I remember sitting in English class back in high school in the 1980's and reading the play The Crucible by the late Arthur Miller. In this work, the Salem Witch trials are depicted dramatically with accusations flying and the lead character's morals and values are questioned by a "witch-hunt" group think which has taken root in the New England community. Arthur Miller wrote this work as a reaction to the destructive forces taking hold in the society of the early 1950's led by Wisconsin Senator, Joseph McCarthy.
Senator McCarthy saw the red menace of Communism as his meal ticket and in his zeal to root out the"red menace" he destroyed many lives and careers of the people he accused as being communists. McCarthy held hearings, which were displayed on the new technology of television, and would question people in a free society about their association with the Communist Party, even if it was brief and occurred in the distant past.
Let's fast forward to 2013 and as we are about to discuss, McCarthyism is alive and well. Unlike the technology of its day, television, today we have a multitude of social media to provide opportunities for others to collect information and potentially use it against someone who's only trying to do his job. The social media instrument in question is Twitter, which I have used to develop a Professional Learning Network. This PLN has provided me, as an educator, with resources to increase my development as an educator and to network with like minded educators.
One of the educators I follow @rratto had an experience this week on Twitter that could best be described as Kafkaesque. It consisted of an exchange with another Twitter user who questioned his Tweet on Wednesday night 4/24 which consisted of a sample of a practice question he gave his students in preparationfor the NYS assessment in Mathematics. The Tweeter in question took issue with @rratto's sample question warning that he might want to "refrain from posting questions from the NYS assessments." @rrato assured the tweeter, that this was a practice question and NOT an actual question from the assessment.
To speed things up a bit, the next day @ratto was taken out of his classroom by his school administration and he ended up missing about a day and a half of valuable instruction time with his students. Additionally, his students were left wondering what happened to him and let's begin the wild speculation. Thankfully for him, he will be back to his class on Monday as he was cleared of any wrongdoing. For a play by play account check out @rratto's excellent blogpost on the subject at the following link:
Clearly, the witch hunt is on. Educators have taken sides. There are those in favor of testing our children who have no tolerance for others who believe these tests are useless and are not a good indicator of teacher performance. Yes there are other factors on both sides of this issue too but all too often the needs of our children are usually at the bottom of the list. In @rratto's situation, what he felt was an exercise of his free speech on Twitter turned into a brief nightmare and the McCarthy-like accusation leveled against him had no merit and ultimately affected his students and their parents in a negative way.
This account also hit close to me as a young educator. I had worked for several years in the corporate world. I left this sector as I was disgusted by underhanded tactics and little concern for others by colleagues. I also changed careers and pursued a Master's Degree in Education to become a teacher who makes a positive difference in my student's lives. Since my graduation in 2010, I have seen firsthand how difficult it is to find a position at the elementary level. In the New York/Long Island region where I live, the mass media always loves stories of teachers, usually male, accused of committing some awful or criminal act. That does honest and hardworking male teachers a disservice and only harms me as I pursue a position in a school district.
The tactics of "divide and conquer" clearly apply in regards to testing and school reform. There is a lot of taxpayer dollars funding testing, yet in my home school district, there is a chance that teachers will be laid off provided school taxes not go up. Why? Where is this money going? It certainly is not funding a Gifted and Talented program, my son's first grade teacher has told me he would be headed for as he moved up in grades, since there is no longer one. How much money is spent to support the companies involved in testing, i.e. Pearson? All responsible citizens need to get informed and ask the hard questions to our leaders via e-mail, town hall meetings, and letter campaigns and demand true reform, not the flawed reform we see and read about.
In @rratto's story, it's disturbing that social media was used to accuse a conscientious person of doing something they're clearly were not. It's a slippery slope and dangerous when we begin to seek to censor someone based on opinions they may express that run contrary to your own. Last time I checked we were in a free society with a constitutional right of free speech.
Ask yourself, whose agenda does actions taken against teachers like @rratto serve?
The inspiration for my post today comes after some reflection upon recent events in the news. Last week federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, charged New York Assemblyman Eric Stevenson of accepting bribes for lucrative business contracts involving adult day care centers in the city. Charges against Stevenson came less than 72 hours after authorities accused state Sen. Malcolm Smith of trying to rig New York City's mayoral race by buying a place on the Republican ticket. In the Smith case, five other politicians -- three Republicans and two Democrats were also arrested and charged with bribery.
