Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Education Reform and the American Working Class

The corporate education juggernaut, funded by Gates, the Koch Brothers. the Waltons and hedge fund billionaires, and implemented by a cross section of politicians of both major parties fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the American working class.
American workers have not, historically, been revolutionary, but they do fight back when you push them to the wall. So if you keep piling on tests in the public schools and turn them into mini prisons with metal detectors, security guards and no music, no art, and no sports, all to prepare them for jobs that are either non existent or low paying, rigidly policed and require people to work long hours with little hope of advancement, don't be surprised if students turn off, drop out, or become so disorderly that schools have difficulty functioning. And also don't be surprised if a whole bunch choose the underground economy, with all its dangers, to work that is humiliating, low paying and denies people basic dignity. The leadership of this country seems to think that great wealth, and limitless police power, armed with advanced technology can cow an entire population into submission. They are about to discover how mistaken they are.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Strange Genesis of "Education Reform"- How a Crackpot Theory Became National Policy

In future generations, historians are likely to tell the following story. Some time during the early 21St Century, a cross section of the top leadership of American society began to panic. They looked at the growing chasm between the rich and poor, the huge size of the nation’s prison population, the growing gulf in educational achievement between blacks and whites and poor and middle class children and decided something dramatic had to be done to remedy these problems.

But instead of critically examining how these trends reflected twenty years of regressive taxation, a futile “war on drugs,” the deregulation of the financial industry, the breaking of unions and the movement of American companies abroad, America’s leaders decided the primary source of economic inequality could be found in failing schools, bad teachers, and powerful teachers unions.

No serious scholar, looking at the economic and social trends of the previous 20 years, or the major innovations in social policy that unleashed the power of big capital, would have given to slightest credence to this analysis of the sources of inequality, but the idea that educational failure was the prime source of all other social deficits took hold with the force of a religious conversion. Corporate leaders, heads of major foundations, civil rights leaders, politicians in both major parties, bought this explanation hook line and sinker and so began one of the strangest social movements in modern American history- the demonization of America’s teachers and the development of strategies to radically transform education by taking power away from them

The consequence of this leap of faith, supported by no serious research, was the idea that there has to be a centralized effort to monitor educational progress though quantifiable measures, coupled with accountability strategies which called for the removal of teachers and the closing of schools, if they didn’t meet those criteria. Through policies developed at the federal level but implemented locally so that they effected every school district in the nation, scrutinizing teacher effectiveness became a national mission introduced with as much fanfare as was America’s efforts to put a rocket in space during the 1950’s and 60’s.

The centerpiece of this mission was that teachers had to be judged on student performance of standardized tests, as there were no other “objective” criteria that could generate meaningful statistical information on a national scale. But America’s states and municipalities did not have consistent testing policies, so federal policies called for universal testing related to a nationally developed set of Common Core Standards, with the loss of federal funding being presented as the consequence of failure to comply.

This all sounds very rational until you look at it from the individual school level. To evaluate teachers via standardized tests, and do it across the board, you have to have tests in every grade and every subject. This not only means tests in English, Math, Science and Social Studies, it means tests in Art, Music and Gym.

No school in any country, at any time in history, ever tried doing something like this, and for good reason. It means that all that goes on in school is preparation for tests. There is no spontaneity, not creativity, no possibility of responding to new opportunities for learning that relate to events that occur locally, nationally, or globally. It also means play, and pleasure are erased from the school experience, and that students are put under constant stress, maximized by teachers who know that their own job security depends on student performance.

What you have here, in short, is a prescription for making the nation’s schools a place of Fear and Dread, ruled by test protocols that deaden minds and stifle creative thinking. Make no mistake about it, there are people who stand to benefit handsomely from this insanity, especially the companies who make the tests and the consultants who administer them, but anyone who thinks this level of testing will make America’s schools more effective or reduce social inequality has a capacity for self-delusion that staggers the imagination. Only people with no options would choose to send their children to schools run that way. The wealthy will send their children to private schools which eschew testing, the well organized will withdraw from the system and create their own cooperative schools or engage in home schooling.

The sad part about all of this is that the Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, continues to push this program, with the support of both major parties and a cross section of America’s corporate leadership.

There are not too many other examples in American history where such a crackpot theory guided social policy this way. The last example I can think of was the passage of the Prohibition Amendment to the US constitution, based on the conviction that the banning of alcoholic beverages would somehow create greater social stability and save America from corruption.

Someday, Test Based Education Reform will go the way of Prohibition. But not before incalculable damage is done to the nations children

Mark Naison
January 19, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Educators Letter to President Obama Now Online and Ready For Signatures


Here is the link to the Educators Letter to President Obama that asks him to withdraw his support of policies which mandate high stakes testing, to include teachers and parents in all educational policy discussions in his administration and replace Sec of Ed Arne Duncan with an educator who has the confidence of the nation's teachers. Please sign and circulate widely!

