Creating Opportunities for Students Through Community Coalition-Building

Mundelein High School in Mundelein, Illinois

Educators are chock full of good ideas, especially when it comes to the betterment of their students. So when Illinois Education Association (IEA) member and board director Andrew “Andy” Hirshman, a social studies teacher at Mundelein High School, invited teachers, school staff, university researchers, and parents to an event in February 2017 to brainstorm ideas about how to improve several neighboring schools within different districts, it didn’t take long for those good ideas to turn into action.

Discussions that day centered on increasing parental and community involvement, eliminating school inequities by creating a path for advancement for every student. At the end of the meeting, the Illinois Opportunity Coalition—with support from a $48,000 NEA grant—was born. The coalition, which includes several IEA members, addresses opportunity gaps (traditionally referred to as achievement gaps). The group’s efforts have had an immediate impact on thousands of students, as well as educators, school staff, and community members.

“The Opportunity Coalition is really an outgrowth of what we have been doing at the IEA for many years now,” says Hirshman. “Finding willing partners to collaborate with in order to help improve education is just what we do.”

Since its inception, the coalition has accomplished much. Here’s a quick look:

Removing Barriers to Parental Involvement

Despite the high percentage (45) of Hispanic students at Mundelein High School, located in a northern suburb of Chicago, parental involvement was low. To reverse this trend, Hirshman and other coalition members reached out to people they knew could help. Sol Cabachuela was one such person.

Cabachuela has a long history of community volunteerism. She is, for example, the president for the Mundelein Latino Police Academy and a mentor for Kids Hope organization at one of the local middle schools. She was also recently appointed as Mundelein’s new Acting Village Clerk. But her role as a member and community liaison for the Mundelein High School Parent Ambassadors program is what makes her a shining star within the education community.

Andrew Hirshman

“I don’t have kids in the high school yet,” says the mother of seventh and second grade students, “but I wanted to get involved because I understand the culture, how it works, and how to respond.”

Her work with the ambassador’s program, which helps connect parents, feeder schools, and community members with educators and students from Mundelein High School, has created several opportunities for parental involvement. So when Cabachuela was tapped to help the coalition, she jumped at the chance.

“Many parents didn’t know what’s going on, and it wasn’t from a lack of interest,” she explains. “Most parents work two jobs. Others didn’t have access to email, let alone an email account. When I started to engage with families I saw they were missing basic tools that prevented them from being a part of the school community,” she says.

Cabachuela used her networking skills to reach out to families using tried and true techniques, such as making one-on-one connections. “They like to see someone from the community whom they know,” says Cabachuela, adding that “it’s all about trust.”

A pivotal and proud moment for the coalition and the parent ambassadors came when the group drew a large crowd to a back to school event this past year. After several conversations with Hispanic families, they learned that many would skip the back-to-school cookout, traditionally hosted for the football team, because “they like soccer,” explains Andy Hirshman. To create a more welcoming environment, they held a season opener cookout for the football and soccer teams that drew nearly a thousand people.

Since then, with Cabacheula at the helm, other parents have volunteered to connect with the families of incoming freshman or host lunches or dinners at their homes or at the high school. “This work is about “finding opportunities for families,” says Cabachuela, “and making sure families know they have a support system in place.”

With parental involvement on the rise, educators and school staff can turn their attention toward other matters that are equally important, like equity.

In May, the Round Lake Opportunity Coalition showcased student led research projects that were a culmination of a year long collaborative process between Opportunity Coalition members, which includes members of the Illinois Education Association, district leaders, and local community leaders.


Closing Gaps in Honors Classes

Many students of color nationwide are still underrepresented in honors and advanced placement (AP) courses. Some placement processes assign students to different classes based on prior achievement. This is known as tracking. Mundelein High School uses a similar system—that is until school staff learned that many students of color whom by all of their indicators (test scores, grades, attendance) should have been taking rigorous courses were not.

After more than a year of research, parent outreach, focus groups, and collaboration among teachers, support staff, administrators, and the local union, an Earned Honors model was piloted in Mundelein’s World Studies classes during the 2017-2018 school year.

Under this model, no one is slotted for “honors” or “regular” classes. All students are kept together, which better reflects school demographics. The earned honors distinction is based on the work students produce and for those who struggle additional academic support and scaffolding are provided.

The efforts from members of the Illinois Education Association through the Opportunity Coalition fit within the requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which gives parents, teachers, and community members a seat at the decision-making table. If your school needs to improve in certain areas, turn to NEA’s My School, My Voice for guidance and connect with your state association.

“You can say ‘they have access,’ but for this to be true, the right supports need to be in place for students to actually access the curriculum,” says Stacey Gorman, director of curriculum and instruction for the high school and a member of the Illinois Opportunity Coalition. “It wasn’t just the world studies teachers. There were interventionists and instructional assistants who supported kids and worked with teachers to make sure this model was successful.”

Success came quickly, too. Data revealed that there was an increase of 28 percent in the number of Hispanic students earning honors compared to the previous “ability” tracking model. Forty-five percent of students who earned honors, but were not enrolled in any other traditional honors course, were Hispanic students.

Next year, school staff has decided to do away with AP World History, and instead, every freshman will be in earned honors World Studies.

Mundelein isn’t the only benefactor of the coalition’s work. Gains have been made in other areas, too, such as in neighboring Round Lake, where educators worked with teams of students who engaged in action-based research that addressed different community issues.

Connecting Students to Communities

The following may sound familiar: students with good grades, perfect attendance, and (for whatever reason) unengaged in school and community activities. These were some of the characteristics that Matthew Howe, a Human Geography teacher from Round Lake High School and a member of Education Association of Round Lake, and three other educators from the school district were discussing back in February 2017 when the Illinois Opportunity Coalition hosted its first meeting.

The question was asked: “what can we do?”

Howe and other educators organized and formed a district-level group called the Round Lake Opportunity Coalition and tapped nearly 90 students from Indian Hill Elementary (4th graders), John T. McGee Middle School (7th graders), and Round Lake High School (10th graders) to take on issues that impacted their community.

Students formed mixed-grade groups based on topics, which ranged from stopping gun violence and reducing bullying to improving local water quality and the need to plant more trees. They met five times during the course of a year to work on their projects, even meeting with community members, such as firefighters, members from the city planning council, and school counselors.

The culmination of their work resulted in the first annual Round Lake Opportunity Coalition Showcase, an open house style event where on May 18 student presented their findings to a room-full of parents, community members, and educators.

“The outreach aspect was really important and seeing students start to understand that they are part of this community, too,” Howe says, “but the collaborative part of the project was big, too.”

Teachers who worked with students had coverage from substitute teachers, students had the resources they needed to complete the work, and when community members were called to help, they showed up. “We were all working together,” Howe says, “and it was really cool to see students, the union, the administration, the community make this project successful.”

The Illinois Opportunity Coalition has created excitement among educators and their allies. What initially started out in three school districts has spread to eight different communities, with a reach of 50,000 students.

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Betsy DeVos’ Deputy Privately Admitted Trump Administration’s Idea Could Hurt Kids

One of the Department of Education’s top civil rights appointees said in a private meeting that it isn’t necessary for the Trump administration to rescind school discipline guidance designed to protect black and brown children. 

The appointee, Candice Jackson, also acknowledged that such a move could harm vulnerable kids, according to a document obtained by HuffPost. Still, the guidance remains on the administration’s chopping block.

The Obama-era guidance is supposed to help prevent schools from disproportionately punishing black and brown students. However, in recent months, it has come under fire from the Trump administration and has become a target for rescission.

Jackson, who now serves as second in command at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, made these comments during a phone conversation in March with representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights advocacy group. At the time, Jackson was temporarily serving as the highest official in the Office for Civil Rights, an agency that enforces federal civil rights laws in schools. 

In the call with the SPLC, Jackson said much of the opposition to the guidance is based on misinformation and misperception, according to a letter the SPLC later sent to Jackson that documented these comments.

The letter, which HuffPost has obtained, was an acknowledgment of the SPLC’s meeting with Jackson, as well as a follow-up to some of the points discussed surrounding the guidance.

On Tuesday, the SPLC sent another letter to Kenneth Marcus, who recently took over for Jackson as head of the Office for Civil Rights. The letter reiterates the comments Jackson made and urges Marcus to take the same position as his predecessor, “that rescinding the DOJ/ED Discipline Guidance is unnecessary and harmful.”

“Assistant Secretary Marcus has an opportunity here to demonstrate a commitment to core American values,” Zoe Savitsky, deputy legal director of SPLC, told HuffPost.

In response to requests for comment about the meeting, Department of Education spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said the fate of the guidance is still undecided and the administration is continuing to study the issue as part of the Federal Commission on School Safety. 

“OCR has met with many advocacy groups with diverse opinions on this important issue. While those meetings continue, absolutely no decisions have been made,” Hill said.

In the past, Jackson has come under fire for her comments that most campus sexual assaults are a result of regrettable drunken hookups.

The Obama-era guidance, released in 2014, clarified how schools should interpret federal civil rights laws to ensure they’re not discriminating against students. The directive asked schools to taper their use of tough disciplinary tactics ― like suspensions and expulsions ― and warned schools that they could violate the law if certain groups of students are consistently receiving harsher punishments than others.

The guidance was issued in reaction to stark statistics showing that students of color are disproportionately subject to harsher discipline than their white peers, even for the same behavior.

The Department of Education continues to receive hundreds of legal complaints regarding discriminatory discipline in schools. In 2017, the department received over 200 complaints, HuffPost previously reported.

However, the guidance has been sitting on the Trump administration’s chopping block for months. As far back as November 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos began meeting with critics of the directive. Then, in March, President Donald Trump asked DeVos to lead a Federal Commission on School Safety after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Part of the school safety commission’s mandate is to recommend policies surrounding the “Repeal of the Obama Administration’s ‘Rethink School Discipline’ policies.” DeVos has held meetings with both critics and advocates of the guidance.

Critics of the Obama directive say it has put pressure on teachers to keep misbehaving students in the classroom to maintain low suspension numbers, making schools less safe. Others say schools were not given the tools to implement alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, creating a more chaotic environment. But civil rights groups like the SPLC see the guidance as a key tool in helping to protect vulnerable students who are already disproportionately pushed out of school.

During the March meeting, Jackson asked for more evidence to support what the SPLC letter calls “the fact that racial disparities in school discipline cannot be explained by differences in behavior by race” and mentioned several districts where she heard the guidance might be negatively affecting students.

Still, with Jackson, the SPLC found a somewhat sympathetic ear. After noting how much misinformation surrounds the guidance, Jackson said the Education Department could “provide a more thorough explanation of the purpose and goals of the guidance.”

It is unclear where Marcus, the new head of the civil rights office, will land on this issue, although civil rights groups have expressed fear that he will promote rescission. They ardently opposed his confirmation to the position.

Tuesday’s SPLC letter calls on him “to protect vulnerable students and ensure that they are not harmed, either by the unnecessary and discriminatory use of exclusionary discipline or by any actions taken by the Department.”

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Teacher And Civil Rights Groups File Complaint Over Family Separation

Teachers unions and civil rights groups filed a human rights complaint at the United Nations Wednesday morning over the Trump administration’s policy of separating families caught illegally crossing the border. 

The zero tolerance policy designed to deter illegal border-crossing puts parents in jail while their children are placed in detention centers. It resulted in nearly 2,000 children being separated from their parents from mid-April through May. 

Education and civil rights groups have decried the policy as inhumane. In filing a formal complaint with the U.N. Human Rights Council, the nation’s two teachers unions, as well as civil rights groups like the NAACP and the Hispanic Federation, are claiming that the policy violates international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Notably, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced Tuesday that the U.S. was leaving the Human Rights Council, saying that the body has failed to hold abusers of human rights accountable.

“The trauma caused by family separation is heinous under any circumstances, particularly in a civil society centered on family values,” the groups say in the complaint. “It is intolerable and unlawful to separate families who have sacrificed everything to escape the toxic circumstances of their home countries.” 

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, told HuffPost that this issue especially resonates with the teachers she represents.

We love children. These kids should actually be in schools and with their parents and with their families, not separated from them,” Weingarten said. “We believe in helping children thrive, not in confining them to heinous, abusive situations.” 

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10 Must-See TED Talks for Educators

Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders

TED Talks are a source of inspiration, knowledge and motivation for countless educators. Dig deeper to find more, but here are ten presentation teachers may find most useful and informative.

North Dakota teacher Kayla Delzer seeks to change how technology is viewed in the classroom. Instead of a force for distraction, she believes students and teachers can learn more by utilizing common apps and technology in the classroom. (For more on Delzer, check out “Farewell Desks, Here Come the Starbucks Classrooms”)

Teaching Teachers How to Create Magic

Dr. Christopher Emdin of the Teachers College at Columbia University argues that we need to transform how teachers are trained if our schools are going to reach and engage all students.  (Read NEA Today’s interview with Emdin)

Forget the Pecking Order at Work

Management expert Margaret Heffernan argues that working together, asking questions, and helping others is the key to the most successful and productive workplace. These are lessons educators of varying experience can bring into their workplace to help create the best learning experience for their students.

Prepare Our Kids for LIfe, Not Standardized Tests

Standardized testing isn’t preparing our kids for their futures and is driving the joy and real learning from our classrooms, says innovation expert Ted Dintersmith. It’s time to empower those who own the consequences of what happens in the classroom — our teachers and students. (Read “In Teachers We (Should) Trust,” NEA Today’s interview with Dintersmith)

Why Do We Sleep?

The mental and physical wellness of educators is integral to the success of our shools. In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Russell Foster urges everyone to check your health by prioritizing sleep.

Sleep deprivation affects educators as much as it does the students they are teaching. Wendy Troxel, a sleep researcher, believes sleep deprivation among teens is a serious public policy issue. Troxel believes that middle and high schools should not start before 8:30 am for fear of severely impacting adolescent health. You can find her Ted Talk here.

“How to Make Stress your Friend”

Stress and burnout are pitfalls many if not most educators face in their careers. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist, doesn’t want your stress to hold you back, but says it can, believe it or not, be a positive force.

“How to Get Better at the Things You Care About”

Every job is important and has room for improvement and change. Whether it’s your professional or personal life, your box only exists because you let it, according to Eduardo Briceño.

The Economic Case for Preschool

Author of “Investing in Kids,” Timothy Bartik, offers a unique perspective on why preschool and education are important. There are economic benefits along with bettering the lives of young children.

“What Adults Can Learn from Kids”

Educators have the unique and powerful opportunity to empower youth. This TED Talk by child prodigy Adora Svitak is a fun look at how working with and uplifting children can change your perspective on life and education.

“Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson delivered what would become the most popular TED Talk of all time – a plea to reverse the standardization and rigid compliance that has drained creativity out of our schools. Unfortunately, more than a decade later, Robinson’s diagnosis remains relevant today.

