Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Teachers Lament: What I Do Best Matters Least
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

If someone ever asked me what I would most like to be remembered for, I would answer, without hesitation “my teaching.” Teaching wakes me up in the morning, and keeps me up at night. I think about how to motivate my classes when I am reading, listening to music, or talking to my friends and stay in touch with my students long after they have graduated. When I give a lecture where everything comes together exactly as I planned it and my students clearly “get” what I am trying to say, I feel like Bruce Springsteen, Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix after a performance- exhausted, emotionally drained, but ready to recharge my batteries and do it again. I have found nothing that compares to the high of making my students see the world in a new way and finding powers inside themselves that they didn’t know were there.

But the thrill of teaching, which motivated me to get a Ph.D in the first place, has had virtually nothing to do with my professional advancement. Every time I have received a promotion, it has been on the strength of my published writings, or on the research I have done. I benefit from tremendous support from the Fordham University administration, and am treated with considerable respect by my professional colleagues , but I doubt if much of it derives from what goes on in my classroom. The only people who know, or care, about the time and effort I put into my teaching are my students and it is their response to me, and their accomplishments, that I have to use as an affirmation of the value of what I care about most.

I am not saying this to complain about my personal situation, which is, at the very least, a privileged one, but to point out how little teaching is valued, or understood, in American society. Because so many of the traits that make a great teacher- particularly the emotional connection they forge with their students, and the long term impact of the knowledge they impart- cannot be easily quantified, it is tempting to see teaching as something that anyone can do, to view teachers as replaceable parts, or to see teaching as a necessary evil for scholars whose “real work” is research.

This attitude toward teaching is damaging at all levels, but particularly so in elementary and secondary education. The best people enter teaching because they want to change lives, but when those making policy devalue the emotional connection teachers make with students in favor of achieving results on standardized tests, it pushes great teachers out of the profession.
When you reduce teaching to its capacity to generate short term performance under conditions of extreme stress, you not only take most of the joy out of teaching and learning, you undermine the capacity of teachers to stir the imaginations of their students and inspire them to do great things. Mastery of a defined body of knowledge is only one portion of a teacher’s job; the other is to make learning itself joyful and exciting. If you base evaluation of teaching only on the first, because it is the only thing that can be easily measured, then you end up penalizing teachers for creativity and making students hate school. This is precisely what the education reform movement institutionalized by No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has done. It has created a legion of browbeaten and demoralized teachers and fostered a lifetime aversion to education among young people in working class and poor communities who are being drilled and drilled, and tested and tested and whose remarkable creative talents go unrecognized and untapped.

If education is going to thrive in America in every community, including the poorest and most socially isolated, we need to recruit and retain teachers who love teaching and treat them with respect. Salary is one component of this, but autonomy is another. If you don’t give teachers the freedom to be creative and create emotional connections with students and their families, then you will simply reproduce the existing structure of race and class inequality in the next generation. We need to view students as creative thinkers and makers of their own destiny, not as obedient and subservient drones who recapitulate bodies of knowledge in easily digestible form. And that requires having teachers who can strike a balance between skill instruction and tapping students imaginative and creative side. Many of those teachers are already there, ready to be unleashed; others are waiting to be recruited to the profession.

But until education reform becomes “teacher centered,” rather than infused with managerial imperatives and obsessed with accountability, our education system, at all levels, will remain stagnant.

There are great teachers everywhere. If you honor them and reward them, maybe we will can bring back joy and creativity to our schools

Mark Naison
December 28, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sometimes Superman- And Lois Lane- Live Next Door- What We Can Learn About Teaching from the Pruitts of E 168th Street

Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University

Today, I had a chance to spend time with two members of the most amazing family of educators I know, the Pruitt’s of East 168th Street in the Morrisania Section of the Bronx. The Pruitt family, who moved a small row house on 168th Street in the early 1940’s when the neighborhood was mostly Jewish, had five children all of whom became teachers- Harriet ( McFeeters) who worked more than 40 years in the Bronx as a teacher, principal and assistant district superindent James, who taught social studies in Bronx High Schools along with a stint running the Upward Bound Program at Fordham; Bess, who was a gym and dance instructor at Evander Childs High School and founded one of the first dance promotion companies run by a Black woman, and Henry and Janet, who were teachers and school administrators in Englewood and Newark, respectively.

At a time when improving our public schools, especially in poor and working class communities, has become a national obsession, it is astonishing to me that no one in the New York City Department of Education has sought to draw upon the experiences of this remarkable family for clues to how recruit and retain talented teachers Every one of these remarkable individuals spent their entire professional life as teachers and school administrators and achieved remarkable success in inspiring students who worked with them and teachers who worked under their leadership.

But the idea of recruiting lifetime educators seems to have low priority for those guiding America’s school systems. Teach For America, the largest and most prestigious alternate certification program in the nation, actually promotes teaching in poverty schools as a pathway for entering more prestigious careers ( TFA once put up a poster at Fordham explaining how joining TFA could improve one’s chances of getting into Stanford Business School!) and keeps only a fraction of its recruits in the classroom for more than five years. Under the Bloomberg/Klein regime in New York, the Department of Education has made a concerted effort to replace veteran teachers with newcomers from alternative certification programs, many of whom burn out and leave in two or three years. The idea of recruiting people who grew up in working class neighborhoods and giving them first class training so they can return as teachers to the neighborhoods they grew up doesn’t fit in the business models dominating educational policy, which look to maximum flexibility and mobility in the educational workforce

However, when it comes to teaching, flexibility and mobility may not be the traits we are looking for. The best teachers do more than impart skills and subject matter to their students; they build relationships that last a lifetime. I have seen this first hand with the two members of the Pruitt family I know best, Jim Pruitt and Harriet McFeeters.

You cannot go anywhere in the Bronx with these two individuals without running into someone who was one of their students, or their colleagues. Invariably, there are hugs, kisses and comments to me about how the person I was with either changed their life ( if they were a student) or helped them do their job better ( if they were a teacher or principal). But my evidence for this is not just based on individual encounters. I had the privilege of attending the retirement party for Jim Pruitt when he finally left teaching that was attended by more than two hundred people, most of whom were his former students from Morris and Kennedy High Schools. I also, almost every year, drop in on the Fordham Upward Bound Reunion, where more than 50 Black and Latino men who grew up in the Bronx reminisce about the experiences they had under Jim Pruitt’s mentorship.

There are a few things about the Pruitt family history that might provide clues to their success. They grew up in an African American family working class family where learning and public service were held up as ideals irrespective of the wealth one possessed. Each child attended New York City public schools and attended New York public universities. And two members of the family Bess and Harriet, lived in the family house in Morrisania during all the years they worked in the Bronx public schools, years that included an arson and abandonment cycle that decimated many portions of their neighborhood, a fiscal crisis took music, arts and after school programs out of the public schools, and a crack epidemic that destroyed many young people and their families. Through all this, Bess and Harriet remained in their neighborhood and remained in Bronx schools, guiding young people who others gave up on and mentoring new teachers who came in to work for them.

If you are looking for Superheroes, educators whose experience may hold the key to helping young people growing up in poverty embrace education, the best place to look may not be in the Charter Schools of Harlem, but in a little row house on East 168th Street between Prospect and Union Avenues in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

I know that’s where I go when I’m looking for inspiration, along with a great public school in the Bronx, PS 140, headed by a remarkable principal, Paul Cannon, who grew up only two blocks away from the Pruitts.

Maybe someday, when the people running our schools stop looking to Wall Street or Hearst Publications for guidance, they will turn to the people who have a proven track record for educating inner city youth, and who did it- and are doing it- in the neighborhoods they grew up in.
Mark Naison, December 22 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Erasing History: A Key Feature of the Bloomberg/Klein Regime in the New York City Public Schools.

Dr Mark Naison, Fordham University

One of the characteristic of all dictatorial regimes is the rewriting of history to enhance the regime's claim to leadership. This was done by European colonialists, by Soviet Communists, by third world dictators like Rafael Trujillo and Idi Amin, and, for a very long time, by white supremacists in the US who systematically erased all achievements by blacks, whether in the US or Africa, from the historical record.

The same thing has been done by the Bloomberg Klein team in charge of the New York City school system, who has made it seem that everything that took place before them in New York City public schools was scandalously flawed and injurious to New York City school children. Racially charged rhetoric has been one of the major weapons in the campaign of intimidation the Klein DOE has used to impose a rigid test driven regime upon teachers and principals. One CUNY administrator allied with them, in a conversation with me, called the New York City schools pre Klein/Bloomberg, a “criminal conspiracy against black and latino children.”

If you have not spent much time in New York City public schools, or had little personal contact with longtime teachers and administrators, you might find this analysis believable. But as someone brought up by two parents who were lifelong teachers( at Jamaica HS and Eli Whitney Vocational HS), and revered by their students and colleagues, and who is married to a principal who is a legend in her school and neighborhood, I was predisposed to be skeptical of Bloomberg Klein portrait of what went on in New York City schools before they were put in charge.