; http://dumpduncan.org/fulltex/

Petition Text
Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned, a cross section of the nation’s teachers and their supporters, wish to express our extreme displeasure with the policies implemented during your administration by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although many of us campaigned enthusiastically for you in 2008, it is unlikely that you will receive continued support unless the following three dimensions of your administration’s education initiatives are changed:

The exclusion of teachers from policy discussions in the US Department of Education and from Education Summits called under your leadership.
The use of rhetoric which blames failing schools on “bad teachers” rather than poverty and neighborhood distress.
The use of federal funds to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores in the evaluation of teachers and as the basis for closing low performing schools.
Because of these policies, teachers throughout the nation have become discouraged and demoralized, undermining your own stated goals of improving teacher quality, upgrading the nation’s educational performance, and encouraging creative pedagogy rather than “teaching to the test.”

We therefore submit the following measures to put your administration’s education policy back on the right track and to bring teachers in as full partners in this effort:

The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.
The incorporation of parents, teachers, and school administrators in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.
An immediate end to the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores as a basis for evaluating teachers, preferring charter schools to existing public schools, and requiring closure of low performing schools.
Create a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of America’s schools.
We believe such policies will create an outpouring of good will on the part of teachers, parents and students which will promote creative teaching and educational innovation, leading to far greater improvements in the nation’s schools than policies which encourage a proliferation of student testing could ever hope to do.


The Undersigned

Friday, January 27, 2012

Draft of Teachers Letter to President Obama

We, the undersigned, a cross section of the nation’s educators, want to express our extreme displeasure with the policies implemented during your administration by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although the majority of us campaigned enthusiastically for you in 2008, we are reluctant to do so again unless we see some modification of the following three dimensions of your administration’s education initiatives:

1. The exclusion of teachers from policy discussions in the US Department of Education and from Education Summits called under your leadership

2. The use of rhetoric which blames failing schools on "bad teachers" rather than poverty and neighborhood distress

3. The use of federal funds to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores in the evaluation of teachers and as the basis for closing low performing schools

Because of these policies, teachers throughout the nation have become discouraged and demoralized, undermining your own stated goals of improving teacher quality, upgrading the nation's educational performance, and encouraging creative pedagogy rather than “teaching to the test.”

We therefore recommend the following measures to put your administration’s education policy back on the right track and to bring teachers in as full partners in this effort

1. The removal of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and his replacement by a lifetime educator who has the confidence of the nation’s teachers.

2. The incorporation of teachers in all policy discussion taking place in your administration, inside and outside the Department of Education.

3. .An immediate end to the use of incentives or penalties to compel states and municipalities to use student test scores as a basis for evaluating teachers.

4. An end to policies that use incentives or penalties to encourage states and municipalities to prefer charter schools to existing public schools.

5. An end to federal policies that require the closing of low performing schools based on student test scores and the creation of a National Commission, in which teachers and parent representatives play a primary role, which explores how to best improve the quality of such schools.

We believe such policies will create an outpouring of good will on the part of teachers, parents and students which will promote both creative teaching and educational innovation, leading to far greater improvements in the nation’s schools than policies which encourage a proliferation of student testing, could ever hope to do


When Teachers Are Seen But Not Heard

What would you say about a President who emphasizes improving America's schools in all of his speeches and invites a teacher to sit next to the First Lady during his State of the Union address, but fails to invite a single teacher to an "Educational Summit" he holds at the White House and appoints someone with no teaching experience as Secretary of Education? That is the dilemma teachers face in confronting the Obama administration's education policies. They are told the work they is crucial to the future of the nation, but find their voices are completely excluded from the discourse of how to remake America's schools, while those of America's business leaders are pushed to the forefront. The result is not only an explanation for failing schools that blames bad teachers rather than poverty and inequality for that condition, but the imposition of policies which take power away from teachers and turns them into automatons who do little more than administer tests while looking over their shoulder to see whether they meet "National Standards." There is nothing progressive about such a policy. It drips with paternalistic contempt. And it won't work. Ten years later, we will wake up and find that schools are actually worse than they were before universal testing became the measure of learning, but by that time, a generation of teachers and students will be beaten down and demoralized by a policies that represent the application of management methods honed by the pursuit of profit to a helping profession.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Hypocrisy Not Democracy

How does it feel to live in a country where the people making education policy, the Barack Obamas, Arne Duncans, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloombergs, send their children to private schools where classes are capped at 15, where there are no standardized tests, where teachers creativity is honored and there is plenty of art, music, science and sports, but want YOUR children to sit at a desk all day preparing for standardized tests, taught by teachers who work in terror of losing their jobs, in schools where art music and sports are cut to make room for testing? If you think this unfair, if you think it is wrong, if you think it is hypocritical, then join parents, teachers, students and concerned citizens at "Occupy the DOE" in Washington DC March 30-April 2! It's time to stand up for democratic education and fight off the bogus "education reform movement" which wants to create a two tier education system that reserves creative thinking for the children of the wealthy while condemning the vast majority of American children to a regime of rote learning.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

