Monday, December 24, 2012
To the "Beloved Community" of Education Activists
When you speak out as a matter of conscience on issues that are important to you, it is impossible to predict the consequences. You do so because you can't look at yourself in the mirror if you don't. When I began speaking out in behalf of teachers under attack four years ago, it is because I couldn't stand to see the great teachers I worked with the Bronx being made the unremitting target of abuse by politicians and the press. Little did I know that this would link me to a national community of education activists fighting the same policies all over the country. Now, four years later, I have dozens of new friends in almost every state in the union who have, for me at least, recreated the "Beloved Community" that the southern Civil Rights Movement held up as a movement ideal in the early 60's. The courage these individuals display in fighting top down initiatives that destroy teaching and learning, sometimes with little support in their own communities, inspires me with feelings of solidarity and love and gives me the energy to fighting on. To all of you, whether in Florida, South Carolina, Washington, Oregon, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Upstate New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Indiana, California, or the great city of Chicago, I owe a debt of gratitude for infusing my life with a new and higher sense of purpose. Please keep speaking truth to power and defend the right of all children to have an education that stirs their imaginations and builds on their strengths.
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:46 AM 3 comments:
Sunday, December 23, 2012
When It's Revolutionary For Militant NOT to Carry Guns
At a time when the connection between guns and radical activism is being fiercely debated, i want to point to two moments in American Labor history where militants chose NOT to carry guns- the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike and the Flint Sit Down Strikes. ********Both of these strikes took place in parts of the country where many people owned guns and used them for hunting. And the leaders of the strike were radicals who not only believed in armed struggle, but were fully aware of movements, such as the Farm Holiday Association and the Alabama Sharecroppers Union, where strikers used guns to defend themselves from authorities, and/or private guards hired by banks or landowners. *********However, in movements which required in one instance, workers seizing control of city streets, and in another, workers seizing and occupying factories, the strikers decided to use every form of force short of guns- chains, clubs, projectiles- on the grounds that if they decided to use guns, even if it led to a short run victory over local law enforcement, it would lead to the Army or the National Guard being brought in to suppress the strike. **********This decision proved to be a wise one. In Minneapolis, the strikers had at their disposal more than 5,000 cars and trucks which they used to make sure that no truck traffic took place in the city without the strikers permission. If anyone tried to defy them, they slashed tires, overturned trucks, beat up would be strike breakers- but they never shot anyone. The police were so frustrated by the effectiveness of these tactics that they decided to gas and shoot some of the strikers which totally backfired, leading to an unprecedented show of popular support for the strike in the form of a march of 50,00 plus people through the streets of Minneapolis **********In Flint, when police tried to evict strikers from one of the factories, the strikers beat them off with bricks, wrenches, freezing water shot from roofs and roving bands who disabled police vehicles. And when police, in frustration, started shooting, public opinion in the city turned so decisively in favor of the strikers that the police never tried to evict the strikers again. ***********Both of these strikes, by the way were successful, leading to in Minneapolis, the massive consolidation of the Teamsters Union as the bargaining agent for truckers and warehouse workers and in Flint to the unionization of General Motors. ***********There are two lessons here. First, that people who own guns are do not always have to use them when they are under duress, or are in a life and death political struggle, and second, that sometimes militant justice movements use better when they avoid gun battles rather than engage in them *********I put these examples forward to stir debate and discussion on a difficult subject
Posted by Mark Naison at 6:02 AM No comments:
Are Our Best Teachers an Endangered Species?
From my wife Liz, who is a principal, to my hair cutter Maryann, who is a nursery school teacher, to my students who have entered the teaching profession, to the scores of teachers in Bronx schools I have worked with when doing community history projects, the teachers I know are the hardest working, most idealistic, and most compassionate people I have the privilege of interacting with. Most of them are women. It is a sad commentary on the times we live in that their profession they have devoted their lives to has been held up to ridicule, and made an object of contempt, by the most powerful people in our society, most of whom are men. It is even sadder that the "reforms" which are being implemented around the country at breakneck speed have the effect of so scripting classroom learning that the room for compassion and personal interaction with individual students has been curtailed. I urge people on this thread to talk to teachers in their families about how their jobs are being transformed by testing and accountability protocols being imposed in their schools and then think long and hard whether education policy in this nation is heading in the right direction. Given the fault lines that have been revealed in our society by the Hurricane Sandy, the last election, and the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, do we really want to make our schools so impersonal and bureaucratic that the best teachers leave, and the ones who decide to join the profession are ones who have to harden their hearts, impose test after test and ignore their students personal lives? Is this the prescription for a healthy, humane society?
Posted by Mark Naison at 2:43 AM 1 comment:
Friday, December 21, 2012
I have been listening carefully to all the comments about gun ownership on my thread and have come to the conclusion that support of gun possession does not fall simply along political lines. *******It would be tempting to write off those suspicious of gun regulation as white people fearful of Blacks and Latinos or afraid of a Federal conspiracy to take away their rights now that we have a Black man elected to the office of President for two consecutive terms *******But if you listen carefully to what gun owners are saying, some of them, a good portion white , some Black and Latinos, are most scared of their own neighbors who are of the same background as they are! *******What you have is a society where large numbers of people are living in fear, and neither trust the government, trust the police, or trust the people living around them. And this combination of fear and mistrust, toxic even under the best of circumstances is even more so in a country where so may people own guns ********You cannot get support to disarm the general population because people don't trust the government that would be doing the disarming. And you can't disarm the government because people fear that armed minorities would then terrorize the population. **********The result- a complete political stalemate on the gun issue and one that won't change until fear and insecurity levels in this society diminish sharply, some deriving from demographic shifts, many stemming from growing poverty and economic hardship. We have a domestic arms race in which appeals to unilateral disarmament fall on deaf ears. And I say this as someone who has NEVER been tempted to get a gun
Posted by Mark Naison at 11:21 AM No comments:
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Teach for America Leaders- Are They the Robert McNamara’s and McGeorge Bundy’s of This Generation?
Increasingly, the leaders of Teach for America remind me of the Ivy League efficiency experts who brought us the Vietnam War, a war their children never fought in, just as the schools that TFA corps members are sent into, or the charter schools they found, are ones their own children would never attend. Here’s why: ********Robert McNamara, in the summer of 1965, recommended that the US send hundreds of thousands of ground troops into Vietnam, knowing that they could at best produce a stalemate, knowing that 10,000 American soldiers would be killed per year, to help protect its reputation as a "guarantor" of nations facing Communist aggression. However, would he have made that recommendation if he had know that his own son could have been one of those killed? Similarly, TFA leaders would never send their children to a school where the bulk of teachers have 5 or 6 weeks training and would be even less likely to send them to a school like KIPP where students spend an hour looking at the wall if they are disrespectful in class. ********Policies which claim to be in the “public interest” that only affect other people’s children and affirm race and class privilege, should be subject to the most careful kind of scrutiny. And that goes for the alternative certification route to teaching that only affects schools in poor neighborhoods, or hyper-segregated charter schools which promulgate a “no excuses philosophy” and implement a prison like discipline.
Posted by Mark Naison at 2:35 PM 1 comment:
Sunday, December 16, 2012
The Power of Kindness: Personal Reflections on Young Men and Violence
During my forty plus years as a teacher, coach and community organizer, I have spent a good portion of my time dealing with angry, wounded young men, often on a one to one basis. When I was coaching, I always took the boys that no one else could handle; people having difficulty with their sons sometimes send them to spend a day with me at Fordham; and faculty and administrators occasionally ask me to mentor students, mostly men, who are having difficulty adjusting to the school. *********I work well with such young people because I was once one of them. Although I was judged academically gifted, I grew up angry and violent. My parents hit me on a regular basis because they thought it was theirr only way of controlling me and from elementary school through high school, I got in fights on a regular basis in school and out, so much so that I was forced to transfer from one high school to another out of my district. In college, I physically threatened roommates and when I got involved in SDS, in my graduate school years, I fought and out and was given responsibility for beating up right wing students trying to stop our protests and being on the front lines in conflicts with police. ********* As I settled into adult hood, was exposed to, and had my actions critiqued by radical feminists,, and got involved in love relationships with strong women, I began to come to grips with my anger and prevent it from poisoning the lives of those around me. I learned to anticipate and contain my rage, but I also learned something about its sources, one of which was an absence of kindness and compassion on the part of my parents, who felt relentless pressure was the best way to spur achievement and hard discipline the best way to stem rebellion. ******** As I got involved in teaching, and began coaching, I started applying what I had learned to young men who reminded me of myself. Some of what eased the way to building a connection was my body language and affect which allowed them to recognize a kindred spirit, but some of it was something I would tell them, which was that no matter how outrageous they got, I would not give up on them. They could come and hang out with me no questions asked, any time, get something to eat, listen to music, watch television ( if they were in my neighborhood) and not say a word if they weren’t ready to. If they were ready to open up, we could talk about anything they wanted to. The other thing was physical contact, which could go from high fives, to elaborate soul handshakes, to hugs, to me putting my arm around them when they were angry. I wanted to give them the sense that when they were with me, they were protected, they were cared for, they were safe, and even, though we never used the words, loved. ********It’s not that I didn’t think these troubled young men needed discipline. As a coach, or a teacher in the classroom, I exposed them to plenty of that. It’s that on a one on one basis, what they most needed was kindness and a space to be themselves without worrying that they would be discarded if they acted out. They were allowed to make mistakes without worrying about me running away. And guess what, that very knowledge calmed them down . ********* I am not saying that I was a miracle worker or master psychologist. I was a caring adult lucky enough to pursue a career as a teacher who never forgot the wounded child inside him and reached out to other wounded children to give them confidence that they could eventually overcome their pain ********** So here’s my thought: We need to have more people do this kind of thing to the wounded children that surround us, inside and outside of our schools. If we discard them, punish them, drug them, and put them behind walls, both real and invisible, their rage will return to haunt us. If we embrace them, care for them, and give them space to grow and make mistakes, some of them will find their space to happiness and security. **********I am not saying that doing this with Adam Lanza would have stopped him from committing the terrible crime he did I am suggesting that taking this approach will reduce the number of Adam Lanza’s who will haunt us in the future.
