JD Vance and his book

So I am, at heart, a rural educator. But I have served in rural schools, urban schools, government agencies tasked with working in schools, and Higher Education. I am almost 40, having spent almost 7 years in rural schools, and 2 years in an urban school (directly) and almost 7 years tangentially. I have been in higher ed for almost 4 years. Rapidly approaching 40 is causing me to reflect an awful lot on my experiences and, as the sociologists like to say privileged.  I want to lay that out upfront: I am privileged. My family was nuclear, we had many hard working aunts and uncles who surrounded us. I knew both sets of grand parents. We had friends of the family who were close and were surrogate aunts and uncles. My parents worked very hard for stability and, as is shown by the travel we undertook as vacations and Dad’s training, experiences in the wider world. Ye there were rough times too: Dad getting structurally unemployed (layed-off) by ConRail as it imploded. Losing Adam, my baby brother died due to birth defects. The family moving away from our nuclear support to Gloversville. The money that never seemed to be enough, but always was so that we had food, shelter, cloths, and experiences to museums.

Reading JD Vance’s book, I alternated between understanding and amazement. I recoiled at some of his thoughts, and supported others. I really think his book needs to be read in tandem with Kathy Cramer’s book on the rise of discontent among the rural communities. Its a great book for one perspective on rural, rural poor, and rural white poor in difficult family situations. His efforts strive to give voice to a group that has been voiceless. It is a vivid retelling of his experiences from when he was young to his graduation from Law School. Vance uses the term Hillbilly to describe his family and their actions. Through this lens, the tale is told of life that moves from one crisis to another and then through redemption at the feet of his grandparents, his older sister, and the US Marine Corps.

I want to stop here and give thanks and praise to the US military for their efforts at raising “thrown away” children in the U.S. Quite often a story about how service in one branch or another has turned someone’s life around by instilling a sense of order and discipline which was lacking.

JD’s family experienced a number of issues, ranging from drug and alcohol problems, the de-industrialization of the Midwest, instability in nuclear family, and the disinvestment of public education during K-12. His characterization of living in a Rust Belt City is more accurate than the rural connotation the title and many publicists have given the general public. I argue that reading this book, JD has given voice to a disenfranchised group of people in the inner city and small peripheral cities.  As I was reading the text, I thought about Lois Weis’s work Working Class without Work and Willis’ Learning to Labor. Both examine the plight of large, urban city working class. Vance’s work adds to the narrative for smaller and mid sized cities. I would like to add that Worked Over By Dukos helps tell the tale of the Mohawk River Valley.

While JD’s grandmother plays an exceptional role in the book until he loses her to death, he hints very gentle about the lessons that he learned from her. It is true that this work is his homage to her, and to the loving care which she provided. I wished he would have explored his sister’s influence in more detail. She seemed to have done yeoman’s work in protecting him from the extremes which his family overcame. While he is the central storyteller in the book, I believe that the text should be examined by feminist scholars for the way in which women influence life in different economic strata in the U.S. The glass ceiling is a terrible wrong committed by power in society, but I think a recognition of the rock solid foundation that women provide to many needs greater recognition. If not, how many more families would fall ever further into the morass.

JD Vance’s book raises a series of policy questions which need to be addressed: How do we get the Harvard, Yales and Stanfords to do a better job reaching non-elite applicants? Can the United States Education System examine its self beyond year to year testing and see how well schools provide movement into different career goals which children express? Would a systematic health care policy which universally protected mental health, dental health, vision and physical health reduce the number of school and family related issues? Should the US government’s next major infrastructure investment be in creating safe lead free and mold free housing in cities, suburbs, and rural areas? How can we better leverage the military’s guidance system to help disaffected youth?

While we have Troops to teachers, we may need to deploy more service members into areas most affected by malaise. Not as an occupying force, but as mentors in communities where they are not found, or in short supply. Our military has been tasked with fighting terrorists abroad. There is a much greater need at home: fight the drug gangs, and fight the social anomie which has emerged in urban and rural areas from job losses and societal breakdowns.

Harsh words emerge within the text, and they can grate on people who have never experienced the bias and the different norms that JD experienced. The question becomes how to stop the characterizations and the lack of tolerance and understanding which Vance brings up in his memoir. It is a question which is unanswered in the book, and in many ways unanswered by the academy.

JD Vance’s work Hillibilly Elegy allows a peek into the mind of the white working class. A memoir with powerful experiences and moments of pain which come across to the reader in an easily accessible text, it should be an assigned course reader in a sociology and policy class at the Graduate level.


Civic engagement and Knope

Social studies teachers are nerds. We love being nerds. We love watching tv programs that are nerdy. Yet we hold one of the greatest responsibilities in the education world- to teach our children civic engagement. Recent reports in the 2010s have indicated that many people feel disengaged from civic society. They feel left out. They feel like their voice is not heard. People feel government does not listen to the little guy and their issues. We have clearly had a miscommunication, or a huge failure to communicate.  Having taught senior year civics for almost five years, and overseen a large urban school district program in civics, as well as worked at the NYS education department in implementing state civics education I can assure you. In the C3 and NYS standards civics is there. It may be strangled as our students in senior year civics are asked to write a long policy analysis paper for Participation in Government. These senior year students, many of whom are 17 or 18, are not sure how this class relates to basics like voter registration, or paying taxes, or registering for selective service. Many others are confused about how to interact with the local courts system if they are ticketed for speeding. What is worse, we never teach the basics of how to obtain a marriage licence, or where to go if you have an issue with a building permit, or how to buy a house. We don’t discuss what to do if there is an animal loose- or how to obtain a dog licence for a pet. We never discuss what local resources are available for our residents and citizens to use.  As a school- we assume that the parents have done that. We have in an epic and complete way failed our students to the point that many only feel comfortable interacting online and in virtual reality.