"Data Driven Instruction" and the Orwellian World of Education Reform

In the increasingly Orwellian world of "Education Reform" a new term has achieved a particular cachet- "Data Driven Instruction." With deadly seriousness, school chancellors and superintendents hold workshops on how to do this for their principals and teachers, offering euphemistic language for something really quite crude and brutal- TEACHING TO THE TEST! And why are they doing this? It's because the US Department of Education, through No Child Left Behind and Race To the Top, threatens to close schools, and fire teachers and principals, who do not produce the proper data! Anyone who thinks this approach is going to improve the quality of instruction, and create better relationships between teachers, students and parents, is sorely mistaken. It will increase the stress level on all concerned and squeeze out compassion, empathy and community building along with creative instruction. But the school reformers don't care. They are determined to bring a "business atmosphere" into public education, with teachers poring over test scores the way executives pore over sales data!
Initially, the response will be sullen compliance, along with more than a few departures of those who cannot accept the corruption of a profession to which they have devoted their lives, but in the long run the result will be a combination of sabotage ( forging test results) and open revolt.

And since I like to use music as a metaphor for events in "real life" I dedicate this Grateful Dead song to the architects of these awful policies, as what they have created is a truly a Ship of Fools


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What Is Your Legacy?:A Story for Those Who Think Merit Pay Will Motivate Teachers

I have two cousins who grew up with me in Brooklyn, were neighborhood ball players and attended local public schools. They went into business and became very successful, probably making 3 to 4 times my salary ( and I am paid decently). They are both having serious health problems, and at one of our dinners last year, they got very serious and asked me, "What is your legacy?" I said, without a moments hesitation, "the accomplishments of the hundreds of students I have worked with whom I am still in touch with. They validate what I have tried to do in my life." A sad look came over their face, and they said, they" wished they had a legacy like that." Their legacy was " the money they are leaving to their children and grandchildren." The conversation hit home to me why I chose teaching as a profession. Teaching not only has different rewards than business, it has, in its best manifestations, an entirely different atmosphere. My cousins, who worked for large companies, made a lot of money, but they worked in a climate of fear because they could be fired at any time, either because their company had been bought by a larger global corporation( which happened to one of my cousins) or because a new management team had come in. In contrast, I was never going to become rich on my job, but I had the ability to speak freely, security against arbitrary changes in management, and the chance to change lives. I would not trade that experience for the opportunity to double my salary, or even make 10 million dollars a year, if I lost the freedom, autonomy, and ability to build lifetime relationships with students that my job has given me. It is those "soft" attributes that motivate those who love teaching, not the prospect of financial rewards

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Orwellian Components of the Teacher Evaluation System that Duncan, Bloomberg and Cuomo are Trying to Impose in New York City and New York State

Let me clarify something about the teacher evalution system that Arne Duncan is threatening to withhold 1 billion dollars from New York State if it doesn't implement. Right now, in NY City elemenatary schools, testing only occurs in two grades, in two subjects. If you are going to have a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation, you then have to impose standarized tests in all grades, including kindergarten and in all subjects, including art, music and gym! Creating those tests will cost tens of millions of dollars, money that will have to be taken away from school budgets used to hire teachers. The result will be higher class size! And who gets the funds that to create the new tests? Test companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson! That's the economic dimension. And then there is the human dimension-- students being tested from the moment they enter the school in every subject they take. The result is that class time will be little more than test prep, within even the arts being geared largely to quantifiable skills. If anyone thinks that the result will be a more equitable and productive educational system, and better teaching and learning, try to imagine putting into practice what I have just described. That this nightmare scenario is somehow described as the current manifestation of the "Civil Rights Struggle" is something so bizarre that even George Orwell could not have imagined it

Monday, January 16, 2012

"Education Reform" As Collective Bullying

When I see the most powerful, and wealthiest people in this country, representing both major parties, attack public school teachers, it makes my blood boil. The education reform juggernaut, a "big tent movement" incorporating figures ranging from Barack Obama to Chris Christie to Michael Bloomberg to Bill Gates, is not only bereft of research which shows its preferred innovations improve educational achievement, it involves an ugly mixture of stigmatization and coercion that represents collective bullying on a grand scale. I have seen the impact of this campaign first hand in shattered morale, early retirements and premature departure from the profession on the part of our best young teachers. People of courage and vision must come to the defense of our teachers, not only to defend public education as a communal space where creativity and education for citizenship are not smothered by mindless testing, but to defend a vulnerable group of people who are being made the scapegoat for the nation's failures

January 17, 2012

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Letter from a Teacher in a School Designated for Closing by the DOE in order to receive "Race To The Top Money"

