In Defense of that BPS Calendar Change

Tommy Chang has recently proposed a change to the Boston Public Schools Calendar that would make the school year begin in late August and end in early June, remove February break, and expand winter break.

Given how stubborn Bostonians are, and how tough change is to make here, and how much is at stake in these negotiations, I am not placing any hopes on the change. In fact, I can see plenty of reasons it’s not a great idea (and according to the Union the idea wasn’t supposed to be made public at this point at all). That being said, since it already has been explained in a Globe article, I want to make one quick plug in its defense.

I teach an Advanced Placement course, and for AP students, the change would be a big deal.

Where I grew up, in Florida, school started in early August (yes, back when I was a child in Tampa, we began school the first week of August) and ended in mid-May. AP Exams were only a week before regular exams, and for some classes, they were at the same time. Then school was out. We almost always covered all content, without issue, before the exam.

Now, I am challenged with teaching students the same amount of content southern students are asked to learn, but with far less learning time. Boston students started this year on September 8 and don’t get out til the end of June. My AP students will take their exam on May 11, which is barely 3 weeks into fourth term. That means they have had 30 weeks to learn content that I, as a child, had 36 weeks to learn.

Perhaps if you aren’t a teacher, four to six weeks isn’t much of a difference, but to the teachers who are reading this, six weeks is enough time for an entire unit of learning. It is enough time to master an entire new skill, to read a whole work of literature, to write an extended research paper. That is a lot of learning.

And Boston’s AP students could use the boost of extra learning time. The most recent data I could find was from 2012, but in 2012 only 45% of Boston’s AP students who took exams scored a passing grade of 3 or higher. And for students of color, the passing rate is even worse: only 25%.

I have 25 students taking the AP English Language exam in five weeks. I have worked them to the bone this year, and I am so proud of how far they’ve come. But even now I can imagine having six more weeks with them to work on content and to solidify writing habits and to teach new strategies and read more great texts… and I wish I had the time!

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The Hillary-Bernie Debates Part 3: The Dangers of Meme Politics

(It’s taken a while for me to pinpoint just why a progressive young person like me isn’t feeling the Bern [1]. This is the best explanation I have.)

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I know something about working in a job that everyone thinks they know how to do. I couldn’t count the number of times that I have told people I am a teacher only to find myself on the receiving end of advice about how to really interest my students, what assignments I should create, how charter schools really have it figured out, and have I thought about this restorative justice thing?  Teaching is a frustrating profession as it is, but having the general public assume they know how to do my job better than me only makes that frustration more acute, because I can assure you that– even if you’ve read a few articles and seen a few memes and spent your childhood in a classroom– if I put you in front of 30 teenage students, a third of them special needs, a fourth of them English language learners, and several of them heavy hitting behavior cases, you would not know how to do my job. (Honestly, there are days when I’m still learning how to do my job, and I’ve got a Master’s degree and several years of experience under my belt.)

As I’ve watched this election unfold through internet memes and Facebook newsfeeds, I have to admit, I feel nauseous sometimes, and weirdly compassionate for the candidates whose humanities we sacrifice in our frenzy. The sureness with which people declare judgment over politicians, the passion with which they proselytize and justify their own views, the cowing and pandering politicians have to do in order to keep their jobs, the frustration politicians must feel trying to strike a balance between good policymaking, which is complex and rarely easily explained, and the world of memes and sound bites, which loves everything clean, sleek, convenient, and in 140 words or less… I feel bad for anyone caught in it. It’s just a nagging suspicion, but I don’t think we the people know as much as we think we know.

This is my concern with Bernie Sanders. It’s why I can’t get behind what he is selling.

Bernie Sanders sells a meme-ready vision of America as a highly regulated, semi-socialist country. In his America, healthcare is universal and free, college educations are free, minimum wage is $15, and the big banks get cut to pieces.

The only problem is… that isn’t America. America’s strengths as a country are its innovation (a result of semi-unregulated economies, for example, the environment that created Uber), its financial industry (because we are the center of the world in terms of banking) and sheer wealth, the media and entertainment industry, our military power, our corporations’ brand name power, our commercialization of standardized and convenient food products, our obsession with variety and choice, and our population’s relative comfort with heterogeneity (which few other countries can even come close to. I’m sorry, but Finland is never going to be as diverse in race, language, and class background as America. There is nowhere in the world like New York City.).

They may not be likeable strengths, and there may be a lot of problems in the list I just made, but that is the country we’ve got. If we want to have Bernie’s vision (which legitimately would be awesome), he needs to not be running for president: he needs to write a series of constitutional amendments to fix our broken version of federalism.

Government infrastructure, and especially centralized infrastructure, is not one of our strengths. Funding public services and regulatory bodies consistently and effectively is definitely not one of our strengths (just look at the EPA and the SEC– regulatory bodies that Congress has slowly eviscerated through sheer lack of funding in each budget. For that matter, look at public defenders! One person serving as a lawyer to hundreds of defendants? Look at public education! Why do I teach 140 students? How is it even possible to do that well?). Having the government do jobs that private companies can do is definitely not one of our strengths: just look at how many contractors we hire to outsource everything from test-writing to military equipment manufacturing.

Federalism itself is constantly leading to confusions over jurisdiction. My public school district at the moment is caught in a nasty version of Tragedy of the Commons: Trying to Get Funding from Multiple Levels of Government Edition.

I think it’s deeply irresponsible for Bernie to be painting this semi-socialist picture of America, not because it isn’t a powerful and beautiful dream, but because it isn’t achievable through a presidency. Progressive disillusionment is almost as scary as other forms of backlash we are seeing this year, and I am afraid that Bernie is selling an impossible vision to a group of people who are dangerously close to permanent disengagement from American politics. His probable loss in this election is going to lead many of them to simply refuse to participate, which is exactly what we don’t need.

