Devos’ Tenure Must be Trauma Informed

Devos’ Tenure Must be Trauma Informed
Jamaal A. Bowman

The confirmation of Betsy Devos is primed to ignite an old and tired education paradigm: school choice is the answer to all of our public educational problems. Choice, in a democracy, is good at any level. We should all have the freedom to choose how we go about living our lives; unless of course that choice negatively impacts other people. Choice in the context of public education means defunding and demoralizing neighborhood public schools, while reinvesting public school money into school vouchers and charter schools, with limited regulations and oversight. The charter school lobby loves this because they are able to invest private money into schools, while receiving public funds as part of substantial profits within their financial portfolios. This money-laundering scheme has been well documented, as well as its positive impact on little beyond test scores.

But this article is not about the charter lobby or Betsy Devos’ abysmal reform record. Today I am writing about the number one killer of children in the U.S. today – psychological trauma. Psychological trauma is often a silent and slow killer. Its impact grows inside the mind and body while destroying children of every race, creed, and class across the country. We are accustomed to responding when impacted by physical trauma as it is easier to identify and remedy. But psychological trauma, caused by toxic stress, often goes undetected and unnoticed – until students enter a school building.

As an educator of almost two decades in historically disenfranchised communities, I can speak first hand of the traumatic experiences my students continuously face. One former student’s brother was stabbed to death trying to break up a fight. Another cluster of students began self-mutilating to cope with their anxiety and depression. I have had students run away from home, attempt suicide, and be placed in foster care because of abuse or neglect. These are not exceptions; this is the norm in historically disenfranchised communities throughout the country. This, is what public school teachers have to deal with every day.

Poor, Latino, and Black students continue to be overwhelmed by psychological trauma and neglected in our country at disproportionate rates. It is a disgrace that neither during the recent presidential campaign, nor during the Devos hearing, did the impact of trauma on learning (and long term health outcomes for that matter), become a topic of conversation. Why is this the case? Because educators and parents have been excluded from our political discourse, while profiteers have conspired to take over the political arena. America continues to be more concerned with building an economy by training human capital, than nurturing human beings toward a healthy democracy. Profit over people is the mantra. America continues to eat its young.

On almost every negative measure related to education and health outcomes, Black, Latino, and poor people are excessively represented. From Preschool expulsions and K-12 suspensions, to grade level proficiency and college graduation rates, to incarceration and addiction, the effects of trauma are ever-present and continue to baffle our elected officials and financiers. Luckily for our children, parents, educators, students, and researchers remain crystal clear on exactly what needs to be done.

Brain development begins at conception, and rapidly develops between birth and age three. Therefore, early childhood programs that provide childcare and parenting supports are essential for the long-term health and development of our children. Parents need help with creating nurturing environments for their children while also receiving opportunities to continue their education and improve employability. Instead of investing in annual standardized testing that illustrates what we already know, we must invest in early childhood programs to give our neediest children and families the start and support they need. This approach, if done well, will dramatically decrease the trauma experienced in high need communities and will improve long term health and education outcomes. Though I appreciate local and national universal Pre-K program initiatives, it serves as an expensive false solution for most children. Trauma is a daily, moment to moment occurrence when it is chronic, so if the proper supports are not in place beginning at conception, students will enter Pre-K cognitively, emotionally, socially, and physiologically delayed. Pre-K is way too late!!!

A child born to parents with limited formal education, will hear thirty million fewer words than a child born to parents with extensive formal education. Quite often in homes with limited formal education, the words heard carry negative connotations. This reality impacts the emotional and behavioral disposition of a child. In addition to this language deficiency, if the toxic stress, poor diet, and psycho-social elements of poverty are ubiquitous, the child’s executive functions become compromised. Some studies show that poor children literally have smaller brains . This neurological under-development, continues across the life span for students affected by chronic psychological trauma.

My message to Betsy Devos is simply: Engage all of the American people in discussions based on their reality. Listen carefully. Consult with researchers and practitioners who work with children daily. Continue to do your own homework and learn as much as you can about K-16 education. If you do this, the proper path will become abundantly clear. Invest heavily in early childhood education. Remember that for many children, Pre-K is far too late. Ensure our teachers are trained in trauma informed pedagogy and cultural competency, and receive ongoing training in exemplary instructional practices. Implement a child centered, project based 21st century learning curriculum, while working collaboratively with teachers, parents, students, and community members to provide the resources and autonomy necessary to meet each community’s unique needs. Build our education system from the ground up. Incentivize collaboration among stakeholders and create community based learning ecosystems throughout the country.

