Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Thoughts on Stuyvesant Admissions



I just spoke at Stuyvesant High School about the rise of hip hop in the Bronx to two New York History classes. There were at most 4 Black and Latino students among the 60 students I spoke to. The students at my lecture, probably 70 percent Asian and South Asian were attentive and asked good questions, but there was little electricity in the air. Frankly, the atmosphere would have been better if there had been a critical mass of Black and Latino students who were immersed in the cultural traditions I spoke about or lived in the neighborhoods where the music arose. And every student in the class would have benefited. Diversity doesn’t just help those who are given new opportunities by broadening admissions criteria, it helps every person in the institution being changed expand their cultural horizons and become better leaders.
I think Stuyvesant would be a better school if it were more diverse. Yet at the same time,I feel tremendous respect and admiration for the students who currently attend. To me, they seemed like a wonderful cross section of one portion of working class, immigrant New York. They were neighborhood kids who worked hard to get there and didn’t have a smug bone in their body. More than a few were the children of Muslim immigrants, people currently in the cross hairs of racists and xenophobes. I don’t like the idea of painting them as “privileged” especially now in a time of ascendant xenophobia.
I would like to see Stuyvesant be more diverse. I would like to see the school, like all schools, have multiple measures of admission. 
That is the moral framework from which I approach this. My support of multiple admissions criteria is consistent with my efforts to make Fordham SAT optional
But I don’t like to see the interests of working class Asians and South Asians pitted against those of working class Blacks and Latinos.
This whole issue is getting ugly in a way that is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth

Monday, June 11, 2018

Who Will Save The Country from a Race to the Bottom?


I should be glowing after spending a magical family weekend at my daughters house in Stone Ridge with  my daughter and her husband, my granddaughters, aged 3-14, and my wife's parents, who are both 91, but I can’t help thinking about the migrant children separated from their parents at the border by this cruel and heartless Administration. I realize that to many people, this is only one of many issues where this Administration has rode roughshod over the nation’s best traditions, but to me, the separation of undocumented children from their parents mirrors the actions of history’s worst dictatorships. It also suggest to me that there is no limit to what level of cruelty Trump supporters will accept from their leader. And that sends a chill through me. There is no self-corrective mechanism at work here. It is up to those of us who have not drunk the Trump Kool Aid to save the country from a Race to the Bottom

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Two Key Areas Where President Trump Ignores Historical Trends


Two key areas where President Trump either distorts historical trends or cynically presents false information for political gain are the following
First, the notion that our “ inner cities are plagued by crime” and face a terrible crisis which liberals have ignored. If this was 1995, those remarks might have been relevant, but in 2018, they show a failure to recognize major historic trends. In the last twenty years, murder rates in most American cities have plummeted, both because of the decline of the crack epidemic and gentrification. The majority of poor people now live in the suburbs and gang issues and poverty related violent crimes have migrated with them. Hempstead and Newburg, for example, small cities near NYC, are far more dangerous, and far poorer than Harlem or Bedford Stuyvesant
Second, the notion that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, bring crime and violence with them does not conform with statistical information or lived reality. In New York City, mass immigration to the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens has coincided with plummeting crime rates and the rebuilding of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Immigrant workers, store owners, health care providers, and valedictorians of are far more indicative of the immigrants contribution to NYC than drug gangs. MS 13 are outliers, dangerous but despised by the hardworking self sacrificing immigrant majority
I realize that many of the President’s supporters will dismiss what I just wrote as Fake News” but playing fast and loose with Demography and History is the essence of demagoguery and if you are comfortable with that, well, that’s your burden to carry when you look at yourself in the mirror

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Shame of Broward County: Calling Police on Teachers Union Officials who Visit Schools

It is utterly astonishing and appalling that principals in the Broward County Florida School District have been calling the police to escort Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco and BTU VP Terry Preuss out of their schools when they come to visit and meet with members after school hours! It is this kind of DISRESPECT that is fueling teacher uprisings all over the nation.

