Friday, July 31, 2015

PS 91 Memories

PS 91 in Crown Heights, at the corner of Albany and East New York Avenues. It was the tallest building in the neighborhood ( this was the 1950's), more than five stories high, built of red and white brick, with huge windows on all floors. It was like a castle in our working class neighborhood, which was filled with Jews and Italians,with a handful of Irish and African American families, and it had a powerful effect on our collective imagination. It was where children like us would find their access to the American dream, through the classes held there, through the rough ball games played in the gym and schoolyard, through the plays that were put on at the school. We walked into the school with a kind of awe, lined up in size order, sitting in rows, frightened of our teachers, strong women who carried themselves with conspicuous dignity, at least until we knew them better. We were drilled in class, but also encouraged to dream, taught about history and geography, exposed to science through hands on experiments, taken to museums and zoos where we might see things our families might not be able or wiling to expose us to. We were also given responsibilities, became class monitors, crossing guards, showed films to our students. Was there bullying? Yes. Were there fights?. Yes. Were there gender separations that defied common sense?. Sure, But compared to what we encountered in our immigrant families, where English was not always the first language, where ancient fears and deeply rooted wounds often haunted us, PS 91 symbolized hope and possibility, space and freedom, a chance to release energy and find new talents.
I find it sad indeed, to discover how many Americans see schools like this as a symbol of American failures rather than an embodiment of American possibilities

Why The Very Rich Promote Charter School Fetishism

The very rich people who are donating to charter schools and seeking to privatize public education are hoping that through some miraculous infusion of inspiration and intimidation as practiced in those schools, they can improve the performance of children in poverty. and possibly help them escape poverty, without any REAL sacrifice on their part -- without threatening their investments, their jobs, their incomes and their lifestyles. The massive replacement of public schools by charter schools has now been going for nearly 10 years, with its pace rapidly accelerating, and the lifestyles of the super rich have certainly not been disturbed. On the other hand, there has been no visible progress in education equity by either statistical measures or more subjective ones, and our society seems more polarized by race and class almost by the day. So will the charter fetishism be challenged? Not among the very rich, I suspect. It serves their interest too well.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Summer School Nightmare- Turning Up the Head on "Student Achievement"

NOTE: This was written by a teacher in a high poverty district somewhere in the Midwest. Child and Teacher Abuse in full effect

 A time to maintain achievement, right? To prevent the "summer slide" and keep students engaged and excited about learning. After all, it's building relationships with our students that can extend far beyond the confines of classroom walls.

 But what happens when the school offering summer school has no air conditioning? Does that sound beneficial? Healthy? Safe? Temperatures inside the classroom reading 98 degrees on the thermostat. How about that for the student with Epilepsy who's seizures are triggered by heat exhaustion and dehydration. Sound safe? Healthy? Beneficial?

 If that doesn't have your attention, let's turn up the heat a little more. Requiring teachers to supervise lunch for the students but not allowing them to eat. Not allowing them to sit down. Oh no, teachers must waste instructional time. While students eat inside the fiery furnace called the cafeteria, their teachers are commanded to stand and do flash cards or another educational task. Teachers are expected to not only suffer these conditions themselves, but to sit by and watch their students suffer, too. Every minute counts, right? Don't waste precious time walking kids to the drinking fountain, either. The water is not only warm, it's "against district policy" to use instructional time in too many transitions.

 Yes, the fire has been lit, folks. Our kids, who deserve better, are being burned. They deserve the best and brightest education. Your highly qualified, certified teachers and their students are suffering in silence while those at the top are sitting inside their air conditioned offices on the phone with the next best corporation who's in the running for the silver bullet. The next "new program" they will demand the teachers use in the classroom to bring up those test scores. Here's an idea for administration and school boards.

 If you want to bring up the scores and raise the achievement gap, turn down the heat on your teachers. Take some of the pressure off your teachers. If you can't do it for them, do it for our students. Provide them with safe and healthy learning conditions. Foster an environment built on the foundation that our teachers and students deserve nothing short of the best. Stop burning the candle on both ends with the corporate world. They don't know our students. You don't know our students.

We, the teachers know our students. You want to know why your good, hardworking teachers are leaving the profession? They're sick, physically and emotionally. They're tired. They can't stand being on the front line every single day sacrificing blood, sweat and tears, all to no avail. They, along with their students, are dying inside while fires set by you rage beneath them, threatening to extinguish all they've ever known and loved. Each other. Hang up the phone, step away from the computer in your chilled office and save our teachers and students from the blazing inferno you've put them in.