Posted by Mark Naison at 8:56 AM 2 comments:
Saturday, December 15, 2012
South By South Bronx Hip Hop Festival: Celebrating History, Showcasing Creativity, Lifting Spirits
I have rarely felt more emotionally drained than when I drove up to the Bronx at noon to attend the South By South Bronx Music Festival. The mass killings in Connecticut had me profoundly depressed, and I was also concerned whether I had it in me to do the kind of historical introduction people expected me to do for DJ Kool Herc and his sister Cindy Campbell. ********But something happened to me in the four hours I spent at the festival. I was in the presence of so much talent, so much passion, so much community spirit and so much love that I left the event hopeful for the future. It began with the hugs I got when I entered the theater from the organizers of the festival, and friends I knew in the Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, but it was the events on stage that lifted me out of my funk. It was not that anyone pretended that we hadn't just experienced an a terrible tragedy- performer after performer paid tribute to the children, the teachers, and the families and affirmed their identification with what they had been through ********It was that the performances and the talks were of such incandescent quality that you couldn't help but be uplifted, especially because they came from people of such varied ages and cultural backgrounds and possessing such diverse skills. ********Whether it was up and coming MC's like YC the Cynic demonstrating dazzling lyricism, longtime political activists like Rod Starz of Rebel Diaz crying out against injustice; La Bruja drawing upon the spirits to inspire people to take on Climate Change and the sexual exploitation of young women; Grandmaster Caz, who must be close to fifty, bringing down the house with unmatched lyricism and stage presence; Cindy Campbell describing the first hip hop parties at 1520 Sedgwick as family affairs drawing the whole community, not just youth; Africa Bambatta waxing poetic about the musical, political and spiritual foundations of his music and his political activism; B Boys and B Girls defying gravity and enshrining rhythm; Legendary DJ Grand Wizard Theodore demonstrating the art of scratching to house DJ's Danny "Beat Manm" Martinez, DJ Charlie Hustle, and DJ Illinoiz; Ramerly Graham's mother giving an impassioned appeal to everyone in the audience to unite against police executions of young people in our communities; it was simply breathtaking to see people for who art, and music, and the pursuit of justice were common goals *******It was also inspiring to hear Hip Hop's pioneers- the people who helped create a culture that has spread throughout the world-- embrace a new generation of activist artists who were bringing art and politics back to the Bronx in the same spirit they did in the 1970's *********And the audience, mostly Bronx folks, was with them every step of the way. Jumping up and down, waving their arms, and on more than a few occasions, giving artists standing ovations. ********I left the event with my sadness juxtaposed to energy, determination, and an infusion of hope. Many battles to fight, may bridges to cross, but great people, and great music to do those things with
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:34 PM No comments:
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
School Reform As Child Abuse
Given that every single School Reform proposal involves ratcheting up the number of tests in our public schools, it is time to substitute "Child Abuse" for school reform in every institution that uses those words in their title. Hence, in the name of truth in advertising ******"Democrats for Education Reform" should become "Democrats for Child Abuse" ****** NY Governor Cuomo's "School Reform Commission" should become his "Child Abuse Commission" ****** "Students for Education Reform" (SFER) should become "Students for Child Abuse" *******Don't let this nightmare descend upon the nation's children without resistance!
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:53 AM No comments:
Saturday, December 8, 2012
"The Light At the End of the Tunnel" For America's School Chldren
More and more schools are asking children in poor and working class communities, from kindergarten on, to forego play, art, music, school trips, sometimes even lunch, to spend all day studying for tests, so that someday, they can get into college, treating this as some magical experience worth 12 years of pain and sacrifice when: *****53.6 college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed and underemployed *****There are more recent college graduates working in fast food and retail than science, engineering and technology *****7 our of 10 new jobs produced in the next decade will be low wage jobs *****Many college graduates are leaving with huge debt from student loans *****Talk about cruel and unusual punishment. It reminds of of "the light at the end of the tunnel" during the Vietnam War.
Posted by Mark Naison at 5:43 PM No comments:
A Warning to the Nation's Parents
School Reform is coming to a town near you, quite possibly to the school your children attend. Perhaps it is already there. It promises better results for your children through increased testing, evaluation of teachers based on test results, merit pay for teachers, closing of allegedly failing schools, and increasing the number of charter schools and on line learning options. ******It sounds very progressive, using the language of equity and national renewal. It promises to make our country more competitive in a global economy, give new opportunities to children from low income backgrounds, and to make communities where it is implemented more likely to experience economic growth. ********Unfortunately, the actual impact of these policies can be very different that what is promised. Here are some of the things that education scholars and parent/teacher activists have observed in communities where School Reform policies have been implemented *** A sharp ratcheting up in the number of tests in all grades, and in all subjects *** A reduction in the number of school counselors, along with rising class sizes *** The elimination of art, music, history, recess and gym to make room for test-prep *** The marginzalization and humiliation of Special Needs Students and English Language Learners. *** A rise in stress related symptoms ( depression, anxiety etc) among students and teachers. *** The departure and/or early retirement of the districts best teachers as competition between teachers is promoted and mentoring and collaborative practices are discouraged. ******Because School Reformers depend on Fear, Intimidation, Competition and Material Incentives to achieve results, and only value results that can be tested and measured, the result is that the joy, creativity and imagination will be squeezed out of students and teachers attending and working in the schools they create. ******To put it bluntly, these reforms will make your children HATE GOING TO SCHOOL. *****Do not lest this happen to your children and the children in your community. Protest, resist, Opt Out of State Tests, and reach out to teachers who are organizing to resist these soul-destroying measures.
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:48 AM 2 comments:
Monday, December 3, 2012
Hope for Embattled Educators
This is a daunting time to be a teacher in the United States of America. At work, almost every day brings word of a new test, a new assessment, a new rubric for accountability that makes teachers and students jump through another hoop. Media and elected officials add to the stress and anxiety. It is rare that there isn’t another public declaration of devotion to the cause of “Education Reform,” which teachers have learned to interpret to mean another attack on their professional integrity and another chance to blame teachers for the nation’s failure to be competitive on international tests, or reduce poverty and inequality. ******** But worst of all is the scripting of the classroom environment by testing and technology in ways which eliminate the spontaneity which makes teaching fun, and the relationship building which makes teaching meaningful. The classroom has become a zone of surveillance and it is not too far fetched to imagine that video cameras will be eventually installed to make sure teachers are not deviating from the curricula that have been purchased to insure good results on the tests that have been imposed. ******* In the short run, there may be no way to stop this. Too many people have built careers on promoting these “reforms” and too many people are making money implementing them. ******* But little by little, those on the receiving end of these initiatives- whether they are teachers, school administrators, students or parents- are feeling discouraged, smothered, humiliated and abused. Uncontrolled proliferation of testing, which now begins in Pre-K, and is rapidly extending to subjects like art, music and gym, has made school so boring and stress filled that the people in it are experiencing clinical systems of anxiety and depression. And that is among the “successful!” Special needs students, ELL students, and those whose lives are so unstable they can’t give learning their full attention are being subjected to a form of “educational triage” startling in its cruelty, lest they pull down test scores and subject everyone else to the penalties triggered by that result- which can include closing of schools and mass firing of teachers! ******* In response, a simmering rage began to manifested itself among those most affected. It began with conversations, most of them private; then meetings; then formation of organizations; than rallies, marches, boycotts, lawsuits and strikes=the same model followed by movements of the Sixties in behalf of women’s and gay rights. While these movements- Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, Dump Duncan, Parents Across America, the Chicago Teachers Strike- are still in their early stages, and have not stopped the Education Reform juggernaut, they have robbed it of its air of romance, exposed its links to big money interests, and challenged its claim to promote the cause of equity and civil rights. Most importantly, they have let individual teachers, parents and students feeling smothered and abused by the new policies know that they are not alone and that resistance is possible. ********** While it is impossible at this stage to know whether these resistance movements will be strong enough to force political leaders to withdraw their support from privatization and testing, they have created enough of a grass roots presence to publicly challenge and contest almost every Reform initiative at the local and national level. We now have a Counter Narrative, based on strong scholarship as well as experience, which warns that Reform policies are likely to widen educational disparities rooted in race and class and weaken the nation’s schools by driving out the most committed teachers. And people are listening. An extravagantly funded Hollywood film,”Won’t Back Down” supporting a favorite Reform cause, Parent Trigger Legislation, got so little public support it was judged one of the greatest failures in the history of Hollwood film. A rally in New York City support of teacher assessments based on standardized tests, organized by Students for Education Reform chapters at NYU and Columbia, was a dismal failure. Parent trigger legislation and charter school initiatives have been voted down in several states; and lawsuits are being filed by parents across the country protesting the impact of test mandates on special needs students. ********* The Reform Agenda is backed by limitless money and is fueled by the profit motive as well as political ambition; but because it turns schools into zones of fear and stress, the best it can do its compel opportunistic implementation and sullen compliance. And as teachers, students and parents step forward to say that our nation can and must do better than deluging schools with unnecessary tests, their courage, and their patience, will eventually inspire a moral and political awakening that will force policy makers and the media to take notice. ******** The first step is telling the truth about what Reform is really doing to our schools; the second step is the share that insight with colleagues, friends and family; the third step is to attend rallies and public meetings which challenge the Reform agenda; and the fourth step is to Opt-Out, Boycott, Strike and Sue. ********** Most of us are still in stage one and two, but because Reformers have no shame, and believe their own propaganda, they will continue to impose an agenda so manifestly ill-conceived and self-destructive that it will force more and more people into open rebellion. *********** In the service of this revolt, I proclaim the following. ******* Testing is Not Teaching You Can’t Improve School Performance By Making Children Hate School Demoralizing Teachers and Principals Doesn’t Make Schools Better ********* Let’s do this people. We have nothing to lose but our Assessments!
