Monday, December 24, 2012
When you speak out as a matter of conscience on issues that are important to you, it is impossible to predict the consequences. You do so because you can't look at yourself in the mirror if you don't. When I began speaking out in behalf of teachers under attack four years ago, it is because I couldn't stand to see the great teachers I worked with the Bronx being made the unremitting target of abuse by politicians and the press. Little did I know that this would link me to a national community of education activists fighting the same policies all over the country. Now, four years later, I have dozens of new friends in almost every state in the union who have, for me at least, recreated the "Beloved Community" that the southern Civil Rights Movement held up as a movement ideal in the early 60's. The courage these individuals display in fighting top down initiatives that destroy teaching and learning, sometimes with little support in their own communities, inspires me with feelings of solidarity and love and gives me the energy to fighting on. To all of you, whether in Florida, South Carolina, Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Indiana, California, or the great city of Chicago, I owe a debt of gratitude for infusing my life with a new and higher sense of purpose. Please keep speaking truth to power and defend the right of all children to have an education that stirs their imaginations and builds on their strengths.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
At a time when the connection between guns and radical activism is being fiercely debated, i want to point to two moments in American Labor history where militants chose NOT to carry guns- the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and the Flint Sit Down Strikes. ********Both of these strikes took place in parts of the country where many people owned guns and used them for hunting. And the leaders of the strike were radicals who not only believed in armed struggle, but were fully aware of movements, such as the Farm Holiday Association and the Alabama Sharecroppers Union, where strikers used guns to defend themselves from authorities, and/or private guards hired by banks or landowners. *********However, in movements which required in one instance, workers seizing control of city streets, and in another, workers seizing and occupying factories, the strikers decided to use every form of force short of guns- chains, clubs, projectiles- on the grounds that if they decided to use guns, even if it led to a short run victory over local law enforcement, it would lead to the Army or the National Guard being brought in to suppress the strike. **********This decision proved to be a wise one. In Minneapolis, the strikers had at their disposal more than 5,000 cars and trucks which they used to make sure that no truck traffic took place in the city without the strikers permission. If anyone tried to defy them, they slashed tires, overturned trucks, beat up would be strike breakers- but they never shot anyone. The police were so frustrated by the effectiveness of these tactics that they decided to gas and shoot some of the strikers which totally backfired, leading to an unprecedented show of popular support for the strike in the form of a march of 50,00 plus people through the streets of Minneapolis **********In Flint, when police tried to evict strikers from one of the factories, the strikers beat them off with bricks, wrenches, freezing water shot from roofs and roving bands who disabled police vehicles. And when police, in frustration, started shooting, public opinion in the city turned so decisively in favor of the strikers that the police never tried to evict the strikers again. ***********Both of these strikes, by the way were successful, leading to in Minneapolis, the massive consolidation of the Teamsters Union as the bargaining agent for truckers and warehouse workers and in Flint to the unionization of General Motors. ***********There are two lessons here. First, that people who own guns are do not always have to use them when they are under duress, or are in a life and death political struggle, and second, that sometimes militant justice movements use better when they avoid gun battles rather than engage in them *********I put these examples forward to stir debate and discussion on a difficult subject
From my wife Liz, who is a principal, to my hair cutter Maryann, who is a nursery school teacher, to my students who have entered the teaching profession, to the scores of teachers in Bronx schools I have worked with when doing community history projects, the teachers I know are the hardest working, most idealistic, and most compassionate people I have the privilege of interacting with. Most of them are women. It is a sad commentary on the times we live in that their profession they have devoted their lives to has been held up to ridicule, and made an object of contempt, by the most powerful people in our society, most of whom are men. It is even sadder that the "reforms" which are being implemented around the country at breakneck speed have the effect of so scripting classroom learning that the room for compassion and personal interaction with individual students has been curtailed. I urge people on this thread to talk to teachers in their families about how their jobs are being transformed by testing and accountability protocols being imposed in their schools and then think long and hard whether education policy in this nation is heading in the right direction. Given the fault lines that have been revealed in our society by the Hurricane Sandy, the last election, and the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, do we really want to make our schools so impersonal and bureaucratic that the best teachers leave, and the ones who decide to join the profession are ones who have to harden their hearts, impose test after test and ignore their students personal lives? Is this the prescription for a healthy, humane society?