And think of the message that this is sending to students. If their teachers and their teachers  representatives are treated this way, what kind of treatment is in store for them if they show signs of independent thinking, or decide to protest some decision by school administration?

What makes all this even worse is that the principal's actions occurred only a few months after the Parkland shootings where students, teachers, and administrators all came together in the face of unspeakable tragedy and Browders  Teachers Union leaders, along with many others, worked 24/7 to comfort the survivors and find the strength to move forward

What just happened in Broward should be the occasion for an outpouring of solidarity by teachers and other persons of good will

 I hope some kind of petition or other form of national action can be created which allows teachers all over the country to weigh in to protest this attack on freedom of expression and the right to organize on behalf of people who are some of our most selfless and courageous public servants.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Corrosive Racism That Defines The Trump Presidency



In the last few weeks, we have discovered some new information about how the policy decisions and language of the Trump Administration reflect profound racial biases
Nearly 5,000 unacknowledged deaths in Puerto Rico from the terrible hurricane that hit that island when the official death total being given was 64
1,500 missing children from undocumented families seized and separated from their parents
The employment of rhetoric denouncing members of MS-13 as “animals” while refusing to use the same language for white supremacists who commit mass murders
Looking at these in tandem, we see that Trump Administrations approach to Latinos and Latino immigrants veers between demonization and cynical indifference, depending on circumstances. It creates a toxic, morally corrosive atmosphere in the nation, especially since the demonization of Latinos is a central strategy the President uses to rally his “base.”
Whenever this President is in trouble, he attacks someone Black or Latino. But the racially targeted policy decisions that accompany this rhetoric destroy lives every day

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Tale of Two Grandpas: An Immigration Story


When I think of how I ended up living a long and relatively productive life despite a troubled relationship with my parents, I think back on the influence that my two grandfathers had on me. Each of these remarkable individuals, who came to the US in their teens without speaking a word of English, and whom I saw at least once a week, gave me love without reservation, but also set examples in their own life which had a tremendous impact on me. In terms of appearance, body type, and personality, they could not have been more different, but the person I am today incorporates portions of each of them in ways that from the outside, may seem controdictory
Grandpa Josef, The Scholar Who Sold Herring On The Streets of Brownsville
Josef Nasofsky, my father's father, came to the US from Poland at the turn of the century, He was small and slight, having no more than 130 pounds on his 5'5" frame. But he was deeply religious, with a passion for learning, and had a will of iron. A resident of Brownsville Brooklyn who lived in walk up apartment on Hopkinson Avenue, he was a fixture of the Orthodox synagogue there and practiced his religion every day at home. My most vivid memories were of him davening in his apartment, swaying rhythmically to the prayers he chanted in Hebrew, something he did before every meal he and his wife served for us. He did this with his eyes closed, as every prayer had been memorized. The other thing I remember was him pinching my cheeks with love when he saw me, or when my father, in Yiddish, told him of one of my academic accomplishments Reputedly,. he had been tough on my father, and angry when my father rejected religious orthodoxy, but he was never anything but kind and loving with me. And the more I learned about him, the more impressed I was. He made a living selling herring on the streets of Brownsville, something he did till his late 80's, but read Shakespeare in Yiddish and practiced the violin regularly. From the outside, he was a poor, non-English speaking immigrant struggling to put food on the table for his family, but to me he imparted the lesson that a love of learning is not conferred by titles and degrees, but is something that can be found among people in all walks of life. .
Grandpa Charlie, the Jewish Strong Man and Justice Fighter
Grandpa Charlie, my mother's father, could not have been more different from Grandpa Josef in appearance or personality. Charlie, who came here from what is now Belarus at the age of 12, was a Jewish strong man, 5'6" and 200 pounds of pure muscle. Unlike Josef, he was neither religious nor intellectually inclined; he came from a family with strong links to underground economic activities, both in Europe and the US, and brought in income as a bartender and bootlegger when he was laid off from his "day job" as a presser in the garment trades. But though Grandpa Charlie was was anything but an intellectual, being marginally literate in Yiddish and English, he was a passionate union man willing to risk his life for his fellow workers. Throughout my childhood I was regaled with stories about how Granpa Charlied fought gangsters brought in as strikebreakers in the streets of the garment district, and won! Looking at him, you could see why- he looked like could bend a metal bar with his bare hands. But to me and my two cousins who lived down stairs, he was kindly and loving, cooking amazing meals of steak seared in chicken fat and huge portions of home made french fried which he covered in Kosher Salt. He was also my most reliable babysitter, watching the Friday night fights with me when my parents went out. If Granpa Josef inspired the intellectual side of me, Grandpa Charlie inspired the physical side, helping me become a young person who never backed down from a fight no matter what the odds against me were. Even his death sent a message that has remained with me. When Charlie was stricken with terminal cancer, rather than watch himself waste away, he jumped out the window of his room on the 8th Floor of Brooklyn Jewish hospital. That final act remains with me as much as all that he had done before
It is hard to put in words how proud I am to have been loved and cared for by these two remarkable men. In the course of what has become a long life, I have never met anyone who possessed greater courage and determination than Grandpa Josef and Grandpa Charlie. Two poor immigrants, forced to leave Europe because of poverty and prejudice, came to the United Sates and gave me, and so many others, a legacy to build on, not only in making a life in this country, but in making this country a better place.

