Tuesday, August 31, 2004


I really shouldn't be writing when I 'm ticked off...but I have developed a very low tolerance for incompetence, especially when it comes to jobs that impact peoples lives.

The issue today is scheduling.
The class schedules in our building look like somebody threw students names, like conffetti, into the air, and they were assigned to whatever class they happened to land on.
I have students scheduled into classes they have already passed.
Some students are scheduled to be in classes for only two days that meet five days a week.
There are numerous teachers in major academic subjects, who are teaching one section of a class with more than 50 students, and the same class the next period with less than 5.
Students were placed in trades classes they have no interest in studying instead of the ones which drew them to this school in the first place.
We have teachers assigned to teach classes they are not certified to teach, while there are other teachers in the building who hold the required certification.

These problems are not due to a lack of staffing, rather they are due to a dearth of common sense, and the basic knowledge necessary to get the job done. All of this I could forgive if the people responsible for this fiasco would say, "We're sorry, we have made some mistakes and we will resolve them as quickly as possible."
But NO, we only get "It can't be done."

Would this be tolerated in the suburbs?
Where are the parents, demanding their child's schedule is changed?
Why aren't they pounding on the principal's door?
Don't they talk to their kids?
Don't they know what is going on at school?
Don't they understand, they have the power to get things fixed?

Excuse me while I go someplace to scream.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Send Cleveland to College

As promised boys and girls, (see previous post) I'm gonna add my two cents to Bill Callahan's great idea:

So let's assume Cleveland decides to send 2,500 Cleveland residents to college a year.

Tie strings to that money--keep it in the city.

  • Residents could be any adult who has lived in the city for at least two consecutive years. Do you know anyone who would move to Cleveland if it meant a free college education? I do.
  • Scholarship money must be spent at a college located within the city limits. How long would it take for Kent State, Ashland, Baldwin Wallace, etc. to open Cleveland metro branches?
  • Residents who received scholarship money must continue to reside in the city of Cleveland for 4-8 years after graduation (depending on the amount of scholarship money received) If the recipient moves out of the city during that period of time, the scholarship must be repaid as a student loan. Hmm.. in that amount of time many of those young, college educated people might even get married and want to start families. Developers might have to start building family-friendly residences.
  • College educated young parents would want to make sure their children were getting a good education. They would probably get involved with the schools....see where this is going?

In ten years, 25,000 college educated Clevelanders would change the core of Northeast Ohio.

What would happen after 15 years? 20?

Cleveland: No.1 in poverty

Friday's headline screamed "Cleveland No.1 in big-city poverty".

The subheadline; "Nearly half of children among the poor" was not news to any CMSD teacher.

It was news to Greater Clevelanders who skirt the neighborhoods via the freeway to arrive, unsullied, at their downtown destinations. It was apparently also news to Mayor Campbell, who is now moved to hold meetings to discuss the issue since the 'crisis' is getting noisy.

Today's Plain Dealer asked the question of it's readers: "What's at the root of high poverty?"
(I'm afraid I have to resort to an adolescent response here)

Well, DUH!!! It's a lack of education.

Only 14.3% of Clevelanders have a bachelors degree, and less than 40% of CMSD students graduate from high school. Racism led to a disfunctional school system which contributed to disfunctional families which contributed to an uneducated population which led to high poverty rates.
The answer to fixing the problem is, of course, education. The answer to fixing education is infinitely more complicated...if you are looking at kids in the the public schools.

But do we have to start there? There may be another door.

I will not take any credit for this idea, it belongs to Bill Callahan, but I will certainly champion it, as it makes sense and it is do-able: Send Cleveland to College.

I am reposting Bill's blog from June of 2003.

Later I will post my spin on what could be a realistic way to climb out of our economic blackhole.

Callahan's Cleveland Diary 6.22.2003

PRIORITIES: Here's something to ponder about Cleveland's economic development strategy:
In the last census, Cleveland had a strikingly low percentage of four-year college graduates among our working-age residents... only 11.4%, which essentially tied us with Detroit for last place among the 50 biggest U.S. cities.
Among the same 50 cities, we ranked 45th in the percentage of our young adults (18-24) enrolled in college or graduate school. (I'll send you the spreadsheet if you're curious... .)
"business community recommendations" for a new Convention Center include a new quarter-percent increase in Cuyahoga County's sales and use tax to help pay the debt service on the proposed bond issue. That dedicated sales tax would raise about $40 million a year, based on the county's existing 1% tax which raised $157 million in 2002.Tuition and book costs to get an associate degree at Tri-C, and then finish a bachelor's degree at CSU, add up to about $16,000.
So the annual revenue from that proposed Convention Center sales tax hike could send 2,500 young Clevelanders to college -- full ride. In ten years, it could pay for enough full scholarships to double Cleveland's current supply of working-age college grads!
Whaddaya think? What's a better investment for the city's future... 25,000 college-educated workers, or a Convention Center?