In my humble opinion, this is a pretty poor ranking here in the Empire State. While the corruption itself is often subtle and others might say it doesn't affect me in my assembly district, the trickle down effects are apparent. New York, despite an on-time budget for the 2013-14 year, has cut funding for the most vulnerable of our society http://www.wkbw.com/news/local/Services-for-Developmentally-Disabled-in-Jeopardy-Following-Drastic-State-Aid-Cuts-201339881.html. Small Businesses don't seem to be opening as the sight of many empty strip stores indicate. Large scale employers, like the defense contractor Grumman who used to employ tens of thousands in my area, no longer look to this region to hire large numbers of people.
I had spent a number of years out in the Phoenix, Arizona area in the early 1990's. At that time much revenue was spent to build up the infrastructure of that area (i.e., freeways, downtown attractions, light-rail). New York continues to spend valuable money servicing crumbling infrastructure. Can anyone name an important infrastructure project that's opened in downstate NY in the last 30 years?
It seems that we waste money in NY on projects that provide people with something they really don't need. For example, the 4.45 billion dollar construction of the Second Avenue subway has caused a lot of problems for residents and businesses operating on the east side of Manhattan. People living there have always used the Lexington Ave subway line or buses and certainly weren't clamoring for a major change. Also, the LIRR East Side access project which will allow LIRR riders access to Grand Central Station has cost 8.2 billion dollars when access to Manhattan via Penn Station is functional.
Combined these two projects approach 15 billion dollars while our roads are falling apart, schools are crumbling and business won't open which in turn erode our tax base. Here on Long Island, it seems they always use the same talking points to describe our economy: lack of affordable housing, a greying population, trending toward service oriented (i.e., low paying) economy. While it's true housing costs are high here, what have our leaders done to improve that situation? What have they proposed to improve our infrastructure? Why can't there be a direct link (bridge of tunnel) from Long Island to Connecticut? Why couldn't a sensible "downtown" plan been worked out for the concrete jungle called the Nassau Coliseum? Now we're going to lose the Islanders, and while I'm not much of a hockey fan, it's terrible for the service workers who earned some bucks working the events there.
Every citizen needs to become informed and know what their local leaders, state assembly/senate representatives, and governor support. Become informed, ask questions, write letters, follow on Twitter and most importantly, since we have no term limits, if you aren't satisfied with what they are doing vote them out on election day.
Finally, in honor of National Poetry Month this April, here's a poem from William Butler Yeats whose verse provided a title for my reflections on the body politic:
THE SECOND COMING
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
P.S. Here's two excellent articles on another topic our politicians need to clean up: the abuse of our disability insurance by those who do not need it. Warning, you will get angry when you read about this problem.
Here it is March 29, 2013, with only 3 days left in the month, finally the lamb has arrived. Much of the weather here in the New York "tri-state" this month has been a lion like mash up of unseasonably cold temperatures joined by an occasional mix of wet and wintry precipitation.
Today, the sun is shining bright and the temps are approaching their seasonal norms. There is a noticeable change in that the sun is much higher in the sky during the day. Almost on cue, the birds are returning and singing their tunes throughout the day.
There is much to do in the weeks and months ahead. I have many projects to complete as I still have to repair several home items from damage caused by the Hurricane Sandy in October.
Spring is a great time to get active and move as the winter typically finds me shut-in and being quite the couch potato. That is a situation that can get routine if you allow it to and the results of that lifestyle are disturbing.
I recently watched a cool documentary on Netflix called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. In the film, Australian Joe Cross comes to the USA and for 60 days he undertakes a supervised juice fast. He travels the country preaching the gospel of juicing to others that they "reboot" their lives with a juice fast.
Joe Cross loses quite a bit of weight and an auto-immune disorder he has gets under control which allows him to eliminate the host of prescription medicines he takes. Also, Joe meets a trucker during his journey who later seeks him out for help to save his life.
While, I have juiced fruits and vegetables in the past, I have never committed to fruit and vegetable juices as being my only source of calories for a defined period of time. Seeing the results of others on the film and at Joe's website: http://www.rebootwithjoe.com/, I plan to try some sort of juice fast sometime this spring.
My goal with the juice fast would be to reboot my system, lose a few pounds and attempt to carryover this wellness approach after the juice fast (i.e. avoiding the sweets and other pitfalls).
Have you ever tried something like this? Did it work?
In closing, have a Happy Easter or Passover and get out there and reboot your life this spring.