Donald Trump, Climate Change, and Totalitarianism: A Connection

Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism is a tough read. And sometimes I wish I hadn't struggled through her dense prose because much of it is making me sick with worry. I feel like an old time fortune teller because everything that I learned in the book is relevant to the Trump administration. Anyway, somewhere deep in her book she begins to talk about how Totalitarianism creeps in without the population's awareness or recognition. I strongly suggest reading this book yourself. I hope you will take time with every word. In the meantime, let me try to clarify what I think is important to understand in this moment. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Totalitarianism

Hitler warped reality for the Germans by using propaganda, symbolism, terror, concentration camps, shame and racism, along with dishonesty and violence. He pretended to care about the working man and woman, the underdog, and he aligned himself with other despots and liars. Education in all forms became not only a luxury, but it became something degrading and negative. The press and literacy became the enemy, so reality became a matter of debate, discussion, and skepticism. Warping reality serves to rip away trust and unity in society, creating a sense of confusion, supporting a rhetoric of aggression. This rhetoric of aggression serves to heighten tensions and stress (even in personal relationships), validating arguments that are essentially destructive and divisive. 

While people are living in this state of confusion and distrust, violence and chaos become more acceptable and frequent. Facts slip away. Society searches for truth by indulging in petty arguments and blundering around in confusion. Meanwhile, Totalitarianism is seeping into the social cracks. She wrote many pages on this subject of reality and confusion. And here we are quite confused arguing about whether or not children are drinking from toilets while living in cages, whether or not they are going hungry, or are ripped from their parents. We are arguing about whether or not the planet will be habitable in 50 years when we can clearly see that if we do nothing the die-off will overwhelm our souls and plunge us into a psychic darkness. We are arguing about science that is settled and factual. We are arguing in the face of science and allowing our government to dismiss this science as if it were some kind of fabricated theory while the evidence exists all around us. People are so confused they are literally becoming fanatically religious because of fear and doubt; somehow the supernatural becomes more reliable than everyday reality.

Arendt would say that Trump is a symbol, a caricature of Totalitarianism; he represents the future if we don't reclaim our reality and stomp out the kind of power he will extend. He is like a nasty seed, and we don't have time for him and his hatchlings because truth is on its way, a truth that will provide a rich ground for the growth of a more frightening and destructive form of Totalitarianism than we have yet to see in any society. With climate change will come massive disasters, resulting in the loss of national worth by depleting our resources and producing roaming populations of climate refugees. This is what they are striving for...a dark and selfish future that will allow for many helpless people to die out in floods and droughts, or to starve in famines while they attempt to build and buy their way out of the consequences of inaction and greed. Help will take years to arrive, and isolated communities will die out. Death due to neglect is just another symptom of Totalitarianism. 

We know what is real. All we have to do is communicate stronger, harder, clearer, and better. We are not communicating the coming catastrophe in a strong enough way. We are pretending that we will always have a voice even in the midst of a climate emergency. Even now, on the cusp of disaster, our voice is already muted and weak. 

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Raw Writing: Thoughts on a Cold Saskatchewan Night and Climate Change

Falling down the stairs and jamming my foot under the metal bookcase reaffirmed my belief in my lack of grace and physical talent. The fact that I’m having trouble typing this proves I’ve been lazy about writing since I finished up grad school. The humiliating trip to Macy’s today for interview clothes did nothing for me except lower my self-esteem. When I read the news, I can’t decide what depresses me more, the dead immigrants washed along the shore of the Rio Grande, or the mestizo children without blankets, toys, toothpaste, or soap. Maybe the picture of the mountain lion in the LA Times hurts me because I know it will probably become extinct, a victim of my exhaust pipe and the electricity that I burn. Maybe I know that the immigrants are no luckier than the mountain lions. Maybe I know that my own luck is worn thin.

Years ago, a kind and clueless fellow traveler that I spent some of my valuable free time with suggested that I was depressed and that I might need some prescription pills to balance me out. If I took pills, he theorized, I wouldn’t get so upset about whatever it is that I sit around and read and think about. According to him, I could have more fun because I wouldn’t be so serious. I told him, while I was sitting amidst a large circle of newspapers and books, that the only thing that really depressed me was his lack of interest in anything important, letting the argument dwindle into the growing bank account of relationship resentment. A few days later, fueled by impatience and anger, I found myself walking away from my friend in the cold Saskatchewan winter dressed in little more than a short black dress and plastic boots, my knees shivering, but my lips mashed together in determined silence. As the cold wind slammed ice pellets into the bare skin of my neck and face, I vowed to never speak to him again; I never did. I walked past the parliament buildings, the ice rink, and piles of snow oblivious to my own watershed moment. Even though I felt alone and misunderstood, I felt like something important was imminent.