Thankfully, some of our political leaders are creating a movement and an excitement in young voters. President Obama, and candidate Jill Stein and candidate Bernie Sanders have led mass engagements in politics and civics by young people. From their slogans to their platforms, to their social medial and communication savvy, these leaders are asking our students to engage and to make the world better. Its almost as if JFK’s call for the Peace Corps and Americorps has found another generation that wants to go good for the sake of doing good. Some of this civic mindedness is finding its way into Teach for American. While maybe not the best way to engage in teaching, which is a career, the TFAs are recruited from our best and brightest and serve in some of the most demanding schools. Not always successful, these TFAers have something that regular educators are missing: Social Capitol. See, I went to school at a State school. I am very proud of that education. I have not, nor have any of my classmates from high school made enough money or become powerful enough to really make a significant difference outside of our own little worlds. The two most powerful members of my High School class are an Assistant Superintendent and a high school principal. Classes behind me have people who are small business owners, and doctors and lawyers- but no one who you read about in the Times or the Wall Street Journal. Now compare that to TFAs. They have graduated from networked in schools. They know millionaires. They work with high finance and policy gurus. If they want to accomplish a task, they can. We can too, but they have elite folks at their disposal. We need to do things via grassroots, hard work, luck and a lotto win.

This brings me to Knope, or Leslie Knope, Amy Pohler’s character on Parks and Recreation. Leslie was an idealist, a public servant who wanted to do good work. Her seven season arc takes her from the role as Deputy Director of Pawnee, Indiana’s parks and recreation department to a high level job in national politics. The stories, while trite, or conflated, or  farcical, do explain a number of civic engagement concepts in a way that is not dry or boring.

What does Leslie try to do? She wants to build a park. Leslie wants to create a beautiful area for the citizens of her city. Over the space of the series, you see Leslie working with different characters in her office who help, oppose, or frustrate her. She deals with state intervention and government shut down. She deals with a public that does not always know what is good for it. At public hearings,  her ideas are opposed by people for reasons which have nothing to do with creating a better place. When Leslie decides to run for office, the campaign deals with money, manipulation, and public distrust. Once elected to City council, she must work with people who are out to harm her efforts. Leslie deals with a  log rolling incident where her “Fun in the Sun” legislation is held up to allow a councilman to get her office. When she tries to impose a sugar tax, the community hates her because they want their food- and the business world attacks and threatens to destroy her. A group demand her recall and are successful, even after she saves two cities. The groups call her a nag and a nanny.

It is interesting to see this humorous comedy have so many situations which allow social studies teachers to look at and teach civics in depth. It shows the difficulties faced by women in a world with many male tendencies. The show examines small town life from a less than flattering angle. It does provide many powerful female characters. It allows a grander discussion in its last season about corporate responsibility, the role of big data in our lives, and how we as citizens look to technology and trend makers for silly reasons.  This show can help teachers discuss civic, economic, political and other current issues in a funny but engaging way. Look into the show, and see what you think.

Microhistory and Guardians

In Grad school, I wrote a paper about the Iroquois Influence debate that pitted the biggest names of history against Don Grinde and Bruce Johanson. There was miles of ink spilled in the debate on the quality of the work on those who believed that the Iroquois influenced the creation of the American Constitution and those who took a more traditional approach. I have recently become concerned with what I see as the movement of the many to disagree and discount the experiences of the few in the “authentic” record. We have seen  a great number of quotes about Alternative Facts appearing. I want to take a moment and think through alternative facts and the living reality of the few.

In many ways, history is written by the majority. It is written by consensus among the historical field based upon the sources which were left during the time period. It takes a major amount of peer review before theories pass muster and enter into accepted historical understanding and “cannon.”  And yet, as the movie “The minority report” reminds us, there are always those that disagree. In the minority report, a person is accused of a pre-crime, and is hunted down in order to prevent the crime from occurring. There is no get out of jail free. If you are accused, you are accused. Then, when one of the officers charged with enforcing the law is accused of a pre-crime, he finds out that there is not unanimous agreement in the prediction of the pre-crime. Rather, a “Minority Report” may indicate that the crime might not be committed. In history, we have these “minority reports.” There are historians who often buck the trend, find a different interpretation, and publish alternative views on events. Many times, these historians do not gain fame, or prestige, or that rarest of jobs, tenure track positions. It often takes decades for these views or facts to become considered in the main stream of the historical cannon.

Women’s history, ethic minorities, LGBTQ, and social history in general has taken years to become accepted as mainstream history. If not for the works of Mary Beth Norton, or Gary Nash, or John Hope Franklin, would this rich, engaging, and important part of the American Narrative gained its place in the cannon of history.  I would encourage all historians, students of history, and social studies teachers to think about how we encourage our students to examine their histories, but more importantly, the micro histories which add depth and breadth to the historical narrative.

What is Microhistory? Essentially, it is history at the smallest levels. It is not Bernard Bailyn, or Jared Diamond. It is local, it is singular, it is personal.  Alfred Young does an amazing job in his work The Shoemaker and the Tea party in exploring the microhistory  of the Boston Tea Party.  Maybe reading about Clara Barton would be a good start. I for one love the new book Hidden Figures about the role of women in NASA. This well written work examines a forgot and important STEM area that gives young people some role models.

Since today is Mother’s day, I would be remiss if I did not mention my mom, Patricia Jakubowski- who serves as a great story of her own. Born in South Buffalo to poor German and Irish families who had served as fire fighters and mechanics, my mother gave up her dream of oceanography to become a nurse. Graduating from E J Meyer school of nursing in Buffalo, Mom served as a nurse at Buffalo General. She then went to serve as a nurse at Nathan Littauer Hospital in Gloversville. Mom also served as a a nurse for Our Lady of Victory home for children in Lackawanna NY and as a state nursing home/ safety inspector and psych hospital nurse. Mom has always helped those at need- friends of the family, family members, or children who’s own parents could not or would not help them. Mom has taken the nursing oath-

Before God and those assembled here, I solemnly pledge;

To adhere to the code of ethics of the nursing profession;

To co-operate faithfully with the other members of the nursing team and to carryout [sic] faithfully and to the best of my ability the instructions of the physician or the nurse who may be assigned to supervise my work;

I will not do anything evil or malicious and I will not knowingly give any harmful drug or assist in malpractice.

