Sometimes I ask myself, “How did I get here?” about many things. Embracing the journey is a big focal point of my last album, Black Hole Rap, because I believe the journey or the process is very critical to our development as people. I’ve taken more time in my life for reflection in the past few years. Spiritually, it’s helped me understand with more clarity what a follower of Christ is and does; it’s also given me more insight about finding a way to be happy, no matter what. Musically, it’s helped me understand what I’ve done and what I’d like to do. Domestically, it’s helped me be a better husband. Professionally, it’s helped me understand why I love education and helping the youth. I’m glad about where I am but if I may, I am going to share the journey with you for just a moment. Today, I’ll look at the professional journey.
I graduated from Butler University ready to take on the world but I really had no clue what part of the world I’d go after. I got a job at Reynolds & Reynolds (automotive dealership software company in Dayton, Ohio) as a “Customer Training Professional”, a job that was supposed to have up to 90% travel away from my assigned area. My area was Dayton, where I lived from 7th grade until my graduation from high school. It was not ideal but it was a job and I was making good money. Had a girlfriend at the time that still lived in Indianapolis and eventually that relationship burnt out right around the time I quit my job and moved back to Indianapolis to be a copier salesman (worst job ever but led to the best turnaround of my life).
I would go to my copier gig in the morning because I had to show up at the office (office was 30 minutes from home which seemed like forever in my Buick Roadmaster) then I’d come back home and work on music. I’d make a few sales calls but mostly I was working on music because at that point in life, that was what I cared about most. I got an email one day about Indianapolis Teaching Fellows, an opportunity to become a public school teacher after a 6-week cram course on teaching. This was a great opportunity for me to do something more productive than being a flake employee who hated copier sales, didn’t care about revenue, and wanted to do something “meaningful” in my community. I filled out the application on a wing and a prayer. I got accepted, although I’m still not sure how other than God’s grace (later I had to take my Praxis exams and I was broke but my Pops paid for the test but I had to pass the test and I had to pay him back. I will never forget that because he did not have to do that but he did).
I ended up having a blowout at my copier gig on a Friday morning in April of 2008 with the #1 sales guy in the branch about “numbers” and “performance” in front of the whole office in the morning meeting. I had been out late the night before, which was pretty standard for me by this point, and I really wasn’t trying to hear all that nonsense and made that very clear to him and everyone else. Now, my boss at the time was also a pastor of a church and always would recite Philippians 3:14 (I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. [NIV]) in his own way by saying, “We gotta press on guys. We have to press on toward the mark.” He pushed us pretty hard and I believe that he wanted me to do well, even if it wasn’t with his company. He brought me in his office after the blowup and told me that he knew that copier sales was not for me and that he knew that I knew that too. He told me he’d make sure I got paid for the next two weeks, and I did, but he told me I could leave and that I needed to go and find what I loved to do, or as he would put it: I needed to press on to something greater. So around 9am on a Friday, I got my stuff together and left quietly. I listened to Phonte’s “Next Day” on repeat for the whole drive home, the whole day in my bedroom. My roommate brotha Romer came home and I told him what happened and he told me I’d be alright. We had been each other’s crutches for the whole short time we’d lived together up to that point so I was glad he said that to me because I knew he was right.
So there I was…a jobless college graduate but I did have the prospect of becoming a teacher on the horizon and that was comforting and exciting, even though I was still on that wing and a prayer. I knew I’d figure out how to make it work, mainly because I cared so much that I’d do whatever it took to learn how to be a great educator. But until I finished the summer program, I had to get a job…which was a huge challenge. For awhile I did audio production work for a fishing blog in Colorado; a friend of mine from college hooked me up with that gig which was a lifesaver (there are songs about fishing floating around that I produced, wrote, and performed lyrics for…maybe I’ll post them). Then I worked at Sears in Lafayette Square Mall selling electronics for $6.60/hour until I got fired for taking Father’s Day off to go to Gary, Indiana to see my grandfather. I was supposed to work but I called in to go see him because I had a feeling my chances of seeing him alive were dwindling and I was right. My grandfather died later in the year but that Father’s Day was awesome and I don’t regret going to see him. But I got fired when I showed up for my next shift! So there I was, once again, jobless and broke.
I went to classes, workshops, and co-taught summer school at Elder Watson Diggs IPS School 42 during the day. I helped out in the kitchen at Wing Stop (now closed) on 10th Street & Temple in the evenings with my friend Jeff from college. 10th and Temple can be a rough area at times but I worked in that kitchen happily because that was how I ate dinner many nights. My parents would kick me a few bucks here and there but I really didn’t want to ask them for any money because I got myself into the situation I was in through my own choices. Jeff and I still managed to have fun from time to time for the lowest amount of money possible. When you’re with your friends and family, you can have fun for no money actually.