Saturday, August 28, 2004


Only about two-thirds of my students showed up on Thursday and Friday.

This is typical in Cleveland City Schools at the high school level. For some reason, there seem to be quite a few kids who will not start coming to school until after Labor Day, even though classes will have been in session for more than a week. The reasons vary from; "I was working", to "I was out of town", to "I had to get a babysitter" , to "I don't know".

I am pretty enthused about the kids I've met so far. Mostly polite, a few kinda bright, and one delightful surprise.

About halfway through my 4-5 period class on the first day, a group of older boys came strolling in with some excuse about being in the guidance counselors office.
"Fine." I conceded, "Take a seat."

I had been sitting at one of the tables with my students when the boys came to the door, and my class roster and lesson book were on the table where I left them. A tall, skinny kid, about 18 years old, in skater shorts and glasses plopped himself down in my spot, and pushed my papers to the side.

"That's my chair... move." I said as I walked up behind him.
"You told me to take a seat. I like this one."
"Move." I reiterated
He leaned back in the chair and just smirked.
"Why are you getting an attitude with me?" My voice was getting louder."You don't even know me."
"Why are you getting an attitude with me?" he countered.
With that, he stood up, walked across the room, and grabbed an empty chair from another table. Dragging it across the floor, he placed it right next to chair I had been sitting in.

I was incredulous and the rest of the class was silent.

"No! You are not going to presume you can walk into my classroom and rearrange the furniture. Put the chair back or get out."
I could feel myself starting to lose my cool.
"And by the way," I added "You need this class to graduate. Have fun in night school."

Angrily, he stood up, put the chair back, and sat down.

I continued my review of the syllabus, and then began a discussion on "What is Art?"
Every question I asked, this kid's hand went up. Each response was insightful. He got it!

A grin was beginning to spread across my brain. I found a free thinker.
No rules... testing the boundaries...I could work with a smart-ass.

Shortly before the end of the period I said,
"I'd like to talk to you before you go to your next class."

When the bell rang, the young man approached my desk.
"Rough start." I smiled.
"Yeah," he answered "I wasn't in a very good mood...tired"
"I understand... You're pretty smart."
His eyes lit up as he looked past me. "How many computers you have back there?"
"Three, but they are all slow...gunked up with games and garbage the kids have downloaded off the internet."
"Who's supposed to clean them up? You?"
" I haven't had time, and Mr Rivera is pretty busy. These computers haven't been a priority"
" I can clean them for you. I've been working on computers since I was seven. I've learned a lot from my dad, and a lot on my own."
"You a geek?" I laughed
He nodded and grinned.

Friday after class, my new student got busy in the computer room, and before long, everything was back up to speed.
I'm starting to get a real good feeling about this new school year.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Gird Your Loins...

...the students come back tomorrow morning!
New names, new faces, new opportunities.

As I look over my class lists, (yes, we finally got our schedules) I see mostly upperclassmen; juniors and seniors.
Normally, I would be pleased to see no freshmen on my roster, since usually those are the students who, due to lack of maturity, are the most challenging. However, today it hit me...when I just teach 11th and 12th graders, I only get to watch them develop their talents over a relatively short period of time. I miss out on the chance to discover emerging talent and develop it for the four year length of a high school career.
I guess I'm not very easy to satisfy.

To make up for the lack of arts education in the 9th and 10th grades, Lane Cooper (who teaches at the Cleveland Institute of Art) and I discussed integrating arts into several of the academic classes by bringing in artists in residence from the Institute to develop units with some of the academic teachers that will incorporate both art and academic standards. We also discussed the possibilities of initiating conversation between the robotics staffs from both schools.

I am very lucky to work with teachers who welcome new strategies. Max Hayes High School is also very fortunate to have CIA as our cultural partner.

There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down with a group of people, presenting an idea and hearing them say, "We can do that!" " How about bringing in ___?" " And what if we tried____?" "What do you think of___?" " I could____." and" That'll work."

Despite all of the troubles the district is having financially, this is going to be one amazing year at Max Hayes.
Arts integration is becoming a reality across the entire curriculum; the manufacturing trades, technology, and academic.

I wonder if there is any other high school program, anywhere, doing what we are.

