Trump and language…hint: language matter

Part of my job is to analyze language. Students need to understand their own use of language in order to become better writers, and my role is to help them with that process. They also need to understand how authors use language to convey their ideas, so we spend a great deal of time analyzing how authors use literary devices such as diction, syntax, structure and figurative language to convey meaning.

Let’s take something easy and famous as an example. In the poem “The Road Not Taken” (*see below) by Robert Frost, my students will analyze the significance of fact that Frost only uses one exclamation point, and they will be able to tell you why he might have made that particular choice on that particular line. They will also be able to tell you why the poem is called “The Road Not Taken,” rather than something about the road he did take. If the road the speaker took was so important to him that “it has made all the difference,” why is the road he didn’t actually take the one he references in the title?**

Come to my classes, and watch as students are able to articulate complex ideas and thoughts like that with insight and sophistication.

I can’t help but wonder what my students (past and present) are thinking of Trump’s use of rhetoric right now.

Let’s deal with only a small part of Trump’s most recent gaffe: He says, “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything….Grab them by the – – – – -. You can do anything.”***

If my classes and I discussed this excerpt (which we won’t be doing, by the way), to start the discussion, I would ask them something like this: “What’s the most significant word in that section?” It’s a low-level starting point, which is often what starting points need to be.

I’m not a gambler, but I’d still bet that someone would say that the word “grab” is the most significant. There’s another word in there that’s also incredibly important, but it’s a noun, and verbs are often a better choice when discussing rhetoric.

So let’s go with “grab.” When and in what situations is that word used? We’d start there.

“Grab” is a harsh word. You might grab a gun if you needed to defend yourself, but you wouldn’t grab a gun that was sitting on display in a store, for example. You’d grab a child who was starting to run in front of traffic, but you wouldn’t grab a child to snuggle him and read him a bedtime story. You might grab your purse if you’re late for work, but you wouldn’t grab your pearl necklace for a fancy dinner, even if you’re late.

I could go on and on, and so could my students. The point is that the word “grab” often implies some degree of violence or being rushed or scared. It implies emotion, but generally not love or intimacy or any degree of tenderness.

It might also imply carelessness. You might grab a bite to eat at McDonalds, but not at Le Bernardin. You might grab a shower when you get home from work, but you wouldn’t attempt to grab a bath for your eight-month-old baby. You might grab a cup of coffee on the way to work, but you wouldn’t do so on a first date.

Why would Trump “grab” any part of a woman’s body? Would he need to actually “grab” anything if the women truly “let” him do “anything,” as he stated they do—presumably because he’s so rich and all? And why, if he’s going to grab something, would it be that particular part of the body?

I’m not answering those questions for you, but some of my students probably are answering them for themselves.

Language matters. And the patterns of a person’s language matter even more.

___________________________________

** I could completely digress about the fact that the speaker in a poem doesn’t title the poem, the author does that. So what’s probably going on in “The Road Not Taken” is that Frost, who titled the poem, is gently mocking the speaker of the poem.

***This blog is already too long, but I’d love to analyze his use of the words “can” and “let.”

  • The Road Not Taken

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
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Oppressed? Liberation Through Dialogue!

With the AZ special election (including Prop 123) right around the corner next Tuesday May 17, I have been amazed by the frenzy of discussion and busyness accompanying this important state decision. People seem to agree that education needs more funding–but disagree about solutions. As I watch everyone scramble around with so much at stake, I feel a little bit powerless at times. I’ve been thinking about Pedagogy of the Oppressed. In Chapter 4, Paulo Freire describes some strategies that oppressors use to keep the people busy, disorganized, divided. Sure, Freire was writing about liberating non-literate people in Brazil–and it might be a stretch to call educators in Arizona “oppressed”–but there are some things in Freire’s work that make me raise my eyebrows. If there are powerful people trying to divide us on purpose (and I believe that there are), I think Freire has some insight that will make you raise your eyebrows, too.