Friday, December 21, 2012
I have been listening carefully to all the comments about gun ownership on my thread and have come to the conclusion that support of gun possession does not fall simply along political lines. *******It would be tempting to write off those suspicious of gun regulation as white people fearful of Blacks and Latinos or afraid of a Federal conspiracy to take away their rights now that we have a Black man elected to the office of President for two consecutive terms *******But if you listen carefully to what gun owners are saying, some of them, a good portion white , some Black and Latinos, are most scared of their own neighbors who are of the same background as they are! *******What you have is a society where large numbers of people are living in fear, and neither trust the government, trust the police, or trust the people living around them. And this combination of fear and mistrust, toxic even under the best of circumstances is even more so in a country where so may people own guns ********You cannot get support to disarm the general population because people don't trust the government that would be doing the disarming. And you can't disarm the government because people fear that armed minorities would then terrorize the population. **********The result- a complete political stalemate on the gun issue and one that won't change until fear and insecurity levels in this society diminish sharply, some deriving from demographic shifts, many stemming from growing poverty and economic hardship. We have a domestic arms race in which appeals to unilateral disarmament fall on deaf ears. And I say this as someone who has NEVER been tempted to get a gun
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Increasingly, the leaders of Teach for America remind me of the Ivy League efficiency experts who brought us the Vietnam War, a war their children never fought in, just as the schools that TFA corps members are sent into, or the charter schools they found, are ones their own children would never attend. Here’s why: ********Robert McNamara, in the summer of 1965, recommended that the US send hundreds of thousands of ground troops into Vietnam, knowing that they could at best produce a stalemate, knowing that 10,000 American soldiers would be killed per year, to help protect its reputation as a "guarantor" of nations facing Communist aggression. However, would he have made that recommendation if he had know that his own son could have been one of those killed? Similarly, TFA leaders would never send their children to a school where the bulk of teachers have 5 or 6 weeks training and would be even less likely to send them to a school like KIPP where students spend an hour looking at the wall if they are disrespectful in class. ********Policies which claim to be in the “public interest” that only affect other people’s children and affirm race and class privilege, should be subject to the most careful kind of scrutiny. And that goes for the alternative certification route to teaching that only affects schools in poor neighborhoods, or hyper-segregated charter schools which promulgate a “no excuses philosophy” and implement a prison like discipline.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
During my forty plus years as a teacher, coach and community organizer, I have spent a good portion of my time dealing with angry, wounded young men, often on a one to one basis. When I was coaching, I always took the boys that no one else could handle; people having difficulty with their sons sometimes send them to spend a day with me at Fordham; and faculty and administrators occasionally ask me to mentor students, mostly men, who are having difficulty adjusting to the school. *********I work well with such young people because I was once one of them. Although I was judged academically gifted, I grew up angry and violent. My parents hit me on a regular basis because they thought it was theirr only way of controlling me and from elementary school through high school, I got in fights on a regular basis in school and out, so much so that I was forced to transfer from one high school to another out of my district. In college, I physically threatened roommates and when I got involved in SDS, in my graduate school years, I fought and out and was given responsibility for beating up right wing students trying to stop our protests and being on the front lines in conflicts with police. ********* As I settled into adult hood, was exposed to, and had my actions critiqued by radical feminists,, and got involved in love relationships with strong women, I began to come to grips with my anger and prevent it from poisoning the lives of those around me. I learned to anticipate and contain my rage, but I also learned something about its sources, one of which was an absence of kindness and compassion on the part of my parents, who felt relentless pressure was the best way to spur achievement and hard discipline the best way to stem rebellion. ******** As I got involved in teaching, and began coaching, I started applying what I had learned to young men who reminded me of myself. Some of what eased the way to building a connection was my body language and affect which allowed them to recognize a kindred spirit, but some of it was something I would tell them, which was that no matter how outrageous they got, I would not give up on them. They could come and hang out with me no questions asked, any time, get something to eat, listen to music, watch television ( if they were in my neighborhood) and not say a word if they weren’t ready to. If they were ready to open up, we could talk about anything they wanted to. The other thing was physical contact, which could go from high fives, to elaborate soul handshakes, to hugs, to me putting my arm around them when they were angry. I wanted to give them the sense that when they were with me, they were protected, they were cared for, they were safe, and even, though we never used the words, loved. ********It’s not that I didn’t think these troubled young men