Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Who's Going to Honor Them?

When you praise Teach for America, as President Obama did at TFA's 25th anniversary celebration, for bringing "high quality teachers" into schools in high needs communities, it is an implicit insult to teachers already there who have made this work their lifetime commitment. I wonder how many TFA Corps members assigned to the Bronx are still there, in the same schools, after 5 years have passed?
What about all the great teachers such as Aixa Rodriguez, Alietta Gordon,Carla Cherry and Theresa Massaro who started in the Bronx and have stayed in the Bronx, sometimes under the most adverse conditions
Who is going to honor them? Who is going to recognize their contribution to the children and families of the Bronx?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hamilton: Hip Hop and History- A Magical Combination

When you come back from a show that makes everyone who saw it laugh, cry and want to run to read the history books upon it was based, how can you not love it?
This show takes a figure in American history often seen as secondary to Washington, Jefferson and Madison and pushes him to the forefront as a revolutionary leader, political thinker and nation builder, all while highlighting his character as an immigrant and an orphan in a way that allows the immigrants and orphans of our day to identify more powerfully with the country and its possibilities.
Doing this is nothing less than re-imagining the social contract through art. Think of it as an arts based " People's History of the United States", an affirmation of the United States as a country for ALL its people, dramatized by a cast of brilliant actors and singers in which people of color predominate
And by choosing hip hop as the major art form to do this with-while highlighting key conflicts and crises of the revolutionary era with startling accuracy, it validates every one of us who has used hiphop in our classrooms as a tool to help young people understand the world around them.
For what is hip hop after all- it is poetry and spoken word over a beat, an art form which,at its best, puts the voice of the disfranchised at the forefront and is the ultimate vehicle of the "striver" demanding recognition.
And Hamilton was the ultimate striver. Someone who came from "nothing" to become someone. And what someone he was. Utterly relentless in his ambition, brutally direct and incredibly brilliant., As he rose so did a nation- the nation we inhabit now
And if Hamilton is hip hop in the imagination of this show's creator, so is the terrible ritual that took his life and the life of his son-- the duel,
In this brilliant show, striking analogies between dueling and hip hop battles and "beefs" are a subtext, none more dramatically displayed than in a incredible number "The Ten Dueling Commandments" based on Biggie Smalls "Ten Crack Commandments."
That the machismo and pride that deformed the revolutionary era still live is one of many haunting images you take away from this show.
You cannot see Hamilton without thinking about how the nation in the making shaped the nation we live in now.
And when you add to this conversations about slavery, a haunting love story, friendships formed and friendships betrayed, plus the most incredible singing, dancing, and verbal artistry, you have a show for the ages
And you don't have to know hip hop to love it. I was with seven people aged 67-nearly 90, and they all came away from it filled with joy and wonder, even if none of them "got" the references to Biggie, Lauryn Hill and Grandmaster Flash
What a triumph of imagination, and art, but underlying it all is incredible historical research.
\ Which made this historian very happy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why "Competency Based Education' May Be a Greater Danger Than Common Core

There are many things frightening about the latest Big Thing the Feds are pushing - "Competency Based Education" which will have school children as young as kindergarten sitting in front of computers most of their school day and have their skills evaluated on line.

Among the important issues critics have raised are privacy concerns regarding the centralized data collection the system requires; the de-professionalization of teaching as teachers main role is reduced to monitoring students computer usage rather than actually teaching them; the reduction of human interaction with other students and teachers in such away that possibilities for social and emotional learning are destroyed

All of those critiques are powerful- but given the environmental damage in the wake of the Flint water crisis, I have to bring up the issue of the health impact of this kind of pedagogy. Can young children's eyesight be undermined by sitting in front of a computer 6 hours a day when much of their time out of school is spent doing the same thing? Are there dangers of children acquiring carpel tunnel syndrome? Are there skeletal and back injuries that can be acquired by sitting in one place for such a large period of time?

It is really frightening to see how quickly this is being implemented without serious consideration of the Collateral Damage of this pedagogical strategy. It reminds me of the way Common Core was implemented. Especially since huge profits stand to be made by computer manufacturers and software companies- and the cost savings to governments as a result of de-skilling the teaching profession.

So parents need to wake up. Competency Based Education may be a greater danger to their children than Common Core.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Some Criteria for a Model School

1. Children are loved and walk around the school with smiles on their faces
2, Teachers are respected and stay in their jobs for a long time
3. Parents are welcome in the school and are made to feel an integral part of the culture of the school
4. The culture and history of the community the school is located is honored in displays and in what is taught in classes.
5. Arts, physical education, recess and sports are NEVER sacrificed for higher test scores.
6. ELL and Special Needs students are treated with respect and are given the counseling and special attention they need to thrive
7. Students have such a positive experience at the school that they return on a regular basis after they have graduated,
If you think that these features are only found in private schools or schools in affluent middle schools, you need to visit the CASA Middle School in the Bronx where Jamaal Bowman is the principal.
This is not only something that CAN be done in all communities, it is something that MUST be done so that ALL our children can grow up with confidence in their abilities

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Untold Story: How Immigrants Have Helped Revitalize Bronx Neighborhoods

Most Americans probably still think of the Bronx through metaphors of decline and decay, epitomized by the phrase, "the Bronx is Burning," but that phrase doesn't begin to describe what is happening in the borough today.. Yes, from the late 60's through the late 70's, large portions of the Bronx south of the Cross Bronx experienced disinvestment, arson and elimination of vital services, leaving vacant rubble filled lots that attracted huge media attention. But in the last 30 years, through the hard work of local residents and community organizations, almost all those vacant lots have been filled with one and two family homes, apartment buildings and shopping centers. In fact the Bronx has become a great American Success Story, perhaps the only large urban area in the nation ( and there are many) where neighborhoods ravaged by de-industrialization and disinvestment have been completely rebuilt. If you think I am exaggerating, go visit Buffalo, Camden, Detroit, Gary Indiana, Baltimore or Philadelphia and then drive around the Bronx. The contrast will make your head spin
One of the major factors contributing to the Bronx's revitalization, and one which is little discussed, has been immigration. Recent immigrants from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, the West Indies, Mexico and South Asia compose a sizable proportion of the people who have moved into the new housing placed on once vacant lots, and run many of the businesses serving the residents of those areas
If you want to see that influence brought to life, drive up the hill from Yankee Stadium to Highbridge and Morris Heights, two neighborhoods hard hit by the abandonment cycle in the 1970's. Not only will you see lots of newly built housing, if you observe the street traffic, and walk into neighborhood businesses, you notice the presence of the neighborhood's large West African and Dominican population. You will also, if you observe carefully, notice some mosques and Islamic centers, as most of the West African immigrants are Muslim. Their peaceful interaction with their neighbors has won them great respect and helped contribute to the neighborhoods revitalization.
If you go Southward and Eastward into Mott Haven and Morrisania, you will see similar immigrant influences, only in these communities the Mexican presence is stronger than the Dominican one. Once again, the business district is a key indicator as these neighborhoods contain a growing number of Mexican groceries and restaurants.
As someone who teaches, does research and works with community organizations in the Bronx, these images are ones I see almost every day. But I feel compelled to share them with people who may be influenced by rhetoric painting immigrants, particularly Mexican and Muslim immigrants, as a destructive, even dangerous force in our society.
From what I have seen in the Bronx, that rhetoric veers far from the mark. In Bronx neighborhoods, and in Bronx public schools, these stigmatized groups have been major contributors to the Bronx's revitalization. This is a story which must be told, and hopefully, my own university, Fordham, will commit itself to help telling it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Will Fordham Be Part of the Problem, or the Solution, to Income Inequality?

If Fordham wants to be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem in relation rampant income inequality in the US- it needs to start changing its admissions policy to de-emphasize SAT Scores and place economic and racial diversity among its students ABOVE raising it's US News and World Report rankings.
Fordham has been spending too much of its financial aid money attracting students with high SAT scores and not enough on attracting smart children from working class and moderate income families who may not score at the Ivy League level on their SATs.
Why? Because SAT scores are strongly correlated with income and family wealth. You make high SATs your primary criteria and all things being equal you are going to attract students from high income families.
Should Fordham, with its historic mission of serving ambitious children of immigrants in the New York Metropolitan Area, be reinforcing social hierarchies in a society where the top 1 percent of the population now commands 23% of the wealth.
This is a question everyone who loves this great university should consider at this historic moment

Fordham Alumni For Change Moving Forward

Great meeting last night of Fordham Alumni for Change. We had alumni there from the class of 1971, 1979, 1997, 2000, 2004 along with one Fordham senior and several more recent grads Marlene Taylor-Ponterotto brought the food and we had many productive discussions about strategy. For those alums who weren't able to make it, or who live in other parts of the country, here are a few highlights of the discussion
1. Some kind of permanent organization is going to be created in the next few months, either by reviving and transforming the Black and Latino Alumni Association or creating an entirely new group. Either way, the group will be open to ALL alumni who want Fordham to be a more diverse community, a place where people of all back grounds are welcomed and where the Bronx, its people and culture are honored rather than walled off and shunned.
2. Some time in April there is going to be an Anti-Racism/ Anti-Gentrification vigil organized outside the gates of the Rose Hill Campus organized by alumni, students and community groups. More information about this will be available as plans for this event proceed
3. One of the biggest goals of the group is to entirely change the Narrative about the Bronx that shapes student recruitment, campus tours, student orientation, and campus life generally.
To this end, Alumni all over the country can push for the following policy changes on the Rose Hill Campus:
1. A one hour session on the Bronx, its people and its culture, be a REQUIRED part of every Freshman orientation at Rose Hill, starting this summer.
2. The admissions office staff, including guides for campus tours, should be exposed to workshops on Bronx history and culture, which point out how the Bronx is a GREAT AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY in terms of rebuilding once devastated neighborhoods, creating new musical forms, and providing a home for immigrants from every part of the world.
3. Fordham should begin providing walking tours and bus tours of Bronx neighborhoods jointly led by community leaders and Fordham faculty.
4 The resources of the Rose Hill Campus, including the library, should be made more available to community residents, and more events held on the campus which are open to community residents
4. The group will be involved in long term efforts to change admissions and financial aid policies to recruit more talented students from low and moderate income backgrounds from the NY Metropolitan area. This will require years of effort, but there is no better time to start than the present.
More later. Fordham Alumni for Change is HERE TO STAY.F