Signed,One Fired Up Teacher

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Education Of Kevin Powell- A Unique Window into a World of Pain, Trauma and Redemption

There have been many great coming of age stories written by Black male authors, but none quite like Kevin Powell's new book, "The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey into Manhood."

The violence Powell experienced as a young person, and the violence he inflicted, as an adult, are hardly new themes in Black coming of age stories- but the sensibility Powell brings to the narrative comes off as startling.  Powell admits every bit of vulnerability and weakness in a way a way that brings to life what it means to be a child in environments in which childhood was a luxury denied both by a racist society and impoverished deeply wounded residents. A brilliant sensitive child in places where neither of these were welcomed; where weakness invited aggression, Powell somehow survived without developing the armor that most male children had to envelop themselves in. The result is a narrative of male powerlessness written with a feminized sensibility that I have almost never seen in literature of this kind.  There are no masks. There is no bravado.  Just the honest recollection of someone whose very survival was a miracle and who still lives with the damage inflicted on him every day.

 Now remember who we are talking about here. A nationally known journalist, author, political activist, who has had an opportunity to meet and write about some of the most important figures in hip hop and African-American politics.   Handsome, famous, accomplished yet still traumatized  by everything he endured as a child, in his home, in the streets, in school.

You want to understand the impact of racism and poverty on a vulnerable child, read this book. You want to see how pain is transmitted from generation to generation, look no further. In a country where Black children are often denied the right to be treated as being sensitive, thoughtful, limitless in their potential, Powell puts you in the mind of a Black child who possess all of those traits, and you can not help but cry tears of pain and empathy. The writing is evocative, raw, and mercilessly self-reflective.  You end up seeing the consequences of all this pain when Powell becomes an adult and engages in all kinds of self destructive behavior even as he finds a voice which inspires millions.

  But it is the childhood portions of this book that make it unique. Think Richard Wright's "Black Boy." Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes."  Junot Diaz's "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." Think of the best music of Tupac Shakur and Wu Tang Clan.  There are no masks. No illusions. We see a  racist, gendered society putting crushing burdens on young Black boys born into poverty. Powell speaks for them, not just the strong ones, all of them, with unmatched eloquence  Because Powell leaves nothing out. No twinge of fear. No  moment of weakness. No bout of rage and self-doubt.

 I hope millions of people read this book. But not just alone, as I have. In classes, in study groups, in reading groups where people can make their own connections to what Powell puts before us.

 Because all of us have been hurt. All of us carry childhood wounds. All of us have been afraid. All of us hurt the ones we love. Because Powell admits these things about himself, he pushes all of us to be equally honest and introspective.

 What makes the book all the more remarkable is that as Powell admits, his adult life has not always been exemplary. Amidst all his achievements, he grappled with depression, paranoia and rage, leading him to physically assault co-workers, friends and romantic partners. Only therapy and a self-conscious effort to transform himself in line with principles of gender equality prevented him from being a person who accomplishments were dwarfed by a trail of destruction.

 But Powell struggled, persevered, grew, and learned to share his traumas in a way that inspires other to do the same, turning his survival into an act of generosity more than selfishness.

 At at time when some are trying to teach America that "Black Life Matters"-- Kevin Powell has written a book which shows that even Black lives which have the least promising beginnings can, to quote W.E.B Dubois, end creating products of intellect and art which will provide inspiration to people around the world.  Was Dr DuBois thinking of a future Kevin Powell when he wrote the following:

"Herein the longing of black men must have respect: the rich and bitter depth of their experience, the unknown treasures of their inner life, the strange rendings of nature they have seen, may give the world new points of view and make their loving, living, and doing precious to all human hearts."

 "The Education of Kevin Powell" is a book that you will want to keep close to you as a reminder of the depth of human pain and inhumanity, and the possibility of transcendence and redemption.

  But don't hold back the tears. Don't even try.