There ain't no rules around here! We're trying to accomplish something.

Thomas Edison

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Do More Rules=More Learnig?

Since when do more rules equate with more learning?

Yesterday, I spent three hours listening to a former principal, now educational consultant, from Oregon present a workshop on classroom management.

Nevermind that the Cleveland school system is broke.
Nevermind that there are people from Cleveland who are experts in behavior and skilled classroom managers.
(This would correlate with my philosophy of keeping Cleveland money in Cleveland.)
The thing that irked me the most, was the fact that the system of discipline this man was promoting had the potential for breaking down at a number of key points, beginning with the assumption that every classroom had the ability to instantly contact the principals office via a buzzer, and that the administrators would always support the teacher.
I had to spend all that time listening to a man whose philosophical approach to classroom management not only differed radically from mine, but would not accommodate my teaching style.

I strive to get my students to solve problems by questioning everything. Always ask why. Push the limits. Change the rules. Disagree.

I believe more rules inhibit free thinking.
They advantage the teacher, they advantage the administrator, but they hinder the learner.

I had a very difficult time sitting through the day's lecture. It began with what I would consider educational blasphemy.

" How many of you have heard that good lessons eliminate discipline problems? Well, I am here to tell you that is a myth."

He then outlined a system of procedures that every teacher should use to guarantee classroom control.
It was all about setting limits and boundaries, making rules and keeping track of infractions.

I, unfortunately, had taken a seat in the front of the room.

If life were a poker game, I'd always be the big loser.

Never being accused of being difficult to read, my face consistently betrays every emotion, thought, and attitude. This, of course, provides many of my colleagues entertainment as they watch me react to speakers.

Combined with the overwhelming need to speak my mind, to ask hard questions, and forgo the handraising formalities, I have become, as an adult, a pain in the ass for any teacher/professor/presenter who is used to the unchallenged authority they typically encounter with students. I consider myself a client as opposed to a student. I am a consumer of knowledge. When someone is being paid to provide me with information, they need to be able to answer my questions. I expect a higher standard from teachers who are teaching teachers.
Once again I was disappointed.

This man couldn't address any of my questions.
It was as if no one had ever challenged his system before. As if nobody ever asked where the weaknesses were, or "what happens if...?"

If a teaching/classroom management program cannot stand up to those kinds of questions, why are we wasting time and money on it?

Monday, August 23, 2004

Where DID the money go?

I need to respond to the question "Where did the tax money go?"

Most people would assume Cleveland schools are suffering from district mismanagement of tax dollars.
That would be a natural assumption. It is, in fact, one I would make, given the usual inclination of most governmental agencies.
In this case, I am afraid district incompetence would be an easier problem to address than the current cause of the 100 million dollar deficit that the Cleveland Municipal Schools find themselves in.

I will try to explain it to you as I understand the situation.
Several major factors have come into play here, and something is smelling rotten, but this time it is not the administration.

First, the current method of funding local school districts in Ohio relies very heavily on tax money raised by property tax levys, followed by state tax dollars, followed by federal tax dollars.
School districts in wealthy communities will always have more money for schools than low income areas. The Supreme court has found this method of funding schools in Ohio to be unconstitutional, yet there has been no attempt to rectify the situation. It remains unchanged.
The voice of the poor is no match to the voices of the wealthy who do not wish to share.

The state of Ohio made huge cuts in the education budget this year. Apparently tax dollars were needed elsewhere. Cleveland schools took quite a blow from that budgetary axe, and are asking the home owners in the city of Cleveland to pick up the difference by voting to increase their property taxes.
Hmmmm....lets try to recall how many jobs have been lost in Cleveland recently.
Reminds me of an old saying, "You can't squeeze blood from a turnip".

Now here is the really shady part.

Charter schools.

Originally, a great idea.
These schools would be run like a private school, free from the constraints of school boards. Yet, they would receive funding from tax dollars. The per/pupil state tax money which would normally be allocated to the school district (about $4-5,000) would follow the student to the charter school.
Everything sounds good so far, right?
Here's the rub: These schools can be run as a for-profit business.
As a private business there is no required public access to records. This includes ALL records, including test scores, attendance, etc. Teachers are not required to be certified. Curriculum is private, and need not follow state or national standards.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the opportunities for abusing the system here.
"But wait!" you say "Parents wouldn't send their children to a school where the education was inferior."

Or would they?

Sadly, we live in a society that enjoys getting something for nothing.

Charter schools are tuition free. They are advertised as an alternative to public schools whose problems are widely publicized, since all public school records are PUBLIC.