I pointed my nose back south some weeks later in search of something meaningful, and I never navigated north again. In other words, I became different because of my experience with triviality and my struggle against its temptations and misleading messages. I became an avid onlooker and less a flirtatious socialite. In fact, much of what had once meant something seemed to suddenly mean nothing. I looked back on the moments in my old life, the times when I thought I was standing up for something like family or friendships, and I realized I was just standing there by myself like some statue in a park. But even worse, I realized that even if everything in my reality was normal and happy, it could still ultimately lead to nothing.

My awareness of superficiality only deepens as world problems become more complex and out of control. Climate change is the watershed moment for everyone. If people refuse to join together in an effort to abate this catastrophe, then we will all be facing a collective version of our snowy night alone on a freezing street. The closed government buildings, the passing cars, the kissing couples dressed in furs, the scrunching of cheap plastic boots across an icy street, all of it will be the height of nothing. No one will be here to remember even one starry night of any of this. No one will be able to help us.

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An Appeal to Politicians Everywhere as We Begin to Experience the Horrors of Climate Change

This morning a red cardinal pecked away at the feeder hanging in my patio bird habitat. As I drove off to work, I thought about the delicate bones and feathers, the lightweight and aerodynamic body of the bird, and the interesting fact that birds are not hierarchical. In other words, the bird is never going to worship me the way my dog does because he doesn’t consider me above him. Birds, even though they are afraid of us, consider us rather beneath them. If you take something from your pet bird, he or she might pick a fight with you in an effort to take the perceived personal property straight back.  

But they can’t take back the world from us, the world that heats up a bit each year, smashing weather records causing species to die off. Most of us never take the time to think about the enormous amount of death caused by climate change. When species disappear, they leave a void in the ecosystem that they formerly populated, affecting the entire food chain. But even if, as amateur scientists and hobby writers, we understand this loss in its functional sense, the loss of a food source, most of us fail to realize how heartbroken we will be when commonplace animals and insects cease to exist.

Today, as I drove to my job, I thought about how much I love my little bird area and the interesting, verbally affluent characters that visit it each day for seeds and water. I also thought about what my patio area would look like without my colorful, feathered, and noisy little friends. Birds aside, we will soon experience the loss of polar bears in the wild, and when they go, the ecosystem will suffer in ways that we can yet understand. The suffering they now endure is painful to watch.

I hope we, as sentient beings fully capable of measuring and critiquing our effects on the environment, begin to analyze the consequences of failing to mitigate the horrors ahead of us if we continue to burn fossil fuels unabated. As a connected world, we will be able to view these tragedies, these heartbreaking cataclysmic moments, as they occur. It is time we felt a connection, and some kind of empathy, to our natural world.

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Human Caused Climate Change and Human Extinction: Is it Possible?

 

            The book, “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” written by David Wallace-Wells (writer for New York Magazine), dishes up a frightening dose of climate reality including analysis pertaining to why the muted message to the public hampers progress and endangers innocent people living in developing countries. A few chapters into the book, I became deeply disappointed in my local Houston, Texas, news channels and media outlets because of the completely silent response to our own regional climate change reality and the continuous and mindless focus on junk entertainment. Reading the book in its entirety, and then reflecting on its frightening but well-supported material, rearranged my own personal priorities about the natural world. I feel as if we need to start ignoring junk entertainment and news and start focusing on how to solve the climate problem.

            The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) meets periodically to measure the effects of climate change on people in developing countries, and, sadly, even though third world peoples clearly impose the tiniest fraction of a fraction of carbon imprint, they will, according to data and recent experience, undoubtedly, suffer the most. Bangladeshi is a prime example of how climate change will create millions of refugees with no place to go and no means to get there. As coastlines disappear, along with vegetation and available farming land, people will die and starve.

