Random thoughts. My EpiPen.

RANDOM

This morning I read Dave McKinney’s Reuters story about how Mylan manipulated allergy bloggers, mostly mothers of children with serious allergies, into lobbying state legislatures to require schools to stock epinephren injectors, the main one being the brand, EpiPen.

Then Mylan jacked up the price to $600 a twin pack, helping them become a billion dollar company by cornering the market by selling 90% of the epinephren injectors.

A free market indeed.

McKinney tells a sordid tale.

Unrelated to the profit-gaugers in Big Pharm, this all reminded me of my little corner of the world that was not at all sordid. Just a little scary. It says a lot about what teachers are asked to do and what we do in spite of our fears and hesitations.

Remember this as you read stories about the greedy teachers union bargaining a contract.

Years ago I had a student, one among many over the years, who was severely allergic to bee stings.

All the teachers who had this student were rounded up in the nurse’s office and handed an orange and an EpiPen. This was to be our training.

We practiced stabbing the orange with the EpiPen.

“You have about a two-minute window if Billy gets stung,” the nurse explained.

“Two minutes. Or what?”

The nurse lifted her head and look at us with that look.

“Holy shit,” one of my colleagues blurted out.

She turned to me, as I was the union rep in the building.

I understood her fear. “We have Billy in front of us. We have to do what we have to do,” I said.

Over the years I have had lots of different medical stuff on and in my desk. Stuff for allergies. Stuff for diabetes.

I had lists of dozens of children with a range of medical conditions with a red cover marked confidential.

What to look for. What accommodations to make. How quickly to act.

As the Art teacher in the building who saw every student, I needed to know all of it pretty much by memory.

“If Nancy starts getting suddenly drowsy, get her to the nurses office. Don’t send her with another student.  You must take her. You have about two minutes.”

Two minutes.

What I was to do with the rest of the class was never really explained.

Juice boxes. Orange flavored sugar tablets. Medical emergency bags brought by the student to hang on the Art room door.

Just in case.

A teachers job.

Mr. Battaglia and the peace dividend.

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1966 classmate Susan Moore and my modern lit teacher Mr. Battaglia. Photo: Fred Klonsky

It is Fathers’ Day and we are home from our week in California.

Hollywood, Ojai and Venice by the sea.

The ostensible reason for the trip was my unofficial 50th high school reunion. We got together ten years ago, and now – as many of us are heading for our seventh decade on the earth – they become more meaningful, if only for the chance to say how good we look.

Most of us are still here, although we have lost a few of us since the last time we gathered ten years ago.

How sweet that Mr. Battaglia came.

Battaglia was my senior modern lit teacher. Back when I had him he was in his late 20s and had only been a teacher for a few years. He is one of only three teachers whose names I still can recall: Miss Evans, my Art teacher. Mr. Arnot who taught international relations. It was 1964 and our class argued over the war in Vietnam nearly every day. You would not be surprised to know that I was in the minority as one who opposed the war.

And then there was Mr. Battaglia.

The story on Battaglia was that I purposefully tried to cause trouble by reading Allen Ginsburg’s poem, Howl, aloud, in class.

Which included the lines,

…who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whomever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman’s loom,
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of consciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake…

I mean, if that wouldn’t get me sent to the principal’s office, what on earth would?

But aside from a few embarrassed laughs from a couple of boys in the back of class, I got nothing. When I was done, I sat down without a word from Battaglia.

When class was over, Battaglia called me to his desk and handed me a copy of Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux, a long book on the Chinese Revolution translated from the French. Battaglia told me he would like my opinion of it by Monday.

I shared that story with Battaglia last weekend at our gathering. He laughed and said that he had no memory of it.

Battaglia taught for a decade or so more and then became a LAUSD administrator running some of the magnet school programs. He retired two years ago, two years after I did.

A story in the Los Angeles Times from 1993:

Backed by federal “peace dividend” money freed by the end of the Cold War, Los Angeles school officials plan to establish a math and science magnet school in the San Fernando Valley aimed at hearing-impaired students–the first program of its kind in the city.

Scheduled to begin this fall, the program will also be open to hearing students, mixing them with deaf and partially deaf youths in classes to be held at Granada Hills High School and nearby Cal State Northridge, which boasts a renowned deaf education program.

Teachers will emphasize applied math and technology just as they do at similar math-science centers, which are among the Los Angeles Unified School District’s most sought-after magnet programs.

The Granada Hills program, which will cost an estimated $275,000 to get off the ground, will initially serve 180 high school freshmen and sophomores, about half of whom officials expect will be deaf or partially deaf students. Currently, the district serves 2,000 hearing-impaired youngsters, who either take regular courses alongside their hearing peers with the help of assistants or attend special classes.

