Monday, March 19, 2018

My Letter to the Owners of Grand Prospect Hall Asking them to Cancel Their NRA Event on April 12

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Halkias
As a forty years resident of Park Slope and as someone who has attended over 20 events at Grand Prospect Hall, from political fundraisers, to weddings to school celebrations, I am outraged and appalled that you would defy the overwhelming sentiment of this community and rent the hall to the National Rifle Association on April 12
At a time when almost every school in Park Slope had walk outs and vigils to mourn gun deaths at schools in the United States, especially the Parkland Massacre, it is a grievous insult to the people in our community to rent that hall to an organization that not only rejects all restrictions on assault weapons, but has insulted the students in Parkland who have spoken out against gun violence
If you do not cancel the NRA event immediately, i assure you that I will not only never attend another event at Grand Prospect Hall, I will encourage everyone I know, including local politicians, to boycott your organization
This is the worst decision I have seen a local business owner make in more than 30 years I hope you come to your senses and cancel the event

Mark D Naison
Park Slope Resident
Professor of African American Studies and History
Fordham University

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Restore Child Centered Pedagogy

The movement from child centered pedagogy to data centered pedagogy was forced down the throats of educators and parents with a Civil Rights rationale- it was needed, advocates claimed, to reduce educational disparities based on race and class. The logic was simple; you have to collect data on all children to assure that vulnerable children don't fall behind.
Never has a more destructive policy been promoted with more egalitarian rhetoric. A policy promoted in the name of Civil Rights as been the perpetrator of Civil Wrongs The regime of universal testing and data collection has CRUSHED our most vulnerable children while resulting in the ethnic cleansing of teaching staffs within high needs schools.
It is time to say STOP, NO MORE. Return to child centered teaching which highlights the individual talents of each child and promotes face to face interaction between students and teachers and creates communities of learning within our classrooms
And build on the cultural traditions students bring to the classroom to help restore excitement to school communities.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thoughts from A Bronx Friend on Puerto Rican Identity, Cultural Appropriation and Bruno Mars

My husband was born and raised a few blocks from Fordham University. His parents are both Puerto Ricans who came to New York City from the island in the 1960s. His father, a retired vet who fought in the Korean War, is an Afro-Puertorican. His mother and her family have more European features. Nonetheless, both sides of his family identify simply as "Puerto Ricans" and they all listen to the same music, eat the same food, etc.
Having been raised in the Bronx, my husband, a true "Nuyorican", went to public school with other children of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants as well as African Americans. It was in school that he was exposed to music from Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Juelz Santana, Puff Daddy, Mase, etc. All of the children in his school, no matter their ethnic background, grew up listening to Hip Hop and R&B. His parents discouraged him from listening to Hip Hop at home because they considered this to be "gang music". On the weekends his mother would play songs from Hector Lavoe, La Fabia, La Lupe, La India, Marc Anthony, etc. so he also grew up singing along to all of the songs that are considered Puerto Rican anthems such as "la murga" by Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon. During his teenage years he was exposed to "reggaeton" with the rise of Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Tego Calderon. This genre quickly became a favorite among the Spanish-speaking young people and my husbandwas not an exception. His favorite among them all became Tego Calderon who openly spoke about his African roots and his pride as an Afro-Puertorican. Up until that point, my husband had never identified himself as an "Afro-Puertorican", but Tego made it okay to do so.
It is this complex intersectionality that has created an identity crisis for many Puerto Ricans living in the states. With the many racial incidents in the recent years, such as the Trayvon Martin case, many Latinos living in the U.S. have been forced to reevaluate their identities as people of color. There are many Puerto Rican young people that could've easily been mistaken for a Trayvon Martin or a Philando Castile. They are not immune to being stopped by the police, harassed, or being discriminated against.
As far as Bruno Mars, he is obviously a person of color. It could become very murky when we start making distinctions on who is "black enough" because this is pretty much open to interpretation. If we say Bruno Mars is not "black enough" then we need to address Drake's identity, as well as Mariah Carey's identity, and maybe even Alicia Keys and Cardi B.
If the intention is to call out the "culture vultures" then perhaps the focus should be placed on Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Justin Timberlake.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Stereotypes About Islam Shattered at the "Young African Immigrant Voices" Panel at Fordham