            This is happening now, but I am hearing more about Beyonce’s new film and other fluff than the atrocities happening in vulnerable communities (Houston, her hometown, is extremely vulnerable). Media, and this includes stars and personalities, must begin to raise awareness and cultivate an ongoing conversation that informs and educates because big corporations and big oil have been doing their best to suppress the truth about climate change. Besides, selfish media personalities and vainglorious politicians will soon look extremely silly, evil, and ill-informed at this crucial point in history. People will begin to see that they have been scammed by a rich elite that believes they can build and buy their way out of the deleterious and calamitous effects of climate change. Believe me, this is not going to work for them. Life, life as we understand it, is on the edge of extinction. But instead of a dose of reality, all we get is a tremendous amount of butt wiggling and hair tossing, stuff I can do without. If someone wants to butt wiggle and hair toss to raise money for Bangladesh, then I am good with that because at least some people would have food and shelter while raising awareness about this disaster that will undoubtedly wipe out huge swaths of life on our planet. Once you begin to look down the barrel of climate change in a realistic way, then other problems in life like phony people at work and vacay plans seem superficial in a profoundly sad and shocking way.

I encourage everyone to read the climate change science and help spread the word while finding ways to limit your own carbon footprint.

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Emergency! Become Aware of the Creeping Consequences of Neoliberal Policy and Learn how to Fight Back 💲

            American parents and students must become aware of how neoliberal values creep into schools and negatively affect the quality of learning. Marketplace ideologies warp education because schools spend billions on test prep and curriculum materials that fail to regard student locality and culture. The “one-size-fits-all” approach to education supports the neoliberal agenda by ensuring that an oppressed underclass will always be available for cheap labor.

            Parents and students need a working definition of neoliberalism so that talking heads such as Sean Hannity can’t deceive them by twisting words such as “socialism” and redefining such words to fit the sneaky neoliberal motive: The removal of all public safety nets and the complete privatization of all pubic resources.

            This economic model has nothing to do with “liberalism” as commonly understood. Rather, neoliberals are generally politically conservative and are always decrying the evils of socialism, even though shared public resources do not equate to socialism and have always been a staple of free enterprise and capitalism. Neoliberals reject any restrictions or regulations on business no matter the human or environmental cost. Neoliberalism’s marketplace theory supports the complete removal or privatization of all public safety nets including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act.

            Neoliberals wish to privatize and profit from everything that is currently remaining in the public sector: National parks, existing state and federal roadways, libraries, remaining public utilities, federal lands, public schools and colleges, and any other form of shared public ownership that is intended to benefit all people in a democracy. NOTE: Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell exemplify neoliberalism in all of its greed, corporate welfare, and sneakiness.

            Neoliberalism’s parameters exist worldwide, as the creeping takeover of publicly owned enterprises means these institutions become corporate entities intended to serve the interests of profit and not people. This results in the bottom line, the profit margin, becoming more important than the quality of services rendered to the public. This is how teacher quality and educational access are affected.

            As we monitor the growing spectacle of neoliberalism, and the decay of all public goods and services, schools fight to hire the best educated teachers. But, because of neoliberal austerity policies, they have no budget to attract top talent. Colleges and universities cut funding to writing programs and bend to the will of corporate interests in an effort to meet tight budgets. An explosion of adjunct positions and dual credit courses intended to offset the consequences of neoliberal austerity measures have destroyed countless professional teaching careers, undermining education at all levels.

             Undervaluing the teaching community and ignoring school culture interferes with student ability to critique, write, and practice democracy. If students and teachers become critical thinkers and resist the regressive and punitive policies associated with neoliberalism, then neoliberal politics can no longer continue to infect all corners of our democracy and can no longer continue to profit from human suffering.    

Following is a list of books and articles that can aid in your understanding of neoliberalism as it pertains to education and the destruction of democracy.

For everyday people beginning to become aware of neoliberalism, this book works as an introduction.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. New York, Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2007.

If you are an academic and you are beginning to recognize the symptoms of neoliberalism in your own career or institution, this book can help you understand what is happening.

Giroux, Henry A. Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Pbk, ed., Chicago, Haymarket Books, 2014.

For writing teachers at all levels, this book of excellent academic articles can help you see what is happening in your classroom because of neoliberal economic policies. You will learn how your class is connected to the building of a democratic society, and how neoliberal policy is preventing you from fulfilling your pledge to your students.

Welch, Nancy, and Tony Scott. Composition in the Age of Austerity. Logan, Utah State UP, 2016.