Eventually, the Granada Hills school will serve 350 to 400 students, according to Richard Battaglia, the district’s magnet school specialist. As with all of the district’s 107 magnet programs, youngsters must apply for admission, and officials plan to develop a process that will grant hearing-impaired applicants some priority.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Josephine F. Wilson, director of the nonprofit Hear Center in Pasadena, which serves hearing-impaired people throughout Greater Los Angeles. “We want our kids to be exposed to what every other kid is exposed to.”

Magnet programs were created to provide students with a voluntary integration experience and an opportunity for specialized studies.

Technically, the Granada Hills program is being funded by the California National Guard–playing an overseer role for funds channeled from the defense budget.

At the request of Rep. Julian Dixon (D-Los Angeles), Congress appropriated $10 million from the defense budget last October for the cash-strapped Los Angeles school system to spend on youth programs, taking the money from the “peace dividend” reaped from reductions in the nation’s military forces following the end of the Cold War.

Because it was too late in the budget process to remove the money from the Defense Department, the Pentagon was directed to make the grant. And because, under federal law, a defense agency must oversee the spending of funds from the defense budget, the money was routed to the California National Guard to administer.

“Thank God for the National Guard,” said Board of Education member Roberta Weintraub, who represents Granada Hills. “Without their money, this program wouldn’t have come about.”

“It’s just like Santa Claus is coming to town,” added Battaglia.

The school board formally accepted the funding package last month, clearing the way for establishment of the Granada Hills magnet school, a new math-science center at Revere Middle School on the Westside and other programs focusing on applied math and engineering, as dictated by the grant, which provides $1.6 million for magnet education.

Officials also plan to channel the money into upgrading math and science “enrichment” programs into formal magnet school centers at Dorsey, Fremont, Jordan, Roosevelt and San Fernando high schools.

There was a peace dividend at the end of the Cold War that went to schools.

What a concept.

We should bring that idea back.

One B-2 stealth bomber costs $2 billion.

Sell one and that would keep Chicago schools open for a while.

Viola Spolin and Plato.

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Plato.

Fred,

If you’re a Spolin devotee, why not publish this quote: “We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything.” That one wouldn’t fit your narrative, though, would it? We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. Read more at:http://www.azquotes.com/quote/798593

-Akvida

Dear Akvida,

I am so glad that my drawing introduced you to the theater and drama teacher, Viola Spolin.

She was a great teacher.

I first learned of her from my art education teacher, Leon Bellin.

Spolin’s son, Paul Sills went on to help create Chicago’s Second City improvisational techniques.

While my cartoon and quote led you to Ms Spolin, don’t just stop at searching out quotes. Read her theory of teaching theater. Spolin did believe, as I do, in experiential learning. But to say that she doesn’t believe in teachers and teaching is silly, since she wrote a number of books on teaching theater and theater games and teaching using theater games. And, of course, she was a teacher herself. I often incorporated her techniques in my own instruction.

Like you, many of those who have not fully investigated the art and practice of teaching, except by limiting themselves to azquotes.com, miss the richness and complexity of what good teachers do.

Experiential teachers like Viola Spolin believed as John Dewey did (and I do) that experience alone does not create real learning. Rather it is reflecting on experience that creates real learning.

As Plato said as recollected by Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”

But, Akvida, don’t just stop with a search for quotes by Dewey, Plato or Socrates. Read what they wrote in full. Just as my cartoon prompted you to check out Ms Spolin further, now dig deeper.

I suggest that in my role as a teacher.

-Fred

Leon Bellin.

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Leon Bellin’s work at a UIC Gallery 400 faculty exhibition.

The news yesterday that Playboy Magazine was going to drop nude photographs of women caught my interest.

First, because I had no idea Playboy Magazine was even around any more. Apparently the market for magazines that objectify women has gone flacid. The publishers complain that “now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”

The magazine will adopt a cleaner, more modern style, said Mr. Jones, who as chief content officer also oversees its website. There will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the pictures will be “PG-13” and less produced — more like the racier sections of Instagram. “A little more accessible, a little more intimate,” he said. It is not yet decided whether there will still be a centerfold.

I admit that I had an interest in Playboy as a young heterosexual 14-year old. By 1966 it replaced Mad Magazine as my publication of choice.

In those days, one of the features of Playboy was Ribald Classics. The old joke about buying Playboy for the articles was partially true. I looked forward to the cartoons and artwork almost as much as anything else. The full-page drawing that accompanied each Ribald Classic was always a knock-out.