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Many Recommend Teaching Mental Health In Schools. Now Two States Will Require It.

Amid sharply rising rates of teen suicide and adolescent mental illness, two states have enacted laws that for the first time require public schools to include mental health education in their basic curriculum.

Most states require health education in all public schools, and state laws have been enacted in many states to require health teachers to include lessons on tobacco, drugs and alcohol, cancer detection and safe sex.

Two states are going further: New York’s new law adds mental health instruction to the list in kindergarten through 12th grade; Virginia requires it in ninth and 10th grades.

Nationwide, cities and states have been adopting a variety of initiatives over the past decade to address the rising need for mental health care in schools.

But until this year, mandated mental health education had not been part of the trend.

“We’re seeing a huge increase in youth anxiety and depression,” said Dustin Verga, a high school health teacher in Clifton, New York, who was an early advocate for the state’s new law.

“We teach them how to detect the signs of cancer and how to avoid accidents, but we don’t teach them how to recognize the symptoms of mental illness,” Verga said. “It’s a shame because, like cancer, mental health treatment is much more effective if the disease is caught early.”

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month shows the U.S. suicide rate rose by a quarter between 1999 and 2016. That and two celebrity deaths this month — those of fashion designer Kate Spade, 55, and chef Anthony Bourdain, 61 — have raised the nation’s consciousness about depression and suicide prevention.

But mental illness can set in much earlier than adulthood. More than half of lifetime mental illnesses begin before age 14, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Yet the average person waits 10 years after the first symptoms occur before getting treatment.

By educating children of all ages about mental health, the hope is that they will learn how to recognize early symptoms in themselves and their friends and seek help before a crisis develops, said Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of Mental Health America, a nonprofit that advocates for better mental health care.

“People are talking more about youth mental health and the effects of trauma on kids, but it’s taken a long time to get traction. I think what we’ve seen recently in terms of school shootings is spurring this,” Gionfriddo said. “It wouldn’t surprise me to see a number of states go in the same direction over the next few years,” he said, referring to New York and Virginia.

The rate of adolescents experiencing major depression surged nearly 40 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, rising to an estimated 2.2 million depressed children ages 12 to 17, according to the most recent federal data.

Teen suicides also have spiked. According to the CDC, the suicide rate among boys ages 15 to 19 increased by nearly a third between 2007 and 2015; the suicide rate among girls the same age more than doubled. 

But that only accounts for the deaths. Nearly 9 percent of youths in grades nine through 12 attempted suicide in the past year, according to the CDC’s 2015 Youth Risk Behaviors Survey.

In response, many states have increased funding for school counseling and added psychologists to their health staffs. Others are thinking of doing the same. Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this month recommended adding more counselors to schools following a mass shooting at a Santa Fe school. His is one of 20 states that don’t require school counselors.

And most states have adopted so-called mental health first aid programs to train first responders, primary care physicians, teachers and other school personnel to detect the signs of mental illness and addiction and provide preventive measures including referral to treatment.

In addition, a slim majority of states mandate suicide prevention training for school personnel, and close to a dozen states require annual courses. More than a dozen states encourage and facilitate training, but do not require it.

Different Paths

In New York, it was a nonprofit mental health group that came up with the idea of requiring schools to educate students about mental illness in all grades. That was seven years ago.

The Legislature was immediately interested, said John Richter, the public policy director for the Mental Health Association in New York State Inc. “The problem was finding a way to cut in line ahead of dozens of other competing educational issues.”

It was the opioid crisis and its strong connection with mental illness that ultimately allowed the New York Assembly’s education committee to bring the mental health bill to a vote in 2016, Richter said. Armed with research showing that people with mental conditions often self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, the chairman found an eager audience of lawmakers who wanted to do everything they could to quell the overdose epidemic, he said.  

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, people with a mood or anxiety disorder are more than twice as likely to develop an addiction to opioids and other drugs.

New York’s law doesn’t prescribe a specific classroom curriculum for mental health, leaving the details up to the board of education. But the state is giving $1 million a year to the mental health association to offer an online mental health resource center and free training services for teachers starting in July.

In the fall, New York public school teachers will be encouraged to incorporate the topic of mental illness into subjects such as science, literature, history and social studies whenever possible, according to Richter. And health teachers will be called on to develop lesson plans that describe the disease of mental illness, methods of treating it, and healthy coping techniques students can use to protect themselves and their friends from the mounting pressures of school life.

“The life students live today is very different from what it was just 10 years ago,” Clifton’s Verga said. “Technology and social media have taken over. Kids are getting cellphones at an earlier age and facing escalating academic expectations and standardized assessments starting in third grade.”

Leticia Jenkins teaches a ninth-grade health class. Two states now require health teachers to address rising rates of adolesc

Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Leticia Jenkins teaches a ninth-grade health class. Two states now require health teachers to address rising rates of adolescent mental illness in their classrooms.

In Virginia, the path from idea to statute was much shorter. 

The new law was the brainchild of three students who attended summer classes on political leadership at the University of Virginia. For them, the biggest political issue for high school kids was an urgent need for more mental health resources.

With that in mind, they decided that the best approach would be a statewide educational program that would explain the brain science behind mental illness, help students learn how to improve their own mental well-being, and reduce the stigma around mental health.

They found a receptive legislative sponsor in state Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat from Charlottesville whose son stabbed him and later killed himself after being denied emergency psychiatric services in 2013.

Their bill flew through the Legislature and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed it into law in March. It is set to take effect in the fall.

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The Story Of Orra White Hitchcock And The Women Whose Modesty Hides Their Talent

“Mrs. Hitchcock has been steadily at work for thirty-six years, whenever called upon to supply my numerous demands,” famed scientist Edward Hitchcock wrote in the preface of one of his memoirs, recognizing the labor of his wife, Orra White Hitchcock.

It was a funny way of saying that, for over three decades, Orra had been providing the distinctly abstract illustrations that accompanied the American scientist’s geological findings in the mid-1800s. She drew the earth’s crust as a soft orb of salmon pink, fossil footprints as a chic wallpaper design, an octopus as an oddly sensual configuration of dots and swirls. Like educational posters on acid, they were used in Edward’s lectures at Amherst College, where he was a professor and, later, the school’s third president. 

“And that too without the slightest pecuniary compensation, or the hope of artistic reputation,” Edward continued. “For so large and coarse have been most of the drawings that she never felt flattered to have others told she was the author of them.” 

Orra never even signed them. 

In the tribute, Orra’s lack of self-promotion is framed as modesty, her renouncement of payment is cast as true devotion to her craft, and her lack of professional ambition reads as honorable. Edward’s speech, though probably well-intentioned and maybe even uniquely gracious for a powerful man of his time, hints at how women in the workplace have historically been rewarded for dreaming small. 

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections

Another classroom chart, titled “Sectional View of the Crust of the Earth,” created by Orra White Hitchcock circa 1830-1840.

Nearly 200 years after their creation, Orra’s pioneering materials are considered valuable art objects. Today, the cotton canvases hang in the American Folk Art Museum, in an exhibition dedicated entirely to her: “Charting the Divine Plan: The Art of Orra White Hitchcock (1796–1863).” The show recognizes her as one of the earliest female scientific illustrators. On the evening of its opening, clusters of well-dressed New Yorkers swarmed the “large and coarse” works, whispering in hushed awe at how prescient, how mesmerizing and ahead of their time, they seem.

Stacy Hollander, who curated the Folk Art Museum exhibition, first attributed a trove of uncanny (and unsigned) maps to Orra in the late 1990s. That’s when she came across Edward’s memoir, in which he thanked his wife for the “many thousand square feet of surface” she created, illustrating “principles of botany, geology, zoology, and anatomy.” 

As Hollander quickly learned, Orra’s geological charts were not just routine visualizations of her husband’s research. Rather, they’re poetic abstractions of our world’s texture and guts, executed in a psychedelic palette and imbued with an avant-garde energy all their own. Orra devoted herself to visualizing mushrooms, flowers, fossils and dirt with an air of fantasy that lands somewhere between the fictional lands of visionary artist Joseph Yoakum and Dr. Seuss. A work titled “Sectional View of the Crust of the Earth” feels almost ironic in its starkness (it’s simply a pink circle), like it’s making a joke about the impossible tasks all maps take on. Another depicting “veins of lava” feels like it was ripped from the oeuvre of Louise Bourgeois, with its ability to look botanical and bloody all at once.

Their creation demanded scientific mastery and imagination in equal and abundant measure.

One of Orra White Hitchcock's classroom charts, simply titled "Octopus" (1828–1840).

Amherst College Archives Special Collections

One of Orra White Hitchcock’s classroom charts, simply titled “Octopus” (1828–1840).

Thanks in part to Hollander, Orra is now regarded as one of the first documented female scientific illustrators; her work came alive in classrooms, libraries and laboratories, where it helped bring clarity and excitement to university students. She followed in the footsteps of German-born illustrator Maria Sibylla Merian, whose 17th-century depictions of butterflies and insects transformed the dominant understanding of metamorphosis. Orra’s contemporaries included British mycologist and illustrator Anna Maria Hussey, and Hussey’s sister Frances Reed. 

Hollander discovered Orra in ’97, when a board member gifted the museum a “mourning watercolor” with Orra White’s name on the back (along with South Hadley, the location of her Massachusetts school), memorializing three of her deceased siblings. Turns out, the painting was made in 1810 when Orra was only 14. At a young age, she possessed an arresting ability to depict hard-to-grasp subjects.

Hollander, taken by the piece, did some light internet sleuthing. She learned that Orra married Edward Hitchcock, a name far more well-documented in the annals of history. In the archives of Amherst, she managed to dig up Orra’s elementary school mathematics ledgers and penmanship practice notebooks. She found love poems written to Orra by her betrothed. She found her prolific illustrations, spread out over decades.

Before long, Hollander realized she was looking at the work of a prodigy. At 14, Orra was calculating complex logarithms to determine syzygies, the alignment of the earth, moon and sun, used to predict eclipses.

Hollander eventually pieced together Hitchcock’s entire, striking biography. Born to a wealthy farmer and his wife in South Amherst in 1796, Orra was afforded every educational opportunity available to her, a rarity for young women in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At 17 years old, she became a teacher at Deerfield Academy, where she fell in love with Edward Hitchcock, then the academy’s principal. They wed and went on to have eight children, two of whom died extremely young.

Orra White Hitchcock's "Seven Lines of Fossil Footprints" (1828–1840).

Amherst College Archives Special Collections

Orra White Hitchcock’s “Seven Lines of Fossil Footprints” (1828–1840).

Along with her artistic and intellectual pursuits, Orra assumed the responsibilities expected of women at the time ― she took in boarders at her home, ran the farm, tended to the care and education of her children, and hosted religious meetings and soirees. 

Orra described Edward as a challenging partner at times, suffering from melancholia and hypochondria that resulted from physical ailments he experienced when he was a kid. “He really tested her but he adored her,” Hollander said. “He sent her love letters and poems from the moment they met each other.” In one note from Edward to Orra, featured in the exhibition, they forge plans to ditch their respective plans to meet up for secret “all night” conversations.  

The two were creative collaborators as well as romantic partners, known to go on extensive foraging trips in Massachusetts cataloging the flowers and mushrooms they found along the way. Orra drew each unique specimen’s every defining feature, employing a poetic sensibility that translated her husband’s lengthy findings into coherent and gripping visual forms. Although Edward, who lectured on invertebrate fossils and dinosaur footprints long before the word dinosaur was coined, remained the better-known name of the two, “Orra was pretty widely recognized by students and by his own peers as well,” Hollander said.

“More than one person commented that Edward might not have achieved what he did without her. They were a match made in heaven.”

Orra White Hitchcock's classroom chart titled "Veins of Lava" (1830–1840).

Amherst College Archives Special Collections

Orra White Hitchcock’s classroom chart titled “Veins of Lava” (1830–1840).

Orra died in 1863 at the age of 67; her husband passed away the next year. Today, when I look at Orra’s intricate line drawings of squat fungi and elegant astersher dramatic depictions of cephalopods, and most of all her geological classroom charts, I think about all the brilliant, creative teachers I had growing up, so many of them women. 

There was Ramona Otto, whose classroom was adorned with sculptures she created from treasures found at flea markets. And Leanne Statland Ellis, who read to students aloud from a book she wrote herself about the adventures of people who lived in the clouds. And all the teachers whose classrooms are lined with diagrams, charts, maps and visualizations. What would those images look like on museum walls?

Orra White Hitchcock is an anomaly. A child prodigy, a woman whose intelligence was nurtured and encouraged, whose partner respected her intellect and gave credit where credit was due. And yet it’s very possible that her name would have remain relatively unknown had Hollander skipped over that 1810 watercolor. One could easily imagine a future in which Orra’s charts were never discovered, attributed, researched or displayed. We likely still live in a future where similar artists, many of whom are women, slip under the radar in part due to their own learned humility.

She didn’t sign most of her adult creations, but thankfully, 14-year-old Orra took credit for her work. 

"Herbarium parvum, pictum" (1817–1821) by Orra White Hitchcock.

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections

“Herbarium parvum, pictum” (1817–1821) by Orra White Hitchcock.

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EXCLUSIVE: LGBTQ Federal Employees Confronted Betsy DeVos Last Year

A Department of Education affinity group for LGBTQ employees and allies met with Secretary Betsy DeVos last year and implored her to consider the effects the Trump administration’s actions could have on transgender students, HuffPost has learned.

The meeting took place in February 2017, the day the White House rescinded Obama-era guidance outlining protections for trans students. DeVos defended the decision in the meeting, calling the Obama guidance “clumsy” and “not done right,” according to an employee’s draft notes from the meeting obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. One of DeVos’ deputies also said the secretary had personally fought for language in the rescission letter assuring that the Department of Education would continue to protect all students.

In response, multiple employees expressed disappointment and told DeVos they disagreed with the move. One employee told her that in school districts where trans students are severely bullied, it could lead to life-or-death situations. Another took offense to DeVos referring to the Obama guidance as clumsy; he said he had helped write it. 

The employees recommended that DeVos watch Barry Jenkins’ 2016 film “Moonlight,” which explores themes of sexual identity and race. In turn, the secretary recommended the movie “Hidden Figures.”  

The Obama-era guidance, issued by the Department of Justice and Department of Education, called on school districts to allow trans students to use the restrooms and facilities that correspond with their gender identity. The 2016 guidance ran into legal trouble almost immediately after it was issued, though, with 11 states suing the Obama administration in response. Since then, multiple high-profile courts have concurred with the Obama administration’s interpretation of the protections with which schools are required to provide trans students.

During the meeting, which was put together by DeVos and her staff at the last minute, she announced that the guidance would be rescinded before it had yet been made public ― a gesture for which the employees thanked her.