I will not reveal any confidential information that may come to my knowledge in the course of my work.

And I pledge myself to do all in my power to raise the standards and prestige of the practical nursing

May my life be devoted to service and to the high ideals of the nursing profession

to heart…… Mom- I love you!

Mini-golf, sandwiches and rural

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I had the privileged of serving as a social studies teacher in two rural environments in New York State. The first, a village school located near Pennsylvania’s border with New York hired me right out of undergrad. This was due in part to the connections I had between the Scout camp were I worked and the principal of said school, who was golfing buddies with the camp director’s buddy- the camp commissioner (program ombudsmen). So I really have to thank my connection through a person I knew for helping me with my first job. I also have to thank the national sub shop chain in the gas station for helping me through my first job as well. See, for a single guy, running out for lunch during the day at school was hard. Where I taught it was 8 miles to the nearest fast food place, and 7 miles to the supermarket in the nearby city. It was almost 30 miles to a major supermarket chain in the much larger village of Springville. Needless to say, it is often much easier to roll out of bed and depend on the school cafeteria for food than to make it yourself. Dinner was a little easier- I could order pizza, or go into the small city or over the hill to a quaint village with some restaurants open. Quite often, it was grabbing a sub on the way home and eating it in front of the TV. In 1998-1999 internet was dial-up, long distance and expensive!

When I moved to my next job, out in the Leatherstocking region in New York, my final year there I was again single. A local national sub sandwich franchise became my dinner of choice place again. It was a steak sub or a chicken sub. I always saw my one student there, who was working to save up for college. It was quick, it was easy, and it required no thought. To eat at the sub shop for dinner allowed my to focus on myself and my job. It also allowed me to worry about getting to class on time for graduate school. See, in New York state, a teacher who graduates from school needs to also earn a masters degree in a five year time period from graduation. This is an extraordinarily quick time frame.  Not only is a new teacher learning how to teach, they may be settling into a marriage, or other life changing situation. While it does add to the exclusivity of a teaching career in the state, the young teachers have so many responsibilities during this time that they may not be able to focus on the required part of their jobs: teaching.

I also found a unique situation when single: You really can’t go out on a date in your local area. For me, that meant a huge area, because large cities in the area (Binghamton and Oneonta) were part of the area’s cultural catchment basin. I ran into co-workers 40 miles away from the village where we worked. There was little or no privacy. It is very awkward running into students while playing mini-golf. My experience in rural setting as a teacher is that there was no place to escape. There was no place to go to relax.  Teaching is one of the only professions which still places a moral requirement on its practitioners that they be the ideal. At least in urbanized/metro areas, there are places people can retreat to or a five minute drive gives space to the practitioners.

So one of the best improvements society provide teachers, especially in rural areas, is space and privacy.

Worst lesson ever…

Twenty years…. That’s how long I have worked in education starting September 2018. After graduating a Teaching Social Studies 7-12 BA program at SUNY Fredonia’s school of education, I got my first job- at a rural school district of 240 kids K-12 that no longer exists near the Pennsylvania boarder with New York. Growing up in suburban Hamburg, near Buffalo, I was used to a graduating class that size. Now, I would be working with social studies students in 7th, 9th, 11th and 12th grade. Yikes. We were also in a block schedule as well- so this was really new to me. Blocking was never covered in college, so I had to learn on the fly. I was also teaching 4 different preparations, which in many suburban and urban districts would be against the contract! But in rural schools- you do what you have to in order to survive.

So the worst lesson I ever taught was in the days before the Teacher Evaluation Rubrics. Lessons were evaluated by what ever instrument the school administrator and the union determined would be a good fit. In my school it was very narrative, so it was a time/action running record of what happened in the class. So lets begin the reflection into a really bad lesson.

We had learned Madeline Hunter’s model of lesson planning in undergrad: Pre-opening, opening, Body, review, conclusion, assessment. This is a very structured form of a lesson plan, and for a new teacher, its especially good for keeping you on track. Except for one little problem. By February, I was overwhelmed with teaching four preps and six classes each day. It was too much. I wasn’t really lesson planning so much as identifying resources and listing them in the lesson plan sheet the district gave to us. Tired does not begin to describe the exhaustion I was feeling. Additionally, i had no mentor, as mine was out on medical leave, and many other teachers weren’t as forthcoming as they could have been- or I didn’t know they were offering help and I thought I was doing fine- after all, I was a member of the Education Honors society Kappa Delta Pi, and had graduated with Honors in Liberal Education and Summa Cum Laude honors on my degree. Arrogance and pride before the fall, I guess….

So- that Mid-winter day I showed two videos in my 72 minute block class to ninth graders in the Global Studies I class. These students were Regents track students who would need to take an end of Course exam next year while 10th graders. They would face 48 Multiple choice questions and three essays about the enduring themes of Global History. In our small district, every student was a Regents track student. Your section though was determined by when you attended Career and Technical Education at the local Board of Cooperative Education Services. Usually the AM section were the top kids in the school, and the PM section were kids who were not drawn to academic pursuits.  I cannot even remember what those two videos were on. I had given directions verbally to my students to “take notes as you watch the video.” That was it. I popped the video in and let it play. Occasionally, I’d stop the video, or make a comment about what the program was talking about but that was it.