needed discipline. As a coach, or a teacher in the classroom, I exposed them to plenty of that. It’s that on a one on one basis, what they most needed was kindness and a space to be themselves without worrying that they would be discarded if they acted out. They were allowed to make mistakes without worrying about me running away. And guess what, that very knowledge calmed them down . ********* I am not saying that I was a miracle worker or master psychologist. I was a caring adult lucky enough to pursue a career as a teacher who never forgot the wounded child inside him and reached out to other wounded children to give them confidence that they could eventually overcome their pain ********** So here’s my thought: We need to have more people do this kind of thing to the wounded children that surround us, inside and outside of our schools. If we discard them, punish them, drug them, and put them behind walls, both real and invisible, their rage will return to haunt us. If we embrace them, care for them, and give them space to grow and make mistakes, some of them will find their space to happiness and security. **********I am not saying that doing this with Adam Lanza would have stopped him from committing the terrible crime he did I am suggesting that taking this approach will reduce the number of Adam Lanza’s who will haunt us in the future.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
I have rarely felt more emotionally drained than when I drove up to the Bronx at noon to attend the South By South Bronx Music Festival. The mass killings in Connecticut had me profoundly depressed, and I was also concerned whether I had it in me to do the kind of historical introduction people expected me to do for DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell. ********But something happened to me in the four hours I spent at the festival. I was in the presence of so much talent, so much passion, so much community spirit and so much love that I left the event hopeful for the future. It began with the hugs I got when I entered the theater from the organizers of the festival, and friends I knew in the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, but it was the events on stage that lifted me out of my funk. It was not that anyone pretended that we hadn't just experienced an a terrible tragedy- performer after performer paid tribute to the children, the teachers, and the families and affirmed their identification with what they had been through ********It was that the performances and the talks were of such incandescent quality that you couldn't help but be uplifted, especially because they came from people of such varied ages and cultural backgrounds and possessing such diverse skills. ********Whether it was up and coming MC's like YC the Cynic demonstrating dazzling lyricism, longtime political activists like Rod Starz of Rebel Diaz crying out against injustice; La Bruja drawing upon the spirits to inspire people to take on Climate Change and the sexual exploitation of young women; Grandmaster Caz, who must be close to fifty, bringing down the house with unmatched lyricism and stage presence; Cindy Campbell describing the first hip hop parties at 1520 Sedgwick as family affairs drawing the whole community, not just youth; Africa Bambatta waxing poetic about the musical, political and spiritual foundations of his music and his political activism; B Boys and B Girls defying gravity and enshrining rhythm; Legendary DJ Grand Wizard Theodore demonstrating the art of scratching to house DJ's Danny "Beat Manm" Martinez, DJ Charlie Hustle, and DJ Illinoiz; Ramerly Graham's mother giving an impassioned appeal to everyone in the audience to unite against police executions of young people in our communities; it was simply breathtaking to see people for who art, and music, and the pursuit of justice were common goals *******It was also inspiring to hear Hip Hop's pioneers- the people who helped create a culture that has spread throughout the world-- embrace a new generation of activist artists who were bringing art and politics back to the Bronx in the same spirit they did in the 1970's *********And the audience, mostly Bronx folks, was with them every step of the way. Jumping up and down, waving their arms, and on more than a few occasions, giving artists standing ovations. ********I left the event with my sadness juxtaposed to energy, determination, and an infusion of hope. Many battles to fight, may bridges to cross, but great people, and great music to do those things with
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Given that every single School Reform proposal involves ratcheting up the number of tests in our public schools, it is time to substitute "Child Abuse" for school reform in every institution that uses those words in their title. Hence, in the name of truth in advertising ******"Democrats for Education Reform" should become "Democrats for Child Abuse" ****** NY Governor Cuomo's "School Reform Commission" should become his "Child Abuse Commission" ****** "Students for Education Reform" (SFER) should become "Students for Child Abuse" *******Don't let this nightmare descend upon the nation's children without resistance!
Saturday, December 8, 2012
More and more schools are asking children in poor and working class communities, from kindergarten on, to forego play, art, music, school trips, sometimes even lunch, to spend all day studying for tests, so that someday, they can get into college, treating this as some magical experience worth 12 years of pain and sacrifice when: *****53.6 college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed and underemployed *****There are more recent college graduates working in fast food and retail than science, engineering and technology *****7 our of 10 new jobs produced in the next decade will be low wage jobs *****Many college graduates are leaving with huge debt from student loans *****Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. It reminds of of "the light at the end of the tunnel" during the Vietnam War.