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:27 AM 4 comments:
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Occupy, Wal Mart Strikes, and the Contagion of Solidarity
The only weapon working people have against the power of concentrated wealth is a contagion of Solidarity.Elites live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in the same resorts, send their children to the same schools, belong to the same organizations. They increase their political influence, and find new opportunities to expand their wealth, without changing their routine and can do so behind closed doors. Working people by contrast, are scattered and diverse, living in different neighborhoods, often speaking different languages, sending their children to different schools, practicing different faiths. Unlike elites, they have to project their power in the public way, through picket lines, rallies and marches; through the mass lobbing of public officials, and on the cultural front, through music and social media, and at times through election campaigns They have to use these weapons to give people who often feel weak and vulnerable as individuals a sense that when they join together, they are truly powerful. it often takes years of mass activity to create this feeling of strength and possibility, but when it happens it is a beautiful thing! We have seen this recently in the form of strikes and walk outs from people who work at Wal-Mar, and fast food workers, people who have been regarded by most experts, and even by some labor leaders, as unorganizable. But these protests did not come out of nowhere. They follow on the heels of an Occupy movement which made public protest visible in every city in this country and for a three month period captured the imagination of the media and change the nation's language for speaking about economic inequality. The suppression of this movement did not erase the example they provided of ordinary people changing the course of history and striking fear in the rich and the powerful. An example that has been followed and taken to heart, by come of the nation's lowest paid workers. It is too soon to say whether these movements will lead to significant improvements in wages and working conditions for America's working poor, much less their representation by unions of their choice. But it does show that Solidarity is contagious and that poor and working people were watching carefully when Occupy took to the streets and captured the nation's imagination, and are beginning to apply the lessons of that movement to their own situation. Mart Strikes, and the Contagion of Solidarity The only weapon working people have against the power of concentrated wealth is a contagion of Solidarity. Elites live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in the same resorts, send their children to the same schools, belong to the same organizations. They increase their political influence, and find new opportunities to expand their wealth, without changing their routine and can do so behind closed doors. Working people by contrast, are scattered and diverse, living in different neighborhoods, often speaking different languages, sending their children to different schools, practicing different faiths. Unlike elites, they have to project their power in the public way, through picket lines, rallies and marches; through the mass lobbing of public officials, and on the cultural front, through music and social media, and at times through election campaigns They have to use these weapons to give people who often feel weak and vulnerable as individuals a sense that when they join together, they are truly powerful. it often takes years of mass activity to create this feeling of strength and possibility, but when it happens it is a beautiful thing! We have seen this recently in the form of strikes and walk outs from people who work at Wal-Mar, and fast food workers, people who have been regarded by most experts, and even by some labor leaders, as unorganizable. But these protests did not come out of nowhere. They follow on the heels of an Occupy movement which made public protest visible in every city in this country and for a three month period captured the imagination of the media and change the nation's language for speaking about economic inequality. The suppression of this movement did not erase the example they provided of ordinary people changing the course of history and striking fear in the rich and the powerful. An example that has been followed and taken to heart, by come of the nation's lowest paid workers. It is too soon to say whether these movements will lead to significant improvements in wages and working conditions for America's working poor, much less their representation by unions of their choice. But it does show that Solidarity is contagious and that poor and working people were watching carefully when Occupy took to the streets and captured the nation's imagination, and are beginning to apply the lessons of that movement to their own situation.
Posted by Mark Naison at 1:48 AM 1 comment:
Friday, November 30, 2012
What Education Reform Has Really Meant on the Ground
Let's be clear: Education Reform, if we date it from the passage of No Child Left behind, has produced no gains in the US standing in global tests in science, math or reading; no shrinking of the test score gap by race or class inside the US; no reductions in child poverty, no narrowing of income inequality; no diminution is the size of the US prison population-- however it has results in huge profits for testing firms; the reduction of teacher morale to its lowest level in history; and the proliferation of six figure jobs as education consultants and leaders of charter schools, mostly for children of privilege. Looked at clinically, in the name of equity, it has been a giant subsidy to corporations and a jobs program for graduates of the nation's elite colleges. Look at what's going on in your city and your community since reform policies have been imposed. Have students in poor and under served communities being empowered? Are they enjoying school more? Are their families being energized by the new choices they now have? Or have precious portions of the school day-arts, music, sports, gym- being sacrificed as schools are deluged with tests? And special needs and ELL students marginalized and humiliated because they might lower a class or school's test profile? There is a story to be told here, school by school, city by city, state by state Please tell it.
Posted by Mark Naison at 2:12 AM No comments:
Thursday, November 29, 2012
School Closings and Public Policy: The Anatomy of a Catastrophe
School closings, the threat of which hang over Chicago public schools, and which have been a central feature of Bloomberg educational policies in New York, are perhaps the most controversial features of the Obama Administration’s “Race to the Top” initiative. The idea of closing low performing schools, designated as such entirely on the basis of student test scores, removing half of their teaching staff and all of their administrators, and replacing them with a new school, often a charter, in the same building, is one which has tremendous appeal among business leaders and almost none among educators. Advocates see this policy as a way of removing ineffective teachers, adding competition to what had been a stagnant sphere of public service, and putting pressure on teachers in high poverty areas to demand and get high performance from their students, once again based on performance on standardized tests. ********* For a “data driven” initiative, school closings have produced surprisingly little data to support their implementation. In New York City, there has been no perceptible decline in the test score gap between Black and Latino, and White and Asian, since the school closings were initiated ( more than 140 schools in NYC have been closed). More tellingly the percentage of Black and Latino students in the city’s specialized high schools, admission to which is based entirely on test scores, is the lowest in the city’s history, prompting a lawsuit from the NAACP. ********* But the opposition to the closings is not just based on lack of “hard” evidence to support their implementation. It is based on three broadly observed consequences of the closings- their propensity to ignore the voices of students, parents and teaches and ride roughshod over the democratic process; their creation of pressures which transform teaching into test prep and lead to the elimination of art, music, physical education and school trips; and the destabilizing of already wounded neighborhoods by undermining relationships between schools and communities and teaching staffs and families. ********* In New York City, where school closings have been public policy for more than four years, I know of no example where parents and students have mobilized to demand the closing of a troubled school, but many instances where they have mobilized to oppose school closings. With few exceptions, their voices have been ignored by the Panel for Education Policy, the Bloomberg controlled arbiter of school closing decisions. Test scores and Department of Education recommendations have ruled the day. With the elimination of local school boards and the imposition of Mayoral Control, there is no institutional channel that has any power to represent community interests. Children and parents are being given a devastating lesson here – that their voice doesn’t count. Only those who think the goal of public education is to create a passive , disciplined, labor force will to accept any work offered to them should take comfort in this. ******** A second consequence, even more devastating, is how the threat of school closings ratchets up stress levels in low performing schools. Not only has this led to epidemics of clinical depression among teachers and stress related disorders in children, it has led many schools to drastically transform their curricula to assure students pass tests. First to go are art, music, hands on science and school trips; but there have also been many instances why gym, and recess and after school programs have been reduced to make room for test prep, magnifying already serious obesity problems among children in places like the Bronx where there is little access to healthy food and few out of school opportunities for regular exercise. The conditions I have described, in some schools, have reached levels which could best be described as Child and Teacher Abuse. It is time that those making these policies take responsibility not only for what happens when schools close, but the kind of pedagogy schools in high poverty neighborhoods implement to assure that they won’t be closed ******* Finally, there is the issue of neighborhood stability. In poor neighborhoods, it is common for young people to move from household to household, sometimes from household to shelter, in response to the economic instability of their caregivers. Many children are being brought up by grandparents or other relatives; some are in foster care, some are homeless. In this situation, schools are often the main point of stability in children’s lives, and teachers important mentors. I know of many teachers in such communities who financially support their students, take them on trips, sometimes have them come to their home on weekends. Closing schools and removing teachers undermines the critical community building function of public schools, leaving young people without an important anchor in their lives. Given this, no one should be surprised by rising levels of violence in communities where this policy is being applied. We need schools in such communities to be safe zones- not places of Fear and Dread where everyone involved is waiting for the hammer to fall on the instruction of someone downtown who has no idea what people in the neighborhoods are living through or just don’t care ********* I urge all who have read this piece to think very carefully whether school closings are in fact an instrument to promote greater equity or whether they intensify the problems they were meant to remedy and create new problems in their wake.
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:28 AM No comments:
Monday, November 26, 2012
Positive Ideas for Our Schools
After a wonderful long weekend , I thought it might be appropriate to momentarily drop my Junkyard Dog/ Badass Teacher persona and offer some positive ideas about how to improve our educational system. *******I think we need to drop the test based, one size fits all model of education and allow for far more experimentation in school design. To this end, I would suggest that the following approaches to school organization and design be encouraged, in some cases beginning at middle school age, in others beginning in high school, ********1. An expansion of "portfolio schools" which have assessment based on holistic evaluation of student academic work, rather than performance on standardized tests. New York City's "Urban Academy" is a great example, a multiracial school known for high levels of student/teacher engagement. ********2 The revival of vocational and technical high schools teaching skills connected to the rebuilding of the infrastructure, sustainable design, repair and maintenance of information systems, along with traditional skills that such schools once offered such as plumbing, electronics, auto repair. Not only will such schools create an entry into existing job markets for their students, they will ease the transition to a nation less dependent on fossil fuels. ********3. The creation of schools organized around sustainable agriculture, and health centered food preparation and delivery. Such institutions would not only contribute to the improved health of their students, and the communities in which they are located, they would create jobs, and open entrepreneurial opportunities for students in an economic niche which is expanding locally and globally. Such schools could be located in cities as well as rural areas. ********4. The creation of schools built around community redevelopment and democratic participation by local residents. Dr Henry Taylor is experimenting with this model of school organization in Inner City Buffalo and it is an approach that could help stabilize and revive resource deprived neighborhoods while promoting broad community involvement in the schools, along with student involvement in neighborhood design and revitalization. *********If those in charge of the nation's schools would give exemptions for schools that follow these models, it would do far more for teacher morale and student engagement that having every school adapt to a unitary set of national standards and dish out rewards and punishments based on their success in mastering them. It would also help our stagnant economy by producing graduates with the practical and entrepreneurial skills necessary to help us move beyond a dependence on fossil fuels and compulsive consumerism that is steadily threatening our collective health as well as our quality of life.