Train wreck would be way too polite to describe how bad it was. So lets go through what I did wrong:

  1. I did not plan- what was my goal for the day? How did this lesson advance the student’s knowledge about the content and skills for an historian? How was this aligned with the expectations for students to be successful on the end of the course exam?
  2. I did not do well to know my class- First- they did not have the skills to “take notes” on a video- I had never cognitively coached them on the process. I never introduced how I wanted to take notes. I never gave them leading questions to make sure they were cued into the important stuff. Worst of all, I forgot learning 101- attention span. Most students have a 15 minute attention span. i had them watch 70 minutes of a pretty boring social studies history video.
  3. There was no accountability for learning- I did not see how they learned, what they learned, or what was so significant about their learning. There is a ton of research which indicates students need structure to help ensure that they are learning- and this was really passive.

So, If I had to do it again I would have:

  1. Clearly articulated my goals- which C3 and NYS standards does the lesson align to. Which part of the CCLS aligned Framework does this lesson tie to?
  2. Knowledge activation: What do you already know, and what do you want to know about the subject
  3. Different stations for learning:
    1. The first station: a small video about the subject
    2. The second station: a number of documents about the topic with guiding questions
    3. The third station: Music/Art/culture related to the topic
    4. A web based virtual tour of a museum or a virtual field trip to the site with observation questions.
  4. Last 10 minutes of class- devote time to having the students record their work in collaboration in teams by mixing up the station groups- Jig Saw method.
  5. Ask the students to develop a website, or podcast or other form of product.

So that was the worst lesson ever. I want to make sure no one ever does it again.

Best lesson I ever did

It’s been almost 20 years since I started teaching, in 1998. That is 2/3rds of a career for some people in education. Every once in a while when my mind drifts, or I can’t sleep at night, memories both good and bad come back to haunt me. Then I get my brain revving to try and figure out what I could have done differently or better. Today, while walking in amazingly beautiful upstate New York, I was pondering the best lesson I ever taught.

In this age of accountability and teacher evaluation, the idea of a “best lesson” is not discussed- rather its “Did this lesson meet the standards of ____________ teacher evaluation rubric?” Danielson, the NYSUT model, others that all discuss the impact of a lesson through measurement and evaluation. I am going to dwell on Danielson because that is what I taught through when at Sidney, and trained to evaluate while at Rochester as a Social Studies Director. The first Domain of Danielson’s rubric is Planning and preparation.  The domain is divided into two sub parts: Content & pedagogy and the second part of designing coherent strategy. The second domain is the classroom environment and it too, is divided into two parts: Creating an environment of respect and rapport, as well as the second part of managing student behavior. The third domain is instruction. Here, three sub parts are identified: Questioning/ discussion techniques, engaging students in learning, and using assessment to monitor progress. The fourth domain is professional growth and development. Let’s think about that for a minute.

Here is what you need to know:

  1. Do you know your stuff?
  2. Can you teach it well?
  3. Do students and you know how to get from September to June in an organized way?
  4. Is the classroom safe orderly, and helpful?
  5. Are the students working on-task and with each other?
  6. Can you and your students discuss and verbally interact with materials and each other?
  7. Do the students look bored?
  8. How do you and the student know they have learned something?

These really 8 basic questions sum up the framework. So let’s use the best lesson I ever taught as a case study: Foods in the Colombian exchange.

Background: In order to have earned professional certification in NYS back in the day (early 2000s) a teacher needed to film the class and themselves teaching. We then paid a boat load of money to some company to evaluate our tape and tell the state that we were good enough to teach. (Since that time, teachers now are never permanently certified. They must engage in Continuing Teacher and Leader Education (CTLE) based professional development and pay fees every time the certification comes up for renewal). I planned a lesson that I thought was amazing! My Global History and Geography class (sophomores) were in the Renaissance and Reformation unit that would ready them for the Global History and Geography exam. The GHG exam is an end of course exam which covers all of human history. The class actually covers two years (9+10 grade). students in the course sit for a 3 hour exam where they need to answer 50 multiple choice questions, write a thematic essay based off of a question from the 10 themes of social studies, answer 10-13 short answer document questions, and then write an essay based on documents and outside information. Usually in a large gym in New York in June (hot and humid- no A/C). The Renaissance and Reformation unit included some discussion on the Age of Exploration.  The Colombian Exchange is the massive diffusion of animals, plants, microbes, and technology between the Eastern and Western Hemisphere. Alfred Crosby wrote a great book about it. I also took my idea and made it into a Center for Teaching American History project at Binghamton University document essay/ plan.  (

So I planned the following lesson:

  1. gathering and introduction: What was the Colombian Exchange?- 5 minute mini lesson on the Exchange
  2. Description of the activity: Students are placed into teams of 4-5 each. They are then given a worksheet which contains three columns. The students are to identify different foods, the taste of the foods, and how those foods may be used in the culture of the home area and the new area.
    1. Rice- Corn- Wheat
    2. Mango-Oranges-strawberries
    3. Cinnamon- Chili powder-Horseradish
  3. Research using your textbook and documents provided some of the technologies and diseases exchanged.
    1. What was the impact on each hemisphere from technology exchanges?
    2. Using the chart from Guns, Germs and Steel, describe how the Europeans used technology to their advantage in Imperialism
    3. Discuss how native Americans used and adopted technology.

I think it went great- the students tried a wide variety of fruits and grains and spices! Some remembered this experience and wrote about it on the Regents exam. My colleagues were not impressed, and thought I spent way too much money on the stuff for class. (it was like 75 dollars- 3 sections and 25 kids in each section). But was it a great lesson? Did I meet the domains from Mrs. Charlotte’s rubric?

Domain 1:

Content & Pedagogy: So I knew my stuff- After all, I was a Fredonia State Outstanding history major! I read Guns, Germs and Steel, and Crosby’s book on the Colombian Exchange!  Pedagogy: I wanted to create a station based learning activity which required students to investigate foods and documents that were part of the exchange. they then had to do some research and fill out a document which captured their findings. OK, not bad. Could have gone deeper- made them present and question each other, or write a letter or essay about the topic. Now a days I could ask the students to use Web 2.0 and do some really technologically advanced things, like podcasts.