And even if he is elected: if the majority of liberals in America were disillusioned with Obama after four years in, how on earth will Bernie supporters feel after four years of him getting pummeled and blocked at every corner? Are they going to turn their backs on him in disdain too?

Plus, even though his policies might make great memes, I honestly don’t think many of them make good federal laws in the country we currently have.

For example: a national $15 minimum wage. Interesting idea. Great meme. But far more complex in reality: it would certainly make the human capital costs to get small businesses started much higher, it would certainly raise the prices of certain products, and it would most likely increase the rate of inflation. I am betting it would add pressure on companies to outsource labor to other countries as well. How will we address these concerns? How will we protect small businesses and keep companies from outsourcing? What about the people who don’t get paid by hour, but by weight of food picked? How will we address the almost certain consequence of a resulting increase in undocumented labor abuse?

And does a higher minimum wage really address the issue Bernie cares about, expanding and securing the middle class? I’m not sure. I’m all for keeping the minimum wage at pace with inflation, and that’s fine. But (a) isn’t that a state issue? And (b) shouldn’t we be prioritizing not better minimum wage jobs, but rather more jobs that are better than minimum wage? We want more great jobs, not better shitty jobs.

This is just one of those moments when meme-politics make me skeptical. Maybe a $15 minimum wage would be amazing; I’m excited about cities that have tried it. Or maybe it would be disastrous. But it seems a lot more complicated than Bernie suggests.

And then there’s universal healthcare. I’ve had positive experiences with it in both India and Europe. But are we thinking about just how many jobs will be lost in the eradication of the highly lucrative insurance industry? And the backlash? Are we thinking about the tax money it’ll cost? Are we thinking about the sheer infrastructure required to make this happen? I work in a public profession, and I can tell you: it isn’t always pretty. Do we want our doctors to be unionizing? Do we want healthcare to be a bargaining chip between different levels of government who are arguing over funding? And is the public really ready to give up their freedom to choose their healthcare and have it when they want it? Are we ready for the wait times? I’m skeptical.

I know European countries can do it, and good for them. But they are smaller, their governments more centralized, their populations more homogeneous. And they are a bit better organized. Plus, half of their populations, generally speaking, are not trying to defund and abolish all public services at all times.

[And call me capitalist, but I sort of like Obamacare. It’s a very American compromise between socialism and capitalism: Yes, everyone needs to be insured and have access to healthcare, but we’ll offer a public version of insurance to cover those who can’t get it privately, while the private companies will still be able to do their thing, earn their money, employ their people.]

The only part of Bernie’s platform that I really want to fully get behind is campaign finance reform[2]. And that’s a big one, so it’s nothing to spit at. If he gets elected president, and that’s the one thing he manages to change, I would not be mad at him. That’s a battle worth fighting, and if won, it would have ripple effects on every other battle we fight.

But I don’t know if he really has a viable plan for fighting Citizens United from the Oval Office. (No– refusing to take donations from big banks who don’t want to donate to him anyhow is not a viable plan for fixing campaign finance reform. That’s just proving a point, and it’s likely not even going to get him the election, though I could be wrong). And that’s my concern with so much of Bernie’s platform: his ideas are too broad and too vague, and it seems to me that his supporters generally base their arguments on the premise that Bernie deserves the presidency because he is morally more righteous than everyone else in the game.

I just can’t remember the last time ‘being right’ got much of anything done on Capitol Hill.

Maybe I’ll be wrong. God willing, I’ll be wrong.

I think that Bernie correctly identifies some of the most problematic parts of our country. I think he has suggested some great infrastructure changes based on precedents in other countries. I think that the vision he has is beautiful, and it has led to enthusiasm from a huge part of the American public that has felt disappointed in our broken government up until this point.

But I don’t want him to be my president. Instead, I wish that he would us his position in Congress to actually fix our government constitutionally. I wish he would increase the number of seats in the House. I wish he would mandate that we develop a multiparty system. Perhaps most importantly, I wish that we would quit having a popularly elected president and instead move to a prime minister elected by Congress (then people would pay attention to the elections that really matter, and billions of dollars wouldn’t be spent on one that honestly, doesn’t. Plus, we would be guaranteed a less obstructed lawmaking body). I wish that he would rewrite the Amendments that dictate the rights of the states and the rights of the federal government to clearly delineate who is responsible for what is so we stop wasting government money on battles between different layers of government, or battles between parties arguing over these powers. I wish that he would constitutionally define who gets to vote and how much money is allowed in politics.

But he doesn’t need to be president to do that. He needs to be in Congress.

To Bernie fans: I love that you exist. Our country was founded by people like you. One can only hope it will be re-founded and revolutionized by people like you. Our government is deeply broken and needs to be re-done by people who have imaginations big enough to look past questions like “Is it possible?” to see a different way. We need people like you to counter old despairing codgers like me.

But if Bernie burns in this election, don’t abandon our country. You are the people we need. The system is broken. You are the ones we need to fix it.