But really brought home the absurdity and injustice of their campaign was the experience I have had bringing the research of the Bronx African American History Project into Bronx schools. Over the past seven years, I have spent time in more than 30 bronx elementary schools, middle schools and high schools, giving lectures and tours, doing teacher training, speaking at graduation ceremonies, and sponsoring school wide oral history festivals and my experience with teachers in those schools totally contradicted the image of a pre Klein educational wasteland that the DOE has been promulgating.

First of all, the vast majority of teachers and principals who brought me into the schools to help incorporate community history into the classroom have been longtime veterans of the NYC public school system. From Phil Panaritis, the head of Social Studies at a Bronx District who first brought me in to present our research to teachers in his district, to Julia Swann, the network leader who had me do oral history training in the 13 schools in her charge; to Gary Israel, the brilliant teacher and robotics coach who brought me in to help create a Museum in Morris High School, to Paul Cannon, the visionary principal who had our research team help him organize his entire school culture around community history,; the most impressive people I have encountered in Bronx schools have been longtime veterans of the New York City public school system, not hotshot young teachers brought in by alternative certification programs.

All of these individuals, who are passionately committed to educational equity, were working to inspire and empower students long before the Bloomberg Klein team took charge of the schools, Many were products of the New York City public schools themselves.

And they are not alone. During the course the lectures and workshops and tours that I give in Bronx schools, which I do on the average of two per month, I have met hundreds of veteran teachers who are intellectually curious, invested in their students well being, and determined to try anything that will instill a love of learning in the children they work with.

These people were all in the New York City school system long before Michael Bloomberg became Mayor

Devaluing their accomplishments, and erasing them from history not only does violence to the real history of the New York City school system, it gives the leaders of the DOE license to implement policies which take power away from teachers and imposes a regime of rote learning and test preparation which is more likely to harm students than help them

Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep the Gates of Fordham Open to the Community! Contribute to the Bronx African American History Project


In the midst of a terrible economic crisis, when the gap between the haves and have nots in the US has widened dangerously, I am asking you to contribute to the Bronx African American History Project, not just to support its ground breaking research, but to help keep the gates of Fordham open to the Bronx community.

It's no secret that Fordham is a thriving institution. New buildings are going up; applications are rising steadily, and university fundraising activities are more effective than they have ever been

But though this dynamism makes Fordham an exciting place to teach and go to school; it also can have the effect of' transforming Fordham into a closed, gated community that working class people from the Bronx enter only infrequently. Anyone who has tried to invite community people to a student or faculty event know how difficult it can be to get visitors on the campus. Especially when students organize events, administrators seem determined to keep community participation to a minimum

The Bronx African American History Project is one important force on the Fordham campus which consistently fights to keep the gates of Fordham open. All events we organize, be they interviews, lectures, concerts or festivals are open to people from the community
and we fight tooth and nail to make sure visitors are treated with respect. From the Akwasidae Festival we supported that highlighted Ghanainan traditions and culture, to the Hip Hop Showcase at Rodrigues we helped inspire, to the Mic Check Events sponsored by Dolores Munoz
to bring Bronx talent to the Fordham campus,to the Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange we do every year, we make sure that Fordham remains a place where people from Bronx schools and neighborhoods feel at home.

If you support these activities, there is no better way of showing it than by contributing to the BAAHP

I know times are tough.Every contribution you make, be it five ten, twenty or fifty dollars, insures that the BAAHP will continue its fight, not only to
insure that long overlooked histories of Bronx neighborhoods are recorded and preserved, but to sustain Fordham's long tradition
of community outreach

Thanks for listening, and thanks for your support

Sincerely Mark D Naison

Founder and Principal InvestigatorBronx African American History Project

Please make your checks out to the “Bronx African American History Project” and send them to BAAHP, 641 Dealy Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458

Or, if you would like to Donate Online, go to http://fordham.edu/gifts_to_fordham/ ; Click on “Make a Gift Online” then select “BAAHP” under “Annual Giving and Resticted Funds”

Friday, November 12, 2010

First Video of the "Teachers Talk Back" Project


Here is the first video for the "Teachers Talk Back": project, an interview with master teacher Dave Greene, who has spent nearly forty years as a teacher, coach, and trainer of young teachers. Dave talks about what makes a great teacher, why standardized test performance is a poor indicator of teacher effectiveness, and why educational reformers have got it all wrong when it comes to evaluating teaching and retaining good teachers. The video was produced by Dawn Russell, videographer and documentary film maker for the Bronx African American History Project.

Please view this, email your comments, and pass it on.

The Teachers Talk Back Project aims to give teachers a chance to tell their own stories at a time when politicians
and the media have made them scapegoats for many of the nation's problem

Thanks for listening


Mark Naison
Fordham University,
Bronx African American History Project
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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Support the Fall Fundraising Drive of the Bronx African American History Project

Support the Fall Fundraising Drive of othe Bronx African American History Project

With sober appreciation of the hard times we live in, I am writing to ask your support of the Fall Fundraising Drive of the Bronx African American History Project

The BAAHP is not merely an internationally known community history project. It is a collaboration between scholars, community leaders, and ordinary citizens that gives a voice to people who would otherwise be left out of history books and neglected by those formulating social policy. The BAAHP doesn’t only record and archive oral histories, it makes that information available in forms that help people in the Bronx right now! Our research team are advocates and organizers as well as scholars. We not only write books and articles, we are out in the community giving tours, workshops and lectures and helping residents tell their stories in ways that empowers them and bring needed resources to their neighborhoods.

Here are some examples of ways the BAAHP brings history to life:

§ We helped coordinate a campaign to name a street and park after the great Bronx coach and recreation leader Hilton White, who sent scores of players to college on basketball scholarships, including 3 players on the 1966 National Championship Texas Western Team
§ We helped organize a Bronx Berlin Youth Exchange which has brought two groups of poets and rappers from Berlin to New York and sent a group of Bronx poets and rappers to Berlin
§ We helped sponsor the first ever “Akwisadae” festival at Fordham University which brought more than 200 people from all over the world to celebrate the culture of the Ashanti people of Ghana and announce to the world the existence of a huge Ghanaian community in the Bronx
§ We helped the largest mosque in the Bronx, the Futa Islamic Center, regain ownership of its building when it had been seized by the City in a tax dispute.
§ We are helped create an affordable housing complex for retired musicians in the Bronx, under the auspices of Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation, that will also include a performance space and music school
§ We have let the world know, through our White Paper on African Immigration to the Bronx, that more than 20 new mosques and Islamic centers have opened in the Bronx in the last ten years, most founded by African immigrants, without prompting a single protest!

If you are interested in promoting research that empowers Bronx residents, that creates an archive on Bronx history consulted by scholars around the world and inspires Fordham to place more of its resources at the disposal of people in Bronx communities, there is there is no better way of doing so than contributing the Bronx African American History Project.

Please make your checks out to the “Bronx African American History Project” and send them to BAAHP, 641 Dealy Hall, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458

Or, if you would like to Donate Online, go to http://fordham.edu/gifts_to_fordham/ Click on “Make a Gift Online” then select “BAAHP” under “Annual Giving and Resticted Funds”

Thank you for considering the BAAHP!


Mark D Naison
Founder and Principal Investigator
Bronx African American History

Friday, November 5, 2010

How Democrats Lost the Blue Collar White Vote People Worked So Hard to Get in 2008

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Earlier this afternoon, in a bad mood because of Tuesday’s election, I found myself on the Long Island Expressway driving out to my vacation house in Suffolk County. Around exit 50, I looked in front of me and saw a small red pickup truck with a sticker that said “Tea Party Patriot” on the back. Resisting the impulse to smash my van into his truck, I moved closer and saw another sticker that said T/E.A.- Taxed Enough Already.

All of a sudden my desire to run into his van disappeared, replaced by anger at whoever convinced him that that Democrats in power mean higher taxes for blue collar workers or people who own small businesses. Didn’t he realize that people who made less than $200,000 a year actually got a tax refund last year? Was this man, and blue collar whites all over Suffolk County whose signs supporting Republican candidates all mentioned fear of higher taxes, bamboozled by Tea Party leaders into thinking that the Democrats planned to tax the middle class and working class to pay for expensive government programs that served immigrants and the poor?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question was “no!” He was not bamboozled. Democrats and the Obama Administration gave these people ample ammunition to believe that once again liberals were prepared to sacrifice the “have littles” to help the “have nots.”

Lets go back to the health care bill. The Obama Administration had a noble goal, providing health coverage for the 45 million or so Americans who could not afford private health insurance. However, one of the ways it proposed paying for this was taxing what the Democrats called “Cadillac Health Plans”- health insurance plans that provided comprehensive coverage and access to top doctors through the payment of premiums of more than $8,500 per person for year. Even though the time period for imposing this tax was pushed back until 2017, the very idea that the Obama Administration would be taxing health plans that unions had fought long and hard to get for their members proved to be both a public relations disaster and a telling commentary on the Obama administrations understanding of class in America

In a country with so many wealthy people who are so lightly taxed, it simply unconscionable to tax middle class people for ANYTHING until the wealthy are taxed to the level that they are in other advanced countries, and that they once were in the US(-80 to 90 percent) But here is the Obama Administration, after bailing out Wall Street, and doing little or anything to change the tax code which gave wealthy Americans a fee pass, imposing a tax on health plans which provided top health care to middle class and working class Americans.