The Price of Making New York "Safe"

It is great the neighborhoods in New York that were once violent and fear ridden have become safer, that people can once again take their children to and from school, go to and from work, and go to the corner store without worrying that they or their family members will be hit by a stray bullet. As someone who spent time in those neighborhoods trying to create jobs and school opportunities for young people trapped in the cycle of violence, I appreciate that change But what haunts me, more and more is two things.
First, that the people who lived in those communities at the height of the violence (1985-1995) have been priced out and pushed out, that as soon as their communities became safe, wealthier people started moving in, developers took notice, and the rents started skyrocketing to the point where longtime residents had to move out and the stores that served them had to close. These residents thus faced a double sacrifice; first living in communities where the level of violence was one which middle class New Yorkers would never tolerate; and secondly, being pushed out when the violence was finally checked, in part through their heroic efforts.
Second, that the prime strategy for reducing the violence was not creating jobs, offering more recreational programs, and making sure schools were open around the clock, as some of us pushed for, but expanding and militarizing the New York City police force so that young people in the most dangerous communities were put under constant surveillance, in their schools as well as in the streets, and were constantly being arrested for minor crimes so they could be searched for drugs and guns. These coercive tactics, supported by desperate residents as well as public officials, turned young people in those communities, especially those living in public housing, into prisoners in their streets and schools while sending huge numbers of them to jail and prison.
To quote Dead Prez ("Behind Enemy Lines") " You don't have to be in jail to be in prison, look how we livin'"
I like many others, love the fact that I can walk down New Lots or Prospect Avenues without worrying about being hit by a stray bullet. But I am haunted by the collateral damage of an approach to public safety than emphasized militarized policing and resulted in massive displacement of poor and working class residents from communities where the violence was once greatest.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Ring A Bell of Mourning Those in "Failing" Schools

As I look to the not so distant future, my heart goes out to the students and teachers in every school that is about to be taken over by the New York State Education Department because it is judged "failing." There are hundreds of such schools around the state, virtually ALL of them in high poverty districts. Their staffs are going to be made scapegoats, while students and families are going to be subjects of experiments in privatization supported by the wealthiest people in the state and the nation. Will no politicians speak out for them? Will not one challenge the false rhetoric of "accountability" that is being used to undermine the principle of community responsibility for education and to snuff out student, teacher and parent voices? THIS is a tragedy marked by shattered careers, trips to therapists, and a powerful lesson being taught to our most vulnerable citizens that their interests only count when powerful people speak for them and use those interests for personal gain.

I ring a bell of mourning for all those in these schools and communities

PS. If this also applies to schools in YOUR state, ring a bell for them too!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Our Children and Grandchildren Deserve: No Compromise With Current Education Policies

Every post I get from around the country suggests that the attack on teachers, students and public education shows no sign of letting up. Students are being tested more than ever; great teachers are being given low ratings and driven out of the profession; and whole cities are being turned into all charter districts without evidence that this will do anything to empower students, while funneling profits to consulting firms and real estate developers. While the worst of the attacks are hitting high poverty schools, no districts are immune from the scripting, the micromanagement and the obsession with test results. This nightmare is occurring in states with Republican governors and states with Democratic governors.

Anyone who thinks that the new ECAA legislation being passed by Congress is going to bring relief is being extremely naive. Those who think than any Presidential candidate will make things better is living in Never Never Land. The momentum of current policies on the state and local level is powerful because it is driven by Billionaire dollars. The same people who are controlling the political process in DC are driving privatization and profiteering in public education at the local level.

The only way to fight back against this is civil disobedience. Parent strikes, Student strikes. Teachers strikes. Test Refusal. And innovative tactics to bring the pressure on those who would destroy students lives and teachers careers. Disrupt meetings. Picket peoples houses. Make those who would make students and families pay the price pay a price themselves.

This is why I am very excited about the formation of the group ParentStrike. And the refusal of United Opt Out to compromise at all with ANY federal legislation that uses standardized testing as the basis of school evaluation and uses federal funds to punish schools, school districts and entire states on the basis of test scores.

Now is not the time to compromise. We are already losing badly. It is the time to disrupt. To confuse. To undermine, To resist

Our children and grandchildren deserve better. Much better

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why Charter Schools Resemble FEMA Trailers- How School Reform Promotes Gentrification by Dr Lori Martin

he greatest threats to these communities--many of which are majority minority--are gentrification and school choice.

Gentrification occurs in distressed communities, which receive an influx of investment from private and/or public sources, that often results in higher real estate costs, among other things, and leads to the racial, ethnic, and economic transformation of the area. As the saying goes, Build it and they will come. However, few people, particularly middle class families and working class families seeking to join their ranks, are willing to come to a neighborhood where most, if not all schools, are deemed “failing.” While more affluent families can opt-out of the public school system, middle and upper class families often times, cannot.