School Reform is coming to a town near you, quite possibly to the school your children attend. Perhaps it is already there. It promises better results for your children through increased testing, evaluation of teachers based on test results, merit pay for teachers, closing of allegedly failing schools, and increasing the number of charter schools and on line learning options. ******It sounds very progressive, using the language of equity and national renewal. It promises to make our country more competitive in a global economy, give new opportunities to children from low income backgrounds, and to make communities where it is implemented more likely to experience economic growth. ********Unfortunately, the actual impact of these policies can be very different that what is promised. Here are some of the things that education scholars and parent/teacher activists have observed in communities where School Reform policies have been implemented *** A sharp ratcheting up in the number of tests in all grades, and in all subjects *** A reduction in the number of school counselors, along with rising class sizes *** The elimination of art, music, history, recess and gym to make room for test-prep *** The marginzalization and humiliation of Special Needs Students and English Language Learners. *** A rise in stress related symptoms ( depression, anxiety etc) among students and teachers. *** The departure and/or early retirement of the districts best teachers as competition between teachers is promoted and mentoring and collaborative practices are discouraged. ******Because School Reformers depend on Fear, Intimidation, Competition and Material Incentives to achieve results, and only value results that can be tested and measured, the result is that the joy, creativity and imagination will be squeezed out of students and teachers attending and working in the schools they create. ******To put it bluntly, these reforms will make your children HATE GOING TO SCHOOL. *****Do not lest this happen to your children and the children in your community. Protest, resist, Opt Out of State Tests, and reach out to teachers who are organizing to resist these soul-destroying measures.
Monday, December 3, 2012
This is a daunting time to be a teacher in the United States of America. At work, almost every day brings word of a new test, a new assessment, a new rubric for accountability that makes teachers and students jump through another hoop. Media and elected officials add to the stress and anxiety. It is rare that there isn’t another public declaration of devotion to the cause of “Education Reform,” which teachers have learned to interpret to mean another attack on their professional integrity and another chance to blame teachers for the nation’s failure to be competitive on international tests, or reduce poverty and inequality. ******** But worst of all is the scripting of the classroom environment by testing and technology in ways which eliminate the spontaneity which makes teaching fun, and the relationship building which makes teaching meaningful. The classroom has become a zone of surveillance and it is not too far fetched to imagine that video cameras will be eventually installed to make sure teachers are not deviating from the curricula that have been purchased to insure good results on the tests that have been imposed. ******* In the short run, there may be no way to stop this. Too many people have built careers on promoting these “reforms” and too many people are making money implementing them. ******* But little by little, those on the receiving end of these initiatives- whether they are teachers, school administrators, students or parents- are feeling discouraged, smothered, humiliated and abused. Uncontrolled proliferation of testing, which now begins in Pre-K, and is rapidly extending to subjects like art, music and gym, has made school so boring and stress filled that the people in it are experiencing clinical systems of anxiety and depression. And that is among the “successful!” Special needs students, ELL students, and those whose lives are so unstable they can’t give learning their full attention are being subjected to a form of “educational triage” startling in its cruelty, lest they pull down test scores and subject everyone else to the penalties triggered by that result- which can include closing of schools and mass firing of teachers! ******* In response, a simmering rage began to manifested itself among those most affected. It began with conversations, most of them private; then meetings; then formation of organizations; than rallies, marches, boycotts, lawsuits and strikes=the same model followed by movements of the Sixties in behalf of women’s and gay rights. While these movements- Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, Dump Duncan, Parents Across America, the Chicago Teachers Strike- are still in their early stages, and have not stopped the Education Reform juggernaut, they have robbed it of its air of romance, exposed its links to big money interests, and challenged its claim to promote the cause of equity and civil rights. Most importantly, they have let individual teachers, parents and students feeling smothered and abused by the new policies know that they are not alone and that resistance is possible. ********** While it is impossible at this stage to know whether these resistance movements will be strong enough to force political leaders to withdraw their support from privatization and testing, they have created enough of a grass roots presence to publicly challenge and contest almost every Reform initiative at the local and national level. We now have a Counter Narrative, based on strong scholarship as well as experience, which warns that Reform policies are likely to widen educational disparities rooted in race and class and weaken the nation’s schools by driving out the most committed teachers. And people are listening. An extravagantly funded Hollywood film,”Won’t Back Down” supporting a favorite Reform cause, Parent Trigger Legislation, got so little public support it was judged one of the greatest failures in the history of Hollwood film. A rally in New York City support of teacher assessments based on standardized tests, organized by Students for Education Reform chapters at NYU and Columbia, was a dismal failure. Parent trigger legislation and charter school initiatives have been voted down in several states; and lawsuits are being filed by parents across the country protesting the impact of test mandates on special needs students. ********* The Reform Agenda is backed by limitless money and is fueled by the profit motive as well as political ambition; but because it turns schools into zones of fear and stress, the best it can do its compel opportunistic implementation and sullen compliance. And as teachers, students and parents step forward to say that our nation can and must do better than deluging schools with unnecessary tests, their courage, and their patience, will eventually inspire a moral and political awakening that will force policy makers and the media to take notice. ******** The first step is telling the truth about what Reform is really doing to our schools; the second step is the share that insight with colleagues, friends and family; the third step is to attend rallies and public meetings which challenge the Reform agenda; and the fourth step is to Opt-Out, Boycott, Strike and Sue. ********** Most of us are still in stage one and two, but because Reformers have no shame, and believe their own propaganda, they will continue to impose an agenda so manifestly ill-conceived and self-destructive that it will force more and more people into open rebellion. *********** In the service of this revolt, I proclaim the following. ******* Testing is Not Teaching You Can’t Improve School Performance By Making Children Hate School Demoralizing Teachers and Principals Doesn’t Make Schools Better ********* Let’s do this people. We have nothing to lose but our Assessments!
