or laws against teaching slaves to read or the Soviet Union’s banning of such books as A Wrinkle in Time, Where’s Waldo, and To Kill a Mockingbird. The communist Khmer Rouge in Cambodia so hated literacy that just wearing glasses was cause for execution. Literacy leads to freedom and tyrants know it.

I have been teaching for over twenty years. Generally, I have been given either no curriculum or curriculum that was focused on skills, not specific texts. I would have to get those skills taught in whatever way I wanted to get there and with the texts that I chose. Sometimes I was given more direction and that direction was generally pretty good, including texts, key terms, supplemental stories, and suggested writing assignments. These directions were created at a school level by the teachers in the school. I helped write some myself. Mostly, I have had a lot of freedom in how I could achieve the learning goals.

Not anymore.

Today I was in a professional development session for my school district. Our school system has swallowed Common Core whole. Why wouldn’t they? The federal system has said that it is “voluntary”, but “voluntary” means that the district gets cut off from major federal funding if it does not adopt the standards, so “voluntary” is subjective. Here is what the Washington Post reported Sen. Charles Grassley has to say about Common Core:

Current federal law makes clear that the U.S. Department of Education may not be involved in setting specific content standards or determining the content of state assessments. Nevertheless, the selection criteria designed by the U.S. Department of Education for the Race to the Top Program provided that for a state to have any chance to compete for funding, it must commit to adopting a “common set of K-12 standards” matching the description of the Common Core.

The Washington Post also reported, “The Republican National Committee recognizes the CCSS for what it is — an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children…”

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Common Core, it is a set of standards created in the private sector but pushed onto states by the federal government and largely financed by Bill Gates. The cost of implementing the program runs from millions to billions, depending on the state. It is untested and unresearched. It has been criticized for being not as rigorous as proponents claim, clearly biased to a liberal perspective, so much so that many see it as indoctrination, and it is being forced on the states in spite of the fact that a federal curriculum is unconstitutional, violating the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which established the principle that “…the “power” to oversee education belongs to the states. This longstanding principle of local control of education is reiterated throughout our laws and government codes.”

All of that sounds like something that makes NO connection whatsoever to most parents or teachers or American citizens as to why they should fight this federal intrusion into education. Here, I am going to provide you with a concrete example that shows the ugly heart of Common Core. There is something deeply dark and offensive in this lesson, created to support Common Core. It is a lesson designed to corrupt essential human decency.

The unit – sorry “module” – that I am using as an example is centered on To Kill a Mockingbird with the theme of “How individuals demonstrate individuality in the face of outside pressures.”  At the beginning of all of this, it looks good. I love the book; it is a great American classic and I have taught it many times. The module includes 30 days of lessons associated with the novel and multiple additional short reading assignments. However, as I looked this module over, I became more and more concerned. For me to break down the many problems with this module in detail would take quite a while, so I am going to show you an example of one lesson, on one short reading assignment, that left me speechless with horror.

This assignment in the module includes a short story by Guy de Maupassant, 19th century writer famous for The Necklace. Again, this seems rather innocent; de Maupassant is often included in high school texts, but not this particular story of his and, more importantly, not with this particular writing assignment.

The short story is The Mother of Monsters (link below). A quick summary of the story is that a gentleman on vacation is introduced to The Mother of Monsters, a local oddity described as a “peasant” and the “Devil”. Her story is that she finds herself pregnant while she is working as a simple serving girl. She binds her body with boards and cords to hide her growing belly. Her child is born horribly deformed. She takes care of the child, but resents it, until a sideshow man comes along and offers to buy the “thing” and to pay a yearly stipend for its use.  Once she realizes how much money she can make, she repeats her pregnancy pattern by birthing monster after monster after monster of intentionally deformed children to sell to showmen. She lives a “bourgeois” life as a result.

The narrator is reminded of this “Devil” when he later sees a popular “Parissiene” strolling on a beach followed by admirers. Her three children are also all deformed because she wants to maintain her trim figure throughout her pregnancies, so she keeps her corset tightly cinched. Peasant and lady. Different, yet the same. Both The Mother of Monsters. Both display a level of selfish evil that most humans would revile.

Now, as a high school story, this story may have a lot of meat to chew on for discussion…for maybe 11th or 12th graders, but this is a story assigned to incoming 9th graders, students who are 13, 14 or 15 years old. Students this age are not ready to handle the truly disturbing elements of a story which reveal some of the most perverse sides of human nature. That is bad enough; however, it gets worse. You may wonder what this story has to do with To Kill a Mockingbird and the theme of individuality.  Here is the writing assignment associated with this story:

Write an essay that compares the cultural experience reflected in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Mother of Monsters and explain how this experience helped a character demonstrate individuality in the face of outside pressure.