FOOTNOTES

1. Honestly, one of the biggest reasons I didn’t vote for Bernie is how his followers talk about Hillary. Bernie isn’t a god. He might be great in your estimation, and he might even end up being an awesome president. But he’s going to let you down. And the passionate Hillary-hating is nauseating, and it’s unfair; if you’re hating on Hillary personally, you need to hate on every single Democrat. The party took a series of calculated risks, because politics is like chess, and they were trying to gauge strategies for success. Hillary was a representative of a party trying to serve you in a world trying to take things from you. You may not like parties because you don’t want to get your hands dirty, and you may not appreciate the groundwork laid there, but there is a reason Bernie Sanders has declared himself a Democrat; he knows he can get something from affiliating with an organization that has such strategies. This is politics; half of the country disagrees with you about what should be done, so what are you going to do to get around that? For Bernie’s followers to take those chess moves out of context and place personal moral judgment on the pieces, I have to stand up with everyone else crying foul. Why should Hillary be crucified for decisions Democrats have made as a group? That is both illogical and unfair. Plus, she is perhaps the most actively apologetic politician I know; she– like all people– makes mistakes and sometimes poor choices of word or action. But better than the rest of them, she apologizes and rectifies. She takes criticism and suggestions pretty darn well for a politician. I am fine with Bernie running against Hillary. I am fine with him suggesting a new ideology for the Democratic party. I am even fine with him joining the Democratic Party now that it’s beneficial to him. But I am not fine with the special vitriol with which his followers are treating Hillary, as if she is the worst of all humankind. She actually isn’t. She’s just a Democratic politician who has lived through an era when the party moved to the center. Disagree with her, hold her accountable, fine. That’s your job. But the treatment I hear is straight up dehumanizing hatred, which is unfair–and really turns me off. Why would I join a group of people who do that to people on their own team? I didn’t even talk about Bush with that kind of hatred. Disdain and frustration, but never this sort of hatred. It’s alarming. (I am not going to get into sexism right now, but that’s also a real thing).

2. I get that Wall Street is incredibly problematic. Actually empowering the government to regulate what Dodd Frank outlines would be world-changing, literally. But it feels far too simple to direct the rage of the frustrated victims of a broken economy at the nebulous concept of “Wall Street” and “Income Inequality” because there isn’t a simple fix for it. Isn’t such scapegoating the same thing Trump does, except instead of using immigrants we’re using bankers? Wall Street itself is just far too complex for this sort of rhetoric. If in 2008, the government hadn’t stepped in, it wouldn’t have just been the banks that had failed. Our lives were bound up in those banks: our pensions and mortgages and family savings accounts, not to mention a ton of jobs. The banking industry, as problematic as it is, is one of the major sectors of our economy. We must regulate it without destroying it. We must regulate it without pushing it abroad to countries with friendlier corporate tax policies. I have a hunch that regulating Wall Street is going to take more than a stubborn president who scorns banks and refuses their money. There are deeper rooted problems.

(Guest Post) The Hillary-Bernie Debates, Part 2: On Progress

This is a guest post by my friend, Jeremy Marion, who is a staunch Bernie supporter. You can find him on Facebook or email him at his name at gmail.com. (Read Part 1 HERE.)

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On Leadership:

 “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Bernie Sanders, like Martin Luther King Jr. before him is leading a revolution. To doubt leaps in progress are achievable is to disregard history, and to instill that doubt in others is to aid in its defeat. Many people admire and understand the influence that King had on civil rights, but there is a big difference between knowing the facts of history and acquiring wisdom from history. The wisdom he spread (that is lost on even his most ardent admirers) comes from the ideals that made his movement successful.

When one understands and practices the values that King advocated, it becomes clear which candidate’s platform he would rally behind, and which candidate’s platform he would rally against. If there is anything that we should have learned from him, it is that we all need to fight for justice. Read his words for yourself and think about who he would support if he was alive today.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is not silent or dismissive about the things that matter most.

On Political Progress

In a democracy, even one as broken as ours, we the people have the ability to transform our dreams into reality, but only if we fight for it. I have no doubt that every successful progressive movement throughout history was marginalized by pessimism under the guise of realism, but the truth is that there is no such stance as realism. The definition of optimism and pessimism stem from that fact that our future is uncertain; they are simply qualitative descriptions of our predictions of future events. To label oneself as a realist is to misunderstand this concept. One can be an optimist, a pessimist, or uncertain. Only the future can reveal reality.

Certainly people can be so extreme in their optimism or pessimism that no reasonable person would view their ideas as realistic, but the ideals of the political revolution that Bernie Sanders is leading are not extreme. The idea that the richest country in the world can not afford to provide healthcare to all of its citizens or ensure that every full-time worker receives a living wage is pessimistic. Those ideas are mainstream and have ample public support. If we want these things to come to fruition, then we need to end the pessimism of our fellow progressives, because that pessimism is just as big of an obstacle as the right wing conservative agenda that we all want to defeat.

On progressives as people

The progressive movement is about more than politics. Before progress can be made as a society, we must make progress as individuals. We must strive to be the most virtuous version of ourselves. Specifically, there are five virtues that make up the foundation of progressives. Most if not all people possess these virtues to a certain extent, but it is the consistent use and application of these virtues that define our character.

1) Compassion is required because, without it, we would not be motivated to minimize the suffering and maximize the well-being of all conscious beings.

2) Reason is required to prevent errors of all kinds. It allows us to solve problems and realize our goals.

3) Honesty with oneself and with others is required to establish trust and credibility. A person who can not be trusted can hold a position of power, but they cannot lead.

4) Courage is required to overcome our fears. When we fear failure, or judgment, we don’t take action.

5) Self-awareness is required to realize when we are not living up to the virtues that we believe in. A lack of self-awareness can make honest men liars, turn geniuses into fools, and turn caring men and women cruel. It is the best defense against doublethink, the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. All others virtues are rendered useless if we are not aware of our own behavior.

These virtues must be valued more than anything else if we are to truly be virtuous. We must value them more than more than comfort, and more than God. If we value God most, then we are guilty of violating the last four virtues listed. To believe in a personal supernatural being requires a suspension of reason, a suspension of honesty with oneself, and a suspension of self-awareness, maybe due to the lack of courage to face our own mortality or the judgment from our friends and family.