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:28 AM 1 comment:
Thursday, November 15, 2012
The Accumulated Weight of Tragedy That Hangs Over New York City
This morning, as I drove my wife’s car to the local gas station at 5 AM to fill it up, I felt a twinge of fear as I turned the corner to the station, expecting a long line. There was no one there, and I breathed a sigh of relief, but I also realized that waiting on line for the last two weeks had left a residue of anxiety, just as beating beaten up in a station house when I was 22 years old made me still feel fear every time a police car comes near me *******And I realized something else. That we, in the New York metropolitan area, had taken a considerable emotional battering in the last twelve years. Between 9/11, the economic collapse and Hurricane Sandy, we had experienced three events of such traumatic power that they were bound to leave emotional scars, even among those who had not lost love ones, homes, or what little economic stability they had in one or more of those tragedies. *******It would be comforting to say that hardship makes you tougher, that crises can bring out extraordinary generosity and compassion in the people around you, that New York has a tradition of coming through hard times, and all those things would be true. But it is also true that such events can instill levels of anxiety and fear that never wholly disappear, and are can be triggered by things that occur years or decades later. *******We have a convenient label for this Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some might find comfort in giving what they feel a name. But I just hurt thinking of all the suffering I have seen, and that I will still see as I struggle to help those whose lives have been uprooted by Sandy and it mingles with what I saw and felt after 9/11 *******And I don’t like the feeling. I need to be strong for the people around me, and instead I feel shaky and vulnerable. ******The only comfort is knowing that so many people feel the same way, and will be there to help me if I should stumble, fall or grow weak trying to do what must be done. No one can handle this alone. We need each other more than ever
Posted by Mark Naison at 6:22 AM 1 comment:
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Occupy Sandy Builds on a Longstanding Progressive Tradition of Mutual Aid and Communal Advocacy
Some people were shocked when Occupy Wall Street, a protest movement that aimed to expose the excessive power of the financial industry and its corrupting influence on government suddenly came to life through grass roots efforts to bring relief to individuals and communities devastated by Hurricane Sandy *****They shouldn’t have been ******This was not the first time that a radical movement known for its uncompromising and confrontational stance toward government and corporate power decided to provide direct services to individuals who suffered extreme hardship as a result of the conditions those movements exposed ********During the early 1930’s, the American Communist Party, whose first response to the Great Depression was huge hunger marches on city halls and private charities demanding “work or wages” began to shift to neighborhood based action to aid individual families. In 1931, the Communist led Unemployment Councils began organizing people to put back the furniture of families evicted for non-payment of rent and organize huge protests against police and marshals who returned to finish the eviction. These anti-eviction protests, starting small, kept thousands of people in their apartments in cities from New York to Chicago to San Francisco, and in some communities like the Bronx, made it virtually impossible for landlords to evict tenants. Then, in 1933, when the Roosevelt Administration appropriated billions of dollars to create relief programs for the unemployed, the Unemployed Councils, and its later manifestation, the Workers Alliance, became an informal bargaining agent for unemployed individuals and impoverished families at city relief offices, helping them get the aid they were entitled to and upon occasion leading sit-ins at relief offices if they were denied it. These protests helped the Communist Party build a strong base of respect, if not loyalty, in many working class neighborhoods and proved a tremendous asset in having unemployed workers and their families organize on the side of industrial unions when they fought for union recognition, rather than providing a core of strike breakers. ******* Now lets jump ahead thirty years to the Black Panther Party. The BPP’s claim to fame was organizing armed surveillance of police who patrolled Black communities. and insisting on the right of people in Black communities to bear arms in self defense. These BPP policies were the ones which created the greatest controversy and attracted the greatest attention, but within two years of the Party’s founding, it was organizing free breakfast programs for children all around the nation, and creating pioneering health care programs in underserved Black communities, a strategy documented by Alondra Nelson in her brilliant book Body and Soul. While some sections of the BPP suffered fierce government repression and others self-destructed, these service programs had a lasting positive impact on many of the communities they organized in. ******** These two historic examples should be borne in mind by those who might be prone to criticize the Occupy Movement for providing services to those in need rather than concentrating all their energies on attacking the underlying conditions that lead to massive levels of suffering. They are making a turn to communal action and mutual aid that the most effective radical organizations in American history all employed at key points in their history. And which helped insure that their contribution to progressive change in America would be deep and lasting.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
A Little Iowa History That Might Put Its Vote for Obama in Perspective
Some people are astonished that a 92 percent white state, which is heavily agricultural, voted for President Obama in two straight elections, in contrast to states with similar demographics and similar economies like Kansas and Nebraska, But if you historical research takes you back to the 1930's you won't be surprised. Because Iowa was the organizational center of one of the most radical agrarian organizations in American History, the Farm Holiday Association ********The Farm Holiday Association was organized by small farmers who felt they were being driven into poverty by low prices for what they produced and by bank foreclosures on their farms when they couldn't paid their loans or mortgages. On the verge of losing everything, they picked up their rifles and engaged in highway blockades which prevented agricultural goods from being transported to markets until prices went up, and armed occupation of courtrooms to prevent judges from seizing farms that had gone into arrears. So large was he support for these actions among Iowa farmers that truck traffic ground to halt in large portions of the state, and judges were forced to extend payment periods on farm loans or drastically reduce their interest and principal. *********These actions began in 1931 and continued into the early years of the New Deal when parity payments under the Agricultural Adjustment Act allowed many farmers in the state to have enough income to stave off foreclosure, but in the interim, they prevented mass impoverishment and displacement of the state's family farmers. ********I don't know if today's Iowa voters have a historic memory of these events, but it has been my experience, from my own family, that stories of resistance struggles do get passed down from generation to generation and can shape people's identities long after the initial event to place Mark Nason
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Monday, November 5, 2012
Apology to the Occupy Movement
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to my friends in the Occupy Movement to underestimating the movement’s resilience. ***** I have said, both publicly and privately, that the Occupy Movement has transformed the discourse of contemporary American politics, and begun a process of reversing a thirty year trend toward greater inequality and concentration of wealth at the top, but I was skeptical that the Occupy Movement itself would be a vehicle of that transformation. Rather, I thought that its activists would spark and join forces with other movements for change at the neighborhood, city and national level, rather than being a primary instrument for those changes themselves. I saw Occupy as something that radicalized a generation- but not as something with organizational resilience in and of itself ******Well, Sisters and Brothers, you proved me wrong. The transformative role that Occupy activists have played in coordinating relief to the hardest hit victims of Hurricane Sandy has shown me that the Occupy networks that survived the evictions were much stronger than I realized. The movement to the neighborhoods which followed the evictions, apparently, did not dissolve the movement or change it into something entirely different. It made the movement more multiracial and connected it more closely to the lived realities of working class Americans without totally dissipating the original spirit or the networks that created the Occupations. ****** In any case, America, Occupy is BACK. And this is a good thing given the complete absence of discussion in this election campaign of some of the most important issues that Occupy raised before its encampments were evicted
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Sunday, November 4, 2012
The Land that God and the City Had Forgotten
The wave of destruction that that descended upon the Rockaways in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, compounded by government neglect and the absence of official aid organizations, is not the first time that section of the city has been overcome with violence and fear. The wave of arson and disinvestment that swept through the Bronx, Harlem and large portions of Brooklyn during the early and mid 1970’s also took a terrible toll on the Rockaways, though I never saw it mentioned at the time, or for that matter in the historical literature about those difficult years in New York’s History. ********I experienced this first hand in 1979 when I drove out to Rockaway to interview a former NYC school teacher and union activist, named Alice Citron, for my book Communists in Harlem During the Depression. Her address put her in a section of Rockaway, Edgemere, where I had spent many summers as a child staying in the bungalow of my grandfather, who was a garment worker. Although the bungalows were wooden, and in retrospect, extremely modest, I remember magical days and nights in that area in the early 50’s, running into the surf, playing ski-ball on the boardwalk, eating delicious knishes, and listening to the adults political arguments. The area had been packed with people, almost all of them Jewish, who had survived the Depression and were enjoying a first taste of prosperity and security. It was a joyous place. ******** Now, in 1979, it had the atmosphere of a ghost town. Alice Citron’s house stood on a beach block where 90 percent of the land consisted of vacant lots, with only three houses standing. Across the el tracks, near the bay side, stood a large public housing project. When I rang the door bell, Alice and her husband came to the door, accompanied by two huge dogs. Before we started her interview, which focused on the role Communist teachers played in fighting for better schools in Harlem and the teaching of Black history, she told me what the neighborhood was like today ******** Rockaway had become the land that God , and the city of New York, had forgotten. In the housing projects across the street, senior citizens, most of them Black, were trapped in their apartments by fear of crime. The Citrons with their huge dogs, and their car, sometimes shopped for them, and brought them to the doctor when they were sick. The neighborhood had become a kind of urban concentration camp for the poor,, a place where the beauty of the surroundings was little compensation for fear, neglect, and the absence of basic neighborhood amenities. The Citrons, who had lost their jobs during the McCarthy area didn’t have the money to move out so they stayed and helped their neighbors cope. They were in their 70’s then, and had no where else to go.. ******* For years after, I was haunted by what I saw that day, and what it told me about class and race in New York City. Ten years later, when I was coaching CYO basketball, I returned with a team from Park Slope play a game at a Catholic parish not far from the Citron home, St Rose of Lima, but I didn’t have the time to drive around. I never found out of the neighborhood had been rebuilt, or whether life had gotten better in the projects of the Rockaway Peninsula ******** Now, with reports of residents living without power, food, and water, surrounded by piles of debris the storm had scattered, terrified of crime, the memories of that visit came rushing back , and along with it, the rage and frustration I had felt at the time ******** Once again, the people of Rockaway were being neglected. Once again, they were reminded because of their color and economic status, they were not really “citizens.,”. And once again, they were living in the land that God, and the City of New York had forgotten. Mark Naison