Individuality! Outside Pressure!!!! These women chose to deform their children for their own selfish gains or selfish vanity! The first pregnancy of the peasant woman we might forgive out of mercy, based on her ignorance, but the purposeful birthing of the rest of the 11 children that she intentionally deformed is unconscionable and unforgivable. The same holds with the Parisienne.

To judge these women as demonstrating their INDIVIDUALITY in the face of outside pressure is absurd and defies human decency. It is like insisting that Jeffery Dahmer was expressing his individuality through cannibalistic murder. Additionally, it is not a major leap to conclude that if deforming your children in order to express your own individuality is acceptable, then killing your children to protect your individuality (or selfish inhumanity) is perfectly fine too. This story paired with this assignment is a repulsive perversion of the concept of “lesson”; it is a corruption of anything descent and good.

There is something deeply repulsive in this lesson, especially as it is aimed at students as young as 13. I have been told that I must teach this module. I can make some adjustments, but not too many. I am struggling to find a way NOT to perpetuate the ugliness found here.  I am certainly NOT going to teach this story, though I may find myself in trouble with the system as a result. Some things are worth refusing to do even if there is a cost.

This is what is going on in our schools. This is what you need to see with open eyes. They are doing more than trying to increase rigor; they are indoctrinating our children into one way of thinking—their way! Many will argue that the Common Core is “not curriculum” and this example is curriculum, but example after example after example of curriculum inspired by the Common Core seems to contain disturbing or clearly biased elements. It is not irrelevant to look at the fruit of the tree which produced it and the fruit of Common Core is rarely healthy and is often clearly biased.  Schools should teach how to think, but never what to think. This is why we must fight what some are trying to sell us as “hope and change” to America as seen in Common Core.

Link to the story “The Mother of Monsters”:  http://www.classicreader.com/book/1238/1/

Dana R. Casey is a veteran High School English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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Filed under English/Reading/Literacy, Guest Post, National Standards (Common Core)

SUBMISSION: It is Time to Hear From the Teachers

Submission by  Dana R. Casey. I want to thank Ms. Casey for this submission. It is spot-on and to the point. This is the insanity we have to deal with on a daily basis, while incompetent, unqualified progressive fools like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, and Bill Gates tinker with things they don’t understand and have never experienced. I wish more teachers would speak out like this! 

This Wednesday morning, I am sitting in a classroom acting as a co-proctor for a retest of the English assessment, one of a battery of tests which are a state graduation requirement. The students testing today are juniors and seniors who did not pass the test in their sophomore year. There are six testing rooms, each assigned 20-30 students. I was supposed to be proctoring 28 students, but only twelve of those chose to come to school today. The test contains three sections which take 50, 55, and 50 minutes respectively. The student does not have to complete the section to receive a passing score.

However, the majority of the students completed each section in less than 30 minutes and then put their heads down to go to sleep. Contrary to what you may think, the students’ speed does not indicate that the test is that simple, instead it indicates that the students are making little effort on the test. Each section contains several reading passages and, though I read at quite an accelerated speed, it took me 35 minutes to read through an entire section and answer the questions thoughtfully.

What is really discouraging to me is that I taught the majority of the juniors last year as sophomores, the year the English test is taken. Everything that was on the test was taught and retaught and practiced in my class, not because I was teaching to the test, but because I was teaching classic English skills and content. No student who did the work in my class last year with honest effort and who then put that same honest effort into the test could have failed. But they did, because too few choose to do one or the other or both. Those who did do both passed the test.

While my co-proctor took her turn monitoring the test, I become even more discouraged as I used the time to organize information on my freshman IEP and 504 students[i]. I currently have 120 students, 30 of whom have IEPs and 1 of whom has a 504. It is October 2nd and I still have not been provided all of the information I need for these students, but I am trying to set up a matrix in each class section so that I have a manageable way of providing and documenting each student’s needs.

The first student for whom I tried to create this matrix has so many needs that I cannot fit them all into the two page grid I was given. He needs a “human reader” for every test he is given. He needs spelling and grammar devices (which I do not have), visual organizers, graphic organizers, extended time, multiple or frequent breaks, reduced distraction to the student and from the student, checks for understanding, proofreading checklists, altered or modified assignments, “chunking” of texts, word banks, and a modified grading system. There is more, but I will not list them all here. Further examination of his IEP indicates that he is reading on a third grade level. It also indicates that he is not supposed to be in a general education classroom full time, but should be in a self-contained classroom with a special education teacher and a small class size.