I am a teacher at ...... one of the PLA schools. .... has been a "Transformation School" since September 2010. I have been a Social Studies teacher at this school since September 1990.
Yesterday, we were summoned to the auditorium for a special faculty meeting. Our very well-liked principal, . . . conveyed the information he'd received from his superiors: the City intended to change our school to a Turnaround Model. The implications were not completely clear, but it almost certainly meant that we teachers and our supervisors would have to re-apply for our positions to come back in September 2012, and around half of us would not be re-employed.
This news was shocking and deeply distressing to us. We have done everything we were asked to do by State and City. We have learned and implemented new technology for the classroom, spent hours in Professional Development, devoted an hour a week to working in Inquiry Teams, decorated our classrooms with student work, differentiated instruction, and redesigned all our lesson plans to introduce the Common Core Curriculum. We have done this conscientiously despite the doubts many of us had as to the efficacy of these innovations.
The State has been extremely impressed by our progress, writing strongly positive reports, available on the PLA pages of the NYSED website. Our Quality Review last spring was favorable, and we raised our 4-year graduation rate last year by about 7 percentage points.
Despite this, the City had decided to subject us to this awful and humiliating process, in which perhaps an arbitrary figure of half of us would be dismissed from the school.
Our students were given letters to explain this to their parents, describing the school as "Persistently Lowest Achieving" and conveying the message that it is the teachers' to blame, and that the City will "measure and screen existing staff using rigorous standards for student success. . ." and rehire only a portion. One teacher commented in our meeting that distributing these letters to our students was "like cutting our own throats."
I'm certain similar events played out in the other two dozen plus schools hit by this news. Regardless of his intentions, Bloomberg is seriously demoralizing hundreds of hard-working and gifted teachers, making it harder for us to enthusiastically adopt any future changes. He is creating a negative image of their schools and their children's teachers in the eyes of parents and community. The damage will persist long after this spat between DOE and UFT has been resolved.

We Need Leaders Among the People, Not Of the People"- Lessons From My Political Mentor Rev Claude Williams

For those on the left who don’t understand my willingness to work with whites they regard as conservative or racist, let me tell you a little bit about my political mentor, Rev. Claude Williams. Rev. Williams, with whom I spent four summers with during the early 70’s organizing his personal papers, was a Presbyterian minister brought up in the hills of Tennessee in an evangelical tradition ( a credo he described as “God said it, Jesus did it, I believe it, and that settles it”) who had a conversion experience in his late 30’s and became an advocate of the social gospel and an opponent of southern segregation. He had an opportunity to put these principles into action when he became a minister in a mining town called Paris Arkansas during the Depression where he devoted his ministry to strike support, moved to Commonwealth Labor College when he was forced out of Paris, and there became a supporter of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union, an interracial organization that fought for the rights of sharecroppers and tenant farmers being forced off the land by Depression conditions and New Deal agricultural program

When organizing for the STFU, Williams developed a unique strategy for organizing southern blacks and white for progressive unionism by employing biblical imagery common to both. His fiery preaching and innovative charts and posters, using quotes from the bible to promote interracial solidarity and a cooperative commonwealth, made him one of the South’s most effective organizers, and a hated figure among local elites, who literally ran him out of Arkansas in the late Thirties . From there, Williams moved to Memphis, where he helped organize interracial locals of the Food and Tobacco Workers Union and in North Carolina and then was brought up to Detroit during World War II by the UAw to help preach to the Southern Blacks and Whites working in easy proximity during that city’s auto plants.

After the war, Williams moved back to a farm South of Birmigham where he began working with interracial locals of the Mine Mill and Smelters Union and holding meetings on his property to help people register to vote. When a wave of McCarthyite reaction set in, Williams became a target of the local Klan, who set fires on his property, killed his dogs, and forced him to stop holding interracial meetings on his farm. But his white neighbors, who had been the recipient of many acts of generosity on the part of Williams and his wife Joyce, refused to let the Klan kill him, so he remained on his farm through the worst days of Klan and Citizen’s Council Terror until and opening came in the middle 60’s and a strong civil rights movement came to the Birmingham area

I had learned about Williams amazing work when writing my Master’s essay on the Southern Tenants Farmers Union, but meeting him in person, an being given responsibility for organizing and filing his personal papers was a transformative experience. Williams was a big, powerful, hard drinking man who held a deep conviction that Southern working class whites, when they could overcome their racism, were far more reliable allies to Blacks than northern white liberals because they had a common religious heritage as well as a common class interest. He had shown the potential of this approach in labor struggle after labor struggle before McCarthyism had sidelined him and believed it was the only one that would allow progressives to challenge domination of American politics by the rich and powerful.

Having the opportunity to live with a person who not only articulated such a view with great eloquence, but practiced it every day, and survived attacks that would have silenced most people, made a tremendous impression on me. Wiliams challenged me, as he did all leftists, to relinquish elitist contempt of working class people and meet them on their own ground, using arguments rooted in their own culture and traditions, and providing an example of courage and generosity they would respect. As he told me on countless occasions “ We don’t need leaders of the people, we need leaders among the people.!”

Throughout my life of political activism,, I have tried to take that message to heart and reach out to people of diverse political perspectives while fighting for racial and economic justice.

Nothing I have experienced in 40 plus years of activism, including my experience with the Occupy Movement and the 99 Percent Clubs in the last 6 months, has convinced me this approach is wrong..