David Brenner, a very wealthy businessman from Akron, (and a HUGE contributor to the Republican party) saw an opportunity to make money here. He started a business called White Hat Management and began opening up charter schools in the inner-cities, as alternatives to the troubled public schools.
These are the Hope Academies, and Life Skills schools. These schools are not required to make any of their records public, and they don't.

Please take note: Has any one in a wealthy suburb seen one of these schools in their neighborhood?

At this point I am going to quote myself from a previous post which I made a few months ago.
Some of you may have missed it, and it explains a lot.

Life Skills markets their program to students who are not succeeding in high school as an alternative way to earn a high school diploma.
At Max Hayes we are beginning to see a steady trickle of students leaving our vocational program for Life Skills.
Last month, I lost two more students to the Life Skills Center on Madison Road. When I asked their friends why the girls left, I was told they had failed several classes, and would not be graduating this year.
At Max Hayes they would be required to repeat their senior year of high school.
Life Skills would allow them to graduate on time. (In two months)
I'd heard these rumors before, but chalked them up to teen exaggeration, and wishful thinking.
I had also recently overheard some of my colleagues discussing a former student, who had just graduated from Life Skills. This girl was classified as Special Education- Developmentally Handicapped at Max Hayes. (There are no special education classes at Life Skills.) Her reading ability hovered around the third grade level.
She was 18 years old, in the 10th grade, and had not passed any proficiency tests. In a matter of a few months, she had her diploma from Life Skills.
Either Life Skills has a phenomenal new method of teaching that can produce educational miracles, or there is something very wrong with the way we teach at Max Hayes.

Or something fishy is going on at Life Skills.

I began asking questions.
When I asked my classes if any of them knew someone who was going to Life Skills, every hand went go up.
Surprised, I asked them to tell me what they knew about the school.

Conventional teen-wisdom explains it this way:
Life skills is where a person goes who just wants a diploma fast.
People don't really learn anything there.
All the work is done on a computer. You simply have to show up, and complete the work that comes on the disc for that class.
Cheating is rampant and ignored.
Only a few general academic classes are required to get your diploma. Nothing like the work you have to do in a regular high school.

Several of my kids said that they were considering transferring there, maybe next year. Other kids said that they would never go there, because that was where all the losers went.
One boy said that he considered going there, but he wanted to join the Marines. His recruiter told him that they would not accept a GED, or a diploma from Life Skills. Another student told me that the Navy had the same policy.
I found those statements especially distressing.
That afternoon I called the Marines recruiting office. What they told me was essentially the same thing. They consider a Life Skills diploma to be a worthless piece of paper. They find that something is very wrong when a student is getting all 'F's in public school, transfers to a Life Skills School, subsequently gets straight 'A's, and then cannot pass the Armed Services Test.

What kind of scam is being pulled on our country's poor and uneducated? They are being tricked into thinking that this piece of paper means they have received an education that they have not worked for.

You will not find any of these schools in affluent or middle class neighborhoods. They are only being built our most disadvantaged neighborhoods whose populations are the most vulnerable to this type of scam. Society doesn't seem to care that David Brennan is getting rich by exploiting these kids and their families. They were destined to be drop-out losers anyway. These schools are popping up all over Cleveland's inner-city, and now other states (Arizona, Florida, Colorado,Washington DC), are buying into White Hat as educational savior.
Three years ago I never even heard of them.
Does anyone else hear the giant sucking sound?

Oh, and one more thing:
When a student leaves Max Hayes and goes to Life Skills in the fall, the per/pupil tax money goes with him. If after a few days, or weeks, the student decides that they are not happy with Life Skills and returns to Max Hayes, the money is NOT returned to the Cleveland school district. It stays with White Hat Management.

This is not theoretical. It has already happened.

Posted 4/15/04 by MB Matthews

Finally, I would like to discuss the President Bush's "No Child left Behind" legislation passed by the Republican congress. This act sets very high standards for public schools and teachers. If a district does not move toward or meet the standard they will lose federal funding. Accountability is stringent.
All good things...unless one looks closer.

A district that has money can easily meet and maintain the goals set by NCLB. School districts that serve the poor and disadvantaged have difficulty on two fronts: Little money for programs, and a population that is comprised of many troubled youngsters. The more money a district loses, the greater the difficulty in reaching the standards, and the greater the chance of losing even more money. With the inner-city public schools in a tailspin, the man with the White Hat moves in.
David Brennan is making money on the backs of the poor and minorities...with a nice big kick-back to the Republican party for making sure No child is Left Behind.

