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Tom Brokaw proves it’s really difficult to be a good American

The same people who say they want the freedom to marry whomever they desire and choose abortion at-will also find a parent’s right to choose a non-unionized school beyond the pale of an acceptable social contract.

When you think of good Americans, the solid and earnest good folk who are trustworthy and present as inoffensive, Tom Brokaw has to be the type of guy you’d think of.

But, after another mistake gone viral online, there’s a new way to see him.

Tom Brokaw, 78, perpetrator of reckless public speaking.

Uh-oh.

He did what many of your uncles have done on any given Sunday. He said new Americans, specifically LatinX immigrants, should “work harder” at assimilating into the American cultural mainstream.

I neither endorse nor condemn him for our purposes today. Mr. Brokaw has taken his lashes already so the work of condemnation is done.

Twitter promptly dog-walked him. Charges of xenophobia cascaded. An apology followed. Demands for reparations were made.

In the tsunami of blowback, a long list of LatinX leaders sent a briskly worded letter to NBC saying assimilationist comments like Brokaw’s fuel the hatred their community endures.

“Mr. Brokaw’s comments are more than just out-of-touch musings…Mr. Brokaw’s comments are part of a legacy of anti-Latino sentiment that is spreading freely in 2019,” they wrote.

“Though [Brokaw] has apologized, we are asking….” they continued, and then laid out a list of restorative requests:

Chuck Todd and Meet the Press production and booking team to integrate more regular and newer Latinx voices into the program to represent ourselves and our experiences;

The network makes a significant contribution to National Association of Hispanic Journalists to continue cultivating the bench of diverse reporters and analysts; and

Mr. Brokaw, Meet the Press and the network take actions to better educate themselves about the diversity of the fastest growing demographic in the country, including putting resources behind a series that highlights the diverse and complicated history and contributions of the community in the U.S.

And, scene.

I should quickly rewind here and let you see what Brokaw actually said.

Here it is:

“You know, they [LatinX immigrants] ought not to be just codified in their communities but make sure that all their kids are learning to speak English, and that they feel comfortable in the communities…”

This sounds like a man who is somewhere on the spectrum between the worst thing a journalist can be, factually incorrect, and the thing I’ve come to expect most paleoliberals to be, which is insensible about the cultural chauvinism living beneath their white hats.

In truth, English acquisition in the LatinX community is phenomenal.

According to Pew research, English proficiency among foreign-born Hispanic children shot up from 43% in 1980 to 70% in 2013. With each year they are in the country their fluency accelerates.

When it comes to assimilating into the American mainstream, nobody does it faster than LatinX people.

Unlike the LatinX immigrants, when the Brokaws of the these Americas immigrated in the early 20th century, the downcast Irish and Germans among them lagged behind other whites, even after three generations.

A wave of Italian immigrants settled into “Little Sicilies” in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities, never learning English, intermarrying with other populations, or joining the mainstream.

Where I live in the Minnesota outback, Germans huddled together in one county reading German-language newspapers and finding outsiders suspicious. Our public schools here were the last in the state to switch from full-day German instruction to English.

But I need to switch gears at this point. You may have calcified beliefs about today’s immigrants, and you may have a romantic vision of your own ancestors who came here to do hard work and build a great nation.

Bully for you.

You may be racist, or not. Xenophobic, or not. A white nationalist or racial realist.

Whatever. You be what you wish.

The issue I will take with you is the insistence that there is such thing as a proper speaking, appropriately committed, and morally vetted good American.

We never had a meeting to discuss that, we never voted on it, and no law was passed to define that elusive state of being.

A good American in my mind is one who understands that the only way pluralism works is if people are mature about allowing others to live, love, pray, and speak as they see fit.

Beware ear-splitting calls for mass assimilation, social incorporation, racial integration, and other concepts that describe the negotiation between the dominant culture and the individuals it absorbs (voluntary or not). Those calls will ruin America or at least they will keep us locked in an endless pattern of interpersonal antagonism.

I fight that problem constantly in education where everyone from Diane Ravitch on the Left to any number of I-stand-for-the-flag dung slingers on Trump TV agrees that the state schooling and its associated behavorial pressures should act to mold free beings into some version of the solid patriot, the productive citizen – ultimately, the good American.

The same people who say they want the freedom to marry whomever they desire and choose abortion at-will also find a parent’s right to choose a non-unionized school beyond the pale of an acceptable social contract.

Likewise, others who believe in free speech when it wears a #MAGA hat but are not supportive when high school students mimic an NFL quarterback who kneels before games in protest of state violence against marginalized citizens.

In my mind, there is only one model of the good American we should all attempt to be: the one who extends the same freedoms to others that we expect for ourselves.

And that is hard.

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If your presidential debate isn’t fit for kids, you’re not fit to be president

The sad presidential debate

In a time when concerns about public health are stealing precious learning time from America’s children, it’s sad that this week’s presidential debate was another dispiriting lesson in failed leadership.

