Lock and Load and Learning Loss

This is a blog about the escalation of smack talk—the reckless/threatening/false/vindictive/facetious things people say, in an effort to gain power by demeaning others– and a thought or two about how much easier it is to be a smack-talker in 2022 than just a few years earlier.

We’re also seeing more smack talk in schools and about schools. Critical race theory and learning loss are among the many widely abused terms that media perceives as real issues. The terms are essentially meaningless, however, in the daily operation of real schools, places where teachers are paying attention to the well-being and nascent citizenship of real children.

These days, schoolboard meetings are hotbeds of vigilantism driven by smack talk, and we’re witnessing members of Congress—Congress! —trash the sitting President’s strength and motives during a delicate and critical time of international unrest.

Traditionally, school is a place where smack talk is not tolerated, even if it is a regular feature of students’ home life. Poor-mouthing classmates, the use of offensive language, and overt lying are generally suppressed by school cultures, even strongly authoritarian climates where teachers use harsh language to control students.

Every now and then, someone points out that what our students need most now is not Calculus, but media literacy, a carefully developed skill of discretion when bombarded by corrupt but persuasive language.  We used to worry about students being overly influenced by Bart Simpson or semi-dressed babes on MTV—but these days, the filthiest and most damaging lies are coming out of the mouths of politicians and news media. How do you teach kids to ignore their own duly elected Senator?

In 2017, I was part of a local ‘listening tour’ sponsored by my county Democratic party. We knocked on doors and asked people what they wanted from their local government. We wanted to know what their issues and needs were, for upcoming campaigns—but were also willing to listen to their feedback on the 2016 election. We did not call on strong or ‘leaning’ Republicans—only independent voters and those who may have leaned our way at one time.

What we learned: every single person we talked with had a distinct opinion on Trump vs. Hillary (the gender dynamics of the last name/first name contrast being kind of smack-y in itself). Most were willing to tell us who they voted for, and why, although we were trained not to ask.

They did not like or trust Hillary Clinton—and the ones who declared themselves Trump voters were clear about what attracted them to him: the way he talks. He says what he thinks! He isn’t mealy-mouthed like other politicians. He’s down to earth, but strong. His disrespect of women was ‘just locker room talk.’ More than once we heard: Give the guy a chance. Asked about local issues and government, most of them had no ready response.

What our neighbors had to say was almost completely unsubstantiated and unrelated to governing or current issues, not to mention decades’ worth of real facts about Trump’s history as grifter and narcissistic braggart. They took the measure of a candidate by his (or her) willingness to make insulting remarks. To get in a good dig, to trash your opponent. A few men spoke admiringly about Trump literally stalking or silencing Clinton on the stage, during their debates. He was a ‘fighter’—and would fight for us. Which ‘us’ they were talking about was unspoken.

Although hard to prove, beyond prima facie observations, smack talk has become more prevalent everywhere in American life. In my former State House district, for example, one of the Republican candidates told the crowd at a rally to “be prepared to lock and load,” and “show up armed” when going to vote. A Republican gubernatorial candidate suggested voters pull the plug on voting machines, if they didn’t like what they saw at the polls.

Are K-12 students influenced by this kind of loose, vindictive talk? Recently, at a school basketball game, students from a 95% white rural school made monkey noises and used racist insults when Black players on the opposing team were on the court. The report talks of similar occurrences at other games, listing several of these over the past two years.

What interesting to me is the response from the MI Department of Civil Rights: “To ignore the situation without taking those individuals who perpetuated it to account causes a problem and obviously allows it to occur again. So that situation should be controlled not only by the people who are officiating the game, but also the officials who certainly have some control over the students and the actions that they might have later on or during the game itself.”

I agree. Racial slurs and dangerous threats are best handled when they first emerge by the people closest to our students. This is what lies under at anger over faux CRT—adults influencing children to analyze their own prejudice, and respect differences. Good teachers have always done this; it’s the practice of building a classroom community.

So it’s no wonder that judgmental terms like ‘learning loss’ have caught on, and Serious Reports are warning that children in poverty have ‘lost’ the most. All children have been exposed to danger and loss during this pandemic, but whether they’re testing on grade level—whatever that is—should be the least of our worries.

We should be thinking, instead, about turning them into caring and confident citizens, able to identify coarse and deceptive language and reject it.

8 Comments

  1. Oh, for the days when Bart Simpson was the most insidiously crude voice we had to address! However much my kids enjoyed Bart’s antics, they knew that where and with whom they dabbled in Bart fantasies was critical to their survival. Call it a kind of cultural literacy that kids develop early on if they want to avoid the parental radar. Now we have adults who wallow in the “right to be crude” and a media who thinks that that brashness makes them newsworthy. If this is what passes for “just locker room talk,” we definitely need to reset our filters.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  2. In my neck of the woods, students from W & J sat in the stands and harassed a young woman on the Westminster team. At one game, they chanted “Hey, Linday, where’s your dad?” Her father passed away years ago. At the more recent game, a group of W & J football players included one holding a whiteboard with the date of her father’s death on it. College officials have been quick to apologize, and the student who was actually holding the whiteboard was expelled. But damn–what made those students think this was a good idea/

    https://www.wfmj.com/story/45962165/wandj-student-expelled-after-photos-of-sign-harassing-westminster-athlete-surface

    Like

    Reply

  3. I wrote a paper with Jennifer Chen from Kean University in NJ about learning loss and how we should stop using that phrase to describe what has happened to children during this time. Everyone lost opportunities, many of which are not measurable. I was/am somewhat hopeful that this whole horrible experience will lead to policymakers and educators to rethink their teaching practices and how assessment takes place and is used.

    I am surprised that people were willing to share their views and the source of their thinking so blatantly. although that is what has happened from 4 years of a crass President. Holding your tongue and the idea that you don’t say something if it is just going to hurt someone went out the window in 2016. America has changed and not for the good. I hope this crisis with Russia and Ukraine will bring us together but I am not sure it will.

    Like

    Reply

    1. Thanks for saying that. Whenever I think about the coarsening of public dialogue, I want to blame Trump. And I try not to have a knee-jerk reaction to so many of the things that have gone wrong since 2016, from Charlottesville to January 6, to see the cascade of destructive thinking as directly connected to the POTUS.

      Maybe it’s OK, however, to blame Trump’s whole party. If they had turned away from him, back to their own mean-spirited policy making, maybe things would not have gotten so bad. Heather Cox Richardson’s letter this morning made me hopeful.

      Is there an URL for the paper you wrote on so-called learning loss?

      Like

      Reply

  4. I’m reminded of the song from “Hamilton,” My Shot. Hamilton is not gonna miss his shot at success, nor his compatriots. Wrapped up in a limited time frame for throwing off the yoke of George III, their shot had to happen in their immediate life. Learning is NOT a one shot opportunity. All kids have lost something during the pandemic but the second grader who didn’t grasp number facts will get another opportunity. If the 4th grader doesn’t know his colonial history, it’ll be taught again. That’s the inherent value of being life-long learners, you get more than one shot.

    Like

    Reply

  5. About the learning loss rhetoric, I’m reminded of the song from “Hamilton,” My Shot. Hamilton is not gonna miss his shot at success, nor his compatriots. Wrapped up in a limited time frame for throwing off the yoke of George III, their shot had to happen in their immediate life. Learning is NOT a one shot opportunity. All kids have lost something during the pandemic but the second grader who didn’t grasp number facts will get another opportunity. If the 4th grader doesn’t know his colonial history, it’ll be taught again. That’s the inherent value of being life-long learners, you get more than one shot.

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply to norakrieger Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s