Yes, when money disappears it will always leave a trail. Sometimes you just have to know where to look.

PS. Why isn't the Media all over this?
After all this is an election year.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

No Child Left Behind?

It's over.

I bid adieu to summer vacation Wednesday night.
Department Heads returned to school Thursday and Friday to prepare for three days of meetings with teachers before the students come back to class on Thursday the 26th.

There was a prevailing anxiety these past couple of days, as we anticipated the consequences of the staff cuts and major slashes to the operating budget.

There is no money for supplies.

Since the music program was cut, I am the only fine arts teacher in the building. That means lots more students, because the state mandates one credit of a fine art in order to graduate.
No Max Hayes student can walk across that stage in June without passing my class.

One hundred seventy eight kids in six classes is our contractual limit.
Granted, there have been other years when I had an overflow of students on my roster, but back then there was money in my departmental budget.
Not a lot mind you, I've learned to stretch a buck over the years.
When the district gives me $5 per student to purchase art supplies meant to last a whole year, I honestly feel like a miracle worker. Paper and paint take the place of loaves and fishes.
Being a Title I school, we are not supposed to charge the students or their families any fees for supplies, therefore, many teachers supplement the supply budget from our own pockets.
I try to pick up things when I see a really good sale, and over the course of the school year I typically spend between $500-600.
Most of my colleagues do the same.
This year, with $0 per student, I'm either going to end up spending much more, or I will have to figure out some kind of fund raiser,

If there are any Republicans among you, I really could use some insight here.

We have fewer teachers, no materials, no funding for professional development, and a school levy that is likely to fail. George Bush signed legislation to insure that there is "No Child Left Behind".
Maybe I'm missing something, but it seems to me that in Cleveland we have 73,000 children being left behind.

What happened?

------------------------------------Update-------Monday, August 23, 2004

Valdis Krebs asked me to post the following comment I sent him in an e-mail earlier today, as a follow-up to this entry:

Today I just learned of four more teachers in our building who were laid off.
We have no master schedule since we don't know who will be teaching.
Positions are still being eliminated as I write to you.
There are no schedules for the students who will be in school Thursday.
This is the biggest crisis I have ever seen in the district. It is sure to get worse in the winter when the levy fails.
This month will be looking like a cake walk


Wednesday, August 18, 2004


The concept of "giving a person space" was a recurrent theme running around my brain today and interrupted my thinking as I busied myself with the more mundane tasks of daily life.

Although I fully understand the phrase, and the fact that we all need "room to grow", "time to sort things out", and "the space to deal with our problems"; nevertheless, I am grateful for friends who reach out to me when I am overwhelmed, take notice of a developing distance and remind me that a shared burden is easier than one shouldered alone.
They are the ones who help calm the chaos of my circumstances rather than leave me to face the turbulence of my life by myself.
They know that just because the thing that doesn't kill you can make you stronger, in reality, sometimes it will still kill you...unless someone has your back.
They can tell by my silence when I really need to talk.
They understand that giving a person space doesn't mean walking away.

These are the friends who make love an action as opposed to a concept.

I am blessed to have friends who love me. They remind me of the friend I should be.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Highly Recommended

" The only institution more powerful than the U.S. government is American civil society. Hundreds of thousands of you have survived the relentless propaganda you have been subjected to, and are actively fighting your own government. In the ultra-patriotic climate that prevails in the United States, that's as brave as any Iraqi or Afghan or Palestinian fighting for his or her homeland. I hate to disagree with your president: yours is by no means a great nation. But you could be a great people."

-Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.

A series of essays written by an amazing journalist living in India. The world perspective she sheds on global politics and media manipulation is eye-opening, thought-provoking, and compelling.
I bought the book and devoured it the same day.

I have only a few more days to finish my summer reading. A week from today I am back to the classroom.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Levy Issues

My involvement with public art projects in Cleveland has required me to meet with several block clubs and community development organizations. The people who attend these meetings are grassroots Clevelanders; concerned about their neighborhoods, willing to take active roles in problem solving, and very articulate.
When I am assured of the group's support for a proposal, I will turn the discussion, momentarily, to the school levy. I am discovering things in these impromptu conversations I had not considered before.

Clevelanders who own homes in the neighborhoods where gentrification is taking place, and whose property values are rising, will not vote for a school levy. They realize that the schools are in dire need of money, but unless they have children in the schools, they will vote for their wallets.

