Sunday, May 29, 2011
R.I.P. Gil Scott Heron
documented was inside him too, giving his work even greater power. No illusions and fictions, even those we used to keep
going day to day, escapted his sharp eye and poetic imagination. He was there when Sixties dreams collapsed in the wake
of drug epidemmics, de-industrialization, benign neglect ( of the Black and poor) and rampant connsumerism. His vision was as once
global, and deeply intimate. He could write about the aches we have inside with the same eloquence he applied to the nation's devolution
into cynicism.and material excess. Inside his musical universe, rage and irony coexised uneasily with tenderness and compassion and moments of startling beauty. There was no artist of his era who could match his range, his depth, his integrity, or deep vulnerability. That he lived as
long as he did,given alll he went through, is a kind of miracle, and the music he left us is the closest thing to a National Conscience we may ever find, save for the speeches of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. When I need to explain what I see happening in America today, which is a nation turning its backs on its most vulnerable while leaving wealth and privilege untouched, I find myself turning over and over again to songs which Gil Scott Heron wrote thirty and forty years ago
R.I.P. Gil. I share the song below with friends in your memory
Gil Scott-Heron - The Bottle
4 min - Sep 19, 2007 - Uploaded by chieflittlenutsVideo clip for Gil Scott-Heron's The Bottle.www.youtube.com/watch?v=_b2F-XX0Ol0
Sunday, May 22, 2011
The Money Trail in Education Reform Leads to Everyone But Those Who Need It The Most
Dr Mark Naison
In the last ten years, tens of billions of dollars have been spent to reform America’s schools-some of it coming from the Federal Department of Education, some of it from state legislatures, some of it from private foundations. This money has gone to fund research on Common Core Standards, to close failing schools and open up new ones, to create new protocols for assessing schools and teachers, to create new batteries of tests to evaluate students learning, to bring management consultants into school systems and in some cases into individual school and to fund charter schools and educational maintenance organizations.
In New York City, Education Reform funding has spawned a variety of new public sector careers , ranging from “accountability officers” in the Department of Education, to the heads of charter school companies making multiple six figure salaries, to management consultants on the payroll of the DOE, to scores of new principals whose jobs have created in small schools created when large, allegedly “failing” ones have been broken up. When you add this the tens of millions of dollars spent to create new computer systems for the DOE, and the hundreds of millions of dollars given to publishing companies like Mc Graw Hill to create new tests for almost every subject and every grade, you can see the opportunity for profit making and career building this movement has inspired among aspiring professionals.
But how much of this funding has gone directly to the people this reform movement was supposedly created to help, working class and minority students and their families? How many jobs for students, or their parents, have Education Reform funds created, either in school programs or after school centers. Has this money helped keep families in their apartments, allowed them to secure medical care or access better sports, arts and recreation programs?
The answer to this is a resounding no! In New York City and around the nation, the funds have created a whole new layer of middle class professionals in the schools, most of them white and helped create opportunities for profit to a number of private corporations, but have done nothing to ease the burden of poverty on the nation’s working class and minorities.
As of 2011, the child poverty rate in the United States had reached 25 percent, the highest level since the Depression, and Black Unemployment had reached 16 percent. Given this, how can the supporters of test driven education reform, whether they are in Washington, state houses, city halls, or the offices of major foundations, justify spending tens of billions of dollars to ( allegedly) improve schools without one cent of it going into the pockets of poor people!
While people are losing their homes, their jobs, their medical care, their recreational opportunities, and are experiencing daily fear and stress, new school professionals are flooding their communities with programs that to date have offered no return on their investment to the people they were allegedly designed to benefit.
What we have in America, put forward by those who claim to put “Children First”, is a cynical round of profit taking and career building reminiscent of the Gilded Age.
It’s time that people serious about ending poverty in America take a serious look at the Education Reform movement and FOLLOW THE MONEY TRAIL!
From what I can see, it leads directly into more profits for the haves, and more hardship for the have nots.
May 21, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Test Driven Educational Reform- A Desperate Response to A Society Rotting at the Core
Professor Mark Naison
The breadth of support for tying teacher evaluation to student test scores is something which cuts across all parts of the political spectrum. It is something which unites Barack Obama with Newt Gingrich, Bill Gates with the Koch Brothers, Andrew Cuomo with Scott Walker, and Al Sharpton with Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly While those of us who have spent our lives in the classroom regard this as ill-advised and counterproductive, it is important to examine why test driven educational reform is virtually the only policy initiative which commands this kind of bi-partisan support.
