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In the old days, before the babyfication of children

Childhood ain’t what it used to be. Our fluorescent colored, artificial fruit scented, bubble-wrapped perversion today of the growing years of children may seem like evolution but in truth, it’s a regression.

No, I’m not casting nostalgia as fact and pandering to your generation X (or boomer) illusion of your rugged past captured in Polaroids of Big Wheels, Evil Knieval ramps for banana seat bikes, or those golden years when kids were allowed to be kids, get dirty, and play so hard they needed the reinforced knees of Tough Skins from Sears.

The ironically mature childhood I speak of was long before then.

Before James Maury Henson gave birth in 1955 to Kermit the Frog, ancestor to all Muppets we know and love; before 1957 when Belgian artist Pierre Culliford created Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs); and before 1929 when Walter Elias Disney produced “Silly Symphonies,” a historic movie that introduced friends of Mickey Mouse including Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto; before all of that was a mischevious tiny army whose adventures were meant to teach children life lessons.

They were known as The Brownies and they were sprung from the imagination of Palmer Cox, a Canadian-born (1840) railroad worker and carpenter in California before who became a full-time illustrator in New York 1875. The Brownies series made him a millionaire and resourced him well enough to build a “Brownie castle” as his home back in Quebec where he died in the summer of 1924.

What were Brownies? He described them this way:

Brownies, like fairies and goblins, are imaginary little sprites who are supposed to delight in harmless pranks and helpful deeds. They work and sport while weary households sleep, and never allow themselves to be seen by mortal eyes.

If that sounds family it’s because the template repeats itself in the several incarnations mentioned above. Palmer’s reasoning behind the goodness of his tiny tribe is one lost on authors of today’s child-centric media, especially in the loud, retarding, and morally empty vacuum that is YouTube.

He said:

I see no reason why the comic artist who is drawing pictures to amuse children should think it necessary always to show childhood at its worst. A picture can be just as funny and yet not be a celebration of juvenile depravity; indeed a picture can be just as funny, can give pleasure to an even greater number of children, and yet point a moral.

Great children’s literature treats children as intelligent beings capable of understanding more than the gross echoes of their base nature crudely drawn in youngish colors on short pages.

To that issue, John Taylor Gatto wrote: “There are many ways to cut the young off from the food growing intellects need to become powerful, and to replace it with junk food like talking choo-choo trains.”

One of Palmers many short works, “The Brownies at the academy,” stands out because it has the Brownies demystifying what it is to be a college student in an era when only the elite was on track to be college students. Much like middle-class people today expose their children early to the concept of being college-bound, Palmer does that in a time when the concept would have been foreign to most.

Andrew Carnegie, a towering man of industry, was quoted in Dream and Thought in the Business Community, 1860-1900 as saying:

“Men have sent their sons to colleges to waste their energies upon obtaining a knowledge of such languages as Greek and Latin, which are of no more practical use to them than Choctaw… They have been crammed with the details of petty and insignificant skirmishes between savages, and taught to exalt a band of ruffians into heroes; and we have called them “educated.”

Here is Palmer’s piece:

The Brownies once with capers spry
To an Academy drew nigh,
Which, founded by a generous hand,
Spread light and learning through the land.
The students, by ambition fired,
And men of science had retired;
So Brownies, through their mystic power,
Now took advantage of the hour.
A battery was soon displayed,
And strange experiments were made;
Electric currents were applied

To meadow-frogs they found inside,
Which sage professors, nights and days,
Had gathered up, in various ways.
To making pills some turned the mind,
While some to Dentistry inclined,
And aching teeth, both small and large,
Were there extracted free of charge.

More gazed where phrenologic charts
Showed heads partitioned off in parts.
Said one: “Let others knowledge gain
Through which to conquer ache and pain,
But by these charts I’ll do my best
To learn where Fancy makes her nest.”
Another cried, as he surveyed
The bumps that were so well arrayed:
“These heads exhibit, full and clear,

Which one to love and whom to fear;
Who is with noble thoughts inspired,
And who with hate or envy fired;
The man as timid as the hare,
The man destructive as the bear.
While choosing partners, one may find
It well to keep these charts in mind.”