DeVos told the group that rescinding the guidance was a “difficult decision,” made after many conversations with the Department of Justice. In response, employees told DeVos that while they may disagree with the decision, they “stand ready to do whatever we can to ensure that rescission is as minimally harmful to students as possible, as they need a safe place to go to school.”

The secretary also requested that the group provide her with stories from trans students, families and educators, and examples of model districts and policies.

Spokespeople from the Department of Education did not respond to HuffPost’s request for confirmation of this version of events.

Other pieces of correspondence between Department of Education employees and obtained by HuffPost through FOIA reveal some confusion among the department’s lawyers in the days leading up to the rescission.

Employees tried to decipher when a rescission might be be announced through news reports while they worked to provide the Department with legal justification for the move. One employee, the day before the guidance was axed, wrote that no one at the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights had been consulted about the potential rescission to his knowledge. After the Department of Justice issued a letter announcing the move to the Supreme Court, Department of Education employees speculated that the document was a “rush job” that had not been “reviewed by career civil servants” who would have caught an inaccuracy.

Reports surfaced at the time that the guidance had been dropped at the request of Attorney General Jeff Sessions but over the objections of DeVos. Since then, though, DeVos has publicly supported the move. In her meeting with employees, DeVos said she thought this issue should be left to districts, rather than to the federal government.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for DeVos, said that the secretary actively sought out the group for input and advice.

“She appreciated their perspectives and used several of their suggestions,” Hill told HuffPost. “Secretary DeVos regularly seeks input from those impacted by policy decisions, including people who may not agree on the policy end. She believes that open and constructive dialogue leads to better outcomes.”

In the months since the rescission of the guidance, the OCR has begun dismissing civil rights complaints filed by trans students who were not allowed access to the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, as first reported by HuffPost.

This story has been updated with Hill’s comments.

Are you a transgender student attending public school in America? If you would like to talk about your experience, I invite you to get in touch:

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Ohio’s Voter Purge Claims Another Casualty — College Students

College students are modern-day nomads. They can go for years without a permanent address, hopping from dorm to dorm, college to college, or even country to country. During my own undergrad stint, I went away to school, lived in two different dormitories, traveled abroad and was briefly without a permanent home address when my mother decided to move during the school year.

This transient lifestyle is why this week’s Supreme Court decision to uphold Ohio’s purging of voting rolls may have broad negative implications for college students throughout the country.  

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20 million people are enrolled in college campuses across the United States. That’s 20 million eligible voters who, if other states adopt Ohio’s purging system, could be branded an infrequent voter.

Ohio’s purge process essentially removes infrequent voters from the registration rolls. Registered voters are sent an address confirmation by the state if they go two years without voting in an election; they then have four years to either cast a vote or confirm their address.

This creates a precarious situation for college students who often receive mail both at home and on campus. Students living away from home are no stranger to parents or siblings losing or discarding snail mail or forgetting about it altogether.

Furthermore, some students spend a semester or an entire year studying abroad and may not receive such government-related notices until they return stateside ― and that’s only if their family held onto it. If a student fails to receive the initial notice and continues to not vote, they may ultimately end up dropped from the registration list.

People can re-register to vote if they find themselves removed from the rolls, but they likely won’t discover they’ve been dropped until they show up to vote. I know I’ve personally never pre-checked my registration before heading to my polling station. And unfortunately, Ohio’s process requires people to re-register at least 30 days prior to an election.

Since Ohio is determined to proceed with this purge process, it should at least offer same-day registration.

That some may not receive their letters to begin with is a scenario that seems to have escaped Justice Samuel Alito in his majority opinion, in which he wrote, “a reasonable person with an interest in voting is not likely to ignore notice of this sort.” Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted hailed the ruling as a victory for election integrity throughout the country.

These are cynical views that ignore the lifestyle of the average American college student. The ACLU and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) decried the decision as a blow to the democratic process.

The decision also further disenfranchises other vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and veterans, who may have residency issues or difficulty with acquiring proper identification. And it’s a continued assault on Democratic voters, particularly minorities, since voters from Democratic neighborhoods are twice as likely to be removed from voter rolls than those from Republican neighborhoods, according to a Reuters analysis. This is likely partially due to the fact that many Democrats, like college students, tend to not vote in midterm elections, which increases the likelihood they would be considered infrequent voters.

College students already face a clunky absentee voter registration process as it is. I didn’t turn 18 until the semester was in full swing, so I was unable to vote in my hometown elections; fortunately, I attended college in the same state in which I had permanent residency, so I could vote at the state and federal levels.

Students attending out-of-state schools are not so lucky. The out-of-state voting process varies by state, which can be challenging for young adults already working to navigate new environments as either first-year or transfer students. If a person misses a registration deadline or forgets to vote, they run the risk of being kicked off the registration list. Even the most woke student can get caught up in the bureaucracy of voter registration, especially if they get (rightfully) distracted by their studies.

Critics might agree with the majority opinion that implies six years is a sufficient amount of time to avoid getting removed from rolls once the notification process begins. But according to the National Student Clearinghouse, it can take five to six years to earn a bachelor’s degree, and students may attend multiple institutions across different states. For students who advance to graduate programs, this becomes a longer endeavor. More time in school. More address changes. More opportunities to miss a notification saying “vote or lose the right to do so.”

Even the most woke student can get caught up in the bureaucracy of voter registration, especially if they get (rightfully) distracted by their studies.

Another population of students who will be hurt by this decision are those who are experiencing homelessness. According to an April 2018 Wisconsin Hope Lab study, 36 percent of college students were housing insecure last year; this group of students are hugely vulnerable to any restrictions to voting access based on address permanency.

The life of a college student can make registering to vote difficult, and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Ohio’s voting purge may now make it difficult just to stay registered. The U.S. has a history of inequities in its voting system. From women to minorities to erosions to the Voting Rights Act in 2013, it’s becoming more difficult to cast a ballot. If this ruling will be anything like that of five years ago, states may take this as an opportunity to further restrict voting rights.

The Supreme Court must be more aware of and empathetic to the complicated lives of different populations and the ways in which the system disenfranchises these voters. Alito’s statement that if voting mattered to people, they would vote ignores the tendency for local governments to make voting more difficult. The 2013 decision to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, coupled with this recent decision, demonstrates a willful ignorance of the history of racial-, gender-, disability- and education-based discrimination in this country.

The court should mandate that local governments make it easier for people to vote, not empower them to enact policies that punishes them for not doing so. Since Ohio is determined to proceed with this purge process, it should at least offer same-day registration so those who are blindsided when they show up to cast a vote can exercise their right when they are ready to. This could appease people who believe that the purge is just a political maneuver to tip the scales in favor of the GOP.

States like Ohio and others with similar approaches to purging voter rolls must consider more effective ways to communicate with college students. That, or exempt people who can prove they were students during the period for which the state demands they vote or provide proof of permanent residency. This is a unique population of eligible voters who deserve every opportunity to preserve a right they may not yet have had the opportunity to exercise. 

Jessica Brown is a senior professional in residence in the multimedia journalism department in the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago. She’s a Public Voices fellow with the OpEd Project.

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How Economic Pressure Affects Teachers

The Oklahoma teacher who sells his blood to pay his bills, or the one who works four jobs, including as a roofer aren’t alone. Stories about poor teacher pay captured the nation’s notice during this #RedforEd spring, as educators walked out and rallied in at least six states for fair wages and increased education funding.

Now a team from the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis has entered the conversation with a study that shows what happens when teachers not only have to contend with poor pay, but also with rising home costs.

It’s not good—for them, or their students.

About 85 percent of San Francisco teachers surveyed say they have anxiety about their financial situation, compared to 63 percent of other employed adults. In particular, younger teachers have frequent anxiety over financial stresses.

The study also found that teachers who said they were frequently stressed about money have more negative attitudes about their jobs, missed about 1.6 more days of school, and had rates of chronically absenteeism that were 12 percentage points higher. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing more than 10 days of school a year.

Moreover, “economically anxious teachers have a lower regard for teaching and are more likely to resign in the following year,” the researchers found.

These findings aren’t likely to surprise anybody in West Virginia, for example, where teacher pay ranked 48th in the nation last year. Educators held a historic, nine-day strike in March, forcing state legislators to raise pay by 5 percent for all state employees.

Nor would it be surprising in Arizona, where  lawmakers cut state funding for education by about 37 percent between 2008 and 2015, and teachers’ salaries ranked 45th in the nation this year, according to NEA figures. After a six-day walkout, fueled by the #RedforEd movement, Arizona teachers will see raises next year that are upward of 10 percent, an Arizona Republic analysis of the 46 Arizona districts found. Some will be as high as 20 percent.

In San Francisco, the average teacher earns about $68,000—more than teachers in many other parts of the country—but not enough to live well in the city, where the median monthly rent was $4,450 in 2017 and median home price $1.2 million. Often San Francisco teachers must live outside the city and deal with long commutes for not much more affordable prices. In the larger Bay Area, the median monthly rent was $3,295 and median home price $749,000.

“Raising teacher salaries overall is the most direct approach to addressing financial insecurity,” the researchers write, although accessible and affordable housing closer to schools is also important.

Across California, only about 17 percent of homes for sale are affordable on the average teacher’s salary, a 2016 Redfin analysis found. This is down from 30 percent in 2012. “Our public servants can’t afford to live in the communities they serve,” Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson told Redfin.

“It’s a problem of national importance,” she added.

And it does affect their students. Teacher absenteeism, for example, is a leading indicator of student performance. The relationship between teacher well-being and student achievement is “no surprise,” a Center for American Progress study found in 2012, considering “teachers are the most important school-based determinant of students’ academic success.”

teacher payEducators Push Teacher Pay Penalty Into National Spotlight

Wages for teachers have been falling relative to comparable workers all over the country for years. This “teacher penalty” continues to grow,  forcing many educators out of the profession and making it less and less attractive to potential candidates. These widening pay inequities endured by educators are finally front and center.  So are the reckless tax cuts that helped create the crisis.

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Higher Education Should Be A Remedy, Not A Tool, For Anti-Native Racism

Recently, two young Native American men had the police called on them during a campus tour at Colorado State University, because the mother of another potential student felt uncomfortable at their presence. The young men had shown up late after scraping together enough gas money to make the seven-hour drive to visit their “dream school.” Instead of envisioning themselves on campus and learning about the support services available to them, they had to prove to a campus officer that they belonged.

Native Americans make up only 1 percent of the student population in the entire United States, according to the American Indian College Fund. Only a bit more than 13 percent of Native Americans nationwide have earned a college degree, compared to about 33 percent of the general population. And when you consider that every college or university in America is built on the traditional lands of a tribes whose land was seized at some point throughout history, it makes these statistics even more outrageous and infuriating.

I am one of the 13 percent of the Native American community who holds a college degree. In fact, I now hold two. The latter, my graduate degree, is so rare in my community that when I graduated, along with two others from my tribe, we were featured in our local paper.

The emotional weight of being a student who does not fit the standard profile of a university student was heavier than I could ever have imagined. As an undergraduate, not only did I struggle academically, I struggled with imposter syndrome, stereotyping and ― most detrimental to my college career ― blatant racism.

Regularly, I was asked invasive personal questions that as an adult I now regret answering. There was the time one of my classmates asked me if all of my family members were alcoholics after I declined a celebratory drink with him after midterms. I fielded questions about teepees, peyote and casinos. How much money I received from my tribe was always on the minds of my classmates.

As a recipient of a grant program designed to help future Native American educators, I even remember hearing pointed reminders from a particular professor about how she had not received any help getting her degrees.

Incidents like the one in Colorado beckon all academic institutions to create more space for Native American students.

It was easier to “prove” that I was capable in a graduate program because I had already completed my bachelor’s degree and had therefore already “defied the odds.”

Historically, the education of Native Americans was not designed to emancipate us from oppression. Education was used as a form of oppression and assimilation, meant to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the government forced students to attend boarding schools away from their communities. Families were forcibly torn apart, culture and language were banned, children were sexually and physically abused, and many children died. Some of these schools are still open today, though their focus is no longer assimilation.

Native communities throughout the U.S. are still recovering from the impact of Indian boarding schools. My grant program was one of the many ways that the Native community is now trying to embrace education as a way to address the systemic oppression against our people by the U.S. government. Yes, I had financial help from my tribe in the form of scholarships and grants, but I was also a first-generation, nontraditional student with a family of four, and that help did not fully cover our expenses. I was constantly worried about my utilities being shut off and my car breaking down.

I also lacked support in other ways.

Like the two young men visiting Colorado State, I went on my school’s tour without my parents. In fact, the first time my mom or dad ever visited campus was on my graduation day.

My mom couldn’t afford to come for a campus tour, parent days or tailgate parties. At the time, asking my mom, when she didn’t own a car, to travel the 2.5-hour trip from the reservation to town to spend a day on campus simply wasn’t feasible.

There have been tremendous advances in education in Indian Country since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in 2005. Closest to my heart is the tribal college and university movement. There are 38 federally and tribally run institutions in the United States that are working toward strengthening the lives of Native Americans through education. These institutions provide culturally relevant programs such as tribal language, history or even agricultural programs that honor and expand upon traditional knowledge. They provide students with support services unique to their community, such as providing smudging (a cleansing with smoke and typically sage), in addition to counseling services or recognizing tribal holidays.

The problem of Native students entering a mainstream university still remains. Yes, these organizations are preparing students to self-advocate and seek resources, but the root of the problem is this: People still hold negative stereotypes and racist attitudes toward Natives.

The emotional weight of being a student who does not fit the standard profile of a university student was heavier than I could ever have imagined.

Incidents like the one in Colorado beckon all academic institutions to create more space for Native American students. Hire more Natives on college campuses, provide more meaningful funding in your budgets for our specialized knowledge, and actively learn about and seek out the Native people in your area. Harvard, an institution whose 1650 charter included a dedication to “the education of the English & Indian Youth of this Country,” made history this year by hiring its first-ever tenured professor in Native American studies, 368 years later. According to the National Center for Education, Native faculty represent less than 1 percent of all full-time faculty at all degree obtaining institutions in the U.S.

Last year, I was offered a position at my local university, one that sits on my traditional lands. It would have allowed me to use my intimate knowledge and connections in my own community to recruit more Native youth. The pay was close to that of a first-year Arizona teacher’s, which, painfully, I had to turn down.

Meanwhile, of the eight times I’ve been on campus since then, I’ve fielded questions about my community from people who say they’ve never met a Native American before.

Given these facts, it comes as no surprise that the two young Native men were treated like oddities on their college tour. There is clearly much that universities can do to correct the decades of injustice faced by Native people. Not calling the police on them would be a good start.

Gabriella Cazares-Kelly is a member of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education for members of her tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation of Arizona. She is an educator, and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project.

