Monday, September 25, 2017

NFL Players The Nation's Least Pampered Millionaires

When people mock NFL protesters as pampered multi-millionaires, they forget that among the many multi-millionaires in this country, NFL players are the only ones:
1. Who grew up in poor and working class families and got into the ranks of the wealthy through hard work and sacrifice, unlike the vast majority of multi millionaires- like Donald Trump- who grew up in wealthy families and benefited from class privilege and "affirmative action for the rich," the major form of affirmative action in the nation's top colleges
2. Who sacrifice years off their life, and their future health, by playing a dangerous game that crushes their bodies and damages their minds.
NFL players are acutely aware of where they came from and the fragility of their health and economic status, which makes their protests all the more risky and meaningful

Why This White Man Takes A Knee

 
Black people have been in this country since its creation. They have been enslaved, sold, whipped, beaten, raped, Jim Crowed, lynched, segregated, deprived of every civil liberty this country prizes, stripped of wealth and property when they acquired it, and finally when, through years of struggle, they achieved full civil and political rights, found themselves facing a criminal justice system that weighs on them far more heavily on them than it does on most other Americans. Given what Black people have gone through, and are still going through to get where they are now, it is astonishing to watch the President of the United States think he can intimidate Black men and women, in the NFL or anywhere else, who are standing up, or kneeling, for their rights
. This white man, who has studied US history  for fifty years, and who has grand children who are Black and Latino, will not let Black protesters stand alone. To quote my friend Timothy B. Tyson, another white scholar who has grappled with how racism and white supremacy have deformed the history of the United states, he will stand, or kneel with his Black sisters and brothers, as circumstances require

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Review of John Gennari's "Flavor and Soul"

“With the publication of Flavor and Soul- Italian America at its African American Edge,"John Gennari has written an eloquent book about Italian Americans and race that carves out new space in our increasingly polarized national debate about whiteness and racial identity. Gennari, like me, is a white race scholar who is  frustrated by a reductionist  discourse on white privilege that erases class differences and history,  while being appalled by the re-emergence of racism and xenophobia as a force in national elections. His deeply personal, and evocative portrait of spaces where Black and Italian American culture and style intersect does two important things: it complicates the national discourse on whiteness, and gives Italian Americans a way of affirming their love for their culture in ways that link them to African Americans rather than separate them. It is a powerful work of healing and imaginative reconciliation that is even more important now than it was when it was first published, especially in the light of the orgy of ethnic stereotyping that followed the  appointment of Anthony Scaramucci to a position in the Trump White House. Gennari, writing about things that most of us hold dear, music, food, film, and sports, rescues Italian Americans from the box many Americans have placed them in (and some Italian Americans have placed themselves)  to point the way for people to cross racial boundaries in a spirit of joy and mutual discovery.”

Look for my review of Flavor and Soul in a forthcoming issue of the Italian American Review—here’s a link to the journal: http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/calandra/publications/publications
Excerpted by permission of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College, City University of New York.
The book is available now from all booksellers. Here’s a link to it at the publisher, the University of Chicago Press: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/F/bo25094688.html

Saturday, August 26, 2017

If Fordham is Any Example, Millennials are not "Dictatorship Material"


One of the reasons I am confident that Donald Trump will not take us on the path to dictatorship or authoritarian rule is the refusal of young people to be intimidated by authoritarian figures in their lives, be they parents, teachers or school and university administrators
I have seen this first hand at my own university in the past year. In three separate instances, students have mobilized to protest what they consider unfair or inappropriate action by different wings of the university, risking suspension to get their point across.
The first example took place when Dean of Students Office refused to give club recognition to "Students for Justice in Palestine" after every student and faculty committee which evaluated the matter suggested it be given such recognition. Students not only organized rallies, vigils, and protest marches to challenge the decision, they brought the matter to the press and are now suing the University in court to challenge the decision.
The second example took place when the University refused to recognize or negotiate with an organization of contingent and adjunct faculty and even claimed a religious exemption from such negotiation. Students not only organized rallies and marches in support of contingent faculty, they tried to march on the President's office and demand he begin negotiations, an action which led to a confrontation with Fordham security guards that led to some injuries and disciplinary action against the students. Following the incident, which caused widespread distress among faculty as well as students, the University changed its position and agreed to negotiate with the faculty group
Finally, and more recently, the Dean of Students made a presentation on Campus Sexual Assault to Resident Advisors that some found so offensive that they interrupted the presentation and walked out of the room. Following the protests, several students issues a public statement on the presentation demanding that remedial action be taken and last night, the University said it was launching a formal investigation
In all my years of Fordham, I have rarely seen students challenge actions by the administration so forthrightly and effectively.
I suspect this is part of a national, and generational pattern. If Fordham is any example:
Millennials are Not Dictatorship Material!.

Friday, August 25, 2017

How I Respond to Critics of My "White Supremacists by Default" Comments on CNN


  

 In the last two years, I have watched Neo Nazis and the KKK rise to a level of influence and visibility that they have not had since the 1960's, possibly not since the the Great Depression. And  I have been horrified
that they have given credit to Donald Trump as both candidate and President for their renewed influence
'
 I count many Trump supporters among my tennis partners and people I work with the national anti-testing movement. And I have some Trump supporters in my family. When I saw this happening, I begged them to speak out and get Mr Trump to decisively repudiate this array of extreme racists who were using his candidacy to elevate themselve

 With few exceptions they declined to give this matter much attention, either because they wanted to prevent Hillary Clinton from being President, or because they saw the issue as tangential

 However, to many people in the country, especially African Americans, this matter was hardly tangential as it brought up tragic circumstances in their history which they hoped they had left behind

 Now we are facing a face off in many of our communities which has reach dangerous proportions.