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Fake Apologies, Cowards, and Nothing Burgers

            Fake apologies, the stuff of cowards, come from a place of deficit. Usually the person doing the apologizing fears some kind of a loss, such as a sports contract, a job or bonus, or some position of privilege. They may even consider the recipients of the apology not an intellectual equal, so hubris and arrogance override good old common sense. If someone is giving you a fake apology in front of a camera, during a recording, in front of your boss, or some other “staged” moment in time, consider it a nothing burger.

            A true apology takes incredible courage, and it often comes at a huge personal cost. Someone has to admit that they have been weird, rude, or threatening, or that they have cheated or lied about something. The words must be chosen carefully. For example, if someone tells you that it isn’t their intention to make anyone “uncomfortable” then you can bet that they are lying while apologizing. Of course, when someone is screaming at you across a crowded room, exerting their white male presence, and acting like a sexist idiot, then the full intention is to make you feel “uncomfortable.” The person issuing the apology should at least be courageous enough to admit what they did. This apology is clearly a total nothing burger.

            An “authentic” (a word usually overused by fake people but used now in the spirit of jest) apology, at least between people and not institutions, can be done with a card, or in a private moment. A vow to undo whatever harm has been done is usually paired with a sincere apology.

            People of courage typically apologize with sincere remorse and will fully confess to whatever it is that they have done to hurt someone else. Cowards will stage some kind of a fake apology and offer you a nothing burger thinking that you are dumb enough to accept it. Cowards tend to gather in groups, so you might experience backlash if you fail to accept a cowardly and insincere apology. Remember, cowards know they are cowards, and they actually live with this shame day in and day out. They are recognizable to one another, and this fearful condition, this lack of courage and sincerity, programs itself into the fabric of their everyday lives. Because of this, they trust no one, and a plastic and superficial life is all that they know. They skip from one cowardly incident to another, randomly hurting the people they interact with, handing out nothing burgers right and left.

            Bill Clinton might be the daddy of them all when it comes to handing out the nothing burger. In his apology to the American public after the Lewinsky scandal, he admitted to his sexual peccadillo, but he soft pedaled the enormous lie that he told: “I never had sex with that woman.”

            We all know that he told this lie out of fear so he could keep serving the interests of American politics, but we also know that every single one of his apologies were just a huge order of nothing burgers. When Clinton realized that he was caught and he had no way to cover up the peccadillo, he should have volunteered the truth and mixed that with a sincere apology (I’m just kidding).

The most tragic thing to come of the nothing burger is the unwitting people it involves. Without putting much thought into anything, an unwitting person might say that you should accept a nothing burger and move on with your life. But moving on without expecting sincerity enables the coward to feel courageous about a couple of dangerous things: hurting the same person again, or simply finding a new person to hurt. A cabal of cowards can exist institutionally because they’ve been allowed to hand out nothing burgers as a matter of tradition. When cowards begin to think that their behavior is acceptable, then they are willing to go further.

            Apologizing is hard work, and it does take effort and courage. But when you’ve apologized for the damage that you’ve done, other courageous acts become easier. Apologizing cleanses the soul, clears the air, and creates lasting bonds of respect and humility. Handing out nothing burgers to the people you have hurt proves you are just a coward.

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Narratives of Negativity: When they obscure the positive

It was the new millennium and my mother's fight with cancer channeled itself to its predictable, unfortunate ending. My child was not yet walking, but he sometimes pulled himself up on a plastic storage tub, yelling and screaming, beating his little fists on the lid for attention while I walked my mother back to the bathroom and then returned her to her comfortable place on the battered, sunroom couch. The routines of care-taking became meaningful, transcendental and comfortable. I had begun to imagine something spiritual beyond those precious days as they counted down to a death that would end a chapter in my hectic and frightening life. I sat in the entry hall in one of the cat-clawed wicker chairs and stared ahead thinking apprehensively about what would happen once my role as caretaker closed and the heavy front door opened into a new life without my mother.

My sister had cleaned out the safety deposit box, hoarding Mother's jewelry, and then hocking it off to some hick town jeweler so that she could pay my nephew's law school bills. Meanwhile, I was busy in my short jaunts away from the house visiting resale shops so I could buy back the family heirlooms that my drug-addicted brother had sold off to make his own ends meet. The "things" of my family's shared life meant much less than the stories that bound us together, the intriguing family legends about half-brothers in foreign countries and Dad's mysterious volunteer work with a bulldozer in some Amazonian rain forest. But some of our family stories were paired with painful realities and outrageous falsehoods, the narratives of selfishness and jealousy. 