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Summer Vacation Shouldn’t Mean Going Hungry

For many American children, summer vacation means sunshine, hot days and freedom from homework and early bedtimes. But for millions of kids and their families, it also brings fear. How are they going to eat during those three months?

More than 30 million children ― roughly 54 percent of America’s school kids pre-K through grade 12 ― receive free or reduced-price lunches at more than 100,000 schools and child care centers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides free lunches for those whose family incomes are at or below 130 percent of the poverty level and reduced-price lunches for kids whose family incomes are between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level. Many of the same students also participate in free or reduced-price breakfast programs.

In other words, we live in a nation where tens of millions of children rely on government assistance to eat lunch for nine months of the year. And their need doesn’t go away when the last bell rings in June.

Low-income parents often struggle to feed their kids during the summer. Families who rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits don’t get extra money just because school is out, and low-wage jobs don’t come with a summer bump in the paycheck. Some may even decide it doesn’t make sense to keep working ― especially if the cost of child care for younger kids negates the income their job (or jobs) brings in. But if they stop working, they risk losing their family’s SNAP benefits.

Figuring out which food to buy to make those dollars stretch is tough as well. You want the food to be nutritious, but that kind of food is often more expensive, and preparing it may require kitchen tools you don’t have. Many nutritious foods also have to be consumed quickly, meaning more frequent trips to the store. That’s not easy if you live in a food desert, work inconsistent hours or don’t have access to a car.

Parents also want to buy their kids food that they will actually eat and that they can prepare themselves if mom and dad have to be at work during meal times. Processed food usually fits that description, even if it is less healthy. It also has a longer shelf life, which means you can take advantage of those 2-for-1 and buy-1-get-1 deals that stretch your food dollars.

Our child poverty rates … are some of the highest in the developed world, and more than half of our children cannot afford school lunches.

Jen England is senior program director at 412 Food Rescue, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that collects food from local businesses and sends it to distribution centers like shelters or food banks. She said they see an increase in requests during the summer months from the partners they donate to.

The USDA does run a summer lunch program for students in need, but it serves only a fraction of the kids who participate in those programs during the school year ― fewer than 3 million children compared to more than 30 million children. And the summer program’s 154 million lunches served pale in comparison to the more than 3.5 billion meals that are covered during the school year.

It’s logistically more difficult for children to take advantage of summer meal programs, England said. Younger kids need a parent or older child to bring them to the centers during the hour or two when meals are available, but it’s difficult to impossible for working parents to take that time off. Older children must be independent and self-sufficient enough to get themselves to the centers ― and to get there on time.

Isolation also plays a role. The 1960s model of urban housing projects ― which still make up a significant portion of public housing in the U.S. ― put these units in areas with limited public transportation and not much access to food stores. There are school buses to get kids to school and thus to the meals provided at school. But as England noted, those disappear during the summer. Rural areas are affected, too: Centers that serve summer lunches can be miles away from a child’s home, and reliable internet access is needed to research their locations and serving times.

We also can’t forget about the millions of families who live on the edge of food insecurity, meaning a single financial setback could make it difficult ― or even impossible ― to afford enough to eat. Plenty of Americans who can’t afford to miss work still don’t qualify for food assistance programs like SNAP or free and reduced-price lunch programs. A broken-down car, illness or injury can turn their food situation precarious.

The summer program’s 154 million lunches served pale in comparison to the more than 3.5 billion meals that are covered during the school year.

Proposed changes to benefits like SNAP, including those in the 2018 farm bill, would make an already problematic situation worse. The bill would create additional paperwork hurdles and require adults to prove they work at least 80 hours per month unless their dependent children are under the age of 6. There would be no exceptions for those taking time off to care for school-age children during summer vacation, even when kids are sick. And most low-income workers do not have paid sick leave. The bill would also eliminate states’ ability to let certain people keep their benefits when they get pay increases that would potentially make them ineligible. 

Congressional supporters of the proposed changes to SNAP argue that these new rules would ”lift Americans out of poverty.” The Trump administration is proud of the country’s record-low unemployment rates, but these numbers belie the unstable nature of much low-income work. The administration also ignores increasing income inequality that punishes lower-income Americans.

Most of our country’s economic growth since the Great Recession has been concentrated at the top, and without legislative action, that’s where it is likely to stay. Real wages for lower-income workers have remained stagnant or even fallen over the last 30 years. Our child poverty rates, which hover at around 22 percent, are some of the highest in the developed world, and more than half of our children cannot afford school lunches.

Millions of American kids live in food-insecure households. Millions more live in households on the brink of food insecurity. These children depend on free or reduced-price lunch programs during the school year. In the summers, though, many go hungry.

Shouldn’t our administration be a bit more disturbed about that?

Julia Hudson-Richards is a food activist and historian who studies the environment, food and the people who produce it. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Women’s History and the Bulletin for Spanish and Portuguese Historical Studies.

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Coaches Killed In Parkland School Shooting To Receive ESPY Awards

Three high school coaches killed during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have been named this year’s ESPY award winners for Best Coach.

Family members of Scott Beigel, Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon will receive the award during the show on July 18, ESPN announced Tuesday.

The Best Coach Award recognizes the slain men’s work as coaches as well as “their immeasurable bravery in the face of danger and for their ultimate sacrifice to protect the lives of countless students,” Alison Overholt, vice president and editor in chief of ESPN The Magazine, told The Associated Press.

GoFundMe/Family Handout

Aaron Feis (left), Scott Beigel (center) and Chris Hixon (right) will be awarded the ESPY Best Coach Award on July 18.

Beigel, Feis and Hixon were hailed as heroes in the wake of the Parkland massacre, which left 14 others dead. 

Beigel, a geography teacher and cross-country coach, was killed by the gunman when he unlocked his classroom door to let students in during the attack. 

Feis was an assistant football coach for the school, which he’d graduated from in 1999. He reportedly used his body to shield students from the attack.

Hixon was the school’s athletic director and wrestling coach. He also died after trying to protect students caught in the line of fire.

The 2018 ESPYs will be hosted by racing driver Danica Patrick on July 18. Past winners include Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr and New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.

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Education Dept. Received Hundreds Of Complaints Last Year About Racist School Discipline

The Department of Education received more than 200 civil rights complaints last year involving students who say they were victims of racist school discipline, HuffPost has learned ― a noteworthy figure as U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos considers revising or rescinding Obama-era guidance meant to protect students from racist punishments as part of the Federal School Safety Commission.

Research shows that students of color are often disciplined more harshly than their white counterparts, sometimes for the same behavior. Black students only make up about 16 percent of all public school students, but account for about 40 percent of those who receive school suspensions, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. They are significantly more likely than white students to be expelled, arrested at school or referred to outside law enforcement personnel. 

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights investigates complaints from students and families who have experienced such discrimination under Title VI, the federal law that protects against discrimination based on race, color or national origin. In fiscal year 2017, the Department of Education received 216 complaints on this issue, according to data from the department provided to HuffPost. This is a small decline ― around 20 percent ― from 2016, when the department received 265 complaints, but higher than 2015, when the department received 208 complaints. 

Several education experts told HuffPost that the dip in discipline complaints is likely a result of a natural ebb and flow, devoid of meaningful implications. Others speculated that the Trump administration has had a silencing effect on people who might otherwise have filed a complaint. 

I think the context is the major reason,” said Dan Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA. “You might see that degree of fluctuation, but given the context I would think it probably does have to do with the chilling effect.”

Monique Dixon, deputy director of policy and senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said she was not surprised by “the steady flow of complaints.”

“The Department’s own data show that racial disparities in school discipline persist, and students, parents and education advocates have relied on OCR to fulfill its legal obligation to investigate complaints of discrimination,” Dixon said.

On the other hand, in 2017, the Education Department saw an increase in complaints regarding racial harassment in schools, as first reported by HuffPost.

Civil rights advocates who support the Obama-era guidance fear that if it is rescinded, they will lose a key tool in helping fight racist school punishments. The guidance, which was released in 2014, calls on school leaders to be more cognizant of racial disparities in discipline, and warns that school districts could be running afoul of the law if certain groups of students are intentionally or unintentionally discriminated against. It also calls on schools to move away from exclusionary discipline practices like suspensions and expulsions in favor of emphasizing restorative practices and conflict resolution.

DeVos is specifically tasked with considering the future of such guidance as part of the Federal School Safety Commission, which was formed in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. However, DeVos has been meeting with proponents and critics of the Obama-era guidance for months, since before the commission was formed. Critics of the guidance say that student misbehavior is now more likely to go unaddressed, making classrooms less safe for conscientious students. Districts were not given the tools to implement restorative practices as an alternative to suspensions, critics say.

“Whatever intentions were set forth in the guidance, the response to the guidance has been kind of knee-jerk in nature that has ended up hurting all of the children,” Nicole Landers, a parent from Baltimore who previously met with DeVos to express her opposition to the guidance, told HuffPost in April. “It takes away the rights from the victimized students, as the offending students are left in the classroom to avoid suspensions.”

Are you a student who has filed a civil rights complaint? I would like to hear from you. E-mail:

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Never Be Afraid to Advocate for Students, Says 2018 Teacher of the Year

2018 National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Teacher Mandy Manning hopes to create a sanctuary for her refugee students. This is just one of the reasons why she was named 2018 National Teacher of the Year. Manning has taught English and math at the Newcomer Center at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Wash. for seven years, and her refugee students come from countries all over the world, inlcuding Syria, Mexico, and Sudan. While her students don’t often feel safe in the current political climate, Manning has helped transform her school by providing a welcoming and supportive environment.

Manning is an active member of her local and state union and serves on the executive committee of the Washington Education Association. On Monday, National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García sat down with Manning at the NEA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. and took questions on Facebook Live. Here are a few of the highlights from Manning’s responses:

On How to be Fearless:
I’ve learned how to be fearless from my students. I teach immigrant refugee students. My students have gone through unspeakable circumstances to come to the United States, a nation that gives them hope to be someone. I watch their innate hopefulness and fearlessness in coming into this new community, a community that in many ways has not welcomed them. They come to school everyday; they’re focused, they’re dedicated, they’re committed to their dreams, and becoming productive members of society and citizens. So, all I have to do is look at them, and they teach me how to be fearless.

On Meeting President Trump at the White House:
Our current administration has not been welcoming to my students, and I wanted to ensure my students that I was there for them. There was a question: Should I go? And they all said, unanimously, “Yes. Because he needs to know about us.” And so we sat down and we had the students write letters about their journeys to the United States and what it meant to them: their dreams and hopes, and how they want to give back to the United States. There was also advice for our current president on how he can help improve their lives in the United States, like using supportive language that doesn’t diminish them as whole groups of people. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if he used loving, kind and welcoming language when talking about these amazing members of our community?

On “Othering” Herself:
I’d always wanted to join the Peace Corps, and it completely changed me. I went to Armenia. It was such a tremendous experience because I’d “othered” myself. I put myself into a situation where I knew no one else was going to look like me, act like me, speak like me, or think like me. I went into it with no expectation, so then I was open to the experience of just being there.

But ultimately, because I put myself in a situation where I was “other,” it helped me get a little bit of perspective on what my students are experiencing, or anyone who has been othered for any reason. I think that’s so important, because we need to seek experiences that challenge our perceptions because our way of thinking, being and doing is not the only way of thinking, being and doing. And in order to be a society and a community that is safe and connected, we need to be open and willing to reach across differences and be willing to get to know each other.

On Public Advocacy:
Everytime educators leave the classroom in order to advocate collectively, our love for our students is used against us. Sometimes, we have to leave the classroom to get the things we need for our kids, because at the heart of every teacher is our students. At the heart of every decision is what our students need. It’s very comfortable to be in our classrooms. But, just like my pin says right here, ‘Life happens outside your comfort zone.’ We have to be willing to get uncomfortable and face some of that negative messaging that we might receive in order to really make deep impacts on what we know is best for kids.

If the decisions that are being made are negatively impacting our kids, we cannot sit idly by, even if it means we’re going to face challenges in the community. Because ultimately, if students truly make up the foundation of our arguments about why we are outside the classroom advocating, no one can argue with us.

On “Real Teaching”
There are different ways of thinking about teaching. There are teachers who are in love with their content. And there are teachers who are in love with their students. The long and short of it is, if you don’t know your students but you know your content, chances are your kids aren’t gonna learn the content.

So, really knowing your kids, using that information intentionally to create lessons that meet their needs, and making them a brighter light than they were when they came into your room – that’s real teaching.

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I Wish I Had Learned LGBTQ History In School

Growing up, I was fortunate to learn about the rich history of men and women who made a difference in the world throughout the centuries. My school made sure to teach us about extraordinary women like Sally Ride, Florence Nightingale and Eleanor Roosevelt. I lived in Prince George’s County, a predominantly black area of Maryland, so I was lucky to learn about inspiring figures like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Sojourner Truth and more in my formative years.

Unfortunately in the 1990s, when I grew up, American society was just starting to get the message that being gay was OK, so none of my teachers acknowledged LGBTQ history. It wasn’t until I was 16 years old, working part time at a public library and doing my own research that I found out writers like Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and James Baldwin were gay. I had learned much about them in my English classes, but I guess my teachers decided to skip that detail.

LGBTQ people have existed throughout history and made tremendous contributions to American culture, yet no one talked about them in school, and there were hardly any books available highlighting the brave queer and trans people who paved the way for the rest of us. If I had known about them, I might not have suffered through years of alienation, confusion and self-hatred. I would have learned to love and embrace my true self sooner.

LGBTQ people have existed throughout history and made tremendous contributions to American culture, yet no one talked about them in school.

Even the public library where I worked at had a very limited selection of LGBTQ-related books, and what few books it carried about the subject were essentially unclear about how to describe homosexuality: Is it a sin? Is it a choice? Do gay men want to be women? While I’m glad my library had these books at all, they didn’t really help me, because I wasn’t gay; I was a bisexual nonbinary transgender kid, and we didn’t exist in the general LGBTQ discourse at the time.

Nothing in the books I was able to get my hands on suggested that sexuality and gender could be fluid and that there was a place for people like me. Sure, some of those early LGBTQ 101 books briefly mentioned the B and the T, but bisexuality was portrayed as only half-gay, and transgender meant only binary trans women and didn’t mention trans men at all. As a result, I spent the next 13 years believing I was just a really confused straight man. All I needed to do was find a good conservative Christian woman to marry, and then I’d be fine. 

After a six-year relationship with one such good conservative Christian woman — three good years and three bad years — I finally decided to research bisexuality on the Internet and realized I was queer enough to come out. I still struggled with validating my identity, though, so I started a Tumblr account and introduced myself to a wonderful community of bisexuals who shared the frustrations I had. Not only did I find bisexual validation through Tumblr, but I also both discovered that nonbinary was a thing and found the LGBTQ historical heroes I desperately needed when I was younger.