Leon Bellin illustrated almost all those early Ribald Classics in Playboy.

Leon Bellin was also a teacher, a professor of art, first at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier and then at Chicago Circle Campus. Leon ran the very small art education program at UIC.

He was my art teacher. And he became my dear friend.

When he was 60 years old I took him to is first baseball game. We sat in the bleachers at Wrigley. He took me to my first opera. We sat in the upper deck at the Lyric.

He would do written critiques of my work using German words I didn’t understand.

He would accuse me of being “consciously low-brow” for my love of popular culture.

Leon, like many of the early instructors at Navy Pier, was a graduate of the storied Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. 

The Institute of Design was founded in 1937 as the New Bauhaus: Chicago School of Design by László Moholy-Nagy. It became known as the Institute of Design in 1944 and later joined Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949.

While I was at UIC in the late 80s, its painting faculty drew from some of the really great artists in Chicago. Phyllis Bramson, Susan Senseman, Martin Hurtig, Rod Carswell, Morris Barazani, Roland Ginzel, Dan Ramirez, Martin Puryear and others. I loved it there.

As good a figurative artist as Leon Bellin was, he was also a great teacher. And teacher of teachers.

He was somehow related to the children’s book author and artist, Ezra Jack Keats. Money from the Keats foundation funded a Saturday art program at UIC that Leon created called the Circular Dream Machine. It was Leon’s idea to make it free to any Chicago public school student. It provided those of us in the art education program an opportunity to learn teaching by teaching early in the program.

We also spent a lot of time with the students at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Choir School at The Church of the Epiphany on Ashland on the west side.

At the time, the Reverend Rempher Whitehouse headed The Church of the Epiphany and he was a friend of Leon. When Rev. Whitehouse opened the Choir School for African American boys from the neighborhood, Leon jumped at the chance to offer art instruction using us, his art education students.

The Church of the Epiphany was also known as The Panther Church. Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party used the building as a meeting place. They served breakfast for children there.

Fred Hampton’s funeral took place at the Church of the Epiphany.

Reverend Whitehouse passed away last year at the age of 91.

After retiring from UIC Leon’s health worsened.

He moved with his wife Norma to Albuquerque and more recently to California with his daughter.

We lost touch.

I heard recently that he passed away in 2013. He was 92.

But you never forget your best teachers.

Karl Gabbey: “If teachers lived on such a gravy train, the whole world would know about it, and everybody would jump through all kinds of hoops to secure a teaching position.

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– By Karl Gabbey

Why is it that so many people who are not teachers, have never been teachers, probably have little or no acquaintance with teachers, yet presume to “know” everything about teachers and their jobs, i.e. salaries, benefits, working conditions, etc?

Astounding!

Perhaps. it’s because most people have been inside a school building and that qualifies as expert knowledge.

Okay, salaries and other forms of compensation are public record and some busybody who has nothing better to do will pass his or her time tracking salaries in District X or District Y just so he or she can dump on teachers somewhere in the blogosphere or on the Trib’s editorial page. Is that a symptom of a pathology? I digress… Do salaries and benefits in Districts X and Y posted on their webpages tell the entire story?

It’s beyond presumption that some people are constantly crabbing about supposed “advantages” that teachers have. Again, if teachers lived on such a gravy train, the whole world would know about it, and everybody would jump through all kinds of hoops to secure a teaching position.

Maybe, even Ken Griffin would apply to teach if that were the case.

I was a college grad with a decent GPA and I could have done something else, but I had a great student teaching experience and some incredible people who influenced my decision. In spite of the less-than-deserved status that our society accords teachers, I enjoyed my years in the classroom and have no regrets.

Some individuals are either comfortable with a display of ignorance, or through some inner compulsion, must reveal it bombastically to the whole world.

The ignorance of these people, or “trolls,” is often amusing, sometimes irritating, even nasty, but always petty, immature, infantile, cheap, and quite frankly embarrassing. Who wants to make a fool of himself or herself in front of others with ignorance? It seems that somewhere in the recesses of their cowardly psyches they realize this which likely explains why he, she, or they refuse to reveal their identities and sign off only with “Anonymous.” Clearly people with intelligence, depth of knowledge, and the skill to articulate don’t do that.

I’ve learned through personal experience not to presume anything about the jobs of an accountant, a physician, a computer programmer, or a mailman, to name a few. I just don’t know the negatives or positives of jobs other than my own. I look upon ignorance as a negative and try very hard to avoid communicating something that would jeopardize my credibility.

