Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Defend Gus Morales!

If you were going to "build a teacher" in a largely working class town where the majority of those enrolled in the public schools are students of color, one of the models you would work from would be Augustin Morales. Born in Holyoke Mass., part of that town's large Puerto Rican community, Gus spent several years in the military before returning to school to become a teacher. He was someone known for going the extra mile for his students and their families as well as his colleagues, and was given the signal honor of being elected President of the Holyoke Teachers Association in only his third year in the schools. Unfortunately, his outspoken, confident persona clashed with the worldview of his "reform minded" principal, and Superintendent and he was denied tenure at the end of his third year of teaching. Now he is being denied access to school property by his Superintendent to try to make it impossible for him to function as a union leader.This is a catastrophe on many levels. But unfortunately, it is an all too common occurrence throughout the nation where reformers have pushed out tens of thousands of teachers who grew up in the neighborhoods they are teaching in, favoring instead highly mobile teacher temps more likely to be compliant and less likely to bond with community residents. Someone needs to tell me why this strategy will make school better and communities stronger. To me, it will result in the exact opposite.
Want to help Gus Moralies? Write Holyoke Superintendent Sergio Paez at
spaez@hps.holyoke.ma.us and ask him what is going on

Friday, August 22, 2014

Creating Safety Without Guns-An Inner City Love Story

One of the reasons I am haunted by the death of Michael Brown is that I have worked with young people in highly charged settings and have seen what they can accomplish when people who command their respect guide them, challenge them, inspire them and love them. This is a story that will help you understand where I am coming from.

The year is 1994. The crack epidemic is still with us, hip hop has entered its golden age, and the city's murder rate is three times what it is now. The neighborhood where I live, Park Slope, is starting to gentrify, but there are still pockets of poverty and the drug trade is alive and well. I am very active in the biggest neighborhood sports program, the 78th Precinct Youth Council, as a coach and league director and it is in that capacity that I am offered an assignment

There is a basketball league for HS students at JHS 51, sponsored by the Youth Council, that is out of control The players are fighting with one another, parents are coming out of the stands to fight with the kids, coaches and referees, and neighborhood teenagers are coming to the games to join the brawls. The Council leaders ask me to come in and try to bring order to the league, threatening to shut it down if I fail

The first day the league meet, I size up the players. Half are Black and Latino, mostly from Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights, Sunset Park and Red Hook, all pretty tough neighborhoods; the white kids are almost evenly divided between middle class Park Slope and working class Windsor Terrace It is a pretty tough group, but with one thing in common-they all want to play ball and use this experience to get them ready for their high school teams I also take stock of the coaches Two thirds are Black- two of them are police officers, the rest teachers. The referees, both friends of mine are big strong guys who are great athletes. I take stock of the people and decide we can make this work if we take the right approach.

So here is what I did. I called the players together and told them what my rules would be. Anyone who throws a punch, for any reason, is thrown out of the league; any parent who leaves the stands will be escorted out of the gym. Showing disrespect for me, the coaches, or the referees results in automatic suspension. After I tell them the rules, I call up the six toughest kids in the group and announce that I am hiring them as security guards and people who keep the book. I tell them that everybody wants to close the league, but that I am determined to make this work along with the coaches and referees "You follow the program, and we are your protection" I tell them. "We are not going to let anyone hurt you when you are in here- not your parents, not the police, not neighborhood drug dealers. This is a safe zone for all of us, a safe zone for the neighborhood. Together, we can make this work."

What happened was nothing short of amazing. One league director, two referees, six coaches working together to help kids create a space where they could play top flight basketball without having to worry about defending their reputation or defending themselves form assault. There were no fights. No one threw a punch. No brawls involving parents or by standers Every time something was stolen from the gym, or the school, the security guards investigated and the stolen property was returned. Games were amazing, played before up to 300 spectators. Local drug dealers came to the games and caused no beefs.

