Sunday, May 1, 2016

Islam and US History


Many of the comments made about Muslims that I hear on the campaign trail or read on social media bear a striking resemblance to comments about Catholics made during the high point of Irish immigration to the US during the 1840's and 1850's. Catholics were described as unassimilable, loyal to a foreign power ( the Pope) and a danger to American citizens because of their determination to convert or conquer those who did not share their faith. These fears led to attacks on Catholic churches, attempts to restrict Catholic immigration and the rise of an entire political party- the Know Nothing Party- which sought to insulate the United States from Catholics destructive influence.
Over time these fears eased and Catholics became an integral part of the American social fabric, represented in every portion of the nation's leadership from the Presidency to the Supreme Court to the military to our educational institutions. I am proud to teach at an educational institution founded these once despised immigrants. But full assimilation and acceptance took a long time- over a hundred years. Along the way, many Catholics were victims of discrimination, occasionally of violence.
I am hoping we can avoid this dynamic with American Muslims. I have had the experience of working closely with the Muslim community in the Bronx and have Muslim students and colleagues that I have gotten to know quite well. And can tell you that the extraordinary diversity of the Muslims I have met defy any stereotype you have of uniformity in religious practice, political ideology, gender attitudes or relations with people of different faith. I know practicing Muslims who will not shake hands with people of a different gender; I know others who greet their friends and colleagues with a hug. I know Islamic centers which remain private spaces for those who worship there; I know Islamic centers which invite the whole neighborhood in for meals and meetings.
Islam, like Judaism, Catholicism, or Protestantism is a dynamic, evolving faith which cannot be defined by quoting passages from religious texts, or political actions taken in its name by those competing for control of resources or political power.
Those sowing hysteria about the Muslim presence in this country need to remember that similar fear mongering about Catholics or Jews, or Asians did great harm, and ultimately proved to be based more on myth than real life experience in diverse American communities.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Immigrants in the Bronx Are an Overwhelmingly Positive Force


In the Bronx, where I teach, do research, and work closely with local community organizations, the contribution of immigrants-legal and undocumented- has been overwhelmingly positive. The rebuilding of once devastated Bronx neighborhoods has coincided with an influx of immigrants from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, South Asia, the West Indies, Mexico and Albania. These immigrants have built businesses, become an essential part of the local labor force, founded churches and mosques, and sent their children to local public schools where their work ethic and passion for self improvement have made a huge impression. I have had the privilege of teaching many children of these immigrants at Fordham. They are and have been some of my best students. Many of them have overcome huge obstacles to achieve academic success Attacks on Muslims and Mexicans and threats to deport undocumented immigrants, are very personal issues to them. These young people represent the best values of our country. They deserve better than to be demonized and insulted by Presidential candidates.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Cold Truth About Charter Schools In New York City

When all is said and done, charter schools in New York City, if you count all the students and families forced out of them because of behavioral issues or low test scores, and all students, teachers and parents in school buildings where charters have been co-located, have insulted, demoralized and humiliated more people than they have empowered.
For every family who wants to get their child into a charter school, there are five who have suffered some form of abuse or deprival of education resources at the hands of a charter school.
This is the cold reality on the ground. If it weren't for the huge funding the charter schools get from the wealthiest people in the city and the country- funding which goes to politicians who support charters as well as the schools themselves- the charter initiative would be dead in the water.
And when the full accounting of the damage is made- damage in terms of test-driven, stressed filled pedagogy as well as abuse of students families and teachers- every politician who supports the charters will have a lot of explaining to do.
In New York City, the tragedy of closed schools, co-located schools, and uncontrolled testing is inexorably linked to charter expansion.
And this should be a warning to people in other parts of New York state as well as other parts of the country. The Charter Story in New York City is much more of a Tragedy than a Success Story.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Why We Need Teachers Who Love And Care For Their Students- Lessons from The Heroin Epidemic


I have a student, and I want you to remember her name, Mikela Ryan, who is taking readers into the very heart of the heroin epidemic in a Upper Westchester Community. I find myself being being torn apart emotionally by the stories she is telling, one of which is that of a high school classmate who died of an overdose shortly after he spoke to her at length. The thought that there are thousands, likely tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of young people, carrying around the burdens this young man articulated and are killing themselves while harming those around them is both sobering and terrifying.
And I had a thought. With all these young people in trouble, in small towns, suburbs and rural areas, as well as cities, what we need more than ever is teachers who are there for their students as people not just as test takers, who listen to their students, take care of their students, create a place for their students to go, emotionally, when the world seems hopeless and forbidding., THOSE are the teachers we need in our schools yet those are the teachers being driven out by accountability measures that discourage teachers from dealing with their children as whole people
Can we take a long time out from the policies we are inflicting on our schools?. Can we have a moratorium on testing and really take a close look at what our young people are going through in their personal lives?.Can we suspend all test based accountability measures and start identifying the teachers who care the most about their students as whole people and empower them to reach out and throw a lifeline to our children who are in the most trouble?
Because what we are doing now is costing us lives. Young people shutting down, closing themselves off, and killing themselves and those around them. This is a crisis being made WORSE by every education policy being promoted at the federal and state level
Time for a change, or we will continue to pay a terrible price.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Teach for America/Obama Fallacy That Is Undermining Our Public Schools


