Our educators have built a humanity wall. Celebrate it. Keep it standing strong.

It seems like years ago that I put out a Facebook call asking if any construction businesses had N95 masks to donate to local health care providers. But it was March 19th. Within a couple hours of posting, a teacher named William Beasley at the Ridge Community High School construction academy told me that his academy had 80 masks on hand. I shared that information with district leadership; and William’s initiative quickly morphed into a large-scale scouring of our construction and medical academies for supplies to donate that the entire state soon copied

William and I have kept talking throughout this period. He shared with me his deep grief over the tragic death earlier this month of RCHS Senior Darren Joseph, one of William’s favorite students, who had helped him fight through a challenging first year as a teacher.

Darren was one of my students. Actually, he was more my right hand man. He was one of the 2 student advisors on the board of my construction academy. He truly was a one-in-a-million kid, headed to do great things. I cannot even articulate how bright of a star we lost Sunday morning

…That was a fine young man. The Bible says “as iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another.” And sir, that is true. We had a better year than we could’ve simply with Darren behind the scenes pushing me. We had a better year than we could’ve simply with Darren behind the scenes pushing me.”

I give that as background for this note that William sent me a few days ago:

Man, there should be like a School Board Positive Vibes page or something like that, where we can actually share the good we’re seeing every day out here.

My wife’s para friend at Caldwell just helped me get an ELL [English not first language] into the application that is currently powering my class. Not only that, but she was able to convey that I wasn’t stressing due dates and killing them with work, but that I was concerned about them and their families. She was able to convey concern feelings from me that Google translate was not.

You don’t have to look very far right now to find people out there willing to do a lot more than they “have to” for these learners. Pretty cool to see.

That’s just from William Beasley, one teacher’s human experience among 6,500 or so, one educator among 14,000 or so in our district. A few weeks, ago, when schools closed, I wrote a long article called “The Humanity Wall.” It meant to draw a distinction with the test sore driven “data walls” that dominate schools in “normal” times. And I spoke directly to our people.

As a nation, we have no meaningful moral or “common good” political or business or religious institutional leadership with power. So we need your personal leadership example, teachers and staff.

We-the-people need your personal commitment, more than we have ever needed it. You are the tether between children and whatever resources the world of decent people can provide them. As a board member with no direct authority to tell you to do anything, I’m asking you to create the humanity wall of your kids that the dead Jeb Bush Florida Model has never allowed. This can be literal; or in your head. Be the keepers and monitors of our children’s human stories. Engage them however you can, by phone, computer, or whatever else you’re willing to do while keeping your families safe. You are the community resource best positioned to do this; and you’ve always done it.

Man, have the people of the Polk School system answered the call. Yes, the technology platforms are uneven and different from each other and frustrating to manage at times. True, connectivity is not universal. And yes, there are questions about grading, participation, attendance. Let’s put all of that managerial stuff aside for a day and the focus on the mass production of emergency humanity.

A positive vibes page

William is right again. We need a “positive vibes” page.

So many folks have shared their meaningful human experiences with me. I want to highlight just a few here in this post; and I want to encourage everyone — student, teacher, parent, citizen — who has a meaningful, humane, education-related experience to share from our time in COVID to put it in a Facebook comment below this article.

No critiques today, please; just tell me and the wider world a moment that worked for you. One note: please be careful with clearly identifying kids in educational settings. Privacy rules still apply.

Here’s are a few my highlights:

Teacher parades

There have been a lot of these; and to me they are maybe the ultimate symbol of the yearning for connection beyond data.  Here’s one recently sent by staff from Medulla Elementary that is pretty awesome.

LHS teacher Debra Allen’s podcast-worthy lesson about the Civil Rights era

I was sitting at my kitchen table working when I happened to hear my son’s friend, who stays with us, taking in Debra Allen’s outstanding, nuanced lesson on Brown v. Board of Education, Rosa Parks, and the events that launched the Civil Rights movement.

Ms. Allen pointed out that was Rosa Parks was more than a “tired seamstress;” she was a tough, determined, far-sighted activist. Refusing to give up her seat was an act of purposeful defiance, not weariness. That’s good history teaching. And Ms. Allen’s delivery was outstanding; one could feel the enthusiasm for the subject matter.