What made it work was giving kids everyone was afraid of real responsibility and decent pay; coaches who took kids home with them when they were in trouble and helped them with problems ranging from failed tests to school suspensions; and an environment where strong physically confident adults commanded respect from young people and made them feel safe,

It was also a place where class and privilege were temporarily erased- I brought wads of dollar bills to every game and made sure that if anyone had pizza, everyone had pizza. And what happened, with order, and discipline, and predicability and love is that kids from every conceivable background were able to enjoy their love of basketball and showcase their skills before appreciative crowds. At least half of the players in the league, including several girls, ended up playing high school basketball, and a few ended up playing in college- one of those who became a starting point guard at Fordham,

For four years we held the league together without a single fight, or a single brawl though there were a few near misses It was physically and emotionally exhausting, for the referees and coaches as well a the kids, but we showed that young people who many people feared, who in some cases were huge disciplinary problems for schools and for their parents, could be part of an incredible group experience without every losing control.

The experience left a lasting impact on me. Every time I see a shooting death of a young person like Mike Brown, I think of how many young people in our league fit that profile and how with the right combination of firmness understanding and respect, those young people blossomed. It is also why I am reluctant to write off or give up on any young person.

I have seen what is possible and find it hard to accept anything less

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ferguson Protests Highlight Link Between Growing Poverty and Militarized Policing

The problems of America's poor have been "off the grid" for some time. Politicians of both parties reserve their concern for the middle class, fearing that any reference to poverty will destroy their electoral appeal. The one mass movement against social inequality we have had, Occupy Wall Street was predominantly white and college educated. But in a society where a majority of people are now likely to find themselves in or on the edge of poverty at some time in their lives, it was only a matter of time where the voices of the economically-and racially-marginalized broke through, and that, I suggest is what is taking place in Ferguson right now. People do not protest this long and angrily against the killing of a youth by police if they do not have many deep and long suppressed grievances, and not just against police. Nor will their protest have this kind of resonance around the nation and the world.
We as a society have pushed the problems of the poor out of sight and out of mind, and have depended on huge, highly militarized police forces to "keep them in their place" in a society increasingly segregated by race and class. That is why the police are the target of protests. They are the surrogate for the economic and political elites whose policies keep so many trapped in poverty.
But if protests remain focused solely on police, we will leave many of the underlying source of people's suffering largely untouched. People need better jobs, higher wages, housing they can afford, more programs for youth, and schools which serve and uplift their communities as well as an end to the drug war and police forces which are less militarized
If those things all happen, alongside an honest discussion of how race shapes all these issues, perhaps we will save lives and avoid future tragedie

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why Michael Brown's Death has Sparked Protests Around the Nation

The protests in Ferguson not only reflect rage at the killing of an unarmed man, they reflect longstanding discontent of a Black community living in a small city where the reigns of power still lie in the hands of white leaders and major institutions are still white dominated. Ferguson is 67 percent Black but only 3 out of 33 police officers are Black and the school board is entirely white. Relations between police and the Black community have been polarized for some time.  Which is why this unfortunate death triggered 7 days of protests, with no end in site, Also, there are many cities and towns just like Ferguson where similar conditions prevail, hence sympathy protests have taken place all over the US.. In the last twenty years, there has been a substantial migration of Blacks out of the center of cities into small towns and suburbs and more wealthy people have moved into the inner city, And many of those towns and cities have majority black populations and overwhelmingly white police forces and political leadership, just like Ferguson. Hence what happened there has struck a chord

As for Barack Obama, his presidency has coincided with deteriorating conditions for the majority of African Americans  largely because of the spill over from the subprime mortgage crisis, where many African Americans lost their homes, and the Great Recession, where many African American lost their jobs.  He is admired in the Black Community but has not had the power to change trends in US society which have lowered wages, shrunk the middle class and concentrated wealth at the top, all trends which have disproportionately affected the Black community

As for the future, Black americans are going to have to fight for better job opportunities, less restrictive policing, less drug arrests and imprisonment of non-violent offenders, better schools, and higher wages.  Those are policies which can only be achieved as part of broad social justice coalitions

