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Modern School

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Member since: Sun Dec 12, 2010, 01:09 PM
Number of posts: 794

Journal Archives

Teachers' Lack of Rights at Work AND Home

In a stunning defeat for free speech and privacy rights a two-person appellate panel has upheld the firing of Jennifer O’Brien (see North Jersey.com). O’Brien, you may recall, was the Paterson elementary school teacher who was suspended for posting to her Facebook page that she felt like a warden for future criminals (see Teachers, Check Your Freedoms at the Door). The panel ruled that her behavior was not protected by the First Amendment and that her right to make those comments was “outweighed by the district’s interest in the efficient operation of its schools.”

Of course O’Brien’s behavior was stupid (or at least incredibly naďve) in this charged, litigious and anti-teacher climate. Teachers really cannot assume they have the same right to privacy as other professionals. A teacher is still expected to be a paragon of virtue, on and off campus (see Teachers, Madonna and Whore). In the past, it was not uncommon for teachers to be fired for getting pregnant, married or for having a boyfriend. Yet, as crazy as it sounds, they still are (see here for a recent example of a teacher being fired for getting pregnant out of wedlock). Teachers’ behavior at home and in the community (e.g., public intoxication, provocative attire, participation in street protests and activism) and on the internet are all open to monitoring and judgment by students, parents and administrators.

Yet regardless of how callous, careless or insensitive one feels O’Brien was, it is hard to see how firing her was in the best interests of society or children. If she was a terrible teacher and these comments were just the latest example of her cruelty toward children, then yes, build a case and go through the proper dismissal procedures. If, on the other hand, it was simply a tactless expression of frustration or exasperation with discipline problems in the classroom by an otherwise decent teacher, then get her some support or professional development. After all, teachers constantly complain privately about discipline problems to each other and to friends and family. Some no doubt even use the same pejorative comments she used, but have the sense to keep such comments off the social networking websites. This does not make them bad teachers or a threat to children.

In contrast, firing O’Brien for cause (thus denying her unemployment benefits) is deliberately cruel and callous, and completely unnecessary. But since she is an adult who betrayed the public trust, an erstwhile defender of children’s innocence who slandered their purity, a whore in Madonna’s clothing, it is entirely reasonable—indeed, desirable—to throw her to the wolves.
Posted by Modern School | Fri Jan 18, 2013, 09:11 PM (7 replies)

Teacher Fired For Being Poor Role Model

In another stunning defeat for free speech and privacy, the California Commission on Professional Competence (CPC) has upheld the dismissal of Stacie Halas, finding her “unfit” to teach 8th-grade science because she had acted in pornographic films in the past, the Los Angeles Times recently reported. (An East Coast appellate court just ruled that a school could fire a teacher for a Facebook posting)

The CPC argued that her pornographic past prevented her from being a good role model in the present. Even though she made the films from 2005-2006, before she was employed as a teacher, “the continued availability of the films will hamper her ability to be an effective teacher,” according to Judge Julie Cabos-Owen. The commission also took offense at her “dishonesty” and her failure to convince them of her “redemption.”

This ruling (along with the recent ruling against Jennifer O’Brian, for her Facebook posting) is chilling to all teachers and anyone who hopes to enter the teaching profession. While there is a broad public consensus that teachers should be good role models for their students, there is no consensus about what this actually means. A teacher can be accused of being a poor role model for any number of protected actions, including having tattoos, being an atheist, belonging to the wrong political organization, or for questioning the authority of her principal, superintendent or Arne Duncan. Any of these could become a distraction in the classroom (if the teacher lacks the skill or experience to prevent it), but none of them (including a past experience in pornography) necessarily prevents a teacher from doing a good job.

Another disturbing aspect to her firing is that it was in response to a past behavior that occurred well before she entered the teaching profession, that had no direct relevance to her ability to teach, and that she shows no sign of doing again. Considering how easy it now is to dredge up a person’s history on the internet, one can imagine all sorts of other “distracting” past behaviors that could ruin a teacher’s career (e.g., high school or college photos of drunkenness or nudity, arrests for civil disobedience, addiction).