The vision is clear and the time is now. Our children are waiting on us.

This Saturday, 2/11, a Public Schools March organized by , will send a message loud and clear to the new secretary of education Betsy Devos: public schools are here to stay and we are ready to educate the whole child. You can go to the website to sign up for the march!

Our Potential 

I love connecting with people because I learn so much. I am in awe of our potential. As an educator and father this is very important to me. It is also important to me as a human being. I want to continue to learn and grow so that I can share in all of the beauty in this amazing world. Connections matter tremendously, because to quote Margaret Wheatley, “ever human beings their own unique story.” Everyone has a life and a story to share that we can learn from, and I yearn to learn from all people, all religions, all music, food, and culture; in every corner of the world. 
Our original sin of separation, hate and evil is horrifying for our growth and development as a human race. We have halted! Stagnated by differences and discontent. We are more than we believe we are capable of, but we are distracted by constant stimulation to the reptilian brain (Michael Elliot). This is all my opinion of course based on my experiences, but the hard evidence also speaks for itself. We are unhappy and we need to do better. Not just for ourselves but for our family, our community, and all of humanity. We are not here alone so we must work together to make the world better. 

As an educator I see this clearly and I see the potential in this opportunity. We get to work with children everyday and learn along with them and our adult colleagues as we aim to make sense of and recreate the world. Our human purpose is to explore, connect, and create. From the wheel, to fire, to the internet that is what we have always done. I yearn for a life where we are beyond discrimination, fear, and oppression; where we work together to accomplish things beyond our present perception. Where LOVE and TRUST is our ultimate guide. This is where we have not been. This is what we have not tried. True integration. True collaboration. True love of humankind. There are so many languages to learn, music to sing and dance to, foods to eat, games to play and adventures to take. How much time will we waste before we decide to let go of that which continues to hold us back? When will we embrace the full potential of our mind, body, and spirit? When will we be ready for our ascension? 

Our thoughts, combined with our emotions, make up our spirit. If our thoughts are tainted with doubt, and our emotions are cursed with hate, then the strength of our spirit will become disoriented and unavailable to us. How can we find happiness this way; especially with trauma, stress, and distractions all around us? Will we survive as isolated individuals under the constant vicious attack of greed and gluttony? How do we begin to resist the social engineering designed for our self destruction? 

It’s time to connect and form human alliances of love. It’s time to self actualize. Connection is the healing and nurturing we need — desperately. We need to trust each other, uplift each other, and learn from each other. We need to be humble and practice “the beginners mind,” to continuously learn the world as we go. None of us have the answers to this world of infinite complexity. We can only share our truth, connect, and seek to learn more to improve a specific context. No so called solution works for everyone. Problems are subjective as much as they are objective. Our separated categories and classifications are necessary at times, while acting as a big part of the problem at others. If our purpose is to move the world and humanity forward in a healthy and fulfilling way, we must embrace “the other” as much as ourselves. 

Can we create a world where we all maximize our potential? A world where all children are born into nurturing homes. Where all caregivers continue to learn to do their best. Where children, run, jump, climb, play, dance, sing, build, paint, draw, read, write, swim, ski, fight, speak, listen, care, collaborate, initiate, manipulate, create, learn, unlearn, relearn, cry, yell, apologize, grow, and everything else in the present and future. How might we design, communities, to maximize the creative, joyful, healthy potential of every inhabitant? In my opinion, this should be our goal and we should give our souls to this purpose together. Let us together engage our whole world, whole community, and the whole child to move the human race forward. 

The Promise of Public Education

The Promise of Public Education

On January 9, 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a major education speech by American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Ms. Weingarten, a former high school teacher in Brooklyn, New York, championed a vision for public education that celebrates the promise of our public schools, while also denouncing Betsy Devos as the wrong pick to be our next Secretary of Education.

