Monday, January 15, 2018

A Precious Legacy

My 4 grandparents
came in steerage
The wretched refuse of
countries seen as toxic 
in the halls
of Congress
They sold herring on the 
streets of Brownsville
pressed garments, tended
bar, fought scabs, cooked and
sewed in disease filled tenements and 
brought up children who, if they
went to college and became
teachers, musicians, social 
workers and owners of
small businesses
Their memory drives me
to love and cherish
immigrants of today 
making the same

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Gadfly on the Wall" -Steven Singer's Brilliant, Stereotype Shattering Book

Steven Singer's "Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform" is a courageous, stereotype-shattering book which presents the nation's public school teachers with a powerful weapon in their defense

It is courageous because it takes on racism and white supremacy as  toxic forces not only in the lives of students  and people of color, but in the thinking and action of white educators. Singer challenges white teachers to interrogate and confront their own racism, arguing that they cannot serve their students, and their profession, without undertaking this painful task.  He begins with himself, discussing how even white people with the best intentions have privileges relative to their friends, colleagues and even family members of color. He does this in conversational language whose meaning is unmistakable, even though he draws on history and social science research to support his arguments.  The directness of his approach may offend some people- telling people "I am a racist and you are too" leaves little room for evasion- but the arguments he provides are not that easy to refute, and present a challenge to those he  angers which they may well return to when they calm down.

  Because challenging racism is not all that Singer does. He also takes on virtually every policy and initiative which devalues and undermines public schools and public school teachers- from charter schools, to test based accountability, to schools closings and privatization- no matter what political party or ideological stance it uses as cover. Indeed, Singer may actually be harder on Democrats than Republicans, arguing, in his brilliant opening chapter, that Arne Duncan and John King were far more dangerous enemies of public education than Betsy Devos, and that public schools will have no problem surviving an assault from Donald Trump after facing 8 years of hostility from Barack Obama.

 And herein lies  the stereotype shattering  power of Singer's work.

 Why? Because the very publication of a brilliant, anti racist book by a teacher working in a public middle school challenges the entire narrative of public school failure promulgated by School Reformers, from Arne Duncan, to Bill Gates, to Eli Broad and Rahm Emmanuel to the leaders of Teach for America. What those individuals have  tried to convince the public, and especially political and economic elites, is that the nation's public school teaching staffs are filled with incompetents, people drawn from the weakest student cohorts at the lowest ranked universities. Replacing those teachers with students from top colleges, they have argued, even those with no classroom experience, is a precondition for improving the nation's schools. This  insulting view of public schools teachers, perhaps best conveyed in the comments  of Arne Duncan and former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not only refuted by the arguments in Singer's book, it is challenged by the emergence and growth of the organization Singer represents, The Badass Teachers Association, which is filled with tens of thousands of working public school teachers all over the nation whose dynamism and courage gives the lie to narrative of public school stagnation that Reformers have used as an argument for school privatization.

   It also gives the lie to the argument that "bad teachers"  in classrooms serving students of color are the primary reason for the persistence of educational and economic inequality in the nation. Singer whose passion for racial justice leaps off every page, is profoundly devoted to the students of color in his classroom, and he challenges his peers to strive for greater Cultural Competence and self-awareness as integral parts of their professional mission. It would be tempting to write off Singer as an outlier or exception except for one stubborn fact- tens of thousands of teachers read  his blog posts religiously and are struggling. on a daily basis, to  make public schools better serve their students at a time, when wage policies, housing policies and the expansion of the prison industrial complex put them under severe and growing stress.

   Steve Singer is a national treasure. His "Gadfly on the Wall"is a clarion call for public school teachers to rise up, not only to defend their schools and communities, but to take the lead in the fight for racial justice.

    It is a book whose time has come.