A general rule of community real estate holds forth: property values are hinged to the success of the school district. This was dramatically true of Cleveland in the 1970's, when forced busing effectively destroyed the school system and caused the value of residential real estate to plummet.
Thirty years later, Cleveland struggles to polish her tarnished image, luring developers with tax abatement.
The developers are a smart bunch. They know that in a city whose school system fails two-thirds of its students, the new housing market can only be geared toward the childless. Condominiums, town houses, and lofts are springing up in neighborhoods on both sides of the river. Gentrification has begun, and property values are beginning to rise, in spite of the deteriorating school system.
The housing market in Cleveland is no longer tied to the success of the school district.

How do you convince people without children to vote for a school levy?

In bad economic times, altruism will always take a back seat to the bank account at the polls. The challenge facing the levy campaign must be to convince voters;

a) The levy will not hurt them financially (geared toward renters)
b) The levy will be a financial benefit (geared toward home-owners)

When the success of the schools cannot be tied to the housing market, voters need to be informed of the school district's direct influence on the job market. This is a connection that is very evident to people who study regional economy, but not often brought to the attention of the general population.
In order for the school levy to pass, this connection needs to be placed in the forefront. Crowded classrooms will not sway a voters mind as effectively as the loss (or gain) of a job.

I wonder how much money the district is spending on the levy campaign?
I have not seen any evidence that the campaign organizers are even considering these issues. I certainly have not heard them being discussed in the mainstream media. I do read about teacher cuts, (most of those teachers live in the suburbs), crowded classrooms, and transportation cuts.
People without kids don't care about those things. A lot of Cleveland parents don't vote.
Which is easier, to sway the vote of the person who regularly participates in the electoral process, or to get people who never vote to the polls?

I know that Arnold Pinkney is handling this campaign. I hope he is doing his homework.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Who Was That?

I just reread my last post...arghhhh.....scared myself.

Can you tell I've been working on a paper?
Sorry about the Dry Tone and the Educationese. I promise to avoid that BS in the future.
Truth is, I usually (better make that ALWAYS) mock the 'I-am-taking-myself-way-too-seriously' scholarly, elitist attitude in others, so I will get back to storytelling, rather than pontificating.
I hate pretense and hypocrisy*; especially when I see it in me.

*clarification- I am referring to the tone of the post, not the message.


"How does one prepare our youth for careers that do not yet exist?"

About six months ago, I was asked this question and, I admit , I was stumped.
Rather than dismiss the query as rhetoric, I let it roll around in my mind for a while...a long while.
I tend to be tenacious when challenged, especially if the challenge regards an issue I am passionate about.

Over the past couple of weeks I've been involved in discussion with several varied groups of people. Those conversations have ranged from integrated curriculum, to community connectivity, to new strategies in problem solving, to creating a better future for the City of Cleveland.
Yesterday, (prepare for the cliche) I had an "Ah ha!" moment.

I do my best thinking holding on to a leash. The familiarity of the sidewalk and the pace are conducive to concentration.
I purposely won't wear headphones. I have two dogs. I get lots of thinking done when the weather is nice.
It hit me near the corner of Mayfield Rd and Yellowstone. We should be preparing our youth for future careers, careers that do not yet exist, by immersing them in connected thinking and problem solving.

Let me explain:
In order to integrate standards based curriculum, one needs to find the natural connections, or commonalities, between the the standards of two or more subject areas. For example; pattern and sequence recognition are shared learning standards for both music and mathematics. An integrated lesson about pattern and sequence recognition would include activities that incorporate music as well as math. When students are accustomed to making these natural connections, we begin to teach them to think connectively. The key to invention lies in making new connections.
Typical teaching methodology is dependent on directed, linear thinking processes, and rote learning. There is value in these processes that should not be discounted. However, our world is changing at a pace outstripping current methods of processing information. Alternative thinking and learning practices also need to be used to give our young people the tools to keep up with society's evolution.

Just as making new connections is an important factor in innovation, establishing networks is vital to supporting the process. We cannot foresee the future or know what problems lie ahead. What we can do is equip our young people with a skill set that includes problem solving strategies. Gathering information is essential to problem solving. Networks form the connections to facilitate that process.

We can only prepare our young people for an unknown future by giving them the means to deal with the vast amounts of information they will have to contend with. Since we cannot know which tools they will need, we can only hope to enable our youth by teaching them skills that will help them to create new strategies.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindnss in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.

Mother Theresa

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Collateral Damage

Yesterday, my contract finally came in the mail. Usually we sign our contracts in May, but with the crisis caused by state budget cuts, and money siphoned off by charter schools, negotiations became very complex, leaving many of us fearing a teachers strike. Thank God rational heads prevailed, and now we can begin the school year in crisis mode rather than catastrophe.