The world would be a far better place if “trolls” who, by definition, don’t know anything and only try to enflame, would either be more considerate by keeping their thoughts to themselves or do some valid research in order to make a contribution to the discussion.

Lesson: Never criticize your neighbor until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes!

A letter from the home front.

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I recently posted several comments from anonymous trolls who scolded me about how good teachers have it. 

I received this from a colleague still teaching in my old school district, CCSD64 in Park Ridge:

The district that Fred taught in is doing so well in Reading and Math, measured by MAP, that the Board now wants us to compete with super performing districts across the country. We are already working our tails off to get these kids to perform as well as they do, but the pressure is on to do even better. Is there room for growth? Always, but within reasonable expectations.

The Board is using a representative sample of schools around the US. No consideration was given to whether or not the districts have full day Kindergarten. We don’t, and half the time the kids are in half day K, they are going to Art, Music, and PE. I am not slamming the co-curricular subjects. They are essential to developing the “whole child” as D64 loves to say. D64 should open a full day K program.

In addition, how many of these super performers have a growing population of ESL students? How many have SPED students and their teachers pushed into the regular education program? Again, not slamming push in, but it is a factor in turning out super performers. How many super performers get free lunch? D64 has a growing population of students living in poverty as well.

Board members have very high expectations, but they keep warning us in cloaked language not to expect much of a raise, if any, when our current contract expires in June. The district is also hiring administrators barely into their 30s because they can get them for $80K a year. Board members speak openly about hiring our current superintendent at below market value.

The wet behind the ears administrators have also begun to seemingly target the more experienced teachers by calling them to their offices. These teachers have been told to bring Union representation so that they can be reprimanded for something that could just as easily been addressed without the disciplinary nature of the meetings. Our Union president has been at one of the schools three times in about seven days to take notes at these meetings.

So, anonymous, if you want to be a teacher, and think everything is so rosy for us, by all means, as Karl said, get off your duff and join the ranks. Frankly, I tell anyone who mentions to me that they want to become a teacher not to do it. You get a Tier 2 Pension in Illinois, you have to work until you are 67 to collect it, your receive little or no Social Security, even though you may have paid into it for years like Fred and myself, the paperwork is overwhelming, differentiating for each child is extremely time consuming, and expect to limit your social life to days off, vacations, and 60 days “off” ( laughing hysterically here!) during the summer. A good number of the teachers I work with are taking anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication. Teaching requires a huge amount of mental, emotional, and physical fortitude. Good luck to you. You’ll need it.

Siddhartha sits under the bodhi tree.

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U Ba Kyi from THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF BUDDHISM by ASHIN JANAKA BHIVAMSA (Aggamahapandita)

My friend Michelle Gunderson teaches first grade at a Chicago public school.

She is a staunch teacher union activist and a proponent of student-learning from play.

In a sane world this would be considered common sense and obvious.

As a sign of how nuts schools have become, Gunderson must be considered an educational radical for advocating play.

On Facebook this morning Michelle posted this:

As we build education policy groups, let’s make sure we include teachers who have spent their lives playing on rugs with children. Too often early childhood voices are missing from the process.

I think I would take that another step.

Education policy groups (if we need them at all) should only include teachers who have spent their professional lives on the floor with children.

Years ago I worked with an administrator who happened to be a Buddhist.

She often complained to me how she missed being in the classroom with kids.

“No problem,” I finally said. “Why don’t you come to my room and tell my second graders the story of how Siddhartha got to be the Buddha.”

I was already showing my students how to draw the human figure and how legs and arms bend and which way they bend. And which way they don’t.

And how some joints bend only one way and others have joints called balls. Which always got a giggle.

I would stick pieces of tape at the joints and we would move around and discover the amazing fact that arms and legs only bend where there is a joint.

One student would demonstrate a ballet position and then we would all take that position.

Another would pretend to be a hockey goalie. And then we all would.

Trust me. This all led to amazing discoveries.

The day came when the  administrator came to the art room with her personal Buddha and sat on the floor in a lotus position, telling the story of how Siddhartha sat under the bodhi tree and gained enlightenment.

And with tape on our joints we also sat in the lotus position.

Including me.

And listen. I was still doing this at 60.

I believe we gained a level of enlightenment.

I’m not sure that it made her a better administrator.

But she continued to come back every year for years.

I have to admit that in my last few years it was much easier for second graders to go full lotus than it was for me.

Yet I never gave up the floor.

Thinking about memorials on Memorial Day.

The Memorial - photo by Dan Arant

She had been after me for years to do an art project that connected her teaching of the Holocaust to her fifth graders.

