Saturday, December 4, 2010

What School Leadership Should Be About

Leaders in education cannot become concerned only with standardized test scores. Leaders cannot afford to mistakenly believe that their schools are islands of learning beyond other concerns. The community of school is bound to the human community that surrounds it, and, by extension, to the rest of the world. The issue of involvement and interaction with the school environment is important, but only as it is a strategy that leads toward social justice.

One unseen issue is that schools are filled with teachers and leaders of good intent, but also with a lack of clarity concerning the real problems of schools. We mostly fail to confront our complicity as agents responsible for the very inequities we rail against. We are complicit and instrumental agents who usher along cycles of social reproduction, even when the model we reproduce is the essence of racial and class hegemony. Jonathan Kozol in The Shame of the Nation calls our education system a kind of American apartheid. I would stretch a bit further and liken it to an Indian caste system, or the Mexican encomienda. In these old-world systems of social hierarchy, the effects of which are still actively being worked out, social status is determined by the nature of your birth. In India your occupation was a copy of your parents’ social level and associated work tradition. There were strong racial and ethnic restrictions built into this system, but all was cloaked in the primacy of religious mandate. The Brahmins, the keepers of religious tradition, not surprisingly, enjoyed the most privileged status. Social mobility was not a provision of the caste system. In Spanish-controlled colonial Mexico, the encomienda system was focused on the individual’s ethnic or cultural birth rights in a more blatant manner. The Spanish born, or peninsulars, were most privileged, of course because they were of the conquering culture. As time passed other social strata had to be created. The criollos, or Mexican born of Spanish parents, were less affluent. The mestizos, or those of mixed Spanish and indigenous heritage, were a level further removed from power. The indigenous population, still the bulk of society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, received the least amount of access to the cultural capital of their day. Brought into the fray against their will, the African slave population was the lowest of all.

If some educators would read this, powerful reactions may arise. I’m crazy for drawing comparisons of American education to colonial racism. But am I that far off? America’s history runs parallel with that of Mexico. We are also still reconciling ourselves with our own history of slavery followed by legalized institutional racism. Social inequities in education continue to exist. How can that be unless social reproduction is being continued and managed through our public schools?

Consider the explanations in another light. If “school” is not the problem, meaning the current system of education as practiced commonly today, then gross inequities must be explained in other ways. Poor kids are just too ill-equipped socially, mentally, or are otherwise deficient. They will never “measure up.” Those foreign language speakers just aren’t trying hard enough; they’re faking it anyway. Those special needs kids are hopeless, or they use their disabilities as a crutch. And those black kids just are a mess. They act entitled to everything and argue and complain whenever they’re held accountable for something. Once you see the counter-arguments for what they are, racist, ignorant, and elitist rubbish, then what is it that remains? The system itself perpetuates social and racial inequities. Who fares consistently well while other identified sub-groups lag behind year after year?

And so the leader of the American school first must challenge himself to face this ugly reality eye to eye. Call it by name. A leader in education must think and act like a social reformer. Social justice will never become real by wishing for it. It will never come to pass by waiting for others to make it happen. The easiest path to follow is the one that already exists; this path leads to social reproduction. Those who seek social justice in schools must blaze new trails in the landscape of educational practices.

Creating a school environment in which authentic dialogue among all parties involved is practiced and expected; this should be a high priority of the leader seeking social justice. Raising the level of educational discourse is essential if justice is desired. Anything less is just complacency. Leaders who are willing to engage in the tough and uncomfortable issues that really need to be the topics of staff development meetings; they are the ones who will move us closer to social justice. Leaders who understand that parental involvement takes on hundreds of forms, not just ten or twelve; they will earn the respect of the community. Leaders who take time to understand and appreciate the diversity of their student body; they will inspire students to achieve higher levels of learning. Leaders who speak of social truths and realities instead of test scores; they will earn the respect of their teachers.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe was executed by a lethal injection of carbonic acid at Auschwitz, 14 August, 1941. During the weeks before his execution he was savagely beaten and starved, once left for dead. He continued in this nightmare environment to minister to others, perform Mass, give last rites, and generally share the work of God. He would use smuggled wine and bread for his Mass services. Relevance? Those dedicated to a great and noble cause will do anything necessary to bring about the desired change.