Today's Plain Dealer ran two little articles that caused me concern.

The first was an editorial that ended: "...the leader who brought stability and academic progress to the system, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, has a contract that expires in December. The agreement allows for an extension of up to two years, but it's unlikely that she will seek to stay that long. In short the system is likely to enter the superintendent hiring market sooner rather than later"

The second discusses the CPPA's efforts to get an income tax increase on the ballot to rehire police officers laid off in January. The petition was thrown out by city officials citing errors. The CPPA argues the errors were minor. Channel 19's news clip was more informative than the PD article, as it showed Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association president, Bob Beck, blasting the city for purposely trying to keep the tax issue off the ballot, since it would compete with the school levy, forcing voters to make a choice, police or schools. (Or both or neither).

This November's election will be crucial for the Cleveland Schools on two major levels.
If we lose the levy we will probably lose our Superintendent. She would be required to do the impossible task of trying to rescue a school system that has less than no money, overwhelming societal issues, and no community support. She's had many other job offers, her roots are not here, why should she stay?

We are struggling and we are broke. There are plenty of people who have written off Cleveland's children as the collateral damage of our region's economy. Classism, racism, and selfishness are major contributing factors to this attitude. There are many people who would be happy to let the public schools continue their downward spiral. Those aren't their kids, but it is their money. Their short sightedness does not allow them to see the future consequences for the region being caused by the damage done to Cleveland's kids today.

Friday, August 06, 2004

"Remember this: Some days you are the pidgeon, and other days you are the statue."

This quotation is posted in my classroom.

I have been feeling rather statuesque lately. Anybody got a hose?
Or perhaps... a cat.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Suck It Up

Football season is here.

Practice started this week for my 12 year old, and today was a muddy one. As I drove into the parking lot to retrieve my boy, I saw my friend, Terry, sitting in her Jeep. I pulled my car up next to her to say 'hey'.
It was raining, and the boys were still out in the field. The coach was talking and they had taken a knee. Terry was becoming a little nervous. "It's getting dark...Why are they making the kids kneel in the mud?...They shouldn't have to be out there in the rain."
Poor Terry. She doesn't get it ...yet. But she will.

Although she and I have sat through many basketball seasons together watching our sons, this was Brandon's first time playing football. Brian, on the other hand, has been playing since since second grade. This is his fifth season.
When I signed him up for the Peewee Football League at the age of seven, I was also a bit concerned by what seemed to be harsh treatment for such young children. But I quickly saw the positive impact football was making on my son.
I will never forget the look of pride on my little boy's face when he walked up to me after practice one evening and said, "Guess what we did today in conditioning? The "House of Pain" The coach said I was the best."
I had just witness one of the most valuable things that the game of football teaches kids. Football teaches the boys to "suck it up"
No whining, no crying, no complaining...you take a hit, you get back up...you don't get mad ...suck it up. It's raining? So what. You have teammates depending on you to do your job, so follow directions. Sometimes you can't just do your best, sometimes you have to do what is required.
What great life lessons.
But personally, my favorite part of football, is listening to somebody, besides me, yell at my kids.
Yeah, it's all good.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004


The discussion last night took several interesting twists. Unemployment, underemployment, labor unions, job training, education, and... the drop-out rate.

The drop out rate is 62% (gasp!) of 73,000 students (gasp again!) and growing (1400 teacher layoffs this year, remember?) in the city of Cleveland.
Educated suburbanites are surprised and appalled.
"Can't innovative programs, challenging courses, and inspired teaching, keep these kids in school?", they ask.
"They can and they do" I answer, "for a few kids."
Those very positive things are all good, and do work until a couple more elements are added into the mix. Chemicals and sex.

I am certain some official numbers are kept regarding attrition factors, although the accuracy would be questionable, considering the fact that most drop-outs don't fill out an exit questionnaire. They just stop showing up for school. My information is gleaned from personal observation, and discussion with students.

The sexual component, that combination of tumultuous teenaged hormones and ignorance, resulting in adolescent parenthood, is ostensibly, the biggest factor in the drop-out rate for girls.
A secondary factor, along the same vein in female attrition, is sexual harassment in the schools. Many girls complain of physical as well a verbal harassment on a constant and daily basis.
I have done informal surveys amongst my students in regards to bullying, and in the course of those discussions discovered the subtler, more insiduous victimization that goes on in the hallways and classrooms in the form of sexual intimidation, physical as well as verbal.
Complaints are rarely made to the faculty , since the students perceive that the problem will only get worse when teachers and parents get involved. Girls will put up with the name calling, propositioning and even the occasional random hallway groping (some boys think nothing of grabbing at a girls breast, or bottom, in the close confines of a crowded stairwell) for only so long.
The feisty ones get attitude and the harassment stops. The quiet victims often just disappear.