Coherent instruction: Yeah, well- there in lies the issue. Not too coherence. Students are great- they will tell you if you missed something. “I don’t understand” only begins to describe my afternoon classes. My morning classes were great- totally knew what to do, and totally the A performers in the school. The video evidence shows them throwing food at each other. Yikes. Apparently my written directions and my verbal directions were, kindly, succinct, and global in nature. No concrete examples, no miles stones of what to expect next, no time checks. i did walk around the room, but that didn’t really help- until they saw how each other completed the activity. Thank goodness for peer-driven learning.

Domain 2:

Creating an environment of respect and rapport. In teenagers? Are you f***ing kidding me? Oh- I’m the adult- sorry. I showed the students respect, they however were not quite into helping me out. For many- teenager rebellion had struck, and the idea of listening to a 20 something year old overweight kid who was scholarly and from outside the area wasn’t high on their radar. I tried- we had rules, oh well.

Managing student behavior: Mostly good, except for the thrown fruit. By the way, if you ever learn how to see with eyes in the back of your head, please let me know. The camera caught many examples of positive and not so positive behavior.

Domain 3:

Questioning/ discussion techniques: I thought they were okay questions: describe, evaluate, rank, discuss. Not bad, could have gone deeper: what parallels can you draw with other exchanges, such as technology? How did  European Imperialism effect Africa? To what extent did China adapt to European Imperialism?

Engaging students in learning: many were engaged- they liked the foods. Researching not so much. Many of the groups were still confused about the overall lesson objective. Now, C3 Social Studies calls it the “Enduring question.” I wished I would have made that part more explicit (write it on the board and the hand out- goes to pedagogy and planning coherent instruction).

Using assessment to monitor progress: I monitored and observed. I collected the document research sheet. I put the exact drawing used in the activity from Diamond’s Guns Germs and Steel on the unit test. But I forgot the damn entrance and exit ticket.  Entrance tickets: What do the students already know about the day. Exit ticket: What did they learn and what do they still want to learn about. The KWL Chart is one of the greatest inventions in Education- and we really don’t in my experience use it enough. It really gives students the ability to self assess where they are, map out experiences for the unit, and evaluate what was learned and what gaps they still have.

I taught this lesson in 2002 or 2003. I cant quite remember. After almost 15 additional years of reflection I really would have given myself a “Developing” rating. When I was my 2002-3 self, I thought I was “Proficient.” Along the scale of  the rubric, the worst is “ineffective.” This is reserved for disasters in the classroom. The next step “developing” means there is a spark, a good thought- not quite there yet. The next up on the scale is “effective” or good job- you did it well. Some areas need improvement but no central critical parts. The top, or “Proficient” is reserved for superstars who blow people’s minds away. The proficient teachers are amazing. Without a doubt, I am so glad I did well enough with First Period to earn a passing score and permanent certification. My best wasn’t good enough then, so now, as I teach college, I really think through my lessons, consult with others, and ask for help. Back then I was too scared that people would have seen me as incompetent. In reality, the most competent know what they don’t know and ask for help from more experienced or knowledgeable sources. So this is a bit of an apology to my 10th graders, for a “C” level lesson back then. Hopefully the teaching deities can forgive me too.

The Leadership of Optimus Prime

As a kid growing up, the Transformers where one of my favorite TV shows. I enjoyed the excitement in the cartoon, and more importantly the toys! If I were a gamer I would appreciate the Autobots- the good guys as part of the “Chaotic Good” realm. The autobots, from another planet left their world to find and hunt down the evil Decepticons. The ship carrying both robots crash landed on earth during the Age of the Dinos. When an earthquake millions of years later awoke the bots, their computer scanned the surrounding world and had the bots transform from robots into different types of vehicles. The autobots were composed mostly of ground vehicle robots, such as tanks, ambulances, trucks, cars, and 18 wheelers. The autobots were led by their “Prime” or Optimus Prime. His leadership style embodied what Greenleaf called Servant Leadership.

The name itself Optimus Prime, is latinesque- Optimus meaning “best” or “great” and prime meaning first. The leader was the first best, or leader. Originally, Optimus started as Orion Pax, which has Greek roots of “Heaven’s Light” and Peace. So really, Optimus is a peaceful leader who is the best. The character really lives up to the name in the show and the cartoon. The Autobots commander, while authoritative cares very deeply for his followers. He ensures he leads with their best interests in mind. He does not like violence, but will use it in pursuit of a peaceful goal.

Optimus also believes deeply in the opinions of his followers. Before embarking on events, projects, or decisions, he seeks their input. He asks from advice from his experienced team members, his newest team members, and from outsiders, including in the cartoon’s instance humans.  Often he asks the opinion of everyone before making a decision. This is critical in a servant leader for they seek input from all members of their team, weighing all of the facts before making a decision.

When a decision is to be made the leader takes full responsibility. Quite often, Optimus would tell his followers that he had to do something, or he was responsible for the decision. This burden weighed on the character’s shoulders heavily. Sometimes we would see the leader of the Autobots in contemplation away and alone from his team, and he wondered about his actions and their impacts. Optimus would lead from the front in the battles against the decepticons. He was first on the road, first to transform, and with his team in front.

Sacrifice also comes to mind when discussing Prime. In Transformers the Movie (1986) Optimus Prime makes the ultimate sacrifice and is killed. For a kid who was 9, this was a huge, emotional, and overwhelming moment! Prime sacrifices his own well-being in order to ensure the survival of his team, and his followers.  Over and over, Optimus in different reboots and series examples after he is brought back makes this choice.  Philosophy speaking it is very much like Utilitarism of John Stuart Mills. In this philosophy the greatest good for the greatest number should drive decision-making.