Educational leaders should, indeed, view their position as a privilege as well as a heavy responsibility. Social change will only come when leaders actively seek such change. In the last issue of his publication, The Knight, Kolbe wrote,
“No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?”

Those who would be real leaders in education must dedicate themselves to social justice in the same way that religious leaders dedicate themselves to divine missions. In fact isn’t the educational mission another kind of divine mission? Do we not speak of love? And what is love if not an acute and sincere concern for the well-being of others? Social justice must ultimately be based upon a deep concern for the well-being of others. This requires school leaders who recognize the humanitarian mission of education. It requires individuals who will not compromise the educational mission out of fear of retribution or fear of angering teachers and parents. It requires a bravery and dedication usually attributed to heroes and saints. Anyone who moves into a school leadership position must accept this responsibility, or hopefully recognize their own limitations and allow someone else to take up the challenge.

“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference.” Saint Maximilian Kolbe

Friday, November 26, 2010

Holiday Shopping

I have no money. I have a family with three kids. I have a house and two cars. I have a dog. Once again, I have no money.

This is the main reason I do not get thrills from the shopping madness that grips so many others. Other reasons might include my general dislike of people in crowds. Nearly every tragic event in history takes place in crowds. The Kennedy assassinations, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lady Ga Ga Concerts- always among crowds.

Try to think of a national tragedy that took place with a guy sitting at home with a book.

Also I am basically through with the idea of trying to please others or myself with some goofy purchases. I think folks would serve themselves better if they all rushed out in mobs to the shelters and soup kitchens to volunteer their time the day after Thanksgiving. Take their money to the Red Cross bucket. That would be a crowd worth walking among.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Renaissance Fairs, Oh My

I love going to period history festivals. There, I said it! I love these people. They are fearlessly embracing what can only be called a lifestyle. They dress in costumes, speak in phony accents to strangers, and walk about through some field as if it were the most natural thing to do.

Be aware; many of these costumed citizens have created their own garb, and probably invested small fortunes in time and talent getting the details just right. And yet I just can't get past it. Forgive me, but not a one of them is datable. Sure there's cleavage enough to embarrass a night club owner. But then there's the rest. I will refrain from the details, but seriously, would it kill someone to floss?

There are people, I found out, who get the creeps from costume fairs. I don't especially understand that one, but I can see where some of the creepiness can seep into a phobia.

I don't sound much like a defender of the lifestyle, but I kid out of love. There are some courageous folks in those fields.

Good Morrow, Good People!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Beautiful World

Thanks to Colin Hay for this blog.

I like the Fall air, but not what's on TV
I like to feel the chill at night, but it's good to have my wife warming me.
I like my Corgi's piercing bark, but why does he bark at me?

It's a beautiful world.

I like to brew my own coffee; it's stronger than most you buy
Coffee is about flavors and complexity, not syrups and foam
I drink the coffee of other lands whenever I roam.

It's a beautiful world.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ten Years of Fatherhood

It's been ten years since my first child was born. I would like to say I have become a great father, but I think this is just one of those jobs that you keep on doing without becoming great. You can be good once in a while, but never great. Great is reserved for the mom, who rightly deserves the praise.

I thought about writing about my own dad here today, but that would take more time than what I have to give right now. Another blog for the future.... I can't believe how much love I have for my kids. It just hardly seems possible when you don't have children to realize that your heart will grow enough for the love you need to share with them.

Nora has been the source of tremendous pride so far these ten years. I know her best is far in the future. Taking on type 1 diabetes like she has for the past seven years has been amazing to see. I can hardly predict or imagine what the next ten years will bring for all of us in this party of five.

It should be fun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blackberry Buzz-Kill

I don't say the H-word very often, but I think I hate my wife's blackberry. To be clear, it is the never-ending stream of -bzzz- interruptions to everything we do that -bzzz- bothers me -bzzzz-. I don't know who -bzzzz- keeps -bzzzz- oh, just forget -bzzz- it.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Endeavors

My most excellent wife has taken on a new experience. She will be working for a small company which investigates fires. Forensic work is very cool, as anyone can tell by turning on a TV for half an hour. I am so impressed with her drive and dedication. She really is an inspiration.