Madonna?
The ruling is indicative of the Madonna/whore schizophrenia society has around teaching. Despite the fact that teachers can now stay on the job when pregnant and usually even when gay or living in sin, they are still expected to live lives of moral perfection, even when outside of school and in the privacy of their own homes. They should not drink or do drugs, perform in or watch pornography, fight, swear, scream or get angry. In short, teachers are not permitted the luxury of being human.

Or Whore?

The ruling is moralistic—a product of adults’ discomfort with sexuality, not Halas’ competence in the classroom. It should be remembered that her students are not old enough to legally access her videos and are unlikely to actually see their teacher nude (though their parent might be scouring the internet this very moment). It is precisely people’s moralism that has made it a distraction by turning an insignificant part of her past into a maelstrom and portraying her behavior as something terribly shameful.

Even her lawyer has been complicit in this moralism, portraying her as a person who made a mistake (i.e., choosing a lucrative but despicable job) out of financial desperation, but who then went on to do something glorious (i.e., become a teacher). According to her attorney, had her district allowed her back on the job, the message to children would have been that one can make a mistake and redeem herself; whereas the ruling against her sends the message that you better not make any mistakes.

However, it is inaccurate to call her past behavior a mistake. She made a rational choice to act in pornographic films. It happened to be one of the quickest ways to help her family out of their financial mess. It is perfectly legal, pays really well, and theoretically harms nobody. Calling it a mistake implies that porn acting is deplorable or unacceptable and that it is preferable to accept low paid, tedious and backbreaking work instead. The message to children (and to teachers) is that one’s material security and wellbeing are subordinate to the need to shelter children from all turpitude, both real and imaginary.

The dishonesty charges stem primarily from her failure to come clean before being hired. Yet had she included her acting career on the job application it is virtually guaranteed that she would never have been hired in the first place, even with a valiant public appeal for redemption. Thus, she was faced with a choice of never becoming a teacher (something she apparently felt was more desirable than porn acting) or being deceitful. Ironically, had she been a prostitute, which is illegal, they likely never would have found out and she would still be teaching today.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2013/01/teacher-fired-for-being-poor-role-model.html
Posted by Modern School | Fri Jan 18, 2013, 09:10 PM (8 replies)

The Inconvenient Truth About Wages: They’ve Dropped 19% Since 1970 For Men and 6% for Women Since 20

A new report out by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney (both fellows at the Brookings Institution) adds some more data to support this conclusion (the report was summarized in the New York Times).

According to their report, the earnings for male workers age 25-64 have declined by 4% since 1970 after adjusting for inflation, despite the fact that worker productivity has dramatically increased during this same time period. However, in 1970, 94% of men in this age group had employment, whereas by 2010 the number had fallen to only 81%. So not only have wages gone down for those who have jobs, there has also been a drop in the number of people who earn wages at all. Thus, when all working-age men are figured into the data, the median earnings of male workers have actually declined by 19% since 1970. However, for those who lack a high school diploma, wages dropped by a staggering 41% since 1970.

The authors note that this decline in employment is due in part to the recession and the currently high unemployment rate, as well as the large numbers of people who have given up looking for work. However, it is also the product have much higher rates of incarceration and higher enrollment in the Social Security Disability program. Furthermore, those who are incarcerated for the most part have employment within the prison system, but they can be forced to work for free or for much less than the minimum wage, making them de facto slaves.

Women, in contrast, have done much better over the past 40 years. Since 1970, the median female worker has seen her earnings increase by 71%, while the percentage of women in the workforce has increased from 54% to 71%. Yet even with these gains, women have seen their earnings drop by 6% since 2000.

While a college educated workers have higher employment rates and earn higher salaries on average, the percentage of men completing college has stagnated over the past 30 years. The percentage of women completing college has been steadily increasing. Yet with tuition rising significantly faster than inflation over the past decade, combined with state budget cuts, stagnating wages for professors, declining course offerings, furloughs and admissions moratorium, college is becoming a much less tenable road to material security.

The average student is now graduating with a debt of $24,000 or more. With slim job prospects and anemic entry level salaries, many graduates, even if they can find work, will retain large college debts for years, or even decades. Consequently, even with a “good” job, many college graduates will still have living standards far below those of their parents’ or grandparents’ generations.