January 14, 2012

Friday, January 13, 2012

Deja Vue All Over Again: What Happened to Industrial Workers in the 80’s and 90’s is Happening to Teachers and Government Workers Today

In preparation for my course, The Worker in American Life, I am reading about the broad based assault on industrial labor that took place during the 80’s and 90’s in a broad swath of the US from New England through the Pacific Northwest. Plant closings, transfer of family business to international conglomerates, union busting, and finally, the destruction of a wage scale and union rules that allowed factory workers to live in comfort and security and have dignity on the job hit the nation with the force of a juggernaut. In industrial cities, and in small towns which depended on industrial production, the results were devastating. The were beset by drug epidemics, domestic violence and gang activity, foreclosures, evictions, arson and the erosion of once proud business districts. The scores of communities where this drama played out eventually achieved a precarious stability, but the prosperity of the post war years never returned, as wage levels lowered to the point where a person had to work two, possibly three jobs, to achieve the income a unionized factory worker once made, or turn to illegal activity to supplement legal income.

Now, an equally comprehensive effort to undermine the bargaining rights of workers dignity and standard of living is underway in the country On a state and local level, it is being led by Republican politicians who are systematically trying to strip away collective bargaining rights of government workers and to pass “right to work” laws which make the union shop illegal Initiatives of the first kind have succeeded in states which were sites of landmark labor conflicts and strong unions, Wisconsin and Ohio, and the second initiative is on the verge of being voted into law in Indiana

It would be comforting to think that this attack on public workers is coming only from the Republican Party and the Political Right, but one of the most powerful, and insidious efforts to undermine public worker unionism – the attack on Teachers Unions- has been driven by foundations and funding sources traditionally associated with the Democratic Party and has been enthusiastically endorsed by the Obama Administration. Not only did the Secretary of Education and the President praise the firing of union teachers in Central Falls Rhode Island who refused to accept the unilateral revision of union rules by the local Superintendent, they have provided huge financial incentives to states and municipalities to create privately managed, non union charter schools and to adopt procedures for rating teachers based on student test scores which will allow for the mass firing of teachers judged “incompetent” by these criteria.

Make no mistake about it, the sum effect of these initiatives, if successful will be strikingly similar to the offensive against industrial unions in the 80’s and 90’s- it will drive down wage levels substantially and erode dignity on the job for those subject to new managerial prerogatives.

How this will help the communities in which this large group of workers lose income, self-respect, and in some cases, employment, is hard to imagine. It will hurt families, businesses, the housing market, and in all probability, lower wage levels in the private sector as a new source of surplus labor is created. What benefits accrue in lower taxes will hardly compensate for the losses.

If you don’t believe me, just visit Buffalo New York, Youngstown Ohio, or Johnstown Pennsylvania ( I have spent time in all three) and other once thriving cities where high worker incomes and job security produced thriving neighborhoods of working class homeowners Now they have huge stretches of the city where every other lot is vacant, where business district feature groceries, liquor stores, and storefront churches, and where the drug business is the major source of income for a significant group of young men and growing number of young women.

Let me put the matter bluntly. The last wave of union busting left physical and moral damage that we have not fully recovered from. The new wave about to descend on us will add to the destruction and, perhaps push the social fabric to the breaking point.

There is a phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. If we stand by and let teachers and other government workers have their unions broken, their dignity undermined, and their wage levels shattered by powerful interests who profit from their distress, we will accelerate the transformation of the United States into a plutocracy where the majority of people are living on the edge of poverty while a small elite controls all levels of government and parlays that into unimaginable benefits for themselves

This is the future that awaits us. Which side are you on?

January 13, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

If You Want to Know the Human Impact of The Current Recession, Ask America’s Teachers

One of the things I’ve discovered in recent years is that when it comes to education policy, the last people asked for input are America’s teachers. We have a President who holds an” education summit” that includes the nation’s top business leaders and foundation heads, but no teachers; we have billionaires lobbying to privatize education and break teachers unions; we have an organization that purports to work for educational equity that encourages it’s recruits to leave teaching after two years because they can influence policy more by moving into other, more prestigious careers, rather than spending a lifetime as a “mere teacher.”

The results are plain to see. After ten years of No Child Left Behind, three years of Race to the Top, and twenty years of Teach for America, we have seen no change in the global standing of America’s schools and no reduction in the test score gap between racially and economically disadvantaged groups and the rest of the population.

But we lose something more than an opportunity to improve our schools by excluding teacher’s voice- we lose a chance to understand the human impact of poverty and economic distress, not only those locked in inner generational poverty, but those made newly poor by the economic crisis. Students bring the wounds of poverty into their classrooms every day, in ways that break teachers hearts, keep them up at nights, and make the accountability protocols based on test scores that “education reformers” are now imposing seem totally divorced from reality.

