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