All the news that’s fit to teach: The battle for our students hearts and minds

The people who justify not approving math texts that advocate for including SEL (Social Emotional Learning) strategies use the seemingly legitimate argument that the function of math education is to teach students how to get the right answers and not to influence their emotions. This sounds good on the surface, as many right wing arguments do. It does not consider that there is math in everything we do; that knowing basic essential math helps a person function better in society. Learning how to express emotions, empathize and get along socially with others helps students learn how to use math principles, often subtly, in their daily lives to everyones benefit. Have you ever experienced irritation with a cashier unable to give you correct change?

A big part of the reason so many students think they will never use math after high school is that very idea that math is only used to get the right answer. Students know there is life after school. When it is implied that all you need to do in math class is get the right answer they figure it’s waste of their precious time. They dismiss math as worthless, just another useless part of a useless education. There is no connection to living a better life, with others, through math. This kind of thinking promotes not a love of learning but a disdain for education. It contributes to the continuous decline in critical thinking skills and social responsibility among Americans. The resulting tendency toward dependency on others to think for them makes them vulnerable to propaganda of all sorts. 

The multi pronged efforts of those advocating for ideas such as parental rights to choose what their children learn, stacking school districts, decrying diversity and diversity training, attacks on curriculum and control of textbooks, syphoning public money into private schools, denial of resources, covert and overt racism, mandates for strict standardized testing etc., represent a concerted effort to weaken public education to the point that it is ridiculed, reviled, and especially, defunded by disinterested families. Some of theses ideas have a semblance of legitimacy. Others are blatantly cruel. This strategy is designed to allow for sociopolitical control of the educational narrative and the concurrent control of it’’s content. This sort of control of education is a hallmark of authoritarian regimes, largely because it works well in creating a supportive, compliant populace.

School is not a spectator sport. It needs to be participatory. Large numbers of students treat school as a necessary evil and actively resist learning to the point of chronic interruption of class and even threats to the well being of teachers. The claims behind the justification for ‘reform’, say that public education is failing, but fail to mention the major factor of so many indifferent, ill-prepared, and counter productive students entering the system. Parents these days seem to consider schools as nothing more than glorified day care centers and teachers as executive babysitters. The disinterest and disrespect their children show in the classroom make those claims of failure self fulfilling prophecies. When there is no interest in education in the home and there is a movement by many of the public to abandon public education how can the system inspire any child to strive for excellence and a love of learning. There is a selfish and parsimonious faction loathe to educate children who ‘don’t deserve it who are taking over school boards everywhere.

It is this disinterest in education and doubt of its value that has led to a never-ending generational cycle in many American families of discouraging the teaching anything of value to their precious progeny. A cycle that is difficult to break. When parents tell their children that school doesn’t matter it opens the door for external control of what exactly their children learn about the world. Either the parents themselves or other sociopolitical influencers will then offer their own alternate ‘truths’ to the student as a means to indoctrinate them in a particular ideology. This is done under the guise of telling the student ‘what your teachers and government don’t want you to know’. Once again we have a recipe for authoritarian control of the information available to our youth.

Somewhere in the last third of the twentieth century education took a right turn away from a goal of producing adults with critical thinking skills, respect for others, and the ability to adjust to the challenges of life. The new mantra was ‘we’ll get you ready for a job and don’t worry about the rest of that stuff because all you really need to succeed is money and the things it can buy’. Developing quality citizens capable of contributing to a thriving society began to take a back seat to preparing our youth to be cogs in the capitalist machine, capable only of following orders and being told what to think. The oligarchs pacify them through assurance of the opportunity to become bosses themselves and the ‘personal freedom’ to enjoy the creature comforts the exploitation of international workers provide for them.

Authoritarian types are very good at creating societal problems and then currying favor by magically coming up with ‘solutions’ to those problems. Of course, those solutions move the needle toward their own dominance. I’m not sure there are any immediate and viable solutions to these huge manufactured problems. The promises of the capitalists are hollow but they gleefully point out to the masses, over and over, the sad fact that no one else has solutions and at least they have a plan they say will work, eventually.

The only strategy that comes to mind for resolving this issue is taking children away from their parents’ influence and teaching them facts and debatable concepts with an honest, open and comprehensive approach, inclusive rather than exclusive. Of course, even if it is better for the student’s welfare and development this methodology is also somewhat authoritarian in nature. Parents and students alike will hate it and it’s proponents. It is as undesirable as the modern strategy of rejecting everything educational that makes anyone uncomfortable.

Many of the people who want to delete these uncomfortable truths purport to be strong Christians. Perhaps they have forgotten that Jesus exists not only to comfort the afflicted but to afflict the comfortable. Evidently they desire the Cliffs Notes method for entering heaven for themselves and their children. Sadly, they insist a theocratic authoritarian control of society through false promises of prosperity is the way to salvation of everyone.

Today there is such a broad range of attacks on public education that to neutralize their effects people will need to be strong in standing up to revisionist history and the ‘cancel culture’ of those afraid that teaching our children anything about feeling or thinking will lead them down a path of destruction and damnation. Their path of censorship and denial leads only to the destruction of American democracy as we have known it. How Orwellian to witness Americans being led down a path they think leads to the renewal of American pride and world dominance only to find that path leads to their oppression by the few, wealthy and white.