Following the election of Mr Trump, there were numerous incidents in schools in Eastern Long Island, Ohio and other places where white students chanted at their Latino classmates " Build A Wall" and "We Will Deport You."

I have also witnessed racially provocative behavior on the part of white students at Fordham that we have not had since the late 1980's. In fall of 2015, when Mr Trump was starting his candidacy, a group of white students at a swimming team party chanted, so that other students in their building could hear them "White Power"  "Barack Obama is a Nigger" and "Martin Luther King is a Nigger"

 I used this forum of the CNN article to raise the alarm about a rising tide of White Racism  which is anything but abstract to Blacks, Latinos, Muslims and other targets. I am hoping that decent people of all political persuasions, but especially conservatives, clamp down hard on the Neo- Nazis and White Supremacists who have sought cover in their movement.

Turning away and ignoring the powerful impact of this on our social fabric will only make things worse

 I see some signs that people are waking up And am willing to take the heat for ruffling some features to get things moving in the right direction

All the Best

Dr Mark Naison

PS  This survey was brought to my attention recently.  It suggests that I was not exaggerating

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Kaepernick, Charlottesville and National Anthem Protests


The NFL owners who have collectively refused to sign Colin Kaepernick in the hope of avoiding protests which divide their fan base may have miscalculated or misread the political climate.
Following the Charlottesville "Unite The Right" rally where Neo Nazis and White Supremacists came out in the open in ways which frightened and appalled many people, the National Anthem protest which Kaepernick initiated- and few NFL players initially followed- has started to spread.
First sixty current and former NY City Police officers- including 81 year old Frank Serpico- took the knee during the National Anthem at a ceremony in a Brooklyn Park.
And then yesterday, nearly a dozen Cleveland Brown players-
including tight end Seth DeValle, who is white-took a knee in prayer during the National Anthem during their pre-season game with the Giants.
Given the growing sense of revulsion, not only with the Charlottesville protests, but the President's response to them, I have every expectation that the National Anthem protests will grow in size and number, especially if Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned.
I may be wrong about this, but as someone who has sensed growing anger among friends and colleagues about Kaepernick's exclusion from the NFL, I fully expect my prediction to hold.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Why There is a Movement to Remove Confederate Monuments


The movement to remove Confederate monuments is only one part of a much larger project forcing the country come to terms with the legacy of slavery, something it never has done. This also involve exploring how some of our major universities were built on proceeds derived from slavery and the slavery trade ( as Fordham Grad Craig Steven Wilder did in his book "Ebony and Ivy"); exposing how prevalent slave markets were in almost every major Southern city; and creating exhibits throughout the South and the nation which explore how central slavery was to the economic development of the nation and how cruel it was in its daily functioning, especially in terms of the systematic breeding and sale of slaves. This movement is being driven by the brilliant young race scholars who are now on the faculty of almost every university in the nation. It is not going away. It is only going to gather momentum in coming years. And it is likely to lead to local, and possibly national efforts, to compensate the descendants of its victims

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Lonely Places Champions Are Made


At 10:30 this morning, on a cloudy day, I headed over to the tennis courts adjoining the local elementary school to practice my serve. The courts were empty, and filled with puddles that still hadn't dried from the morning's rain. Nevertheless, I served by myself for a half an hour, determined to sharpen the direction and depth of my serve for the singles semifinal I had in a week, against an opponent who had excellent ground strokes and good service returns.
And as I struggled to find the right rhythm, I thought of all the lonely moments I had spent as an athlete and a parent trying to perfect my skills or those of my children
Like the times I went to the little park near my apartment building at Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 AM, practicing layups, set shots and hook shots before the big kids arrived for the day's pickup games. I did this religiously from the time I was 8 till the time I was 12
Or the times I took my daughter Sara, when she began training for junior tournaments, to courts where you needed your own net, on 7 AM on spring and fall weekends so we could practice uninterrupted for 2 hours, something impossible on public courts where you needed a permit, or impossibly expensive at private courts. To one of those courts, on McDonald Avenue and Avenue S, I needed a broom to sweep away discarded bagels, broken glass and occasionally dead pigeons. That was the only way I could keep Sara competitive with the suburban kids who had public courts everywhere or the rich Manhattan kids who could afford lots of private coaching
And when my son became a serious baseball player, who needed to excel as a hitter as well as a pitcher, I would take him at 7 AM to Prospect Park where I put him in front of the pitchers mound to hit hundreds of tennis balls I threw to him into the backstop, teaching him how to make contact with two strikes by shortening up his swing, and training him to the ball to the opposite field on outside pitches.
This is the unseen work that made all three of us into college athletes, going from the schoolyards and parks of Brooklyn into the fierce and glorious world of Division One College Sports.
Some may call this a form of sacrifice, but I see it as the heart and soul of the athletic experience, the place where the courage and persistence of champions is forged.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Danger! Personalized Learning!