According to Freire, one method of creating ongoing oppression is a strategy called “Divide and Rule” (Chapter 4). Here is an abbreviated* excerpt:

“As the oppressor minority subordinates and dominates the majority, it must divide it and keep it divided in order to remain in power…Accordingly, the oppressors halt by any method (including violence) any action which in even incipient fashion could awaken the oppressed to the need for unity…It is in the interest of the oppressor to weaken the oppressed still farther, to isolate them, to create and deepen rifts among them…One of the characteristics of oppressive cultural action…is the emphasis on a focalized view of problems rather than on seeing them as dimensions of a totality…And the more alienated people are, the easier it is to divide them and keep them divided. These focalized forms of action…hamper the oppressed from perceiving reality critically and keep them isolated from the problems of oppressed women and men in other areas.”

Sound like something you are witnessing in the dialogue around you? Are we being divided by current issues? Are we isolated by differing opinions? As Chris Marsh wrote last month, divided we will fall. It seems to me that educators (and those who care about education) are being divided and kept very, very busy with focalized problems that keep us from unifying about bigger issues. I heard that most school districts had no choice but to create multiple budgets depending on whether Prop 123 passes or fails. Talk about being divided and kept busy! The bigger issue here? Funding for education in Arizona. And we need to unify.

If we are in fact oppressed, Freire has advice for us: “The harmony of the oppressed is only possible when its members are engaged in the struggle for liberation…Unity and organization can enable them to change their weakness into a transforming force with which they can re-create the world and make it more human.” If this is a battle, we need to understand the tactics of our enemies and make our own plans to protect, preserve, and restore the education we believe Arizona children deserve.

Freire writes about liberation through dialogue, and that’s exactly what I think we should do. Right now, everyone is talking about schools and school funding. Here are my thoughts: Don’t spend your time telling others whether to vote yes or no about Prop 123. Instead, tell the stories about the need for funding of your school(s)! Tell stories that will stick with them as they read or watch information about Prop 123 and make their own educated decision. Stories about kids in schools are what matter. Tell the stories about the supplies you don’t have, the extra students you do have, the dramatic cuts you have seen in your local school, the vacant positions (or long term subs!), the working conditions, and the exhausting lengths that you and your administrators have taken to keep classrooms running without the funding kids deserve. Make sure to mention how these cuts have affected the kids–and keep the focus there. If someone asks you about salaries, don’t be fooled into talking about how much money you make and don’t make. Instead, talk about how salaries affect staff retention, how staff retention affects school culture, and how disruptions in school culture negatively affects student learning over time. Yes, take them there. Keep the focus on the kids. It keeps us all unified in our goal to make things better for children. Having common goals makes us strong. Really strong.

Together, we need to unify with one voice demanding funding for education in Arizona. And after all the votes are cast, don’t let the dialogue stop there. Keep the momentum going in the community so that improved school funding can become a reality. Also, don’t miss the “Unity after Prop 123” rally that is being organized to bring us all together to discuss next steps for education in our state. #nowitstarts

*Note: I reduced the text a bit for brevity’s sake, but you can find the entire Chapter here: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon2/pedagogy/pedagogychapter4.html or purchase this wonderfully interesting book in a local/online bookstore)

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Things people could say if they’re against Prop. 123…

People are asking me exactly what they should say to their legislators and Ducey if they are against Prop. 123, so listed below are some ideas. And, please, there are a lot of knowledgable people who follow this page/blog, and I am asking you to add to the list in the comment section.

(As a side note: I cannot and will not tell people how to vote, but I can remind people that our schools are already in financial crisis and to please consider that while making what is a very important decision that will have significant consequences either way).

And remember two things: keep your email as short as possible and it’s very important that your email does not sound like it’s a  bulk email, so if you can, personalize the ideas I have listed below. (With that said, if you’re struggling with composing your own email, feel free to cut and paste anything below. It’s better to send what might appear to be a form-email than to not say/send anything at all.)

In the list below, numbers 4 and 5 are my personal favorites, by the way.

1. I value our public schools too much to vote for them getting only 72 cents on each dollar that’s owed to them.

2. Stealing from our children’s future to fund schools now is just not something I can do. I value my grand children’s future as much as I value my children’s future.