People say “the lecture is dead” all the time as they download the next podcast. What matters — what has always mattered — is engagement with the material and the care in its delivery. Thanks, Ms. Allen.

Mr. Dentler’s daily read from Highlands Grove Elementary

This came to courtesy of Jacki Short, a Highlands Grove parent.

I wanted to share this video of our daughter’s 5th grade Science & homeroom teacher, Mr. Dentler, reading to the students at HGE. It is fantastic and will make you smile.

Indeed.

Words of student wisdom and gratitude for human connection

One teacher shared with me a couple of responses he or she received to a message sent to check up with kids generally, about how “distance learning” was working for them. [Intentionally avoiding any potential identification here.] They are very useful to me as board member.

I personally think this is pretty good, especially since some people are still trying to get used to this and sometimes technology hates us haha. You’re doing great right now and I like how you split assignments up throughout the week. All I know is you’re not stressing me out and from the looks of it, you’re work is manageable for the others I’ve been talking to.

I wouldn’t want to do distance learning as a full time gig but I know that what I am doing to get through this is enough for them, for me, and for our collective sanity.

And:

The nice thing is teachers especially you are very understanding and I’m glad to have closer bonds because so I Can ask questions without hesitating. The work load has been light and I’ve made sure I worked on everything right away to stay ahead! I hope you’re doing well and are figuring things out, and aren’t to stressed my all the emails, especially from me 😉

That’s just a tiny handful from me. Help me tell the story of this time in your best experiences.

The education humanity wall is far too big to fail

In my “Humanity Wall” article, I also wrote about the grave financial danger schools everywhere face and the absolute need for the Federal Reserve Bank and federal government to craft a massive sustenance bill for next year and possibly beyond. States are likely to lose $500 billion in revenue from this pandemic/economic crisis. That kind of revenue collapse will cripple a system that doesn’t have nearly enough capacity for what the public expects, anyway.

If the timing of the crisis and the budgeting cycle was just a little different, the overall American public school structure  right now would be in exactly the same spot as the airlines. Every individual school would be in exactly the same danger as all the small businesses that Congress is spending more than $700 billion to rightly rescue. Schools will need the same attention.

So understand, dear public, we’re going to be in a dire spot at some time in the near future. I’m still trying to figure out exactly when; but it’s coming. Here’s the key passage from my earlier article:

Other than the military, public school systems are likely the only America public support institutions that are “too big too fail” in the structure of American capitalism. Forget “education” and “human development” for a second. Public education provides too much free child care, too much unpaid social service, and too many paying customers for American vulture capitalism to really stamp it out.

Schools and teachers and bus drivers, etc. are also popular. They are the centerpiece of a real, regenerated American capitalism, as if that word has any meaning. That gives us real practical and political leverage. Remember it and use it when the time comes. I certainly will, however I can.

So, ultimately, yes, I think there will be a national bailout of schools funded by the Federal Reserve at some point in the future; and I think schools will reopen at something close to their current funding and capacity. But I don’t know that, at all. And we may have to fight very hard for it — or at least for something that is built on humanity walls, not data walls. Elected school boards have an important role to play now in articulating this future and building pressure on power for it.

Education workers also have an important role that far transcends any fake notion of “accountability.”

Think about it: if you’re an education worker, and the function you’re being “held accountable” for goes away at the end of June, what real accountability is there now from any governing authority? Very little, if any. If there is a bailout, obvious shirkers in this time might find some vague consequence in the future version of the school system. But I can’t articulate the form it might take.

Instead, the only real mass accountability now is positive accountability. It comes from where it has always come: You.

Accountability now comes mostly from hearts and souls; your commitment and loyalty to the children who need you; your patriotism and empathy for a country whose powerful people are blackmailing brave and suffering and dying health care workers — and warehouse/grocery workers — with their own decency or insecurity. Does that sound familiar?

We can help the kids and the families of the blackmailed. In fact, many of you already are. I know that. You can continue. And I will do whatever I can — whatever you tell me I need to do — to help you do that.

Educators have more than done their part. They have built that humanity wall I asked for in record time. But it is in jeopardy. Make no mistake. And if it come down, what else comes with it?

So let’s all keep it standing. Let’s build it stronger. Let’s use it as the foundation for a better school system, a better capitalism, and a better society as we look ahead.