The wolves are at the doors of our classrooms.

Our living rooms are next.

A bit of simple framing and communication for forward thinking activists and candidates: A Long Title

In the interests of transparency, I have chosen to refer to those folks commonly known as conservatives as Backwards, which is a noun. Conversely, I refer to those who have been called progressives or liberals as Forwards. I do this because both the words liberal and progressive, and the word conservative, have been co-opted by any number of people claiming to be one or the other. Forwards are forward-looking thinkers who frame looking forward. Backwards are those whose framing moves backward or simply treads water.

I have no interest in merging these categories with political parties, although that would be tempting. I know Republicans who are forward thinkers and Democrats who are hopelessly looking backward. That is not the issue. For me, the idea is to live in the present moment, where we can reflect on and learn from the past and plan for and look to the future, together. This is, or should be, the goal of Forwards’ framing. They should start by talking about values before issues. This might seem unusual. Bear with me.

Framing requires we stay in the moment. The past has already happened and the future has not. We stay in the present because it is the only place that allows us to move someone’s consciousness from the past into the future. It is the anchor that lets us move from the dead values of the past to the possibilities of the future. As Richard Alpert once said “Be Here Now”. Only if we are in the moment can we really be with the people (or person) we are persuading. You have to be with them. They won’t go by themselves.

Staying in the moment means that we don’t talk about values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. We understand, respect and learn from the past but we don’t need to go and go and keep going there. We connect with people in the present to move them to a future you know will improve their lives. This means we must do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. That’s a given. However, when speaking to anyone, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we might share with each other. It is those universal, shared values that will move people.

Although we should respect Backwards’ values there is no reason to mention the values we do not share. Backwards already know their values. There is no need to remind them, as they will remind themselves quite easily and efficiently. It is also true that Forwards sometimes, actually often, well, to be honest, always, need to be reminded of their own values, as they tend to think their issues are values and they need to keep on topic. We must talk about our values as well as our shared values. The values we do not share, that is, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned, except perhaps to acknowledge they exist.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are.

Once again, please don’t start with values we don’t share, neither partially or at all. I cannot emphasize this enough, although I am trying. Of course, we should do a better job of respecting and appreciating all people and their values, regardless of who they are and what those values are. However, when speaking to people, either in person or through other media, we should really only talk about values we are certain we share with everybody, plus those we share with each other. Sometimes we need to persuade people to look deep enough inside themselves to realize that yes, verily we share those values. People won’t realize they share your values if you don’t tell them what your values are.

We need to articulate our values. This can be tricky for Forwards. Forwards often confuse issues with values. They assume their values are universal. Their issues reflect those ‘universal’ values, which they think everyone does or should accept as universal. This is part of the reason many Forwards cannot fathom how Backwards can disagree with their issues. They don’t understand the first thing about how Backwards values, how they think, and speak. They often don’t even understand how they think and speak themselves.

What are values? Values are the reasons why we promote issues. They are why we care about the issues. The issues themselves are not the reasons. They are not the why. Issues illuminate and identify problems. They lay the groundwork for how to solve them. They are the how. Policies are the proposed solutions to the problems. We only talk about policy at the very end of the conversation. Policies are the what. To reiterate, values are the why, issues are the how, and policy is the what. Never start with the what. Start with the why followed by the how. We are not talking about policy here. Policy is flexible, malleable. We start with the concrete, the firm., our values. Above all, don’t confuse the why. Issues are not the why.

So how do we distinguish values from issues? And what are some Forwards’ values? Consider the reason we care about an issue. Consider the why. Why is this issue important to us? For example, many Forwards have issue with the wide and widening income gap in America. Why? Because they feel all work is valuable and every worker should be able to support a family and have the stability of owning a home and the ability to do more than just survive. Notice that the only one of those things that could be considered a moral issue (and all issues are moral in nature) is the income gap. That is a thing, a problem to be addressed. Saying all work is valuable is not a thing. It is a concept, an idea, It is a reason for being concerned about the issue.

Politicians spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about issues. And Forward politicians don’t often talk about why they try to solve problems. They assume their audience knows why. The audience usually does know why but they would like to know the politician knows why too. Otherwise they tune out. They have heard politicians say they are going to do something many times but it rarely ever gets done. Other politicians answer a question by asking another question. People want to hear what you think. They already know what they think.

When a politician answers that ‘this is important and here’s why’ the audience might be inclined to think this person actually cares about my issue. They will listen. They will listen to how the candidate thinks the issue should be approached. When they say what they are doing or will do to solve the problem the audience is likely to think that if anyone can get this done maybe this person can. They might actually get something done.

To summarize, the values we do not share, if they are only Backwards’ values, should not be mentioned.  Forwards’ values should always be mentioned if only to remind us of what they are. To persuade start with the why to pique people’s interest and keep their attention. Modern people have been watching too many music videos. They have short attention spans. Then, address how the issue is should be dealt with. Is it feasible, does it have support, how can we can get it done? Only then should you say what you think we should do about it. People might think that you might actually care about them, that you aren’t just looking for their vote. They might even want to support you in some way, even if they don’t agree with everything you say. Why? Because you had the courage to say it.

Is that confusing enough?