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Friday, November 2, 2012
A Victory for Outer Borough New York
The cancellation of the NY Marathon is a very emotional event for me. Not just because diverting resources for this event in the face of so much hardship and suffering was just wrong, but because the ground swell of protest against this came from the people of outer borough New York that this Mayor, and the global elites he socializes with and represents, do not understand ****** The neighborhoods of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island are a world apart from those in Manhattan. They are filled with immigrants and their descendants who do the bulk of the hard labor in the city, whether it is running and repairing our transportation systems, working in hospitals and nursing homes, teaching in schools, serving as police, sanitation workers or firefighters, doing the entry level jobs in our restaurants, hotels and stores, or doing construction or working in city agencies. Many of them live in neighborhoods which have the atmosphere of ethnic villages where outsiders are looked upon with suspicion; others in mixed communities where people of different backgrounds coexist, sometimes uneasily, sometimes well. ******* But though the people of these communities don’t always like or trust one another, and certainly don’t vote uniformly- just compare the political party affiliations of people in Staten Island with those of people in the Bronx- they have a common suspicion of privilege, a respect for the hard work it takes, legal or illegal, to keep a family above water, and a nose for hypocrisy, or to use the vernacular, bull…t. ******** And all of those instinct came into play when the Mayor announced his plans to go ahead with the Marathon. The cops, the fire fighters, the EMS workers, the nurses, the Blacks, the Whites, the Latins and the Asian; the people who lost private homes, and the people who were trapped in housing projects, all looked at this and said “ No.” The people working 36 hour shifts helping bring the city back and those without food and water and electricity began speaking in one voice, to the press, to their elected officials, to one another, and to anyone they could reach on social media, to say this was a grave insult to all of them and shocking sign of the insensitivity of a Mayor who was comfortable expecting limitless sacrifices form them while pulling out the red carpet for out of town guests ******** And finally people started listening. The future Mayoral candidates, one by one, spoke out. Then the newspapers, then some marathon runners themselves. And the Mayor’s advisors too, warning him that people were so angry that the runners might not be safe ****** So the event was cancelled. Not because the Mayor came to his senses. But because outer borough New York had risen in revolt. ******** And the city dodged a bullet at a time when the last thing it needed was conflict and division from the task of putting the infrastructure back together and rescuing those in distress
Posted by Mark Naison at 2:48 PM 1 comment:
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Hymn To Working Class New York
As we struggle through the aftermath of the worst storm in New York’s history, my thoughts turn to the first responders- firefighters, police officers, EMS workers- and the role they played in the last great tragedy to strike New York, the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11 The heroism these men and women displayed then, and in our current circumstances, is not a surprise to me. For the fifteen years I spent coaching and running youth programs in Brooklyn in the 80’s and 90’s, civil servants, especially fire fighters, were an integral part of the coaching cohort I interacted with daily, both in my own neighborhood, and throughout Brooklyn and Staten Island, and there was never a doubt in my mind, based on that experience, that they would sacrifice their health, well being and if necessary their lives if called on to rescue people in trouble My relationships with many of these individuals, especially those who represented opposing parishes- in CYO basketball- or opposing teams - in sandlot baseball- was not always easy. They were, like me, stubborn, intimidating, over bearing and fiercely competitive and we had many arguments in the midst of closely contested games. But they were also selflessly devoted to their players, with whom they spend countless hours at games and practices, and whatever their private political or racial attitudes, determined to maintain Brooklyn sports leagues as a place where young people from every neighborhood and racial and ethnic background could find an outlet for their talents. Never did I see any of them participate in, or tolerate, the slightest amount of race baiting from their players and parents, even though some of them came from neighborhoods, such as Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge or Rockaway, then infamous for racial exclusivity. When push came to shove, they as fair as they were loyal, and I never felt the slightest hesitation taking interracial teams from Park Slope into gyms or ball fields in all white neighborhoods because I knew we would always be protected This kind of quiet heroism, I felt, allowed for more dramatic forms of heroism when circumstances called for it. It surprised me not at all that some of my fellow coaches ran up the stairways of the World Trade Center to their death while other people were running down. Not would it surprise me to see their counterparts today, some of whom might be their own children , run into a flooded buildings to save a stranded families or risk being crushed when clearing fallen trees. This is the ethic of loyalty and sacrifice they grew up among, a New York working class tradition passed on from generation to generation among members of the uniformed services and among more than a few teachers, transit workers and other civil servants For quite a while, most of the attention by elected officials and the media have been bestowed upon financial and artistic elites who gravitate to our city. But it is the working people of New York who insure the city’s daily functioning, and in moments of crisis, sacrifice themselves for others so that the city can continue to survive, and when things improve, begin to grow and thrive. We have always lived among quiet heroes, some of them immigrants working three jobs to support families her and in their home countries, some of them teachers and social workers serving people in the face of deep skepticism and contempt from the power that be; some of them members of our uniformed services who are asked to risk their lives for the rest of us. I just wanted to take this moment to show some love for these people and hope you will do so as well Mark Naison
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Monday, October 22, 2012
How to Lose a Close Election
Virtually ever poll now has President Obama and Mitt Romney embroiled in an extremely close race. The President could very well win this election; but he could also lose. And if he does lose, I will have to go back to something I first started saying nearly three years- namely that turning off the nation’s teachers with educational policies which silence their voice, and put them under extreme stress, is not only bad for the nation’s schools, it could cripple the President’s re-election efforts. Many of you have read some of my blog posts which made this argument, and have seen the “Dump Duncan” petition which I helped to draft which called on the President to remove his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, incorporate the nation’s teachers into Education Policy discussions, and stop requiring schools to ratchet up the number of standardized tests to receive federal funding. But what you haven’t seen, or known about, is my private efforts to engage people close the president in conversation about teachers disillusionment, efforts which were totally unsuccessful. The President’s inner circle, from what I could gather, refused to bend on support for Race to the Top and Secretary Duncan. They were not only convinced that these policies would end up improving the nation’s schools; they felt that the political gains to be made in terms of support from large funders and influential journalists was far greater than any losses that would occur in terms of teacher enthusiasm, particularly since they knew the largest teachers unions would support the President no matter what policies he chose to implement. Now, at crunch time, when it’s too late to change course, I can tell you that this judgment was a severe miscalculation. Not only have the President’s policies failed to narrow testing gaps by race and class, they have contributed to teacher morale in the nation to be the lowest it has been since pollsters began measuring this trait. But the political consequences may have been even more serious than the educational ones. Most teachers will probably end up voting for the President, but from what I have seen, in both New York and around the nation, they will not be manning phone banks, canvassing in their neighborhoods, travelling to swing states on the weekends and generally giving time, money and energy to assure the President’s election the way they did in 2008. Many pundits attribute the Obama victory in 2008 to an incredibly strong “ground game” composed of huge numbers of volunteers, as well as paid staff, working to get out the vote in battleground states. Many of those individuals, including me, my wife, and many of my friends, were teachers, professors and school administrators. During this election, I know of few, if any educators putting in that kind of heroic effort, almost entirely because they are feeling betrayed by the President, indeed, by the entire Democratic Party, on educational issues, even though they support the President’s positions on reproductive freedom, gay rights, taxation and medical care. There is no way of knowing whether the phenomenon I am describing is will be a “game changer” in this election. But based on what I have seen in 2008 and in this campaign, there is a chance it could be. And if it is, the Obama brain trust has no one to blame but themselves, because they have had ample opportunity to change course, and indeed have been pleased with by many of their supporters to do just that. Mark Naison October 22, 2012
Posted by Mark Naison at 12:23 PM 4 comments:
Friday, October 19, 2012
Economic Backdrop to a Grim Election
For the first time in recent memory, there are no signs supporting either candidate on my block in Brooklyn three weeks before a Presidential election ( unless you count the Obama 2008 sticker on my door). This coincides with what I saw in Eastern Long Island earlier in the week. I see little public enthusiasm for either Presidential candidate. But in my judgment, this is not just about the personalities involved. It is that people are so pessimistic about the state of the economy, their own lives, and their own futures that they find the candidates optimistic rhetoric out of touch with reality. *******This is something I see on a daily basis. Almost every week, a former students comes to me in frustration about working at a job they hate, often well below their level of education, where the pay is low and the atmosphere is toxic. Whether they are working in animal shelters, cleaning hotel rooms, doing marketing, or taking a success of temp jobs, they picture they give of the American work place in the private sector is a grim one. And that doesn't include the teachers, who increasingly speak of working in such fear of losing their jobs in they don't raise test scores of children who the stress of poverty is beating down that they are on medication. When you add to this the pressure from student loans, which jobs they have don't allow them to repay, you sense that tens of millions of people in this country are walking on an economic treadmill that is steadily wearing them out. ********And these are people still in the "middle class" albeit just barely. Poor people are increasingly on the edge of homelessness, living doubled and tripled up, sleeping in cars, bouncing between relatives and homeless shelters, often deferring meals or satiating their hunger with chips and soda. ********Given these realities, is it any wonder that most people are voting largely to prevent someone they fear or dislike from being elected, rather than putting a candidate in office who they think will make things better for them *********And given where our economy is not, and where it is heading, such a pessimistic approach makes perfect sense.