As a public school educator for over seventeen years, and a father of three, I have experienced firsthand the education wars that have frustrated and demoralized the teaching workforce. We have been trapped in an over-standardized, one size fits all education system, while repeatedly failing to nurture the innate brilliance of every child. Top down, narrow policies, have silenced and misguided educators and families at the local level, while members of the “testocracy” continue to profit substantially off our kids. At this important time in our nation’s history, we need true leadership in public education.

Randi Weingarten displayed that leadership in her inspiring speech. Her powerful words were a call to action. A call to focus on the whole child, and to remind this country that the promise of our democracy will only be reached if we ensure a healthy and vibrant public school system. The test and punish policies of the past two decades have not worked for our schools. Achievement gaps remain, achievement overall has flattened, student engagement is declining, and new teacher applications have decreased dramatically. For the schools that are celebrated as panaceas of student achievement, they also carry abysmally high teacher attrition rates; with teachers consistently reporting feeling dejected and dehumanized. Ms. Weingarten’s speech urges us to pivot away from these oppressive policies, and to fully embrace four pillars of public education

In the most diverse country in the world, where ninety percent of our children attend public schools, where child poverty is growing and technology evolves instantaneously, the four pillars are a pathway to health and prosperity for all. First, by placing the well-being of our children at the core of our education policy, we recalibrate our moral compass as a nation, and invite all to support physically, mentally, and emotionally safe schools. By beginning with well-being, we will no longer ignore the importance of early childhood education, and will work to give all families the support they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives. Finally, well-being includes an academic curriculum inclusive of the arts, leadership and citizenship, and a socio-emotional curriculum that includes opportunities for self-reflection and correction, and restorative practices, supported by a well-staffed Guidance Department.

Ms. Weingarten also highlights powerful learning, building teacher capacity, and collaboration to round out her four pillars. The challenges of today, which include criminal justice reform, a growing economic divide, substance abuse, and increased diversity, require a dynamic approach to learning. Students must consistently work together to solve authentic problems, communicate effectively, take initiative and practice creativity. Further, building teacher capacity and continued learning is crucial to ensuring that teachers remain highly skilled and inspired, while guaranteeing that every child has a quality teacher in their classroom. Policies that focus on improving teacher capacity are incredibly impactful, because they affect classroom practice directly; which numerous studies have shown impacts student achievement the most.

Finally, collaboration serves as the essence of lifelong learning and critical for all to truly thrive in a diverse global economy. Through learning and working together, we will fortify our amazing profession and work to solve the world’s most complex problems. Collaboration, done genuinely, creates systems that troubleshoot naturally and harmoniously adjust to new ideas. If all schools are supported as community spaces for learning, where teachers, principals, students, parents, superintendents, retirees, and community based organizations come together to meet the needs of all children, we will all have a chance to benefit from and celebrate the promise of public education. I will answer Ms. Weingarten’s call to action, and encourage all who value public education to do the same.

The Whole Child

There is unlimited talent and potential within our schools. Children come to us full of excitement and infinite ideas. They believe and know that anything is possible. They are fearless, and not tainted by age, time, or the ridicule of failure. They are natural leaders; and when they find a passion, they’ll work vigorously to achieve mastery without provocation.

Whether shooting a basketball, practicing a dance routine, or playing an instrument, when children find an interest they are insistent. They don’t have to become “the best” player, dancer, or musician. For them, the continuous practice of perfection is priceless. Some will make it to the NBA, Juilliard, or Carnegie Hall, but the majority simply enjoy the pleasure of the pursuit, and accomplishing that which was once impossible. 

This behavior is natural. We are born explorers, artist, scientist, and acrobats. Kids will try anything on their own if we give them the space to do so. Of course, safety is important, but how many of our “stops,” “no’s,” and “don’ts” are as necessary as we make them out to be. Children are born brilliant, and if we guarantee that every child is born and raised in a healthy environment, they will ask more questions and generate more ideas by the age of 3 than we will know what to do with. Therefore, we must nurture, support and expose our children to the endless beauty of life, and we must work together as teachers, parents, and community members to leverage each other’s talents, and create boundless opportunities for our children.

It is often hard to avoid the ugliness in this world.  The media is a constant reminder of it. So much so that we begin to convince ourselves that the world is unkind and hopeless. This stagnates us, frightens us, and forces us into cowering from life. I am such a lucky man. I get to work with children every day. Children that despite their circumstances, bring so much joy, hope and love into my life. I can’t help but see and feel the beauty of the world because of them. They make me; whether I want to or not. 