As the summer came to a close, I interviewed at Lighthouse Charter School on Southeastern Avenue in Indianapolis and was offered a job teaching 5th grade or something like that. I took the job just because I was happy to have a paycheck and benefits again but I started to hear horrible stories about the school, from everyone I talked to. Not about the kids, but about the administration and the whole network of charter schools that it was tied into. So, I did something crazy and called them and resigned (without working a single hour). So there I was, once again, jobless and broke (there’s a theme here).
I let the ITF people know what I did and they supported it even though I know they thought it was crazy but I was operating on faith alone that God would provide. I made it through all the craziness before that so I figured that I’d be fine. I was supposed to get paid at the end of the summer training but the whole resigning thing may have snagged the check so I didn’t get mine when everyone else did, which was painful because I was counting on that money. Parents helped me out with a few bucks (again), and I just prayed that I’d get a job. Fortunately, I got a phone call from IPS about a job teaching 5th grade at Stephen Foster School 67. Went to the interview, completely ready because I practiced my talking points, and there were a few teachers and the principal there. I got through it, got the job about a week before school started, went to orientation feeling like a fresh pair of warm socks out of the dryer (ROCK) and that’s how it started.
There are many stories I could tell from then until now about my time as an educator and maybe I will someday. The main thing I want everyone to know is that I love where I am and I love how I got here and I love knowing that the journey is not over. I’ve learned to find joy in the journey instead of focusing on the problems that happen along the way. I’ve also learned that life is about choices and thankfully everyday I wake up, I get to make a choice about my day and my journey.
I’ve watched some of my friends and family make choices that have led to hardship and struggle, prison, and even death. I think about those friends and family members daily and that’s how I keep going. If I can help show students that life is about choices and that the journey is important, then I feel like I’ve done a decent job. I understand that circumstances and situations may not change quickly, or at all, but I do know that WE get to choose how we respond to circumstances and situations. I tell my students this every chance I get because I truly believe it will save your life. I know my responses to specific situations have saved my life (totally different post for that).
In today’s world, we have grown accustomed to things being available quickly, sometimes instantly, which has its benefits but without guidance, can become a problem. In reality, life is a journey that is made up of choices and outcomes; sometimes we see a quick outcome from a choice but other times it takes more time. My story is no different and I paid for the choices I made along the way and I am sure I will continue to pay for the choices I make as my journey continues.
In short, enjoy the trip. The whole trip. And you may ask yourself, well…how did I get here?
Indianapolis show your love for one of the greatest weekly sets of all, Take That! Tuesdays. My homie DJ Metrognome has been holding this down for 7 years now, a great feat considering the night intentionally avoids the radio cuts deemed “mainstream” and requests. Hip-hop, soul, funk, R&B…funky tones of all kinds are welcome. Nothing but great music all night long and a great atmosphere.
I’ve played numerous times and I’ll be in the spot March 12th as well to celebrate another great year with DJ Metrognome, J. Moore (the super emcee for the affair), and other DJ guests. Coaches Tavern is in downtown Indianapolis near Conseco Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Common Core…you may have heard about it and you may be totally clueless. Either way, keep reading because it’s important. Diane Ravitch wrote about her refusal to support Common Core Standards on her site and I agree with her. One of my greatest concerns is shared by Ravitch; the lack of proper testing of these standards, their mandatory nature, and the misconception of public involvement in the development of these standards:
Such standards, I believe, should be voluntary, not imposed by the federal government; before implemented widely, they should be thoroughly tested to see how they work in real classrooms; and they should be free of any mandates that tell teachers how to teach because there are many ways to be a good teacher, not just one. I envision standards not as a demand for compliance by teachers, but as an aspiration defining what states and districts are expected to do. They should serve as a promise that schools will provide all students the opportunity and resources to learn reading and mathematics, the sciences, the arts, history, literature, civics, geography, and physical education, taught by well-qualified teachers, in schools led by experienced and competent educators…President Obama and Secretary Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states.
Not only are these standards mandatory, they lack appropriate input from educators, administrators, and (gasp) the public! This is public education right? Where do the public sit at the table? Considering many of these decisions and initiatives are being supported by some democratically elected officials, we need to make sure that we demand accountability from them as voters and citizens. Don’t let elected officials get in office, do whatever they want to do without YOUR voice in it, and keep rolling along like it’s all good. It’s NOT all good and it’s our responsibility to let them know that with an informed voice and peaceful approach.
Ravitch also discusses the manner in which the adoption of these standards is tied to receiving funding.