What we are seeing in many areas that are undergoing gentrification is a flood of charter schools, and other so-called school choice options. What is happening in many school districts throughout the country is akin to a mandatory evacuation of public schools. Fewer and fewer students are attending designated neighborhood schools. Students--a disproportionate among of which are students of color--are being displaced and relocated to other schools after their schools are forced to close, or stigmatized by the designation of a grade. The assignment of the letter grade is frequently arbitrary, and a poor reflection of how, what, and from whom, students are learning.

Many of these displaced students never return. Still other students are provided with what could be considered temporary placements within their neighborhoods. These schools, some of which are charter schools, are sometimes mistaken for community schools because of their geographical locations. Charter schools are anything but neighborhood-centered; rather, charter schools may best be understood as the FEMA trailers for the victims of the present educational reform storm and the “gold rush” on selected distressed communities.

Like FEMA trailers, which are meant to provide temporary housing to individuals impacted by such things, as natural disasters, charter schools----intentionally or unintentionally----often do more harm than good in the long run.

FEMA trailers provided a safe haven for thousands of people displaced by hurricanes, like Andrew, Rita, and Katrina, but the trailers also placed the health of the inhabitants at-risk. According to NBC News, a $42.6 million settlement was reached between the manufacturers of the trailers due to the dangerously high levels of formaldehyde gas--considered a cancer-causing substance by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Many of the inhabitants of the trailers--along with others displaced by the storms-- never returned. In the case of New Orleans, many of the impacted areas changed, or are in the process of changing from black to white, and from poor to more affluent. For example, some public housing units have been raised, resulting in an increase in the value of neighboring co-ops.

One is hard pressed to find a neighborhood school anywhere in the Crescent City and New Orleans is not alone. Charter schools--in an attempt to capitalize on the mistaken notion that the only way to “fix” public schools is with the adoption of a business model that treats children as prospective low-wage workers, views students as data points, prefers profit or pupils, and vilifies teachers----also provide an academic haven for some students and will likely do more harm than good. Individual students are harmed and so is the surrounding community, which once gentrification is in full swing, is virtually unrecognizable.

Anyone concerned about public education—and that should include everyone—should heed the warning the signs: the blowing winds of philanthrocapitalists, the downpours of hedge fund managers, ominous clouds of developers, and other outside interests. We must be prepared for a long fight. All students deserve an excellent education and we must work to make that their reality.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Community Schools are NOT Charter Schools- by Gloria Johnson

 and communities. Full-service community schools extend the goals of traditional public schools further. They are centers of their communities that provide services to address the needs of student learners and build bridges between schools, families, and communities.  They are schools that not only promote academic excellence, but they also provide health, mental health, and social services on the school campus.  The school emerges as a community hub, a one-stop center to meet diverse needs and to achieve the best possible outcomes for each child.

Community Schools are NOT Charter Schools. It seems some Charter Schools are trying to co-opt the language as the success of Community Schools is becoming more widely recognized and the concept is being added to more traditional public schools. With numbers like we are seeing in this Cincinnati PUBLIC system, no wonder they are hijacking our language!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Color Blind = Tone Deaf. A Message to Bernie Sanders from Jane DeNeefe

I am on the ground in Alabama, an author of two books about the civil rights movement and co-director of an African American history project--  and I can attest, Bernie is losing black support that was already flimsy--I'd give him a C for Netroots Nation, which is generous, and better than O'Malley's F but still not good enough--he sounds like an old white man  who was current on race fifty years ago but who is now "colorblind" which equals tone deaf on the state of race relations  in this historical moment. This letter is a follow-up to one I wrote the campaign in early June about Bernie’s approach to race relations.

There are things he can do to improve his thinking about race that will also improve his responses.  If no one is stepping up to educate him on this, I can do it, but I would need his attention--I've had enough of pissing in the wind.  I want to know the message will land before I go to the trouble to craft it. I could publish about this but I would rather educate Bernie directly than call him out in public.

I can't believe he isn't getting better advice about race.  The answer to "say her name" this week is “Sandra Bland."