Anyone who thinks immigrants from Muslim countries are here to wage war on Christianity, or that Islam is a "terrorist religion" would have left yesterday's "Young African Immigrant Voices" Panel at Fodham,organized by the Bronx African American History Project, with their belief system shaken to the core.
On the outside, the panel looked like White Conservative America's worst nightmare. Five of the seven young women on the panel wore hijab's and both of the men, and one of the women had "Muhammed" in their names
But once they started speaking, every stereotype started to shatter. One young woman, a recent immigrant from Ghana who attended Kappa International HS across the street from Fordham., wore an Army ROTC shirt along with her hijab and spoke how much she loved the military and of her plans to pursue a career in the US Armed Forces.
One of the men on the panel, an artist and teacher whose work promoting peace and gender equality has taken him all over the world, spoke of how his father, an Iman in Ghana, sent him to a Catholic boarding school, allowing him to sing all the same songs as his Christian friends and endowing him with a lifelong commitment to bringing people of different nationalities and faiths together
A young women recently arrived from from Nigeria, now a student leader at Lehman College in the Bronx, spoke of how her Muslim faith did not separate her from her Christian siblings and spoke proudly of her family as a model of mutual understanding between people of different faiths
And finally three of the elders in the group, two Muslim, one Christian, who had worked for groups ranging from the Mayor's Office, to the City Commission on Human Rights, to the offices of Bronx City Council members and Congressman Serrano, spoke of how you could not work effectively in the African Immigrant communities of the Bronx by dividing people along religions lines- that Christians and Muslims faced the same issues and lived and worked in harmony,.
On a panel that was diverse in age and experience as well as religion- there was not a single moment where anyone spoke critically of people of other faiths. And when people spoke of their own religious background, they invoked that tradition as something which promoted peace and the building of strong families and communities.
At a time when fear of immigrants, and of Muslims, is being promoted in the highest places, the Bronx African American History Project provided an extremely valuable counterweight to misinformation and hysteria
Special thanks must be given to the organizer of this panel,Dr Jane Edward, a brilliant scholar brought up Christian in South Sudan, who has worked closely with the African Islamic Community of the Bronx since her arrival at Fordham ten years ago, and has won their respect through her writing, speaking and advocacy.
The young people she brought together exemplified, for all who wanted to see it, the promise of an American future where people of all faiths, and nations and values live together in harmony and mutual understanding

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Good News in the Appointment of Richard Carranza as NYC School Chancellor

I am feeling very positive about Richard Carranza's appointment as New York City School Chancellor
Chancellor Carranza, unlike Ricardo Carvalho, was NOT on Eva Moskowitz's list of preferred candidates for NYC School Chancellor! Nor has he ever proposed the transformation of any district he has headed into an all charter district.
What this means is that there will be no dramatic attempts, during the remainder of Mayor DeBlasio's term in office, to turn New York into a majority charter district, which is where many other big-city school districts are heading, He is also a strong advocate for ethnic studies and culturally responsive pedagogy
In my judgment, we did much better with this appointment than we had any right to expect. I strongly suggest that our great principals in high needs communities like Luis E Torres and Jamaal Bowman invite him to their schools, establish a relationship with him, and show him how their schools provide models of using community history and culture to inspire students and engage parents.
Finally, I think it is a powerful statement to have a Mexican -American from a working class family as a Chancellor at a time when Mexicans are the fastest growing immigrant group in New York City To that end, I have suggested that one of our greatest young Mexican-American scholars, Melissa Castillo-Garsow, invite him to speak to her classes when she arrives at Lehman College next fall
Finally, I am very excited to have an accomplished mariachi musician as School Chancellor. Perhaps he can come to the Bronx and work with local students, dj's and rappers to create the kind of hip hop/mariachi fusion we can find in the music of many West Coast Rappers and our own local group H.C.P- Hispanos Causando Panico!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

First Thoughts on Black Panther

Just came back from Black Panther which I thought was a brilliant movie that reached audiences on multiple levels, depending on background and experience. Liz and I saw the movie in a packed theater in Eastern Long Island where the audience was less than 10 percent Black and had a large component of children and teenagers. To this audience, Black Panther was a great action movie with an intriguing plot, lots of fighting, high tension chase scenes, constant transmutation of real people into action figures, and futuristic structures that kindled the imagination. But at the same time, the movie turned race and gender stereotypes on their head, presented Africa as the seat of science and invention, made no concessions to colorism, and offered sharp reflections on the suffering Black people experienced when separated from the African continent. I have rarely if ever seen social commentary presented within the medium of an action film this effectively. Personally, I found it profoundly moving; but even those who primarily came for the action and adventure were exposed to something that might subtlety influence their racial attitudes and perceptions.
I also thought of the movie as an antidote to Trumpism, a tribute to the power and brilliance of Black people and their ultimate destiny as transformative agents in the US and the world, an unstoppable force that racist and greedy whites could no longer control. Even though it presented a utopian fantasy, the characters in their human form made the vision of Black people as scientists, inventors, warriors and wise, self critical rulers seem totally credible.
For many of those who came to this film, Wakonda will have a lasting place in their hearts as an alternative vision of what a society can be.
And that is an achievement worth celebrating

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Whistleblower as Prophet: How Jeff Canady's Warnings About Corruption in DC Public Schools All Proved to Be Accurate