3. The built-in triggers are potentially too destructive.

4. I haven’t seen  any evidence of plans for additional funding. This is supposed to be “the first step.” Where are the other steps?

5. The legislature proved their intent for the future of education through the ESA/voucher bills they initiated this session. I have a serious problem with past-due inflation dollars going to private schools.

6. The Republican leadership has shown that it prioritizes tax cuts over adequately funding education, and I have a problem with raiding the trust land in order to facilitate funding those tax cuts.

Thank you, folks, for the interest. The open letter that I posted has gotten a ton of traffic. It’s been shared on various pages over 200 times (that’s of the postings I can actually see; I can’t see “shares” from pages that are completely private or from people who aren’t FB “Friends” with me).

Let’s stay ahead of the false narrative that will hit if Prop. 123 fails. Please. Double please. Please with a cherry on top.

But let’s also stay ahead of the narrative if it passes. Contact your elected officials even if you’re voting “yes.” Please, please with a cherry on top.

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Open letter to those opposed to Prop. 123

To all of the folks who are voting “No” on Prop. 123,

In case people don’t read to the end (but read to the end), if you are voting against Prop. 123, contact your legislators and the governor and tell them why. If Prop. 123 fails, the false narrative from our legislators and the governor will likely be something along the lines of this: “SEE?! We knew that the public didn’t care about public education. And this proves it.” (links are at the bottom)

As a teacher in the trenches, I have to wonder where the public has been for the past six years. Education has been left to languish in the bottom of the nation for many years. We have the worst funding in the entire nation, and we’re over $3000 per student per year below the national average (we’re about $15,000 below the states that fund their public education the best/highest).

We also have the lowest administrative costs in the nation, the highest class sizes in the nation, and we’re in the bottom four states for what we pay teachers.

We already have a teacher shortage, and with roughly 30% of our state’s teachers retiring in the next five years, we’re reaching crisis proportions. In many districts, it’s already a crisis.

As a teacher, I feel abandoned by the public. You can say, “I didn’t cause this. I’ve voted for education-friendly people.” But that doesn’t change the fact that the majority of the voting public has continued to elect legislators and other politicians who do not care about public education (as evidenced by their willingness to starve public schools).

Now, when we have a bit of light (meaning—yes—money) coming our way, the public that has essentially abandoned us for the past many years wants to extinguish it by killing Prop. 123.

You do realize that we’re in this mess because of the way Arizonans voted (or apathetically skipped voting) in 2014, right?

You also realize that the plaintiffs (representing the schools) have been fighting for this money since 2010, right? Where were you then? Why didn’t you vocalize your support?

You hopefully also realize that as much as we want to, we can’t force the legislature to pay. And, apparently, we can’t throw them in jail for their refusal to pay, either (although, I wish we could). It’s ironic that we can throw  the “deadbeat dads” in jail…you know, the same ones that Ducey is going after.

If you vote this down, what’s your plan? The fact is that we have a legislative majority that doesn’t value public education, so the chances of them paying are slim to none. You can’t claim that they “should” pay and that the money exists without raiding the trust land, because what “should” happen doesn’t matter. The facts matter, and the fact is that they won’t pay. They’ve already proven that they won’t. So if Prop. 123 doesn’t pass, we won’t see the money for many years, if ever. (Remember “Flores Vs. Arizona”? It took almost 20 years to settle that case).

So if you vote this down, do you have a plan?

Are you going to as aggressively fight to elect new legislators as you are fighting to defeat Prop. 123?

Or are you going to kill this one chance at light and abandon public schools again? Again.

Please, have a plan if you kill this.

Because with this particular legislature, we won’t be seeing any other funds any time soon.

_________________

Here are the links to contact your legislators and governor:

Legislature Link: http://www.azleg.gov/alisStaticPages/HowToContactMember.asp

Ducey Link: http://azgovernor.gov/governor/form/contact-governor-ducey

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Why do educators have students reflect on their behavior?