The new danger word in education policy is "Personalized Learning." Whenever you see that featured at a conference, a seminar, or on the website of an organization, you should put your guard up, as the influence of billionaire investors is behind the scenes promoting this attempt to put every child in front of a computer and reduce classroom instruction to computer tending, all in the name of respect for individual aptitudes and abilities.
The goal here is to completely remove relationship building in the classroom, whether between students and teachers, or among students themselves, and transform data accumulation on students into a daily task, shredding civil liberties and personal privacy. It is a pathway into a Brave New World of manipulated students, manipulated employees and manipulated citizens.
So, put "Personalized Learning"on the top of your list of education policies which threaten democracy and enlightened citizenship, along with "Data Driven Instruction," "Data Walls" and "Common Core."
It is starting to pop up everywhere! So watch out! And fight back!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Backfire!! The Attorney General's Missteps on Affirmative Action


Sometimes, bold policy initiatives can have exactly the opposite impact of what was intended. No better example of this was the suggestion that the Department of Justice was considering suing universities accused of discrimination against whites in their admissions policies. The main result of this was not a groundswell of sympathy for aggrieved white applicants, but an outpouring of commentary pointing out that the major beneficiaries of college admissions preferences were children of the rich! More remarkably, one of the most quoted examples of this unseemly pattern was how the admission of Jared Kushner, the President's son in law, to Harvard was engineered through a 2.5 million dollar contribution from
his father to the school
As someone who has been arguing this for years, based on solid research that I have shared with my students, I was astonished to see this analysis go public with such force and visibility. And I have to thank the Trump Administration and particularly Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for creating a climate which allowed this important discussion to get a public hearing.
One of the titles of the books I use speaks volumes on the subject "Color and Money: How Rich White Kids Have Won The War Over College Affirmative Action"
Thanks to Attorney General Sessions, the subject of Affirmative Action discourse has shifted from Favoritism to Minorities to Favoritism to the Rich.
This is the perfect example of a policy initiative backfiring!

Affirmative Action Check List For High School Seniors!


If you are looking at your classmates in the fierce competition for admission to elite colleges, the following are the advantages conferred on applicants in approximate order of their importance:
1. Being a highly recruited athlete, not just in football or basketball, but in ANY sport including tennis, crew, golf, lacrosse etc, This holds for women as much as men.
2. Coming from an extremely wealthy family. If your family is willing to make a large contribution to the school immediately, this advantage may even exceed that accruing to a highly recruited athlete
3. Being a member of an underrepresented minority. Although this category is always shifting, it includes, at most institutions, being Native American, of African descent ( which encompasses African Americans, West Indians, and Africans), Latino, or coming from the Pacific Islands.
4. Being the child of an alumnus. At some schools, the importance of this can exceed being from an underrepresented minority, and some schools it doesn't.
The vast majority of the attacks on Affirmative Action, and most of the resentment of it, focus on category 3. However, at most elite colleges, the percentage of people admitted via 1, 2 and 4 far exceed the percentage admitted under 3.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Celebrating the Great People Working in Public Education


After spending an afternoon at the Eastern Long Island Freedom School Session headed by Bronx principal Jamaal Bowman, where everyone in the room was a great public school educator in their own right, I am convinced that it is time to take the offensive and celebrate the amazing things happening in our public schools and get that information out to parents, elected officials, foundation officials and the media.

 Our public schools are filled with heroes- innovative teachers, department heads, principals, even superintendents- who are performing miracles with students from a wide variety of backgrounds. 

Heroes like Keri Lynn of Riverhead, fighting off Stage 4 Cancer, who has a rocking chair in her kindergarten classroom because she believes  her students, many of whom come from immigrant or high poverty families, need to be loved and cared for before they are taught and begins and end her school day with circles of caring and gratitude

Heroes like Jamaal Bowman, principal of CASA Middle School in the Bronx, who gives every parent in the school his cell phone number and has made dance a required course in his school because he believes self-expression and the arts are as important to student development as Math and Literacy and infuses his school with symbols of Hip Hop Culture because is was music which, in its Bronx origins, celebrated the ability of young people to overcome obstacles.

As a society, we will only be able to thrive together if we unleash joy and creativity in our young people and encourage them to continue to express themselves as they grow into adulthood

Where that creativity is being nurtured in our public schools, we must identify it, name it, publicize it an insist that it become the standard for excellence in ALL OUR SCHOOLS, replacing the testing and rote learning that is being promoted today.

It is time to take the offensive in the battle for our children and grandchildren's future. Let's celebrate our public education heroes and showcase what they do best

Starting right now!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Race to the Bottom: How Charters Have Undermined Public Education


Advocates of charter schools have long argued that public schools would improve if they faced competition from charters. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Public schools, to compete with the best financed charter chains, have become more rigid, authoritarian and test centered. All over the nation, arts, science, history, and physical education have been sacrificed in a single minded effort to raise scores on Math and ELA tests. What we have seen, in the name of competition, is a systematic degradation of our education system that has squeezed the joy and creativity our of our classrooms and has demoralized our best teachers. Because the competition has not been focused on who can have the best arts programs, or who can best motivate children with special needs, but on who can produce the best results on high stakes tests. Which has triggered a Race to the Bottom in terms of student engagement and quality of teaching

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Letter to SUNY Charter Committee Protesting Proposed Lowering of Teacher Standards

Dear Chairman Belluck and CUNY Charter Committee

      I am a Professor of African Studies and History at Fordham University, who has been a teacher, coach and professor for more than 50 years, and has spent the last 15 years doing community history programs in Bronx schools. I have watched, with some dismay, the emergence of disciplinary practices and employment practices in New York's best known and best financed  charter schools which violate the rights of students, teachers and families, and which also undermine what I have become convinced are best practices in the education of high needs students.  Foremost among the issues I have encountered, not only through first hand conversation with people in charter schools, but through research conducted by my own students, is high rates of turnover among charter school teachers due to excessive demands made on them by authoritarian administrators, and intimidating styles of management which discourage teachers from speaking honestly about what takes place in their classrooms. The result of this is that students in those schools do not have access to teachers who stay in their jobs a long time, who can be mentors for long periods and  and who have the courage  and standing to speak out against disciplinary practices which violate their professional conscience.