Let’s make no mistake about it, it was during the health care debate that white blue collar America-including union members- started to turn against the Obama Administration because they saw that this health plan might hurt them more than it helped them. And they were not wrong. Many senior faculty members at Fordham, who were strong Obama supporters, were flabbergasted to discover that the Cigna Health Plan they were enrolled in, which the Fordham Administration was trying to take away because it was too expensive, was slated to be taxed as part of the new health care plan. To say they were unhappy about this was a great understatement. Since these people were all committed liberals, it was not gong to change their vote, but all anticipated the new plan would entail sacrifices on their part
But what about people who were not committed liberals?. What about white working class people who were persuaded, by union leaders like Richard Trumka, and grass roots organizers like my departed friend Rich Klimmer, to overcome deeply rooted prejudices and vote for Barack Obama in 2008 because they were convinced Obama would protect their interests. Could this tax push them back over the edge into the Republican camp? Would it trigger all their deeply rooted suspicions that liberal politicians would sacrifice middle class and moderate income whites to help racial minorities? Would it bring to the fore all their fears that Obama was really a “Black”candidate rather than someone serving all the people?
The hell with them, you might say! If their prejudices are lurking that closely beneath the surface, who needs them?
I would answer WE do! We cannot build a true coalition for justice consisting solely of educated elites and racial minorities. As we did in 2008, we have to bring white working class and middle class people into that coalition; but we can only do that if we do not increase their tax burden and insure that major new government initiatives help them more than hurt them
The Democratic Party still has an opportunity to win some of that group back. But it can only do so by radically changing course, including modifying the health care bill to get rid of the “Cadillac tax” and refusing to propose any initiatives which tax the middle class to help the poor

Mark Naison
November 6, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Voters Have Spoken-- The Nightmare Continues for America’s Poor
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

The results of the election are in, and they offer nothing but bad news for America’s poor. Even before this election, the United States was the most unequal nation in the advanced world, with the highest percentage of income going to the top one percent of its population, and the largest percentage of its population living in poverty; but the results November 2 assure that this will continue for many years to come
The Republicans who swept into power in State governorships and the House of Representatives are determined to resist all tax policies which redistribute income; cut subsidies to beleaguered state governments, and reduce outlays for programs – from food stamps to housing to health care- which provide a safety net to poor workers and families. While they will not achieve all they set out to do in cutting federal entitlements, they have the power to prevent any moves toward progressive taxation by the federal government and to institute austerity plans at the state level which lead to layoffs of state workers and cuts in vital services that working class and poor people depend on
Since there is no chance that the private sector will generate enough jobs to funnel income into poor neighborhoods any time soon, much less compensate for the services about to be lost, we can expect to see an increase in the Recession generated misery that is already wreaking havoc with poor workers and families
As someone who works closely with schools and community organizations in the Bronx and spends a good deal of time driving through and walking through Bronx neighborhoods, I have already been receiving alarming reports about the fraying of the social fabric and growing desperation among the people
Here are some of the things I have been hearing , none of which give me cause for optimism about where we are heading
More and more people being forced into homelessness by foreclosures on apartment buildings and homes and by rising rents and declining services in public housing.
Rising levels of violence in families and neighborhoods, resulting in a sharp increase in the murder rate and the return of “mugging” as a form of income acquisition for desperate young men and women, making everyone less safe on streets and subways.
More fights and violent incidents in schools, and more abusive behavior toward teachers, as young people feel stress of the economic crisis on their families and caretakers
Young mothers turning to prostitution to help them and their children stay in apartments whose rents they can barely afford.
More vicious attacks on vulnerable groups- particularly gays and recent immigrants- by groups of young men and women.
The average middle class or wealthy New Yorker, who lives in neighborhoods segregated by income if not race, doesn’t see these signs of a frayed social fabric, unless they work or do business in a poor neighborhood, but it is only a matter of time before the violence and desperation being spawned will spill over into the entire city.
Humanitarian considerations, and a sense of justice, dictate that we try to do something about rising levels of desperation among poor New Yorkers, and poor Americans generally, but we will find out soon enough that if we continue to beat our poorer citizens down, it will lead to patterns of behavior that will not be o easily contained, and will undermine our own sense of security, and our safety in public places
We are all about to reap what we have sown.

Mark Naison
November 3, 2010

Monday, October 25, 2010

In Defense of Public School Teachers
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

There are few jobs in this country more challenging than that of a public school teacher. In a country with one of the highest rates of poverty in the industrialized world, with almost no social safety net to help struggling families, our teachers have to create a positive learning atmosphere in classrooms with filled with young people under stress. The teacher not only has to be someone who can transmit knowledge and skills, he or she has to be a diplomat, a counselor, a surrogate parent and occasionally a police officer. And those skills don’t just extend to the students. The parents and caretakers ( because many of working class and poor children live with grandparents or foster parents) are a challenge all by themselves as many of them are under extreme stress and act out as almost as much as their children. And then there are the local school boards, and state authorities, who are putting teachers under pressure to have their students pass standardized tests and are looking to discipline them and fire teachers if they do not produced the desired results. A teacher today faces a complex variety of tasks that few people confront on their jobs- tasks that required intellect, creativity, patience, and imagination and if all those fail, sheer stubbornness and courage.
You would think, given the difficulty of the task that teachers confront, the incredibly long hours they spend preparing lessons and grading assignments, as well as the tremendous time and expense they put into decorating their classrooms, that teachers would be revered and respected by the American public. But in fact the contrary is true. Americans, more than any people on the globe, seem to resent and even hate teachers!
How else to explain the propensity of people on all sides of the political spectrum to blame teachers for the persistence of poverty in the United States, for the failure of the United States to be economically competitive with other nations, and for disappointing test scores and graduation rates among racial minorities.. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States praising the mass firing of teachers in a town in a working class town in Rhode Island where test scores were low; a School Chancellor in the nation’s largest city demanding the publication of confidential, and often misleading, teacher rating data in the press; and a mass market film about the power of teachers that focuses exclusively on privately funded charter schools conveniently leaving out the thousands of dedicated, often brilliant public school teachers working in the nation’s high poverty districts
As the child of two New York City public schools teachers, who each spent more than thirty years in the system, and as someone who spends a good deal of time interacting with teachers in Bronx schools through a community history project I direct, I find this hostility to teachers totally misguided. I invite anyone who thinks teachers are to blame for poverty and inequality to come with me on some of my trips to Bronx public schools and see the extraordinary efforts teachers and principals make to create learning environments for children that are filled with excitement, stimulation even beauty. Look at the way classrooms and hallways are decorated. See the incredible projects teachers do with their students. See the plays and musical performances that the schools put on. And talk to the teachers and principals about what their students are up against. I will never forget the closed door meeting I had with a Bronx principal, whose school served three meals a day, where he described how many of his children started crying on Friday because they were afraid they wouldn’t eat until they came back to school on Monday. Or talk to a teacher who is working in a class where half the students don’t live with their biological parents, and get a sense of the desperate need these children have for love and affection.
I would like to how well Secretary of Education Arne Duncan or NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein would do prepping students for tests if they taught in a Bronx middle school or high schools where half the students are on the verge of dropping out because of family pressures or problems reading and writing in English. The teachers who come to these schools and give students love as well as instruction are not cynically collecting their paychecks, they are taking responsibility for all the problems our society has neglected and for the family and community services it fails to provide
In a society without adequate day care, health care and recreation for working class families, where people have to work two or three jobs to stay in their apartments or share those apartments with multiple strangers; where young people face violence and stress in their living quarters as well as on the streets; where sports programs and music programs are only available for those who can pay; our public school teachers have one of the hardest jobs in the society
They deserve respect and support, not contempt. They are among America’s true heroes.

Mark D Naison
October 25, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Honoring a Hero and an Heroic Initiative- Rich Klimmer and Labor's Grass Roots Campaign Against Racism During the 2008 Presidential Election

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

As a critical midterm election in the career of President Barack Obama approaches, I want to take this opportunity to honor a friend, Rich Klimmer, who recently passed away after a long illness. Rich, an historian and an organizer for the college division of the American Federation of Teachers, and for the last ten years of his life, an amputee, helped coordinate the labor campaign for Obama in the state of Pennsylvania out of a hotel room and hospital bed. I want to tell Rich’s story not only to commemorate an extraordinary life, but to remind people of the sacrifices and the daily heroism of those who helped elect Barack Obama President in 2008. Rich was part and parcel of a remarkable grassroots effort, conducted in homes, in workplaces and union halls- to convince white working class voters in Pennsylvania to overcome their racism and vote for a Black man for President. Rich, like his friend Frank Snyder, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumpka, who was then in Pennsylvania, helped engineer something unprecedented in the history of anti racist activism in the US- having union members go door to door in white working class neighborhoods and talk with people about their racial prejudices and racial fears. Without such an effort, Barack Obama would not have won the state of Pennsylvania and other states like it, and probably would not have been elected President

To understand why Rich Klimmer put his life and health on the line- literally- to organize this campaign, you have to know something of Rich’s background. Rich grew up in the 1950’s in a white working class neighborhood of Chicago filled with union members and people who worked in Mayor Daley’s political machine. Although his neighborhood was all white, Rich, who was a terrific basketball player, started meeting Black kids through CYO and high school basketball games, and by the time he graduated from high school started identifying with the civil rights movement . That identification continued when Rich went to Marquette College, where he played on great basketball teams coached by the legendary Al McGuire, whose star players were predominantly Black. When Rich started graduate school at Marquette, he was a committed anti-racist, but still had the earthy, hard edged, persona he had developed in his Chicago neighborhood and was determined to find some way to include his friends and family in the political transformation he had started to undergo. Unlike many anti-war radicals, who came from middle class suburban families, there wasn’t an ounce of elitism in Rich’s body. Working class Americans were his people, warts and all.