It always is a dangerous game to suspend our virtues for the sake of comfort. Every time one does this, they become more and more susceptible to doing it again, maybe even to the point that they can no longer be classified as a progressive at all.

On Hillary Clinton’s values

 “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” — George Orwell

Hillary has consistently revealed herself to be of low moral character. She is an opportunist. I’m not saying she doesn’t care about people; I’m just saying she cares so much more about herself than humanity as a whole. She has compromised her values so many times in the pursuit of power that it is apparent that power is what she values most. The pragmatist narrative she is promoting is a cover. The real reason she can’t endorse progressive policies is because she has made backroom deals with more special interests than she can even remember.

The reason she can’t be transparent is because her record is damning. It would sink her campaign. That is why she give answers like this:

Clinton: “Let me say this, I am happy to release anything I have when everybody else does the same because every other candidate in this race has given speeches to private groups, including Senator Sanders,”

(Note: Sanders has gotten less than $2,000 from speaking fees, released video of his speech, and donated that money to charity. Since 2001, Hillary and Bill Clinton have received 153-MILLION dollars from speaking fees.)

Questioner: “How can we trust that this isn’t just more political rhetoric? Please just release those transcripts so that we know exactly where you stand,”

Clinton“Well you know where I stand because I’ve been in public standing there the whole time.”

The answer is just as bad as when she defended taking money from special interests by bringing up 9/11. If Hillary was the only one running, I’d justify her corruption. It is reasonable that she has to be corrupt to fight the Republicans who are even more corrupt. But Bernie has shown that the support for a political revolution is already here. If she really wanted to change the system, she would drop out and endorse him. But she doesn’t care to change the system; she just wants to be president. And that desire for power is actively preventing the progress we desperately need to make.

Progressives don’t spread the dogma that their dreams are not achievable, or that the system can’t be changed at any speed greater than a snail’s pace. Progressives lead in accordance with their values, not by what the polls show is popular at the time. A leader dictates what the polls say by molding a consensus

Bernie has not maliciously attacked Hillary even one time this campaign and he has had ample opportunity and just cause to do so. She is the one who knowingly lies about his record and insinuates his ideas are unrealistic. She even lies when she is telling the truth. No honest person accuses Sanders of voting to deregulate Wall Street while omitting the fact that he only did so because it was part of a must-pass bill to keep the government running. This is dishonest to its core and is something Sanders has never done. She has consistently stood on the wrong side of history and Bernie has consistently been on the right side of history.

And finally, Clinton absolutely can not defeat Trump. She has infuriated Sanders supporters so much with her dishonest campaign that much too many of them will not show up to vote for her. The hate she has garnered from them is on par with their hate of the Republican candidates. Too many will stay home or vote for Trump to watch the world burn.

Sanders on the other hand, does beat Trump according to the polls and Hillary supporters generally don’t have any problems with Sanders. This is because Sanders has done nothing to deserve anything less than the utmost respect of the people. He a true progressive, an independent thinker, and a man of uncompromising virtue. He is a once in a lifetime candidate that we desperately need to elect if we want change.

The Hillary-Bernie Debates, Part 1: Blood on My Hands

(This dialogue was first played out on Facebook. It has been re-posted here. During this series, I will be featuring my friend Jeremy Marion as a guest poster. He is a staunch Bernie Sanders supporter. I voted for Hillary in the primaries.)

DEM 2016 Debate
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, left, and Hillary Rodham Clinton talk before the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

ME:

I gave money to Bernie Sanders today.

I do not think Sanders is a viable president; I like some of his policies, but a lot of them seem irrelevant to the U.S. economy as it currently exists. I don’t think he can build consensus or really get much done. I don’t like his gun policies. I think he is often stubborn and unwilling to listen or reach out or compromise. Mostly, I’m really turned off by some of the stuff his supporters say (“You better vote for Bernie because I’m never voting for Hillary!”) and how delusional many progressives seem to be about how expensive his policies would be and how difficult they would be to pass. Though my heart is progressive, my mind is practical, and Hillary is my practical choice. She’s smart and tough. She knows how to work with people, prioritize, compromise, respond to the public, and get around Washington. She is a skillful and experienced politician who has consistently led and stood for the center-left’s policies (though, yes, those things have changed over time, with the public and our party). Overall, though, I’ve just been proud to be a Democrat throughout this debate season, and impressed by both of my candidate’s intellects and efforts.

That being said, I was deeply disappointed by Hillary’s AIPAC speech, and it was the last in several moments over the last few weeks that made me uneasy. I do not expect politicians to always be 100% truthful with the public (I am not 100% truthful with my students– that would be unprofessional, and national security isn’t at stake in my daily work), and I expect in many ways for them to say what people want them to hear. In some ways, this is what we pay them to do: comfort us, tell us we believe the right things, tell us that things are stable while they take care of the hard parts for us, behind the scenes. But Hillary has presented herself as a continuation of the Obama era, and one of the things Obama has developed is a foreign policy that is less imperialistic and more peace-focused. He has avoided starting a wholesale war in Syria the way we jumped into Iraq. He has insisted in several cases that other countries’ problems are their problems. He has opened his hand to Iran and to Cuba. He has urged peace and reconciliation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I would never be surprised that a speech at an AIPAC event would be pro-Israel in some way. But I do not like the ease with which Hillary suggested that more weapons were the answer, or the way she offered my country’s overwhelming power to bully “enemies” by violence as protection that Israel can count on. There were other ways to write that speech, which acknowledged the U.S.’s historic friendship with Israel and the realities of anti-semitism while also acknowledging that the best of friends help us to do what is right, even when it is hard. We all know that the U.S. giving Israel more weapons is too easy, is not right, and is not going to lead to more peace for either Israelis or Palestinians.