One of the most damaging falsehoods concerned my brother, a man that returned from Vietnam with classic symptoms of PTSD. Post traumatic stress syndrome passes easily from one person to the next, and I, as a preteen, found an escape from my brother's rages and paranoia by walking to the library and spending the day under its modern air conditioning and quietly structured rows of books and magazines. The busy librarians ignored me, and I had the run of the place every summer day, poking in shelves, checking out books, thumbing through difficult academic journals, and listening to audiotapes. I was a late comer to the love of reading because I had been placed in the Follow-Through Program, a federal experiment on children from poverty. Once my mother realized I wasn't in a "regular" first grade class, she had me pulled from Follow-Through, and I was an entire semester behind my classmates.

My fascination with learning screeched to a stop when it came to math, but I struggled on with reading, even getting a black eye when my mother, overwhelmed from long hours at work and mental frustration, hit me in the face with a book. That night she came home with a wind up toy, a small furry dog that chased a ball on a string, around and around. Not long after, she came home with a real dog stuffed in the cavern of her huge purse, and I was besotted with love. Several years later, a speeding car struck my little dog because it had squeezed out under the fence to join me with my friends across the street. It died on the curb, and my mother held me as I sobbed.

Much has been said about my mother, and some of it is not that positive. But the narratives of negativity have no real basis in fact, and they are constructed from malice and a desire to control the family narrative. Without my mother's multiplication tables game, I would never have passed fourth grade math. Had she not taken down all of my childish wall hangings and put metal bookshelves in my room, if she hadn't signed me up for the book club, had she not filled those spaces with books and MAD magazines, word search puzzles, and Highlight Magazine, I wouldn't have a college degree of any kind. I remember complaining to my brother about one of my teachers, and his response was not what I expected. He typically took my side on things, and he tended to love me through his haze of anger and addiction. When he told me that my problem with my teacher was a problem with myself, I was shocked. He was right. It didn't really matter whether I "liked" my teacher or not--it only mattered that I learn everything I could from my teacher. His tough stance with me enabled me to open my mind to the ideas of other people. 

They both passed away within months of each other, but they left me with enough wisdom to move on and live a fascinating and fun-filled life. I feel sorry for the people that avoided my mother and my brother because of the negative narratives they had been subjected to. I also pity the source of these narratives because they are an example of how hate and narrow-mindedness constructs an alternate reality that is untrue and negative. 

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Why Visiting Craigslist Can Lead to a New Relationship

    

    For the first, and only time in my life, I clicked around on Craigslist and ended up in a new love affair. The object of my affection is a two-year old parrot-like little bird with glossy green, red, and blue feathers, a Conure. I adopted him from a sweet little lady in Willis that lives in a bona-fide ‘tiny’ home. Her daughter and two grand-children were about to occupy the empty space in her front yard in a trailer, and this meant that she felt uncomfortable keeping the little bird with so much going on. I agree with PETA, birds are meant to fly and not climb around in cages, so I am happy that I adopted my feathered friend and didn’t buy. He should be able to live in good health for at least 18 more years, so that means he might actually outlive me if he doesn’t have an accident or illness.

    His previous pet-parent explained that my bird takes a bath every day, and I felt skeptical about her claim until I saw his enthusiastic scrubbing in his cereal-bowl-sized, stainless bath tub. He started out by dipping his little neck and face, scrubbing and plucking, and then he jumped in and did a full body wash—he looked so serious and sweet splish-splashing around. I think he felt a little chill after bathing, sitting on his perch with his feathers all poofed out. He looked like a big feathery and glowing, dignified, green ball with a sense of pride and vanity. But then after drying a bit, he started jumping around and squawking like he always does. I carried his cage out to a sunny place on the porch, and he stood on his perch with his eyes closed just soaking in the sun like he was dreaming of some faraway beach or tropical paradise.

   
    He has a name, but I haven’t been able to determine whether or not he is actually answering to it, but I do know that I’ve already spoiled him. He likes fruit and leafy greens, fresh. And if he doesn’t get his treats early in the morning he squawks and fusses at the top of his lungs. Sometimes at night he feels grumpy. His bedtime is early, by nine. Last night I tried to lure him out of his habitat and onto my hand, but he bit down on my finger as hard as he could, wiggling his jaw to make sure it hurt. I realized he was just tired and wanted me to leave him alone. He is adorable and sweet, and I couldn't have found a better relationship clicking around on Craigslist. But I'm not doing it again!