For starters, it was only a few years ago that I learned about a bisexual polyamorous kinky feminist known as Brenda Howard, the “Mother of Pride,” a primary organizer of the Christopher Street Liberation Day March in New York City in 1970 — one of the first LGBTQ pride parades — and she came up with idea of a weeklong celebration around Pride Day, which has evolved into the Pride Month we’re currently celebrating. So for gays and lesbians who think bisexuals aren’t part of the LGBTQ community, they have a bisexual to thank for Pride.

Another LGBTQ hero I wish I knew about earlier was Leslie Feinberg, who in an interview expanded the definition of the word “transgender” to mean “people who have crossed the boundaries of sex or gender assumptions that you’re assigned at birth, whether that be transsexual women and men or masculine women or feminine men … It can mean everyone who doesn’t fit that ’Ozzie and Harriet’ paradigm of sex and gender.” Feinberg defied the gender binary, identifying as transgender and a butch lesbian, and used “ze”/“hir” pronouns as well as the standard “she”/“her” pronouns. If countless nonbinary kids like me had known about Feinberg, it would have given us the language we desperately needed to define ourselves.

Fortunately, things are starting to change. In May the Illinois Senate passed a bill that would require lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history to be taught in public schools. According to the Columbia Chronicle, Senate Bill 3249 would require school curriculums to include classes that “would teach historical contributions of LGBT people in the U.S. and Illinois and require textbooks that accurately portray diversity in society.” The bill now awaits the House’s vote.

Learning LGBTQ history would help destigmatize queer and trans people for cisgender straight kids.

Naturally, the idea of teaching LGBTQ history to children doesn’t sit well with right-wing Christians. For example, Ralph Rivera of the conservative group the Illinois Family Institute told the Chicago Tribune, “Where’s the protection for students and parents who have a religious belief?” To which the Chicago Sun-Times responded in an editorial, “Acknowledging that a person of historical significance was gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual makes no value judgment except to say the person existed and made contributions. These are historical facts. Teachers have an obligation to tell history accurately. That’s what schools are supposed to do.”

I don’t live in Illinois, so my two cents about the bill don’t mean much to the state’s legislators. However, I hope the bill passes the House so young LGBTQ kids won’t have as difficult of a time learning about their culture and coming out as I did. They would be able to see themselves in the people like Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, Feinberg, Howard and countless others who stood up for their rights to exist and define themselves.

Not only that, but learning about LGBTQ history would help destigmatize queer and trans people for cisgender straight kids. Just as learning about Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass helped shaped my views on feminism and racial justice as a white person, being taught LGBTQ history could help prepare today’s cis straight youths to fight future injustices against queer and trans people. In the end, LGBTQ history lessons benefit everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 7 percent of young people surveyed said they identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, and the number of LGBTQ-identified youths is expected to grow. We owe it to these young people to teach them about one of the fastest-growing cultures and all that they have to offer society. While I’m glad I finally found a rich history of LGBTQ heroes who weren’t white, cis or gay men and women, I still wish I had discovered them when I was younger and needed to know about them the most. Hopefully, more initiatives like Illinois’ Senate Bill 3249 will follow and will allow young queer and trans kids to see themselves represented as important historical figures, and they’ll feel pride early on in their lives.

Trav Mamone is a bisexual genderqueer (“they”/“them”) writer based in Maryland who focuses on the intersections of social justice and secular humanism. They also host the “Bi Any Means” podcast and co-host the “Biskeptical” podcast. 

#TheFutureIsQueer is HuffPost’s monthlong celebration of queerness, not just as an identity but as action in the world. Find all of our Pride Month coverage here.

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CUNY Journalism Dean Defends Renaming School For Craigslist Founder After Alumni Criticism

Dear alumni,

Thank you for expressing your concerns over the endowment for and name change of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. We realize this is a surprise. Please know that the school administration, the school’s Foundation board and the CUNY Board of Trustees reviewed this opportunity thoroughly. We certainly would not want to do anything that would devalue your degree or negatively affect the school’s reputation and quality. I want to answer a few of the concerns raised by alumni. 

1. What strings are attached to this decision? What influence will Newmark wield over the school?

There are no strings attached to the gift. Craig Newmark will have no role in deciding how the additional resources are deployed. Curriculum decisions will continue to be made through the regular faculty governance process. 

2. Didn’t Newmark enable sex trafficking and child exploitation through craigslist? Why has the school made a “tone deaf” decision by naming ourselves after this man given the #MeToo climate?

Craig Newmark has not had a management role in craigslist for 18 years. The portion of the site that was exploited by sex traffickers was removed ten years ago, in 2008. The company worked closely with law enforcement during those years to identify bad actors, and he has been personally singled out by the FBI for his help.

3. Did Newmark ask for the name change?

The size of this gift – $20 million – is 33% higher than the current threshold that CUNY has established for naming rights to our school. I know of no donor who would consider making a $20 million gift to a school this small and new without naming rights attached. We offered it to him in recognition of the transformative effect it will have on our school. 

Other schools at CUNY that have had name changes based on endowments: Grove School of Engineering at CCNY, Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, The Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College, Marxe School of Public and International Affairs and the Zicklin School of Business, both at Baruch College, and the Macaulay Honors College.

Other public journalism/communication school’s recently renamed: Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication, and Penn State’s Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications. 

4. Why does the school need the money? Does the school need the money? Where is the money going to? 

The school’s budget has declined in each of the last four years. Although the budget for senior colleges at CUNY was increased for the next fiscal year, we have been told that our budget will grow this year by .1%. Given the need to hire high-quality faculty, continue to develop the curriculum, purchase the latest equipment for our students and increase our scholarships to students, the need for additional resources is great. An endowment of this size for a school our size provides an important cushion for the future. This does not mean additional fundraising won’t occur. New York is an expensive place to attend college, even at a public university. The more we can do to support future journalists the better. 

5. Why were the alums not consulted before this decision was made?

All gifts of this nature occur through a process of cultivation, which must occur privately and confidentially. While we certainly recognize your stake in the school, it is not possible to survey alumni in such matters. This gift was made to the school’s foundation, which does have an alumni member and it was approved by its directors as well as CUNY’s board of trustees. 

Sarah Bartlett


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Who is the Average U.S. Teacher?

In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) polled 40,000 public school teachers across the country as part of the National Teacher and Principal Survey. The survey covers a wide range of topics about the teaching profession. The complete report will be issued later in the year, but some of the results from the survey are being released. Here are a few of the highlights so far.

The Teaching Force Is Still Predominantly Female and White

The 3.8 million public school teachers (full and part time) in the United States in 2015-16 is significantly higher than the 3 million who were teaching in 1999-2000.  During that time, K-12 student enrollment increased 7 percent from 45.9 million to 49 million. About 77 percent of public school teachers today are female.

Despite the attention given to the need to recruit more teachers of color, little progress has been made in diversifying the profession. Overall, the percentage of White teachers has declined slightly from 84 percent in 1999-2000. In 2015–16, about 80 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent were Hispanic (an increase of 3 percent since 2000), 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Asian, and 1 percent were of two or more races.

The Average Teacher Has 14 Years of Experience

In the 2015-16 school year, teachers in public schools had on average about 14 years of experience and worked roughly 53 hours a week.

More Teachers Hold Advanced Degrees

The percentage of public school teachers who hold a postbaccalaureate degree (i.e., a master’s, education specialist, or doctoral degree) has increased since 1999-2000. Fifty-seven percent had such a degree in 2016, compared to 47 percent in 2000. This trend is evident at both the elementary and secondary levels. Roughly 55 percent of elementary school teachers and 59 percent of secondary school teachers held a postbaccalaureate degree in 2015–16, whereas 45 and 50 percent, respectively, held a postbaccalaureate degree in 1999–2000. Furthermore, traditional public school teachers are much more likely to have a master’s degree than their counterparts in charter schools.

Union Membership = Greater Satisfaction with Salary and Job

According to the NCES data, overall, 55 percent of teachers are not satisfied with their salaries. By a significant 12-point margin, however, teachers who belong to a union or education association are more likely to be satisfied with their salaries than those who are not. Almost half of teachers who belong to a union report that they are satisfied with their salaries. Thirty-seven percent of teachers who do not belong to a union say they are not.

When asked to respond to various questions about their job, the data shows a clear correlation between satisfaction with salary and general job satisfaction. For example, if you are satisfied with your pay, you are more likely to believe that your school is run reasonably well and that you and your colleagues are a “satisfied group.”

On the other hand, a higher percentage of teachers who were dissatisfied with their salary were more likely to believe that the “stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it” and  “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.”

Still, research has shown that teacher job satisfaction generally depends on a variety of factors, including the availability of mentorship (crucial for newer educators), collaboration with colleagues, classroom autonomy, working conditions and support from the administration.

Teachers Spend Too Much of Their Own Money on Classroom Supplies

Overall, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. The average teacher spends $479 every year.

If you are an elementary school teacher, you are more likely to spend more than your counterparts in high school. The average amount spent by elementary teachers was $526. For high school teachers, that figure was $430.

In addition, the average amount spent was higher for teachers at city schools ($526) than teachers at suburban, town, or rural schools ($468, $445, and $442, respectively).

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Why Mister Rogers’ Plea To ‘Look For The Helpers’ Still Resonates Today

After a tragedy, it’s not unusual to see the face of children’s TV icon Mister Rogers pop into your social media feed. 

Fred Rogers, host of the long-running show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” remains known, among many things, for a heartwarming quote reminding people to seek out the good, or “the helpers,” after something bad happens.

According to the Fred Rogers Productions site, the quote continues: “To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers ― so many caring people in this world.”

Rogers, who died in 2003 at age 74, spoke about this quote and offered variations of it many times (to hear it straight from him, there’s footage of him delivering it on YouTube).

It went viral after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 and was circulated widely after the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. More recently, people mentioned the quote after this year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Fred Rogers became a TV icon and host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

It’s easy to see why many would turn to Mister Rogers, who is the focus of a new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” when struggling to cope after a tragedy. After all, he taught many of us how to handle our feelings with the song “What Do You Do With The Mad That You Feel?”

His show made it easier for kids to talk through tough topics like death and violence ― and the feelings that came with them ― because he publicly talked about them, a rarity in children’s programming then and now.

And as much as he helped kids navigate their childhoods, he also helped parents and caretakers. In a clip from the Fred Rogers Productions’ Vimeo page about “how to handle world news” with your children, he told parents what kids really need in times of turmoil and fear. 

“What children probably need to hear most from us adults is that they can talk with us about anything, and that we will do all we can to keep them safe in any scary time,” he said.

He closed his comments with a variation of his signature line: “I’m always glad to be your neighbor.”

There’s no doubt that so many were glad to be his, too. 

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The Power of Play in Kindergarten

Play is the work of children, Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood always reminded us. But over the past two decades, the American kindergarten experience has become much more academic—at the expense of play.

During the era of testing, NCLB and the Common Core Standards, kindergarten has morphed from a time of play and discovery into the new first grade, where children read and write, do simple math, and even learn to take standardized tests.

“We need to bring more play back into the day,” says Sharon Davison, a Vermont kindergarten teacher. “Children experience authentic experiences with leadership, collaboration and deep problem solving through play.”

Many classrooms are sacrificing the discovery and critical thinking skills that arise through play in favor of academics, researchers at the University of Virginia found, led by the education-policy researcher Daphna Bassok. Between 1998 and 2010, they found kindergarten classes across the country had become more focused on academics, with a particular focus on advanced literacy skills more typical of first grade classrooms.

In the study, the percentage of kindergarten teachers who reported that they agreed (or strongly agreed) that children should learn to read in kindergarten greatly increased from 30 percent in 1998 to 80 percent in 2010.

“We are too quick to push the academics; we need to focus on what our students need first,” says Wyoming kindergarten teacher Dirk Andrews. “Through play I can incorporate social skills, language development, beginning reading and writing skills, and develop a love for math.”

There is a huge misconception out there that when students are playing they are not learning, Andrews says.

“This couldn’t be further from the truth.  So much of a child’s learning is constructed through play,” he says. “Children learn best through play because it allows them to apply everything they know and encourages them to ask questions and seek out new information and discovery.”

According to the report, Crisis in Kindergarten, the power of play as the engine of learning in early childhood and as a vital force for young children’s physical, social, and emotional development is beyond question, yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education as a whole.

“Every child deserves a chance to grow and learn in a play-based, experiential preschool and kindergarten. Play works,” the authors write.

We laud Finland’s education system for good reasons – they have highly trained, well respected and well compensated educators, they consistently rank among the highest performers on international tests like PISA, and they also have a successful approach in educating its youngest students. They focus on play.

“Kindergartners” in Finland are usually six years old, and they spend large chunks of their day engaged in play. According to an Atlantic Monthly article, there is no typical day in a Finnish kindergarten.

“Instead of a daily itinerary…[there is] a weekly schedule with no more than several major activities per day: Mondays, for example, are dedicated to field trips, ballgames, and running, while Fridays—the day I visited—are for songs and stations.”

“Once, Morning Circle—a communal  time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop.”

But the Finnish teachers point out that there is learning happening. The pretend ice cream shop has a price list and pretend money. Educators help the children learn the concept of money, price and change – math.

In Finland’s kindergarten classes, there is free-form, child-directed play, much of it done outside. (Children spend at least 90 minutes of the day playing outside, and schools are equipped with industrial sized dryers for wet winter clothes.) But, like in the ice cream shop, there is guided, pedagogical play, but it’s fun and it doesn’t feel like a lesson.

“Kindergarten in Finland doesn’t focus on preparing children for school academically,” writes the Finnish educational expert Pasi Sahlberg. “Instead the main goal is to make sure that the children are happy and responsible individuals.”

The homogeneous schools in Finland and and the melting pot schools in America are apples and oranges, to be sure, but there are lessons we can learn and apply at home – lessons some early educators are already practicing, like Vermont’s Sharon Davison.

Davison incorporates play into each day and allows students to choose what their activities will be.

The choice is one of the most important ideas in play because students choose what they are curious about and create play based on what they want to know,” she says. “Children experience authentic experiences with leadership, collaboration and deep problem solving through play.”

But she also guides some of their play in concrete lessons. For example, her students learn about hunger. As a class they wondered, are people hungry, are all children provided with enough food?

The students created a food shelf in the classroom, like a real food pantry for families and children in need, which they stocked twice a year with food items they brought from home. That food was then delivered to a local food pantry. It was fun and exciting, and there was authentic learning happening at the same time.

“Through their play they experience empathy, collaboration, and kindness,” Davison says. “Leadership skills emerge and empathy grows.”