Bernie needs to catch up and stay current, because he is sounding too much like the *recipients* of MLK's letter from the Birmingham Jail--out of touch with the fact that black people in this country are in a state of emergency.  Bernie is better than this and it is CRUCIAL that he not--through unconscious accident-- deliver talking points that modern-day white supremacists use.  For example, suggesting that the BLM protestors “wait” until after the stump speech registered as an all-too-familiar dismissal of their urgency. It would have been better to improvise immediately by addressing their concerns first.  When MLK called out Birmingham’s white clergy, he wrote: “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

Bernie has made some effort to update his racial concepts but he needs to keep working on it by listening as well as by phrasing his points more carefully.  Frederick Douglass was not, in fact, talking about "all of us.”  Impoverished immigrant ancestors who chose to come here are NOT analogous to enslaved ancestors who were forced to come here.  Some issues are **specifically** African American and that needs to be acknowledged openly.  White supremacy is real and should be called out, not swept under the rug of progressive economic reform.  

Dallas was a slight improvement—but Sandra Bland et al should be referred to as “human beings" or as "citizens who died in police custody” not as “things like Sandra Bland...”  I am so worried that Bernie will say something clueless in Alabama, and from what I am seeing, the chances for a race relations gaff are high.  This isn't the time to defend Bernie's past record on race, but to learn from the moment about how to move forward effectively. 

Bernie can step up to this moment but he needs to do some serious homework and I will help, given the chance.  I am not the most skilled anti-racism educator in the country, not by a long shot, but I am willing to step up if no one else does. Bernie, from his national perch, has access to the best, and he should reach out and learn from them.  This is urgent.

Jane DeNeefe
Huntsville Alabama

Some Unsolicited Advice to Sen Sanders Regarding Black Lives Matter Protests

When you have been a justice fighter all your life, it is sometimes very hard to be confronted and challenged by people much younger than you are as if your experience and history means little. This has happened to me on numerous occasions when commenting on race issues. And the temptation is to respond in anger. But I have learned, through experience, that sometimes these critics are right, that I have said or written something which is insensitive or arrogant or takes the discussion to a place which smothers voices which need to be heard. And so I force myself to listen to the attacks, try not to take them personally, and change my approach to the issues when such a change is called for.
Do I always do this smoothly and tactfully? Hell no! Sometimes I have administered a smack down to the people calling me out, only to then do, over time, exactly what they suggest.
But insofar as I have remained relevant in discussions of race and social policy, it is because I have tried, if not always gracefully, to listen to and learn from people who have attacked my positions. And to respect their right to attack me.
I suggest that Senator Sanders do the same with Black Lives Matter protesters at Netroots Nation who disrupted his talk. There is much to be learned from their actions and words about what is really going on in this country. And how people who have been left out, pushed aside, ignored and marginalized feel about it.
If you don't learn from your critics, it is on you, not on them.
or as a famous hip hop song once reminded us
"Check yourself before you wreck yourself"

Monday, July 13, 2015

Cognitive Dissonance, Testing and the Need to Face Our History: Guest Post by Aixa Rodriguez

"In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas, or values.[1][2]" Wikipedia

In watching the coverage of the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Bosnia,  the efforts to identify victims with DNA was mentioned. Twenty years later, these victims are still unidentified and not resting in peace. The reality that some people still have difficulty calling it what it was , a genocide, is a problem. Other words are used to coverup the reality of the monstrous deeds.To this day, according to what Christianne Amapour said, there have yet to be serious actions taken to "denazify" the government, or to have a "truth and reconciliation".

Think on this, the language she used alludes to the Holocaust and Apartheid era South Africa. Are these events in history taught well in our nation's schools? How quickly would the association have been made by today's high school graduates? I wager not quickly, and at a low percentage.

Thinking on cognitive dissonance, I believe this is the problem with facing ugly things. It is the reason people seek to explain away ugly things. It is the reason word of what is happenning in DR is increasingly being explained away. It is the reason why ugly vicious vigilante justice that is obviously wrong is being explained away as propaganda and bad journalism. The violence itself, the video footage of brutality is never addressed. It is hard to face realities that don't match your beliefs about yourself , your people, your culture. But it must be confronted. The greatest heroes have woken up and fought to make the ideals of their country real.

After tragedies, the reality of evil committed must be exposed. In this way, we honor the dead, we hold perpetrators accountable, we learn the who what where why and how if incidents. If we do not do this, if our discomfort leads to denial, or stalling in taking action, perpetrators get away with heinous actions, repeat them in other locations, infect the next generation with hate and continue the evil into the future. Like an infected wound, it must be cleaned up, before it is sewn up.