Ever since I began going to demonstrations in Washington to protest federally coordinated attacks on public schools and public school teachers, a Washington teacher named Jeff Canady has been buttonholing me and other protesters to say that to understand the attacks on public education nationally, you have to focus attention on what was happening in the Washington DC public schools.  Jeff insisted all the most damaging features of federal education policy- test based school and teacher evaluation,  school closings and teacher firings, promotion of charter schools and alternative teacher certification programs- were being implemented in the DC Public Schools with devastating consequences, no oversight and no critical press coverage.  While the leaders of the DC Public Schools were being hailed by everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Arne Duncan as leaders of an education revolution destined to sweep the nation, they were crushing the DC Black community by firing hundreds of black teachers, closing neighborhood schools that had served Black communities for generations, and bringing in young teachers from programs like Teach for America who had no understanding of the history and culture of DC Black communities and little ability to mentor or guide Black students.  What was taking place in DC, Jeff insisted, was a new form of the Eugenic policies that had always been key elements in the nation’s approach to Black communities, as well as the logic underpinning the development of intelligence testing, and college entrance exams.

   Like many others exposed to Jeff’s arguments, I was rendered speechless by what he said.  Even if he was right, how could we get the evidence to back up his claims when no one in the DC press or DC teacher union leadership was doing the research to prove how corrupt the DC School system was, or how CD school policies were promoting gentrification and ethnic cleansing of the DC professional class? I told Jeff many times that I didn’t have the time or energy to do research on the DC school system, or lobby Congress to expose the corruption. I had enough to do fighting off destructive policies in New York City and New York State

  However, in the last three or four years, information has finally come out that has proved that EVERYTHING Jeff Canady was telling us in 2011 and 2012 was right.   Recently exposed graduation scandals in DC high schools where principals and DCPS officials were “cooking the books”  to make troubled schools seem successful were forcing reporters, education policy makers and politicians to look backward skeptically on all of the data used in shaping DCPS policy and conclude that the entire portrait of district success was a sham and that many of the teachers and principals forced out of the system had been unjustly terminated.  The portrait of the DC Public Schools as a great American success story was not only being undermined, it was being replaced by a narrative of which suggested that real DCPS story was one of ambition, profiteering, and careerism run amok at the expense of the city’s Black community.  Which not only tainted the engineers of school closings, teacher terminations and charter promotions in DC, but every foundation head, federal official and local business leader who insisted these policies be extended to other cities

 To reaffirm his portrait of a “cover up” of corruption, inefficiency and malfeasance in the DCPC leadership, Jeff just sent me a 2009 report on the DC Public Schools by the Government Accountability Office which was produced for the Committee on Government Affairs and Homeland Security of the US Senate.  Those who produced this report were not critical of the most devastating consequences of the DC School Reform- the closing or reorganization of nearly 50 schools and the removal of nearly 900 teachers, the majority of whom were Black. What they were critical of was the absence of reliable data systems for evaluating teachers, a complete lack of accountability on the part of staff members in the DCPS, and the almost complete absence of input of teachers, parents and community members into any policies relating to closing or transformation of schools. What came across in this report- produced nearly 9 years ago- was that extremely serious measures that affected the lives and careers of thousands of people and the education of tens of thousands of children were almost impossible to track systematically because there was little transparency or accountability in the manner in which they were implemented.

     Reading this report, not only for what it said, but for what could be read between the lines, it is utterly reprehensible that no serious investigation by local reporters or the US Department of Education was launched in response.  Clearly, federal officials, the Washington Press and education policy makers around the country had such a stake in the DCPS measures being a great American success story that they overlooked problems that were in plain sight.

     The lesson here is devastating. To the degree that the policies currently being implemented in cities from LA to Miami to Chicago, Philadelphia and Buffalo were justified by invoking the DCPS model, what has happened in those places is compromised as well. And if you look closely you will see the same ugly dynamics- ethnic cleansing of teaching staffs, destabilization of neighborhoods, gentrification and demographic inversion.

    Jeff Canady calls these policies Eugenics. Given how much of what Jeff told us ten years ago has turned out to be true, I am not about to say he’s wrong.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Message of the NYC Chancellor Search

To me, there is one simple message of the NYC Chancellor search fiasco: if you have national political ambitions, you have to support charter schools and ed tech as the path to education equity because that is what the big funders in the Democratic Party demand. New York City has been an outlier in both domains relative to other big cities ( LA, Philly, DC, Chicago etc) but under Carvahlo that would have changed. Will we get another Broad Award winner as our Chancellor, or will we preserve our outlier status? The next few weeks will be crucial. Teachers, parents, students, keep making your voices heard!

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Best Chancellors Can Be Found in the Bronx!

What's up DeBlasio? Why are you looking to Florida for Chancellors when you can find them right here in the Bronx? Either Jamaal Bowman or Luis E Torreswould be great for the job, or if you want someone a little older, how about Regents Chair Betty Rosa? It is CRAZY to look out of town for people to run the NYC School System, coming up with candidates who get awards from Eli Broad of all people!  The guy who just turned your down wants to turn Miami into an all-charter district. How insulting is that to the students, teachers and parents who support the public schools of this great city! The Bronx is where the real education leaders can be found.