Imagine if we created schools that allowed the natural brilliance of children to blossom. Imagine if we supported families that are living in dire circumstances with truly improving their lives. The mistakes of a teenage parent, high school dropout, substance abuser, or someone struggling with mental health should not be a life sentence. Every “problem” has a solution and there is a light at the end of every tunnel. All people need is help; help from other people. Not programs, protocols, or procedures; actual real people guided by a love for humanity. Throwing more money and technicality at a problem without investing in great people, will continue to lead us to pain and failure.

It is our duty as a country to help all people, because it has been our laws and behaviors that created the mess we are in. Mass incarceration, mass addiction, the “wealth” and “achievement” gaps, and mass shootings are all manifestations of misguided and inhumane policies that have left us in a state of confusion, fear, and extreme violence. The time is now to overcome — together. 

Let us come together to reverse the impact of man’s inhumanity to man. Let us build a culture of love, sharing, and creativity. Let us create humane and exhilarating spaces where children can be passionate explorers, collaborators, creators, and performers. Let us continue to learn from each other and take aggressive action against injustice. We don’t need a “leader” or “boss” or mayor, governor, or president to give us permission. We must listen to our hearts and follow our instincts to do what’s right for our children and communities; while continuing to learn along the way. The better we are, the better our children will be. The better they are, the brighter the future will be for all. 

The time is now to educate the whole child.

End School Privatization 

I have many friends and colleagues that I admire and respect who work for charter schools. I have no doubt that they love children and would give their lives to transforming our highest need communities. 

My friends and colleagues have no problem working in charter schools partly because far too often, because of the convoluted bureaucracy, public schools get in their own way. As a result, many children have suffered. This is not the public-school norm; as the propaganda machine of privatization would lead us to believe. Through their control of media and political influence, a new “common sense” has been created. Public schools are failing, while charter schools are thriving. The reality is, on average, public and charter schools perform about the same on achievement tests.

From the moment I began to pursue my school building leadership license, I knew I wanted to lead a public school. I don’t know why, but charter schools felt very corporate and elitist to me at the time. After my residency at an Achievement First charter school, my presumptions were just the tip of the iceberg. Not only were charter schools corporate and elitist, but they were also abusive. 

At my Achievement First residency, breakfast and lunch were silent for children. Hallway transitions were also silent. In classrooms, students had to use specific hand signals to ask questions and use the restroom. In my professional opinion as a certified teacher, school counselor, and building principal, these policies are child abuse. Achievement First is not the only charter school that implements these so called zero tolerance policies. The same practices are applied at schools like Democracy Prep, and Success Academy charter schools.

Some conservatives might read this and think it is okay to treat children this way because kids are “out of control” and need order. From my perspective, I wonder why children in white communities are not treated this way, while a black child’s pedagogy has to revolve around some form of oppression; especially considering most of the charter organization’s leadership is white.

Another important point is the fact that charter school environments seem to be abusive to teachers as well, as teacher attrition at charter schools is tremendously high.

Since my time at Achievement First, I’ve learned an awful lot about the political and financial incentives associated with the charter school movement. I’ve learned that this movement is not about charter schools and student learning, it is about the privatization of America and a pedagogy of oppression for the masses. Charter schools in general are non-union entities, and not only are they exceedingly unregulated by the state and thus prime for corruption, their teachers do not have the ability to collectively bargain — which is the bedrock of any healthy democracy. 

Teacher unions are arguably the strongest remaining union in the country. If they are defeated, America will be fully privatized and our democracy will officially be an oligarchy. There are many who would argue that democracy is already dead in America as we have elected a corporation, Donald Trump, into the presidency. Judging by president-elect Trump’s initial moves, he is following the conservative playbook, and his choice for education secretary is no different. Trump, like his conservative base, wants to privatize and control all of the institutions, people, and resources of our country and the world. 

Just look at our economic divide and all that has contributed to it. Wall Street took control of the housing market through mortgage backed securities, and collapsed the economy; while a percentage of the 1% gained enormous additional power and wealth in the process. Citizens United’s unlimited investment in elections, tips the scales of our democracy in favor of the wealthiest. Lobbying by the wealthy over the last forty years has created policy, like reversing Glass-Stegall, that has made the banks our masters and us the economically enslaved. Bank CEO’s along with oil tycoons, are the richest and most powerful individuals in the world.