I want my students to grow up into a world with fewer guns at home and fewer weapons abroad. Many of them will go from harsh urban streets to harsher foreign deployments, and these policies and attitudes will affect them. It may cost some of them their lives. And if I have voted for someone whose policies lead to violence, the blood is on my hands too.

I want our next president to be a leader of peace, not someone who offers weapons-and-violence-by-the-U.S. cheaply, without agonizing over the lives such a gift package could cost.

I wish Bernie would stand up to guns at home. I wish Hillary would not so freely offer violence and weapons abroad. I wish. I wish. I wish.

————————————————————————–

JEREMY:

Well said. I still disagree with some of these points but I am happy you are open to hearing new arguments and forming new opinions. The things I disagree with are as follows…

1) “I do not think Sanders is a viable president.”

I think he is plenty viable. I think if people understood his positions, he would beat her in a popular vote assuming everyone voted. He has the disadvantage of the mainstream media being against him and at the same time for Hillary. FOX hates Hillary more than Sanders, but CNN and MSNBC and even the Daily Show have been against Sanders from the start. Sometimes it is blatantly obvious and other times it is subtle.

He also has the disadvantage of terrible voting laws like closed primaries, no same day registration, and more of the like.

Finally, he beats the republicans by bigger margins than Hillary in almost every poll.

Even if he is not viable, I think it is up to progressives to make him viable. Bernie and his supporters must mold the consensus if it is not there yet.

2) “I like some of his policies, but a lot of them seem irrelevant to the U.S. economy as it currently exists.”

Not sure which ones you are referring to.

3) “I don’t like his gun policies.”

I’m not sure which policies you are referring to here either. From what I know, his views are sensible. He was against the Brady Bill only because it would allow people to sue mom and pop gun store owners if a gun they sold was used to hurt someone. I’m all for allowing people to sue the manufacturers for failing to improve safety features, but a mom and pop store should not be liable if someone uses a hunting rifle to kill someone.

Perhaps there is a different issue you are referring to, but I’m not sure.

4) “I think he is often stubborn and unwilling to listen or reach out or compromise.”

There are certain things that we should not compromise on. But he has shown he is willing to compromise. He is known as the “Amendment King” for his effectiveness for getting things passed and working with others. He has also voted on many bills he did not support because it was better than the alternative. Sanders will make compromises if they improve the conditions of the middle class.

5) “Mostly, I’m really turned off by some of the stuff his supporters say (“You better vote for Bernie because I’m never voting for Hillary!”)”

I get it, but I hope you understand why they say that. I have held that same position before. It was mostly out of rage. The dirty tactics that Hillary has used throughout her campaign have been infuriating. Enough to make me curse at the television. When the reality of a Trump presidency kicks in, most of them will change their tune like I have.

6) “…and how delusional many progressives seem to be about how expensive his policies would be and how difficult they would be to pass.”

He has proposed ways to pay for everything. Also, it is ok if his plans don’t pass as they are now. Like I said before, he will compromise as long as the final deal is better than the way things are now. This election is about more than policies, it is a much-needed political revolution. The only way to make progress is to fight for it and I know for a fact he will fight harder for the people than Hillary will.

7) “Though my heart is progressive, my mind is practical, and Hillary is my practical choice.”

Robert Reich said it best. “I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.

“But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.”

I am not ok with the system we have now. The amount of death and suffering caused by our current system, directly or indirectly is a moral tragedy. The time for this political revolution was a few decades ago and only Sanders is fighting for it.

8) “She’s smart and tough.”

I’m sure she is smarter than the average person, but the amount of blunders she makes is concerning. She has consistently shown she lacks the wisdom required to make the right decisions the first time. I feel like a large part of her campaign is about “evolving” on the issues she was wrong about in the first place. Sanders record shows he is a wise independent thinker who bases his decisions on reason and compassion.

9) “She knows how to work with people, prioritize, compromise, respond to the public, and get around Washington. She is a skillful and experienced politician who has consistently led and stood for the center-left’s policies…”

She will not be able to work with the republicans. They hate her as much or maybe even more than Obama. They may disagree with Sanders, but I don’t think they hate him.

I don’t see how she prioritizes well. The two most pressing issues we face is climate change and campaign finance reform. Sanders is stronger on both. Campaign finance reform is probably the top priority. If we can’t fix that first, then we can’t fix anything else.

I don’t think she knows how to respond to the public either. There is a reason she has such a high disapproval rating. There is a reason why so many Sanders supporters say they won’t vote for her. You are a supporter of hers and she has even managed to rub you the wrong way. Her campaign has been a series of blunders that require damage control to keep it afloat.

I don’t think she has consistently led. Her political career has been marked by her penchant for being on the wrong side of history only to evolve after the polls show it is safe.

10) “I do not expect politicians to always be 100% truthful with the public (I am not 100% truthful with my students– that would be unprofessional, and national security isn’t at stake in my daily work), and I expect in many ways for them to say what people want them to hear.”

I agree with this. The problem is that Hillary doesn’t lie in the good way you are referring to. She lies in the worst way, for her own political gain. There are dozens of examples, but I’ll just use one.

Remember when she claimed to have landed in Bosnia under sniper fire?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZHO1vo762c

It was hard to watch someone try to wiggle out of such a blatant lie only to later say she “misspoke” due to sleep deprivation. This lie was on par with the lie that Brian Williams was suspended for. I don’t know a single person in real life who lies as consistently and as maliciously as she does.