What A Difference A Year Makes: The Evolution of BATS

BATs is not the same group as it was a year ago. It is far more urban and multiracial and has changed its focus. It is now as concerned with school closings and school privatization as it is with testing and common core and with fending off attacks on teacher tenure and due process. It is also much more explicitly concerned with issues of poverty, racism and social inequality than it was when the group first began. This has been a gradual evolution and many people have left because they are uncomfortable with the change. But history does't stand still and neither did BATs . Some people may disagree with my analysis. But that is what I think has happened. The group is also far more collective in its leadership and I do NOT call the shots.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Racial Bullying in Small Town Ohio~Guest Post By Kelly Shoemaker Cooper

I feel that I must share my son's story from small town USA. Last school year my son was in 4th grade. He was being bullied and called racial slurs (nigger and porch monkey) by a 6th grader and a group of other boys. My husband reached out to the principal of his school to discuss what was happening to our son. He told my husband that bullying and racial intimidation does not occur in his school. A week later the group of boys showed up at our house trying to get my son and another black boy to go to the neighborhood park. They had baseball bats and intended to harm my son and his friend. The boy's father was waiting at the park. We contacted the police and filed a report. My husband contacted the principal regarding this incident. He was told that this isn't a school issue. The bullying and racial intimidation continued through out the week at school. Many days this group of boys would back my son and his friend into a corner, threatening them. Still nothing was done by the school or police department. That weekend the group of boys showed up at my house again. They were as bold as to knock on my front door. I told them to leave my property. They went to the corner and continued taunt us. One boy yelled "I am going to kick your nigger as." I contacted the police and filed a second report. The following Monday my son was cornered again by this group of boys in the morning and told "hey nigger, we will see you at recess." My son went to the principal and told him. He did NOTHING! Fast forward to recess. My son walked onto the playground and was immediately confronted by one of the boys. My son feeling threatened, had no choice but to defend himself. He put the boy down with 3 punches. Another boy started to jump in and my son's best friend ( who is white) jumped on the boy's back to stop him from attacking my son. My son and his friend were suspended 3 days! The school said my son and his friend planned to attack these boys. The other boys were given no form of punishment!!! The school filed a report on my son's friend with the police department for assault. They are 9 years old! The prosecutor finally charged the ring leader with disorderly conduct but the school still blames my son. Now anyone dare tell me race and education isn't connected! Where is the justice for my son? This is just one of many stories in the life of my son.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Imagination- A Poem for Michael Brown

I can only imagine
what its like to be
seen as a threat
when i walk
when i drive
when i go to school
Never knowing
when i will be
thrown on the ground
or when words that
I say
and gestures that I
can lead to my

Us VS Them- A Guest Post on the Larger Implications of Ferguson by Dr Lori Martin

The systematic killing of people of color provides the best evidence that many Americans have been wrong about racism all along. For far too long racism has been understood as an illness, a sickness, or a disease, that older and uneducated individuals come down with because they are ignorant, ill-informed, resistant to change, or are mere products of their racially segregated environments. Racism-for individuals adhering to the aforementioned definition-was manifested in signs that read, For Whites Only, or when some folks from the Deep South draped themselves in white hoods and the Confederate Flag. In fact, comments from people like Donald Sterling notwithstanding, some have declared racism dead. Welcome to the so-called post-racial, or colorblind era. The wave of violence against people of color-particularly at the hands of law enforcement officials- is the result of the establishment of a racialized social system whereby members of the dominant racial group in America use social institutions to subjugate and control members of subordinate racial and ethnic groups. Criminal justice, education, the economy, politics, and the mass media, all play key roles in perpetuating, producing, and reproducing disadvantage and privilege. People of color are dying in inner cities, in the suburbs, and in rural areas. They are relegated to under resourced schools, while new schools are established and marketed as everything the very schools students of color are trapped in, are not. People of color throughout the country experience economic recessions and depressions long before the rest of the nation. When a national recession hits, people of color are hit the hardest. Asset poverty among people of color is the rule, not the exception, even among those considered income rich. As in days past, majority black communities are represented by majority white elected officials. Clever gerrymandering and the peddling of messages of apathy, hopelessness, and despair, account for the lack of civic engagement in some areas, and changes in voting registration laws contribute to disenfranchisement in others. Representations of people of color in the media often perpetuate myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes, which are taken as truths and become part of the collective imagination of some whites, including those sworn to protect and to serve. The silence about the role that racism-and not merely race-plays in understanding why history-in this case the killing of unarmed black men- is repeated, is deafening. The silence drowns out the cries from grieving parents tasked with planning yet another funeral for a young person of color who will not live to see the dawning of another day. It drowns out the chorus of voices pointing to the gap between what we say we value as a nation –liberty, equality, and justice-and how we actually treat people. Any loss of life that results from an act of violence is tragic, including the loss of a black life. As a society we must respond with the same indignation, passion, and empathy no matter the race, age, gender, geographical or social location of the victim. When mass shootings take place in schools, or in other public areas, the response from elected officials, interest groups, and the general public are almost immediate. Condolences for the family, the community, and the nation are almost instantaneous, and rightly so. Efforts to address a number of related public policy concerns fill the airwaves, including debates about mental health matters and gun control. As a society we tend to elevate these events because of the perceived threat the events pose to all of “us.” When the mass killing of people of color takes place in virtually every corner of the U.S.-in urban, rural, and suburban areas-there is reluctance on the part of those in positions of power and influence, and the broader society, to call it what it is-racism-and to work towards meaning change. Part of the problem is that the killing of unarmed people of color by members of the dominant racial group is understood as an issue affecting “them.” We must come to the realization, as a society, that no one should remain silent in the face of the injustices taking place across the nation. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so eloquently reminded us as he sat in a Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Ferguson Missouri- Face of a Nation Where Poverty Has Moved to the Suburbs

Fegruson Missouri, where the police killing of an unarmed young Black man, Mike Brown, sparked rioting yesterday, represents the demographic contours of a society changed by gentrification and demographic inversion.. There are now more poor people living in suburbs than there are in inner city neighborhoods. In New York, the most famous historically Black neighborhoods, Harlem and Bedford Stuyvestant, have experienced an enormous white, and middle class influx, and can no longer be deemed "hypersegregated" That label would be more accurately applied to two suburban neighborhoods- Hempstead and Mount Vernon. I suspect the same dynamic can be found Chicago, Washington DC, and several other large US cities.

This means that civil unrest, in response to racial and class marginalization, should it take place--- and there ample reasons to think it might-- is far less likely to take place in center cities than it did in the 1960's or even in the 1990's. It is also less likely to threaten powerful institutions.

We are only beginning to understand the apparatus of containment and control-including zero tolerance policing and a huge prison industrial complex-developed to cope with higher levels of poverty in this country than most other advanced societies. But one thing is for sure- population distribution by race and class look very different than they did in the 1960's. Cities are increasingly sites of investment and residence for the Global rich- poor people and people of color are now mostly living in the suburbs

Monday, August 11, 2014

Containment, Confinement and Death- The Plight of Many of Our Youth

There are so many ways we are treating our young people, especially young people of color, as suspects, threats, dangers to the social order.
They are heavily policed in their schools and neighborhoods-often subject to arbitrary search and seizure
They are the targets of zero-tolerance disciplinary policies in schools which have become little more than test prep factories.
They are arrested and jailed in enormous numbers for non-violent drug offenses, permanently undermining their prospects for employment and sometimes depriving them of the right to vote.
They are pushed out of the most prosperous neighborhoods into communities which limited resources and placed under close surveillance should they walk through or shop in gentrifying areas, even if they still live there,
Given these developments, and given the long history of racial profiling in the society, is it any wonder that unarmed young blacks are periodically killed by law enforcement officials or private security guards?
These acts of extreme violence are the logical outcome of a policy of containment and confinement that touches far larger numbers of people

A Bronx View of the Killing of Michael Brown

The Bronx is full of young people who take what happened to Michael Brown very personally. They go through metal detectors in schools. Get stopped and frisked in the streets. Are looked at with suspicion and contempt when they head into Manhattan. They see themselves in Michael Brown, as they did in Ramarley Graham who suffered a similar fate in the Bronx two years ago. They are in pain right now and their pain will enter our classrooms, count on it. We owe it to them to hear their voice, stand with them in solidarity, and address the underlying conditions which allow these deaths to occur over and over again. No Justice. No peace.

Friday, August 8, 2014

What We Want and Need- A Friday Afternoon Message to Arne Duncan:

We Need to show appreciation and respect for public school teachers and make them an integral part of every education policy making body.
We need to develop strategies to attract and retain great teachers- teachers for life.
We need to ramp up efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color.
We need to transform schools in high needs areas into round the clock community centers and help them, not close them, when they are nun trouble.
We need unleash the creative power of teachers and students and respect all students, irrespective of their background, aptitudes and developmental level.
We need sharply cut expenditures for testing and use the money to lower class size and use the money to fund arts programs, libraries, counseling centers, technology centers and school farms.
We need to see public education as a place where every child is honored and respected and where the goal is to develop good people and knowledgeable citizens, not the workforce of the future.

Teach for Life

My improbable initiative-- defund Teach for America and start a campaign called Teach for Life which encourages talented, idealistic young people to become teachers and STAY in the classroom. Such a campaign would treat teaching as the most important profession in the society, not something talented people leave after a few years to pursue careers in law, business, politics or "school leadership."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The rush to expose"Bad Teachers."

media, the trade union movement and the private sector spent an
enormous amount of time and energy trying to expose and root out
alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers. In the process, tens of
thousands of people lost their jobs, many times that number had their
civil rights and civil liberties violated, and a wave of fe...ar swept
through the land that made it difficult to express heterodox ideas or
criticize the government even for good reasons. "Red Hunting" became a
cottage industry and many people built careers exposing the "Communist
Menace" until a critical mass of American realized this crusade was
violating everyone's rights, hurting many innocent people and doing more
harm than good

I can see the same thing about to happen today with the rush to expose
and Root out "Bad Teachers." it is only a matter of time before mass
circulation dailies start going from school to school trying to
identify the bad teachers and demanding that they be fired, appointing
themselves prosecutor, judge and jury. Some papers already did that
when NYC and LA began publishing teacher ratings ( Baedeker on wildly
inaccurate measures) leading to public humiliation of some dedicated
civil servants and one documented suicide. There is every indication
that the BaD Teacher Hunt is about to get even uglier, more intrusive
and more widespread. The damage this will do to teaching and public
education will be difficult to repair. But when hysteria sets in- in
this case hysteria over failing schools in high poverty areas- the
quest for a scapegoat can be very seductive and very difficult to stop

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Education Reforms and Sociopathy- Guest Post By Wilma DeSoto

