Thank a Teacher…Before It’s Too Late

Today I am reposting my friend Morna McDermott‘s blog on teacher appreciation. Moran is a courageous education professor at Towson University in Baltimore and a fierce defender of the creativity and humanity in the classroom. If you want to know some of the more hidden aspects of “personalized learning” and “education reform,” Morna is the person in the know. Moran is also one of the leaders for United Opt Out, a movement to stop standardized testing and to resist the corporate takeover of public education.

Also, check out this flowchart to see who is really behind the Common Core. We should all be concerned about the corporate takeover of public education.

Public School Teachers: The Next Endangered Species (4 years later)

by educationalchemy

This is a RE POSTING of a blog I (Morna McDermott) wrote four years ago during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Seems appropriate to re-post it now. Please comment on the question: How much has changed or not in last four years?


I felt an urgency to write this post before Friday in order to coincide with Teacher Appreciation Week because this quasi “event of recognition” must remain close on our radar well past this Friday.  Never mind that this gesture is being erased by the first annual…gag…National Charter School week … gag again.

On Monday Mark Naison shared a post that reads:

“Having Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States of America, at this historic moment, is like having Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season.”

After reading this I laughed out loud for a while, and then quietly chuckled to myself for days after that. Why? Because what is happening to public education and to public teachers is so not funny that sometimes I have to laugh to stave the tears and massive waves of despair. And although the deer population may not be considerably reduced during hunting season (no offense to my animal rights activists friends intended), I worry that teachers, real live teachers, are becoming an endangered species.

If you haven’t already shown your appreciation somehow for the public teachers in your life, past or present, do it now. Why? Because chances are, sooner than any of us anticipate, we won’t be sending our flowers, cards, candy, or well-wishes to teachers anymore.  We will have to send them directly to education profiteers like Pearson, Carpe Diem Schools, Connections Academy, and Bill Gates, all of whom are advocating to replace public school teachers with online learning and other in-school online technologies.

Just this week I smiled as my son walked gleefully through his school, passing out homemade muffins to his teachers  for teacher Appreciation. Soon he’ll have to be screaming “thank you” to a computer screen.

The lobbying power behind this movement is astounding because so are the profits to be made. Profitable for corporations, not children of course.  Michelle Rhee through her (Rosemary’s) baby StudentsFirst,  “pledged to spend more than $1 billionto bring for-profit schools, including virtual education, to the entire country by electing reform-friendly candidates and hiring top-notch state lobbyists.”

And pretty soon every child in Philadelphia can sit in front of a computer and succumb to online “learning” since their community schools have been shut down. Why is this? According to City Paper:

The pro-voucher funding stream appears unstoppable, with sources like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. So it goes: The same political forces that have bled Philly schools for decades now decry their poor performance. The solution, of course, is the private sector.”

Conveniently, the billion-dollar-online-learning companies are touting rhetoric that “all children deserve a great teacher.” Duh. How much did they spend to find that out? However, they claim is that in order to deliver on this proclamation, we need to infuse technologies such as online charter schools, and billions of dollars of technology to public schools to make it happen. They claim that we must free up the “best” teachers by using technology more. Convenient. According to theWashington Post, Gates recommends:

“Lift(ing) caps on class sizes and get(ting) more students in front of the very best teachers. Those teachers would get paid more with the savings generated from having fewer personnel overall.”

Those of us who have been in education for more than a few decades already know how to maximize the strengths of “great teachers!” It’s called: resources, reduced class size, having more teaching assistants per classroom, and NOT demanding endless batteries of high stakes testing, test preparation, and data keeping of those tests all of which wastemeaningful instructional time.

Duh. But … there’s no profit in those solutions.

No.  What Gates and company recommend (in their infinite pedagogical experience and scholarly wisdom on child development) is to:

“Eliminate or reduce “seat time” requirements for students to be with licensed staff, focusing on student outcomes (read: tests) instead. This will allow, for example, unlicensed staff to monitor digital labs, freeing funds to pay more—within budget—to the excellent teachers in charge.”

They call this “seizing opportunity.” Seizing opportunity indeed.

Speaking of seizing opportunity, let’s look at Carpe Diem (or “seize the day”),  a “blended learning” model school spreading like a bad case of herpes across the country, and Indiana in particular. As Peg Robertson  writes:

“Six Carpe Diem schools are indeed headed to Indiana. ALEC loves them. See chapter five of their latest report card.  Six schools will soon arrive, focused on ALEC’s love of technology and lack of teachers. This isn’t innovation – this is mind-numbing education delivered via computer with a few teachers (4) left to fill in the regimented gaps.”