A microscope at length, they found;
And next, the Brownies gathered round
A stereopticon machine
That cast its rays upon a screen.
A thousand times it magnified,
Till, stretching out on every side,
An object large and larger spread,
And filled the gazing group with dread.
The locust, beetle, and the bee
Soon gained proportions strange to see,
And seemed like monsters close at hand
To put an end to all the band.

Ere long a door was open swung,
To show some skeletons that hung
From hook and peg, which caused a shout
Of fear to rise from those about.
Said one: “Thus Science works its way
Through old remains from day to day;
And those who during life could find
No time, perhaps, to aid mankind,
May, after all, in some such place
For years assist the human race
By giving students, as you see,
Some knowledge of Anatomy.”
At other times, all breathless grouped
O’er crucibles, the Brownies stooped

To separate, with greatest skill,
The grains which cure from those that kill;
While burning acids, blazes blue,
And odors strong confused the crew.
Cried one: “Through trials hard to bear,
The student must himself prepare,
Though mixing paint, or mixing pill—
Or mixing phrases, if you will—
No careless study satisfies

If one would to distinction rise;
The minds that shed from pole to pole
The light of years, as round we roll,
Are first enriched through patient toil,
And kindled by the midnight oil.”

Thus, spicing logic with a joke,
They chatted on till morning broke;
And then with wild and rapid race
The Brownie band forsook the place.

To go back further than Palmer’s generation of children’s writing, see The Origins of Children’s Literature, and/or this brief historical description of John Newbery’s (the “father of children’s literature) “A Little Pretty Pocket-Book: Intended for the Instruction and Amusement of Little Master Tommy and Pretty Miss Polly” from 1744.

Pursuing the power of self-sovereignty and personalized learning to create secure citizens and abundant communities. #TheOppositeOfSchool #AllPowerToThePupil

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Culture

What if your entire school system was the racist monument that should come down?

 

The angry protestors are coming for public statues of historic Americans as diverse as Confederate traitors like Robert E. Lee and slave-owning American founders like George Washington.

But what do you do when a school building or an entire school system is the monument representing past wrongs? That might be more of a problem than you think.

Starting with a piece for Ed Week, Corey Mitchel notes a cluster of the nation’s public schools still bear the names of Confederates.

He notes:

At the beginning of June 2020, at least 208 schools in 18 states were named for men with ties to the Confederacy, an Education Week analysis of federal data found. Since June 29, 5 of the Confederate-named schools have changed names. Currently, 56 schools are named for Lee and more than a dozen each honor General Stonewall Jackson and Sidney Lanier, a poet and private in the Confederate Army.

Countless other schools bear the names of individuals with racist histories, including 22 that are named after politicians who signed the Southern Manifesto opposing school integration after the 1954  Brown  v.  Board  Supreme Court decision.

[…]

In the aftermath of a 2017 white-nationalist rally and counter-protest in Charlottesville, Va., and the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., by a white supremacist in 2015, dozens of schools shed their Confederate names. Several districts rebranded buildings to honor black Americans from the civil rights era or Barack Obama, the first black president.

Despite those changes, state laws or public support for the Confederacy has stymied efforts to rename schools across large swaths of the South. Almost all the Confederate-named schools are below the Mason-Dixon line, which prior to the Civil War was the nation’s dividing line between slave states and free states.

There are 100,000 schools in the U.S. so it could seem inconsequential that a tiny minority of them are named after the Confederate traitors who fought to preserve the savage bondage of human beings.

Still, does it bother you that black children, the descendants of those bound human beings who never received justice, are now are being schooled under the names of their past abusers without learning the details of the past abuse?