Upon reading a recent article on the cons to having students reflect on their behavior, I had to dig deeper into my own philosophy of CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT. I believe my classroom culture to be positive and I use positive charts to help guide me in ensuring I take time to give positives to each student throughout the day. I have a personal goal of at least 10 positives each day. Having stated this it is clear that I also have an area to which students are able to go and attend to their needs concerning poor choices. The behavior of a child stems from a willingness to do or not to do something. At this corner of the classroom where a student is asked to go looks like your normal listening center. The student listens to a tape of a song entitled “Being in Control.” Once the student has listened to the song, I ask for them to come over and we talk about the behavior and how they feel about what took place. This is a very non threatening method to making a poor choice or so I was thinking. After reading this article, I need to think more as to the purpose of this corner and what makes this an effective method to change behavior. I have one of the most well behaved classes on campus and it is always this way. There must be something to my method for course correction behavior. Thoughts? Visit my classroom web page at:http://www.lesd.k12.az.us/webpages/jgrochocki/index.cfm?subpage=734651

Article: http://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2015/04/18/why-you-should-never-use-reflection-forms/

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Teachers advocating for students…

When is a teacher no longer functioning as a teacher? I would argue that I ALWAYS represent my school district. I don’t drink alcohol, but I have bought alcohol before, and I remember running into the mom of one of my students as I was purchasing two bottles of wine, and I was totally embarrassed.

This woman only knew me as her son’s teacher, so was I acting on behalf of my district or not?

I could honestly argue that either way: Yes, I was acting on behalf of the district because that’s the only role the mother knows about me; or No, I was not functioning in my role as a teacher because I was there on my own time, minding my own business.

For the past few days, I’ve been wondering when I am “acting on behalf of a school district” and when I’m not, because that’s one of the phrases in Senate Bill 1172 that’s concerning.

According to the amendments to the bill, I would not be able to act on “behalf of a school district…to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”

So, in the above scenario, would I be allowed to answer mom’s questions about upcoming bills? You’d be surprised how often I am asked my opinion on such matters, by the way. I couldn’t COUNT the number of people who flat-out asked me whom they should vote for in our past school board election, for example.

If I would NOT be in violation, but even suspected that I might be, I probably would not answer the mother, because the penalty is “not to exceed” $5000.

Sorry, folks, but I don’t even HAVE $5000. So the bill would effectively shut me up, simply because the penalty is so high. Which begs the question of why is the fine so high? Even most DUI fines are not nearly that high. So are we to assume that voicing concern about upcoming legislation is worse than driving drunk?

What about if (when?) a seriously alarming bill comes at us? Something that I, as a teacher with over 20 years of experience, think is destructive to students? How could I, in good conscience, NOT voice my concern to the people it directly impacts: parents of students? I’d need to quit teaching before I simply sat back and remained mute over bills that might be damaging to kids. (And here’s a quick example: in some states, teachers have to post “Data Walls,” which publicly ranks kids on certain tests. It’s humiliating to the students, seems as if it would violate 1000 FERPA laws, and teachers with whom I am spoken to hate it. What if something like that hits AZ? I’m sorry, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on that.)

To be clear, most teachers do not talk to students about political candidates. In the past two presidential elections, I had students literally begging me to tell them whom I was voting for. I said, “No. It’s none of your business.” In the past election, even though I campaigned hard-core for a school board candidate on my own time, my students did not know whom I was campaigning for, or that I was campaigning at all.

My point is that teachers do not go around trying to brainwash their students. Even if we deep-down DESIRED to do that, it would be far too stupid. There are too many political views, too much risk in offending parents, too much risk in being offended by parents’ votes. I don’t want to know whom my students parents voted for: it has no place in the classroom.

But bills? Bills that may be destructive for certain groups of students?

To be unable (or even too afraid to) advocate for our students is just crazy.

We know, in this state in particular, that crazy bills sometimes get through one chamber, before getting killed in the other chamber…or not killed at all and then becoming law.

It’s crazy to stifle the people whose job it is to advocate for their students.

It’s crazy to not allow those people the ability to try to stop crazy laws.

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Posted in education, politics

Welcome Cara!

I would like to formally welcome Cara Cosentino as a contributor on LeadfromINtheclassroom.com! Cara is a talented teacher who leads from her classroom with great passion! I look forward to her posts and comments on the site. Welcome!

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