Friday, February 16, 2018

A Clash of Two Rights and an Epic Struggle About to Unfold

What we have in the US today is a conflict between the historic right to bear arms, forged in 18th and 19th century political conditions, and the right of the nations teachers, students and families to feel safe from disturbed individuals armed with assault weapons. Though the right to bear arms has a long history and is deeply rooted in the culture of many families and communities, like all rights, it is subject to modification when it conflicts with other equally important rights ( Remember; the nation once affirmed the right to own slaves). We have now reached a point where a majority of the nation's school population feels unsafe because of the proliferation of assault weapons in the hands of unstable individuals. The people who work in our schools, predominantly women, are mobilizing to protect themselves and the children under their care. They are not going away. And they have the model of multiple women's mobilizations from the women's marches in the early days of the Trump Administration to the #metoo movement. This time, the NRA will be facing a gun control movement infused with the energy of a struggle for women's and children's rights. If it captures the imagination of the nation the way I suspect it will, the NRA may not be able to defuse it the way it has movements in the past. An epic struggle is about to break out on the American political landscape.

A Suicide Path

The way I see it this country is on a suicide path.
First of all, the people shaping education policy in this country, during the last twenty years, have done everything possible to create more wounded children like Nikolaus Cruz;
They have deluged schools with standardized tests that squeeze every ounce of joy out of classrooms
To pay for the tests, they have cut back on counseling, libraries, the arts, sports, physical education, all activities where young people in trouble can find refuge or a place to express themselves
They have deprived more and more students of meaningful social interaction, either with teachers, or one another, by having them sit in front of computers all day.
They have adopted zero-tolerance disciplinary policies and throw out students who cannot adopt to the test and punish regimes that dominate more and more schools
The result, more and more students who have emotional issues or learning disabilities are given little support, little mentoring and few outlets for their emotions or talents, and are pushed out or pushed aside
And then, if they are angry, what is there to greet them
Easy access to drugs
Easy access to guns, including assault weapons
We are creating an army of outcasts and then arming them to the teeth
And unless we do something about both issues, a rigid, test driven education system, and easy access to guns, we are going to see more and more acts of terrifying violence in our schools and communities

Sad Thoughts on a Friday Morning

As I walked through the Fordham campus this morning in early dawn, I thought about the beauty of the place as well as the wonderful students and colleagues I have encountered here over the years and was filled with a warm feeling.
And then I thought of something. What if the teachers who worked at Douglass High School in Parkland Florida felt the same way about their school as I did mine? After this shooting, they will never feel this way again. Images of blood and death and trauma will always invade their thoughts when they come to work.
As my heart went out to them, i realized this could happen at Fordham. It could happen anywhere. We are all vulnerable. The beauty we are surrounded with could be taken away in an instant.
Which is why we must not only show solidarity with the teachers, students and families in Parkland, we must try to do something about the conditions which make tragedies like this all too normal in our country,
There is time for mourning. There is time for tears. But eventually, there has to be a time for action.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Something I've Got To Say That No One Wants To Hear

Of all the school shootings, the one that just took place in Broward County scares me the most.
Here's why. Every school or sports program I have worked in has a kid like Nikolaus Cruz, a young man so angry and disturbed that even the toughest teacher or coach couldn't handle him. In my days coaching baseball and basketball in Brooklyn, I took pride in taking boys and young men under my wing that no one else could handle, but there were occasionally kids who were too difficult even for me, and with great reluctance I had to throw them out of the program. In one instance, a young man I threw out came back with an ice pick and threatened to cut me up, but with help, I was able to handle that. But what if he came back with an automatic weapon. If he did, I and several other people would have been dead.
Basically, that's what happened in Broward, A disturbed young man who was thrown out of his high school returned with automatic weapons and killed 17 students and teachers. And here's my point. There are tens of thousands of Nikolaus Cruz's all over this country. Give them easy access to automatic weapons and they are a massacre waiting to happen.
This isn't a mental health problem--there is no therapy program that cure the rage inside every wounded, bitter young man. It isn't an education program- there are some kids even the best trained, most compassionate, street smart teachers can't reach.
It is an automatic weapons problem. You put automatic weapons in the hands of every adolescent loose cannon in small town and suburban America and you are setting yourself up for massacres of students and teachers.
No one in those communities wants to hear this.No program anyone has ever developed will defuse the rage in the Nikolaus Cruz's of the world. You want your children to feel safe? Take the automatic weapons out of their hands