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ME:

I’ll answer #2 later (longer post– but in short, I don’t think the US is going to be a small semi socialist European country any time soon), but the Brady Bill is literally the best we’ve got. It’s the best organization out there, it does the best research and advocacy. You and I both know that his reasons for not supporting gun regulations have mostly to do with his voter base in rural VT and little to do with the bill itself. That justification is silly, and you know that. Even if such a case went to court, nothing would happen– that line of the bill is meant to hold stores accountable for upholding the law which is necessary. And yes, stores should absolutely be held accountable… We hold them accountable for selling cigarettes, poisonous food. Guns aren’t so different. This is what I mean by compromise, right? No law is perfect.

And for the record, I give away 10% of my income to various organizations that are doing the work I think is important in the world and right now, my rotation includes $100 each month to the Brady foundation. My students are asked to write dystopian stories at the end of tenth grade each year. As we go through the problems our world faces and the possible futures ahead of us, they say that what they wish more than anything is that there would be no more guns. So that matters to me. No “just”s about it.

Other than that point, I think this piece did a nice job of explaining some of my thoughts.
http://www.chicagonow.com/…/love-sanders-but-why-im…/

I know you have a rebuttal for everything, JJ. At this point, we both have voted and only can wait it out.

I’ll be with either of them, and I will play their strengths, and I will support them.

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JEREMY:

I honestly do not know much at all about the Brady foundation. I took Bernie at his word when he gave his reason why he voted against it. I do think defending the mom and pop stores is a valid reason though. I feel like it would be similar to suing a gas station for selling you cigarettes after you get lung cancer. I think the manufacturer should be held liable instead of the store owners. I have not read the bill myself so perhaps you are right about it being a non issue and that line is only meant to make sure they are following the law.

I love that you donate 10 percent of your income to charity. I hope I didn’t come off as demeaning in my argument above. I hold you in pretty high regard which is why I like to engage with you in the first place.

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ME:

Not at all! It is a great treasure in life to have friends who will argue ideas with you. I’m excited for the rest of our series.

What happened to Ms. B’s Job? The facts.

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I am a provisional, third year, Boston Public Schools teacher.

I have been partially laid off for next year.

As the budget stands, I am being offered a .7 position at my current school for next year. That means I would teach 2.5 classes a day (rather than 4). I would be paid 70% of my current salary. I would still receive full benefits and union protection.

Losing 30% of your salary in a city like Boston is very stressful. No more traveling. No more eating out. No more donations to important causes (or snacks for my students on publication days). No more extraneous expenses. No more yoga classes or gym membership. Cutting corners, cutting costs, saving everywhere. As a college student or starving artist, this would be okay. But I am an educated professional with multiple degrees, so it is not really okay. I am facing a tough dilemma in the coming months.

It is tough to vouch for myself as a teacher; it would be easier to have my colleagues or students do so. But let’s say that on an average day if you walked into my classroom, students would be reading, thinking, writing, engaging in text, and generally joyful. Throughout a year with me, they would learn to love reading more, learn to love expressing themselves in writing more, develop their skills in both, and become more confident in their own selves as they grow up. I have been in recent years working on building up the A.P. program and various writing initiatives at my school, and I participate on the Instructional Leadership Team. I am, in addition, a co-coach of the slam poetry team. My students’ writing has been published on both Medium and TeenInk, where several of them have been recognized as daily #1 hits. I have led students through Shakespeare and Steinbeck, through argumentative, analytical, and narrative writing. I still have a lot to learn and many ways to grow, but I do not believe in any bone of my body that my school or students will be happy to see me go.

The reason my job has been reduced is because our school’s budget for next year has taken a roughly $300,000 hit. This loss is a combination of teacher salary increases, the loss of several grants, a reduction in projected enrollment numbers (12 fewer students), and a districtwide cut across all schools.

And since this will be a question, the reason it is me, as opposed to some other teacher, who is losing much of her job, is that BPS, like many districts, operates under a “Last in, First out,” policy. This policy dictates that the newest teacher is the one who must get cut first, the second newest second, and so on and so forth. Budgets are split by department, and I am the newest humanities teacher, so I therefore must go first. My effectiveness (or lack thereof) or quality of performance is not at all a factor in this situation. [If you are curious about my effectiveness or quality of performance, I have received all proficient ratings all my years of teaching. And though it is not in the purview of this op-ed, I believe my students would give you details if you asked them.]. For more interest in opposition to Last In, First Out, you can look out the Vergara case from earlier this year:http://studentsmatter.org/our-case/vergara-v-california-case-summary/)

The reason our school has lost so much money for this upcoming year is that the district has announced that next year we will be operating on a $50 million shortfall. (https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/01/12/boston-schools-face-million-budget-shortfall/dg4Emkps2wD06lNLHqvpJN/story.html) Why? The short answer is that the district has lost students to outside schools (out of district charters, private schools, suburban districts) and that state and federal funding has been severely reduced. More and more charter schools are appearing, and more and more wealthy families who can afford to are taking their children out of the district, reducing state and federal funding. This is unfortunately a self-perpetuating cycle. Once people start to leave and funding starts to decrease, quality starts to decrease, so more people leave. And so on.