In fact, it was well understood by states that they would not be eligible for Race to the Top funding ($4.35 billion) unless they adopted the Common Core standards. Federal law prohibits the U.S. Department of Education from prescribing any curriculum, but in this case the Department figured out a clever way to evade the letter of the law. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia signed on, not because the Common Core standards were better than their own, but because they wanted a share of the federal cash. In some cases, the Common Core standards really were better than the state standards, but in Massachusetts, for example, the state standards were superior and well tested but were ditched anyway and replaced with the Common Core. The former Texas State Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott, has stated for the record that he was urged to adopt the Common Core standards before they were written.
Peter Wood wrote in 2011 about many misleading components of Common Core. Wood states, “The Common Core can thus be seen as another attempt to circumnavigate the constitutional obstacles of federalism.” Wood goes on to discuss the background information surrounding the creation of Common Core standards:
Under its FAQs, for example, one finds this:
Q: Is having common standards the first step toward nationalizing education?
A: No. The Common Core State Standards are part of a state-led effort to give all students the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. Individual states choose whether or not to adopt these standards.
This is technically true but again, I think, misleading in at least three ways. First, the goal is still uniform national standards. Second, the Obama administration supports that goal and has found several ways to pressure the states into adopting the Common Core. Third, the states didn’t actually lead the initiative: It is well-known that the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation has planned (in concert with the USDE) and funded all the development, review, and promotion of this initiative, including the selection of most of the personnel on the various standards development committees.
We have to lay it out plainly: the federal government legally cannot enact national curriculum so they contracted the work out to someone else and submitted it to states for adoption. I’m sure there a lot of money flying around to get all this done, money that could be used to combat the sources of poor student progress such as poverty, inadequate learning environments, unsafe communities, unprepared educators, and a lack of funding to get smaller class sizes in our schools.
An editorial written by Russ Pulliam to the Indianapolis Star discusses the need for a “pause” before adopting these standards, a move supported by Glenda Ritz the Superintendent of Public Instruction and head of the Department of Education in Indiana. Pulliam supports public involvement and discussion by stating, “As a nationalization of educational curriculum, K-12, Common Core is too important to let the experts decide by themselves.”
For clarity, I know the standards could be better than what we have now. They also could be much worse. I am certainly concerned that they will be used to support new standardized testing, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). I cannot support these standards as they have not been appropriately evaluated, they lack public input, they are motivated (paid for) by special interest foundations who stand to benefit monetarily from adopting the standards and subsequent assessment, and most of all, it has been done in a very crooked way by leaving education professionals out of the loop (sounds like the National Reading Panel all over again).
These standards still ignore the fact that No Child Left Behind is a failure. These standards support more “high-stakes” (see: high revenue) testing in our schools. These standards support accounting-based accountability models with unethical calculations that make it mathematically impossible for certain students and schools to make “adequate yearly progress.” These standards ignore a true look at what learning should be. These standards do not generate discussion about the role of Constructivism and other learning theories for our diverse array of students.
Our children are not going to be standardized no matter how hard people try. They are uniquely made, uniquely blessed with unique abilities and personalities; they are individuals. Constantly aiming to standardize humanity has created environments of anxiety and unrest in our schools. We need to explore options that embrace children and all their unique qualities. Humans are greater than standards. While I do believe we must establish an expectation of learning for our students, creating a rigid national framework rejects the beautiful differences of our nation and provides yet another opportunity for wealthy, uninterested but well-invested people to use our youth as cash crops.
This has to stop. Inform yourself and spread the word. We can beat this with an informed approach through proper channels. Talk to your legislators, your neighborhood school leaders, or me. We need to get together and advocate for our youth.
I present “Unit Four” (right-click/control-click) of the Units Of Study mix series (right-click/control-click the picture). Enjoy the love that is present in this mix. Special shout out to Donald Byrd & James “Jay Dee” aka “J Dilla” Yancey for leaving great music for us to enjoy. They are represented with the first two songs of the mix.
Enjoy this complimentary mix. Study this with a friend or two or three then pass it on to someone new.
The subject of school turnarounds and takeovers is extremely controversial. Christina Hoag covers the subject in this Huffington Post article. There are currently complaints being filed with United States Department of Education’s civil rights office; 33 complaints from 29 school districts.
I suggest that you read Hoag’s work to form some kind of informed opinion in the matter. My complaint: school turnarounds and takeovers do not address poverty, hunger, homelessness, violence, inadequate childcare, and many other environmental factors that exist within the population subject to turnaround and takeover. Turnaround schools are not in so-called affluent areas. Why is that the case?
When education reform is brought up, how often is it directed at so-called affluent areas?
How often is it focused on impoverished areas?
Areas with high Black and/or Hispanic populations?
Areas with high violent crime rates?
How can we effectively staff and MAINTAIN staff in our “lowest performing schools” where environmental stressors can increase turnover rates for staff (typically in areas that already lack stability in many areas)?
We can’t continue to act like the answers to these questions don’t mean anything.