America has trouble facing its history. The real tragedy of standardized tests is how the pressure of these tests narrows curriculum necessitating cuts to history curriculum. Teachers have to make choices as to what will be covered and what will not be covered. As you can imagine many forces impact these choices. The problem comes when important but difficult events in history are glossed over, mentioned briefly, or ignored entirely "because its not on the test" when really it is because it is unpleasant, uncomfortable, or shows the actions of government in an unfavorable light.

I believe that cognitive dissonance is also behind the push back against ethnic studies in public schools. Refusal,excuses and outright censoring of such precious knowledge is an obstacle to healing, to uniting people across racial, ethnic and linguistic lines.

Cognitive dissonance is also behind the need to blame victims of police brutality and violence. People try to reconcile lessons in kindergarten about friendly local police officers with the cop who hit, kick, choke, and kill. The assassination if the victim's character is an important tool in this effort.

Even the fight to keep the confederate flag is connected to cognitive dissonance. There are those who truly see nothing wrong with a symbol that contains a message of white supremacy and hate. There are those who scrambled to explain away the flag. To make excuses for it. Those who adopted it as part of their style, wearing it on their person but don't want to be considered racist fought the hardest. Excuses of heritage, culture  etc. etc. were made. They had difficulty processing the symbol had meaning for others. They wanted to explain it away.

We need to not explain away and rationalize anymore. We need to collectively FACE our History. This means if something is uncomfortable, we need to keep researching and demanding answers, clarifying and holding perpetrators of evil and violence accountable.  We need to purposefully educate ourselves and others about what has happened and what is happening, so we can clearly see patterns and recognize truth.
We need to push beyond the cognitive dissonance and   prevent, protect, punish, learn and restore civility and humanity.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Where Were You Hillary?

When 168 schools were closed in New York City, and more than fifty in Chicago and Philadelphia
When New Orleans became an all charter district
When recess became test prep in high poverty schools throughout the nation and arts, music and sports were pushed aside
When school libraries were closed or became places where students took tests rather than read books
When veteran teachers in NY City became ATR's and were put in "Teacher Jails" in Los Angeles
When the average career of a teacher shrank from 15 years in the 1980's to 5 years now
When Bill Gates funding forced Common Core on an unsuspecting nation without any trials in local schools district
When teachers of color were pushed out of the classroom in urban school districts which were then deluged with teacher temps with 5 weeks training
When rating teachers on the basis of student test scores became the law of the land and students, teachers and families were filled with stress.
Did you say ANYTHING about these issues?
Did you do anything to suggest you understood the suffering these policies had caused?
If not, it is hard to understand why any group which claims to represent teachers would endorse your candidacy for President well before
primary season

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

New York: The City Where You Have to Pay to Play

Here are some of the things we gave up in New York City when bankers and national and state officials told us to "live more frugally" in the 1970's

Free tuition at the City Universities
Music programs in the public schools
After school and night centers in the public schools
Recreation supervisors at vest pocket parks around the city
Maintenance workers at parks capable of maintaining ball fields and trimming vegetation

As a result:

Public Schools only have after school and music programs through private grants, participation in special programs or funds raised by their PTA's
The city's most popular parks are maintained largely through private funding through organizations like the Central Park Conservancy and the Prospect Park Alliance.
The city's baseball and soccer leagues are all maintained by private funding and large portions of the city's young people have no opportunity to play organized sports at all.

This was not the New York City I grew up in. In this city, you have to pay to play, whether it is a sport or a musical instrument

Monday, July 6, 2015

Thoughts on the Greek Crisis and The Proliferation of Global Debt

If you are wondering why financial institutions continue to give money to countries, companies and individuals who have little or any ability to pay back those loans, remember that those institutions receive COMMISSIONS from making loans, and even bigger commissions from packaging those loans into financial products like derivatives. It is from these commissions that huge profits are made for the institutions, and huge bonuses for their managers and executives
This gives financial institutions a built in incentive to cater to the appetite for funding that insolvent, or near insolvent entities, may have, whether it be a family who wants to purchase a home they can't afford, or a country desperate to fund pensions, or salaries of essential government workers when they have run out of cash.
It would be instructive to track all the commissions made by loans to the Greek government right up to the current crisis. I would suspect they add up to a very large amount of money
In short, calls for fiscal discipline on the part of Greece are a bit hypocritical coming from those who have profited handsomely from those who have extended loans to the Greek government, and Greek banks for the last ten years.
It would be very interesting to see whether this crisis would have taken a different form if commissions were sharply reduced on loans and financial products

But hey, what do I know. I am just a history professor.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Slave Market, Not the Plantation, Was the Real Face of the Confederacy

 When you visit Monticello or Mount Vernon or even Colonial Williamsburg, you can come away with a picture of slavery as an ordered world where white families lived in symbiosis, albeit a hierarchical one, with black families they owned.