To do so, we have to take an honest look at what has happened to America’s working class and poor in the last thirty years, particularly in those portions of the country which were once part of America’s industrial heartland. Looked at from the vantage point of once proud industrial centers like Detroit, Baltimore, Buffalo, Newark, Bridgeport, Gary, Youngstown, and Philadelphia, the United States is a society literally rotting at the core. Whole stretches of these cities lay abandoned ever since their factories closed, with only piles of bricks and metals left as reminders of industries that once employed millions of people. Often, the only new building in the most decayed sections of these cities are schools and prisons, with the former often serving as recruiting grounds for the latter. With more than 2 million people now in prison in the US- as compared to less than 400,000 in 1980- and with over 10 million people having spend time in prison and been rendered virtually unemployable, there are huge stretches of urban America, and more than a few small towns, where the streets are filled with men, and more than a few women, who have no secure connection to the legal labor market and whose pessimism and despair creates an atmosphere that literally sucks the energy out of everyone around them As someone who has walked these streets, as well as driven through them in most of the above mentioned cities, it is hard not to feel like a whole section of the American population has been abandoned by their government. No one talks about these people, no one does anything for them, no one discusses the conditions they are living as problems central to the future of the society. Needless to say, these conditions have been immeasurably worsened by tax policies and industrial policies, adopted in the last 30 years, which have frozen working class incomes and concentrated wealth in the top layers of the society to an unprecedented degree.
So where does school reform come in? Some time during the last ten years, a broad spectrum of groups in American society, some of them elected officials and community organizers, some of them business leaders, decided that the way to bring America’s most devastates communities into the economic mainstream was by radically transforming schools. If we somehow turned schools into places of energy and optimism, where young people learned skills necessary to compete in a global economy, then maybe the children of the poor could escape the fate of their parents and we could achieve a more equal society without changing tax policy or redistributing wealth.
It was an extraordinarily seductive vision. It appealed to parents and community leaders living in poor neighborhoods because it appeared to show, for the first time in decades, that the nation was willing to invest in the future of their children. It appealed to political conservatives because some of the reforms proposed- school vouchers and charter schools- involved the application of market principles to the public sector. And it appealed to the very rich, because it promised a path to greater equality that left the tax system that allowed them to acquire great wealth untouched
In the beginning, school reform appeared to be a “win win:” for everybody. But after the first few years, when dramatic reforms, including vouchers and founding of charter schools, appeared to show few significant gains in test scores, or changes in the atmosphere of neighborhoods where the experiments took place, the discourse of reform started to center on the “problem of bad teachers.” With cruel cynicism, reformers began arguing that their brilliant plans were being sabotaged by poorly motivated and recalcitrant teachers, and that elevating children out of poverty through schooling could only be effective if teachers were forced to work much harder and be fired if they refused to produce.
This conclusion resulted in a determination to use test scores, not just to rate the progress of students, but to motivate teachers and administrators. Across the nation, with the encouragement of educational foundations funded by some of America’s wealthiest people, school systems began tying the salaries and careers of teachers and principals to the test scores of students they worked with, began systematically attacking teachers unions for standing in the way of these motivational schemes.
When teachers resisted giving up seniority rights to allow such accountability plans to be put in place, they were demonized as the major obstacle, not only to educational reform, but to the achievement of economic and even racial equality. Public school teachers, and leaders of teachers unions, were lambasted in the media, and by public officials in Washington and State Capitals, as selfish and pampered. If school systems could replace teachers at will the way business did with employees when they didn’t perform, than school performance would improve over night and the US would become economically competitive and egalitarian with one wave of the magic wand. The key was to constantly rate student learning by measurable criteria and determine the status of teachers, administrators and entire schools on the basis of such “data.”
By the time Barack Obama was elected, the momentum of this accountability frenzy was well nigh irreversible.
There was only one problem. There was no place in the entire United States where such strategies achieved any of the intended results. There was not one school system in a low income community where test scores were significantly raised by tying teacher salaries and tenure to student test scores, nor was evidence anywhere that such reforms had a measurable effect on income distribution or economic development in depressed communities. To put the matter bluntly, if you applied the same accountability criteria to educational reformers that were are being used to rate teachers and principals, they would all be fired.
What test driven school reform turns out to be, when all is said and done, is an initially well intentioned, but now cruelly deceptive effort to reduce poverty and inequality without addressing any of its root causes in taxation, industrial policy and the distribution of funding forr housing, health care and community economic development
Because of that, it can never succeed in achieving its professed goals, but along the way, it can suck the life out of schools and demoralize a generation of students and teachers.
In school systems around the country, that is exactly what it is doing.
May 16, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
But unless students and parents join the resistance to linking teacher evaluation to high stakes testing, it will take years, possibly decades, to undo the damage that will be done to our schools by arrogant and misguided public officials.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Monday, May 9, 2011
Professor Mark Naison
All across the country, public school budgets are being cut. Teachers are being laid off, arts and sports programs are being eliminated, class size is going through the roof. For working class and immigrant youth, these policies mean that American society is no longer even promising them the illusion of social mobility. What awaits them, should they graduate from high school is a grim choice between the military, low wage labor, or immersion in the underground economy, coupled with the very real prospect of going to prison.
