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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Few Modest Proposals For New York City Public Schools.

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

Friday, June 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      This is the common ground teachers must find with families.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chant with me now “HELL NO!”


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Civil Rights Lawyers and Testing

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