Rich was a character. When I first met him at a meeting of the Radical Caucus of the Organization of American Historians in 1969, he stood out in a crowd, not only for his size – he was 6”3- and good looks, but for this thick Chicago accent and prodigious drinking abilities. We started talking and I gravitated toward him as a kindred spirit. Like Rich, I had grown up in a working class neighborhood and had played college sports, and like Rich, I was uncomfortable with activists who grew up in wealthy families. We started corresponding, sharing our historical work, and hanging out together at conventions. Rich became one of my best friends in the historical profession.

When Rich gravitated from full time teaching into becoming a union organizer, we became even closer. Rich was not only an incredible organizer- tireless, creative, charismatic and utterly fearless- he knew more about labor history and the contemporary labor movement than anyone I knew. Rich was the first one I would call when I was developing a course syllabus dealing with labor history or working class life. He knew every book in the field and had an intuitive understanding of what kind of arguments students would relate to.

I also enjoyed hearing Rich’s stories about life on the road. The life of a union organizer, now as throughout American history, doesn’t take place in offices, and apartments, it finds its center of gravity in hotel rooms, bars, on street corners and the inside of automobiles. It is a life of constant pressure, little sleep, rushed meals, strong coffee, and in the case of Rich, chain smoking and hard drinking.

Over time, the organizers life took a terrible toll on Rich’s health, he developed lung problems, circulatory problems, kidney problems and had to have a leg amputated. But Rich refused to stop. By the time he was sixty years old, he had had more than forty operations and was on dialysis, which required him to go into a hospital for blood transfusions three days a week, but was still functioning as an election strategist and a valued advisor in AFT organizing campaigns.

I watched Rich’s health fail with growing alarm. He was in constant pain and discomfort and frankly I don’t know how he could keep going to the hospital for one operation after another. But his will to live was strong- even though he refused to stop smoking-and he had a simmering rage at how working class organizing rights were being stripped away and working class incomes were stagnating in a nation where corporations and the wealthy were being given a free ride.

So when his friend Frank Snyder came to his hospital bed and offered Rich a chance to help coordinate labor’s campaign for Obama in the state of Pennyslvania, Rich pushed himself to the limit to get out of the hospital one more time. With Frank’s help, he found a hotel in Philadelphia close enough to a hospital where Rich could go for dialysis and he set himself up there for the last three months of the Presidential campaign.

I spoke to, or emailed Rich almost every day during those three months, getting his reports on an extraordinary effort to convince white union members throughout the state to vote for Barack Obama. Rich had incredible stories of young white construction workers going door to door with Obama literature and being cursed out in some houses, welcomed in other. Or of Obama signs going up in row houses on blocks in South Philadelphia where Black people were once afraid to walk ( get your visuals for this from “Rocky” movies.) Of tough white cab drivers and doormen who hung out at the hotel explaining to Rich why they had decided to vote for Obama because they couldn’t stand seeing their kids being sent off to war while college kids got a free pass. Or of the young Irish waitress at the coffee shop hear the hotel showing Rich the Obama pin on her coat which she couldn’t wear at work, but which she proudly sported on her ride and walk home. Or of Richard Trumpka’s amazing speech where he said there is only one reason why a union worker would vote against Barack Obama, and that was racism, and where he talked openly about the racism he confronted in his own union and his own family.

Rich also shared his informal polls with me and through much of the campaign, the results were hardly comforting. Many union workers in Pennsylvania remained “undecided” until the last days of the election and Rich feared that all the hard work he had done might not be enough. But then, in the last week of the campaign, Rich began to tell me “ I think we’re going to pull this off.” The undecided union voters were starting to go for Obama and the night before the election Rich had begun to predict victory.

Rich never got to celebrate the Obama victory with his union colleagues. The day of the election, he was hospitalized with an attack and had to watch the returns on television. At 11 PM, when the outcome was clear, I called Rich in the hospital and we let out a scream together. My wife and I were in tears because we had watched history being made, but Rich Klimmer had MADE history!!! I was so proud of what he had done, and so honored to be his friend

When the election was over, Rich and I sat down together and made plans to write a book about the Labor Campaign for Obama in the state of Pennsylvania, which he called “Class Struggle Against Racism”
We did a seven hour oral history with Rich, going from his early years in Chicago, through his own political evolution, to his transformation from college professor to union organizer, to a detailed day by day report of his three months of work in the Obama campaign. We then did another seven hours of interviews with Frank Snyder, the head of the AFL-CIO in Pennsylvania, who worked closely with Rich during the campaign, and travelled all over the state in the course of his work

We were getting ready to interview Richard Trumpka, when, Rich got sick, really sick. He had to be hospitalized, not just for a few days, but for months. He would call me about the latest operation he had to have, and the physical therapy he had to go through, and I thought, I could NEVER go through what he was going through. I consider myself a tough guy, but I was not that tough. Not even close

Then I got a call from Rich’s wife Lynn about a month ago. Rich, Lynn told me, had finally decided he had suffered enough. A deeply religious Catholic, Rich calmly said goodbye to Lynn, called for his priest to administer last rites, and died in his sleep.

As I grappled with meaning of Rich’s death, I of course thought of the loss to his friends and family. Rich was a great guy, the life of the party, someone who lit up every room he was in, someone who made everyone he talked to think they were the most important person in the world

But the thing that kept coming back to me was Rich’s contribution to one of the great moments in modern American history. I know many progressive people, including some labor people, are disappointed with the Obama Presidency, but we should never forget what came before it and how hard people worked, and how much they sacrificed to make Barack Obama President

No one, least of all Rich Klimmer, thought it was going to be easy to elect Barack Obama president, and no one should think that transforming that victory into reforms that improve the lives of working class Americans was going be any easier. As my friend Professor Henry Taylor once told me, it took 30 years to dismantle the tax and income policies made post WWII America one of the most equal nations in the industrialized world, and it may take 30 years to restore them.

So don’t be discouraged that “Change” is not coming instantaneously. Without hard grunt work by millions of people on the local level, reinforcing the efforts of progressive elected officials, we cannot hope to narrow the gap between rich and poor, rebuild our infrastructure, adopt sane environmental policies, and extract ourselves from destructive and expensive wars.

Even small incremental change requires incredible expenditures of energy. So when you are thinking things look hopeless, or that your efforts to change our country don’t matter, think of the work of Rich Klimmer and thousands of others like him who sacrificed so that real democracy might live. And then roll up your sleeves and get back to work

I miss you, Rich, but your example lives on

Rest in Peace, My Brother

You Made History.

Mark Naison
October 7, 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

If Young People Don’t Wake Up Before The November Election: “Change” Is Dead In the Water

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

One of the most amazing things about Barack Obama’s improbable run to the Presidency was the role of young people in energizing his campaign and persuading their skeptical elders that Obama was the best candidate in the field

I was one of those skeptics. So convinced was I that Barack Obama could never win a Presidential election that I supported an effort to draft Al Gore as the Democratic Presidential nominee and actually printed up stickers that said, Gore/Obama in 2008. My colleagues, most of them African American, were equally wary of an Obama nomination, fearful that it might bring a powerful undercurrent of white racism to the surface with a new intensity.

It was my students, and former students, most of them white and female, who convinced me, not only that Obama was the best candidate in the field, but that he could win, because he had inspired a wave of youthful idealism that I had not seen since the 60’s. These young women didn’t reach me primarily with their arguments, but with their passion and hard work. They were tireless in convincing their parents, classmates and neighbors to vote for Barack Obama, putting their friendships and family ties on the line to bring a great new day in the nation that would end the embarrassment of the Bush years and make America respected once again among the nations of the world.

This passion carried through the primaries and the general election, moved a mountain once though immovable in American politics and led to the election of our first Black president. I still remember the call I got from my former student Jenn Watts, who in her mid twenties was placed in charge of organizing Southern Indiana for the Obama campaign, telling me “ Dr Naison, we are going to paint this red state blue” and didn’t you know it, Indiana went for Obama by a small margin

Now, two years later, I wonder of that explosion of youth activism was a dream. With critical mid term elections coming up in November, what I get from the young people in my circle is indifference and apathy. Not one of my students or former students has sent a message to my email list urging them to vote in November. Not one has posted a message on Facebook pointing out the powerful issues at stake in the coming elections. Not one has handed me campaign literature, asked me to donate money to a candidate, or even brought the elections up as a subject worth discussing.