As someone who is married to an elementary school principal, and talks to teachers almost daily because of my work in Bronx schools and my contact with former students who have chosen to teach, I have, even second hand, been haunted by the portrait of what this Recession is doing to young people and their families

One thing that leaps out at me from the teacher’ss stories I hear, is how many students in poor and working class neighborhoods have no secure place to stay. Students move from apartment to apartment or house to house when their parents or /grandparents can’t pay rent; experience bouts of homelessness where they sleep in shelters, temporary residences, and occasionally subways or cars; and move in an out of foster care. Sometimes students disappear for days or weeks at a time, sometimes they disappear altogether. But even those who come in somewhat regularly often fall asleep in class because the places they are staying are so crowded or noisy that it is difficult to sleep. I have heard these stories from teachers in inner city schools in New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia, but I have also heard them from teachers in suburban communities where people are sinking into poverty. Those who think the housing and foreclosure crisis in America has no impact on education need to talk to teachers – but we won’t do that if we believe that low attention spans in school are largely the result of “ bad teachers” protected by evil unions

That’s one portion of the stories teachers tell The other relates to the lack of food and medical care students in poor communities get and how it affects their concentration levels and general well being. I will never forget how a principal and two teachers at a school located in the most decayed and dangerous housing project in the Bronx closed the door on my Sudanese colleague and I after taking us on an upbeat tour of several classes and said “ Let us tell you what is really going on here” “Every Friday,” the principal said, “students in the school start crying because they afraid they may have little or nothing to eat all weekend The only time they know they are going to are going to have three meals a day is on schools days. And because they closed down the health clinic in the project, students bring their whole families to see the school nurse. This is place that God forgot.” My Sudanese colleague, by the time he had finished, started crying and said “This is like a refugee camp in Africa.” You think that this is the only place in the country where this kind of story could be told, think again. Hunger and lack of medical care is a huge and growing problem among America’s school children and has a tremendous affect on their academic performance

Then there is the growing level of violence and stress that young people experience in homes and communities where people are losing jobs, losing homes, and losing hope, violence that they bring into the school environment. I have been hearing more and more stories from teachers of kids exploding in rage at school, at one another and at teachers, sometimes individually, sometimes in large groups. Bedlam in hallways and classrooms is increasingly common, often set off by the minutest provocation. Some of this disorder can be attributed to chaotic school environments, but some of it stems from the extraordinary stress which students are under out of school, rooted in a toxic mixture of food insecurity, unstable living situations, and violence inflicted on them by people in their own households or by neighborhood gangs and crews.

None of what I am describing is new. You could have heard similar stories from teachers in poor and working class neighborhoods in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. What is new is the extent of the suffering as more and more families whose lives were once stable get pushed into poverty.

All through out the nation, in small towns and suburbs, in once middle class communities as well as inner city neighborhoods, teachers are ready to tell these stories.

Will we listen, or will we continue to put our head in the sand and blame the messenger for the message

January 12, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

99 Percent Club Comes to Hollis Presbyterian Church in Queens!

Just came from an inspiring meeting of the 99 Percent Club at Hollis Presbyterian Church in Queens. More than 20 people were there, many of them veterans of the civil rights movement, representing three churches, the local community development corporation and several schools and youth organizations. The group developed an action plan around five abandoned buildings on Hollis Avenue, across the street from a school and several churches, that have been a danger and an eyesore for several years. The goal will be to start a community campaign to turn these buildings into affordable housing, beginning with community meetings, moving to demonstrations and a picket line, and possibly ending with "occupations" if enough activists from around the city join in support of the campaign. It is hard to put in words how exciting it was to see how the model of Occupy Wall Street has energized this congregation and others in the Hollis neighborhood who have been waiting for some time to fight against the steady the erosion of their standard of living and the deterioration of their community!

January 11, 2012

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where is the Love? Thoughts on Teachers and Teaching That Educational Reformers Don’t Seem To Get

I have been teaching for 45 years. My first students, in the Columbia Upward Bound Program, included a 15 year old who was destined for greatness and a 15 year old who wouldn’t say a word to me or his peers. Being able to connect to both of them, using very different methods, hooked me for life on the challenge of building the confidence and trust required to make learning possible among a diverse group of people.

It is precisely the importance of building trust which is absent from the dominant discourse about education today. Achieving mastery of a fixed body of material is prioritized; opening minds, healing hearts, and building confidence are widely neglected as “soft” attributes not amenable to measurement and evaluation.

Che Guevara once said “ The true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love.” I would say the same about teaching. “The true teacher is guided by feelings of great love.”

How do you measure love? How do you assess it?

Governments are now spending billions of dollars on complex mathematical formulas to rate teacher effectiveness. Every single measure they have created circumvents the attributes that make teachers love their jobs and which influence students the most

A great teacher gets inside a student’s head, becomes part of the student’s conscience, becomes a moral compass that may offer guidance ten, twenty years after the student was in their class. Things the teacher said during a lecture, wrote in the margin of a research paper, whispered to the student in a private meeting, may come up in the most unexpected times and places. Books, films and songs the teacher recommended may be ones passed on to friends, co-workers and children.

I am saying this from experience as well as inference. I had teachers who inspired me to do things I never dreamed were possible. They did this not only by modeling a passion for learning in their lectures and the way they comported themselves, but by letting me know that despite my rough edges and uneven writing stills,, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve as a scholar if I dared to give myself wholly to the subject I was investigating and kept trying to hone and refine my prose style.
Those teachers- and I will name them because they are all worth honoring- Edward Said, Paul Noyes, Walter Metzger, James Shenton- provided me with a model of the teacher and scholar I wanted to be. They are with me every time I walk into a classroom

How do you measure that ?

I know so many great teachers and they are all filled with love for their students and love for their jobs. Every single reform measure introduced in the last ten years is crushing and demoralizing them

Someday, we will realize that if we really want to instill a passion for learning in young people, we have to honor and support our best teachers and encourage our most talented and idealistic young people to be teachers for life.

And that means we have to leave room for intangibles like love and trust in how we judge what goes on in schools and understand that the results of great teaching are experienced over a life time, not by tests you administer three or four times a year

Mark Naison
January 9, 2010

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Legacy of Driving Down Wages is the Collapse of Consumer Demand

For the last thirty years, the most powerful corporations in the nation have followed a strategy of paying top management huge salaries to ruthlessly trim labor costs, either by moving operations abroad, or keeping wage rates of the domestic labor force low. Walmart, the nation's largest employer, symbolizes this strategy, paying its CEO
$16,000 an hour while offering a starting salary of $6.50 an hour for new employees.

In the short run, this has worked well for individual companies, but in the long run, it has destabilized the American economy by crippling consumer demand, which could only be sustained by various forms of debt-ranging from credit cards, to second mortgages on homes, to student loans. Now, as the first two of these strategies for sustaining consumption has collapsed- with the student loan bubble coming next- where is the buying power of the American public going to come from? Half of this country is either living in poverty, or on danger of falling into it. How can you sustain a healthy market economy when the wages of the majority of the population can't sustain a middle class standard of living? You can only do so through developing a huge, off the books alternate economy, participation in which is increasingly becoming a necessity for many Americans who were once proud of their status as workers and taxpayers. Not a pretty picture. But it's a logical consequences of the greed and the shortsightedness of those rulers of the American economy that Occupy Wall street has dubbed "The One Percent."

January 5, 2011

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Drug Economy, Neo Liberalism and the Social Basis of Ron Paul’s Appeal to Young Voters

“New York streets where killers'll walk like Pistol Pete
And Pappy Mason, gave the young boys admiration
Prince from Queens and Fritz from Harlem
Street legends, the drugs kept the hood from starving”

Nas, “Get Down”

That big ol' building was the textile mill
It fed our kids and it paid our bills
But they turned us out and they closed the doors
We can't make it here anymore
See all those pallets piled up on the loading dock
They're just gonna set there till they rot
'Cause there's nothing to ship, nothing to pack
Just busted concrete and rusted tracks
Empty storefronts around the square
There's a needle in the gutter and glass everywhere
You don't come down here 'less you're looking to score
We can't make it here anymore

James Mc Murty “ We Can’t Make It Here Anymore”

The strength of the Ron Paul candidacy continues to astound many liberals and leftists. How can a 76 year old man who opposes, and continues to oppose, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and was the featured speaker at the John Birch Society 50th Anniversary Dinner attract thousands of young supporters, not all of whom think of themselves as conservatives, some of whom are gay or people of color.

It is tempting to see Paul’s mass appeal to young people as a form of false consciousness, attributable to his anti-war position, which blinds them to the conservative implications of his libertarian philosophy. But such a posture overlooks ways in which one portion of the Paul platform, his opposition to the drug war, and the incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, speaks directly to their material interests in the way no other candidate, Republican or Democratic does. For young people of all racial backgrounds, the drug economy has become an essential income supplement in a society where work has become scarce, and wages have been driven down to the point that few people can support themselves in the legal economy without some off the books activity, a good portion of it drug related.

There has been a great deal of research done on the drug economy in inner city neighborhoods, where de-industrialism, and neo-liberalism hit first and hardest. From Charles and Bettylou Valentine’s pioneering anthropological study, Hustling and Other Hard Work, to Phillipe Bourgeois brilliant book on crack dealers in East Harlem, In Search of Respect, scholars have demonstrated that a significant portion of the income stream in inner city neighborhoods from the early 70’s through the present has come from the drug economy, shoring up local businesses and producing for a level of consumption among local residents, that official census data on incomes could not predict. Hip Hop artists and hop hop scholars alike have spoken about this with considerable frankness. In his book Hip Hop America, Nelson George estimated that 150,000 young people worked in the drug business during the height of the crack epidemic, a figure I have never heard anyone dispute

But what is less well known is the size of the drug economy in small town, rural and suburban America, and its role in supplementing wages in a nation where Wal Mart has replaced the automobile and steel industry as the largest employer. Even before partial legalization in states like California and Colorado, marijuana was the second largest cash crop in the nation, and it has now been supplemented by a thriving market in chrystal meth and prescription pills. Although I am not familiar with anthropological studies of the drug economy in rural, white America, I have gotten enough papers on small town drug dealing from students in my Worker in American Life class to get a sense that it’s proportions now equal, if not exceed, what is going on in inner city neighborhoods. If what my students tell me is true, a significant portion of young people working in Wal-Mart, K-Mart or other box stores sell drugs on the side ( prescription pills as well as pot) and almost no-one can survive on what those stores pay without some additional source of income. In poorer, more rural areas, chrystal meth, locally manufactured, is the drug of choice, and the violence associated with its trade can rival what you have in tough inner city neighborhoods.