Race, ethnicity, and other socioeconomic factors have large roles in this era of “education reform.” We need to be honest about that and address the root causes of the “achievement gap” instead of narrowing it to an analysis of high-stakes testing and growth models. Telling educators to “work harder” or “do this new instructional technique that we are now paying for” and telling parents “do a better job raising your kids” or “maybe if you would just read to them some more” is not getting it done. In fact, it’s insulting and reeks of “we are better than you and we know it” [(c) Globo Gym] when I hear it.
Aside from a lack of concern for socioeconomic and environmental factors, turnaround school programs sidestep the failure of No Child Left Behind. If you know me, you know I believe that NCLB is a failure. Honestly, NCLB may be one of the greatest failures in the history of education (globally). It has failed our students and their communities. It has failed educators and administrators. It has failed taxpayers. The handful of success stories that can be shared during the NCLB era are not owed to NCLB…these stories are owed to the hard work of educators, communities, and students. Salute to all educators, students, and communities that have committed their time and talents to providing high quality educational experiences to our youth.
But it has given LARGE amounts of money to groups of people who have not seen the inside of a public K-12 building in decades. NCLB was, is, and will continue to be about money and revenue as long as it is the law of the land. Yes, I said it. The current new wave of education acts includes Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and Investing in Innovation Fund. These acts were made as Macgyver-like (on some levels, more like Macgruber) initiatives instead of saying, “Hey America, No Child Left Behind failed and we need to revamp it.” The turnaround school model came from Race to the Top, a program built on a program that was built on a sand castle.
We have to stop, step back, and get this right. Call or contact your lawmaker and ask them about this stuff. Ask them where they stand. Call your local school and ask where they stand. Ask how you can help, then help. It takes every kinda people to make any community better. We need you.
We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate. The broad education will, therefore, transmit to one not only the accumulated knowledge of the race but also the accumulated experience of social living.
Movers & Groovers,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a historical figure that represents many things to many things to many people. For me he represents courageous leadership, the pursuit of peace by means of love and understanding, and bold initiatives. The above picture is from the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. My late great-grandmother was there that day. She rode to Washington, D.C. from Gary, Indiana. I remember talking to her about it and she said it was an amazing sight to see. I really miss hearing her voice. She spoke with a great elegance that reflected her belief that being “put together” and being articulate was of great importance.
The real reason for this post is to shed some light on an essay written by Dr. King in 1948 while he was a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. The title is “The Purpose of Education” and you can read it in its entirety by clicking the photo or clicking here. I shared this with my class a few years ago. I taught in a self-contained setting with a class of boys with emotional and behavioral disabilities. I am thankful for my experiences with them. I learned a lot about myself from my time working with them and learning from them.
This essay is not in any Indiana standard or curriculum. It’s not in the Common Core. I think I found it through one of my favorite past times, Google searching, and figured it would be worth discussing in class. I decided to do an explication of the essay, a line-by-line analysis. I can thank Mr. Stamper and Mr. Haponek, my two favorite English teachers, for even knowing what an explication is. Pretty sure we did an explication in Mr. Haponek’s class for a Walt Whitman poem or something like that. Anyway, here I am with 7 students ranging in age from 10-13, going through this essay sentence-by-sentence. One of the BEST moments of my career, although it was totally random and was not connected to anything in our curriculum. I just thought it would be fun. And it was.
Rick Wormeli offers his perspective on redos, retakes, and do-overs with respect to instructional approach and implementation in classrooms. I’ve always been an advocate of teaching a skill until it is learned and the student/pupil/Jedi/whatever can demonstrate the skill with mastery. That belief is my motivation for not just my career as an educator but musically as well. Why wouldn’t I want to be the best I can be? Unfortunately in education and music too, “time” moves faster than learning many times. In education we are bound to pacing guides and other boundaries that force us to make a certain amount of progress in time for the assessments. We need to fix that in America, soon. We are better than that and our youth deserve better than that…they deserve to learn authentically and deeply by way of rich and engaging curriculum.
Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
That quote is at the end of the song “Speak” on my latest album Black Hole Rap. It’s from a speech by Dr. King about the Vietnam War given on April 4, 1967…one year before his death. I look at music as an opportunity to speak. My career as an educator is an opportunity to speak. I am well aware that my willingness to voice my concerns, opinions, thoughts, joys, sorrows, loves, praises, etc. will create some degree of agony. That part of this quote was sobering when I first read it. It is hard to speak sometimes. Very hard. It’s actually hard to write this post and many of the other posts lately but I believe that my silence could truly be betrayal at this point in my life.
Remember that as you go about your business. Be courageous and speak when you KNOW you should. I hope to see you out here. Much love to all y’all.
A time comes when silence is betrayal.
—From a statement given by Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam