Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Few Modest Proposals For New York City Public Schools.

1 Consolidate small schools to reduce administrative overhead and assure that all students have access to a full array of athletic teams, arts programs and counseling services.
2. Expand community schools initiatives and keep schools in high needs communities open into the evening hours for students, parents and community residents
.3. Expand the number of consortium or portfolio schools exempt from state tests and have them expand into middle schools as well as high schools
.4. Expand school based agriculture programs which use food growing and food preparation to help teach science as well as promote healthy eating among students, staff and community residents.
5. Revive and expand the great vocational and technical programs which were once the pride of New York City public schools
With a big shout outs to Aixa Rodriguez, David Garcia-Rosen, David and Lisette Ritz and Francesco Portelos for inspiring me and/or encouraging me to do this.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Resisting the Attack on Teachers and Teaching: Speech to the Old Tappan School District

 I am honored to stand before some of the most dedicated, idealistic, compassionate and creative public servants in the nation. Would you please rise and give yourselves a standing ovation

  It is the shame of a nation that  public school teachers have become the targets of a campaign of defamation. Politicians of both parties, cheered on by the press, try to out do one another in attacking you. No one epitomizes this more than the Governor of this state, Chris Christie, who during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire, actually compared k-12 teachers with ISIS. But please don’t think I am being partisan. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who is a Democrat, is probably kicking himself that he didn’t say it first, as he and Christie are virtually indistinguishable in both their education policies and their public pronouncements about teachers and teaching

Why is this happening? Why are people who have devoted their lives to working with children become targets? Why have the nation’s largest and wealthiest foundations spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to prove that you are failures and trying to find short cuts to the painstaking teaching and mentoring of students that you do every day?

Some of this stems from pure greed. There are huge profits to be made in new technologies designed to take the place of what teachers traditionally have done. Test manufacturers and software companies stand to make tens of billions of dollars by institutionalizing testing from Pre-K on up and evaluating teachers, schools and entire districts on the basis of that data. And even more money can be made from developing consulting firms to be brought in when the inevitable failures are documented, or when entire school districts, such as Newark, Camden or Patterson can be put into receivership and taken over by the state. And that doesn’t count the investment opportunities in charter schools, where investors can get a 39% tax credit which allows them to recoup their initial outlet in 7 years.

 But there is something else happening here that makes the attack on teachers and teaching even more insidious. And that is the arrogant conviction, held by those who have accumulated great wealth in the private sector, that anyone can become a teacher, that most teachers are incompetent, and that if private sector methods of evaluation, based on performance data, are brought to education, that test scores will magically improve,low performing schools will be brought up to standard, and the US rise to the top in international rankings. These individuals, who think of themselves as Masters of the Universe because of their own financial success, really believe this. They think that if you give teachers material incentives to succeed through merit pay and fire teachers when they fail after undermining their job security, that the education system will instantaneously become as productive as the companies they lead

However, there is one big problem with this approach. There is a big difference between selling houses or cars, investing in real estate, speculating in pork bellies, or packaging mortgages into bonds and teaching children. Children are not products- they are individuals in the making with vulnerabilities as well as strengths. They need love, support, compassion and humor, space to dream and opportunities to play, and adults who will work with them to get the best outof their unique individual abilities not just have them reach for an abstract standard.

  And what happens when you erase children’s individuality. Tell them that the only thing that matters is how they performon tests. Tell them that their teachers jobs and families’ future depend ontheir test scores.

      They start hating school. Start doubting themselves. Start losing the joy of discovery and the excitement of learning.

        Make no mistake about it. The attack on the nation’s teachers is crushing the nation’s children. It is filling even high performing students with stress and creating huge disciplinary problems in high poverty districts where gym and recess and the arts have been decimated or used for test prep.

          So how do we fight back? How do we get the public to stop supporting politicians who demonize teachers?

            First of all, we have to realize that most people don’t empathize with teachers as workers. If you tell themy our jobs are being made into a nightmare by over scripting, micromanagement and absurd and inaccurate data based evaluation, they will tell you “Welcome to the club.” This kind of approach to management is extraordinarily common in the private sector and is spreading like wildfire to the public sector. So you will not necessarily get much of a hearing if you tell people your jobs are beingruined

        However, you will get a hearing if youtell people that the tests being introduced into schools, largely to evaluate your performance, are destroying their children’s educations and putting intolerable stress on their families. Ask them—Do their children cry when test time is near? Does your family go into crisis mode when your children are given homework? Do you have to deal with tantrums where a child says they don’t want to go school, or are furious that school trips have been cancelled?

      This is the common ground teachers must find with families.

      And that common ground is emerging. One important sign of it is the meteoric growth of the Opt Out Movement. In New Jersey, more than 45,000 children refused to take the PARCC tests; in New York, more than 250,000 children refused to take Common Core aligned ELA and Math tests.

      This revolt is one important hope for a return to sanity in testing, teacher evaluation, and pedagogy

      But teachers cannot afford to be silentor let parents lead this movement without their support. They have to explain to everyone who will listen that great teaching involves relationship building,an understanding of each child’s individual talents and aptitudes, and love and caring, things that can’t be easily measured or quantified. And that great teachers need great administrators who support and nurture teachers who display those traits, who must in turn be supported by strong school boards and superintendents

    I know this first hand because my wife is one of those principals who nurture great teachers- who makes sure they are given every opportunity to improve their best practices, but who also defends them with passion and intelligence against attacks from elected officials and the press.

 The teachers in this district are also very lucky they have administrators and a superintendent who understand what theirjobs entail but you cannot afford to be complacent., The attack from above is so relentless that no district is safe. You have to talk to everyone who will listen about how destructive current testing policies are and explain what itwill take to bring out the best in our children. You cannot just close the door and teach. It will take an heroic battle on the part of all of us to challenge the Gates and the Waltons, the Christies and the Cuomo’s and get elected officials to support policies that support theteaching you were trained to do

    The sad truth is that we are in a war forour children and our jobs  Everyone of us must step up to the place and become an advocate for sound policies as well as an excellent teacher

    Since I work in the Bronx, I want to close with a line from the most famous hip hop song to come out of the borough, Grand Master Flash’s “The Message”

“Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge, I’m trying not to lose my head. Uh huh huh huh huh .Sometimes I wonder how I keep from going under”

So I ask you Old Tappan Teachers are you going under?

Chant with me now “HELL NO!”


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Civil Rights Lawyers and Testing

Civil rights lawyers cling desperately to testing because they think it is the only way they can document discrimination in education. However, data gathering through testing is very different than gathering date in employment because the instrument chosen corrupts the very experience you are assessing. Testing, whether to evaluate student, teacher, school or even district performance, changes what goes on in classrooms. It excludes certain kind of experiences, and privileges others. And in high poverty districts, where resources are scarce, it has the effect of promoting rote learning at the expense of creative thinking, and crowding out arts, sports, play, and subjects which are not easily standardized or quantified. The result, is that policies designed to promote equity undermine it and lead to massive demoralization of students who the policies are presumed to help. Using high stakes testing for data gathering takes schools down a dangerous path. Other, less damaging, methods of assessment must be found lest we freeze current inequalities for generations

Let Em Play by Bronx Principal Jamaal Bowman

What an amazing day and honor to join Dr. Jesse Turner on his walk to Washington D.C. for true education reform. When I arrived at Crotona Park in the legendary South Bronx to meet Jesse and longtime Bronx activist Dr. Mark Naison, I was immediately struck by the emptiness in this beautiful park. There were about 12 tennis courts totally available for anyone to use, acres and acres of fresh cut gorgeous green grass, a baseball diamond, swings, and a sprinkler system, all being used by no one.

 I asked myself, "where in the world are the kids!?" I guess the answer was obvious, the kids were in school. But should the answer be that obvious? This is the last week for public schools. Testing is over and based on my fifteen years of experience, not much "teaching" takes place this time of year. So why aren't the kids outside, with their teachers, playing, and having a great time? This is the perfect time of year to do it. The last week of school, no tests, test prep, quality reviews, or mandates. Get the kids outside and let them play.

 The desolate park was scary to me as I think it communicates a psychological subjugation that has become pervasive in public education. Studies have shown that once people have been in "bondage" for a certain period of time, it's difficult to break free even if a proverbial "door" is left wide open. The empty park today felt like a metaphor for the oppressive state of public education. Teachers, students and families are oppressed by unreliable and invalid standardized exams. They're oppressed by mandates obsessed with accountability and compliance. And finally, they're oppressed by a fascist autocratic system within a so called democratic country. The freedom of no testing and the last week of school still couldn't get teachers and students outside to play.

 Have we forgotten how play facilitates joy and how joy drives a love of life? The more we play, the less we are stressed, the less anxiety we feel, the more anger dissipates, the less crimes are committed. Imagine a school system is which play and sports were at the center? Or at the very least a part of a holistic approach to public education? Special Ed referrals would go down as would diagnoses for ADHD and depression. I argue that the school to prison pipeline, and the disproportionate number of boys placed in Special Ed and diagnosed with ADHD would cease to exist if movement and play were a pillar of our curriculum. As Dan Pink states, play passion and purpose will drive the 21st century economy. Why should public school students be left behind?

 Thank you Jesse Turner for modeling the way. Thank you for walking over 400 miles at the tender age of 60 years young to properly reform public education. Thank you for fighting to end high stakes testing and bringing play, the arts, and the multiple intelligences back into our schools. Thank you for making C.A.S.A. Middle School a part of your amazing journey. You have affirmed for me that we will win this fight. Nothing can stop us now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Gus Morales Firing Epitomizes Everything Wrong with "School Reform"

You are leading a high poverty school district in Massachusetts with a majority Latino population. You have a teacher who grew up in the district. He is male, Latino, brilliant, and charismatic. He always dreamed of teaching in the community he grew up in. But he is also a veteran who is proud and outspoken. When he sees something wrong, he says so. Evern though he is a new teacher, his colleagues, who are mostly white, look to him for leadership, especially when he speaks out against excessive testing and the way tests and data walls are used to humiliate students. They elect him, as an untenured teacher, president of the local teachers unions.

So what do you do? Do you focus on what this teacher- Gus Morales- brings to his students, to the families in the district, to the entire community. Or do you decide to get rid of him to crush the opposition to the new testing policies and have a teaching staff that accepts the new "reforms" passively?
You decide to do the latter. You fire him once, and then in the face of national protest, hire him back. And then, after a year, you decide to fire him again.

This shows something we see happening all over the country. For all the comments that Arne Duncan makes about diversifying the nation's teaching force, there is nothing more threatening to the current generation of school reformers- Duncan included- than people with real roots in the communities they teach in who can connect with the students and parents in those districts. That is why they fire people like Gus Morales and try to bring in Teach for American temps who will be in those classrooms for only a few years and then leave.

And that is why we- the people who really care about children and schools and teaching- have to fight to get Gus Morales back in the classroom.
He represents exactly what we need in our high poverty schools and indeed all our public schools- teachers for life who live in the communities they teach in and love the children they work with.
Note: The School District is Holyoke, Massachusetts.Wi

Monday, June 22, 2015

Reformers Unleash Vile Personal Attacks on Montclair Education Activists

In Montclair NJ, a strong coalition of parents and educators has resisted, and pushed back corporate reform.  This in the very town where so many of the national ed deformers live.

After a two year struggle, the Broad Academy Superintendent resigned, leaving behind an $11.5 million dollar deficit. Within a week, the mayor, the President of the Montclair Teachers Association and the Board of School Estimate resolved the budget crisis with little loss to staff positions.  And by the end of the year, we enjoyed a 48% opt out rate on the PARCC, a new pro-public education interim Superintendent and Board of Education.  Education may be back in the hands of educators.

But in this town where national reform luminaries live, they have not swallowed defeat gracefully.

With substantial funding, they formed Montclair Kids First and hired Shavar Jeffries, who ran for mayor in Newark and lost on a pro-charter platform, as their lawyer.  Jeffries went to work bringing ethics charges against a progressive town councilman, relying upon the Open Records Act to extract emails of key progressive board members, principals and the President of the teachers union and FOILed more than 1000 of Michelle Fine’s emails over two years.

Watch out, hide the kids. MCAS and CUNY are coming after Montclair Schools!

MKF (and the MSW laundered emails on their blog) came looking for the union(s); external funding; a national game-plan; a proxy relationship to Diane Ravitch. They found no money or funding, just parents and a community organizing to save public schools from the tentacles of reforms. These are the tired tactics education reformers use: They live in a world of opposition files created for their critics.  They throw money to fund their reforms; they throw money to silence their opponents. But when they find nothing, they resort to tactics like this—their latest propaganda piece, a movie version of private emails.
But propaganda can be a tricky thing. MSW posts are no more accurate now than they were before they had access to private emails, full of misattributions and ideas out of context. Expensive glossy MKF mailers bring on the tired reform narrative of failing schools only to be corrected by parents and school officials; and their recent propaganda film has popped up, like a jack in the box clown, above Michelle Fine’s many wonderful talks on race, justice, and privatization of education—an unintended counterpoint to their silly video. And if MCAS weren’t enough, they now claim CUNY is after Montclair Schools!  Cue up the eerie music and dial up your paranoia. Enjoy the sounds and images of desperate reformers looking for your support.


Stan Karp article

Defend Gus Morales!!!

Gus Morales, head of the Holyoke Teachers Union, is the antithesis of the Teach for America temp who is the teacher of choice for a growing number of school districts. He grew up in Holyoke, went to school there, returned to Holyoke after service in the military, and became an elementary school teacher in that heavily Latino school district. Gus is brilliant, passionate, and loves children. But he is also an outspoken critic of the overemphasis on testing that is a hall mark of current education policy and the use of "data walls" to humiliate children. So for the second year in the row, the Holyoke School District has refused to renew his contract. What is happening to Gus is a symbol of everything that is wrong in current education policy. He is EXACTLY the kind of teacher we need in our schools, especially high poverty schools-someone who grew up in the same community as he is teaching in whose goal is to be a "teacher for life." It is time to rally in his defense, not only because Gus is a great teacher, but because he represents exactly the kind of person we should be encouraging to enter the teaching profession!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why We Need Teach Ins On Race and Racism in the Wake of Charleston by Dr Lori Martin

There are no words to adequately describe the pain and anguish many feel as the details of the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina emerge. Our hearts ache for the families and friends of the nine innocent men and women murdered en masse. We simply cannot imagine the range of the emotions the faithful few gathered for mid-week bible study must have felt. Collectively, many of us are sad and we are angry. Unfortunately, we have been here before, and chances are, we will be here again.

 On the issues of race, we are perpetually like a vehicle at a railroad crossing with the bar down and red lights flashing. The warning signs, time is quickly passing us by, but we cannot move forward.

 On the subject of race and racism, some people get to a point where they are outraged by overt manifestations of deep seeded racial hatred. Many call for the removal of controversial symbols, like the Confederate Flag. Some people cry out and observe a period of morning and reflection.

 At the same time, others deny either the role of race and racism inherent in the American tragedies, or use the occurrences to misdiagnose racism as a disease, or to define the concept as set of beliefs that is taught in a relatively small number of families, or in carefully defined hate groups. Racism is not typically understood as a system of oppression whereby people of color are scapegoated, resulting in people of color experiencing unequal treatment, fewer life chances, and fewer opportunities.

 When we understand race and racism as central to the ways in which American society is ordered, particularly as important parts of how institutions function in our everyday lives, then we can begin to comprehend the various ways in which we are revisited in modern times by the reign of racial terror experienced by enslaved and free blacks during antebellum America. We can fathom the assaults on black communities during Reconstruction and in the early part of the 20th century when race riots broke out in cities across the nation, including the home of “The Great Emancipator.” We are not as taken aback, in light of recent assaults on black bodies when we recall the threats and physical acts of violence visited upon named and unknown foot soldiers during the modern day Civil Rights Movement. The pain and anger felt regarding the hundreds of thousands of lives lost in the wars on poverty and drugs is more easily transferred into advocacy and activism when we truly understand how whiteness and blackness shaped American social institutions, in particular, and American social life more broadly.

 So long as there are those among us who refuse to acknowledge the centrality of race and racism, and understand race and racism for what they really are, we will forever remain at the crossroads. We will remain in this vision cycle of anger, rage, disbelief, minimization, victim blaming, and collective historical amnesia.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Press Release for "Sports and Play Are Civil Rights" Event in Crotona Park, June 23, 2015

For Immediate Release:  June 20,  2015
"Sport and Play Are Civil Rights"

The "Sports and Play Are Civil Rights" event in Crotona Park on Tuesday June 23 will officially begin at 11:15 AM, by the tennis courts and last till 12:30 PM. Those who wish to join Jesse Turner, who is on a one month walk from Connecticut to DC to support public education,  on his walk into the park should meet me at 10 AM sharp in the park by the tennis courts. We will meet Jesse at 10:15 AM on the corner of Tremont and Crotona Avenues and then walk to the site of the rally. Students from CASA middle school will be having a field day in the park and will join us for the rally and symbolic walk, where speakers from NYCLetEmPlay will be featured. Jesse will also address the crowd and I will explain the importance of the location in Bronx and US music history just before we start walking.

The purpose of the event is to dramatize the demand that all Bronx high school students, including those attending small theme schools, should have the right to participate in interscholastic athletics in the sports they are skilled in and that students at ALL Bronx schools should have ample time for recess and physical education. Right now, all too often recess at Bronx schools is being sacrificed for Test Prep. Having CASA Middle School sponsor a field day in the park is our way of reinforcing the importance of play and exercise in the lives of our students

Press Contact for the Event:; Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University, 917 836-3014

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Powerful Association of Whiteness With American Identity

In the larger scheme of things, being "white"- however you define it- should not mean all that much. Europeans come in a wide variety of complexions, as do peoples from other continents and other parts of the world But when you study the history of the United States, you realize that the term was so powerfully woven into the identity of the emerging nation that people with that designation assumed it was the part of the unspoken, and occasionally explicit definition of what an American was. Moreover, this association of "whiteness" with "Americaness" lasted long after slavery was ended and indigenous peoples throughtout the continent were conquered, and not only in the South, where "white supremacy" was written into law as official policy. Dark skinned European immigrants such as Jews and Italians struggled long and hard to have themselves defined as "white" both in the census and in the popular imagination and Mexican Americans in Texas sued successfully to have themselves classified as "white" while Jim Crow was still the law in that state. Well into the 50's and 60's people all over the United States would say " I'm free, white and 21, you can't push me around" as though whiteness wa one of the fundamental criteria for the unique freedoms the United States appeared to grant its citizens.

Given this history, it is more than a little chilling to hear that the young killer of 9 in the Charleton church shouted "you're taking over our country" as he poured bullets into the peaceful worshippers. The word "OUR," combined with the deadly actions, reflect the still potent, and ever more toxic, association of "whiteness" with American identity. All too many "white" people- however they define themselves, whoever they actually are- see the election of a Black president, and the huge influx of immigrants of color- as threatening not only their own security, but the very identity of the country they love. Most, of course, do not pick up a weapon and shoot down innocent people; they express their resentments in private conversations and occasionally in social media and comments on talk shows. But anyone who underestimates the rage and confusion many feel underestimate the danger of the current momement, especially since many of the people who feel "racially" displaced are also being economically marginalized as the American middle class shrinks.

This is a very difficult issue to face and one for which there will be no easy solution. But one thing I can do, as an historian, is expose people to writing which helps break the association of "whiteness" with "Americaness" and help people see all the different cultural traditions and peoples who shaped this country's development

In that spirit, I close with a quote from the chapter "The Sorrow Songs" in
W.E.B. Du Bois "The Souls of Black Folk:

Your country? How came it yours? Before the Pilgrims landed we were here. Here we have brought our three gifts and mingled them with yours: a gift of story and song—soft, stirring melody in an ill-harmonized and unmelodious land; the gift of sweat and brawn to beat back the wilderness, conquer the soil, and lay the foundations of this vast economic empire two hundred years earlier than your weak hands could have done it; the third, a gift of the Spirit. Around us the history of the land has centred for thrice a hundred years; out of the nation’s heart we have called all that was best to throttle and subdue all that was worst; fire and blood, prayer and sacrifice, have billowed over this people, and they have found peace only in the altars of the God of Right. Nor has our gift of the Spirit been merely passive. Actively we have woven ourselves with the very warp and woof of this nation,—we fought their battles, shared their sorrow, mingled our blood with theirs, and generation after generation have pleaded with a headstrong, careless people to despise not Justice, Mercy, and Truth, lest the nation be smitten with a curse. Our song, our toil, our cheer, and warning have been given to this nation in blood-brotherhood. Are not these gifts worth the giving? Is not this work and striving? Would America have been America without her Negro people?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The New Brooklyn Skyline and the Ethnic Cleansing of Fulton Mall

Every time I drive down Flatbush Avenue towards the BQE on my way to work, I see another new building going up, giving downtown Brooklyn a "skyline" it never possessed before, save the Williamsburg Bank Building. To some, this may be a sign of economic progress, of new jobs, a growing tax base, of growing energy and vitality giving the borough a reputation for dynamism and hipness  known around the world.

However, when you consider what these buildings are, and what was there in those neighborhoods 10, 20 or 30 years before, you may, as I am worry that this development is to say the least, a double edged sword.

These new structures are not office buildings. They are residential towers where apartments will be rented, or condominiums sold, for astronomical prices. Many of these apartments will not even be occupied. They are being purchased as pied a terres, or investments, but the global rich. Their residents, if you can call them that, will not be active voting citizens concerned for the health of their communities. They sole concern, other than their safety on the occasions when they are present, will be the status of their investment.

What is also concerning is the impact these structures are having on rent levels in every nearby community, as well as the quality of commerce and street life in the areas where they are located. Almost without exception, these new structures adjoin an area that was once known as Fulton Mall, a place which was the epicenter of Black commerce, politics and street life in downtown Brooklyn. It is here people of African descent, in all their variety congregated, on weekdays and on weekends, in the tens of  thousands, where you could find book sellers,  pamphleteers, and people selling mixtapes, along with food and clothing from every portion of the Disapora, as well as clothing stores and appliance stores which catered to this largely working class and immigrant population which lived in easy access by subway of Fulton Mall.

It is no accident that some of the greatest hip hop artists in history grew up a stone's throw from Fulton Mall, or within easy subway access and every single one of them frequented the area. The police presence was visible, but not highly militarized. This was Black Brooklyn territory and people kept their peace with one another. There were children and families at all times of day and night and the vitality of the space was palpable.

That special space, and special feeling is quickly eroding.  The police presence is greater, the rents are higher, and the stores catering to working class and immigrant clientele are being pushed out.  The ethnic and class cleansing of what were once predominantly Black neighborhoods, Fort Green, Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy is proceeding with breakneck speed, and the epicenter of Black Brooklyn is increasingly shifting to Flatbush, East Flatbush and Canarsie.

 The emerging Brooklyn of empty towers and militarized police may to some be a step forward.

 But all I feel is a tremendous sense of loss.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Coming Education Bloodbath in New York State

School districts in New York State are extraordinarily diverse in terms of the resources they have available, as well as in the racial and economic background of their students. Some districts have schools which have an incredible array of arts programs, excellent libraries, and a full complement of intramural and interscholastic sports programs; other districts get by with the basics with sports, the arts, physical education and even honors classes, seen as luxuries. If the most resourced school districts had the neediest students, these disparities might not be so troubling; but as fate would have it, the highest concentration of students growing up in poverty and English language learners often attend schools with the fewest resources.
So what does the New York State government, spearheaded by Andrew Cuomo, decide to do? Does it try to make sure every child in the state has access to the same resources?
NO! It makes sure that every child in the state is held to the same standards and punishes teachers, principals and entire districts if they don't meet them!!!
This approach, is quite simply insane. It presumes you can cajole, threaten and punish your way to equality of outcomes when you do nothing to assure equality of conditions.
We are about to see an educational bloodbath in New York State as these policies are implemented, with teachers, students and families, especially in the poorest school districts, being put under intolerable pressures to perform without being given the resources and support they need.
And when that happens, the private sector will step in, taking advantage of a priceless opportunity to profit from the shredding of what was once seen as a public resource and a public trust- the public school systems of New York State.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

It's The Teachers Fault, Right?

Instead of blaming teachers and public schools for the growing wealth gap and the shrinking of the middle class, how about looking at the impact of:
The closing of factories and outsourcing of jobs
Low wages and stagnant salaries
Rising student and consumer debt
The drug war
The massive imprisonment of non violent offenders
Warehousing of abandoned properties
Racial profiling and Broken Windows Policing.
Tax relief for the very wealthy coupled with rising taxes for the middle class
Teachers are responsible for all those policy decisions and economic trends, right?

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Making of an Education Nightmare

Schools should be places where students are nurtured, treated with respect, given space to grow. Now all too often, they are being forced into boxes. their natural instincts to play and dream and let their minds and bodies wander stifled, their individual talents and aptitudes disregarded, their disabilities ignored. And to enforce that regime, their teachers have to be so terrorized that they ignore their best instincts and professional ethics. And how do you do that?. By periodic human sacrifices- colleagues humiliated and forced out of their jobs to remind those that remain that rebellion and independence are futile. If you think I am exagerrating, you have not, as I have, gotten personal messages of scores of great teachers who have been among those sacrificed. There is a toxic atmosphere in all too many schools and it comes from the US Congress, the Department of Education, Governors offices and State Legislators and has corrupted a generation of school officials who have implemented this regime of intimidation. Is it in your state, your community, your schools?, I hope not, but fear for the worst.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Genius At Work- Akua Naru Reinvents Herself in "The Miners Canary"

  Akua Naru's first album, the "Journey Aflame" showcased her status as one of the most profound and inventive hip hop lyricists of her generation, whose flow, imagery, word play and a sense of history brought her listeners to a place few artists could take them. Lyrically, "The Journey" was going to be a tough act to follow, with at least five songs "Nag Champa"  "The Block" "The Journey" "The World Is Listening" and "Poetry; How Does It Feel" becoming instant classics.

  Her next album, which was a compilation of songs from "The Journey" backed up by live singers and musicians displayed a side of Akua Naru that I had come to appreciate from watching her perform-- an exquisite sense of timing that allowed her to complement great musicians with her poetry almost the way Billie Holliday did with her singing.

   However, her latest album, "The Miners Canary" was for me an even bolder,  dare I say shocking expansion of the hip hop tradition because it marks her emergence as a producer and  composer as well as a lyricist.  "The Miners Canary" is as much a jazz  album as a hip hop album, with some numbers being almost entirely instrumental, and with two of the most powerful hip hop numbers " (Black&) Blues People" and "Toni Morrison" having instrumental passages that are unbearably moving, including horn and keyboard solos that can bring you to the edge of tears. There are also beautiful vocal solos juxtaposed throughout the album, with the final number "Fly" being almost entirely sung.

 To be honest with you, I didn't know quite what to make of an album from someone I view as perhaps the most talented lyricist in hip hop today, that begins with an instrumental number "The Mine" and ends with a beautiful and soulful vocal solo!  There are only two songs on the album "Heard" and "Boom Back Bap" which have your head moving and your hips shaking the way the best of hip hop can do. Akua Naru is clearly a virtuoso in that genre and these jams are going to get a lot of airplay, at least in Europe and get lots of hits on youtube.

But what is Akua Naru doing in the rest of the album, which has an array of musical genres I have never seen in combination quite the same way?

 Here, I think I have to go back into jazz history to the origins of Be Bop, when artists like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane, in rebellion against what they considered the staleness and commercialism of big band jazz, started creating music that was cerebral, rebellious, inventive, atonal, and difficult to predict, much less dance to.

Is this what Akua Naru is doing? Creating a sonic universe of such complexity and richness that it not only complements the hip hop lyricism she offers, but at times transcends it, in the process rejecting the mass commercialized hip hop played in clubs and on the radio all over the world. Don't get me wrong, the imagery and historical narratives that she weaves into her songs are unmatched anywhere else in popular music. But the instrumental musical component of this album matches the lyrics in variety and power.

And there may be a message here. Namely that all of the African American tradition must be reclaimed, that it cannot be separated and compartmentalized; that jazz and blues and soul have an emotional power that, if combined with hip hop, allow hip hop  lyricism to reach even greater heights. That sometimes, a trumpet solo has more power than words in conveying difficult emotions. And that to substitute electronic beats for what an instrument can do is to cut an artist off from the most powerful of roots.

I felt, in this album, that I was transported back to the jazz clubs of the 50's and early 60's listening to an Amiri Baraka ( then Leroi Jones) poem with jazz playing in the background.

That something precious was being reclaimed. Even more powerfully because it was under the direction of a woman artist.

The "Miners Canary" is the product of a lyrical and musical genius discovering her power and creating a voice which allows us to become musically whole.

There are moments of beauty in this work which are worth cherishing and returning to over and over again. How many "hip hop" albums can you say that about?

A Sports and Play Manifesto

1. Recess is Sacred. No test prep during recess. Ever.
2. Physical Education classes should take place a minimum of two days a week during regular school hours and include activities for students at every level of physical fitness.
3. Every school from middle school up should have a full array of intramural and interscholastic sports for Boys and Girls including sports preferred by the new immigrant groups entering school communities.
4. Schools should have regular "field days" during warm weather where students get a break from strictly academic activities.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Free Speech Struggle in the Broward (Fla) Teachers Union by Joan King

I was shocked in disbelief to hear about the unfair treatment of candidates in the 2014 Election & the AFT Report sent to all stewards(with private addresses) was not accurate or fair! But then I started attending theExecutive Brd mtgs to witness the dysfunctional team under an incompetent leader who disrespected certain members using a Parlimentarian($) & Chief-of-Staff ($)on each side of her to help her shut them down! She can not chair a meeting without them, as a professed attorney, that's how she got elected (promising lower legal fees). Which we've had highest legal fees ever since her! There were 19/22 great BTU staffers & field reps there when she took office, who are now gone (fired or run off), I'd say Hostile Work Environment which is what Labor Unions are supposed to FIGHT, NOT CAUSE! This was what really got me upset, then at the October Ex Brd Mtg, I sat 4 hrs (many of those with me in the audience left after 3 hours), waiting for them to vote on how many minutes they'd let us speak! Wow, really as a BTU Charter Member, Master Steward who has paid over$20,000 in dues over the 34 years, helping to pay for the BTU Bldg., I'm waiting to speak about the problems I see at BTU Bldg and at schools! As I said then,I'd be at all mtgs as a system of checks & balances to inform members,... I witnessed appointees voting for wasteful dues spending, I call them the rubber Stampers,... $5K raise for VP Kemp who wrote an unethical SBBC Email telling ALL OF HIS ESP's to vote Gloria Waller's Slate BECAUSE the Action Slate did NOT SUPPORT ESP's! I guess changing the locks 6 times as you fire or run off GREAT BTU Employees/Negotiators, is a paranoid waste of our dues! Then to lose my Civil Rights and be harassed, defamed, bullied, & retaliated against during the 2015 Election, was horrible for my Action Slate! There were BTU Alerts to ALL MEMBERS, before mail-in ballots due, calling our Action Slate "illegal &unethical". Email from Pres Glickman about Joan King overstepping her Steward duties, cc'd to SBBC Member, Nora Rupert, too= HARM TO ME, especially because IDID follow protocol getting the person to re-join BTU, Speak to his school site stew, and the field rep. I was accused of giving him legal counsel & acting as afield rep., without proper training or certification (which I've heard Ralph was the only one truly sent to be trained & shared it with others, but he's one of the 19 gone a while now; certificate is filling out a paper & BTU Pays state).During the election, we were told not to wear our Green Action T-shirts to the ONLY RALLY, to give our speeches as candidates (1st yr ever for that rule),slate dates were extended because Forward Slate of Incumbents had 10 names when there were only 7 seats available, so they became the Diversity Slate & LOST!Moving Forward was a term BTU started using after John Tarka left,administratorship from AFT. During the actual Ballot Counting we were told to invite ONLY ONE GUEST(use to be open to members) & put our cell phones in a basket near the door & cop! Pres hires cops, waste our dues for all meetings!One even threatened our campaign mgr, at pres's direction to kick her out/she'son ex brd & a master stew! The membership has spoken, now they start the rushed process to get budget passed & changes to recently amended in 2013 constitution& bylaws,... They want to ADD Profession Discipline where you can (as dues paying members) be brought up on charges with a complaint with only 3 signatures, then investigated by NEW Ethics Committee (I call it, "witch hunt",they are appointed members by pres),... To be reprimanded, fined$, suspended or removed from stew. position, comm., or exec brd, and even expulsion from BTU!Really to add insult, the Const. Comm. under VP Kalebra's DIRECTION want ex brd members to sign that they won't use Social Media: FB to talk about BTU Issues(freedom of speech again taken away),... This is unfortunately true, that's why when the Stew Council meets Aug 10-11 training, it must be voted down, "NO" TO GAG! Thanks for listening & feel free to use

,...In Solidarity, Joan King (July we take our seats), pres won't have votes then!?

In Defense of "Loose Cannons"

One of the main reasons I remain a "loose cannon " is that people in positions of power rarely listen to reasonable arguments if the person making them doesn't have the power to take them out of their comfort zone, or remove them from power altogether. Don't get me wrong; strong research, passionate argumentation, and a powerful vision of a just society are important elements of all successful social movements. But those movements also must have the power to make the normal functioning of offending institutions difficult if not bring them to a halt altogether. I want people dealing with me to always wonder just how far I might go to bring about the changes I am fighting for. And what risks I might take to make the world a better place. To quote Dr Martin Luther King Jr, who understood this as well as any leader in our history:
"So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?"
(Letter From A Birmingham Jail)

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bronx Education Conference at CASA Middle School a Great Success

We need many more gatherings like the Bronx Education Conference held at Casa Middle School in the Bronx  where teachers from more than ten Bronx schools held frank discussions about how race affects the lives of their students inside and outside of school and how teaching curriculum and school culture should address those experiences. The discussions I heard were passionate, informative, painfully honest, and conducted in an atmosphere where all views were treated with respect. No one held back. Black,, White, Latino, and Asian teachers, united by a love for the students they were working with, shared stories from their teaching and their personal lives which revealed both the power of culturally relevant pedagogy and the huge obstacles involved with incoporating it into daily practice given the overwhelming emphasis on testing along with intrusive protocols for teacher evaluation. But though the discussion was sometimes painful, most people came away energized because they had approached a taboo subject and came away stronger and more united for having done so. There was NO racial hostility in any of the discussions even though race was on the table in the most direct and open way. We need to do this more often, in more places. Jamaal Bowman, who organized and chaired this conference, deserves tremendous credit for giving us a model which can be taken to other boroughs, other cities and other communities.