I will, however, have to rethink my plans for retirement now. The old potato chip bag behind the switch plate trick will have to be put away.

I have a book that I wrote in a college class years ago. I may just have to dust it off, rewrite it, shop it around, and see what comes of it. I have thought about this for a while, but fear of failure kept it down. My wife demonstrates to me daily that new challenges should be embraced.

I will have to give it a try.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

About the Size of It

Knowing that my gorgeous wife had just been out shopping for new jeans, I asked, just out of curiosity, "what size are you wearing now?" Before you curse my lineage or poison my quinoa, I was doing a good thing. She has been working steadily for a long time now, training for a 105-mile bike ride in Death Valley for type-1 diabetes research. She has been transforming herself. I considered this before asking, figuring it might be a good build-up moment. What could go wrong?

Although I will not write the number here, I will enter into the main reason for writing today. Female clothing sizes are absolutely meaningless and without reason or merit. The number attached to a pair of jeans for a woman has about the same value as the contents of a Chinese buffet's fortune cookie.

This is what I learned from the conversation. The numbers have no actual reference to the physical world. There are generally consistent ways of numbering the sizes, but the variations are important. If the clothing is more expensive, you may be able to wear a smaller size, according to the number, at least. If you are shopping for bargain pants, you might be surprised by a larger size than you expected to see. In this nefarious system, there is actually a size zero.

I imagined that there might also be a negative size, which, if you are able to wear it, actually transports you to Bizarro World. "Me wear minus two dress, go to Bizarro Club now -pop!-"

Happy shopping!

Monday, September 6, 2010


I started a new exercise for my own personal challenge. I made a set of sand bags using two duffel bags, donated by a friend, and sacks of playground sand from Menard's. They each turned out to weigh eighty pounds. That was not a particular goal, but just how it happened to turn out.

Eighty pounds in each hand. That may not seem like a lot to professional lifters, but I am not one of them. The canvas straps are pretty tough on the hands. It stings rather fiercely after three or four carries.

So why would I pursue such madness? It's challenging, and offers no way to cheat or go easy. I have to move 160 pounds of sand from my garage to whatever location i decide to walk them to. So far that isn't any great distance. I can imagine what some neighbors might think. I've lost my mind. What is he carrying?

On that note, i remember an article I read some years ago about a woman who was, then, holder of the strongest woman title. She commented about how the neighbors got used to the idea of her walking up and down the sidewalks carrying an atlas stone. I hope to reach the point soon when I can carry both bags on my shoulders and walk them through the neighborhood. Not yet.

Right away I can feel differences in my strength level. I also was somewhat surprised to note that my tendons and joints, rather than aching, are feeling strong and pain-free.

As I heave these bags around, which are cheerleader duffels, I keep seeing in my mind some wispy cheerleader tossing the bag around with ease. "She can do it; move it!" And so I motivate myself to do more than I want to do.

Too many exercise options are made with back-outs, easy versions, and so I purposefully chose to add this to my normal routine. Precisely because there is no way to partially carry 160 pounds around, I am forcing myself to work harder than I have been in the gym.

Bring it on.

Kids at Work

My wife decided to repaint our house, on the inside. I dislike this job immensely, but I do appreciate it when it's done. This is a lot like oral surgery, bathing a cat, or having an intestinal virus...on a plane. But I really do like it when it's done. My wife has fabulous taste, and is super skilled in the art of brush and roller.

I am doing my part by making sure our three kids pitch in with prep jobs. They love it, and my wife doesn't have to feel the world on her gorgeous shoulders. The kids do a great job, too.

Don't worry, I am helping, too. It's a fun time in the Blythe house. Grab a brush and join us, won't you?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shut up, I'm sexy.

Teaching middle school in an urban school district has its moments of humor. Hard to believe as that is, I will share one or two as proof.

I have a young girl who looks, I swear I say this not to be mean, like the illegitimate child of Craig Robinson, only with purple and brown braids and weave. You may remember Craig from "the Office" or perhaps "Hot Tub Time Machine," or even "Last Comic Standing." OK, so you are imagining the right face.