In his powerful indictment of the new, low wage economy, “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore,” James Mc Murtry sings

Minimum wage won't pay for a roof, won't pay for a drink
If you gotta have proof just try it yourself Mr. CEO
See how far 5.15 an hour will go
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can't make it here anymore”

No body knows this better than the young people who work in these stores and their response has been to find alternative sources of income, many of them illegal, some involving the risk of violence, arrest and imprisonment

Enter Ron Paul with a call for legalization of drugs and release of non-violent prisoners. To millions of young people living in an economy where the route to the middle class can no longer go through the legal economy, that portion of his campaign speaks directly to their lived reality. It provides them with the hope of doing in the light of day, and in safety, that which they now do surreptitiously in order to have even a minimum access to what they perceive as an American standard of living

Given that no other candidate is willing to raise this issue as clearly and forthrightly as Ron Paul does, don’t be surprised if his support continues to grow among young people of all backgrounds. And it won’t be because of racism. It is because Ron Paul implicitly recognizes- alone among Presidential candidates- that without the drug economy “we can’t make it here anymore.”

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bullet Points on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Jim Crow South

Anybody who opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act is profoundly uninformed about American History or is apologizing for terrible crimes against African Americans conducted under a racial caste system that nullified the US constitution in states where it was imposed. If you’re not convinced read Neil McMillen's book Dark Journey on the Jim Crow regime in Missiissippi, which had chliling similarities to Nazism except the goal was to extract labor rather than exterminate a people

The goal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Right Act of 1965 was to make sure that African Americans were granted full citizenship rights in a section of the country which denied them the right to vote and serve on juries and therefore rendered them vulnerable to physical and sexual assault from whites without the protection of the law. I could go on for days about this, both from personal experience and from my studies of history. I had a girlfriend who grew up Black in Georgia in an upwardly mobile family that was literally terrorized for their economic success by their white neighbors. When you can't serve on juries and can't vote, you not only lack freedom of speech press and assembly, you need a white "protector" to prevent you from being terrorized by whites who resent your self-confidence or your success.

Blacks in the South living under Jim Crow weren't just segregated, they were terrorized,as were the whites who disagreed with the system. I worked closely with a white minister who tried to organize blacks and whites in the South together to form unions. He was, at various points in his life, tarred and feathered, pistol whipped, had his dogs shot, had crosses burned on his lawn, and was punched in a convenience store, at age 80, by a six foot 8 inch white ambulance driver who resented his activities. Fortunately, this minister, the Rev Claude Williams, was one of the toughest people I have ever met in my life and refused to leave the South. Anyone who apologizes for this kind of activity or makes believe it never happened...... may God forgive you

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ron Paul and Civil Rights

Ron Paul's position on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is ahistorical, misguided, and sanitizes the nature of the southern social system that the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, helped uproot. Black people in the South were not only segregated, they were denied the equal protection of the law because they could not vote and serve on juries The Constitution and the Bill of Rights did not apply. Black people lacked freedom of speech press and assembly, had their land and property repeatedly seized, and had their personal rights violated not only by authorities, by by invidiual whites who knew that they could not seek redress in the courts. This took the form of rape and sexual harassment, beatings, and occasionally murder. To use a metaphor libertarians like to employ, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 took the boot of the white population of the South off the neck of the black population of that region. It is one example of how government can liberate people who have been denied rights and subject to institutionalized humiliation through a poisonous combination of volunary action and armed force.

However, we live in a different world right now. While Ron Paul is wrong, disatrously wrong, on his interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he is right that the current face of racism is much more about drug enforcement, unjust imprisonment, and racial profiling by law enforcement than it is by the actions of white racists.:

Let's defend the memory and the lasting impactf the Civil Rights movements greatest victories, but less make sure we are not looking to old solutions to solve new problems,

What the Obama Administration Must Do To Bring Back Disillusioned Activists

t's time that liberals stop trying to scare disillusioned activists with the prospect of a Republican presidency and start trying to scare the White House and the Democratic leadership into doing something to show they are worthy of activists votes. For starters, they need to

1 Repeal the NDAA with its provisions for preventive detention
2.Close Guantanomo
3. Stop using massive force, with Homeland Security collaboration, to evice peaceful Occupy protesters
4. Fire Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and replace him with a lifetime educator.
5. Come out in favor of legalizing marijuana and releasing non-violent drug offenders
6. Fire the entire White House economic team, beginning with Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner

If they don't do that, don't be surprised if lots of folks who worked for Obama in
2012 either sit out the election of vote for a Third Party candidate.

Mark Naison
January 2, 2011