In addition to declining wages, American workers are working longer hours and they are working harder and faster (one of the main reasons for their increased productivity). If anything, salaries should be significantly higher now than in the 1970s, even when adjusted for inflation, since American workers are doing such a better job at enriching their bosses. Even with higher wages, corporate profits are so high that the bosses would still end up richer than ever and the wealth gap would continue to grow.


Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-inconvenient-truth-about-wages.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Nov 8, 2012, 09:11 PM (1 replies)

(Not) Ending Bullying Through Exaggeration and Misinformation

First the good news: With the increased media coverage and public attention we’ve seen over the past decade, bullying is on the decline in some parts of the U.S. In California, for example, the school bullying rate has been reduced to one-third that of the rest of the nation.

Despite this promising statistic, my colleagues and I were recently informed at an anti-bullying workshop that bullying is on the rise nationwide. The presenter did not provide any references or documentation to support her claim. Instead, she showed us a heartbreaking video about bullying victims who had committed suicide and told us that 3,000 teens commit suicide each year, implying that teen suicide is primarily caused by bullying.

There is now a sizable anti-bullying movement and with it a growing network of nonprofits and community-based organizations devoted to stamping out the problem. Education can help reduce bullying, but only when the information is accurate and reliable. Exaggeration and misinformation may lead to larger donations and greater media attention, but they also unnecessarily fuel parents’ and teachers’ existing anxieties and fears, while drawing resources and attention away from other threats to children’s wellbeing.

Youth Suicide Rates are the Lowest Ever Recorded
All teen suicides are tragic, but not all teen suicides can be linked to bullying. Moreover, teen suicide is on the decline, with a rate today that is less than half what it was 40 years ago. It is also far lower than it is for adults. Only 1 in 2500 teens (13-19) kill themselves, whereas 1 in 900 adults do. The suicide rate for 10-14 year-olds was only 0.9 per 100,000 in 2007, and only 6.9 per 100,000 for 15-19 year-olds, according to NIH data. However, the suicide rate jumped to 12.7 per 100,000 for 20-24 year-olds, well after kids have left high school, suggesting that factors other than school bullying are at play. For example, chronic depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can result from physical, emotional or sexual abuse growing up, and can manifest long after moving away from home. Indeed, youth advocate Mike Males says that a history of living in an abusive family is a far more common cause of teen suicide than bullying.

How Prevalent is Bullying?
Even when bullying does not result in suicide, it can still be a traumatizing experience that negatively impacts self-esteem and academic success. Good Education reports that 160,000 students avoid school each day because of fears of being bullied. Furthermore, almost 40% of high school freshmen report daily bullying, while 70% of all high school students report regular online bullying according to Good.

These are shockingly high numbers, but they do not tell the whole story.

If 40% of high school freshmen are experiencing vicious daily bullying, we should be seeing an epidemic of suicides, depression and low self-esteem as a result. Yet none of these problems comes close to 40%. As mentioned above, the suicide rate for 15-19 year olds is extremely low (0.0069%), while the depression rate for 13-18 year olds is 5.6%, according to a 2006 study by E. Jane Costello and colleagues that tested the teen depression “epidemic” hypothesis.

There are several ways to explain this paradox.

Some victims of bullying have the friends, social support and self-confidence to survive the experience without lasting trauma. Some, no doubt, shake it off and move on without letting it bother them. Others may feel bad for a little while and then continue with their lives.

Not every child has this capability, of course. Many are already isolated and alienated and have low self-esteem before the bullying even begins. This not only diminishes their resiliency, but it is also sometimes the reason they are targeted by bullies in the first place. Indeed, it is likely that some of the bullying victims who do attempt suicide may be suffering from other problems in addition to bullying, like a lack of emotional support or outright abuse at home.

Another explanation for this paradox is that those surveyed used an overly broad interpretation of bullying that encompasses all forms of teasing, criticizing and other unpleasant social interactions. Everyone experiences tactless or insensitive comments from time to time that can be very hurtful. We have all received unsolicited criticism (sometimes accurate) that made us feel bad. But these are not bullying and calling them such does not help reduce bullying nor make children any safer.

Bullying involves the repeated and deliberate abuse of an individual by exploiting a real or perceived power imbalance, like when a larger kid regularly knocks the books out of the hands of a smaller one, or when popular students repeatedly spread rumors in order to humiliate a less popular student. Intellectual bullying can occur when an “A” student refuses to let a teammate participate because he is perceived to be dumber and might mess up their team grade.