Monday, May 28, 2018

New York Is No Longer a Basketball Town: Fordham Should Leave the Atlantic Ten in that Sport

 
Over 20 years ago, Fordham made the fateful decision to leave the Patriot League for the Atlantic 10 in all sports but football. The decision was motivated largely by a desire to have Fordham seek national recognition in basketball, something it had when I arrived at Fordham in the early 70's. This decision has been an unmitigated disaster, in terms of finances, coaches, players recruited and actual record. I tried to tell the administration they were making a huge mistake when they made the move, but they didn't listen. They were so desperate to build up Fordham's national profile through sports that they ignored the lessons of history and sociology, failing to see changes in the demography of New York City that are making it difficult if not impossible to for New York area colleges to be centers of basketball excellence the they way they were in the 1960's and 1970's when St. John''s, NYU, Columbia, and NYU all had nationally ranked teams
The major reason for this has been a huge shift in population, due to immigration, in those outer borough neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, as well as neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan, which once produced the bulk of the city's great players. When I was growing up, basketball was king in working class New York, the sport played dawn to dusk in Jewish, Irish, and African American neighborhoods, and picked up by a significant number of arrivals from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic who, like Italian Americans, played the game even though their main sport was baseball. However, in the last 40 years, all of those communities have been transformed by immigration, much of it coming from places- the Anglophone Carribean, West Africa, Mexico, and South Asia- where the major sport is soccer ( and in some cases cricket!). As a result of this, when you walk around working class New York on a weekend, you will see full soccer, cricket and baseball fields, but empty basketball courts. New York is no longer the place churning out the nation's top basketball players in fierce schoolyard competition.
What does this mean for Fordham? It means that there are no longer thousands of smart, eager kids with high levels of skill looking for basketball to take them to college and help them achieve success in life even if they don't have an NBA career. Those players still exist- witness Desi Rodriguez of Seton Hall- but they are too few in number to have New York schools rise to national excellence by recruiting them,
And this isn;t changing any time soon. If anything, recent immigrants are LESS interested in basketball than the groups that came before, So, it is time that Fordham, which has been attracting better and better students without national recognition in sports, take valuable money away from its basketball program and use it to fund living wages for its adjunct and contingent faculty along with more scholarships for academically gifted young people from immigrant families.
We have had a great experience in the Patriot League in football. That is where we belong in basketball.
Making this move will put Fordham more in line with Jesuit traditions of academic excellence and social justice while affirming its understanding of demographic trends that have transformed immigrant, working class New York