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:41 AM No comments:
Thursday, October 18, 2012
How Whites Encountered "Race" in 1950's Brooklyn
What I remember most, growing up in a Jewish/Italian working class neighborhood in Brooklyn, is not having a language to talk about race when profound changes in the racial order were transforming our lives. Growing up with the Jackie Robinson Dodgers and the rise of rock and roll, I was part of the first generation to have black athletic and musical heroes, but it was never something "we" talked about, not when we were in an all-white group, or when the few black kids in the neighborhood joined us. It was a huge change from our parents generation- who spoke Yiddish or Italian when talking about black people- but not something we knew how to comment on. Then as more blacks moved into our neighborhood, and more whites started moving out, an aura of fear began to envelop the older generation while "we" were confused. What's the big deal?. There were occasional fights in the schools, but for the most part, whites and blacks there were no latinos in our area) got along well enough, especially if we played on the same teams. All this was going on with the Southern civil rights movement as a backdrop on the nightly news, and it seemed a world away. Almost no one made a connection between the sit ins and marches in the South and the confusing, sometime painful integration of Brooklyn neighborhoods. But by the early 60's, it was clear that racial fears among our parents generation were becoming poisonously vivid. My parents began warning me against getting involved in civil rights demonstrations, talked dismissively about most blacks as having low moral standards, all the while extolling Martin Luther King Jr's virtues as a leader. What they said seemed totally out of touch with my realities. I had black teammates and classmates, loved rock and roll, and was intrigued by growing protests against racial discrimination taking place in Northern neighborhoods. But there was no real conversation with my parents. They were all gesture, all threat. The amount of emotion they were devoting to black people as a danger to their world seemed crazy to me.And it just kept building. By the mid 60's, when they moved from increasingly multiracial Brooklyn to an all white portion of Queens they weren't just concerned with race, they were obsessed with it. And when I fell in love with a black woman in my senior year in college they went completely crazy- talked about committing suicide, threatened to disown me. It was elemental. On some level, they thought that black people, by association, had the powerful to nullify their ascent into the middle class and render the sacrifices they had made to get there irrelevant. Which from my point of view was completely crazy. I had just won a four year fellowship to a top doctoral program in history. Was selected as the most valuable player on the Columbia tennis team. My life seemed set, and they thought I had thrown it away. It just showed how powerful the undercurrent of racial fear and animosity was underneath the Northern facade of tolerance. Scary shit! s
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:04 PM 1 comment:
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Today, They Drug Boys Like Me
When I read the NY Times article about the psychiatrist in a poor county in Georgia who was drugging kids who do not have ADHD to help them do well in school, I thought “There but for the grace of God go I. I was lucky I was born in 1946 not 1996. They would definitely try to drug a kid like me in a growing number of America’s public schools.” *****I was the kind of kid who drove teachers and parents crazy. I was a good student and a good test taker, so much so that I ended up skipping two grades and was constantly made fun of by other kids in my tough Brooklyn neighborhood, but I was disrespectful to teachers and always getting in fights with other kids, inside and outside of class. My teachers complained to my parents, and my parents constantly threatened to send me to Yeshiva or military school, but somehow the schools I went to managed to cope with me, and other kids like me, most of them boys, without drugging me or expelling me because they knew how to tire me out and challenge me with physical activities and by assigning me responsibilities that today only adults are allowed to do ******Take physical activity. In the elementary school, we had free play before school and during lunch time where we played punch ball, kick ball and tag, running ourselves into exhaustion. We also had gym every day. But that wasn’t all. My elementary school was open 3-5 and 7-9 every day of the week for supervised activity. I used it regularly to play basketball and knock hockey. When you combined all these activities, it was not unusual for me to be engaged in physical activity in and after school two to three hours a day. Not only did this tire me out, making it much easier to sit still and concentrate on lessons, it gave me something to look forward to other than harassing teachers and fighting. I still got I trouble, but only a fraction of the trouble I would have gotten in if I didn’t have all that physical activity. *******But that wasn’t all, when I got to 5th grade, my teacher assigned me to two important student run activities- the audio visual squad- whose responsibility it was to show movies in all the classes and the Safety Patrol, whose responsibility it was to help younger students cross the street. Both of these activities were given to some of the toughest kids in the school and without exception, they rose to the occasion and did their jobs with great responsibility and pride. Today, these responsibilities are paid positions given to school aides and paraprofessionals but in those years, they helped take young people whose leadership skills were often directed negatively and turned them into positive figures in the school community. They certainly helped me ******In junior high, the same dynamic prevailed. Not only did we have gym ever day and play games in the school yard before school and during lunch hour, but we started to have a whole range of organized activities which gave students an outlet for their talents, ranging from a theater program, to school teams to a band and an orchestra. And though the junior high school was not convenient to go to for after school activity because it was out of my neighborhood, I could still play basketball in my elementary school night center, which was right around the corner from my house. Once again, I was engaged in physical activity at least two hours a day, not including the time I spent playing in the school band. ******In New York City today, and a growing number of public schools around the country, the activities that kept me on course have been eliminated or drastically curtailed, either because of budget cuts, professionalization of what were once student responsibilities or because of pressures to raise scores on standardized tests. I can not think of one public school in New York city which offers its students two to three hours of physical activity a day; many are students are lucky if they get thirty minutes. Few schools below the level of high schools have school teams, bands and orchestras; and even less have after school programs both in the after school and evening. *******So what happens to restless, rebellious students from tough neighborhoods, especially boys. Are they given activities which allow them to use their physical energy constructively. Are they given responsibilities which allow them to be positive leaders or make use of their athletic or artistic talents? Increasingly, the answer is no. They are asked to sit still at their desks hour after hour and try to absorb information that often has no visible relevance to their lives and nothing to spark their interests. And if they rebel and act out, as many of them will be prone to do? Or fail to concentrate on preparing for tests? They not only are jeopardizing their own academic futures, they may be threatening the jobs of their teachers and principals and the very fate of their entire school. *******Given how high the “stakes” are on getting them to perform, or conform, two options seem irresistible to teachers and administrators. Getting them to leave the school, which is not always easy, or giving them behavior modifying drugs, which is becoming increasingly prevalent. *******To me, this is a perversion of education and of the health professions. It is a cruel, cynical short cut to producing conformity to a system which systematically is undermining the health of the children trapped in it. I think of the how many children like me there are in Georgia and Texas and Nebraska and California and New York who will never have a chance to realize that the power and energy that lies within them can transform the world around them because they are being drugged into submission. This is personal to me. And I will expose it, and challenge it with every weapon at my command.
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:25 PM No comments:
If You Can Tell A Nation's Character by Its Schools
"The picture I am getting of the atmosphere in American schools is pretty chilling, especially in high poverty districts. Students being drugged, whether diagnosed with ADHD or not, so they can sit still in class(Georgia); students being forced to carry microchips so their movements can be followed(Texas); parents being arrested or have their children sent to child protective services for excessive truancy( Nebraska) Special needs children forced to sit through and take tests that are developmentally inappropriate (all over the country); Gym, recess, and after school recreation programs turned into test prep ( all over the country). Teachers taking medication for stress because they are terrorized by school officials and fear losing their jobs ( all over the country). THIS is the great success story of Education Reform in the United States? If you can tell a lot about a nation's character by what is going on it its schools, this is a very sad commentary about the United States of America."
Posted by Mark Naison at 7:06 AM 2 comments:
Friday, October 5, 2012
Three Recommendations to Imrove Health Conditions in the Bronx
I. In terms of food access, I think we need to have a major investment in urban agriculture, both in vacant lots, and on roves and indoor space using hydroponics. Every school and community organization should be given major financial incentives to create such growing spaces, a nd train local residents in indoor and outdoor farming. Let the Bronx, which has among the highest Obesity rates in the nation, and the most serious Hunger problem, become the national and local center of investment and innovation in urban agriculture. 2. Tens of millions of dollars need to be invested in building new youth centers throughout the borough, and more importantly in insuring that school gymnasiums are used for youth and adult recreation programs in after school hours, roughly from 3 PM to 10 PM. These gymnasiums were once opened 3-5 and 7-9 ever weekday for supervised activity; those programs were cut during the fiscal crisis of the 70’s. They need to be restored. It is a crime that children growing up in NY in the 50’s and 60’s had much better recreation opportunities than they do now! 3. Tens of millions of dollars should be invested in creating youth sports leagues, particularly in soccer, baseball and softball, in Bronx parks, that are free of charge and require nominal fees. Right now, such leagues proliferate in the city’s middle class and wealth neighborhoods, many charging significant fees. They need to be matched in the city’s working class and poor communities
Posted by Mark Naison at 6:14 AM No comments:
Thursday, October 4, 2012
The President's Puzzling and Depressing Performance
The performance by President Obama last night was puzzling and profoundly depressing. He failed to mention his most important accomplishments, and instead boasted about a program-Race to the Top- which has been an unmitigated disaster! Here are some of the things he might have said, but didn't! "My policies saved this country from a Depression and yours will put it right back into one if they are implemented" "As a result of passing health care, there are tens of millions of people who have access to health care that they wouldn't otherwise have" "When you cut government programs, you elminiate jobs. What makes you think when you fire millions of government workers with your proposed cuts that the private sector will pck up the slack" "Austerity of the kind that you suggest has been imposed in Spain, and in Greece. Is that what you want, riots in the streets? Because that is what you are going to get!" That the president never came close to those things suggest he is planning to move to the right in his second term. Not only is that a losing strategy for this election, it means hard times ahead for working America.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
The Price of What They Call "Reform" on the Nation's Teachers
Yesterday, I had two conversations with teachers which dramatize to the tragic, perhaps even catastrophic, consequences of what policy makers call "Education Reform" to the Nation's teachers. The first was with a brilliant former student who, after getting her master's degree in education had her morale, and love of teaching totally shattered by a year spent in a K.I.P.P. school. And we are not talking about a sheltered young woman either. We are talking about a black woman, was a great college athlete, a campus leader and a person who lit up every room she entered. She told me she still wants to find ways of empowering young people from the inner city, but wonders whether she can teach again after seeing teachers and students worn down by relentless pressure in a K.I.P.P. school, whose pedagogical methods,, ironically, are held up by many Education Reform advocates, like Jonathan Alter and Paul Tough, as a model for the nation. I that wasn't enough, I then spent an afternoon with a teacher in a Bronx elementary school, threatened with closing by the NYC Department of Education, and who have a difficult principal to boot, who told me that at least 30 teachers in his school are on medication for stress and depression and that some of them have trouble getting out of their cars in the morning to go to class. School closings, it should be noted, are an integral part of the Obama Administration's "Race to the Top" policy and are being implemented in schools districts around the nation as a strategy to allegedly improve educational performance in working class and poor communities. One thing they have definitely done, in schools throughout the Bronx, is ratchet up pressure on teachers to the Nth Degree, to the point that their health is threatened. These two vignettes are but a small example of a drama is being played out all over the country. How students will be empowered as teachers morale is being crushed is a mystery that Education Reforms have yet to satisfactorily explai
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:50 AM 1 comment:
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Lessons From My Grandpa Charlie
One of the biggest influence on my life was my Grandfather, Charles Brown. That wasn’t his real name. It was changed when he came over from Russia at age 14 at the turn of the century. Grandpa Charlie, as my cousins and I called him, was a formidable presence. Only 5’6” inches tall, he was even, in his late 60’s, nearly 200 pounds of pure muscle. Rumors of his physical strength surrounded. That he could swim a mile out to sea from the beach at Rockaway. That he could bend a steel bar with his bare hands. That he was a strong arm man for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union who beat strikebreakers senseless. That he could go to work and then dance all night If you had an image of Jews as weak, scholarly and law abiding, Grandpa Charlie broke the mold. He spoke English haltingly and could barely read and write in any language. He had, in his youth, been a bartender and bootlegger, before eventually setting into his full time occupation as a presser in the garment trades. And Grandpa Charlie was a dandy. He rarely went outside except in hot weather, without a jacket and tie, where he sat in a folding chair or stood on the corner with the other retired me And Grandpa Charlie was dark, so dark that when students or colleagues saw his picture, they said things like “Is that Paul Robeson” or “Is that some guy who played for the Howard football team?” But tough as he was, Grandpa Charlie never showed me anything but love. He always gave me a pat on the shoulder and a piece of candy when he saw me, and would sit with me for hours watching television without saying a word. He never asked me about my grades, never quizzed me about me teachers, never talked about what was on the news. Unlike almost everyone else in my family, he just let me be. And he cooked. Oh how he could cook! Fried steak with onions. Fried onions with chicken fat, cooked to a crisp. Huge thick French fries which he made fresh for me and my cousins, topped with sea salt, ten pounds of them in a sitting. And we all grew up big and strong, each of us reaching 6 feet and more than 200 pounds I learned something about love from Grandpa Charlie. That it could thrive without words, in acts of kindness and generosity. And through food. And he also taught me about courage. When Grandpa Charlie was hospitalized with terminal cancer, through some act of superhuman courage, he pried open a window 4 feet off the ground and jumped out an a 8 floor hospital window, saving him and his family months of excruciating pain. Some people were embarrassed. I was proud. Grandpa Charlie died as he had lived. On his terms In some respects, I could not be more different than he was I am professor, an intellectual, and author, a person who cherishes ideas, who lives through books. But I am also a person who sees value in the unspoken, in the multiple ways people give and receive love, And I cherish the example of courage and fortitude that he left for me, and the model he provided of the dignity and power of working people who created a life for themselves with few of the world’s advantages. Whenever I fight for justice, Grandpa Charlie is right there with me. And with him in my corner you can be sure I won’t back down.