      Right now, charter school teaching is too often a revolving door career for recent college graduates who rarely come from the same background as the students they teach. That is something that needs to be changed, not reinforced. Students in high needs communities need teachers with extensive training, student teaching experience, and employment protections which allow them to speak out against excessive testing, zero tolerance disciplinary policies, and discrimination against ELL and Special Needs students, all of which can be found in too many of the best financed charter chains.  The current proposal moves us in the opposite direction from much needed oversight and reform in the Charter Sector in New York State. 

      The SUNY Charter School Institute should reject the proposal to lower standards of teacher certification in charter schools, and instead start designing measures designed to improve teacher quality, retention, and ethnic and cultural sensitivity in the Charter schools of New York State


Sincerely


Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University
Founder and Director
Bronx African American History Project

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Why We Need Freedom Schools Now


This summer, I decided to use the Freedom School model from the civil rights movement to promote solidarity among people looking for inspiration and direction out of frustration with the many social media groups that I was part of and in some cases helped to start. Don't get me wrong, those groups played and continue to play an important role in our political life and in the lives of many individuals
But in the face of the despair so many people felt during and after the Presidential election, and the challenges many experience as a result of events at their schools and workplaces, I felt face to face encounters were needed to give people the energy and support they needed to move forward.

So I decided, as an experiment, to organize three meetings at my home with great speakers, talking about important subjects, with lots of food and beverages to make people feel comfortable. The sessions were:


Michael Partis on "Bronx Hip Hop and Bronx Communities"
Jamaal Bowman on "Revolutionizing Public Education"
Melissa Castillo-Garsow on "The Radical Mexican Diaspora in NYC"


The results were extraordinary. All the sessions were filled, with a multiracial audience that varied markedly in age and life experience, with discussions that were inspiring, honest, sometime painful, and deeply appreciated. On each occasion, people stayed long after the scheduled time and not only created valuable connections; in some cases they started new friendships

When word of this got out, several friends in Eastern Long Island asked to create Freedom school sessions there, and the first one held there, featuring Justin Williams talking about Race and Immigration issues in Long  Island Schools and Communities, was, if anything more powerful than the ones in Brooklyn! People, many of whom had only met for the first time, stayed for five hours and probably would have slept there if they had been offered the opportunity.

Clearly, this model has met a powerful need. Not only do we have another session scheduled in Eastern LI, we have an entire set of Freedom Schools organized in the Bronx, by Aixa Rodriguez, a session organized in Livingston, New Jersey, and sessions being discussed in Buffalo, :Lower Westchester, and Danbury Connecticut.

For those of you who want to spread the movement to your city I have the following suggestions

1. Organize your sessions at someone's home, or at a comfortable public venue where people can let their hair down
2. Make sure you have a subject that will attract a multiracial audience, and a speaker with a proven ability to cross racial and cultural boundaries.
3. Make sure there are food and beverages at the event
4. Encourage people to bring high school and college age children to the event.
5. Advertise the subject of the talk publicly, but only give out the address of the talk to people who PM or email you, especially if the even it held at someone's home.

Doing this has given energy and purpose to me and many other people.

Let's build the movement!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Crime Against History: A Crime Against The Bronx: The Demolition of St Augustine RC Church


"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"
Joni Mitchell
Today, as i was taking Fordham College Dean Maura Mast on a tour of the Morrisania neighborhood, one of the sites I had planned to show her was St. Augustine RC Church, once site of a vibrant predominantly Black parish in that community, and a place where I had once celebrated mass with people from its sister church in New Orleans shortly following Hurricana Katrina. I knew the parish had been closed, but wanted to show Dean Mast the building and explain some of the parish's noble history of serving African Americans in the Bronx largest Black community. But when I drove by the site of the church on Franklin Avenue and 167th Street, what I saw filled me with anguish and rage.
THERE WAS NO CHURCH THERE!
The church had been knocked down and an apartment building- and an ugly one at that- was being erected in its place.
How did that happen? Why did it happen? Why did people allow a beautiful building, first erected in 1853 through pennies saved by German immigrants and which, in another era,became a cultural as well as spiritual home for the Bronx's Black Catholics, get knocked down. Where was the Landmark Commission? Where was the Archdiocese of New York? What kind of world do we live in that a church of such beauty, and with such a history, can be DEMOLISHED.
I cannot accept this. What kind of city do we live in? What kind of country? If we do this to buildings, what will we do to people?
The picture below shows us what the Church looked like

Image may contain: sky, tree and outdoor

Sunday, July 16, 2017

When Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Swept the Land

During and after World War I, anti-immigrant hysteria swept the nation, focusing largely on Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe. Some of the results of that hysteria were:
The Prohibition of alcoholic beverages by Constitutional Amendment
A Red Scare resulting in the jailing and deportation of thousands of immigrant radicals
The resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan as an anti-Catholic, anti-foreign and anti-wet organization as well as an anti-Black one.
The passage of draconian immigration restriction legislation, favoring immigrants from Norther Europe, which restricted total immigration from 1,100,000 in 1919 to under 100,000 by the late 1920's.
The same era also saw pogroms and massacres directed at Black communities in East St Louis Missouri, Elaine Arkansas and Tulsa Oklahoma, including the torching and aerial bombardment of the wealthiest Black community in the nation in Tulsa.
If you want to read a novel which captures the wave of rage and fear sweeping through the nation in that era, read Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day."