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Minority Lawyers Hanging From Their Own Bootstraps How Law Schools Fail Those Who Seek Justice

This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Law school applications are up this year in what some are calling a “Trump Bump,” since around a third of applicants were inspired to apply by Trump’s election. Nearly half of them identify themselves as members of a minority group. They’ve seen lawyers fighting Trump administration policies that discriminate against their communities and want to do the same. If these minority applicants succeed, they could change the balance of power in American society. If they fail, they will find themselves crushed under a lifetime of debt. But few are aware that they are taking this enormous gamble in a rigged game.

On average, minority students end up in lower-ranked law schools, which they pay more to attend than white students, resulting in higher debt burdens. Minority law graduates have lower bar exam passage rates, employment rates, and income levels. Given the intense competition for paid social justice positions, few of them will end up in careers where they can support themselves while fighting for the ideals that brought them to law school in the first place.

Legal education has failed and will continue to fail minorities. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the entire American system of restricting admission to the practice of law has long been designed, explicitly or implicitly, to exclude minorities. Nowadays, of course, minorities are no longer simply prohibited from entering law school. Instead, the system loads many of them with staggering debt before killing their hopes, leaving them hanging from the very bootstraps they had hoped to use to rise.

Attack on the Night Schools

If you want to practice law today, you minimally have to graduate from college, then law school, and then pass a state bar examination. This is a far cry from 1851, when, in the grip of the anti-elitist ideals of Jacksonian democracy, Indiana declared that all of its citizens were entitled to practice law, the only requirement being “good moral character.” Not until 1932 did that state concede that its lawyers might need some other training ― and this wasn’t as unusual as it might seem. Before the turn of the twentieth century, the vast majority of America’s lawyers had never attended the few law schools that then existed. (Most of them had not gone to college and some hadn’t even completed high school.) Instead, like Abe Lincoln, most apprenticed in a lawyer’s office and read up on state laws before passing a short oral bar exam. Apprentices had to persuade a lawyer to take them on, had to pay him, and could not perform other work to support themselves while apprenticing.

The early twentieth century saw an explosion of new law schools founded to serve the needs of those for whom such conditions were daunting, especially minorities, recent immigrants, and women. Generally located in urban centers, those schools charged low tuition and were staffed with practicing lawyers who taught after working hours, so that their students could earn a living.

There was widespread horror at the prospect of night schools allowing a horde of undesirables to become lawyers who might charge cheaper fees and so undercut mainstream attorneys. As a result, the Association of American Law Schools, representing the more expensive, university-affiliated institutions, banded together with the American Bar Association (ABA) to campaign for states to raise the requirements for aspiring lawyers. The target: keeping minorities out of the profession.

Shortly after World War I, for instance, a New York lawyer argued that it was “absolutely necessary” to require law school applicants to have attended college or the country wouldn’t have lawyers “able to read, write, and talk the English language ― not Bohemian, not Gaelic, not Yiddish.” Similarly, at a 1929 ABA meeting, a member claimed that the majority of complaints received by the Philadelphia Bar Association concerned “Russian Jew boys” and insisted that “these fellows that come up out of the gutter” be required to complete a college education to “absorb the American ideals.”

The process of restricting admission to the bar took decades. In 1923, although most aspiring lawyers attended law school, no state required them to do so. Only in the post-World War II years did all but a handful of states insist upon a law degree for everyone who wanted to practice in the legal system. Meanwhile, the ABA would be appointed the accrediting body for law schools in almost all jurisdictions and the cheaper, more accessible night schools would either close up shop or transform themselves into elite clones as best they could ― and raise their tuitions to match.

Why do Minority Law Students Pay More for Worse Educations?

In 1968, the year Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, only 1% of American lawyers were black. Other minority groups had so few lawyers that the numbers weren’t even tallied. Since then, those figures have steadily increased, but the percentage of minority students in the elite law schools that offer the best chances for a prestigious, well-compensated career remains far lower than at non-elite ones. (The same has been true of women: while, in 2016, female law students outnumbered males for the first time, only six of the top 20 law schools had at least half-female student bodies.)

The reason: Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. Minority and underprivileged students have consistently had lower average LSATs than white and wealthier test takers, even when other ways of measuring their abilities and achievements did not show a difference. There has been much debate about the causes of this score gap. The expense of the preparation courses that teach LSAT-taking skills is certainly one reason. Others suggest that the test itself has hidden racial biases, since it calls for analyses that might be performed differently by those with different backgrounds. (Or perhaps not so hidden: as late as 1986, LSAT takers had to answer questions about a reading passage set in a country where slavery was legal, featuring slaves who insisted that they found their condition “extremely pleasant.”)

The LSAT score gap means that American law schools have developed a kind of educational apartheid: minorities disproportionately end up at lesser law schools. In 2017, for instance, Arizona Summit Law School topped the charts as America’s most diverse law school, while also earning another record: worst bar passage rate. Only around 27% of its graduates passed the bar exam on their first try and only 34% landed long-term, full-time legal jobs. The ABA put the school’s accreditation status on probation, but Arizona Summit is now suing the ABA, claiming unfairness in the decision, which has indeed put its ability to attract new students in jeopardy. 

Minority students generally pay more for the privilege of going to these lesser schools, again thanks to the LSAT. Schools offer merit scholarships to students with high scores in order to increase their rankings. Lower-scoring students pay full sticker price and so, in essence, fund those scholarships, which tend to go to a wealthier, less diverse group of students in what some critics have dubbed a reverse Robin Hood effect.

Exploitation Disguised as Opportunity

Elie Mystal, an iconoclastic legal pundit, counsels law school hopefuls that of America’s more than 200 law schools, “there are maybe 20 schools that are worth paying full price for. There are maybe another 20 schools that are worth it if you are getting reduced, in-state tuition. And that’s being extremely generous.” So why do so many minority students end up at lesser schools that offer them a significantly lower chance of success? In his recent book Law Mart: Justice, Access, and For-Profit Law Schools, law professor Riaz Tejani dissects the way low-ranked law schools market themselves to students with low LSAT scores by promising to provide “access to justice.” Accepting students who will largely fail to get legal jobs in the name of allowing them the opportunity to access a legal education is, Tejani claims, symptomatic of a neoliberal model of legal education, which offers “social inclusion” at a steep price “devoid of social protectionism.”

The profits to be made from marginal students are significant, since tuition hardly varies between law schools regardless of their quality. Indeed, in 2011, New York Law School, which ranked in the lowest tier of such institutions, was charging more than Harvard Law School. The 2010 graduating class of the Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, another bottom-tier institution, had a total debt of more than $87 million. Nearly all of this borrowing was from federal loan programs and, given Cooley’s dismal employment statistics, it’s likely that taxpayers will have to cover the significant portion that will never be repaid. Despite such statistics, the class Cooley enrolled in 2017 was the third largest in the country, behind only Georgetown and Harvard.

The average graduate will have taken on more than $100,000 in debt (the amount a woman crowd-sourced last year to pay off what she owed after law school in order to achieve her new goal of becoming a cloistered nun). Such a debt is a far heavier burden for minorities, since the lists of schools with the highest proportion of them and of those with the lowest percentage of graduates employed in full-time legal jobs show considerable overlap. For example, in 2015, Charlotte School of Law had the fourth highest percentage of African-American students among law schools (36%) and also the highest percentage of 2016 graduates who were either unemployed, employed in temporary or part-time work, or working in nonprofessional jobs (59.12%). (Charlotte abruptly shut down in 2017, after the ABA put it on probation.) The few minority lawyers who obtain high-paying legal jobs have overwhelmingly gone to a top law school. Three-quarters of current black law firm partners went to one of the top 12 law schools, and nearly half went to either Harvard or Yale.

In a book widely considered to have launched the ongoing debate about the future of law schools, Brian Tamanaha notes that “perversely, the United States has an oversupply of law graduates at the same time that a significant proportion of the populace ― the poor and lower middle class ― go without legal assistance.” This “justice gap” is, in part, the result of the high cost of legal education. Even those who went to law school to help members of their community regularly find themselves unable to afford to do so ― if they want to meet their monthly loan payments.

Access to affordable legal services offers a small but crucial boost to families struggling against poverty and discrimination. As studies like Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City demonstrate, those who have no choice but to represent themselves face large financial, social, and emotional costs in the overwhelmingly likely event that they lose in housing court or when trying to obtain debt relief or pre-trial release or a restraining order. Society as a whole then pays the price for the associated loss of productivity and the cost of baseless or useless incarceration. Affordable representation can quite literally be a matter of life and death. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has pointed out, “People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty.”

There have been a number of proposals to lower the cost of becoming a lawyer, including by making law school shorter, returning to an apprenticeship model, or establishing programs to train “legal technicians” in limited areas of the law. But while you could fight evictions effectively with cheaper and briefer legal training, you’ll never become a judge that way. For such positions, the broad, theory-based education offered by law schools is a virtual necessity. Critics, in fact, worry that a return to shorter, lower-cost programs would harden what already looks like educational apartheid. Minority applicants could be dumped into the equivalent of vocational programs and left without hope of rising to the sorts of positions of power in which change might begin to be implemented within the legal system.

Solutions are not simple, but change is clearly needed in areas ranging from admissions standards and law school coursework to the nature of the bar exam itself ― and that undoubtedly only begins to touch on the deeper biases embedded in the system. In his prescient 1977 book, Unequal Justice: Lawyers and Social Change in Modern America, historian Jerold Auerbach argued that biases in the legal profession have “particularly serious consequences” in a country where we depend on lawyers to interpret and implement the principle of equal justice under the law. The difference that the rise in the number of female judges has made is already evident. For one thing, male judges are 10 percent more likely than female ones to rule against sex-discrimination claims.

Imagine, then, what a difference more minority judges might make. Unless the current system of education changes, however, that difference will remain a figment of the legal imagination.

Erin L. Thompson, after practicing as a lawyer, is now an assistant professor of art crime and a pre-law adviser at John Jay College (CUNY). She has previously written for TomDispatch on curating an exhibit of art made by detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Follow her on Twitter at @artcrimeprof.

Copyright 2018 Erin L. Thompson

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Teacher Says He Was Forced To Quit Over School’s Transgender Student Policy

An Indiana teacher says he was forced to resign after he refused to comply with the school district’s policy of addressing transgender students by their preferred names.

John Kluge, the former orchestra teacher at Brownsburg High School in Brownsburg, Indiana, argued that the policy ― which also requires teachers to refer to students using the pronouns which best align with their gender identity ― goes against his religious beliefs and violates the First Amendment. 

“I’m being compelled to encourage students in what I believe is something that’s a dangerous lifestyle,” the teacher, who has been with the Brownsburg School District for four years, said. “I’m fine to teach students with other beliefs, but the fact that teachers are being compelled to speak a certain way is the scary thing.”

A Brownsburg Community Schools spokeswoman declined to comment on Kluge’s claims, but told HuffPost: “This teacher voluntarily submitted his resignation prior to the end of the school year. The resignation was accepted by the administration.” She added that the school district “complies with all state and federal laws.” 

The dispute between Kluge and his employers reportedly began at the start of 2018, soon after teachers received an 11-page document outlining the school district’s transgender student policy. 

A copy of what’s purported to be the Jan. 3 document on the Indiana Family Institute’s website states that the Brownsburg School District “allows name changes with a letter from the student’s parent(s) and a letter from a health care professional.” The district permits trans students to “use the restroom of their choice.” 

Kluge, 28, told the Indianapolis Star that he and school administrators initially reached a compromise that would permit him to refer to all students by their last names. A few months ago, however, he said he was told he would no longer be allowed to do that.

After what Kluge described as a “very threatening and bullying type of meeting,” he said district officials told him he would be terminated if he didn’t comply with the school’s transgender student policy. Though he submitted what ABC 6 described as “a conditional resignation letter with a tentative date,” he said he asked to withdraw it May 25, four days before the end of the school year.

Instead, Kluge said he found himself locked out of his school’s email system, and was informed by colleagues that a listing for his position had been posted. He said he plans to appeal to keep his job at a June 11 school board meeting.  

“They’re acting as if I have [resigned], even though I’m pleading, ‘No,’” Kluge told USA Today. “I’m not dead yet. I still want to work here.”

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An Evangelical University Is Helping Create A Movie About How Trump Was Chosen By God

A collaboration between an independent Christian filmmaker and one of America’s largest evangelical universities is showcasing the growing prominence of a provocative belief about President Donald Trump ― that he was divinely appointed to lead the United States.

As part of a spring semester film project, students and staff members from Virginia’s Liberty University were involved in filming and producing “The Trump Prophecy,” a movie that promotes the belief that Trump’s election will bring healing to America. The partnership between the university’s cinematic arts department and Christian producer Rick Eldridge’s ReelWorks Studios gave students hands-on experience with camera work, set design, logistics and other skills they will need in the movie industry. 

Stephan Schultze, head of Liberty’s cinema program and director of “The Trump Prophecy,” told The Christian Post that the film was not meant as an endorsement of Trump but primarily as an opportunity for students to get involved in a project that will be screening in 1,200 theaters across the country in October.

“It is a real credit when they graduate for working on a movie,” he said about the collaboration.

Liberty University was founded by the late Jerry Falwell Sr., a fundamentalist preacher who led the Moral Majority movement in the 1980s that united conservatives of different faiths and backgrounds. His son, Jerry Falwell Jr., is now president of the Lynchburg school ― and an ardent Trump fan who believes the president is a “dream” for evangelicals. Falwell is a member of Trump’s informal evangelical advisory committee and has often defended the president’s controversial statements and actions. 

Liberty University did not return requests for comment on this story. Falwell has made it clear in the past that his support for Trump is a personal decision that doesn’t reflect the views of the university as a whole.

Still, the prominent Christian university’s involvement in the film is an indication of how widespread this particular belief ― that God had a role in Trump’s election ― has become. 

‘The Trump Prophecy’

“The Trump Prophecy” tells the story of Mark Taylor, a retired firefighter from Orlando, Florida, who believes God told him in April 2011 that Trump would one day become president of the United States. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Taylor claims he was watching television around 2 a.m when Trump appeared on a news segment. He said he then heard the voice of God telling him, “You’re hearing the voice of a president.” 

Taylor grabbed a pen and paper and wrote down words he says came directly from the Holy Spirit. The revelation, which Taylor described as a prophecy, claimed God had chosen Trump to bring “honor, respect and restoration” to America. America was going to prosper like never before, Taylor said, and the ties between Israel and the U.S. would grow stronger. 

A screenshot from a promotional video for "The Trump Prophecy." 

At first, Taylor thought the prediction would come true during the 2012 presidential election. Back then, his “prophecy” about the former New York business mogul becoming president seemed like a far-fetched dream.

In 2015, Taylor showed his writing to the Christian physician and author Dr. Don Colbert, who passed it on to his wife, Mary Colbert. The woman also believed it was a prophecy. After Trump announced his candidacy, Mary Colbert sent copies of Taylor’s words to Christian leaders across the country and started a grassroots prayer chain for America to “return to the Godly principles we were founded upon.”