So one day recently, before I knew names, the girl in question walked in the room in mid argument with someone else. She declared in the doorway, "shut up, I look sexy." Then she proceeded to suck on her index finger for the rest of class. The outburst happened the day after she got her new braids and weave. She missed school the day before to get it done, so I suppose she'd better feel good about it. Someone at home dropped a bundle for it.

Self confidence is all you need.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Panera, working for bread

I'm sitting at Panera trying to work with the free wifi they offer. For some reason the server I am accessing remotely, my work server, is quite slow. So I have turned to people watching for a few minutes.

There are so many people who probably would behave differently if they only realized someone was paying attention to their actions, even if only for a minute. I glanced at a girl who has decided to drink her smoothie with her hands in her lap. It gives the impression that she is somehow tied up. Perhaps her hands are handcuffed under the table. She could be in transit to some security facility, and the couple with her is a pair of federal marshals entrusted with her transfer. She is quite perky for a prisoner, but who knows?

Other folks have come in only to make me wonder if they really knew they would be entering a public gathering place. Did they leave the house wearing their clothes that they wore while cleaning their bathroom? Perhaps they were sleepwalking and arrived at home only to wonder how a spinach quiche in a paper bag appeared on the kitchen table.

Beautiful people are here as well. Most people are, really, but few have learned how to manifest their beauty and pair it with inner confidence. A shame, because the endless variety of humanity is part of our innate fascination with each other.

Well, let's see if the server at work is any quicker yet.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

NOT Political, sure....

Just now I read a facebook update from someone who is a conservative Christian. She is someone who is soft-spoken, yet will evangelize without worrying about what kinds of reactions there may be. Her update was about attending the "Restoring Honor" gathering in DC. She writes in her update that it was "NOT political" and then mentions God about six times in praising fashion.

So how is it not political to hold this gathering in our nation's political capitol, at the same spot that is revered as a historic Civil Rights landmark, on the anniversary of one of the greatest Civil Rights events? I suppose it must be a grand coincidence that the conservative organizer of this gathering just happened to fall when and where it did? No, Mr. Beck actually called it divine providence.

I'm not going to write about the clear manipulative techniques Beck uses, but simply state that it is a pity that so many well-meaning Christians are being duped into adopting a decidedly non-Christian agenda, that is, unless Christians have all agreed that intolerance, hypocrisy, and hatred are now Christian virtues.

You can't have it all. Be a proud Christian, but don't practice intolerance and regurgitate ignorant sound bites with your holy hands held high.

It was NOT a political gathering. I wonder who would be shouting louder if next month a gathering of faithful Muslims were to take place in the same place in DC, simply to spread messages of faith. That, certainly, would not be a political meeting either, right?

Friday, August 27, 2010

What wreaks?!

Again I heard someone use the phrase, "wreaked havoc" and it made me think. Is anything else wreaked? Do we wreak other objects? And is havoc ever handled in any other way beyond wreaking?

Let's see what else can be wrought?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hosting For Family

I just drove my aunt and cousin back to Chicago's O'Hare Airport for their return trip to Germany. They were with us for four weeks. My aunt stayed with my parents mainly, and my cousin, who is sixteen, stayed with us.

Lauren is a great girl! She has many gifts and talents, but I can say she also has reminded me that we are not perfect. Using Lauren's memory to prod me along, I promise that I will never leave my clothes on the floor again, nor leave evidence of my eating habits anywhere beyond the kitchen. What a great reminder that a door to a room does not create an alternate universe, invisible to those who may happen past.

She introduced several novel concepts to my children, all under age ten. Piercings, other than the ears, smoking, and wearing very form-fitting clothes. My youngest daughter summed these odd new traits up nicely with the casual, "that's weird" comment.

I love my family, and I will do anything for them all. Living with someone for four weeks, though, can make you appreciate the farewell a bit more. I hope we all can spend time with each other again. Hopefully it will not be a matter of years.

Auf wiedersehen! Until I see you again.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Blogging Too Little, Too Late

Apparently blogging is losing out to the can't-focus crowd and their 140 character instant crapometer. Folks can't be bothered to read a few paragraphs. Ah well, I may yet write that great book I have in my head somewhere.

I suppose I have myself to blame for writing as little as I do on this forum. I'll be back, though. Thanks for reading.