Sunday, July 9, 2017

How Charter Schools Have Stifled Educational Innovation and Fought the Opt Out Movement


Although charter schools were originally promoted as a vehicle to encourage educational experimentation, their meteoric growth in influence has actually coincided with a REDUCTION in innovation in schools because those promoting them most have also pushed for national testing and test based accountability measures for rating schools. In New York City, for example, the largest charter chains have fiercely opposed the opt out movement, and used their political influence to support state testing at all grade levels and the continued use of testing to rate teachers and schools. They have also virtually eliminated all instruction outside ELA and Math and used high test scores as a selling point, putting pressure on local public schools to raise their test scores to compete with them. They have helped create a political climate, in New York City and New York state, where teachers and principals in high poverty communities feel they might be subjecting themselves to a state takeover and eventual closing if they do anything to serve their students that doesn't translate into higher test scores. Make no mistake about it, the Charter Lobby welcomes such an atmosphere. It is their version of educational entrepreneurship, even though its results are toxic in high need communities which need arts, sports, community history, and caring teachers and counselors to help students stay and thrive in schools.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Why I Am Against Raising the Charter Cap in NY or Anywhere Else


I am against against raising the charter school cap in New York State because charter schools systematically try to undermine public schools through their lobbying and political activism. They fear strong public schools because their best teachers would all leave if they had the option of moving to a quality public school. They NEED public schools to fail and do everything in their power to assure that they do. They are a toxic force in educational policy in NYC and around the nation, supporting the most abusive forms of testing and test based measures of school accountability. There are individual charter schools which promote creative instruction, but the most powerful and well financed charter chains promote test based pedagogy, draconian discipline and scripted instruction by inexperienced teachers

Why The Bronx Leads the Way


They wrote us off for dead- from the halls of Congress, to the offices of banks and media conglomerates, to the announcing booth at Yankee Stadium, but we
Created a new form of music, Hip Hop, that inspired the world
Rebuilt neighborhoods devastated by fires with town houses, apartment buildings and shopping centers
Offered homes and opportunities for immigrants from every portion of the globe from Africa to Eastern Europe to Latin America and South Asia.
Became the place where those pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods ended up settling and raising families
Showed how Muslims, Christians and Jews can live and work together in peace.
Sustained great public schools like PS 140, PS 55, Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom HS and CASA Middle School in spite of school closings, charters and vicious attacks from leaders of both parties.
We never listened to pundits. We never gave up. We created our own future
The nation has much to learn from the people of the Bronx.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Confidential Conversations With People Who Work in NYC Charter Schools


During the past few months, I have had several confidential conversations with people who work in some of the major charter school chains in New York City. Here is what I have come away with from those conversations.
1. There is a systematic effort to drive away families of children who pose discipline problems in the schools. One method is suspensions, but a more common method is constant harassment of the parents of children identified as troublesome through phone calls whenever those children "act out."
2. The burnout rate of teachers is enormous. It is very rare for a teacher to remain in their job for more than five years and most of the best teachers would leave if they could get a position in a good New York City public school.
3. There is tremendous waste of materials, with basements filled with extra lap tops and books that could be donated to resource starved organizations, including public schools which often occupy the same school buildings
4. The only subjects which get taught, especially in elementary schools and middle schools, are those which are tested-- ELA and Math. Science, social studies, and the arts, are not given any weight in the curriculum, and the schools become test prep factories in the weeks before State Exams, with students drilled relentlessly to make sure their scores are as high as possible
5. There is a great emphasis, on all levels of the institution, on pleasing those who fund the schools, who include some of the wealthiest individuals in New York City.

If you examine these comments carefully, you will see why charter schools can NEVER be a credible substitute for public schools in New York City, which are designed, at least in theory, to serve all students and families. If they have a role to play, it is comparable to what Catholic schools once did for upwardly mobile families living in the city's working class, immigrant neighborhoods

Sunday, June 25, 2017

How The Democratic Party Fatally Damaged Itself By Attacking Public Education


Ever since the Clinton Presidency, the Democratic Party has been an advocate of top-down school reforms whose goal has been to make the nation more economically competitive and reduce inequality.

 Not only have these policies failed to achieve their stated objectives, they have destabilized communities where Democrats have traditionally found support, created widespread distress among teachers and parents, and given credence to the conservative critique of the DP as the province of technocratic elites who impose policies on people without really listening to them


Every Democratic politician who has promoted the following education policies, I would argue, has been complicit in the Party's decline


1. Promotion of national testing and test based accountability standards for public schools.
2. Closing of schools which are deemed "failing" and removal of their teachers and administrators.
3. Preference for charter schools over public schools, especially in high poverty areas.
4. Support for programs like Teach for America which de-professionalize the teaching profession.


These four principles have been pillars of the Democratic Party's education policies on a national level, pushed by President Obama and supported by virtually every major Democratic politician in the nation including figures on the left of the Democratic Party such as Elizabeth Warren, Patti Murray and Al Franken.


What have been the results of these policies?:


1. The have inspired a national parents revolt against excessive testing
2. They have produced a sharp decline in teacher morale and inspired the creation of teacher activist groups like Save Our Schools, BATS, and the Network for Public Education
3. They have promoted an mass exodus of the most talented veteran teachers and led to a sharp decline in the percentage of Black teachers in cities like Chicago, New Orleans, Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles, where teacher temps from programs like Teach for America have become the predominant labor force in the newly created charter schools.
4. They have accelerated the gentrification of the nation's major cities and diluted the political power of working class people, immigrants and people of color.
5, The have accelerated the shrinking of the Black and Latino middle class, and the weakening of the nation's unions.


If you are looking for an explanation of why the power of the Democratic Party has declined sharply in a state and local level during the past eight years, the promotion of these disastrous education policies has to be part of the explanation.