After the election, Taylor’s prophecy captured the attention of more of his fellow evangelical Christians, a religious group that has been among Trump’s most reliable supporters. The story nabbed Taylor a book deal and multiple interviews with Christian media

Watch an interview with Mark Taylor and Mary Colbert below. 

Taylor told the CBN that God is using Trump to stop an “anti-Christian agenda” consuming America.

“The enemy’s timeline has been denied by the most-high God, and it’s through Donald Trump a lot of this is being denied right now,” Taylor told CBN in December.

Critics, including some Liberty students, are questioning Taylor’s claims of being a prophetic voice, especially given some of his more outlandish predictions ― such as his claim that President Barack Obama is going to be charged with treason and that Trump will release cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease that the pharmaceutical industry has been keeping secret.

Although some of Taylor’s predictions fall to the fringe, his core conviction that Trump was selected by God to lead the U.S. is not at all uncommon within evangelical circles. 

Appointed By God 

Many evangelical Christians view God as being highly engaged with the world, whether it’s on the larger stage of national politics or on a more personal, intimate level, by directing individuals’ career paths or healing them from sickness. A Pew Research Center survey published in April found that 90 percent of evangelicals believe that God has a hand in determining both the big and little events in life, compared with 68 percent of all Americans. 

In addition, white evangelicals in particular tend to hold beliefs that overlap with Christian nationalism, an ideology that sees America as a “Christian nation” that has a special covenant with the Christian God. Research indicates that Americans who believed in several key tenets of Christian nationalism had a strong likelihood of voting for Trump.

As a result of these two factors, it’s not a stretch for some white evangelical Christians to also believe that God was behind Trump’s election, according to Andrew Whitehead, a sociologist at Clemson University.

Whitehead told HuffPost he believes this idea that Trump was divinely selected is not a fringe view within American evangelicalism today.

“Because many evangelicals embrace Christian nationalism to some extent, they will believe that Trump being elected is probably part of God’s will for the United States since it is a Christian nation,” he wrote in an email.

President Donald Trump gave the commencement address at Liberty University in 2017.

The idea that Trump was God’s own pick has been expressed by several prominent evangelical leaders. In the days immediately following Trump’s election, Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, told HuffPost that he saw Trump’s victory as part of God’s plan for America. 

“I firmly believe that God has intervened and given us a temporary reprieve from well-deserved judgement for our having turned away from Him as a nation,” Land told HuffPost in an email on Nov. 9, 2016. “I fervently pray that Americans will take advantage of this temporary reprieve and turn back to the God of our fathers.”

Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and an evangelical adviser to the president, made similar statements after the election, saying that the Bible tells Christians “it’s clear that God alone establishes our leaders.” 

Franklin Graham, son of the late evangelist Billy Graham, said in an interview last month that he thanks God that Trump was elected president. 

“I think somehow God put him in this position. Because he’s not a politician, he seemed to do everything wrong as a politician: he offended many people, did the wrong things ― but somehow he became president,” Graham said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And I just have to think that God, in some reason, put him there for a purpose. I don’t know what that is, but we need to get behind him and support him.”

Some evangelicals have even compared Trump to the biblical figure of King Cyrus, an ancient Persian king who was apparently anointed by God to help rebuild Jerusalem  ― even though Cyrus wasn’t a Jew.  

Whitehead said that it doesn’t matter to Christian nationalists if Trump personally represents Christianity well, as long as he supports their goals.

“Trump doesn’t have to be pious to be chosen by God or used by God. He just has to bring God’s desires to fruition in the US, which is to create a more ‘Christian’ nation, as they see it,” Whitehead wrote. 

Then-candidate Donald Trump delivers a speech on the campus of Liberty University on Jan. 18, 2016.

The Debate At Liberty University

Some Liberty University students are upset that their school is helping to create this movie. An online petition against the university’s involvement in the film project has gathered close to 2,000 signatures. 

“We should be very wary of modern-day prophets,” the petition states. “Mark Taylor has claimed God told him that electing Trump will save the world which is unbiblical at best and heretical at worst.”

In the past, Liberty University students and alumni have protested against Jerry Falwell Jr.’s unwavering support of Trump ― with some graduates even returning their diplomas over the issue.

Schultze told The Washington Post’s Lauren Markoe that one Liberty film student declined to take part in the project and instead completed another assignment. He believes it was for personal or political reasons.

The director told The Post the film allows viewers to decide whether Taylor is a true prophet.

“The Trump Prophecy” website describes the film as an “inspirational message of Hope, highlighting the vast beauty and greatness of The United States [and] its electoral process.” The movie’s trailer references a Bible verse that says if God’s people “humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,” God will heal their land. 

Schultze said that he hopes the movie will demonstrate how Taylor’s story provoked a prayer movement for America.

“[People] have come together in the recognition that those prayers have value and build community and build a strong bond that allows for a president like Donald Trump to be elected,” Schultze told The Christian Post.

Thousands of students, supporters and invited guests sing Christian praise songs before then-candidate Donald Trump&nbsp

Whitehead said that this theory about God playing a role in Trump’s election is not necessarily predicated on Trump alone ― rather it’s part of evangelicals’ general worldview about God being intimately involved in world events. This helps people assure themselves that God is in control and that he has a plan for the United States. 

This belief about Trump being God’s chosen leader also provides a degree of “transcendent legitimation” for the president, the sociologist said, especially considering how evangelicals reacted to the election of President Barack Obama.

“What is interesting, and others have pointed this out, is how silent many of these religious leaders were about how God selects US presidents when Obama won in 2008 and 2012,” Whitehead wrote. “This suggests that for many, saying that God chose the president is a way to sanctify their preferred outcome.”

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Betsy DeVos Says School Safety Commission Won’t Look At Role Of Guns In School Shootings

Testifying before the Senate appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said the Federal Commission on School Safety, which she chairs, will not look at the role of guns in a recent spate of school shootings.

In an exchange with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), DeVos said it is “not part of the commission’s charge per se” to look at the role of firearms as it relates to gun violence. Instead, DeVos said the commission will study “school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.”

Leahy asked DeVos if she thinks an 18-year-old should be able to buy AR-15-style guns and ammunition.

“I believe that’s very much a matter for debate, and I know that’s been debated within this body and will continue to be,” DeVos replied. “Our focus is on raising up successful proven techniques and approaches to ensuring schools are safe for students to attend.”

The White House charged DeVos with leading a federal commission on school safety after a shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February left 17 dead. In a March press release, the White House said the commission will study and make recommendations on issues including “age restrictions for certain firearm purchases.” 

HuffPost reached out to the Education Department to see if the commission still plans to make recommendations in this area, given DeVos’ comments Tuesday.

In response, department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill clarified that the commission will still be making such recommendations.

“It is one of the 27 items to be addressed by the report,” Hill said in an email.

She also noted “that the commission cannot create or amend current gun laws — that is the Congress’ job.”

While speaking with Leahy, DeVos also said the commission will not look at countries where teens spend similar amounts of time playing video games or on social media but that do not have the same high rates of gun violence in schools as the U.S.

Leahy ended the exchange by noting that the commission “will look at gun violence in schools but not look at guns ― an interesting concept.”

DeVos has been holding listening sessions and events for her commission in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the commission is scheduled to hold a public listening session. 

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Teacher Under Investigation For Mocking Black Child’s Hair In Instagram Post

A substitute teacher in Canada is being investigated for posting a photo on Instagram that smacks of “anti-black racism,” school officials say.

The post appears to mock a young black student’s hair. It shows a picture of a small child in a classroom next to a picture of a character from the 1996 movie “Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.” The character is brandishing a gun.

The post’s caption reads, “Who rocked it better? LOLOLOL.”

The Peel District School Board in Ontario said school officials became aware of the post after a concerned member of the community tweeted about it on Saturday.

The district has not released the name of the teacher who posted the picture, and the account responsible for the post has since been closed. The teacher will not be permitted to teach or to contact staff or students while the school conducts an investigation, according to the Brampton Guardian.

“We were made aware of an inappropriate Instagram post made by one of our staff members when it was sent to the Peel District School Board Twitter account yesterday,” district spokeswoman Carla Pereira said in a statement. “As the post shared is considered anti-black racism, we became concerned as this behavior is simply unacceptable.”

Pereira added: “We don’t yet know how long the investigation will take or what the outcome will be, as we’re just getting started, but want to assure our community that this matter is being taken very seriously by senior leadership of the Peel board.”

The teacher could face discipline ranging from a verbal reprimand to sensitivity training or even termination, according to Toronto City News.

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Betsy DeVos Now Says She Doesn’t Think Schools Can Call ICE On Students

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who sparked a firestorm last week when she said it was a school’s choice to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to report potentially undocumented students, changed her tune Tuesday, telling a Senate subcommittee she doesn’t think schools can call ICE on undocumented students.

DeVos’ reversal came during a tense exchange with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who demanded that DeVos give a yes or no answer to whether the law allows this. DeVos first told Murphy that the 1982 Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe “says students that are not documented have the right to an education.” When pressed for clarification, DeVos said she thinks “a school is a sacrosanct place for students to be able to learn, and they should be protected there.”

Murphy accused DeVos of ducking the question. “I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn,” DeVos responded.

Finally, after multiple rounds of prodding and Murphy’s question, “So they can’t call ICE?” DeVos responded: “I don’t think they can.” 

Democratic members of Congress and civil rights groups have been demanding that DeVos correct her original comments since she made them. A week ago, in an exchange with Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) while testifying before the House Education and the Workforce Committee, DeVos said she thinks it’s “a school decision, it’s a local community decision” whether school leaders should call ICE on undocumented students or families.

The Education Department subsequently said DeVos believes that schools should follow the principles established by Plyler v. Doe, which requires public schools to educate all students. Many critics of the education secretary, however, demanded a more public correction. By Monday, over 100 members of Congress had signed a letter reiterating the need for a “swift, decisive, and widely disseminated correction.”

Espaillat said Tuesday, after DeVos’ appearance before the Senate subcommitee, that he doesn’t believe her new statement goes far enough.

″I would like to see from her a more definitive answer, as opposed to ‘I think,’” Espaillat told HuffPost. “I think is in the right direction, but it’s not a definitive answer.”

Espaillat said he is “perplexed” that DeVos hasn’t clarified the issue.

“This only lends itself to people feeling afraid or skeptical about things and it doesn’t help matters,” said Espaillat. ”We would like to have a definitive answer, and it should be more along the lines of, this is what the law says, therefore they cannot do it.”

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8th Graders Given Ballistic Shields As ‘Welcome To High School’ Gift

Members of the outgoing 8th-grade class at St. Cornelius Catholic School in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, each received a graduation gift that reflects the troubled times: bulletproof shields for their backpacks.

Unequal Technologies, a sportswear company based in a nearby Philadelphia suburb, donated the 10-by-12-inch plates to each of the students as they prepared to break before starting high school. 

“It’s sad the times have called for such a product to be invented, but we have answered the call,” Unequal CEO Robert Vito said at an assembly covered by local news. 

The backpack plates, a new offering from a company known for protective sportswear, have been shown to resist ammunition, including a 9 mm full metal jacket round, a .44 Magnum round, and birdshot fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, the company said. They’re about a quarter-inch thick, weigh 20 ounces and also protect against shrapnel and knife attacks. 

“I never thought I’d need this, no,” Jacob Nicosia told Fox29.

The students, seated in rows flanking Vito at the assembly, were caught on camera with unsmiling expressions. 

Vito’s daughter attends St. Cornelius, a private school that offers kindergarten through 8th grade in quiet Chadds Ford, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Principal Barbara Rossini reportedly asked whether his company could develop a product for schools. 

“Anything that we can do to protect our children and our staff ― that’s my job, to protect them,” Rossini told Fox29. “I have to do the best I can.”

The company also gave 25 of the “Safe Shield” plates, which retail for $149.95, to faculty members. Schools can purchase the shields for $99. 

Vito said during the assembly that handguns and shotguns are “useless against a product like this” and demonstrated how it could be used to stop bullets.

The donation comes amid a national debate over how to prevent gun violence in schools, which have been plagued recently by near-weekly shootings.

In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people, students are now required to use clear backpacks as a safety precaution. 

Many Parkland students have advocated passionately for comprehensive gun policy reform since the massacre. But lawmakers, including President Donald Trump, have countered with plans to place more guns in schools as a protective measure.

After a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas took 10 lives last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) argued for increasing law enforcement presence at schools and monitoring social media more closely.

The plates are an alternative to bulletproof backpacks, which have garnered renewed interest in schools around the country in recent months.  

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Single Mom, 24, Celebrates Graduation With Her 2 Children: ‘You Don’t Have To Be Defined By Your Struggle’

When Ronlonda Robinson recently graduated from college with a degree in apparel design, she knew just how to celebrate and show off all that she learned.

The 24-year-old mother, who goes by Londa Love, took to her Instagram to share a photo shoot she had in honor of the momentous occasion. Having attended Louisiana State University, she posed with her two children, Naomi, 7, and Lawrence, 3, in matching outfits with the school’s mascot, in classrooms, and at other important spots on campus.

“I always love to see families dress alike, so that concept was inevitable,” Robinson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But when I came across the Louis Vuitton fabric, I knew that would be dope.”

Robinson says she wanted to make a big statement with an over-the-top photo shoot for her graduation because of everything she had gone  through to get to that point in her life.

Ronlonda Robinson also wanted to be the first to Photoshop the school’s mascot into her photos. 

“In high school, I became 16 and pregnant after falling in love with an upperclassmen on the football team, who I soon found out only loved himself,” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “At the time, I was a rising track athlete and a straight-A student, so I had no intentions of becoming a teenage mom. Sadly, the father left me to figure things out on my own and I was terrified.”

After her daughter Naomi was born, her mother became her main source of help. “She kept my daughter for me while I continued to run track for the remainder of my high school years and even became a cheerleader senior year,” Robinson says. “But it really ruined our relationship because it brought more obligations into a household that was already financially struggling. Nonetheless, I never received a grade below a B in all four years, and I graduated No. 2 in my class.”

From there, Robinson enrolled in college and as a part-time job designed, sewed and sold clothing. Meanwhile, she was also juggling her familial commitments and a new relationship.

Robinson eventually got pregnant again and although she “wasn’t very happy about that” at first, her pregnancy was so much better the second time around. “I had the father there by my side the whole time. I was very happy. But this time my academic career was a wreck,” she admits.

Because of her low GPA, Robinson had to attend summer school and pay for it out of her own pocket. So she focused on growing her fashion business and turned to social media where she grew her clientele. “As the orders poured in, I accepted them all, and made about five outfits every day for the entire summer,” she says.