As citizens, we should expect the contest for the American presidency a top civics learning opportunity, but instead, we got schoolyard rock-throwing on Tuesday that wasn’t worthy of our children’s eyes, ears, or seat time.

That’s a shameful sign of three-plus errant years of declining decorum and lost integrity at the top of the American leadership pile – mostly because a lout has led us into moral anarchy.

If a president is the nation’s exemplar of our values and virtues, a presidential debate is a test, then Donald J. Trump spells trouble. The president I saw on Tuesday was a peevish and sweating example of everything I teach my kids not to be. He was rude, accusatory, irresponsible, blame-shifting, dishonest, and, worst of all, a nasty bully.

Let’s be honest here, if Trump were a Black 6th-grader behaving this way in a Houston classroom, he might be suspended and not allowed to return until his parents met with school staff about his self-regulation challenges.

Now, this is where I’m supposed to dazzle you with my broadmindedness by pointing out ways in which Biden fell short too.

Hard pass.

That form of mindless bothsiderism is a shortcut to thinking and judgment. It’s not good for a responsible citizen and fails as an appropriate example for children.

Unlike the president, I don’t see value in teaching our children to equate white supremacists with the convenient ghost of Antifa or the political cartoon of Black Lives Matter. To overstate something moral and obvious: There are no “very fine people” who are so spitting mad about the existence of non-whites that they descend on communities with tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

If I fault Biden for anything, it’s not being assertive enough about centering these mass-media opportunities on the nation’s children. In my view, his education plan is expensively inconsequential concerning the things that matter most, but are talked about least: quality teaching, learning to standards, evidence-based educational interventions, and academic outcomes that close gaps between the haves and have-nots.

I waited for his promise to move hell and Earth, unions and bureaucrats, publics and privates, lefties and right-wingers, to ensure every American child gets a practical education that prepares her for life in the economic mainstream (a promise that every president since Lyndon Johnson has made), but instead, the former Vice President mostly shadow-boxed the patently erratic orangish gentleman to his right.

My friends, please expect more. When these two private school parents who want to lead the free world take the stage next time to present competing visions for where we should go as a people, let’s hold them to two demands.

Trump v. Biden: who will stand for children in the next presidential debate?

First, they commit to being appropriate examples for our children of how great Americans behave, think, and debate. Or, let them disqualify themselves for failing on that point.

Second, they explicitly detail how their policies will prepare the next generation to be productive members of a free country. They must articulate a plan for systems and policies that allow children to learn in ways that best suit them.

We are so far from that now. Poor academic outcomes for racial minorities, students in poverty, and students with special needs are all too enduring. For example, in most states, less than a quarter of Black students read or perform math proficiently. Non-white students get the worst prepared teachers who – as research tells us – hold implicit biases against them. Further, students of color are more often identified for negative discipline consequences than for gifted programs (even when they don’t qualify for the former and do qualify for the latter).

At the same, education bureaucracies stifle the creativity of teachers through endless standardization. Their lobbying groups fight the emergence of innovative schools and programs that come from chartering laws. Their programs too often limit the most advanced students by gearing the system to a catch-all, mediocre middle.

On top of all that, legacy debts that were born of poor financial decisions compound over time and rob our students of their full per-pupil income by paying for yesterday’s obligations at the expense of tomorrow’s promise.

All the while, we lament the mythical cuts to education funding as the bill for public miseducation and its systemic failures escalates annually.

Hopefully, when they meet again, both candidates seeking our votes in the upcoming election will have something profound to say about how we change the game for students and families. 

The candidates need to can speak to raising the expectations for results in education. We need to know how colleges can prepare better teachers for the classroom and how schools can better support them once they are there. Above all, we need to hear how these candidates can provide more resources directly to families so they can determine how, when, where, and what their children learn. We need a moonshot for things like getting all cities, towns, and rural areas wired with broadband and how we expand the educational opportunities diverse families need.

I’ll be watching the next presidential debate for all that and hoping against hope that two candidates worthy of the nation they want to lead show up with all their best faculties on display. Above all else, I hope they remember the children.

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Crisis parenting isn’t easy, and carry on

We can't help our children by living in our powerlessness

Who will ever tally the toll of mass school closings that have put many families into crisis parenting mode? I’m not sure, but the media messages we get need to be more informative.

There are too many stories about how the sky is falling, and too few about what we can do about it.

Let me use a scenario and to two people.

The scenario: you’re in an elevator in a tall Chicago building with two other people. There is a big bump that jolts the elevator, the lights flicker, and you can tell something bad could be happening.

Person numero uno in the elevator with you starts screaming “we’re going to die!

This is the end!

Person numero dos is calm. She appears to be assessing the situation and considering possibilities for escape.