No better example can be found of the Party's adherence to the voice of billionaire contributors and technocrats over its traditional constituency into working class and middle class Americans than its disastrous foray into School Reform.


And unfortunately, the current leadership of the Democratic Party shows no willingness or ability to change course.""

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn- Even Teachers Need Love


I want to share an experience I had yesterday which shows that fear of isolation and fear of failure is truly a universal human emotion.
It is 12:30 PM in my Seminar room, the time the Parents Celebration for my graduating seniors is about to begin. I have an incredible spread on the table, wine, pastries, dumplings and egg rolls and No One Is Here! I am thinking, "what if I did all this work and nobody shows up? Are my students glad to get rid of me and just think I am a silly old man for organizing an event like this?"
Then, at 12:40, Bentley Brown, who wrote a 153 page thesis for me on his father, the great artist Frederick Brown, arrives with his mother Megan. We have ten minutes of laughter and conversation, punctuated by sips of Proseco, and I am thinking "If no one else shows up, this still will be cool."
Then, at 12: 50, another one of my great thesis students Emily Putnam, arrives with her parents and sister, and they sit down around the table with us to share the food and the drink. It is relaxed and wonderful and fun.
Then at 1 PM other students and their families begin coming.... and coming... and coming.. until there is no place for everyone in the seminar room, even with all the chairs removed. People are spilling out into the hall, for thirty or forty feet
I have never seen anything like it in all the years I have had these celebrations. Probably 40 people in all! We drink all the beverages, eat all the food, swap great stories, have lots of photo ops and hugs. I even Rap for them
It was one of the great days I have ever had at Fordham.
Yet two hours before, I had feared that no one would show up
This is how we are. All of us. No matter how experienced and accomplished. We have the same fears and vulnerabilities.
And we are much better with one another than alone.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Educational McCarthyism: Racism, Segregation and the Defamation of Jill Bloomberg

In the late 1940's and early 1950's, one of the ways the FBI tried to determine whether a white person was a Communist was to find out whether they had Black people as guests in their home for dinner or meetings.
Apparently the Department of Investigation of the NYC Department of Education is taking a page out of the FBI playbook and applying the label of "communist" to anyone who complains about segregation in schools or racially discriminatory distribution of resources. This is exactly what they have done in launching an investigation of the great principal of Park Slope Collegiate, Jill Bloomberg, who complained that the predominantly white school in her building got more access to team sports than the other schools located there.
This is absurd for many reasons, First of all, it is not illegal to be a "communist" or a member of a communist party. But secondly, putting the label of "communist" on someone who speaks out against what they see as racial discrimination represents an ill-disguised attempt to discourage open discussion of a major issue in the NYC school system
The entire leadership of the NYC Department of Education is tainted by this investigation, and the absurd charges that have accompanied it. The investigation must end immediately and an apology given to Principal Bloomberg, who is a neighborhood hero for speaking out about what everyone knows is wrong in the John Jay Campus and reinforces the argument made by NYC Let Em Play about the unequal distribution of sports resources by race among schools

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

You Can Still Teach With a Broken Heart


No matter what happens in the Fordham health care crisis, I am not retiring any time soon. I have taught 47 years at Fordham and will not be pushed out by people whose vision of the university contradicts everything I have tried to impart in my students- integrity, compassion, freedom of expression, a determination to listen to the voices of the marginalized and the powerless.
But if my colleagues want to leave I will not try to stop them. Nor will I try to recruit talented scholars and teachers to make Fordham their home.
I will be here for my students and former students the way I have always been. And I will speak out on every issue my conscience impels me to as I have always done.
But I will not pretend that my Fordham is still the school I have given the best years of my life to
I am here for my students and the people of the Bronx
That's it.

Friday, April 21, 2017

My Appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor"