However, this architectural and social portrait is frozen in time, masking the  economic and social dynamics of a system which contained some of the most brutal features of the capitalist marketplace along with the ownership of human beings.

By the 1830's and 1840's, soil erosion and rise of cotton agriculture had rendered the coastal plantations of Virginia portrayed in those historic sites an economic anachronism. Most of the great plantations had gone bankrupt, and either tried to move Westward into Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas, or had sold their slaves to agricultural entrepreneurs settling those regions. That's right, SOLD THEIR SLAVES.

  Forget paternalism. Forget respect for families. The economic dynamics of Westward settlement, soil exhaustion and the emergence of new crops and markets had made the selling of slaves an essential feature of the society that became the Confederacy.

 All you have to do is read a book called "Remembering Slavery" a compilation of the oral history of former slaves which were collected during the 1930's to realize that the selling of slaves, and the breaking up of families and communities, was an essential feature of the Slave South, more feared by those Black folk trapped within it than even physical brutality and sexual exploitation which were also endemic to the system

 Black people lived in constant terror of being sold away from their friends, family members, and their own children. And this happened all the time because the major salable asset of people engaged in plantation agriculture were their slaves!  The bank threatens to foreclose on your property- you sell a few slaves!  You want to buy new agricultural equipment or build a new house- you sell some more!

Slave markets were all over Southern towns and cities, filled on a regular basis with the most horrific scenes of crying people and bodies poked and prodded and auctioned off.

To take the false aura of romance from the Slave South, we need some new historic sites. Let's find and  restore slave markets and explain what really went on there and how essential they were to the Westward expansion and economic vitality of the South.

Hundreds of thousands of slaves were sold away from their families. And were being sold right up to the eve of the Civil War.

When I see the Confederate flag, that is what I see. I am still haunted by the stories of broken families and broken lives I read in "Remembering Slavery"

Thursday, July 2, 2015

When New York City Was Greece- The Destruction of Youth Programs in the Name of Austerity in the late 70's

As the Greek crisis unfolds, it is instructive to turn to a moment in history when New York City went "bankrupt" and was put under the control of an Emergency Financial Control board who dictated what kind of budget cuts had to be made in order for the city to continue receiving financing from the nation's banks.

The year was 1976, Abraham Beame was the Mayor, and what transpired was an unalloyed tragedy for the young people of New York City, especially those growing up in the city's working class and middle class communities In fact, based on my own experience and scores of oral history interviews with people who attended or worked in Bronx public schools from the 1950's through the 1980's, many city neighborhoods, and the young people who lived in them, never recovered from what lost as a result of budget cuts made at that time.

Let us first look at the impact of budget cuts on New York City public schools, which had some of the best youth and cultural programs of any public school system in the world from the late 40's until the Emergency Financial Control Board took over.

  The after school programs in New York City public schools , which provided an enormous boon to working parents,were second to none. Every elementary school in the city was open 3-5 and 7-9 with supervised activity, run by New York City public school teachers paid with stipends that supplemented their regular salaries. The activities in these centers included arts and crafts, sports, music programs, talent shows, and occasionally school dances. I played basketball and nok hockey in the night center at PS 91 in Crown Heights, but some truly amazing things took place at schools in the Bronx, some of them serving predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. At PS 18 near the Patterson houses, the night center, run by former all American basketball player Floyd Lane and NY Knick player Ray Felix, scores of young people who played high school, college and even professional basektball learned the game, including the great Nate "Tiny Archibald." At PS 99 in Morrisania, in additional to sports activities, there were regular talents shows which featured young people who became some of the foremost "doo wop" singers in the nation, along with budding Latin musicians.  There amazing programs were all shut down for good in the late 70's thanks to EFB imposed budget cuts. Sportswriter and coach Howie Evans, who attended the center before working in them, said closing the afternoon and night centers was the worst single policy decision ever made affecting the youth of New York City

  Then there were the music programs in the public schools. During the same period- the late 40's through the late 70's- New York city public schools had the best music programs in the country. Ever junior high school, and many high schools had upwards of 300 musical instruments which could be taken home by any student who tried out for or made, school bands or orchestras. And the intruction was first rate. Many famous musicians taught music in the public schools and some of the greatest instrumental music in the world was produced by students who learned their art in the public schools. Take Salsa, which emerged in New York as a hybrid form of Latin music in the late 60's. Three Salsa giants, Eddie Palmierie, Ray Barretto and Dave Valentin, were products of the amazing music program at JHS 52 in Hunts point, and Willie Colon was taught music at Wagner JHS near St. Mary's Park by none other than Jazz giant Donald Byred, who was a music teacher in the school.