Given this grim reality, it is time for teachers to start reserving time in their classrooms to talk about the real story in America – Inequality! Students in poor and working class neighborhoods intuitively know that their futures are grim. Why not give them the evidence to show their suspicions are correct and that policies can be adopted that could give them greater opportunity if they are willing to organize and fight for their right to decent paying employment as well as a good education
The best place to start your lesson plan with income inequality. Every student in the United States should know that the top 1 percent of the population now controls 23 percent of the income, as compared to 9 percent in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Then move on to tax policy. Explain to students that federal tax rate on the highest incomes, which was over 90 percent in the 1950’s, is now below 40 percent. Then move on to union membership. Explain that in the 1950’s, 35 percent of the American labor force were members of unions, as compared to 13 percent. Conclude with the growth of the prison industrial complex. Explain that in 1980, less than 400,000 people were in federal and state prisons as compared to over 2 million today, and that among the African American males, there are now more people ages 18-30 in prison than there are in college
Then, after presenting these sobering statistics, ask students to “ connect the dots.” Ask them if there is any relationship between income distribution and the growth of the prison population. Ask them to discuss who goes to prison, and how it affects those people’s lives. Do people released from prison ever become part of the mainstream economy, or are they permanently condemned to a life of poverty and insecurity? Ask students to write about people they know who went to prison and came out. What happened to those people? How did that experience affect their families?
Then move on to education. Have students analyze the education they are receiving. What kind of future are they being prepared for by a curriculum that puts so much emphasis on standardized tests? Ask them to compare the experience of people they know who graduated from high school and those who didn’t. Was the experience of the two groups that different?
Then move on to politics. If the students conclude that the whole society, including the educational system, is stacked against them, what should they do about it? If they are going to protest, what examples in the past can be used a models. Teach them about the civil rights movement, the labor and unemployed movements in the Great Depression, the women’s rights movement and the movement against the Vietnam War. Give them the example of the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit Ins where a group of four students decided to take history into their own hands. Ask them whether this protest has any relevance to what young people are going through today.
Then bring in hip hop. Explain how hip hop was created in the South Bronx by young people who had been written off by policy makers and created an entire new musical form at the very same time that music programs, and music teachers, were removed from the New York City schools. Ask them if that story, of marginalized young people making history, has any relevance to their experience? Ask them what it would mean for people like themselves to “make history.”
The pedagogy I am describing, I guarantee you, will grab students attention far more than the packaged history lessons being shoved down students throats so they can pass standardized tests. It will also impart critical thinking skills, and encourage writing, reflection and debate, in a manner that progressive educational reformers ( those that still remain) could readily embrace
But above all, it would inspire students, many of whom now are deeply depressed and profoundly pessimistic, to see that they are not doomed to poverty and marginality and that they can take actions that can make their voice be heard and change their circumstances.
Truth telling can be empowering. It can turn victims of unjust policies into agents of their own liberation.
It is time for teachers to unleash the genie of “Student Power” through bold and inspired teaching. It all begins with “Inequality.”
May 9, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Why More And More Students “In the Hood” Are Out of Control
Monday, May 2, 2011
Living in a Post Osama World
Professor Mark Naison
I hope that those who lost loved ones on 9/11 feel some sense of closure from the death of Osama Bin Laden.
I know I am supposed to feel like celebrating, but I just feel a deep sense of sadness as I grapple with a flood of memories from the day the planes flew into the World Trade Center and the events that followed.
Watching the twin towers fall from the 6th Floor seminar room of Dealy Hall at Fordham, with students and colleagues, wondering how many people had died, and worrying if my daughter and son in law , both of whom worked downtown, were safe
Driving back to Brooklyn across the Whitestone Bridge with tears in my eyes as I watched smoke pour out of the rubble where the twin towers once had been, a trip that I would not be able to take without crying for the next three months
Getting home to discover that my daughter and son in law were safe, but that my wife, an elementary school principal would be staying long into the night to comfort a traumatized student population and staff, some of whom had loved one’s missing.
Joining more than 10,000 people in Park Slope in a march from my wife’s elementary school to the local firehouse, to create a memorial to the 9 people in the local rescue company who died in the Twin Towers trying to save the lives of others.
Learning that three of the men I had coached against in CYO basketball for more than five years, firefighters all, had died that awful day, not being surprised at all that they had given their lives for others because when you are a fire fighter who grew up in Brooklyn that’s what you do.
Driving to and from work through Crown Heights, Brownsville and East New York and seeing American flags hanging from apartment windows and being displayed on cars in neighborhoods where I had never seen them before and realizing that this attack had united working class New Yorkers like nothing in my lifetime.
Sitting in my office with tears in my eyes playing a song by Travis Tritt called “ It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” and trying to convince myself that was, in fact, the case.
Feeling incredibly proud of how my fellow New Yorkers had come together to save lives and comfort one another during and after this unspeakable tragedy and wondering whether people around the country had a clue about who we were and why we could respond the way we did.
Now it is nearly eleven years later and the man who plotted this attack is dead, killed by American commandos.
If there is a lesson in all this, I am not sure what it is
Meanwhile, I mourn those who died, in the attack and the wars that followed, and feel love and gratitude for my fellow New Yorkers, both those who made the ultimate sacrifice that fateful day, and all of those who came together in solidarity after the damage was done to heal and ultimately rebuild a wounded city.
May 2, 2011