Now they are coming for our schools; the last domino to fall in the global privatization equation. Once they take over public schools and destroy the teacher unions, we will be a racist oligarchy led by the wealthy elite. This is Donald Trump’s mission and plan.

I wonder how the blue collar hard right (alt-right) Trump supporters perceive their place in the privatization equation. Will all the new jobs go to them, and allow them to sustain their place in a class system above certain “undesirable” groups? Do they care about the core of our democracy; freedom, being taken away, or are they more concerned with their ability to oppress Blacks, Latinos,Jews, Asians, and Arabs?

Back to charter schools for a moment, for the charters that perform well, not only is their curriculum linear and narrow, they have also implemented a system to ensure that only the savvy parent with the right social capital could handle the rigors of the charter school application and enrollment criteria. I would also like to see some of the data of the students before they transfer to the charter schools. Were they at or near “proficient” on state tests? The point here is, charters do not work for all kids and parents.

The weapon of choice for public Ed privatizers is standardized tests. High stakes standardized tests, forces schools to implement a test prep curriculum. Test prep learning involves the rudimentary learning of isolated information, with little to no opportunity for understanding concepts, connections, big ideas and complex systems. This method of schooling creates a populace that’s cognitively compromised, and vulnerable to oppression. Creativity, evaluation, authentic problem solving, collaboration, agility, initiative, and leadership, all skills necessary to thrive in a healthy democracy, are absent from the standardized testocracy as the brilliant Jesse Hagopian (you have to watch his Ted Talk) refers to it. Ironically, the schools where the privatizers send their children, do not administer annual high stakes standardized tests and implement innovative curricula and pedagogy.

The same standardized testing weapon was also very popular during the eugenics movement. That movement was designed to “prove” that certain races and groups of people were inferior and thus it was okay to oppress, neglect, disenfranchise, and reject them. The strategy goes as follows: mistreat and oppress a group, underfund their institutions, put guns and drugs into their communities, then give them a test to show how much they don’t know. Create anguish and a low sense of self-worth over time and the people will beg for you to come and save them — enter charter schools, de-unionization and the privatization of America. 

They want to control us. They want to disempower us. They want a dictatorship. And now they have a conservative republican president, a republic senate, and a republic house, with a conservative republican Supreme Court judge on the way. The conservative oligarchy has risen, will the rest of us put aside our differences, unite, and fight like hell to save ourselves and our country?

Ms. Deborah Danner

Ms. Deborah Danner was 66 yrs old. A documented history of mental illness that the police were aware of. Multiple officers in the apartment. She had a bat. They shot her twice and murdered her. They could’ve tased her. They could’ve tackled her. They could’ve talked her down. If you’re that afraid, you should never become a police officer. This is a horrific disgrace and a true representation of the hate and fear that lives in the spirit of our country.

We need IMMEDIATE police reform! Right now!

Eyez on the Prize

Trump is a disgusting person. He represents all that is “nasty” and ugly about America past and present. I can’t wait for him to go away. He is not a decent human being.

Unfortunately as long as we follow any form of media,they will be around to report the despicable things he says even after he loses. Smh. I look forward to working locally and nationally to build an America beyond what Donald Trump represents.

I look forward to riding the momentum of our first black president, to our first women president, and toward an America that meets the ideals of the language in our constitution. I look forward to building a new America, and I know it starts with me in my community.

When Hillary wins, I hope that she’s able to close the economic divide, and help schools and healthcare to thrive. I also know that my city councilman, state senator and assemblyman, US congressional representatives and senators, are all vitally important to the quality of living in my community. Most importantly, I know that organized people, those of us who currently don’t vote or aren’t registered to vote because life happens, must more forward collaboratively to make transformative change in our communities. If we are not taking these actions, what is life really about?

Hillary’s Strength and Grace

I have always believed that women have special powers. Maybe it’s because of my awesome mom Pauline Bowman or my amazing sisters Deanna Bowman Dawn Bowman and Denise Bowman-Washington. That belief has been reaffirmed by my wife Melissa Oppenheimer Bowman and many women that I have worked with throughout my life.