The Shame of A Nation

"We're letting in people from Shithole countries"
Just the latest outrageous comment from Donald Trump, and one of the most damaging.
Make no mistake about it, if you are an American of color, the message is coming across that your President despises you and thinks people like you do more to undermine the nation than strengthen it. Anyone who thinks that this perception is without consequence is not a very serious student of history.
The people hurt by these remarks are not just the bulwark of our work force from health care to education to technology to fast food- they are essential components of our armed forces and law enforcement.
Those of the President's party who stand by without denouncing such speech and behavior bear a fearful responsibility for the division and mistrust they inspire, consequences that will be felt for years, and perhaps decades to come
Their silence is the shame of a nation.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Bronx African American History Project and Narratives of Globalization

. There are many different globalization narratives. Mine is shaped by migration experiences which have transformed societies throughout the world in ways that have made my Bronx research interesting to people thousands of miles away. Prior to the formation of the Bronx African American History Project 15 years ago, I had little experience or interest travelling abroad, and few research contacts in other nations. However, when the oral history project I was involved with discovered that multiracial, multi-culural communities in the Bronx forged by migrations from Harlem and East Harlem produced more varieties of popular music than any place in the world in the 1940's 50' and 60's, something extraordinary happened. When this research was publicized through articles in the New York Times and academic journals, scholars from Germany, Spain and Italy started contacting me to ask if they could participate in our oral history interviews. Why? Because cities in their countries were being transformed by migration the way the Bronx had been 50 years ago and had become multiracial and multicultural. They thought the Bronx experience could help explain what was happening in their countries and in particular inform an examination of the transformation of popular music in their societies. By 2008, I was hosting scholars and artists in residence from all over the world and was being invited to lecture in Berlin and Barcelona on my research. And out of this research emerged a social worker/artist collaboration called the Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange. None of this experience was a result of corporate sponsorship or funding (The BAAHP is supported by hundreds of small and medium size donations by people who live in or once lived in the Bronx).. It was driven by bottom up recognition of commonalities in culture and music forged by global migration patterns which had transformed the world's urban centers.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Why Charters will NEVER Replace Public Schools in NYC

Anybody who thinks charter schools will eventually replace public schools in NYC hasn’t had frank conversations with people who work in the charter sector! The problem of teacher and principal burnout and turnover is actually WORSE in the charter chains than it is in the public schools. Authoritarian management has its price when applied to those who work with children and the most publicized charter chains can’t hold on their best teachers. As a result, children who attend these schools are deprived of the nurturing and mentoring that experienced teachers can provide. The test-factory model has severe limits in creating kind, caring and compassionate citizens. And the most idealistic educators and would be educators who enter the charter chains soon realize what they have gotten themselves into and yearn to escape

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Immigrants: A View from The Bronx

Immigrants didn't red line the
Or burn its apartments
Or close its firehouses
Or shut down 
the great music programs
in Bronx schools
They came
to neighborhoods 
big money 
had given up on
And rented apartments
Opened stores
Built churches and Islamic Centers
And produced valedictorians
and new forms of music
which changed the world
Face it
When you attack 
You plunge a knife
into the heart of the

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Message to Young People on Confronting Unexpected Hardships

During the course of my long life, I have had to cope with three completely unexpected tragedies- the Vietnam War, the burning of the Bronx, and the crack epidemic. In each of these instances, immense suffering ensued that required years, if not decades to recover from, while millions of people suffered injuries from which no recovery was possible
I put the Trump Presidency in the same category. Two years ago, no one could have predicted that someone with his character traits or background could have ascended to the Presidency. But he is here and here to stay and the damage to our social fabric he is inflicting is deep and lasting.
If is a very difficult thing to realize that the kind of tragedy that you have only read about in history books has entered your life and experience. You may have to do things you never dreamed of doing. But those who aren't crushed by the experience do ultimately adapt, and try to either live around the destruction or minimize the damage.
For better or worse, you are going to have to play the hand you're dealt. And try to survive with some semblance of self respect, along with compassion for those going through this with you.
I have done this three times. And am busy working on a fourth.
You can do it once.