Although I am supposed to have support in my classroom for IEP students, no one will arrive and there is no resource room where he can receive help. I have one year to prepare him for the assessment or my evaluation and pay may be affected. I do not have the skills or resources to help this student. He has three years left in a school system that is not providing him the support he needs to be even functionally literate in the future. It is a bleak future he is facing indeed.

I look at the next student who has a 504. Her paperwork indicates that she needs multiple or frequent breaks, extended time on assignments, preferential seating, repetition of directions, graphic organizers, rescheduling of formal tests, single task worksheets, and reduced distractions from and to other students.

The next student requires a human reader, visual cues, notes and outlines for every lesson ahead of time, a scribe to write down his answers, visual organizers, graphic organizers, extended time, frequent breaks, frequent changes in activity or opportunity for movement, reduced spelling expectations, and assignments broken down into smaller units.

Thirty-one students; thirty-one different sets of requirements; ninety “non-disabled” students who also need daily attention.

Each requirement must be met and documented daily or when applicable, as in the case of testing. AND each requirement must show differentiation from all other students’ requirements so as to prove it is individualized to that student; therefore, even though a graphic organizer is required for all three students and a graphic organizer is useful to the whole class, if I give it to the whole class, it no longer counts as differentiation.

In addition to the gargantuan and humanly impossible task of differentiating and documenting 300+ adaptations a day for those 31 students, I have five ESOL students (English for speakers of Other Languages) from Napal and Yemen, some of whom speak little English, others functioning at various levels, and all of whom need their own culturally sensitive adaptation. I have no training or resources to help them either.

Furthermore, I am required to maintain documentation and file weekly reports on 13 of my students who are in a program sponsored by the court and the local law university for repeatedly absent and tardy students. For each of the 13 students I need to provide weekly absence and tardy reports, current grade averages, strengths and weaknesses, positive comments, and suggestions for improving the current grade.

At the same time, I must adapt for the various learning modalities of ALL of my students: visual, kinesthetic, or auditory. I must try to find the special interest of each child. I must create a positive and student centered learning environment. I must be prepared to recognize and report on abuse or neglect to any student (or go to jail if I fail to do so). I must document student failures, successes, behavior infractions, and anything else for which I may be held accountable in the future. I must recognize bullying and move to prevent it. I must refer a student who may be showing signs of depression, anxiety, anorexia, ADHD, or a multitude of emotional disorders. I must complete forms for the IEP department, for students’ doctors, for Social Services, and even the Social Security Administration. I must call parents for failures, infractions, and absences even though half of the phone numbers are invalid and I would need to make 10-20 phone calls a day. I must make sure that I do not call on one gender more than the other or hold one gender more responsible for behaviors than another or say anything that might be deemed politically incorrect. I must maintain cultural sensitivity throughout. Are you exhausted yet?

Let’s not forget that I must complete daily lesson plans covering reading, writing, speaking, listening, and critical thinking. In order to do this, I must create activities which connect to the new Common Core Standards and implement the new (and poorly planned) Common Core inspired curriculum which has ridiculously unrealistic expectations and for which I am lacking in resources and materials (such as paper which I mostly supply myself), but for which I will be held accountable. Don’t get me started on the time I spend grading at home.

I must deliver these lessons to a classroom full of students who have had a substandard education for the previous eight years of their schooling, who have not been held accountable for basic expectations of work standards or behavior, and who WILL not be held accountable by many of their parents and others in the system for this year either, students who believe that I owe them a passing grade, and for whom I will be blamed when they do not pass the test which they are sleeping through as I write this!

This is the reality of teachers across this once-great nation, who are being vilified throughout society as the root cause of failure in our schools, while daily they struggle through the Sisyphean task of teaching in the twenty-first century. As tragic as this is for teachers, it is even more tragic for students who are provided with a substandard education because of the system, standards, paradigms, and policies in place, policies which have been promoted by politicians, academics, school boards, well-meaning but seriously misguided do-gooders, and not-so-well-meaning social engineers. Many of these jargon-wielding experts have had no direct classroom experience or their experience is completely inadequate. Too few people know or speak the truth about the problems in education, but, the people who really know, the teachers, are seldom given a voice. It is time to hear from the teachers.

[1] IEP and 504 are terms applied to special education students. IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan and 504 is an Americans with Disabilities Act which applies to students whose disabilities are not disruptive enough to a student’s education to qualify for an IEP, but still may have an impact on that student’s learning.

Dana R. Casey is a veteran High School English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system. She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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