Posted by Mark Naison at 6:55 AM 2 comments:
Monday, October 1, 2012
Letter to Maggie Gyllenhaal RE "Won't Back Down"
Just posted this on Maggie Gyllenhaal's Fan Page: I regret to say that you have lost the respect of many people who admired you by not only taking a role in "Won't Back Down" but then defending the movie's message. It pains me a great deal to say this, because I knew your mother when we were both in college and because you spoke at an art auction of the school where my wife Liz is principal, but taking in a role in a film financed by Philip Anchutz and supporting legislation supported by the American Legislative Exchange Council is something that no progressive person I know can understand. Worse yet, your movie has made teachers around the country feel more embattled, more attacked, at a time when teacher morale is the lowest in recorded history. This is a time when people of conscience should be standing with teachers against powerful interests who are trying to privatize our public education. Unfortunately, you have stood with the billionaires against the teachers, while seeming to speak in behalf of parents. The only hope for public education is for parents and teachers to unite as they did in the Chicago Teachers Strike. Supporting parent trigger legislation which pits parents against teachers is exactly the wrong move at this historic moment. Please tell your mother, Naomi, what I just said. And tell her to contact me if she wants to talk
Posted by Mark Naison at 12:54 PM 1 comment:
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Defending Teachers and Teaching
Every day, for the past year, I have posted something on Facebook, or on my blog, to uplift the morale of teachers I am in touch with, in every part of this nation, who feel demoralized by the relentless pressure they feel to solve problems not of their making. Some times I tell stories about great teachers; sometimes I make fun of teachers enemies; sometimes I tell stories which reveal that that racism and poverty are so deeply rooted in our history and institutions that “school reform” will do little to uproot them. But those words will have little meaning, to me or anyone else, unless my own teaching provides an example of what education at its best can do. School reformers like to talk about the “value added” a great teacher can provide and have developed all kids of statistical formulas to measure it. They are not wrong about adding value, but their measurements, because they are all based on tests results, fail to encompass the things the contribution that great teachers make to their students. Every time I walk into a classroom, I am trying to do for my students what the best teachers I had for me; to capture my imagination to such a degree that what went on in that class would be etched in my memory for life. It might be a quotation; it might be a story; it might be in an essay that was assigned in course reading; it might be a glimpse of the face of a person so transfixed with passion for what they were teaching light seemed to emanate from their face. It could also be a comment in the margin of a paper or an exam, or in a conversation after class, which led you to think that it was in your power to accomplish things you never thought possible Or it could be a long conversation in a cafeteria or in the teachers office, where you described your life and prospects in ways you had never done before, and which all made sense And it is these experiences, which you repeat with your own students, which give you the confidence to fight back against people who think that anyone can teach, or that the skills teachers have can be easily scripted, measured and evaluated. To defend teaching effectively, you have to know critique the motives and methods of those seeking to undermine the profession. But you also have to believe in the integrity of your own approach to teaching in order to wage that battle effectively day in day out. Which is why approach every class session as though it were my last, determined to leave my students with an image of passion and commitment etched in their memories as powerfully as the one that my teachers were able to create for me.
Saturday, September 29, 2012
Time for a Palace Revolt in Teach for America
Maybe it's time for a palace revolt in Teach for America. I am proposing that my wonderful former students who joined TFA, and all the others socially conscious teachers who got their jobs through TFA, create a spinoff of TFA called ALT ((America Loves Teachers) which encourages "education leaders" to become classroom teachers, rather than vice versa and proclaim that recruiting talented people to spend 20 plus years in the classroom is the best way to improve the nation's schools. They would also change the minimum commitment to teaching to 5 years, increase training from 5 weeks to a full year, and refuse to send TFA corps members into schools where veteran teachers have been fired. How about it TFAers? How about creating an organization that really improves teaching and learning in the country rather than turning the teaching profession into a revolving door?
Posted by Mark Naison at 2:08 PM 2 comments:
Thursday, September 27, 2012
What Teachers Do
Recently, I asked teachers I am in contact with Facebook to list some of the ways they spent their own money to make their classrooms better learning spaces. The responses were so moving that I decided to post them in a separate thread. The teachers represented here come from the Bronx, Upstate New York Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Chicago and Minneapolis. And they represent the unsung, unrecognized contribution teachers everywhere make to help their students, especially students growing up in poverty and families of modest means It is responses like this which make me ever more determined to challenge the demonization of public school teachers which plays such a destructive role in our political discourse. Teachers are some of the most selfless, generous people in our nation. They deserve better than what they are currently getting from our political leaders and mass media ********Katherine Palmer To provide my students with a rich curriculum that equals one available to students in middle class schools, I buy books,videos/DVDs, tools/toolboxes, hardware, software, apps, motivational materials, and misc. supplies for the lessons I write. Aside from the dollar figure, there's the time spent by both myself and my drafted husband in the pursuit of the acquisition of all this stuff. I don't know the dollar amount; I try not to think about it too much. *********Sedaqah B. Wise I can be kind of frugal, but I figure I probably spend a few hundred dollars a year on my students. The food and drinks for when I have parties with them is probably about $200/year. I buy some books to use in the classroom and then there's the stickers for the younger kids I work with (these little kids love those Hello Kitty and Marvel Hero stickers). I buy some supplies/materials and sometimes I give my students gifts (usually books). There are also the fish tanks, which the kids love, and the expenses associated with them. It all adds up to probably about $500, but I'm good at finding good deals. Any time I pass a dollar store I go in and it's very rare that I don't find something to buy for school. There's one dollar store by my house where books are marked down up to 1/10 of their original price... and they're great books. I go there regularly and spend about $25 on $50-$100 worth of goods. I was very fortunate in that I used to get a decent stipend (about $500/year) from my department to buy materials, but that's gone now, so I'll probably be spending more of my own money now. The funny thing is I'm one of the newest teachers in my school but everyone else knows to come to me for materials. **********Michelle Pfeffer Enser I don't keep track because quite honestly, I tend to sneak the stuff into the cart when hubby isn't looking. Things that I buy: snacks, stickers, halloween goodie bags, christmas (yep that still flies in my rural school) goodie bags, end of year gifts, books, craft supplies for Mother's and Father's Days and then anything that I don't have that I want or need for them. Of course, that doesn't count the professional books I buy throughout the year. *********Wilma de Soto . I am already $1500 in the hole for this year and climbing; plus I bought colorful seat pockets for all my students' chairs. Every time you go to a store, something else goes into the basket and the school district only allows $100/yr. Forgetting project supplies. I am lucky my husband is Creative Director for an advertising agency, so I can get paper and markers sometimes. Not to mention treats for Halloween, Christmas, Easer Baskets and all the fun crafts we do around those holidays. There's a thrift store across the street where I can get shirts, sweaters, jackets, socks, etc. It all adds up. iPhone apps etc. ***********Michelle Strater Gunderson Early childhood education requires stuff, and not just any old stuff --beautiful objects for children to manipulate, play, and learn from. I will never forget my first exposure to Froebel and the concept that when we present children with these materials we are giving them gifts. I teach in Chicago, I troll garage sales in wealthy neighborhoods on Saturdays for my kids. Rich people toss out amazing stuff, and I purchase it out of pocket. ************Maureen Feerick Danforth For my 5th graders I buy books on topics I teach so the kids can read more in depth, dvds, teaching books, craft supplies for doing hands on colonial craft activities (quill pens, ink, construction paper, twisted rafia paper, quilling strips and tools, aluminum pie plates, candle wax and wicks, flowers, needles and thread, cross stich fabric, hoops, floss and needles), I pay fees to bring in guest speakers, provide lunch for guest speakers. I have also bought an ipad and three kindles. I have purchased a tv and vcr/dvd player, models, christmas ornament kits, food, pens, pencils, highlighters, notebooks, rulers, calculators, paper plates, cups, milk crates and other various organizational and storage materials, a computer chair, supplies to cook a complete meal over an open fire. **********Patricia Rydeen I buy diapers, gloves, wipes, bottles, formula, cereal just to keep my high school students with severe disabilites comfortable so the money I spend on educational materials might have some impact.