How do these new online learning communities get so much political favoritism? Go ask ALEC.

Connections Academy is a national for-profit online learning corporation, and whose co-founder and executive VP is Mickey Revenaugh, who is also the co-chair of the ALEC Education Task Force.

It’s no coincidence that Pearson acquired Connections (Academy) Education, establishing a leading position in the fast-growing virtual school segment and the opportunity to apply Connections Education’s skills and technologies in new segments and geographic markets. 

And even if your community has not yet been sucked into the vacuum of a corporate charter model, even if you still walk your child everyday to a public school, your Teacher Appreciation tokens might as well go straight to Pearson. Why? Because Pearson has also acquiredpartnerships with companies to deliver PARCC, SAT testing, GED testing, and was the central player (through Achieve) in the design of the National Common Core Standards. Pearson can now micromanage the Common Core, as well as all teacher-related materials needed to teach the Common Core, and all required testing materials to test the Common Core.  And more of Common Core will be going online, via courtesy of Pearson. Convenient.

Need I go on? The teacher has become an inconvenient and costly middleman who needs to be removed from the equation, because they get in the way of corporate profit.

More and more classes, k through 12, are being held online in schools across America. And the numbers of online delivery are increasing. From an article by Trip Gabriel, I offer a few highlights:

* “More than one million in the United States, by one estimate are taking online courses. Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students at the K-12 level took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier.”

* “In Memphis, where 7,000 high school students were assigned to study online in computer labs this year because there were not enough teachers to comply with state class-size caps, every student must take an online course to graduate, beginning with current sophomores.”

* “In Idaho, the state superintendent of education plans to push a requirement that high school students take four or more online courses, following a bill that passed the Legislature last week to provide every student with a laptop, paid for from a state fund for educators’ salaries.”

But this last statement really drives the issue home for me:

“K-12 online learning is championed by conservative-leaning policy groups that favor broadening school choice, including Jeb Bushs’ Foundation for Excellence in Education which has called on states to provide all students with “Internet access devices” and remove bans on for-profit virtual schools.”

So I want to take a moment to thank the teachers in my life who have influenced me.  And none of them worked for a textbook company or were presented to me via a computer portal.

Mrs. Belafatto from 5th grade. Thank you for inspiring my creative writing. I remember the great free-writing time we had, and the smiley face feedback that encouraged me to write. I do what I do today in large part because of you.

Mr Dever from 4th grade. Thank you for allowing us as a class to build a real reading loft out of wood and nails in our classroom. We collaborated together, measured, problem-solved, and created. You remind me that teaching and learning are embodied and hands-on experiences that cannot be measured on a standardized test.

Mr. Barlow from 9th grade. Sure, you were categorically insane. Rumor had it you lived in your car. You made me cry at the blackboard. But you taught me to believe in myself, never to back down, and to face challenges head-on. I take my memory of you with me today into this battle for education.

Dr. Ball from my graduate school statistics class. Thank you for staying on the phone with me that Sunday afternoon during the football play offs, when you took over an hour of your time away from the game to walk me through the computer-based exam, while I sobbed hysterically in a panic. You taught me that the qualities that matter most in being a teacher are patience, empathy, and dedication. I don’t remember what was on that exam -but I remember what you did for me.

So, thank a teacher. Unless we appreciate them enough to fight for them, they will become an endangered species. And since no one with any real policy making power in education seems to be doing much about this, maybe we need to get the Wildlife Federation on the case. Anyone got their number?

educationalchemy | May 3, 2016 at 7:18 pm | Categories: Uncategorized | URL:

Reform: The Need for Passion: Morna McDermott

I first met Morna McDermott through a Rethinking Schools’ article she wrote on using art for social change in education. Moran spoke about the power of art in helping teachers and students to have a voice in the debate over educational reform. I later did an interview with Morna in Little Patuxent Review and we have continued to support each other’s work ever since. Welcome, Morna!

“You find that that fire is passion/And there’s a door up ahead not a wall”
~Lou Reed, 1992

Art and education for me are passions. Passion evokes the entire self into an experience. Passion in general terms implies giving entirely of oneself (body and spirit if you will) to an act or an idea. The process requires complete immersion of the whole being, knowledge, feeling, memory, hopes, and fears, rather than the safety of aloof “objective” removal of self and observation. Do we create educational experiences for children that evoke passion? Or do we, as Wordsworth puts it, “murder to dissect?”