This definition of bullying does not include many behaviors that are equally dangerous or traumatizing. Homophobia, sexism and racism, for example, can be expressed in ways that do not directly target any individual, yet they can still have a negative impact on the self-esteem and physical safety of individuals. For example, a student who publicly proclaims that “homosexuality is gross,” has not bullied any individual student, but the message that is heard by everyone is that there is something wrong being gay, something that can undermine the self-esteem and security of gay students. If teachers allow this to occur without intervening, it could escalate into bullying or homophobic violence.

Yet anti-gay bullying is NOT the biggest threat facing gay youth, according to Mike Males. A study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) of young gay men who had contemplated suicide found that the most important reasons for their suicidal thoughts were drug and alcohol abuse by their parents, poverty, unemployment and childhood sexual or physical abuse.

Rather than obsessing about bullying per se, it would be more productive for educators to learn to recognize when students are having emotional or social problems and provide the appropriate support or interventions, regardless of the cause. It should not matter why a child is being beat up. It is still the responsibility of school personnel to intercede. Likewise, a good teacher should take action whenever she hears racist or sexist comments, as well as homophobic or bullying comments, not only to maintain a productive academic environment, but to help all students feel safe and welcome in the classroom.

Modern School

http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/11/not-ending-bullying-through.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Nov 8, 2012, 09:03 PM (0 replies)

Record Profits and Declining Living Standards, Again

For the second year in a row (and despite the continuation of high unemployment rates), American corporations posted record profits ($1.97 trillion for the 3rd quarter of 2011, according to the Huffington Post). At the same time, pay, benefits and living standards for the majority of Americans declined.

The connection should be obvious. As bosses downsize their businesses, throwing more and more workers into the unemployment lines or compelling them to accept lower wages in exchange for protection from unemployment, those lucky enough to have jobs are being forced to worker harder, faster and longer (productivity increased by 3.2% during the 3rd quarter of 2011). As a result, companies are spending less on labor and getting higher productivity as a result. (At least they were until this most recent quarter, when productivity actually declined by nearly 1%, probably because they have people working so hard and long they are burning out or deliberately slowing down out of exhaustion or frustration).

The AFL-CIO Executive Paywatch list found that average compensation for S&P 500 CEOs was $12.9 million in 2011, a 13.9% increase over 2010, which itself saw a 22.8% increase over 2009. Real wages for workers fell by 2%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average CEO took home 380 times more than the average wage of their employees. 30 years ago they only took home 42 times as much as their employees. (See www.news-record.com)

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/record-profits-and-declining-living.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Jun 7, 2012, 07:44 PM (0 replies)

Teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy have filed an unfair labor complaint


Teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy have filed an unfair labor complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board claiming the organization that runs the school decided to close it the day after teachers voted to form a union. The teachers have been joined in their complaint by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, according to the Chicago Tribune.

As one would expect, the school says their decision has nothing to do with the organizing effort by teachers. However, it is precisely the lack of unions, the ability to hire and fire at will, keep wages and benefits low and work demands high, that make charter schools attractive to investors and politicians.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/teachers-file-complaint-against-union.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Jun 7, 2012, 07:43 PM (0 replies)

Teachers File Complaint Against Union-Busting Chi-Town Charter


Teachers and staff at the Youth Connection Leadership Academy have filed an unfair labor complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board claiming the organization that runs the school decided to close it the day after teachers voted to form a union. The teachers have been joined in their complaint by the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff, the American Federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, according to the Chicago Tribune.

As one would expect, the school says their decision has nothing to do with the organizing effort by teachers. However, it is precisely the lack of unions, the ability to hire and fire at will, keep wages and benefits low and work demands high, that make charter schools attractive to investors and politicians.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/teachers-file-complaint-against-union.html
Posted by Modern School | Thu Jun 7, 2012, 07:42 PM (0 replies)

Brown’s Millionaire’s Tax, A Gift to Private Charter Schools

89% of Gov. Jerry Brown’s “Millionaire’s” tax is slated to go to K-12 education, should the bill be approved by California voters in November. However, according to journalist Danny Weil, the legislation allows this money to go to private charter schools or to the private contractors hired by nonprofit charters. (You can see Weil discussing this on YouTube by clicking &feature=youtu.be.)