To me, given the issues at stake in the November election, this is both disturbing and astonishing. If young people voted for “Change” in 2008, what they are going to assure, by not voting in 2010, is complete Political Gridlock.

If Republicans win control of Congress in 2010, here is what it is likely to mean:

No major investments in infrastructure repairs
No national commitment to developing alternative energy sources or providing incentives to drivers, homeowners and businesses to become more energy efficient
No construction of a high speed rail system comparable to those that exist in Europe and Asia
And end to unemployment benefits for people experiencing long term joblessness
No pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, even those who have been working and paying taxes for years
No expansion of rights for gay workers and families

To put the issue more bluntly, the Obama administration, in its first two years, helped prevent a Depression, and created a health care plan which began to extend coverage to the nation’s more than 45 million uninsured people. What it was not able to do was begin to modernize the nation’s roads, rails and electrical grid, and make the investments in wind and solar energy necessary to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and retard Global Warming.

These are precisely the programs that are needed if our economy is going to be able to compete with other advanced nations and if we are going to be able to maintain our standard of living without putting intolerable pressure on the world’s resources.

In short, what is at stake in November is precisely the issues that young people ought to be getting excited about, as it is THEIR futures that are going to be compromised if progressive infrastructure policies, environmental policies, immigration policies and human rights policies are not introduced

So my students and former students, it’s time to get the fever for change back and make sure you vote in the November elections.

You still have a month left. The game isn’t over

Get off your butts and get everyone you know to join you at the polls.

The future you save may be your own.

Peace Out,

Dr Mark Naison
October 5, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Educational Reformers" Neglect Need for Vocational and Technical Education

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham, University

At a time when there is a huge need for technical/vocational education to train mechanics, vocational high schools are being shut down, to be replaced by small high schools, or charter schools which, when they work at all, train students for white collar occupations. To rebuild our infrastructure and shift to a Green Economy, we need engineers, electricians and construction workers, not clerks and brokers! But those with a 'one size fits all" approach to Educational Reform fail to see this

The irrationality of this hit home to me several months ago when I learend that Alfred E Smith Vocational and Technical High School in the
South Bronx was designated as one of 20 schools to be closed by the NYC Department of Education because of low test scores. I had visited Alfred E Smith last November to do a book event for Allen Jones Bronx memoir "The Rat That Got Away" and was tremendously impressed by the high morale of students and teachers as well as the huge auto repair shops the schools had. I remember thinking to myself how valuable an institution this was to have in the Bronx, where auto repair shops and body shops are among the most thriving of local businesses. When
I discovered the school was slated for closure, I was astonished. In a community where unemployment rates for Black and Latino youth approach 50 percent, you are closing the one school that actually trains them for decent paying jobs in their own community!

But the educational reformers, who seem to have "drunk their own kool aid" never let history, local conditions, or common sense affect the mechnical application of their test driven models. That other advanced nations, like Germany, have actually invested MORE in techichal education to help their society have the mechanical skills to adapt to a Green Economy never enters their calculations. That there will be millions of skilled mechanical jobs when ( if?) the US makes such a transition never crosses their mind either.

Someday, and I hope it is soon, people will challenge the union busting, test obsessed, charter school promoting lawyers and executives trying to remake American Education and develop a teacher centered, student centered, community centered approach that recognizes the wide variety of skills needed to have a vialble economy

Fortunatley this is happening in NY. Thanks to a lawsuit supported by the NAACP and others, Alfred E Smith High School has not yet been closed

Mark Naison
Sept 26, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What Happens When Two Great Lyricists Meet

One of the great thrills of my trip to Berlin was watching an amazing young poet and free styler name Eleagel ( Ejar Ruiz) take over whatever
stage he was on, be in in a park, at a club, in the lobby of a Youth Hostel, or at a performance for the American Ambassador to Germany. His improvisational
skills were unparalled, but he also had the ability to piece together incredibly meaningful poetry on subjects ranging from gentrification to the the challenges
of love and romance

Today, I had the opportunity to bring together Eleagel with perhaps the most inspired lyricist I know, a poet and mc named Akua
Naru who spits fire about the plight of Black women in hip hop, and America generally drawing upon incredible images and producing effortless flow.

Today, I brought these two brilliant young people together in front of my Rock and Roll to Hip Hop and watched history being made. Eleagel and Akua
were amazed and inspired by one anothers talents and gave my class a set of performances, some practices, some improvised, that they will never forget

This was language stretched into an instrument of spiritual awakening, and acrobatics of the intellect. Two people from different cultural traditions(Mexican. African American) two different places ( Brooklyn, Colgne via New Haven), of two different genders, battling with total admiration and respect

It is so rare to see this, in hip hop these days, with a man and a woman, but here it was, for all to appreciate, right here in a classroom at Fordham University

It was a moment that I wanted frozen in time, but it is something that I hope to see repeated many times over. Both Eleagel and Akua will be coming
back to Fordham next Tuesday at 2;15 for a video shoot, but I would love to see them tour together, in Europe as well as the US

What happened today is something that many people all over should have the privilege of seeing

This is what hip hop his all about


Mark Notorious Phd Naison

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Akwasidae Festival Celebrates Fordham's Developing Relationship to The Bronx’s African Immigrant Communities

On Saturday, September 18, a historic event took place in the McGinley Center Ballroom on Fordham’s Rose Hill Campus. A cultural festival of the Ashanti people of Ghana called Akwasidae, held at 40 day intervals throughout the year, was brought to the Fordham Campus, to honor the University’s decision to offer a course on the Ghanaian language Twi during its 2010 Summer Session. More than two hundred people came to this event, from as far away as Ghana and Florida, most in traditional Ashanti dress, to celebrate the coming of age of the Bronx Ghanaian community- the nation’s largest- and to affirm Fordham’s ties to the growing African immigrant population living in the neighborhoods adjacent to the school.

This event, which included traditional rulers of the Ashanti people from New York State and Washington , a representative of the Asantafuohene ( Ashanti king) in Ghana, an extraordinary group of drummers and dancers, and an inspiring speech by a Ghanaian presidential aspirant, brought African culture, political discourse and the arts to the Fordham campus with a majesty and force that this writer has never witnessed during his 40 years at the school.

This event is the culmination of four years of work by the faculty of Fordham’s Department of African and African American Studies and the Bronx African American History Project to build ties with the African immigrant population of the Bronx, which comes from more than twenty countries and very likely consists of over 100,000 people if you count children of these immigrants born in the US. When our faculty realized, as a result of our research and community outreach, we hired Dr Jani Kani Edward, a sociologist and ethnographer who wrote a book on Sudanese women in exile, to coordinate oral histories with this population, culminating in a grant from the Carnegie Corportion of New York to fund this research. In the course of our research, we met a Ghanaian scholar, Dr Ben Hayford, who we quickly incorporated into a research team as a consultant. Through Dr Hayford’s contacts we began developing strong ties with Bronx Ghanaian religious leaders, educators,professionals. and business owners, resulting in a number of ground breaking interviews that gave us invaluable information about this highly skilled and energetic component of the Bronx’s population

Then, a little more than a year ago, a Ghanaian radio personality and cultural organizer named Kojo Ampah showed up on the Fordham campus as a student and immediately spawned plans to increase the African presence on the Fordham campus. He joined the Bronx African American History project research team as an interviewer and community liason and organized a new student group on campus called the African Cultural Exchange. All of a sudden, African musicians, artists and political leaders began appearing on the Fordham campus, some to be interviewed by the BAAHP, others to speak or make presentations to the larger campus community

The enthusiastic response of Fordham students and faculty to these events, along with the University’s decision to offer Dr Hayford a position teaching Twi, led Kojo Ampah and his associates, Mike Mohigh and Nana Anabel Brenyah, to try to bring the largest and most important Ashanti Cultural Festival to the Fordham campus.

After months of hard work, they managed to find a space for the event, locate community sponors who would help fund it, and gain valuable support from Fordham’s Office of Student Leadership.

But the most gratifying aspect of their work was the incredible response from Ghanaians in the New York Metropolitan area and indeed, up and down the East Coast. The fact that a major university was willing to open doors to this community, to recognize its language, to celebrate its culture, and affirm how important its role was in revitalizing communities in the borough of the Bronx had a powerful effect, both on ordinary Ghanaians and leaders of Ghanaian organizations.

The result was there for all to see in McGinley ballroom Saturday. Rarely has Fordham seen a more innovative and powerful display of traditional drumming and dance, more interesting ceremonies which honored heroes and ancestors, and more powerful speeches on the future of Ghana and other African nations. This was a moment when the power of and potentiality of the Bronx’s African immigrant communities was there to see for anyone lucky enough to be present

It was also a moment when this great Jesuit institution, where a social conscience is still honored, was recognized for reaching out in friendship and respect to an immigrant population which, for understandable reasons, is still fearful of how Americans will treat them in a post 9/11 world.

This was a great day to be Ghanaian, it was a great day to be African, and it was a great day to be at Fordham University in the heart of the Bronx

May there be many more occasions like this at Fordham in coming years.