The chemical abuse factor in the drop-out rate is one that would be impossible to prove, since illegal consumption of alcohol by minors, and the use of recreational drugs, is information that educators can only learn anecdotally. My own experience leads me to believe that drugs and alcohol are, far and away, the leading factor in male drop-outs for the Cleveland School District.
I see the young faces, burned out, and hung-over. Eyes glassy, or reddened or deadened.
I wander my classroom, antennae up, while my students work on their art, and discuss the weekend's party. I know who's using and who's selling. I know who gets what from their neighbors, parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles. Often I eavesdrop, more often they tell me.
My personal observations lead me to believe; not every kid who abuses quits school, but almost every kid who quits school abuses.

I often complain about short sighted, city/civic planners, who leave the city schools out of the discussions about urban renewal. The problems are huge, and the issues are societal as well as educational. But just because they are daunting, doesn't mean they are impossible. Problems don't resolve themselves when they are ignored.
And this one is cancerous. It is eating away at the core of our city. Unchecked, it will destroy our future.
Will any of our leaders even acknowledge the potential implications that this lost generation of damaged young people will have on our city?

No, that would be too painful of a reality check.

Let's talk about hotels, and convention centers and lakefront condominiums instead. Those things are so much nicer. So much fun to build! They may cost money, but they will attract all the right people to come to Cleveland.

In the meantime, cashflow is a bit slow. There need to be some cuts to balance the budget.
Now where did our inspired civic leaders make those cuts?
Let's see if we can remember....cops...schools...neighborhood programs. Brilliant.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Love and Vigilance

Today's entry will begin with a confession.
I am in love.

Not the rose-colored infatuation of a crush, nor the obsessive passion of a sexy romance. Nope, this is the come-hell-or-high-water, in it for the long haul, unconditional kind of love affair.

And now (terrible tease that I am), I shall burst the bubbles of any of you who hoped to read a steamy account of a scandalous relationship. I have finally admitted to myself that I am very much in love with... my city.

Yesterday, I found myself getting angry with Cleveland as I read the Plain Dealer Sunday Arts section articles by Carolyn Jack, on our lack of an Arts festival, and Steven Litt's column on the (lack of) development along East 9th Street.
Because I tend to analyze feelings and emotions, I noted that my anger was more of frustration than disgust. Like the anger one has with a family member who does something stupid or self defeating, as opposed to the dismissive anger that develops between business associates or seminal romances gone awry.
Unlike the thousands of people who have left this city to quietly suffer it's 'Crisis', I find myself more determined to stay and search for it's salvation.

Yesterday's frustration was incited by the quote under Carolyn Jack's 'Why Not Us?' headline in reference to the lack of a big Arts Festival in Cleveland.
"If it doesn't have an artistic vision, it won't succeed."
To lead an article about a positive proposal for our city with a statement predicting failure goes against every common sense rule of marketing. Is it any wonder that we are a city renowned for our lack of self-esteem? Who's agenda is served by proclaiming a lack of artistic vision in the city? That is a trick straight out of Marketing Psych 101. If a phrase is repeated often enough it will be perceived as fact.

Steven Litt, known for his chronic negativity, maintained his usual tone throughout his discussion of what we should do with "Rock and Roll Blvd." His complaints were typical and didn't trip my hot wire. What did bother me was the gray-box announcement headlined "Have Your Say" advertising a public forum to gather ideas on how to re-energize E 9th St.
If there is no actual money to realize a proposal, than why is such an effort being made to publicize it? Could this be a public distraction to divert our attention from a private deal? Keep listening for the sound of the door closing to the back room boys and girls.

I started my essay by proclaiming that I was in love.
I defined my love as unconditional.
I am further defining it as protective, as vigilant, and as nurturing.

There are plenty of other Clevelanders who feel the same way as I do about our city. We are not elite, we are grassroots. We may not be insiders, but we are not naive. We are here for the long haul and not for the fast buck. And we are finally beginning to realize that by combining the sincerity of our hearts with the collective energy of our creativity we can make good things happen here.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Hmmm...I can relate to this.

Just as eating against one's will is injurious to health, so study without a liking for it spoils the memory, and it retains nothing it takes in.

Leonardo daVinci

Stand firm in your refusal to remain consious during algebra. In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.

Fran Leborwitz