The long answer is that the funding given to us by State Laws Chapter 46 and Chapter 70 is not equitable. Chapter 46 provides compensation for losses of large numbers of students to charter schools from a public district by reimbursing the district for the loss of these students. Chapter 70, perhaps the more important law here, is a law that grants state aid to public school districts.**

 http://www.doe.mass.edu/charter/finance/tuition/Reimbursements.html

*The paragraph below has been REVISED (thank you to commenter below for the sources!):

Unfortunately, Chapter 70 is calculated based on a combination of property tax revenue and income taxes. (http://www.doe.mass.edu/finance/chapter70/chapter_15.html) Given that in Boston, property values are disproportionately high (even if only half of the property is taxable and therefore included in the calculation) and a huge portion of the population makes a lot of money working for tax-exempt organizations, so income is also measured very high, Boston is seen as a very wealthy district and this calculation gets skewed out of our favor. In fact, BPS pretty much never sees the money Chapter 70 assumes we have; those people’s children for the most part don’t go to traditional Boston Public Schools, and their income tax goes to the state. This is like a perfect storm for BPS: unlike an area like Lawrence, which has low property values, low incomes, and a student population that represents these issues; the Boston that Ch. 70 is measuring is a very different Boston than you see in a school like mine. My school is 75% free and reduced lunch, 97% minority. If a student is in my school, he or she almost certainly knows about welfare and food stamps, knows about the criminal justice system, is an immigrant or refugee (first or second generation), or lives in a rented home or in public housing. Sometimes all four.

Also unfortunately, the amount of money the state is allocating to Chapter 46 is also declining. While I cannot pin down a source on the decline or on if the state has been sufficiently compensating BPS (among other districts), rumors abound that Chapter 46 is a law that the state hasn’t exactly stood behind. The rumors say that the state is not allocating enough money to Chapter 46 in the budget, so the money isn’t making it to school districts like ours, who need it desperately[the latest amount I heard is $18million short, but, again, I do not have a source other than general BTU/BPS hearsay].

So, Boston Public Schools is $50 million short. In a time when education reform is a hot topic and the XQ Super School project is getting people excited about rethinking schools and our own Boston Teacher Residency is innovating the way the whole country thinks about training teachers, we cannot find enough money to pay for the bare minimum of the schools we already have, nor the teachers who teach in them. What is innovation for, if we can’t even pay for what we have?

I wish I could say my school is alone in these losses, that it’s just me facing a tough dilemma. But it’s not. Articles and Facebook posts are pouring out. People and schools are reeling. It’s bad. It’s been bad, and it’s been getting worse and worse slowly, but this year is a particularly heavy hit.

And the reality is: we need more money. Not less.

People have been looking for someone to be angry with.

Do not be angry with my headmaster. While he cannot save my job as is, he has salvaged a part of it.

Do not be angry with Superintendent Tommy Chang. He is between a rock and a hard place.

I’m not sure how to feel about Mayor Marty Walsh. He has increased the funding he’s given to BPS for two years in a row now. It is hard to pin all the blame on him. But perhaps he could be doing more, or lobbying for the state to do so.*(Again, my commenter below argues that the city should be doing more, based on the Ch. 70 formula).

I’m also not sure how to feel about charter schools. It’s great to innovate. It’s great to serve kids well and teach them well, and many charter schools do so. I do believe that charters have inspired innovation and reform in public schools by challenging us to do better. Clearly many parents are seeking what charter schools offer, so we still have a lot to learn. And many of my good friends teach in charter schools (honestly, I will probably teach in a charter school some day; it seems to be where we are heading). But the facts are also clear that charters can have a large and negative impact on district funding, causing stress for the local traditional public schools like mine. (http://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/choice/summary.html)

But do be angry with our state legislators. Be angry that they passed a law that treated Boston’s kids unfairly; be angry that they didn’t do better math. Be angry with Charlie Baker. Be angry that the people in the State House don’t seem to recognize the desperate situation of our students. Be angry that they are out of touch with what it is like to be poor, to be middle class, to have to eat school lunch, to have to live by the bell. Be angry that they have prioritized something other than children, other than the future, other than education.

Be angry with the federal government too. Be angry that Congress can fund a military that intervenes in over half the countries of the world but cannot seem to pay so that the ceilings on the fifth floor of my school don’t leak when it rains. (https://apps.irs.gov/app/understandingTaxes/whys/thm01/les01/ac3_thm01_les01.jsp )

Be angry with those philanthropists and reformers who insist on fancy initiatives and consultants, trying to find the silver bullet to solve education, instead of just funding our schools. I appreciate that wealthy people are interested in supporting education, that they are as passionate as I am about fixing schools. I just wish that money would go straight to where it is needed most. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/opinion/sunday/how-to-fix-the-countrys-failing-schools-and-how-not-to.html?_r=0 ; http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/05/19/schooled)

Be angry that people do not listen to students and do not trust teachers when we try to speak up about what is going on.

Be angry that people are not voting– that people are not paying attention. Be angry that people can live their lives thinking that policy does not affect you or me.

And whatever you do, spread the word: all policy is personal. Call your legislator. Post on Facebook. Email your congressperson. Go to a protest. Go to a local election.

Please, please please: do something for this nation’s schools. We need your help.

**Update 2

A commenter below has indicated that the calculations of Ch. 70 that are currently in place may in fact lay more blame on the city than I originally surmised from my research. See the DESE work here: chrome-extension://bpmcpldpdmajfigpchkicefoigmkfalc/views/app.html

Please note that there is a student-led protest happening at the State of the City Address on Tuesday. You can join.

** Update:

What can you do?
1. Go to the following website and look up your state senator and representative.

http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/

2. Send them an email like the one below.
Dear Senator/Representative X,
I am deeply concerned about the BPS budget shortfall this upcoming year. Boston Public Schools cannot operate on the limited budget that has been proposed, and it is clear that the calculations in chapter 70 are inequitable. In addition, we need more money allocated via chapter 46.
The district’s needs are urgent. Our children need your help.
Sincerely,
(Your name, phone number, address, and email)
3. Call them and reiterate what the email says so that there is a sense of urgency to the matter.
4. Spread the word. The more people who do this, the more movement we will get.