Now that Bill O'Reilly is off the air, I think it is time I provide an account of my appearance on the "O'Reilly Factor," since the tape of the episode I appeared on is nowhere to be found
Ten years ago, I received a call inviting me to appear on "The O'Reilly Factor." The occasion was a controversy in a town in Ohio where a white teacher was chosen to teach a Black History course when the one Black teacher in the school retired. I assumed that I was called because my recently published book "White Boy: A Memoir" described how I ended up as a Professor in Fordham's Black Studies Department.
I had some experience in doing media appearances about this subject thanks to my wonderful publicity agent Marlah Bonner McDuffie, and had just done an appearance on the Chappelle Show which brought me some "street cred" so I decided to accept, despite Mr O'Reilly's reputation for eviscerating liberal guests.
When I got to the studio, I quickly concluded that this experience was going to be more challenging than my other media appearances, including those on Fox Business where I was interviewed on Judge Napolitano's Show.
Whenever I was interviewed on television, I was accustomed to be escorted into the green room where guests were to wait by a friendly person, and offered snacks. None of this transpired. A grim faced woman led me to a small room without food and water with a big television on the wall. As I sat there waiting, I watched Bill O'Reilly tear apart the head of the Republican National Committee, someone far closer to his point of view than I was. I quickly realized that Mr O'Reilly looked upon me, a liberal or left wing professor, as "fresh meat". I quickly resolved that I was not going to play along.
My strategy was to be extremely polite and respectful, but constantly change the narrative that he was trying to establish with points on my own. But before that, I had to win his respect through time honor methods honed in the masculinist working
class ethos I was brought up in. Mr O.Reilly needed to know from the outset that even though I was a liberal professor, i was not someone he could push around, that if in fact, it actually came to a fight, i could kick his ass.
So it had to start with the handshake As I walked into the studio with a big smile on my face, I assumed my most intimidating posture, looked him straight in the eye, and shook his hand with what he must have thought surprising firmness ( I have tennis balls cut in half on my office desk which i squeeze regularly to strengthen my forearm) Then I sat down.
When the discussion started, it became clear that Mr O'Reilly's agenda was to show that what he called "Black Racism"- which he claimed was at play when Black parents and students protested a white teacher taking over their school's black history course- was a bigger problem than White Racism.
So I had to change the narrative early. First, I had to say that the Ohio parents concerns were reasonable. That given how US history had been written and taught, it was hardly unreasonable to look upon a white person teaching African American history with some skepticism. I also said that context was important. When I was hired to teach courses on Black History at Fordham, there were six black professors full time and part time, that students could choose from. That is a very different situation from a school where there is only one Black History course taught by one teacher. The area in which I agreed with Mr O'Reilly is that should be no hard and fast rule about who can teach a particular subject based on their background; but i vehemently disagreed with his suggestion that the Black parents and students in that Ohio school were "racist." Give that there was only one Black history course in the school, it was reasonable that they try to find a Black person to teach it,
We sparred about the Ohio situation a moment,, but then i decided to seize the podium before Mr O'Reilly did by saying "Look, reasonable people may disagree about the Ohio controversy, but one thing we can't lose sight of is that White Racism remains a HUGE problem in American society something that CANNOT be compared to whatever alleged discrimination whites experience at the hands of Blacks."
Then, before he could catch a breath, I said the following. "Look Bill. I am not some Ivy tower Professor. I spent twenty years coaching CYO basketball and sandlot baseball in Brooklyn. Just last week, my friend Gary Nielsen, a NYC firefighter, took his younger son and one of his friends, who happened to be Black, to his summer home in Breezy Point, an enclave filled with mostly Irish cops and firemen. When his son and his friend went to get a snack at a local take out place, a woman came up to them, and screamed at his Black friend "get out of here, you don't belong here" and kicked him! Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing, and much worse, that Black people face every day. To compare the suspicion a white teacher experienced when trying to teach a Black history course to this kind of experience doesn't reflect the lived realities of Blacks and whites in this country"
Mr. O'Reilly never expected this and he ended up being at a loss for words. And just as I finished my remarks, I was told time was up!
As the show ended, I shook Mr. O'Reilly's hand and said " I really enjoyed this, I hope I will be invited back to continue his conversation"
I never was.
And now that Mr O'Reilly is off the air, I guess I never will

Friday, April 7, 2017

Requiem for St. Anthony's: A Casualty of Gentrification by Jesse Turner

I live down the block from Saint Anthony's. I have nephews who went to there, it was not only a school that produced great basketball teams. It was a good that produce outstanding, caring, compassionate students who went on to live outstanding lives. It is also the Catholic School with the highest percentage of Black and Latino students. Bob Hurley could have gone anywhere, but he stayed at Saint Anthony's the school he loved, and the school that loved him. It was the basketball power house without it's own basketball court at it's school. If you went to Saint Anthony's you had street respect and academic respect. 
 
I grew up at the outside city basketball courts between Saint Anthon.ey's and the police station. What really happened in my local opinion is gentrification killed Saint Anthony's. When I grew up Downtown Jersey City was blue collar and poor. It was not unusual to see abandoned houses and factories. Families who could afford to keep their children out of the public schools did. The truth is those public schools were pretty good places for a kid to grow and learn as well. I went to Ferris High School, and we were always glade that Saint Anthony's was not on our schedule. Gentrification displaced many Latino, Black, and poor White families. The wealthy, the connected, and the powerful moved in, and blue collar working families moved out. Everything changed, and immigrant communities were lost. Downtown Jersey City stopped being my Jersey City decades ago. We lose some of our humanity and sense of who we are when gentrification comes knocking.

St Anthony's of Jersey City Closes Its Doors: A Basketball Fan's Lament

When I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 50's and 60's, the most powerful force uniting Catholics, Jews and Protestants, at least among boys, was the game of basketball. By the time you were 9 or 10, you knew this was a game that the people around you played better than anyone else in the country because the skills were transmitted with religious devotion in schoolyards, community centers, schools, and gyms attached to churches and synagogues.. Whether the players were Black, Jewish Irish, Italian or Puerto Rican, they were coached well, pushed to the highest levels of excellence by fierce early competition, and inspired by great players who were school and neighborhood legends.
As an aspiring player, and someone immersed in the legends of "The City Game" I followed every high school, college and professional star to come out of New York City and the New York Metropolitan area. And I was totally ecumenical in my fandom! Even though I was a Jewish public school kid, I rooted for all the great players coming out of New York City Catholic High Schools. By the time I was in college in the mid sixties, I knew as much about schools like Rice, Tollentine, Bishop Loughlin, All Hallows and Holy Cross as I did about public school powerhouses like Clinton, Columbus, Boys High and Erasmus.
 
Which is why when inner city Catholic High Schools that had been exemplars of the best of NY Metoropolitan area Basketball started closing, I felt I was losing a piece of my youth. First Rice, then Tollentine, then Lasalle, then Bishop Ford and now, across the river, St. Anthony's of Jersey City, where the great Bobby Hurley Sr. coached for more than 25 years.
 