Saturday, December 1, 2012
The only weapon working people have against the power of concentrated wealth is a contagion of Solidarity.Elites live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in the same resorts, send their children to the same schools, belong to the same organizations. They increase their political influence, and find new opportunities to expand their wealth, without changing their routine and can do so behind closed doors. Working people by contrast, are scattered and diverse, living in different neighborhoods, often speaking different languages, sending their children to different schools, practicing different faiths. Unlike elites, they have to project their power in the public way, through picket lines, rallies and marches; through the mass lobbing of public officials, and on the cultural front, through music and social media, and at times through election campaigns They have to use these weapons to give people who often feel weak and vulnerable as individuals a sense that when they join together, they are truly powerful. it often takes years of mass activity to create this feeling of strength and possibility, but when it happens it is a beautiful thing! We have seen this recently in the form of strikes and walk outs from people who work at Wal-Mar, and fast food workers, people who have been regarded by most experts, and even by some labor leaders, as unorganizable. But these protests did not come out of nowhere. They follow on the heels of an Occupy movement which made public protest visible in every city in this country and for a three month period captured the imagination of the media and change the nation's language for speaking about economic inequality. The suppression of this movement did not erase the example they provided of ordinary people changing the course of history and striking fear in the rich and the powerful. An example that has been followed and taken to heart, by come of the nation's lowest paid workers. It is too soon to say whether these movements will lead to significant improvements in wages and working conditions for America's working poor, much less their representation by unions of their choice. But it does show that Solidarity is contagious and that poor and working people were watching carefully when Occupy took to the streets and captured the nation's imagination, and are beginning to apply the lessons of that movement to their own situation. Mart Strikes, and the Contagion of Solidarity The only weapon working people have against the power of concentrated wealth is a contagion of Solidarity. Elites live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in the same resorts, send their children to the same schools, belong to the same organizations. They increase their political influence, and find new opportunities to expand their wealth, without changing their routine and can do so behind closed doors. Working people by contrast, are scattered and diverse, living in different neighborhoods, often speaking different languages, sending their children to different schools, practicing different faiths. Unlike elites, they have to project their power in the public way, through picket lines, rallies and marches; through the mass lobbing of public officials, and on the cultural front, through music and social media, and at times through election campaigns They have to use these weapons to give people who often feel weak and vulnerable as individuals a sense that when they join together, they are truly powerful. it often takes years of mass activity to create this feeling of strength and possibility, but when it happens it is a beautiful thing! We have seen this recently in the form of strikes and walk outs from people who work at Wal-Mar, and fast food workers, people who have been regarded by most experts, and even by some labor leaders, as unorganizable. But these protests did not come out of nowhere. They follow on the heels of an Occupy movement which made public protest visible in every city in this country and for a three month period captured the imagination of the media and change the nation's language for speaking about economic inequality. The suppression of this movement did not erase the example they provided of ordinary people changing the course of history and striking fear in the rich and the powerful. An example that has been followed and taken to heart, by come of the nation's lowest paid workers. It is too soon to say whether these movements will lead to significant improvements in wages and working conditions for America's working poor, much less their representation by unions of their choice. But it does show that Solidarity is contagious and that poor and working people were watching carefully when Occupy took to the streets and captured the nation's imagination, and are beginning to apply the lessons of that movement to their own situation.