Saturday, February 10, 2018

On The Spousal Abusers in the White House

Sexual and physical abuse is something which crosses lines of class and race and ideology- it is not something that can be placed at the feet of any one occupational group or political party. Nevertheless, it is telling that two high level figures in the Trump White House who were close to the President, first Steve Bannon and now Rob Porter, had a record of physical abuse of spouses.
I do not think this is accidental. I strongly believe that the way men approach power in all aspects of their lives spills over into how they deal with women, both those they are in professional or personal relationships with, and those they meet in random encounters. If you create a culture at your workplace where weakness is despised, strength is exalted, and compassion is seen as the province of fools, as Mr Trump apparently does, you are likely to attract people who apply those principles to their personal lives.
I have often said that if Donald Trump is to be neutralized and discredited, it will not be Russia that will be his downfall, but his attitudes towards and relationships with women. Surrounding himself with spousal abusers is one part of a disturbing pattern of cynical behavior towards women that reflects a worldview which transforms all individuals and groups perceived as “weak” into objects of contempt. Most people, if they thought about this pattern honestly, would be very uncomfortable having a person with such views as their leader, whether in their community or the nation.
Donald Trump may well complete his first full term in office, but the toxic features of his leadership style are gradually getting exposed in ways which will permanently tarnish his Presidency

Monday, February 5, 2018

The United States of Sports and Music

Growing up in Crown Heights in the 1950’s, the child of two teachers who had come out of dire poverty to scrape into the middle class, I viewed politics and government as abstractions, frightening and remote. Between my parents whispered talks of McCarthyite purges, the mushroom clouds I saw on tv, and the shelter drills we had in school, politics was scary. Televised pictures of Eisenhower and Nixon, who looked nothing like the Jewish, Italian and Black People in our neighborhood, made it remote. I was told by my parents never to sign a petition, the Constitution was something we memorized in school and trying to become President seemed absurd for people in my section of Brooklyn.
So how did I become “American,” attached to the possibilities, mythologies, and opportunities the nation offered to people of modest means who came from immigrant backgrounds?
It was sports and music which made me American. Watching Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Duke Snider play center field; watching Carl Furillo, who had the same face as many of my Italian friends, throw bullets from right field; listening to Frankie Lyman and the Teenagers; Dion and the Belmont’s, and Little Anthony and the Imperials, kids who came out of neighborhoods just like mIne, create beautiful harmonies and sell millions of record; watching Giants linebacker Sam Huff try to tackle the great Cleveland running back Jim Brown! These were things that brought fame and fortune to kids like me, things that showed that anything was possible in America even if you grew up with very little or were stalked by ancient hatreds, such as the anti-semitism that was so much a part of my parents childhoods.
By the time I was 10 or 11, i knew that though I loved music, sports was going to be my ticket to “success” that mysterious thing that everyone in my neighborhood said you were supposed to aspire to. Hitting and throwing the ball farther than the other kids; dragging five of them down a football field when I carried the ball, made me realize that I had something which could get me entry into a world of opportunity beyond my neighborhood, something I realized every time I went to Columbia University to watch my cousin Stephen, who lived downstairs, play basketball.
Because of sports and music, I not only believed in the promise of America, I believe it applied to ME, something I transformed into reality by becoming the captain and number 1 singles player on the Columbia tennis team, building on skills I learned on the tennis courts of Lincoln Terrace Park on the border of Crown Heights and Brownsville.
Later in life, I would study and experience things that undermined my romantic portrait of US history. I would become a student of Race in US history and a fierce anti-racist. But I would never lose the memory of what it was like to be a child in Crown Heights and thrill to the harmonies of Frankie Lyman or Dion and the Belmont’s , the beauty of a Willie Mays basket catch, or the magic of a double pump layup by Elgin Baylor. Those images and possibilities became my Constitution and Bill of Rights, markers of my American identity.
They remain so to this day

Saturday, February 3, 2018

School Troubles In DC

The DC School scandal, as Jeff Canady has been telling us for years, involves multiple levels of tragedy other than manipulation of test scores
First, it was accompanied by, and made possible, by the removal of hundreds of the city’s most dedicated veteran teachers, the majority of them Black, with devastating consequences for the DC Black community as well as students in DC schools.
Second, it has accelerated and promoted the gentrification of DC neighborhoods, leading to the forced migration of tens of thousands of Black DC residents into nearby suburbs such as Prince George County, a process that some call “demographic inversion” and others call “ethnic cleansing”
Third, it has promoted a false narrative of educational transformation which has led to the spreading of the DC model of teacher firings and charterizarion to other cities, with equally devastating consequences.
Whatever you call what happened in DC- and Jeff Canady uses the term “eugenics” - it is a devastating indictment of the test driven, teacher bashing model of education policy that had swept through the nation in the last 15 years