And I had resisted it for years.

Artists had struggled for centuries on how to depict great human horror and tragedies. A few have been successful.

Guernica, of course, comes to mind.

But it is not an easy thing for an adult artist, let alone fifth graders. And I imagined drawings with swastikas with red circles and slashes across them. And the fifth grade boys would have a field day with drawings of Nazi tanks.

So, every year during the Holocaust Curriculum I avoided her, sometimes hiding in the supply room if I saw her walking down the hallway.

Then one year she went to D.C. and brought back posters from the National Holocaust Museum. One depicted nothing more than a pile of children’s shoes that had belonged to the youngest victims of the camps.

Okay. I had resisted long enough.

In class we had a discussion of the idea of public memorials. Some of the students noticed that sometimes the simplest image evoked the strongest reaction.

Like the shoes.

Alright. No Swastikas!

In class we generated a list of a hundred words that represented how they felt about this part of our history.

We sliced off tiles from the big block of clay and the students painted with glaze one of the words they had chosen on to the tile.

When finished, we arranged the glazed tiles on the bottom of the school’s stair well.

It formed a giant found poem.

It was just in time for open house.

One of the parents came over to talk.

“I’m surprised you decided to do something so controversial,” he said.

“Controversial? The Holocaust?”

‘Uh huh,” he said.

“It was not a problem for me,” I said.

Howl.

.

In 1965 I was not the greatest of students.

How is it that so many bad students aspire to be good teachers?

I stayed in school mainly to be with my friends.

I thought about this when I read the story of the Ohio high school teacher who was forced to resign after he obliged a student request to read an Allen Ginsburg poem, Please Master.

My Los Angeles high school defaulted to a college track. But I forced my parents to sign me out of that track.

This gave me the freedom to opt out of a required trig class, for example, while taking a bunch of classes I really wanted to take. Like one in international relations and a string of wonderful literature classes.

I was also looking to cause trouble and so spent many a lunch hour with our principal, Jim Tunney. He later became a National Football League chief referee.

In one of my lit classes the assignment was to bring in a poem to read aloud.

I chose Allen Ginsburg’s Howl.

Have I written about this before?

On the one hand I loved the beat poets.

Ginsburg in particular.

I spent many nights at the Venice West Cafe, listening to beat poets like Larry Lipton reading to the sound of bongo drums.

Seriously.

On the other hand I secretly hoped that reading Howl would get me in trouble.

And another lunch with Jim Tunney.

But my teacher, Mr. Battaglia, responded as if I had just read Emily Dickenson.

As the bell rang he called me up and opened a desk drawer, pulling out Andre Malraux’s Man’s Fate.

“Here,” he said. “Tell me what you think by Monday.”

Tell me what you think.

The best thing a teacher can say.

The way it’s spozed to be.

When I was a 16-year-old I read A.S. Neil’s Summerhill. Its utopianism was the perfect book for the time, which was 1966.

Summerhill was an actual school in England. It was founded on the radical premise that children should have the freedom to choose what they learn, when they learn it or if they learn it all.

As I decided that there was a reality to choosing teaching as my calling I read other radical critiques of traditional education.

I was a young man completely ignorant of life as a teacher in the classroom (except from the point of view of a student). What attracted me to these writers and their books was that for the most part they were written by actual teachers, not academics, and totally accessible.

I read John Holt’s Why Children Fail.

I read Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age.

I read The Way it’s Spozed to Be by James Herndon.

Looking back on this I see the limitations of what was available and known to me.

Yes, Kozol and Herndon wrote of their experiences teaching poor children and children of color.

But I was ignorant of what else was available. And there was the failure of publishers to make available to us the classroom experiences of teachers of color.

This created a huge gap in my knowledge.

In spite – maybe because – of the utopianism and radicalism of those I did discover, I was challenged to think of my classroom in terms of what I could do beyond the system’s expectations.

Now I look at the pictures of the parents and teachers who are resisting the standardized testing and Common Core and marvel at how young they are.

Or maybe how old I have become.

As a retired teacher I am excited by this rebellion and the explosion of resistance to the tests.

I am convinced that young teachers are again thinking and talking to each other about teaching in radical ways beyond the expectations and demands of the system.

I am convinced that this is not an educational movement that will be limited to a critique of poorly constructed test questions.

I am convinced that this movement is about rethinking curriculum, rethinking schools and thinking about who are the children and communities our schools serve.

When I was a student my mentor Professor Bill Schubert taught me that the curriculum was more than just the syllabus.

Curriculum was everything.

It’s more than a score.

It’s more than the test.

It’s everything.