Those special powers were on display last night for the world to see. Hillary Clinton withstood the misogyny, immaturity, incompetence, and downright disgusting behavior and presence of this “man” with unflinching grace, strength, and brilliance. He attacked her husband and his infidelity, her choices as a public defendant in her early life, pointed his finger at her while “mansplaining,” and disregarded answering questions directly just to continuously attack her. He even threatened to throw her in jail if elected, another new low in our country’s history as stated by Michael Elliot.

Despite his desperate attempts to unravel her, she dismantled him last night.

She answered every question directly, clearly, and spoke with an authenticity that I personally have not seen from her. She displayed a vision for bringing people together while he wants to tear us apart. She represents possibility, while he represents fear. He is the American past, she, the global future.
Hillary Clinton was a great example last night for women, children, and everyone else watching. Her special powers were on display last night and she exemplified what being presidential looks like.

RIP Alton Sterling…

WHERE’S THE GUN!!?? If there were a gun we would’ve been informed by now. EVEN IF THERE WERE A GUN, TWO MEN HAD HIM PINNED TO THE FREAKING GROUND!!!!

There’s a culture of racism and vicious hate for black and brown people in police departments all over this country. Unjustifiably I may add. WE AINT NEVER DO SHIT TO U BUT BE BLACK! This hate for black and brown people is part of America’s DNA. WE CONTINUE TO ATTACK THE POOR AND VULNERABLE IN OUR SOCIETY. HE WAS SELLING CD’s. ERIC GARNER WAS SELLING CIGARETTES. ON AND ON IN THIS SOCIETY…





Durant No Different Than Lebron (The Millennial Basketball Mind)

I grew up watching Michael Jordan as a basketball player. Through his example I learned about leadership, tenacity, work ethic, and greatness. I am stained by his example, and the example of many others from that era. It clouds my judgement as I watch this generation of ballers go through their career.

When Lebron made the decision to go to Miami I couldn’t understand it. Why join arguably at the time the second best player in the league in Dwayne Wade, and arguably another top ten player in Chris Bosh to chase your championship? Lebron was the best player in the league and by going to Miami it seemed he was taking the easiest route to a championship. And he knew it too,that’s why at their big three pep rally introduction when discussing how many championships they might win his response was “not five, not six, not 7,” indicating that his new super team would win at least eight championships. This also speaks to Lebron’s naïveté at that time is his career.

Luckily the basketball Gods were listening and although they went to four straight finals, they only won two of them. Balance in the basketball force was maintained.

So now we have Kevin Durant. Playing his entire career in Oklahoma City, with one championship appearance under his belt, an amazing top five talent in Russell Westbrook, and what looks from the outside like a great team, deciding to leave that situation and join an already made super team in the Golden State Warriors. A team one year removed from a championship, and a team that just broke the single season wins record with 73 wins. A team also that Durant just lost to in heartbreaking fashion in the western conference finals. Durant’s OKC team was up three games to one and was dominating every facet of the series, before losing three straight games. Game six was the killer as OKC was up ten with six minutes to go and couldn’t close the deal. Looking back now I guess we should’ve seen that as the end of an era. Two top five talents in the league, with a great supporting cast around them, could not pull themselves together to close the Warriors out. Honestly, I put that loss on Durant because he’s the best player, with the most talent and his team’s leader. He should’ve sealed the deal.

I guess if you can’t beat them join them. I guess Durant and Lebron’s decisions echo what’s happening in private industry throughout America. Now that the world is flat, millennials will have multiple jobs during their careers as they try to make as much money as possible while being fulfilled in their work. I can’t knock Durant for making whatever decision is best for him, especially as I’m hearing he and Stephen Curry share a spiritual connection. For me nothing comes before that. But again, as someone raised on Michael Jordan. I can’t help but think Durant might be taking the easy route to a championship. Which for me speaks to weak basketball character. Hey, to each his own, and who knows, he may wind up back in OKC someday.

One last thing, Westbrook with all his dancing and minstrel-ling before games must have really been a pain in the ass to deal with on a consistent basis despite his talent. Durant probably had enough. I look forward to seeing Westbrook growing from this and reaching his potential both in terms of basketball and maturity.