Barack Obama, as one of my brilliant students is documenting in his senior thesis, was our first "internet president." He used social media to get his message across, stay in touch with voters, and out organize his opponents whether in political campaigns or in Congress.
This approach fit in perfectly with Mr Obama's belief that the application of technology was the most effective path to bringing new talent and energy to the solution of longstanding social problems. Just as young, tech savvy people were the key to the success of his political campaigns, so they would be to creating innovative solutions in health care and education policy He would bring "the best and the brightest" young people out of Ivy League schools and tech companies to shake up and streamline areas of social policies filled with inefficiencies
In education, President Obama's strategy was to flood public schools with talented young people and drive the "dead wood" out with data driven methods of school and teacher evaluation. Schools which failed to perform would be closed, veteran teachers who failed to produce results fired, and the path would be cleared or dramatic changes in performance, especially in poor and moderate income communities by creating charter schools freed from bureaucratic restraints. And Teach for America would be brought in to assure schools old and new would have top talent from the nation's best universities rather than poorly trained students from teacher education programs who represented the bulk of the nation's teachers
It was an extraordinarily seductive vision, especially since it was endorsed, and financed by some of the nation's wealthiest and successful business entrepreneurs like Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, and Eli Broad, people who had used technology to revolutionize their own fields
Unfortunately, it has failed miserably in every possible respect, from raising the nation's position in global educational rankings, to reducing inequities by race and class, to improving the quality of candidates for the teaching profession
Why? Because the data driven transformation of schools and teaching- characterized by scripting, intimidation and stress- that the President has pushed has made the profession so unattractive that the best older teachers have left and the new "highly qualified" ones brought in through Teach for America don't stay.
What you have is the worst of all possible worlds- Schools so stress filled that no one can stand to teach in them for more than a few years.
How students are supposed to benefit from this no one has figured out!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Family Mourns for Prince


When I heard of Prince's passing, I was in stunned, crushed, in shock. i loved the extraordinarily innovative and boundary shattering music he made which combined so many different traditions and genres and loved the way he played in his videos with conventional images of race and gender. Prince, with both humor and deadly seriousness, created a pan-sexual persona that touched a chord with perhaps the broadest spectrum of identities that any artist had ever done. I do not use the term genius that often. Prince was a genius
But he was also part of our family. My two children, Sara and Eric, grew up watching MTV with me every night in our living room after long days of school and sports practices and no artists touched our imaginations more than Prince. You see, my children, growing up in Park Slope in the 80's, attending public schools, playing basketball, baseball and tennis in school gyms and public parks., had one of the most multicultural childhoods anyone could imagine. Their friends and teammates were not only Black, White and Latino; many were mixed race;, more than a few had different races represented in the same family; and some had two gay parents.
it was hard to find the full spectrum of the people they interacted with daily in most spheres of popular culture- but you found them in Prince videos. Although some people who came on the screen were identifiably Black or White, large numbers were racially indeterminate- mixed race in some combination that no one needed to explain.And men and women displayed, almost randomly, traits which were associated with what was once regarded as the "opposite" gender; but which in Prince world seemed not to matter. And when you combined this with acrobatic dancing, humor and some of the funkiest beats every laid down, the combination was irresistible
There was no better soundtrack to the lives of my two wonderful children, Sara and Eric, great athletes both, whose friendships, dating patterns and romantic relationships, crossed every boundary that you could find in a Prince video.
It was as though Prince brought our family and neighborhood to life in a way that gave legitimacy, swagger and romance to the way my children lived
As anyone can tell you who has ever met Sara and Eric, I have two of the coolest children anyone could ever want. In a small but important way Prince helped shape who they are.
I will miss him terribly. But also owe him a huge debt of gratitude for giving legitimacy to the way my children lived and the boundaries they crossed in their friendships and relationships..
Peace, Love .R.I. P

Charter Schools and Gentrification Go Hand in Hand

The link between charter schools and gentrification is there for anyone who looks- in Harlem, in Washington DC, in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Baltimore, in New Orleans, in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. And anyone who is in a smaller city like Camden or Newark or Buffalo which underwent savage levels of decay after industries left and factories closed had better beware because gentrification is coming to you too. Developers LOVE charters and love it when public schools are closed even more because they can turn those beautiful old buildings into luxury condos.
This is the ugly underside of school reform- the money to be made is not only in testing, and school privatization, it is also in real estate investment and spectulation.
And remember this, because charter schools, unlike public schools, are meeting places ONLY for charter parents,, turning public schools into charters prevents communities from uniting to defend their homes, their business districts and cultural institutions or to demand that ( truly) affordable housing be built to enable long time residents to stay,s