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Writing Assessment: Why are we doing this to our students?

The neoliberal approach to education, an approach that bases itself in austerity and cruelty, is rooted in the test and punish cycle. Students are sorted by scores and data, rather than interests and talent. Writing, with its connections to personal style and background knowledge, should never be judged by a standardized test. Teachers that never write anything more than the odd email are charged with teaching basic writing techniques in a pedagogy that is eerily similar to the rejected and formulaic Current-Traditional Rhetoric, known simply as CTR. A top-down, managerial type teaching style is noted by critical theorist Paulo Freire as the "banking model of education" a form of pedagogy that privileges the teacher over the student and "deposits" information into an otherwise empty receptacle. The "banking model" oppresses the student by not providing them with an opportunity to experience the joy of altering reality with a problem-posing pedagogy. The "banking model" suggests that reality is fixed and static.

Peter Elbow points out that three types of assessment exist. In order to better understand why one method of assessment is superior, we have to analyze why writers write in the first place. First of all, people write to salvage something from their soul, especially when they are hurting. From this kind of misery, poetry and short stories are born, along with essays and critical, pithy statements. Transmitting messages and exploring modes of creativity typically arise out of exploratory pieces, and these exploratory pieces bare a connection to some travail in life. Storytelling comes from a well-ordered mind that aims to share a moral or idea. No one writes against their will unless it is for a standardized test. This kind of writing, because of its oppressive nature, fails to measure talent or purpose. 

Elbow, in an essay in College English, observes that gauging a piece of writing on its validity and effectiveness are the most common measures in a typical classroom. His problem with this type of assessment is that it fails to allow for how the piece makes the reader feel. Elbow argues that how the words make the reader feel is the highest form of assessment. If the purpose for writing is not left to the student, then even a well-written piece really demonstrates nothing but an ability to adhere to mechanics and form. Even assigning a particular genre to the student waters down the joy of writing, inhibiting the flow of ideas and artistry.

Obviously, the way we teach writing must change. Our students are actually writing more than ever on social media posts and electronic message boards. Self-publishing is common and apps allow for writers of all levels to share ideas and self-promote. The quality of these communications matter to our democratic society. Unless we are able to concisely explain our positions with clarity, we remain vulnerable to those who want to exploit us. Working to weed out the neoliberal test and punish cycle from the English classroom must become a priority. Neoliberals have no desire to teach civil discourse or share power. They would prefer that our students remain as spectators to democracy, rather than grow into strong individuals with an ability to transform reality.

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A Few Reasons Why Standardized Testing is Creating a Crisis in Literacy

I'd like to ignore the neoliberal industry that now manages test prep, curriculum materials, and software packages. But I find it impossible to look away from the glossy, well packaged and unlimited amount of stuff that basically manages compliance with all of the so-called reform strategies that crept out of the hideous test and punish culture of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The revenue numbers and profit margins connected with the test and punish culture are astronomical. Even Obama doubled down on the test and punish gold mine to the horror of public school advocates. According to Education Market Watch, Pearson recorded 1.5Billion in revenue for 2017. This is money they are making off of the misery of millions of impoverished and underfunded school children. Most parents are not even aware that the test and punish cycle is a profit-driven machine supported by lucrative businesses with high level marketing and political lobbyists. Because of that, we may never live to see its demise; unfortunately, the negative effects are more pronounced in children of color and children of poverty, the most powerless and voiceless members of our society. 

Test prep, and the test and punish cycle, might be appropriate for some subjects such as biology, history, and math, but literacy is something quite personal and individualized. 

Let me list a few reasons why accountability-based standardized testing interferes with literacy.