Mark D Naison
September 19, 2010


Saturday, September 18, 2010

Appeal to the Mayor of Berlin to Support the Worldwide Anti-Gentrification Struggle by Saving Tacheles

September 18,2010

Dear Mayor of Berlin

As a scholar in Urban Studies and as an admirer of the tradition of political activism and urban revitalization in your great
city of Berlin, I am urging you to use all the powers at your disposal to prevent the sale of Tacheles to developers and the
destruction of this great community arts center that attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year

At a time when the world financial crisis is creating in cities around the world what Berlin faced after reunification- a landscape
of thousands of abandoned factories, stores, apartment building and shopping centers- the last thing we need now is the
destruction of perhaps the world's best known example of the transformation of abandoned property into a creative arts center.
Not only should Tacheles be preserved and protected, but to paraphrase Che Guevara, we need "one, two, three many Tacheles" all
around the world, in New York, in Miami, in Madrid, in Rome, in Detroit and in Johannesburg!!

Tacheles is the front lines of a global anti-gentrification struggle. If you, in your position as Berlin's most important leader, can
lead a community movement to preserve this powerful people's institution, complete with marches, rallies, and legal and legislative
action, than people around the world will follow your example and began occupying the abandoned properties in their cities!
In so doing, not only will you prreserve a precious economic resource for the city of Berlin- which attracts hundreds of thousands
of tourists and creates hundreds of jobs- you will give people all over the world- including my home city of New York- the courage to
take abandoned properties and turn them into community arts centers, youth recreation space, and housing for the homeless
simultaneously meeting community needs and revitalizing local economies

Make no mistake about it, "the whole world is watching" when it comes to the fate of Tacheles. What the people of Berlin did
after reunification, with the support of progressive elected leaders such as yourself, is what activists around the world need to
do to repair the damage done by a financial system out of control that left immense wreckage in its wake

Please, Honorable Mayor, use your office as a "bully pulpit" to lead the people of your city to resist the banks and developers
who are trying to turn one of Berlin's most important community institutions into a hotel or shopping center

If you lead, people will follow, not only in Berlin, but around the world


Mark D Naison

Professor of AFrican American Studies and History
Fordham University
Founder, Bronx African American History Project
New York, USA

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Tale of Two Events: The 1963 March on Washington and Glen Beck’s “Restoring Honor” Rally
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

The 1963 March on Washington changed my life. As a 17 year old college athlete moved by the Civil Rights struggle, but unsure how to get involved, the sight of two hundred fifty thousand Blacks and whites peacefully gathering together in the Nation’s capital to demand passage of a Civil Rights bill made me feel that something profound and significant was happening in the country that demanded my participation. And when I heard Dr King’s speech offering a vision of justice in which people of all racial and religious backgrounds could play a part, I felt he was speaking directly to me. As soon as I got back to school, I joined the campus chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality and volunteered to do tutoring and tenant organizing. The rest is history. Forty seven years later, I am a Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University, whose life has been profoundly enriched by participation in social justice struggles, the study of African American history, and the building of deep friendships that cross lines of race, religion, nationality and sexual orientation.
Given this history, it was both shocking and upsetting to see Glen Beck use the very same setting, and the very same date, to mount all-white protest against the policies of the Obama Administration and promulgate a vision of religious faith that negates everything that Dr King stood for during his extraordinary life. That Beck could speak of “reclaiming the civil rights movement” in one sentence and denounce any form of religious faith that promoted redistribution of wealth, in another shows either his total cynicism, or his complete lack of familiarity with Dr King’s speeches and writings. Dr King, the theologian, was not just concerned with assuring individual rights for all, regardless of race creed or color, he was preoccupied with understanding how imbalances in wealth and power, deformed societies and created a climate where violence would thrive. One of his greatest speeches, his” Declaration of Independence from the War In Vietnam” was all about how the US “ was on the wrong side of a world revolution,” and how the pursuit of profits and he defense of vast imbalances in wealth was responsible for violence at home and abroad.
Dr Martin Luther King, though a man of peace, was a social revolutionary who believed that the health of societies was enhanced by the pursuit of equality. No where was that more true than his speech at the March on Washington. As I listened to that speech, I was overwhelmed by a sense not only that America could only be true to its ideals if Black people were given equal rights, but that each of us would be ultimately judged by how well our actions served those less fortunate than themselves. A nation, like a family, Dr King argued powerfully, could only truly achieve well being if all of its members were healthy and cared for, and he spoke of healing the wounds of racism and poverty as a sacred task that would not only ennoble everyone associated with it, but would greatly enhance America’s standing among the nations of the world.
Dr King’s genius was his ability to make people feel that devoting their lives to helping others immeasurably enriched their experience of living, while making the nation they lived in stronger and more respected. That someone could use his words and example to promote institutionalized selfishness as both Christian and patriotic is not only to distort his legacy, it is to defile it!
Mark Naison
September 30, 2010

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is the Tea Party Upsurge a "White Power" Movement in Disguise?
Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

The more I observe the Tea Party movement, the more it seems to resemble the movements that overthrew Radical Reconstruction and returned the South to "White Rule."

It’s not that the rhetoric of the Tea Party mirrors the white supremacist oratory that accompanied the end of Reconstruction, or that it has violent allies that engage in murder and intimidation that way the Ku Klux Klan did, it is that the Tea Party movement is composed of white people who feel that the world has been turned upside down, that their status has fallen, and that their livelihoods are at risk, because a Black man is in power.

The overwhelming emotional response to the Tea Party movement among working class and middle class whites- which I have seen first hand in the working class neighborhood where I have a vacation house- bespeaks more than a concern about deficits and government waste. It reflects a sense that the election of Barack Hussein Obama as President threatens whites of modest means in some profound and elemental way, a feeling that has been stoked by accusations that President Obama is a Muslim and not a US Citizen.

Unlike the people who overthrew Reconstruction, who openly argued that the United States was founded as a "White Man’s Country" and could only prosper if it remained that way, I am not sure that most Tea Party activists would use openly racial reasoning to proclaim the illegitimacy of the Obama Presidency. But their sense of displacement and outraged dignity seems every bit as powerful as that of white southerners after the Civil War ruled by coalitions of Black and White Radical Republicans whose governance was secured by the presence of federal troops.
When talking to Tea Party supporters, you get an overwhelming sense that they view President Obama as an "imposter," someone whose presence not only defies long standing American traditions, but threatens them personally.

There is also a peculiar chemistry in the movement that deserves interrogation; its propensity to bring like minded white people together in settings where they can express rage and disappointment in a way they could not easily do at work, in school, or even in places of recreation where they might have to share space with people of different racial backgrounds,

The energy released in such gatherings is extraordinary, as is the release of inhibitions. White people who feel constrained from expressing racial resentments in multiracial gatherings, seem to feel "liberated" by Tea Party gatherings. Finally, they can be themselves. Finally, they are in a place where "real" American values and traditions are honored.

What we have here is not the explicit conflation of "authentic" American identity with White Supremacy a major theme in American political culture well through the 1960’s, but rather the IMPLICIT conflation of patriotism and American values with some communally affirmed ideal of Whiteness that no one is willing to acknowledge and talk about

But the implicit quality of the Tea Party’s practice of white solidarity doesn’t make it any less real. No one can observe, or attend Tea Party events, without feeling the potential of the group to "turn on" people of color whose presence somehow offends the group ( as the Black man with the skullcap did at the Ground Zero mosque protests). The emotional investment in Whiteness among Tea Party activists is something its own leaders need to come to grips with and which the rest of us need to view with trepidation

Just because the Tea Party has not yet spawned violent actions, or an underground terrorist wing, doesn’t mean that it will not do so in the future. The emotions calls upon are extremely powerful, and the traditions it invokes have a long and tragic history.

Make no mistake about it. The Tea Party is not just a crusade to restore Fiscal Integrity. It is a White Power movement that has the power to weaken and possibly unravel the thin fabric of civility that holds American society together
Mark Naison
August 26, 2010


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Statement In Support of Tacheles- Berlin Community Art Center

Why Tacheles Must Be Preserved: A Statement by Dr Mark Naison, Professor of African American Studies and History, Fordham University, New York City.

It is both ironic and reprehensible that in the middle of a global economic crisis, where banks are being bailed out by governments, and where large numbers of commercial and residential properties stand abandoned in cities around the globe, that one of the most important examples in the world of the conversion of abandoned space for creative purposes is being threatened with elimination by banks and developers.

Make no mistake about it; people all over the globe who have visited Tacheles have been inspired by the story of a group of artists who took over a huge abandoned Department store after the fall of the Berlin wall and with their own sweat and labor transformed it into an internationally known arts center with an extraordinary music club that features artists from around the globe.

Tacheles is not a period piece; an excercise in nostalgia that recalls an exciting bygone time in Berlin's history. It is a living, breathing example of what ordinary people can do when markets collapse and governments fail.

I experienced this first hand when I visited Tacheles four years ago with the progressive hip hop group Rebel Diaz. When we saw the amazing things the artists at Tacheles had done with abandoned space, not only in the building itself, but in the adjoining lot, we wondered why nothing like it had been done in comparable spaces in New York City, especially in the Bronx, where there are many partially occupied warehouses and factories.