These schools were all places where working class kids Black, White and Latino, found an anchor, a skill, great coaches and mentors and an opportunity to show their skills to the neighborhood the city, and in some cases, the country and the world. And these schools helped kids who were not basketball players do some of the same things through academics 
.
I know nothing stays the same and change is inevitable, but I can't help feel that what these schools provided to young people still is needed, but is increasingly hard to find in our gentrifying cities. I know this, with these school closings, New York metropolitan area basketball has lost much of its dynamism, and quite possibly, some of its soul

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Carl Paladino's Racism: A Test of Political Courage for the NY State Education Department


As long as Carl Paladino remains on the Buffalo School Board, the State Education Commissioner and the Regents will be so tainted by complicity with racism that their positions other issues will be compromised

Imagine what it must be like to be a student attending Buffalo schools and know that a key member of the Buffalo School Board, arguably the most powerful person in Western New York, organized a rally where White Supremacists were welcome and the Confederate Flag was displayed

The majority of the Buffalo School Board, thinking of the well being of those children, has called on Commissioner Elia and the Regents to remove Mr Paladino from the Board. That they have thus far failed to do so shows an astonishing lack of political courage.,

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Relentless Testing: A Strategy to Intimidate the Next Generation of Youth


The idea that third graders in New York State have to take 6 days of tests, and can spend up to 5 hours each day on each test (the tests are now untimed), is so appalling as to defy words. Who is OK with that? To me, that sounds like child abuse. Every politician, Regents member, superintendent, principal, and teacher who participates in this yearly ritual of torture needs to take a good look in the mirror. What kind of world are we creating for our children by subjecting them to this. When I was in school, the reading and math tests were two days, at most, and lasted less than two hours. And we did pretty well for ourselves. Maybe that's what education policy makers are worried about. Politicians don't want young people asking too many questions, they way we did in the Sixties, while they enrich themselves and their wealthy contributors.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Whatever Party They Represent, Charter Supporters Love Tests

As many of us having been warning for many years, support for charter schools crosses party lines. This is not only true in New York State where Governor Andrew Cuomo and State Senator John Flanagan take huge contributions from the charter school industry, it is true nationally, where President Donald Trump and his Secretary of Education Betsy Devos are at least as strong a supporter of charter schools as was Barack Obama and Arne Duncan.
 
Those seeking to protect their children from nationally aligned tests and a curriculum that turns instruction into little more test prep are getting no relief from the new administration. in fact, there is going to be more, not less support for charter schools from this administration. Since the best funded and most powerful charter chains are huge supporters of national testing and the rating of schools and teachers on the basis of student test scores. we are likely to see even more testing.
 
Nowhere is this more apparent in New York State where the largest and best funded charter school chain, Success Academies, just issued an edict saying that no child in their schools is allowed to opt out of state tests. And this makes perfect sense when you realize that Success Academy's campaign to raise the charter cap is all based on the higher test scores its schools get than neighboring public schools.
 
So here is something that every parent in New York State and around the country needs to realize- every time someone asks elected officials to support charter schools, it means that testing will become MORE important and oppressive, not only in the new schools created, but in all the public schools forced to compete with them to keep their funding.
 
Those parents who want instruction for their children free from government mandates informing instruction need to realize that their children's freedom will be constricted, not expanded, if more charters are created. And that testing will become increasingly entrenched in our educational system, at the expense not only of our children's learning, but their freedom to actually enjoy their childhood.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Link Between Broken Windows Policing and Deportation:


Of all the new information presented during last nights forum on Defending Bronx Communities at Fordham University, what I found most disturbing was the revelation of how the DeBlasio Administration's imposition of "Broken Windows" policing- arrests for minor offenses such as jaywalking, drinking in public and jumping over turnstiles- has led to deportation of many undocumented immigrants.

Apparently, all arrests for misdemeanors are automatically recorded in all national law enforcement data bases including those of the FBI and Homeland Security and if the person arrested is undocumented, can trigger deportation proceedings

The head of the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, Zeinab Eyega, gave a chilling example of how this could work. One of the families her organization worked with consisted of a woman from Chad and her teenage sons living in a shelter after they escaped a domestic violence situation. Although the shelter was in the Bronx, her two sons attended school in Queens One day, one of her sons lost his metro card and had no way to get home. So he decided to jump over the turnstile at the subway station nearest his school There he was arrested and taken to the local police station, where the mother was told she needed $150 dollars to get him released. The mother didn't have the money and the Sauti Yetu Center had to give it to her. But that wasn't the worst outcome. Six month later, Homeland Security began deportation proceedings against her son for committing a crime while having undocumented status and at age 17, he was deported back to Chad, by himself. To this say, Sauti Yetu lawyers have been unable to arrange for his return.

This story is horrible in many respects. First, that Homeland Security would start deportation proceedings against a teenage boy, separating him from his family. But second, that an official policy of the NYPD, overwhelming targeting youth of color, would put large numbers of undocumented immigrants at risk

There are many, many others features of "Broken windows policing" which are questionable, including its contribution to gentrification of neighborhoods, but its role in facilitating deportations suggest that the practice is so morally compromised that it needs to be ended, or at least modified so that none of the arrests lead to more than a traffic ticket.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Four Reasons I Defend The Opt Out Movement

1. It defends the integrity of childhood against those who would seek to standardize and routinize instruction so that creativity, spontaneity and play are excised from our classrooms, preparing children to be obedient and submissive employees when they enter the workforce or fodder for the prison industrial complex.
2.. It denies the data to those seeking to privatize education and undermine the teaching profession by using computerized learning as a substitute for the mentoring, relationship building, and creative thinking that real teaching involves.
3. It unites people across lines of race, region, religion and political ideology the way NO OTHER MOVEMENT IN OUR NATION DOES, in a common defense of children's right to learn, and teachers right to teach.
4. It calls attention to the misuse of test data to close schools in high poverty communities which are true community spaces and who refuse to sacrifice everything in their building to the production of high test scores.