  1. A dialogic classroom that focuses on local problems, issues, themes, and events is impossible because of the stale and static content of test prep material and the invasive nature of the test itself. Engaging points of discourse are sacrificed on the altar of accountability. Teachers are forced to introduce materials and standards that sanction a stripped down curriculum, and exploratory and expressivist writing is replaced by something that mimics the old Current-Traditional Rhetoric (CTR). CTR rejects a writing to learn approach, and focuses on correctness. However, even CTR didn't bastardize the essay form like the test prep culture does today. Typically, especially in schools that are labeled underperforming, students are taught to forego an introduction and just plunk in a broad and generalized thesis statement at the beginning of the essay. This creates confusion for young writers. Because of this confusion and because the test is so important to the school, some teachers never get around to teaching any other essay genre other than test-prep. How to really write an essay is never covered. How to write for a variety of purposes is usually only blushed over. Countless hours of classroom instructional time is wasted on teaching students how to write or type a nonacademic and disconnected, formulaic and uninteresting, piece of writing. 
  2. Doing away with context, both in the introduction of an essay and in the student's community, has a way of creating a passive learner. Someone that is forced to passively accept a formulaic, top-down strategy for something as democratic as writing is easier to control but harder to educate. Learning happens as we actively construct and change our reality. Writing enables us to view our thinking as others would see it and develop our style and voice. The top-down and one-size-fits-all test and punish culture erases this process with its need for duplication and stratification. 
  3. Marketed software packages insert control into the English classroom. By forcing students to spend hours responding to drill and kill type exercises via software and prepackaged materials, teachers are excluded from the creative process. These repetitive and joyless kinds of activities cause students to despise their own personal journey into literacy, a journey that should be individualized and sacred. Not only that, these kinds of packages deprofessionalize the act of teaching literacy because almost anyone can present test prep. Even though this is the least effective route to literacy, and millions of dollars in research proves that a qualified, professional teacher is the key to success, districts are spending millions on these products.

Next time I write on this subject, I am going to talk about two types of writing assessment. The least effective type is the rubric style used by the test and punish culture. I will explain why rubrics, while they are good for some basic writing efforts, are harmful to the beginner writer. 

Just to sum this all up, poverty is the problem. Neoliberal economic policy devalues human discourse and intellect, and it places an inordinate amount of importance on market-based principles. Neoliberal economic policy is not about the word "liberal." It is not about whether or not someone is a liberal. Neoliberal economic policy strives to dominate all aspects of culture and market everything to the highest bidder. In education, neoliberal policy doesn't care about civil discourse or civic duty. The object is to make workers out of everyone, and make sure the poor continue to have no access to power. Unless we can teach our students how to access democracy and become relevant (and, as you know, literacy is the key), our way of life will be lost. Everything we own as a society will be privatized and auctioned off. Think about that.

 


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Moonlight Ramble 2018: Better than EVER 🐾🚴🏼‍♀️🔱👻

Last night we loaded up the bike, the dogs, and the dog trailer and headed over to Houston for the big Moonlight Ramble. We met up with hundreds of other cyclists at Saint Arnold's Brewery for a costume and bike contest, and then we hit the road at midnight on the most challenging ride ever! It was challenging for me because I haven't been training, and dragging Bill and Bob in the trailer added at least 50 pounds to my load.

We went up and down a few freeway interchanges and I literally thought I had downshifted to the last gear on a couple of hills. Other people zoomed by me as I struggled to pedal my load of dogs up the hill, and I was starting to worry about my Trek bike since I haven't taken it in for a service in at least a year. We made it through the rough part, at least initially--but not everyone. Some lady on a pink street bike with lights blinking all over the wheels wiped out right in front of me and went over the curb divider on one of those little uphill struggles. 

I hated to see that, but not as much as I hated to see those little hills. Last year was literally the easiest ride ever, level road, and it was a short ride too, only about 10 miles. This year was quite the workout...I rode 16 miles in 1 hour and 40 minutes and that includes a break at Houston Community College. 

I did get behind the main group of riders, and I did decide to take the short route. The short route and losing sight of my fellow cyclists meant that I actually got lost on the way back. This not only added distance to my ride, but it also added a ton of anxiety. I was somewhere on Canal Street in an unfamiliar area, and literally nobody was around except one other lost cyclist dressed in a skeleton mask and a creepy white onesie. 

I never did get back on the right route because I couldn't keep up with the guy in the skeleton mask because of the dog trailer. I ended up running into one of the ride organizers on Jensen Street and he told me how to get back to Saint Arnold's Brewery. He politely told me what to do, but I felt like he was secretly amused by my predicament.

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The Wonderful Beer Garden at Saint Arnold's! They really welcomed us with red carpet service!

 

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Such a cute, scary couple! ❤️👻

 

I really wasn't going to go to last night's Moonlight Ramble, but my son and his friend volunteered to help me with all of the equipment and the dogs, and they scolded me for "being bummed out." I am so lucky to have such wonderful young people in my life--they grabbed their skateboards, and away we went. It was a fun night that I will never forget! Thank you Houston!

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Bob and Bill waiting to ride!

 

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This bike played music!!!

 

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I'm not sure, but I think this group won a costume prize!