Morna McDermott at United Opt Out Event
Morna McDermott at United Opt Out Event

The world of real life education is filled with multiple voices from ordinary people struggling to create their own lives. As education professionals, we become no more than a lofty idea raised so high above the din that we cannot hear the music. We cut out those parts of their world that we’d rather not see. bell hooks [1] (1995) believes that our current educational crisis stems from, “the traditional technicist attitude of teachers who, unaware of the outside influences in students’ lives”, and thus ignores “their cries for relevance in their lives.” Instead of attending to those important influences, we dissect their lives, their motives, their experiences, to fit policies created in the mind’s eye of corporate billionaires who see children and teachers as nothing more than “human capital.”

When we do something with a passion, our spines tingle and our hearts race and we are completely immersed in the moment and our senses heightened. We remain attentive to the experience and nothing else. Not only are we more present and awake, we are somehow also merged more deeply into ourselves and yet equally part of the thing or persons that evokes the passion. The core of our education experiences, as acts of artistic passion, bring us into a dynamic interplay with something larger than ourselves. As an artist, it is necessary for me to say what otherwise can’t be said, to draw out the meaning I seek from the cracks in the cement and to seek untold possibilities from out of the darkness.

“As you pass through the fire…there are things you have to throw out” (Lou Reed, 1992).

Creation requires risk. It requires a willingness to let go of outcomes and immerse ourselves with a sense of faith in the process. Being an artist is nothing I do. Being an artist is something I am. Bringing ourselves as conscious creators into the equation means cutting loose from the anchors of absolute knowledge and singular visions. Art, the artist’s eye, and art as a way of being, offer us a means of creation rather than destruction. Art speaks to the soul. It is the language of poetry, metaphor, shape and form that allow us to face the task ahead by bringing forth into the light, the vital life force elements stuffed between the cracks of dead and static concrete. Art brings the language of understanding needed to anchor the journey where literal meaning cannot be exacted. To try renders us speechless, saying everything but what needs to be said, seen, or heard.

“There’s a bit of magic in everything/And then some loss to even things out” (Lou Reed, 1992).

As such, the artist and the medium become interchangeable. Can we envision an educational framework that immerses our children in such a way that they are empowered to transform both themselves and the world? Speaking of art in the postmodern era, Suzi Gablik (1991) [2]describes art as a re-constructive act that can transform society. What she writes of art I also see through the eyes of an educator. She argues that a society which breeds competition and separates individuals through hierarchies and power relationships also “leads to a deadening of empathy-the solitary, self-contained, self sufficient ego is not given to what David Michael Levin calls ‘enlightened listening’, a listening oriented towards the achievement of shared understanding“. To become consciously aware of this becomes a source of empowerment. It allows one to bring the imagination to the foreground of practice.

The educator- as- artist begins to envision new possibilities. Learning becomes an opus, through which the process of bringing together: self and other, our individual and collective passions as well as our voices, words and images, into a creative act of transformation. We are defined not so much by what we know but by the empty spaces between the lines. Real change is not adding to something. Education transformation will not come through an onslaught of “innovations” or ‘standards” sold to us by corporations and technology think-tanks. Education as transformation means we (as process and “product”) are altered at our core, our core of what we do every day and what we can envision.

[1] hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion. New York: Henry Holt Press.
[1] Gablik, S. (1991/1995). The re-enchantment of art. New York: Thames & Hudson.
[1] hooks, b. (1997). Wounds of Passion. New York: Henry Holt Press.
[2] Gablik, S. (1991/1995). The re-enchantment of art. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Bio: Morna McDermott is one of the eight administrators for the national movement United Opt Out. She has been working in, with, and around public schools for over twenty years. Currently she is also a Professor at Towson University, in Maryland where she teaches various theory and methods courses in the College of Education. Her scholarship and research interests focus on democracy, social justice, and arts-informed inquiry in K-post secondary educational settings, and working with beginning and experienced educators. Her recent books include The Left Handed Curriculum: Creative Experiences for Empowering Teachers (2012), and An Activist Handbook for the Education Revolution (2014) She also writes for her blog Her latest posts are titled  “If George Orwell ran an Education Conference, It Would Be This” and “Swindling Our Schools: Baltimore County Style.”