Person numero uno is the media. He uses words like “disaster” to describe challenges parents face with remote learning. It’s godawful he says. Too hard. Kids hate the new normal. The technology glitches out constantly or bores or confuses them. Teachers cry online. Parents suck at teaching. It’s nearly impossible to stay on top of kids and their studies while also working (for those privileged enough to work from home).

Along those lines, columnist Peg Tyre wrote in Forbes last spring “[r]eality is dawning that parents of school-aged children can’t work and educate their children at the same time.”

I take issue with that. Parents can and must educate their children, even while balancing other demands of life. Even during a global pandemic. There is no other option. Period.

Damnit, that’s what being a parent means. You signed up for it. Now do it.

I suggest you consult with Person numero dos. She won’t tell you what you want to hear (that you’re a martyr and woe is you), but she’ll say what you need to hear (toughen up buttercup).

No, life isn’t always convenient.

Yes, you’re in possibly the toughest situation ever.

Yet, worshipping the problem won’t make it less tough. These are your kids and you were always responsible for moving mountains to get them the education they deserve. Schooling has made it easy for you to idle on autopilot, but no more.

I’m not saying Person number uno is wrong to be alarmed. Reality is on his side. There will be negative consequences of closed schools and the curtailing of daily classroom instruction. It will almost certainly stunt the academic growth of children under-resourced families.

We weren’t prepared to turn our homes into makeshift schools without warning. We quickly feel inadequate about assisting our kids. They keep asking us about concepts we haven’t studied in years. We also worry about the looming social emotional and mental health consequences of the isolation of quarantine.

Some will say I’m glossing over the wildly different financial and social situations families live in. Obviously the single parent with a job in hospitality faces far greater challenges than telecommuting professionals currently forming learning pods for their kids. And yet, no matter where you live on the economic totem wallowing won’t help you or your children. Only character will.

I see story after story about the inequities that will be widened because wealthier parents are hiring tutors or teachers and setting up their own micro-schools. Recognizing that as true doesn’t absolve anyone from having to answer the most powerful question: “what am I going to do?

Who has the information that will help us do our best for our kids wherever they are? What is our inventory of resources, connections, and skillsets?

What power do we have that we aren’t using?

Panic and pity will always be inferior to extreme ownership and stress management in my mind. The best thing we can teach children right now is how to confront adversity with a clear head and fortitude.

To that end, it’s time for Person number dos to tell Person numero uno to sit down, zip it, and speak only when spoken to. This is crisis parenting and we should aim to win.

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Children and families are hurting while you take selfies

Families are having a tough time and that’s especially hard on children. So, you’d think that would generate empathy and generosity. Instead, it looks like selfish gene has taken over.

Let me not overstate the problem. But a New York Times story about the ugly and petty clashes pitting Silicon Valley workers with children vs. the those without children is sad commentary on where we are.

Consider this:

When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, hosted a companywide videoconference on Aug. 20, more than 2,000 employees voted to ask her what more Facebook could do to support nonparents, since its other policies had benefited parents.

The question struck a nerve. An employee wrote in comments accompanying the video feed that it was “unfair” that nonparents could not take advantage of the same leave policy afforded parents. Another wrote that while the procedure for taking leave was usually difficult, it was “easy breezy” for parents.

This problem repeated at Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google. Inter-office chats raged with childless employees expressing frustration with their co-workers who have children, and working parents firing back.

 

A key to understanding the conflict, at least in my mind, is this snippet from the story: “[the problem is] where workers tend to be younger and have come to expect generous perks and benefits in exchange for letting their jobs take over their lives.”

This is an indictment of the always-on self-loving generation who demand to compensated greatly for losing themselves into work (something that is killing them). 

It’s also a mark against the previous generation that parented them during the self-esteem movement which produced little more than entitlement and isolation.

We should fear repeating those detachment issues with today’s kids who are out-of-school and living through Chromebooks, iPads, and iPhones.

Isn’t it telling the Times’ story is set at tech companies? They are basically narcissism factories providing clout chasing ME-llennials digital tools to live that selfie life, why wouldn’t they attract workers who put their wants ahead of the needs of others.?

Can we really expect the generation that swipes left or right for love to demonstrate genuine empathy? Can we get them to look up from their app long enough to see 9 million of their fellow Americans have dropped out of work to care for children or an elder relative? 

These families don’t have employer-paid wading pools, bike repair shops, free meals, and doggie cafes – but, who cares?

But, they should. We all should. I’m as libertarian as the next guy, but your issues will often become “our” issues. 

Nearly one in five working adults reports not working because the pandemic shuttered childcare options. That’s crazy.

According to the federal government “Of those not working, women ages 25-44 are almost three times as likely as men to not be working due to childcare demands.”

I don’t know when we stopped believing that children and their parents should be a policy priority? And, no, it isn’t one generation of us suffering from an empathy deficit. America is afflicted with that as a whole.

I don’t have an answer for what workplaces do to make their childless workers feel they have benefits equal to working parents, but I know more than ever we need everyone to put kids first.

If not, we’ll all face death by selfie.

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