Just one student encountering that problem is too many for me.

Further, as today’s protest movement forces a larger reckoning with the American race record, it isn’t just the historic figures who were obviously on the wrong side of the so-called “Civil War” that deserve a dragging.

If you includes morally duplicitous slave owners who became presidents, statements, or local leaders the number of schools educating children under a problematic namesake grows. I don’t have an exact number, but you can imagine that broader criteria makes the problem more substantial.

And it isn’t just individual schools. It can be bigger networks of schools or districts.

My friend Beth Hawkins’ new piece details the story of John McDonogh, a wealthy slavery profiteer who left his estate to create a public school system in New Orleans.

She says:

Walter Stern, a New Orleans native and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor who authored a biography of McDonogh, says the slaveholder’s legacy and the way it shaped the schools is a “perfect vehicle” for teaching about the city’s history. “He provides a window into showing both how deeply entrenched white supremacy and the subjugation of Black New Orleans has been,” says Stern, “as well as how Black New Orleanians have used the power available to them to create institutions that serve them.”

Among Louisiana plantation owners in the early 1800s, McDonogh was considered both odd and benevolent. A miser who had few friends, at one point he was the nation’s largest landowner, a feat he accomplished in part by renting houses to brothels and then, when well-heeled neighbors moved out, buying adjacent properties for a song. He sometimes allowed his slaves to buy their freedom, although he believed that once emancipated, they should be sent to Liberia.

McDonogh left half his estate to the city of New Orleans, to be used to open public schools for both Black and white children. He wanted the students to plant flowers around his grave on his birthday, leading to the creation of a holiday, Founder’s Day. It was celebrated each year until 1954, when Black New Orleanians — whose children were forced to wait in the heat until white children had placed their bouquets — protested and the holiday was eliminated.

There is no complete record of the schools opened in his name, though there have been at least 40. But contrary to McDonogh’s instructions, the city used his bequest at first to open schools only for white children. His money also was used to fund the Confederate Army’s defense of the city during the Civil War.

Now, don’t let me make too much of the names on schools. They are easy to change and over the years schools named after human figures has shrunk. My own kids’ schools are named after trees and their geographic location.

But, just because you remove the leaves of racism doesn’t mean you’ve disturbed the root of it.

My opponents to school reform love to talk about roots without examine their own. They suggest everything from school choice to charters schools (including the post-Katrina New Orleans schools) have racist roots. Conversely, defying all available evidence to the contrary, they put Vaseline on their lens to present traditional public education as the beacon of Dewey-esq real democracy.

I welcome them to a honest discussion about how the institution they hold so dearly is every bit as stained by racism as any other. If they are truly “educators” they won’t run that. They’ll confront it (and themselves) every bit as fiercely as they confront reformers.

That said, I don’t thing it’s their honest intent to defend a good system from hostile reformers. They draw their income, privilege, and pensions from the traditional racist system and don’t want anybody messing with their cash cow.

Excuse me if that sounds an awful like the Confederates and John McDonogh.

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Charter Schools

I don’t care if KIPP changes their slogan if they still get results

 

Good People, some of y’all keep asking me about the internal work the KIPP charter school network is doing to interrogate itself for racial justice concerns, which begins with them changing their well-known slogan”Work Hard, Be Nice.”

I’ve resisted commenting because I think it’s a phony problem.

But, since questions continue to come my way, here a few thoughts:

1. KIPP can change their slogan to whatever they think helps them meet their organizational objective. You don’t have to like it. Stay in you lane.

2. People from the Right love any facile news peg that allows them to belabor the case that “woke” is going too far. I’m sympathetic to their complaint, but notice they have ZERO to say about it when white supremacy goes too far…..ever. It’s way too convenient and I’m tired of that. To them I say: woke isn’t doing nearly the damage to our country and out culture that your president, your party, and you are doing. Clean your own toilet before inspecting others’.