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The writer is a third year Boston Public Schools teacher and a graduate of the Boston Teacher Residency and Yale University. She teaches tenth through twelfth grade.

On Free Speech

Re: Conor Friedersdorf, the Christakis family, Mizzou, and Yale

I feel like many people who are talking about “Free Speech” right now are a little confused about what the first amendment says. Given that I teach U.S. history, I thought I’d help clarify. When I consider my first amendment rights, I consider countries like Syria in 2011, where if I spoke out in opposition of the government, I would likely be tortured or killed– by the government. I think of countries like Iran, where if I practiced a faith other than the state religion, there would likely be serious repercussions– from the government. I think of the essential nature of a free press and how we struggled to understand what happened in Ukraine two years ago because it was so hard for the press to get in. I consider many of my students, who are in the U.S. because they fled oppressive regimes that lacked the rights our first amendment provides. I even consider some of the black students at Yale, Howard, and Mizzou, who have tried to say their piece and now are receiving threats of death and violence. That is not okay. Nor is hate speech. Nor is assault. These are all clearly elaborated upon within the U.S. legal code and court precedents. We don’t have to worry about a slippery slope, because everything is clearly defined for us.

So let’s set boundaries– as long as we are not talking about direct threats, hate speech, assault/other illegal action, or government repression of ideas, I want to make this clear: if you say something, and someone criticizes you for saying it, no one is limiting your free speech rights. That is exactly what open dialogue is. If you say something particularly stupid about your work in a public fashion, and your boss finds out, you may lose your job for being stupid. But no one is limiting your free speech rights. If you say something racist (mildly, subtly, sort of, or overtly), and someone says, “You know, that was racist,” STILL, no one is limiting your free speech rights.

You may be particularly sensitive to the R-word. Or to the F-word. Or to other people’s anger and pain. It may make you uncomfortable. Or you may feel like someone yelling at you (even if she did receive a death threat from which it was your responsibility, in your job description, to protect her) shows that she is rude, out of line, unhelpful to the cause, immature, or contrary to the way things should go. You can think that. You can even say that. And you will probably receive a firestorm of opposing articles written by some brilliant people, telling you why they think what you think is so problematic. Maybe you will learn a little bit about how sometimes the things that seem the least racist are the things that are most insidious and problematic. Maybe you will learn about the experiences of people of color in America. Maybe you will learn about what part of the narrative you missed. Maybe you will just deeply dislike being criticized.

And still, hooray! We all are practicing free speech. So let’s move on to some better questions and try to make this movement truly productive and culture-changing:

(a) What is racism like, and why didn’t I see it in that one instance? Is it possible that I am blind to the racism that I think I am against? Why didn’t I fully believe my peers of color about their experiences? Why do I struggle to trust their words and opinions? Why does their pain make me uncomfortable? What historical backgrounds and biases do I need to understand? Where can I find out more?
(b) What do white people need to do and learn, and how do white people need to change, in order to change racist cultures in America? How can I be a part of that?
(c) How can people in power on these campuses do more not only to protect their students of color, but to understand them (and their experiences) better, and through that understanding, naturally increase how welcome and at home they feel?

More than just a bullshitinator: Jon Stewart and Millenials

Jon Stewart has retired. Besides the fact that the loss of Jon Stewart feels like a close friend is moving away, this makes me feel homesick, because strangely, watching The Daily Show has been home for me. Stewart was like a favorite conversation partner, an intellectual mentor whose company I supremely enjoyed, even if the feeling was never really mutual.image

Everyone is taking this chance to thank Jon Stewart, to comment on his work. Sixteen years of refined news-analysis, they say, People love being called on their bullshit by Jon Stewart.

But Stewart (I want to call him Jon because he feels so familiar!) was not just a bullshitinator. For my generation he was also a moral compass and guide to world citizenship. In a world where the sheer quantity of information available made true news frustratingly inaccessible to us mere mortals, the Daily Show team provided us an evening briefing of our world that we relied on and trusted with something close to desperation. When liberal politics have taken to silencing everything resembling anything slightly morally reprehensible or intolerant, Stewart did the exhausting work of both criticism and comment for us. He was our conversation starter, and we looked to him to tell us what to think and how to say it. In a world where being an educated citizen is more than a full-time job, Stewart was our bridge into our ideal selves.

The reality is I haven’t the time to read Dodd-Frank, or the new north Atlantic Treaty, or the new Iran deal. I desperately want to be involved. I care deeply about my world. I want to do the right thing, the best thing, the good thing. I’ve considered running for office in the coming years (at which point I would be doing tons of research and reading of the above texts). But in the meantime I have depended on Jon Stewart.

And, at the end of the day, this is why I’d like to thank him. Thank you, Mr. Stewart, for being good. In a world where power and fame and public branding seem to either attract the wrong people or turn people into the wrong people, you have consistently been worth our trust. You were hard-working and committed to your job; generous with your spotlight to both staff and guests on your show; respectful of all of humanity (even us irritating millennials); and ever grounded in an understanding of your own responsibility to tell the truth and guide us kids in what is right and good, and in what is important. While modeling all these things, you also showed us how to laugh at ourselves, and how to both hope and grieve for our world. I spend all my days in a boston public school, but I can only aspire to be as excellent a teacher and role model as you have been.

We will miss you – and I say that with a pang of homesickness in my throat. If you’re ever in Boston, please come for dinner. You are always welcome… And I’d love to keep the conversation going.