And what happened to these programs? ALL OF THEM, were shut down as a result of budget cuts during the fiscal crisis, and their instruments places in storage in school basements, or sold off to schools in other cities and other countries. Instrumental music never came back to most public schools and is only there now as a result of special school grants.  

And then there were the Parks. The NYC parks budget was cut in half during the fiscal crisis. One of the major casualties here were the Recreation Supervisors in the Parks, known as the "parkies" who supervised sports programs in city parks free of charge. And not only in the big green spaces. There were parkies in the thousands of concrete vest pocket parks around the cities and they offered supervised activity to hundreds of thousands of city youngsters. One example of this took place in a vest pocket park at 163rd Street and Caldwell Ave in the Bronx where a "parkie" named Hilton White ran a basketball program called "The Falcons" which produced scores of great college basketball players including three starters on the Texas Western basketball team which won the NCAA Championship in 1966 with an all-Black starting five ( as portrayed in the movie "Glory Road.).

Almost ALL of the parkies were laid, off and the recreation progams they ran ended. To give an idea of what this meant, there were once over 800 "parkies" in the Bronx ( according to the Bronx Parks Commissioner). Now there are 9

So lets add up the results of Banker imposed "austerity" on the youth of New York City

After School and Night Centers --GONE
Music Programs in the Schools-- GONE
Supervised Recreation Programs in the Park- GONE

None of these programs that were elminated ever returned.

Children growing up now have only a fraction of the supervised activities that I had access to growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950's and early 1960s'

And you wonder why I fear for Greece?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Nobody Cares About Teachers

After nearly 8 years of teacher advocacy, here is what I have concluded, albeit sadly
Nobody cares about teachers
They can steal your pensions, break your unions, lengthen your hours, script you, micromanage you, insult you and humiliate you and if you complain about what is happening, people will yawn, tell you you deserve it, or say "welcome to the club"
The only way you have any chance of making the general public care about your plight is if you tell them their children are going to be screwed if your profession is destroyed.
Remember, what is happening to teachers now happened to unionized industrial workers 30 years ago Proud people whose labor helped give the US the highest standard of living in the world were crushed by corporate America while their neighbors looked on passively and voted in people who accelerated the process.
I am not sure that the destruction of the teaching profession can be prevented, but if it can be, the only pathway to doing this is the defense of children and the presentation of a powerful vision of what is needed so that children in our schools get an eduction which does not script and insult and humiliate THEM.

Time for Some Real Talk About Charters- And Community Schools

 Yes. charter schools have huge issues with fiscal corruption and student and teacher abuse

 Yes, charter schools have been seized on by financial elites as a vehicle to break unions and open up public education as a field for private investment

 But in many inner city and low income communities, charters are extremely popular with parents

 And one of the reasons is that many of them are open from 7 AM to 7 PM every day so that parents or grandparents who work two jobs and can't arrange child care know that their children are safe.

In a country where fewer and fewer people can pay housing costs on a single income because wages have plummeted, this is a huge element in their appeal.

Defenders of public education who do not understand that face an uphill battle in resisting the charter onslaught. And this is why we have to demand that public schools be transformed into true community institutions which are open around the clock.

8 to 3 hours don't cut it anymore in public education. There are fewer and fewer safe places for children in low and moderate income neighborhoods. Not in homes, not in streets, not in community centers-which have been devastated by budget cuts even more than schools.  The schools must become that safe space. After school programs must become part of every public school.  If they don't, there may be no public schools left.

The Community School Model can't be treated just as a clever idea postponed to some distant future. It is the only hope for preserving public education in low and moderate income communities.. And must be fought for tooth and nail, not only by teachers, but by parents and all concerned citiens who want to keep the 1 Percent from privatizing education and using it to cement their control over every aspect of American life