I would be remiss if I did not give props to another writer: for his examinations of O.P quotes from the rebooted live action shows.

The Prime or leader of the autobots gave some important life lessons in leadership to young kids watching that cartoon in the 1980s. I was one of them.

Robert Greenleaf: Servant Leadership. Paulist Press.

Summer society

As a youngster growing up in a nice suburb, I looked forward to summer- it meant freedom from school- freedom to be outside, or to read. I loved reading. One of my favorite series is the Astrowitches series that no one, I repeat no one has heard of. Whats more, I loved the ability to laze around the house or the pool or the outside with friends. It was the best to run around our two acres in Orchard Park/Hamburg or the 10 acres that we lived on in Gloversville. When I was even younger, I remember going to my friends apartment just down the block- where we could ride bikes around the cul-de-sacks for the development. It was heaven! Later in life, I went to summer camp as a scout. First in 1988 to Scouthaven, the GNFC summer camp in the Buffalo NY area. My first year at camp was cool- on the trail to first class, I learned how to cut wood properly, tie knots, and master the Blue swimmer for my requirements. Back in my day, we earned skill awards, and you needed Citizenship and one other skill award to complete Tenderfoot.At camp I earned swimming and one other skill award. I also was proud that I earned Fishing Merit badge. That summer was so much fun, singing songs, going to activities, and hanging out with the guys in  Troop 4, from Armor, NY (a hamlet at the cross roads of Orchard Park and Hamburg). In 1989, I again went to camp, this time to Schoellkopf Scout Reservation, out near Alden, NY. Camp Scouthaven had been closed due to some issue. SSR as Schoellkopf was known for was a different type of camp. When it was open, many troops went there to cook in site. Scouthaven had the dining hall for meals. Now, a circus tent was set up to accommodate troops who didn’t want to cook their own meals. Our Troop was situated in Creekside site, along the mighty Cayuga Creek. There we stayed, and there I earned another set of Merit Badges. This time the Ecology section was my home. That summer, I tackled Environmental Science, Swimming, Basketry, and Mammal Study merit badge. These four badges represented my start towards Eagle Scout. Earlier that spring, I had earned First Aid Merit badge, and in the process completed all of the Skill Award Requirements for 1st class. I had earned 8. At home, my second class rank requirements were met by music merit badge and American Heritage Merit badge. My hobbies and interests were beginning to shine- I liked history and environmental sciences. In the summer of 1990, back at camp, I undertook Fish and Wildlife, Art, Cooking(before it was required) Sports and painting. Later that summer, mom and dad sent me back for Eagle Camp, and I earned Safety, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the world, emergency preparedness, personal management and Communications.  In 1991, I transferred troops, and became a member of Troop 400 from Hamburg. We went to Five Rivers Council Camp Gorton, in the southern Finger Lakes. They had some really cool merit badges, which included leather working, architecture, Atomic Energy and Canoeing. In 1992, as a CIT at Camp Schoellkopf, I had a banner year for badges: Weather, Wood Carving, Astronomy, Nature, Archery, Soil and water conservation, reptile study, hiking, geology, Indian Lore, Bird Study, Pioneering, and orienteering, collections, salesmanship and rowing. These badges represented some classes across SSR and independent studies I did on my own while there. My collections badge came from patch collecting! In 1993, I attended the National Jamboree, and earned Public health, medicine, Agribusiness, firemanship, and energy. Back home that summer, I completed an independent study for Reading, Botany, Plant Science, Astronomy, Personal Fitness, athletics, and Animal Science. In 1994, my Merit Badge years were wrapping up, and I completed American Labor, Public speaking and Forestry. I was exposed to a number of different merit badges, and learned a bit about a lot. I wish Archaeology was an option when I was younger. I also regret not earning Pets Merit Badge or Genealogy.  But I am blessed to have earned 61 badges. While by no means was my troop a merit badge factory, or my camp a merit badge factory, I was just blessed that from 1988-1995 (when I turned 18 and was no longer eligible to earn badges) I averaged 8 merit badges a year.

Looking at what students in rural or urban poverty face, they by no means are exposed to the camps and the hobbies, interests, or fascinating experiences of Merit Badges. In urban Rochester, where I worked for a year and 1/2 (two summer sessions), students who attended summer school were subjected to crunch summer school sessions of the same content as to what they experienced during the year. Its the louder and slower mentality for people who deal with non native speakers. The classes were held in a hot (80+ degree building) with poor tasting water, little air movement, and stifling humidity.  Everyone in the classrooms was in survival mode due to the heat. Movies were shown or video clips so the lights were kept off. Teachers and students were in unbearable conditions because New York State won’t pay for air conditioning in schools. (its a luxury after all- even if we are seeing record breaking summers due to climate change). The lunches were sub par- 2 slices of bread, a slice of processed cheese, and a slice of processed meat. One kid remarked “we got better food in juvie.” Yeah, its true. What we feed our poor kids in many poor schools is crappy carbo and sugar rich foods. Breakfast for the summer usually entailed a juice, a cereal and chocolate or strawberry milk. Yep- sugar comas in 20 minutes. Over and over, in Long Island Schools where I oversaw state efforts and federal programs, and in cities, the activities were all school related. One of the biggest changes we as an educational profession need to make is the idea that a camp is a requirement, not a luxury for children. In the City of Albany, when I worked with the State Ed Department, I would park a couple of blocks from my office in the Arbor Hills area. I would frequently see children out in the streets playing, and roving vans with food driving around to deliver meals. While unstructured play is good, and is needed, there is also the reality of a summer slump. Let me regal you with the difference between my 1993 summer and a different summer:

Late June-July- Casey files from Buffalo NY to Chicago, where he then boards a plane to Denver CO. He arrives and is met by a Scouting family who drives him around the city, feeds him and lets him stay at their house overnight so that early the next day he can ride a bus to Cimmeron NM and go to Philmont, NM. At Philmont, he is greeted by a staff member and explores base camp for a day. 48 Hours after leaving Buffalo, Casey takes National Junior Leader Instructor Camp, where he learns about Servant Leadership and leadership theory and implementation as a member of Abreau Troop NJLIC summer 1993. While there he learns about the William T. Hornaday award and begins to plan how to earn a prestigious award. He then leaves Philmont, where he is met by the family in Denver. He gets on a flight from Denver to Chicago, and then flies to buffalo, where he is met by his family. He then goes to his job at SSR, where he works as a Merit Badge instructor for Ecology, teaching Mammal Study for the summer. At the end of July, Casey leaves SSR for the National Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, VA, where he learns more environmental and conservation techniques. While on the way, the contingent stops at Gettysburg, stays at Gettysburg college, and tours the battle field. It sparks an interest in history, and Casey, as a rising junior, begins to search for colleges, including Gettysburg. He meets with scouts from across the US, and enjoys snorkel, Merit Badges midway, learns about the military, meets the Order of the Arrow national officers, and networks at the National Eagle Scout Association tent. After arriving home, Casey returns to camp, and then at the end of Summer, serves as the Junior Leader Training Quartermaster. Here he meets community leaders who range from his Technology Teacher at Hamburg Middle School to financial and governmental officials, including the deputy County Executive for Erie County.

What happens in a poor environment? At the end of june when school lets out, a child of the same age in a city may be faced with summer school. Or the teen may be responsible for caring for a brother or sister, or multiple family members. Or the child may have fathered a baby. In some places, the child may be in a gang, or on drugs, or being hassled for loitering. Not all poverty areas may have these problems. We must however, as a society, find a way to level the playing field between my experience, and the experience of a poor inner city or rural student.

Water and 1st world issues

So Friday, we experienced a water main break, again. It happened again in our very suburban, very nice area of Albany County. I went down to talk with the crew fixing the infrastructure and was told by a very hard-working member of the crew (CSEA) that the average infrastructure for the town water system is over 50 years old and needs major replacement. It got me thinking about water and the first world problems associated with falling infrastructure.

From a historical perspective, civilization started near water valleys in the Indus, the Tigris and Euphrates, the Huang He and in Central America. The Mississippi, Missouri, Hudson-Mohawk, and the Susquehanna river valleys of North America, as well as the Five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence have become a major route for transportation and farming. The Rio Grande and Colorado rivers in the West have been home to major native cultures throughout history.

Water is critical for transportation, potable drinking, farming, and food harvesting for fisheries. Humans need water. Humans have used water for manufacturing, and cooling, and power. The Niagara Falls Hydro power project generates renewable energy that is clean. The Erie Canal, the Ohio River Valley, and the Mississippi have all supported floating goods to market. In Europe, the Hanseatic League created a network of trading cities which were linked by the Baltic Sea. The rivers in Europe created a network for cities to communicate and trade along these routes. Benjamin (Overview Press) looked at the history of the Hudson Valley. It is a phenomenal book that looks at the Revolution to Civil War period.

The ancient Roman Empire engineered a system to carry water from the hills and rivers to the cities of the empire to support the fountains, the drinking needs, and sanitation needs of the metros of the time period. The system of aqueducts still stand across Europe as a testament of the engineering abilities of the empire back in that era. Before Rome, Petra in the middle east transported water across the town. After Rome, the Middle Ages saw the sewers become a critical area of collecting the raw materials for gunpowder. Additionally, urine was collected to treat wool. As cities grew, and sanitation became an issue as it became a source of disease. Cholera and typhoid became a major hazard to city dwellers. Residents in cities wanted clean water supplies. Dr. John Snow ( mapped Cholera in London. This example of a primary source document is useful for teachers who want to help explain the significance of water to a city.

Today, water is key to manufacturing. It needs to be clean, and it must meet the needs for companies creating products as far-ranging as sports drinks, wrenches, and energy. Manufacturing used water from rivers to power flour mills, weaving mills, and metal work. Troy NY’s Burden Iron Works-key to the northern victory in the Civil War was powered by the water from creeks and the Hudson River. The Erie Canal made cities in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Remington Arms located along the Mohawk River.

While the water was out in my neighborhood, and it was an inconvenience, it wasn’t devastating. We had bottled water from the supermarket, and we still had a toilet. Our water is clean, and usually runs from the tap on command. We don’t need to walk miles to get water like people in Africa. We aren’t subjected to repeated Typhoid epidemics, and we don’t suffer from drought like is currently affecting large areas of the world. We are pretty blessed. We do however, suffer from failing infrastructure. And it really does need to be replaced. We lose too much potable water in aging infrastructure. We as a nation also need to look at returning to wise use of water to generate more power, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Wave and river based power supplies should have enough energy to power cities and suburbs. We also need to look at the oceans and lakes as treasures and not dumping grounds. The Hudson Valley River keepers organized a river clean up day that was super successful. I would like to encourage all scouts who are thinking about an Eagle Project to prioritize lakes, ponds, rivers and streams in their areas. If you have completed your Eagle, or are in Venturing, your Summit Service project would be ideal. Additionally, you can earn the William T Hornaday award for Environmental Service as a unit, youth, and adult. Water quality is so important, not only in the Northeast where we are blessed with water, but everywhere. Water politics will probably be the next major conflict in the world. (Feldman, 2017).