Robinson was able to make all the money needed for her classes that summer, ended up getting straight As, and gave birth to her son Lawrence. Saying that she was the happiest she had ever been, Robinson fondly reflects on that time of successfully overcoming so many obstacles. But there was still more to come when she found out that the father of her son was being unfaithful and decided to end the relationship.

“For the past three years, I stayed single and focused on my talents as my passion for design grew and my social media following slowly grew along with it,” Robinson says.

“With my focus in the right direction, I’ve been able to get my own place and buy myself a brand-new car.”With her degree in hand, she plans to continue building her brand — and show others that “anyone can achieve success when they pursue the things that they are passionate about.”

“We were all created for a purpose and it’s as simple as doing the thing that you love to do,” she says. “Start working towards your dreams and don’t be afraid to fall. You don’t have to be defined by your struggle, but you can use it to learn, gain strength, and be motivated for change. Hard work pays off, so never give up.”

Read more from Yahoo Lifestyle: 

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Advice To College Graduates In The Age Of Trump

This article originally appeared at To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Class of 2018, I’ve always been told that a joke’s a good way to launch any talk. It’s a matter of breaking the ice, though on your graduation day, with the temperature soaring into the upper eighties, that may not be the perfect image. Still, you know what I mean: an attempt to lighten the atmosphere a little before getting to the tough stuff. Again, though, in our world ― in case you hadn’t noticed, a near majority of American voters elected Donald Trump president in November 2016 ― lightening the atmosphere may pass for a joke in itself (and I do think I hear a little laughter out there somewhere).

Anyway, here’s my official joke on this sunny afternoon in the middle of this beautiful open campus quad. Ready?

No, really, in our present world, shouldn’t that pass for a joke? Think of it as my way of making light of a grim reality of your educational lives. After all, imagine some classmate of yours, angry at, well, who knows what, or simply, as new head of the National Rifle Association and former illegal gunrunner Oliver North suggested recently, on Ritalin and devoted to violent video games, stalking onto this very campus this very afternoon. He’s ― and it almost certainly would be a “he” ― spoiling for payback of some sort and he’s ― who could doubt this in twenty-first-century America? ― armed to the teeth with lethal, possibly military-style weaponry. The odds are that, standing up at this podium in front of you as he began blowing people away, I might well be the first to go. Hence, my joke! But of course you got it, didn’t you?

The Adults Under the Desks

To be clear, on your graduation day I’m not just kidding around. I’m also doing what the truly old ― I’m almost 74 ― always try to do: somehow get in the spirit of the young just about to step into, not out of, our world. It’s true that when I went to school back in the Neolithic Age, we had our own version of being blown away ― and of active-shooter drills and of the fear of dying that went with them.

From the time we were little, we were, in the parlance of that moment, “ducking and covering”; that is, diving under our school desks for protection with our hands over our heads like (as one civil defense cartoon of the time had it) Bert the Turtle going into his shell. We were protecting ourselves against a nuclear attack from a land you won’t even remember, the former Soviet Union, which imploded before you were born (R.I.P. 1991), aka the Ruskies, the Evil Empire. And yes, looking back, those tiny kids crouched under those desks, one of whom was me, couldn’t have represented a more pathetic image of “safety” or, to use the word that has dominated this American century, “security.” And yes, even as children, we knew it. The underside of a desk and your hands were no defense against the atomic bombing of New York City (where I lived in those years, as I do today). In fact, you have to wonder what sad group of adults came up with that brilliant strategy for terrorizing children?

Those were the active-shooter drills of that particular lockdown moment, us under those desks as CONELRAD blared its warnings from a radio on the teacher’s desk and sirens howled in the streets outside. Even at a ridiculously young age, you knew that you, your parents, your grandparents, your friends might not be around for long if that particular shooter, the Soviet Union, made it into your world. Its “shot” would, of course, have been heard not just in that classroom but around what was left of a nuclearized world. So, believe me, whatever your nightmares about mass shooters in your schools may be, we had them, too.

On the cheerier side, in the present moment, nukes, thanks in part to a president who likes things BIG, are clearly making a bigly return in our present world. Since the Obama years, more than a trillion dollars (a number sure to rise) have been slated to produce yet more of them in even more usable versions for what’s already a staggering arsenal, one that could easily obliterate several Earth-sized planets. We’re talking about an arsenal that our president referred to hair-raisingly just last week while canceling his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” That, of course, is the very same arsenal with which he had previously threatened to bring “fire and fury like the world has never seen” down on North Korea.

Now, in these years, as you’ve crouched silently in the darkness of some classroom, preparing for the moment when a well-armed student or former student might be roaming the halls of your school preparing to shoot you down, your own set of fears have been far more up close and personal than mine were, but no less horrifying. The New York Times recently reported on a high school, 1,000 miles from the latest mass school slaughter in Santa Fe, Texas:

“Calysta Wilson and Courtney Fletcher, both juniors at Mount Pleasant Community High School in Iowa, believe their table in the cafeteria would be the first one a gunman entering the room would target. ‘We sit at the table closest to the doors,’ Calysta, 17, said as she took in a softball game. ‘In the case that you came in as a shooter and you killed the first person you saw, I would die. I would not make it.’”

Here is where I feel oh-so-old standing in front of you today. I can’t even imagine such calculations as a daily part of anyone’s education. For the Texas versions of Calysta and Courtney, however, that state’s lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick (who’s pushed for bringing concealed weapons to church), does have a solution: more guards, fewer school entrances (“There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses.”) ― or, as the wags had it, “Guns don’t kill people, doors do.”

Let’s face it, though, Patrick is hardly a loner when it comes to such solutions to society’s problems. Since the Parkland, Florida, school slaughter sparked a movement to curb guns in America, calls for the the further arming, fortifying, and militarizing of American education ― from the NRA to President Trump ― have come thick and fast (even if the insurance companies have balked, doubting that armed schools will be safer places). And Patrick’s solution is very much in line with our moment more generally. It fits perfectly, for instance, with the president’s famed response to “Mexican rapists” and other imagined dangers to the nation: Wall them out and wall us in. (In the background, can’t you hear Trump’s base at his rallies chanting “build that wall!”?)

To offer a little perspective on your world of walls to be, they simply don’t work. Not for long anyway. The 4,500-mile Great Wall of China may still be the ultimate symbol of such construction (even if not actually visible from outer space), but the “barbarians” from the steppes of Asia still managed to invade and establish their dynasties in the Chinese heartland. In America, the walling in of education, the turning of schools into no-exit fortresses, will hardly solve problems. Consider, for a moment, the simple fact that school-age children gather in other places as well ― coffee shops, fast-food restaurants, gyms, you name it. Are you really going to fortify the entire society, put guards and guns at every McDonald’s? And are you really going to turn American “education” into a fully armed experience? In other words, will an education that, theoretically at least, is supposed to “open” you up to the world, actually leave you desperately closed off from and pre-terrorized by it (even though school still remains the statistically safest place for a child to be in this society)?

In fact, exercises like the full-scale fortifying of schools are really the twenty-first-century adult equivalent of ducking under a giant desk and putting your hands over your head. Sad!

The reality of this moment is that what truly endangers us ― and especially you, the graduates of 2018 ― can’t possibly be walled out (or in). I hate to tell the lieutenant governor of Texas this, for instance, but when it comes to the planet itself, unlike Texas’s schools, we can’t easily create fewer exits (not certainly in the age of the Sixth Extinction) or arm the guards better. That’s why climate-change denial ― the greatest form of ducking and covering around ― is so convenient. It means you can ignore (for now) the single greatest threat on the planet (other, perhaps, than nuclear weapons) that can’t be walled in or walled out. But more on that momentarily, as I throw further shadows over this glorious day of yours.

Here, then, is an entrance-and-exit reality to start with: you can’t arm a citizenry like no other on the planet (Yemenis come in a distant second) and then successfully wall yourself off from that reality with fewer entrances and yet more arms. You can’t let more than 300 million weapons loose in a single country, including millions of military-style assault rifles, as if preparing for a future war at home and expect nothing to happen. (It’s hardly surprising, under the circumstances, that this country leads the world by a long shot in what are politely called “mass shootings.”) You can’t arm your police nationwide with weaponry and other equipment directly off the distant battlefields on which your armed forces have been fighting for almost 17 years, or fill their ranks and their SWAT teams nationwide with veterans off those very same battlefields who used those very same weapons and expect nothing to change.

You can’t fight wars for more than a decade and a half, still spreading in those same distant lands, and not expect them to come home somehow, even if in the fantasy figures of terror-minded refugees against whom you plan to build those walls and institute those travel bans. You can’t have a Washington in which in 2003 and again in 2018 ― despite everything that’s happened in the years between in the Greater Middle East ― “real men want to go to Tehran” and successfully wall yourself off from the results of that urge.  You can’t expect all of that and not also expect that somehow or other this will, to use the title of my new book, turn out to be a nation unmade by war.

There are no walls, no entrances or exits that can be closed in order to contain the damage from or protect the American people from Washington’s destructive follies.

Heading for the Entrances, Not the Exits

Think of it as an irony of the first order that, in the face of historic dangers, the American people sent a man into the White House ready to create an administration that would give the classic head-in-the-sand cartoon ostrich a run for its money. Yes, Donald Trump did once claim that climate change was a “Chinese hoax,” but who could have imagined that he would consciously staff his administration with the most wide-ranging set of climate-change deniers imaginable; or that he and his cronies would put so much effort into the further fossil-fuelization of the Earth; that, while bragging about building walls and instituting travel bans to protect the American people, he would put his greatest energy, focus, and effort into creating ever more of the most destructive kind of “exits” and “entrances” on this planet?

After all, everything else we might discuss today from those endless piles of weaponry in this country to the strange potential autocrat now in the White House is just part of ordinary human history in which empires and autocrats rise and fall; people rebel and fail, die and suffer, and Kim Jong-uns run their countries until they don’t. Climate change is nothing of the sort. It operates not on a human time scale, but on an awesomely different one, a planetary one. Note, for instance, that, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, every one of the last 400 months (since the presidency of Ronald Reagan) has been warmer than the historical norm and 16 of the last 17 years since 2001 have similarly been the warmest on record. Just a hint of what’s coming.

Climate change functions on another time scale entirely, one that puts human time in grim perspective. So whatever the horrors and crimes of the present moment, the greatest of them all (except nuclear destruction) is undeniably aiding and abetting in the future warming of the planet, a phenomenon sparked by us and yet not likely to end on a human time scale. In other words, if President Trump and his crew have their way, they will prove to be true terrarists (rather than terrorists), the greatest criminals in human history. They will have consciously chosen to aid and abet the destruction of the very environment that nurtured humanity all these centuries. They will have been the shooters in humanity’s schoolyard.

All of this means that all of you, all of us, are now living with a version of the apocalypse up close and personal, whether we fully grasp that or not, in part because this potentially apocalyptic moment will play out over hundreds, even thousands of years. And that’s no joke.

It may, by now, be crossing your mind that it would be better not to graduate at all from this beautiful school. Instead, why not close and lock that giant gate over there, fortify this campus, and hunker down for the human version of eternity, or simply crawl under your chairs right now, in the midst of this ceremony, put your hands over your hands and refuse to come out.

But perhaps I could suggest something else for you, class of 2018. Perhaps now is the perfect moment for you, your parents and grandparents, your friends and relatives to stand up, form yourselves into your serried ranks, gowns on and caps in hand ready to be tossed. Perhaps now is the moment to stand tall, be proud, and head for one of the very exits to this campus, which are really entrances to our world ― of the sort that so many are so eager to shut down and armor up. Perhaps now is the moment to begin your procession off this campus into a world where the entrances and exits should be opened, not closed, and things should truly be so much better than they are. Now is the time to enter our beleaguered world and go to work. We need you, class of 2018, not under some desk but out there ready to change our world for the better.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His sixth and latest book, just published, is A Nation Unmade by War(Dispatch Books). He gave today’s speech from the campus of his mind.

Copyright 2018 Tom Engelhardt

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Parkland School Resource Officer Breaks Silence On ‘Haunting’ Failure To Stop Shooter

The school resource officer forced to resign after he failed to engage the shooter during the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has broken his silence.

Scot Peterson, 55, told The Washington Post that coping with the mass shooting, which left 17 people dead and 17 others injured, and his failure to mitigate the attack has been “haunting” him.

“I’ve cut that day up a thousand ways with a million different what-if scenarios, but the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17,” Peterson told The Post.

Peterson, a former Broward County sheriff’s deputy, has faced an intense backlash in the wake of the massacre. He resigned as Stoneman Douglas high school’s armed resource officer in late February after videos showed he did not enter the school during the shooting.

In April, the father of one of the shooting victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Peterson, a 33-year law enforcement veteran.

“I just want to expose what a coward [Peterson] was and that he could’ve saved everybody on the third floor,” Andrew Pollack, whose 18-year-old daughter Meadow was killed, told the Sun Sentinel. “I don’t want him to go anywhere in the country and not have people recognize what a coward he is.”

Peterson has defended his conduct during the shooting, steadfastly denying that he did “nothing” as gunshots rang out in the school and noting that he hadn’t been sure at the time whether the attack was happening inside or outside of the building.

“I’m getting on the radio to call in the shooting,” Peterson told The Post, reliving his actions on that tragic day. “I’m locking down the school. I’m clearing kids out of the courtyard. They have the video and the call logs. The evidence is sitting right there.”

“There wasn’t even time to think,” he added. “It just happened, and I started reacting.”

Peterson’s first TV interview since the attack is set to air Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show. 

“Knowing what I know today, I would have been in that building in a heartbeat,” Peterson can be heard saying in a preview of the interview. “It was my kids. It’s just ― I didn’t know.”

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Kentucky Crowd Cheers Trump Quote, Then Finds Out It’s Actually From Obama

A valedictorian graduating from high school in Kentucky got the audience to cheer an “inspirational quote” from President Donald Trump

As it turned out, the audience at Bell County High School ― a county where Trump won 79.9 percent of the vote in 2016 ― unwittingly cheered a line from President Barack Obama.

“Don’t just get involved,” Ben Bowling said in the footage posted online by the Louisville Courier Journal. “Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

He cited Trump as the source, and the crowd cheered.

“I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Bowling said, interrupting the cheers. “That was Barack Obama.”

Many of the cheers stopped. Some laughed, some clapped, and least one loud “boo” could be heard. 

Bowling told the Courier Journal he was trying to be funny when he cited the line from Obama’s 2012 commencement speech at Barnard College. 

I just thought it was a really good quote,” Bowling said. “Most people wouldn’t like it if I used it, so thought I’d use Donald Trump’s name. It is southeastern Kentucky after all.”

The newspaper said he graduated with a 4.216 grade point average and will attend University of Kentucky, and hopes to pursue a degree in medicine.

For now, however, he’s using his newfound viral fame to advance another kind of cause: 

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