Posted by Mark Naison at 3:30 AM 1 comment:
Tuesday, September 25, 2012
R.I.P. Father John Flynn- One of the Bronx's True Heroes
There are not that many people you meet, in real life, whose personality is so incandescent they light of the world. Father John Flynn, pastor of St Martin of Tours Church in the Bronx who passed away yesterday, was one of those people. I met him at the height of the crack epidemic when gun battles and beefs were taking an incredible toll on young people in the Bronx. I was part of a group of religious leaders, an community activists who met as his church to try to do something about the violence, which was making normal activity impossible for many people in the Bronx because they literally feared to leave their homes and apartments. Father Flynn's parish, only 8 blocks from Fordham, was in the heart of that zone. He had officiated at more than 20 funerals of young men between 17 and 25 in a single year. Father Flynn, white haired and in his 60's, walked the streets without fear, talking to those young men. He knew their pain and desperation. And he asked those of us present to work with him in developing a program for out of work, out of school young people, that would rescue them from the street economy. If you had a heart and a conscience, you could not help but respond to his plea and his example. So we came together to form the Save a Generation program. I spent the next year with Father Flynn and several other great Bronx leaders, among them Sister Barbara Leniger of Thorpe Family Residence, and Dr Lee Stuart of South Bronx Churches, writing proposals, giving talks, walking the streets, even going to Washington to lobby Congress. During that time, I never saw Father Flynn lose his composure, his optimism, his ability to inspire people with quiet eloquence, whether it was talking to the Borough President, or throwing footballs with local youngsters in the street outside his church. And he was as kind and thoughtful when he was alone, in his parish house as he was in his group. He had been in Latin America before he was in the Bronx and he had a deep empathy for the poor along with an equal level of respect. Working with them was his life's mission and he did it with joy and a wonder at life's ironies and life's mysteries. I spent nearly four years working with Father Flynn helping to get Save a Generation off the ground, and watched it become a life changing program that offered 35 Bronx youngsters a new chance at life. When the crack epidemic eased, I moved on, but kept in touch until he retired. Greatness takes many forms. It is not always associated with wealth and power and fame. In the Bronx, it may have reached its highest point in the person of a parish priest who walked the street with the lost boys of the community while bullets were flying. And who those boys learned to love as much as everyone else who knew him R.I.P. Father Flynn. You will always live in the hearts of everyone who knew you
Posted by Mark Naison at 6:26 AM 4 comments:
Friday, September 21, 2012
The Bronx as an "Exercise Desert:" New Language To Talk about the Health Crisis in Working Class Communities
For the last few years, public health experts have used the term "Food Deserts" to describe communities where residents lack access to healthy food and suffer the twin problems of hunger and obesity. The Bronx has been identified as a classic example of such a Food Desert and my students have written several term papers and theses demonstrating the difficulty of finding fresh fruits and vegetables in Bronx food stores, and affording them even when they are available. One result is that the Bronx has the highest obesity rate of any borough in New York City and one of the highest obesity rates of any county in the United States But food is not the only health issue that the metaphor of a "Desert" can be applied to. Bronx residents, especially young people, have so much difficulty finding opportunities for sports and recreation in the neighborhoods and their schools that the Borough can be described as an Exercise Desert as well. The following are my criteria for describing a community as an Exercise Desert. I suspect many working class communities around the nation would qualify 1. Neighborhood schools do not offer regular gym classes during school days. Time once used for recess and gym are now devoted to "test prep." 2. School gymnasiums, fields and schoolyards, are not used on a daily basis for free, or affordable sports and exercise programs ( including dance) after school, either for their own students, or community members 3, There are few health clubs or community centers that offer regular sports and fitness programs that neighborhood residents, whether youth or adults, can afford 4. Public parks are poorly maintained and have few, if any youth sports leagues that use them on a regular basis If you live in a community where these conditions prevail, chances are that regular exercise will not be a part of your life and that the soccer leagues, baseball leagues, and dance classes that are a fixture of young people's lives in middle class and wealthy neighborhoods will reach only a tiny portion of neighborhood youth The result- an epidemic of obesity, and related health issues, ranging from diabetes to circulatory problems And yet another indication of how far race and class inequality have deformed our national life.
Posted by Mark Naison at 4:08 AM 1 comment:
Thursday, September 20, 2012
How Bloomberg Housing and Education Policies Contribute to Health Disparities in the Bronx
Since everybody in the Bronx knows me as Notorious Phd, I have to begin my remarks with a line from one of the Bronx’s greatest rappers, Big Pun, whose life and early passing symbolizes many of the issues we are confronting here today. The line--”Iverson crossover, cheese doodles, grape soda” is one part of a litany of cultural practices which Pun found on the streets of the Bronx, some of which condemned people to an early death. This is certainly true of eating practices in Bronx neighborhoods, many of them places where it is almost impossible to find fresh fruits and vegetables, and where residents would have difficulty affording them even if they could find them. The Bronx is not only the poorest of New York’s 62 counties, it has been rated the unhealthiest, and has the highest rates of both hunger and obesity among New York’s five boroughs. Despite all the heroic efforts health professionals and community activists to bring healthier food to the people of the Bronx, and promote healthier lifestyles, the forces activists are up against, some of them political, some of them market driven, are making that task extremely difficult.In the remarks that follow, I will argue that the health problems of the Bronx are not primarily a result of poor choices on the part of its residents, but of policies which accentuate the poverty of Bronx residents and make their lives more difficult and stressful. And while I fully support community based health programming, I also urge people to turn their attention to policies shaped by powerful forces outside the borough which undermine the health of Bronx residents. There are three different dynamics currently affecting the health status of Bronx residents in a negative way, each of which is rarely discussed in the medical literature—Gentrification, Housing and urban planning policies which promote hyper-segregation; and Test driven education policies which undermine health and fitness of public school students. I will discuss how each of these shape life in Bronx neighborhoods, and intensify health problems that were serious even before their effects became visible. First, let us look at Gentrification. The Bronx has been the site of a demographic revolution in the last 20 years, with people from West Africa, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico moving to the borough in large numbers. But this has not been an entirely voluntary migration. According to Greg Jost, deputy director of the University Neighborhood Housing Progam “ New York’s poorest renters are being priced out of other boroughs and are moving to the West Bronx one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the borough.” When in the Bronx, Jost adds, many of these new residents are paying over half their income in rent, putting a huge dents into funds available for things like health care, food and recreation. And that is not all. According to community activists I have spoken to, the exodus from gentrifying neighborhoods like Harlem, Washington Heights, the Lower East Side and Williamsburgh, has resulted in immense housing overcrowding in many sections of the Bronx, with families doubling and tripling up in apartments, people renting out rooms, and even couches to boarders, and spanking new townhouses being subdivided into illegal rooming houses where immigrants can rent rooms with communal bathrooms and kitchens at prices they can afford. These crowded conditions accentuate the risk of fires and communicable diseases, while the income pressures inhibit families abilities to purchase health food. You cannot realistically address healthy conditions in the Bronx, in my judgment, without looking at housing overcrowding, and housing affordability; both of which are at crisis levels in the Bronx The second factor is housing and planning policies which promote hyper-segregation and accentuate the concentration effects of poverty. During the last ten years, almost every vacant lot in the South Bronx has been the site of new housing construction, some of it in the form of town houses, some of it in the form of large apartment complexes. This has definitely increased the supply of affordable housing in the borough, not enough to offset the impact of gentrification related migration, but still an impressive contribution. But while all of this new housing has gone up, it has not been accompanied by the construction of new youth or recreation centers, raising the question, where are the young people living in these new buildings going to go to get exercise or supervised recreation? If the local public schools were open to the community for this purpose, that would be different, but because ofbudget cuts, some of them stemming back to the fiscal crisis of the 70’s some of them more recent;, those gymnasiums are almost entirely unused in after school hours. And the result is a recreation crisis- felt most acutely by youth= fostered by planners who concentrate affordable housing in already poor-segregated neighborhoods without providing the new recreation resources these residents will need. Most Bronx neighborhoods are not only FOOD DESERTS, they are RECREATION and EXERCISE DESERTS. The dangers of the double whammy should be apparent to everyone in this room. And they can only be corrected by changes in city policy regarding the relationship between housing and recreation space in all new development The final force, shaped by political interests outside the borough, negatively affecting the health of Bronx residents, is school policies shaped at the City, State and National level which rate teacher performance, and the fate of entire schools, on the basis of student results on standardized tests. In New York City today, both as a result of Bloomberg Administration policy, and as a condition of accepting Race to the Top Money, schools who do not meet certain performance targets on standardized tests must be closed and half of their teaching staffs removed. More than 144 such school closing have taken place already, many of them in the Bronx, despite the protests of students, parents and community members, with more slated for the future. Along with this, new procedures have been approved at the state level requiring public ratings of teachers, 40 percent of which is based on students test scores, with several years of bad ratings requiring that the teacher be removed. These two policies have created an atmosphere of near panic in the schools of the Bronx, where many of the students are children of immigrants, and a high portion have special needs. And the results have been devastating for the physical and emotional health of these students. To make sure students test well, many schools have taken time once used for gym or recess and use them for test prep; while converting after school recreation programs into study halls. The result is that already recreation starved youngsters in the Bronx get almost no physical activity in their schools and sit at their desks all day. This in my judgment, is a public health disaster, but you cannot address it without reducing the impact of high stakes testing on the careers of Bronx educators. It is a policy problem that has to be addressed at it’s source, City Hall, the State Capital in Albany, and the US Department of Education. I am not pointing out these larger forces to undermine the valuable work everyone here is doing to improve health opportunities and health choices for Bronx residents. Everything you are doing builds communities and saves lives. But we also have to try to change policies at the city and national level which make this work more difficult- and build the kind of alliances necessary to do that. The people of the Bronx did not create the conditions they live in; and while they can organize to make their lives better it they will need help from both markets and government who thus far have done more to accentuate their hardships than relieve them.
Posted by Mark Naison at 11:18 AM 1 comment:
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