In praise of the Environment

Watching the History or Discovery Channel, you might see a program about “the end of human civilization” or some such “what would the world look like if humanity was gone.” Well, we don’t have to speculate. We can observe what happens to the earth after humans vanish. We can look in war zones like the Korean Demilitarized zone, or in the Chernobyl disaster areas. We also have a third option, right here in the USA and New York State. In an effort to save some of the most environmentally sensitive land in New York, and preserve the water supply for New York City, the state’s constitution adopted a “forever wild” provision. (Source: McMartin, Barbara (1994), “Introduction”, in McMartin, Barbara; Long, James McMartin, Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve: 1894-1994, Silver Bay, New York: Symposium Celebrating the Constitutional Protection of the Forest Preserve, pp. 9–10)

The constitution stated: The lands of the state, now owned or hereafter acquired, constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed or destroyed.

New York- home to industry, slums, immigrants, really poor relations with the Native Americans and minorities developed an environmental haven. Granted, many wealthy NYC residents acquired large palatial camps in the area (Montgomery, 2011) but to a large extent, the area is relatively untouched. There are parts of the ‘dacks where very few humans have ever seen a sun rise or set from the tops of the mountains. The lore of the park, and the natural environment allows for a pretty diverse set of flora and fauna. There are stands of old growth trees and crystal clear lakes. You can hear the call of a loon, or see a beaver dam, almost like it was when the area was first explored.

For residents living inside of the Blue Line, or the boundaries of the park, restrictions may be overbearing. The limitations on economic activity, building activity, and other money-making ventures crimps the growth abilities of some communities. The NYS Rural Schools center has data which indicates the counties within the Adirondacks have loss population ( Many of the counties suffer from an unemployment rate around 6%. Six percent of Hamilton Counties 4,000+ residents is equal to 240 people without work. For an area that small, that number is a huge impact.

Tourism, some resource extraction, and education for Hamilton County are the largest employers. For educators and tourists, environmental preservation ranks high. For members of resource extraction, good stewardship of the natural resources ensures continued employment. The largest land owner in the county is the State Government. Most of this land is dedicated to preservation and outdoor recreation. What is unique about the Adirondacks is the previous industrial aspect of the region.

Farrell (1997) wrote about the mining operations within the Park boundaries before the state constitution required the area be preserved. McMartin (1992) examined the tanning industry in the region. Porter, et al, eds (2009) examines in-depth the conservation efforts in the Adirondack mountains. Allen, et al (1990) wrote a magnificent article about the Archaeology of the Bloomery forges in the Adirondacks.   There is scholarship available to readers, historians, environmentalists and people realistically seeking environmental recovery.

After the end of many intensive industries in the Adirondack, the area recovered, except for a brief time when Acid rain from the Midwest began to pollute the lakes. Johnson, et al. (1994) wrote a scientific paper which examined the phenomena. One of the side effects of de-industrialization in the mid-west has been cleaner environments to the east. The decreasing level of pollution has helped the area to self clean, and allowed for the rehabilitation of smaller lakes and streams polluted.

Now, the Adirondacks are facing an invasion of Zebra Mussels. This invasive species is carried by careless boaters who do not realize how destructive practices such as a dirty boat or a filled bilge can ruin ecosystems. As the communities surrounding Lake George are worried about water quality, the state has instituted new mandatory actions for boaters entering the  Park.

On a more personal note, I love the Adks. My enjoyment started when I was young and the family and Uncle Steve went to Lake Placid for a winter vacation. We saw the Olympic park, and Dad and Uncle Steve went on the bobsled run. We saw the ski jumps and the village itself. When we lived in Gloversville, one of our favorite past times as a family involved swimming and picnic lunches at Great Sacandaga Lake ( We would explore the CCC planted trees, all in strait rows, and swim and eat on the beach. It was quiet and relaxing. My Godfather, Uncle Steve Kovack was an true mountaineer- and a member of the Adirondack Club. He climbed a number of the 46’ers or highest peaks in the park. Rest in peace Uncle Steve. You are missed.

An amazing place for a family to visit, the region also boasts some of the best tourist destinations. This includes the Six Flags Great Escape in Queensbury/ Lake George. The million dollar beach in Lake George and the islands in the lake are amazing. There are a number of Six Years and Revolutionary forts in the region- including Fort George, Fort William Henry, crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga. In Plattsburgh NY, just outside of the region lies the War of 1812 forts and historic sites. Within the Blue Line lies Enchanted Forest Water Safari and the Fulton chain of lakes. I visited the Old Forge/ Town of Webb central school district when interviewing for a principal position. On the drive up from the Utica side of the area, I passed Woodgate NY, home to Camp Russell, and the site of fond memories from when I was Otahnagon Lodge’s Associate Adviser. On the way home, I drove through Inlet, NY, a small school associated with Webb, but still independent. I passed Raquette lake, a community that has a school, and no children- because they are tuitioned to neighboring schools. I passed Blue Mountain lake. There is the Adirondack Museum and Experience- one of the most amazing small museums in NY. I also saw one of the BIGGEST herd of deer in my life- almost 30 as they ran across NY Route 28. I had no cell phone service, but loved every minute of it.

As I drove south along route 30, I passed Speculator NY, and the only gas station for what seemed forever! Thank god for the people in that region. I passed through Wells and Northville, where a dear friend of mine from Grad School at SUNY Albany started her Administrative career.  As I entered Gloversville and the NYS Thruway, I realized that the park shows the lonely part of a society. It also shows the community side of life. Old Forge reaches some of the lowest temps in North America- yet the community is so well connected. The park shows not only the past in the decaying archaeology regions, and the small towns struggling to survive- but the future. The schools in the region are collaborating as the True North Group- in an effort to offer their students the best any suburban school can. Newcomb CSD, through the creative efforts of its superintendent, brought a school on the brink back to a mecca for international exchange programs (Source:

I challenge you- come visit New York Adirondack, and see the past, present, and future all within a gaze at the mountains.


Casey T. Jakubowski is a PhD candidate in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department of the School of Education at State University of New York, Albany. He has written and presented internationally, nationally, state wide and locally on rural education, social studies education, and state policy. Casey can be followed on twitter  @CaseyJ_edu