3. So-called “Ed Reform” is full of self-important individuals with axes to grind for one reason or other. Sometimes it’s just straight up competition, sometimes it’s malignant jealousy, sometimes its egotism because they didn’t get a grant or one of their AMAZING criticisms wasn’t heard, or whatever. To them I say, focus on your own house people and shut up about what others are doing.

4. On the liberal side, there are school/reform leaders who blow with the wind and will swing to something like racial justice theology as a shrewd value-signaling move to save their position within the field. Their perfection of woke-speak is a shield meant to position them as “allies” against white supremacy even as they enjoy every privilege and benefit of it.

5. I don’t give a damn if KIPP changes their slogan from “Work Hard, Be Nice” to “Eat Healthy, Drink Water,” or “Say Nice Things To People,” or “Don’t Take Crap From People On The Internet” – just as long as they keep teaching kids to beat the odds in the classroom. As of this point I haven’t heard a single them from them that tells me they aren’t going to keep focusing intently on teaching, learning, and outcomes.

6. And, finally, no – telling kids to “Work Hard, Be Nice” is not telling them to be complicit or be a slave or be compliant to white masters. That is almost as stupid as saying changing the slogan it teaching kids that merit doesn’t matter. Both claims are so damn stupid I can’t imagine educated people aren’t embarrassed to make them.

In the end, I hope everyone can focus on education, focus on results, and focus on the opponents of our field.

Please people: pop open a can of Mind Your Damn Business and drink heavily.

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Culture

Minneapolis has perfected progressive racism

Good people, it looks like the smoke rising from Minneapolis has inspired so many “allies” to ask: “what can we do to help.” And, as a matter of solidarity, folks have focused intently on defunding or reforming or lightly tapping the Minneapolis Police Department.

That is a fine goal if people are serious (hint: they aren’t).

Even if the over-policing problem in Minneapolis is meaningfully addressed, it won’t fix the racism problem in the Twin Cities because the structural oppression here involves so much more than one department.

In fact, we are home to one of the most finely tuned systems of “progressive” white supremacy in the country. The minds and bodies of nonwhite people are policed by public schools, the DFL political system, the nonprofit industry, and the business community. Taken together these systems offer people two choices: comply or die.

And, atop it all is the paternalism of philanthropy. The funders of Minneapolis are self-satisfied puppeteers who use money to control black minds and bodies, keeping everyone in their place by giving and taking away grants strategically and politically with the effect of creating a network of tokenized POC who are good so long as they say nothing that upsets the white power structure; and they shun black-balled activists who dared say the wrong thing (pro-black) to the wrong (white) person.

National funders play a part too. When they come to town they leave bags of money with the same few white people in white progressive organizations who then farm the money out to POC like crumbs from the Lord’s table so that they can convince their communities to do what they’re told.

I didn’t mention the unions. They’re part of this too. It’s convenient that they want to jump on the anti-police union bandwagon now (knowing that union has been racist AF for decades) but don’t let them fool you. They are masters of racial suppression. Along with white philanthropy and white nonprofit overseers and white police and the white political party that dominates the Twin Cities, the unions also raise up tokenized POC and work hard to prevent problematic negroes from gaining any power.

The bottom line is this: we’ve seen urgent and earnest appeals by the political and philanthropic class of Minneapolis only to be followed by business as usual. If any of them want to be true to their declared values of “equity” and social justice, then they will change the power relationships at every level.

White executive directors will stop sending POC letters asking how they can be better allies. Instead, they’ll resign their jobs and convince their boards to replace them with a person of color.

Big money foundations will stop sending press releases announcing their paltry sums they intend to invest in fixing the communities that they’ve broken. They will stop giving all their money to safe nonprofits and instead give money directly to activists – especially the ones that have been marginalized for speaking the truth too often – who are living on next to nothing but still fighting for the people.

That is, if all our “allies” are serious (hint: they aren’t).

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