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/browns-millionaires-tax-gift-to-private.html
Posted by Modern School | Wed Jun 6, 2012, 11:21 PM (3 replies)

Chicago Teacher Strike Vote Today

Chicago teachers are taking a strike vote today. While the vote will not necessarily lead to a strike, it is the next step required before a union-sanctioned and legal strike may begin. It is also likely to pass, as strike votes are generally preceded by straw polls to gauge members’ readiness for a strike.

A strike is also the necessary and correct next step for Chicago teachers, who are being required by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to work a 20% longer day for only 2% more in wages, according to ABC news. CPS also wants to bring in merit pay, larger class sizes and 60 new charter schools over the next five years, which would dramatically weaken the union as charter schools are rarely unionized.

The teachers’ contract ends this month. The results of the vote are expected by the end of the week. If successful, a strike action could begin at the beginning of the fall, 2012 school year. The last major teachers’ strike in Chicago was in 1987.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/chicago-teacher-strike-vote-today.html
Posted by Modern School | Wed Jun 6, 2012, 11:20 PM (2 replies)

Majority of New Grads Embrace Vow of Poverty

The majority of new grads say they would gladly take a pay cut if that meant they could do something that “made a difference,” according to a recent survey by Net Impact. The survey found that 72% of graduating seniors felt that making a “positive societal impact” was essential to their happiness, while 45% said they would take a 15% pay cut to work at an organization they believed was making such an impact, according to Good Education.

Of course similar secular vows of poverty have been embraced for generations by teachers, nurses, social workers and others in the “helping” and care industries. People do not go into these professions to get rich—that’s not possible on a teacher’s, nurse’s or social worker’s salary—but because they want to do something positive for society. Indeed, this altruism is exploited by managers, administrators, politicians and pundits who know the do-gooders will continue to line up for jobs, even when wages and working conditions are declining.

However, there is something particularly twisted and irrational when framed as a willingness to take a pay cut in exchange for the belief that one was “making a difference.”

Considering that material insecurity and social inequality are probably the social issues most immediately threatening to the majority of people’s health and wellbeing (second only to climate change in terms of the long-term threat to global peace and security), it seems bizarre that a comfortable and secure income for all, including recent graduates and those in the “helping” fields, would not be considered a pressing social issue.

Yet even for those who see this as a pressing social need, there are very few jobs out there with this focus and it is questionable whether they are actually doing anything to improve people’s material wellbeing. Most paid union positions, for example, are bureaucratic, while the real power of a union lies in its members and their willingness to take job actions, something union bureaucracies have been increasingly discouraging (see here, here and here). There are also numerous jobs in social work, advocacy and services for the poor and the homeless, but these mostly provide temporary relief and do little or nothing to actually end homelessness and poverty.

Another way to parse the “vow of poverty” statistic is that large numbers of recent college grads accept social inequity, poverty, hunger, homelessness and suffering as normal and unalterable aspects of life, so they might as well get paid to provide some assistance to those who are suffering. By accepting low pay for this work, however, they are also accepting the notion that jobs in the “helping” fields are worth less than those in tech, finance, law or business, thus helping to keep these professions undervalued. And by taking jobs that depend on the continuation of social inequity, rather than fighting to end the causes, they help perpetuate the same problems they seek to remedy, by making it easier for the rest of society to ignore the problems.

It is even questionable whether recent grads truly prefer the belief they are doing good in society over having a decent salary. Consider that the study found that 24% of ”Millennials” are dissatisfied with their current job, compared with 14% of Gen Xers and 18% of Boomers. While this might be due to innately different values between the generations, it is likely influenced by the fact Gen Xers, and especially Boomers are more likely to have job stability, higher income, better benefits, better chances to live a comfortable, middle class American Dream lifestyle compared with the Millenials, who are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in college debt, a protracted recession, decimated union movement, and a job market dominated by low income service sector jobs.

Modern School
http://modeducation.blogspot.com/2012/06/majority-of-new-grads-embrace-vow-of.html
Posted by Modern School | Wed Jun 6, 2012, 11:19 PM (4 replies)
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