It is no secret that American Society has recently suffered from a spate of Anti-Social Corporate Reforms which have contributed to the wide-spread suffering of the American people at large. Sociopathy is becoming more common than ever with one out of every seven people exhibiting some sort of sociopathic behaviors.
Individuals with anti-social tendencies have infiltrated every segment of American Society including Corporations whose practices affect millions of unsuspecting Americans in ways not thought possible before.
In this article I would like to examine a few of the characteristics of Sociopathy as I feel it relates to Corporate Education Reform Policies. Since I am a teacher these reforms hit me “where I live” the most, so let me voice my opinion as to how I see these manifestations.
Glibness and Superficial Charm
Sociopaths appear to be charming, but what lies beneath is often covert hostility and the desire to domineer. People are to be used to achieve their purposes. They can be either confederates or accomplices or victims. Confederates and accomplices will also later become victims.
Remember the phrase “School Choice” and “Every Child is Entitled to a Good Education with Qualified Teachers?” That was the mantra to lure parents into abandoning Public Education in lieu of Charter Schools and other Privatization Initiatives.Of course parents were never told this was the ultimate goal in order to entice them into the Corporate Web. Slick Marketing, Glossy Brochures, Condemnation of the Public System and its Teachers and what the system “has done” to their children served to create a climate of doubt, confusion and fear in parents who with all due respect, only want the best for their children. It also appealed heavily to parental vanity that the system was the enemy and Charter Schools were there to save them.
However once the Trojan Horse was in and people began to see the flaws in the facade as Charters proliferated, parental concerns were marginalized and or ignored thereby giving them NO choice.
Grandiose Sense of Self
Sociopaths have a sense of entitlement to things as “their right.”
The sheer arrogance and contempt by Corporate Reformers to belittle and downright ignore any evidence concerning their reforms presented by parents, teachers and communities protects them and their goals of getting they want. They feel is their right to use public monies for their own private gain without any accountability or transparency as to how said funds are used, how much their people are paid, who are their business donors and partners and what happened to things they promised that did not materialize.
Pathological Lying
Sociopaths are cool liars and often change their stories in order to justify their beliefs about their omnipotent powers and abilities.
People who have absolutely no educational background or classroom experience are convinced they know about teaching and how to improve it. They appear on television and other media touting non-existent expertise in such areas. When pinned down by questions that might challenge them on the value of high-stakes testing, testing scandals that happened under their watch, etc., they are not forthcoming and quickly re-invent the situation in order to retain dominant mantra that they know best. They victimize those under their thumbs to take the rap for their misguided autocratic directives when things go wrong, while denying such episodes have happened as a result of their polices
Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt
Sociopaths often have deep-seated and covert rage is often at the center of their actions. They repress it while seeing people as targets or opportunities in order to get across their personal agendas. They let nothing stand in their way.
I truly believe besides the profit motive, hatred for teachers is the impetus behind many of reformist actions. On the surface they exclaim how much they respect teachers, but then do everything to demoralize, destroy, and de-professionalize teachers. Still that is not enough. Now they are going after teacher tenure. The children are being used as an opportunity for them to justify their hateful agenda and they have the effrontery to claim the people who have dedicated their lives to trying to help children succeed are actually harming children, by being a consistent presence in these children’s lives. They stop at nothing to get their way.
Shallow Emotions
Sociopaths feign concern, warmth and compassion, but only because they have ulterior motives.
How many times have parents and communities expressed outrage and school closings, teacher firings etc, only to be given shallow promises that their concerns were heard and something will be done about them. Ingenuous people cannot honor genuine promises.
Callousness and Lack of Empathy
Sociopaths are not able to empathize with the pain of those they victimize. They have contempt for others in distress and take advantage of said distress.
Countless pleas at school board meetings nationwide, protest marches, rallies by parents, students and teachers have largely fallen on deaf ears. The pain of the people is routinely ignored by the callous contempt clearly evident in the faces of these board members as people pour their hearts to them in an effort to get them to listen to their concerns. The most emotional of us are often removed from these meetings, sometimes in a violent manner. Those who remain in the audience are often crestfallen as the various boards cavalierly vote on measure the people do not want as if they were never there in the first place.
In conclusion, I reiterate this is my opinion expressed here. I am in no way suggesting that all Education Reformers are Sociopaths, but I do feel the manner in which they have implemented many of their Education Reforms have many of the characteristics of Sociopathy or Anti-Social Personality Disorder. After all, the attacks on so many areas of society designed to create Democratic opportunities in which we all of us should play a part and are affected by for the worse is indeed anti-social.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Link Between School Closings and Gentrification- A Chicago Story

The single story that will remain with me longest from Washington was told by Badass Mom founder and Chicago parent leader Rousemary Vega at the workshop on Community Organizing the day before the March. After sharing heartbreaking stories of the harassment she and her family experience fighting the closing of neighborhood schools her children attended, Rousemary said the following
. " I live in Humboldt Park. When I was growing up, it was one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago. There were gangs, shootings, You really had to watch where you were going. But it was home to me and I loved the people I lived with. But in the last ten years, Humboldt Park has changed, The neighborhood schools have been closed, many people have been pushed out, the old stores are gone, and new people have moved in who look at me as though I am a piece of garbage who doesn't belong here Right in my own neighborhood!"
By the time Rousemary finished, tears were pouring down her face, and many of us in the audience were crying too.
Because her story could be told about city after city where poor and working class people have been pushed out of neighborhoods they had lived in for decades, sometimes generations- New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee- a process accelerated by the school closings and charter school openings mandated by Race to the Top.
The linkage between School Privatization and Gentrification is one of the ugly subtexts of recent American Urban History and the Obama Administration's complicity through Race to the Top is if not explicit, certainly implicit