So inspired was Rebel Diaz by this model that they were determined to recreate it in the Bronx and this year their dream became a reality. Along with 20 other artists, musicians and community organizers- they turned an abandoned candy factory in the Bronx into the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, which, like Tacheles, has a music club, artists studios, and outdoor gardensand sitting areas showcasing graffiti arts.

At a time when the global economic crisis is leaving in its wake thousands of abandoned stores, shopping centers, and luxury housing complexes, Tacheles stands as a living example of how grass roots activism can transform such spaces into centers of artistic creativity and small scale commerce.

Not only should Tacheles be protected from irresponsible commercial development- undertaken, it should be noted, by the very institutions that brought us the global economic crisis-, it should be proudly promoted by the City of Berlin as an example to the world of how ordinary people can create opportunities in the midst of turmoil and hardship

Tacheles is not only a reminder of a heroic time in Berlin's past, it is, for many people around the globe, a symbol of their hope of a better future

August 18, 2010.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

From The Ground Up There's Little Difference Between Bush and Obama: Thoughts on a Conversation With a Working Class Neighbor

Professor Mark Naison
Fordham University

This morning at 6 AM, I ran into my former neighbor John today getting coffee at the local general store. John a white fifty something Navy veteran who works in a local lumber yard, used to live across the Street from me in the Springs section of East Hampton, but since his divorce, he lives in a house about a half a mile away. We greeted each other warmly and began to have one of he conversations that I used to look forward to when we were neighbors

John, who drives a pickup truck, wears a cowboy hat, and is a volunteer fire fighter and a local union rep, used to love to drop by to have a beer and talk about life and love and politics. I enjoyed hearing what the world and the nation looked like from his vantage point, and it was partly because of my discussions with him that I became convinced that Barack Obama could win the presidency in 2008.

But this time, in August 2010, his message was very different. John, who hated George Bush with a passion because he thought Bush was "handing the country over to the rich" was planning to vote Republican in November. His main reason for doing this, he said, is that "he didn't want to pay more taxes," but he wasn't too confident that his vote was going to make a difference. " It probably doesn't matter who is in office," he said, " I don't think that things are going to get better for a guy like me. But I'll tell you one thing. This guy we have in there isn't doing the job"

I felt my heart sink. This is not what I hoped to hear. I was hoping that John was going to vote Democrat, or sit out the election, rather than voting Republican. But clearly he was extremely disillusioned with President Obama and since he knew I had anObama sticker on my car, he was making sure to let me know.

If this had been a conversation taking place on the porch of my house instead of by a coffee machine in a general store, I might have responded with a long explanation of all the things Obama had tried to do for working class Americans - from saving the auto industry, to extending unemployment insurance, to pumping money into the economy through the stimulus bill- but I didn't have the time to do this and if I did I am not sure it would have made a difference

Because the bottom line is that John's life hasn't improved since Barack Obama came into office. He still has a job, but his pension is down,work is slow so he's not clocking overtime, and he can't sell his old house because no one is buying.

Now if John felt a deep personal identification with President Obama, he might be willing to give him more time. But for a working class guy who drives a pickup truck and whose major recreational pastimes are hunting and fishing, President Obama is a tough sell. Not just because he's black--,which is a factor but probably not a determinative one- (John has people of color in his extended family) but because he comes off as someone to whom life has been very kind. The beautiful wife, the kids who go to private school, the vacations in Martha's Vineyard and other upscale resorts, the time spent shooting hoops with NBA players, all those things make John feel that President Obama is not someone who really understands how people like John live or what makes them tick

The way John sees it, all politicians are crooks, and the rich get richer no matter who is in office, so he has to judge any individual politician by a combination of gut instinct and a hardheaded assessment of whether they have made his life better.

And on both of those accounts, John finds President Obama wanting

From past experience, I have learned to take what John says very seriously, not only because he is so honest, but because he is a leader in his own community,

As a lifelong Democrat, I am not very optimistic about what is going to happen in the November elections. Republicans are going to pick up huge numbers of seats because working class Americans will be holding Democrats accountable for the continued deterioration of the American economy and the failure of Democratic policies to improve the lives of ordinary people in ways they can appreciate and understand

Mark Naison
August 17,2010

Saturday, August 7, 2010

A Slow Recovery at Best- Reflections on My Latest Conversation With “Sam The Developer”

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

In order to really understand where the economy is going, you can’t just rely on statistics. You have to talk to real people and see what their actual situation is. I have a excellent entrée to people in many segments of the workforce through my students and former students at Fordham, who work in education, business, and health care, and through the people I work with in the Bronx, some of whom are recent immigrants who work in entrée level jobs. .

But one of most valuable barometers of economic conditions I know is a friend and tennis partner I call “Sam The Developer” an innovative businessman who specializes in developing shopping centers in immigrant, working class neighborhoods throughout the New York Metropolitan area. Sam has made an excellent living finding niches for economic development in communities of color like East New York and the Northwest Bronx, but in the process he has provided hundreds if not thousands of jobs, in construction and in retail, to residents of those neighborhoods. Sam, along with small and medium size business people throughout the country like him, was a major source of private sector job growth before the Recession hit, and was virtually “shut down” during the first two years of the Crisis. No bank would lend to him, and as a result no new project could be launched

When I asked him whether things were getting better, his answer was instructive and frankly not that encouraging. After a two year drought, Sam said, development opportunities are starting to reappear in the New York economy, at least for people like him who work in outer borough immigrant neighborhoods, but under very changed conditions. First of all he said, the construction unions in New York have been broken. No one can build paying union wages, so developers are either hiring non union workers or paying union workers way below what was once the prevailing wage. Secondly, banks are lending again, but under such restrictive conditions as to make it impossible for small businessmen like him to work with them. They are either charging exorbitant interest rates for their loans or demanding that the recipient put up all his or her personal property – including their houses- as collateral, which Sam is unwilling to do

To take advantage of the few opportunities which are there, which Sam said, are largely in building “big box” stores in Brooklyn or the Bronx, Sam has had to get loans guaranteed by government intermediaries through Stimulus Funding. Those loans will keep him in business for several years, but when they expire, Sam will have to get his funding directly from the banks, and he is not sure that they will be willing to lend at rates that will allow him to do business.

Needless to say, the picture Sam paints suggests that the “Recovery” we are in is extremely fragile. First of all, job growth in a key economic sector- construction- in so far as it has occurred at all, has been accompanied by declining wages. This is hardly the kind of economic climate to nurture “consumer confidence” Secondly, banks are so fearful of losses from toxic assets still on their books that they are taking no risks in funding new business enterprises. As a result, it is extremely difficult to get funding for new projects or new enterprises, even when the developer has an excellent track record. Finally, many of the new projects that are being launched are made financial viable by federal stimulus funds, which are likely to run out in the next two years.

Anyway you look at it, this is a grim picture. Banks not lending, new projects remaining dormant, unemployment high, wages falling, Insofar as there is job growth, it comes from industries receiving an infusion of government stimulus funding. But what is going to happen when those funds run out. Will job growth come from consumer demand? The resurgence of small business? An infusion of bank lending?

Unfortunately, if we extrapolate from Sam’s experience, none of that is likely to happen unless the government puts a new injection of Stimulus funding into the economy
An obsession with the deficit may make sense, in the long run, but it in the short run it will doom us to years and years of economic stagnation and extreme hardship for Working America.

Mark Naison
August 7, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being

The Unbearable Whiteness of Being; What Makes Low and Middle Income Whites
Feel Vulnerable in a Changing America

Reading Ross Douthat's column in the NYTimes blaming ivy league admissions for the disaffection of working class and middle class whites made me laugh. As someone who grew up with working class whites, and spent large amounts of time with working class whites during my years of coaching baseball and basketball in Brooklyn from the early 80s’ to the late 90’s, I can assure you that among working class Brooklynites, ivy league admissions NEVER CAME UP when the subject of white racial grievances were raised. That subject was and still is one that upsets white Fordham students, but in the ballfields, bars and gymnasiums of Canarsie, Bergen Beach
Marine Park and Bay Ridge, the racial fears of working class whites were overwhelmingly focused on things they experienced on the job and fears for their children’s safety as neighborhoods and schools turned from predominantly white to predominantly Black and Latino.

When my working class white friends and fellow coaches attacked affirmative action- which they did vociferously and often- it was about preferential treatment that they saw blacks and Latinos getting on the job, especially in civil service. They were convinced that in any government agency- whether it was the police department, the fire department, the bureau of motor vehicles or the board of education- they were going to be passed over for promotion by blacks and Latinos with lower test scores. When I told them that these compensatory racial preferences, which were being steadily undermined by Supreme Court decisions, were far less damaging than the discrimination that Blacks and Latinos still faced in the skilled construction trades, they listened, but were not convinced. The fact that they might have to get a higher test score than their Black or Latino co workers to get promoted to sergeant of office administrator irritated them enormously, and easily led to self pitying arguments that “a white man couldn’t get a break in America anymore” When I challenged them with a litany of things blacks went through on a daily basis - from job and housing discrimination to harassment by police- they listened, but rarely relinquished their deep sense of outrage that color conscious hiring was now official policy in many government agencies and some private employers

But resentment of affirmative action was hardly the only issue white working class people I know raised when talking about race. Their biggest concern was that their kids were going to be beaten up and/or harassed by Blacks and Latinos peers as Brooklyn neighborhoods and schools turned from majority white to majority Black and Latino.
Since this is something that happened to me when I was in high school ( see White Boy: A Memoir and) and to many kids in my Park Slope neighborhood ( see Jonathan Lethem’s novel Fortress of Solitude), I could hardly tell them that they were making these things up, even though my own children had overwhelmingly positive experiences in integrated schools and neighborhoods. When talking about race, they were prone to view the world through the prism of “the glass half empty.” Whereas I saw neighborhood change as an opportunity to create a more open and inclusive society, they saw it as a threat to the value of their only asset- their home- and something that would put their children and families at risk. Were they wrong about this? There was certainly evidence, both objectively and subjectively, that their fears had substance

Given these two sets of concerns, about fairness on the job, and safety in the neighborhood and the neighborhood school, it is no wonder working class and middle class look at the changing demographics of American society with some trepidation. As whites are in the process of becoming a minority, not only in the nation as a whole, but in the communities they live in, they wonder if their economic and physical security, which were already somewhat fragile, is going to be compromised. And when they see a Black president, they fear that their concerns will easily sacrificed in favor of some unspecified “Black” or “liberal” agenda

Their fears and concerns, when it comes to President Obama often take forms that are ugly and irrational , especially given the President's history and actual policies, but the experiences which fuel their fears are ones that must be examined critically. The racial resentments of whites of modest means are a complex mix of inherited racist attitudes, folktakes and rumors spread by the media and word of mouth, and real life experiences which lead them to fear their emerging minority status. We ignore the latter at our peril. We need to have a continuing dialogue about race with our white working class and middle class neighbors which confronts their prejudices but allows their grievances to be heard

Only through that kind of dialogue- which should take place between ALL Americans- can create the basis of a fair and just society in which everyone feels recognized and respected irregardless of racial or ethnic background

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Why Hip Hop

Hip Hop's Not Dead Yet- Response to a Piece on the Degeneration of Mainstream Hip Hop .

First of all, not every mainstream hip hop artist is promoting misogyny, violence and "poor on poor" crime. Recently, Eminem and Rihanna released one of the most powerful critiques of domestic violence that I have ever heard in ANY musical genre "I Love the Way You Lie." This song will be remembered long after Lil Wayne's "Bedrock" is forgotten.

Secondly, there is a powerful feminist resistance movement that operates within hip hop. For the last three years, a festival called "Mommas Hip Hop Kitchen" has attracted nearly a thousand people, most of them young, most of them women of color, to a celebration of women's power featuring women dj's, rappers, poets, and b girls.s The women who organized and participated in this festival refuse to cede Hip Hop to arists like 50 Cent and Lil Wayne.

Finally there is a thriving hip hop underground, in the US as well as other countries that contains powerful commentary on povety, war, police violence and the persecution of immigrants From Brooklyn's Talib Kwali and Hi Tek , to Harlem's Immortal Technique to the Bronx's Rebel Diaz, La Bruja, Patty Dukes and Rephstar,there are artists who use the hip hop tradition to speak truth to power in the tradition of Public Enemy and KRS-1 These artists are not promoted on mainstream radio and television, but their music is easily accessible on the internet and they perform regularly for progressive organizations and community groups.

Let's not give up on hip hop yet. The corporate interests that have ruined mainstream hip hop are the same ones that have destroyed our economy, and we have to fight them musically the same way we have to fight them politically.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

“Killing Us Softly”- Political Gridlock in Washington Dooms a Generation of Young Workers
Dr Mark Naison Fordham University
At a time when economists are talking about recovery, American political leaders have been making decisions which may doom a generation of young workers to economic hardship for the next ten years.
At a time when official unemployment is 9.7 percent, and private sector job growth has ground to a halt, the Congress of the United States, with only limited opposition from the Obama administration, has placed deficit reduction over job creation as a national priority.

The results are going to be devastating for a generation of young people graduating from college and professional school, along with those leaving high school, the military, or prisons without advanced degrees. At a time when banks are still writing off toxic assets and being extremely wary of extending credit , and cash rich corporations are putting their surplus into dividends rather than job creation, virtually the only economic growth has come from government expenditures and tax incentives, but now deficit conscious politicians are determined to cut those channels of economic stimulation off

Yesterdays news from the housing front dramatized that dynamic. Last month, sales of new homes dropped 33%, to the lowest level since 1981, thanks to the ending of a program of government tax credits to home buyers.

This collapse of home sales will not only have devastating effects on the construction industry, it will lead to a further freezing of credit, as second mortgages are one of the major ways Americans fuel consumption. Yet a budget conscious Congress refuses to extend the very tax credits that prompted a modest revival of the housing market.

And that’s only one part of a larger catastrophe. Last month, Congress refused to extend unemployment benefits to the long term unemployed, a decision that will put further strain on state budgets that are approaching bankruptcy in many portions of the country, and will give yet another hit to consumer spending

Worse yet, Congress is refusing to consider even a modest extension of the stimulus package which, in many economists eyes, prevented the economy from falling into a Depression and saved many states from economic collapse

As a result of this inaction, many states will be implementing draconian cuts in key government services including health care, transportation, and especially education. During the next two years, hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country will lose their jobs, making a mockery of educational reform efforts and destroying the dreams of idealistic young people across the country who hoped to make teaching their career.

Let us make no mistake about it. If current priorities don’t change, we are going to see massive job shredding in the public sector, along with virtually no job growth in the private sector, for the next five or ten years Not only is it going to be difficult to find jobs in law, finance and real estate, it is going to be equally difficult to find full time work in education and human services.

Young people are going to be leaving college and graduate school with huge debt and few economic prospects; and as they find work in fields which require less education, they are going to push out people who have weaker credentials The result is going to be shattered dreams, crowded households, families under stress, and an economy doomed to stagnation because people have little income and less confidence in the future.

Government alone has the power to break this impasse, through deficit spending, but our politicians have decided that deficits present a greater danger to the economy than high unemployment.
To me, that not only seems to deny the lessons of history, it represents an act of gratuitous cruelty to America’s youth.

Mark Naison June 24, 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why Republican Rants About a “Secular Socialist Conspiracy” Just Won’t Work

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Lately, Republican Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich has been in the news for saying that Barack Obama is leading a “secular socialist conspiracy” that is as dangerous to the America as Hitler or Stalin.

Rather than being alarmed, most Americans yawned.

Attacks on President Obama for being a “socialist” don’t have a lot of traction not only because they are manifestly absurd- after all this is a president who bailed out the nation’s banks and is offering huge incentives to states to partially privatize their educational systems- but because the idea of “socialism” doesn’t scare Americans like it used to

And this isn’t just because the Soviet Union collapsed and because purchases of US Debt by the “Communist” Chinese help keep our government afloat, it’s because more and more Americans, to survive economically, have to adopt some kind of communal living arrangements, be it with friends, family or total strangers.

For more and more Americans, the nuclear family, consisting of parents living with children in two generation households until those children are ready form households of their own, is becoming more the exception in the rule.

You can see this dramatically displayed in the working class neighborhood of East Hampton where I own a vacation house. Virtually all of the residential units in our area- called “The Springs”-are detached one or two story houses surrounded by lawns. There are no apartment buildings; virtually all of the houses are zoned for single family occupancy.
Yet when you drive by these homes, early in the morning, or late at night, it is not unusual to see three or four or five cars or pick up trucks parked in their driveways.
There are multiple families, or multiple groups of unrelated people, living in those houses

And I am not just talking about the homes of the Latino immigrants, who are a large and growing portion of the Springs population. The same pattern is visible among the Springs white and black population On my block, which is predominantly white, at least two thirds of the homes have some form of shared residential space beyond the nuclear family.

If this is what is going on among working class people in a relatively affluent resort area, you can just imagine what is going on in sections of the country whose economies have been hit much harder. As unemployment proliferates, peoples home values plummet, their credit card limits are frozen, and their savings evaporate, more and more people, without fanfare or ideological pronouncements, are sharing living space, child care, transportation and food to stay above water, or avoid hunger and homelessness.

Even middle class people are feeling the pinch and are giving up individual living space. I know of several formerly prosperous individuals in their thirties, unemployed for over a year, who have recently moved back in with their parents and more than a few of my students, after futile searches for full time work, have taken the same step.

Given the dynamics of shared living space which have become the lived reality for more and more Americans, it is understandable why the image of a government caring for its people- rather than nurturing individual self-reliance- doesn’t scare people the way it used to.

In an economic crisis like the one we are living through, “self reliance” just doesn’t work very well , even for people who are hard working and ambitious. A lot of people recognize that to survive these times, they not only have to ask for help, they have to help one another. And they are doing so, all over the country, in proportions which most journalists, or social scientists have failed to recognize.

This doesn’t mean that Americans are mobilizing to sign up under the Socialist banner, But it does make them receptive to the idea that it is the government’s responsibility to help people when they are in trouble, whether they have lost their jobs, or whether their livelihoods are threatened by a flood or an oil spill.

And if the Obama administration is really doing that, all the red baiting in the world from Republicans won’t make a damn bit of difference

Mark Naison
May 31, 2010